Although I set out to read like mad over the holidays, life got in the way, as you can tell by an earlier post, and I ended up with just a few books read. They are a wide-ranging lot, though! Here are four I recommend and two I had to give up.
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
Olive is not the most likeable protagonist. She’s not the sweet mom, the girl next door, or the Every Woman. In a series of thirteen separate, yet related, stories, we learn about this large, blunt woman from her husband, her students, her son, and her neighbors. Finally, toward the end of the book, Strout circles in to Olive herself, by this time vulnerable and sympathetic. Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has recently been developed into a television series. Strout’s brilliant construction and fine writing make this a highly-recommended read.
Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin
Rose (rows) has high-functioning autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome, and is obsessed with homophones. The story is told (tolled) in (inn) Rose’s voice, so whenever she encounters a homonym, she puts all (awl) of the related words in parentheses, which gives the narrative a distinctive style (stile). Rose’s large, loving dog is named Rain (reign, rein), because her dad brought her home on a rainy night (knight). Most stories about children with Asperger’s are about boys, and they all seem (seam) to (two, too) have parents who are intensely involved in their children’s lives, working to get them the best care possible. Rose never knew (new, gnu) her mother, and her father deals with Rose’s problems by yelling, “Cut it out!” Thank goodness that Rose has a gentle, understanding uncle in her life. There is some (sum) tension in this novel, at least (leased) for the older reader, because we (wee) are always expecting Rose’s father to snap, and the crisis of the novel comes when Rain runs away during a hurricane. (Just to let you know—since I would want to: the dog does not die. It is safe to read the book.) Rose is such an appealing character, and although the reading is difficult at first, kids will soon get used to the constant homonyms. I would love to see this win the Newbery.
The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion
If you read the sparkling Australian novel The Rosie Project last year, you will want to follow Don and Rosie to America. Spoiler Alert: In the very beginning of the novel, Rosie announces that she is pregnant. Don responds to the news by bolting out the door of their apartment in New York and running across town to the home of his friend. No matter what the situation with Rosie’s delicate condition, Don continues to react completely inappropriately. Perhaps he is trying desperately to be the best father imaginable, but between not knowing how to do that and wanting to keep Rosie from any stress, he puts his job, his relationship with his unborn child, and even his marriage in terrible jeopardy. As an Aussie Sheldon Cooper, Don is completely adorable and lovable. I must admit that I felt that The Rosie Project was a stronger book, but I will certainly read Don and Rosie’s next installment.
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
As I have opined before, the wave of Scandinavian books and movies out there these days can’t help being so brutally depressing, considering the far north’s godlessness, six months of darkness, and starkly angular furniture. Can tragedy be funny? As this delightful novel opens, Ove is trying his best to end his miserable life, but he just can’t manage it when all of these pesky people need his help. Ove is a quintessential curmudgeon: grouchy, grumbling, and judgmental. As the story develops, we learn the reasons for Ove’s ornery nature, but it only serves to make us love him more. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a novel for everyone, men and women, young and old. Highly recommended.
Amongst these winners of my holiday reading, I must admit that I pulled my bookmark out of two others. I make it a policy not to review books I don’t like, so I won’t mention them by name. I try to read widely, but sometimes a book just doesn’t fit.
The first one was a teenage boy book. The mind of a teenage boy is just not a comfortable place for an old lady to hang out. Now, I loved Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith, earlier this year, because it was brilliant, hilarious, and shocking. However, when a bunch of us teen librarians got together a couple of months ago to chat about the year’s best teen books, we all agreed that we thought it was excellent but could not bring ourselves to recommend it to a kid. Notice that I didn’t write a review. That being said, if it wins the Printz, I will cheer. The writing was just spectacular. (Ava Lavender is still my top pick, though.) However, when I went to read this other teen boy book (by a different author) last month, I just couldn’t go there again. Soon, maybe, but not this book.
Three of My Favorites
The second book I gave up on was supposed to be a cozy read for female literary types. Me, in other words. I was really looking forward to curling up with it over the holidays, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a man-hatin’ book. I don’t understand man-hatin’ books or Lifetime movies. I have been greatly blessed in my life to be surrounded by phenomenal men: father, husband, son, brother, brothers-in-law, pastors, church friends, co-workers, you name it. They are strong, hard-working, brave, honorable, handy, and able to reach high shelves. They are also loud, self-absorbed, blustering, messy, and, um, not always mannerly. I love that. How boring life would be if we were all the same. So, if a woman wants to live by herself in her fussy, little life where everything is always clean and quiet, and no one ever grunts or slams furniture into her walls (“Oh, sorry about that”), then she is welcome to do so, but I’m not going to read her books.
Whew! So that’s everything I’ve read since Christmas. Right now, I’m reading the Qur’an, so I think I’ll be there for a while. It’s something I must do. In the meantime, I’ll think of something else to write about. Maybe I’ll actually do some crafts in my new craft room!
Disclaimer: I read library copies of Olive Kitteridge, Rain Reign, and A Man Called Ove. I read an advance reader copy of The Rosie Effect. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.