Best and Worst of 2018: Part 1

There is nothing better than reading a book that you can really sink your teeth into, that makes you think or laugh or swoon. And on the flip side of that, there’s nothing worse than a book that you want to like but is just so disappointing, or a book that you struggle through from page one but make yourself finish anyway. I had both of these reading experiences many times over in 2018, so I decided to compile a list of my favorites and… least favorites.

It’s a little bit of a longer post, so this will be a two part series. Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?

Please note: these are not all books published in 2018. I read them in 2018.

My Least Favorite Books of 2018

#5. The Witch Elm– Tana French

It pains me to put this book on the list. Really, it does. I think Tana French is an amazingly talented writer. She’s an “automatic buy” author, which is among the highest compliments I can give. But her most recent novel, a departure from her Dublin Murder Squad Series, just didn’t work for me. I could maybe have lived with the fact that the murder mystery wasn’t front and center on this one, but I just did not care for the protagonist. Toby lacked the depth I’ve come to expect from French’s narrators. I suffered through the nearly 500 pages of this one, but it was really disappointing.

#4. The Tatooist of Auschwitz– Heather Morris

This was our October book club pick. It’s marketed as a novel but it doesn’t feel like a novel when you’re reading it. The prose is really sparse, and for such a charged topic, seriously lacks emotion. We debated this point at book club; some of my friends thought that the relative emotionlessness of the book was intentional to show how Lale needed to compartmentalize in order to survive. I can see this as argument, but in my opinion, it didn’t work. Maybe Morris didn’t want to embellish anything and detract from Lale’s story as he told it to her. Either way, it’s not often I emerge from a book on the Holocaust completely unmoved.

#3. Manhattan Beach-Jennifer Eagan

Our book club pick from February, on my suggestion. I’m ambivalent about Jennifer Eagan’s work as a whole. I read A Visit from the Goon Squad in graduate school and loved it. But I read another of her novels later and I didn’t like it. In fact, I can’t even remember the title.  The premise of Manhattan Beach was promising; I thought we were in for a mysterious, 1940’s noir kind of read, so I suggested it. No dice. Mostly, we read a lot about underwater diving in order to fix submarines, which wasn’t all that interesting. I found the plot very hard to follow, and I wasn’t invested in the characters. We did, however, have a spirited discussion at book club about all the things that annoyed us about this book, so that was fun.

#2. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend- Katarina Bivald

My best friend tried to warn me off this one, but I thought maybe it was just that we have different tastes in books. So, during our February book club meeting, after discussing Manhattan Beach to death, and drinking a fair amount of wine, we couldn’t come up with a good idea for our next book. I had The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend on my “eventually read,” shelf and it seemed like a harmless enough pick. And it was harmless…it was just also kind of lifeless. I didn’t find the characters or story very compelling, even for a light read. It could be that something was lost in the translation. But we universally decided that this was our least favorite book club pick of 2018.

#1. Neon in Daylight– Hermione Hoby

There was no contest for my least favorite book spot. I don’t even remember where I saw this book, but I thought it would be edgy and cool, but it was just not. I only finished this because my friend Betsy was already reading it with me. I almost always finish a book once I’ve started, but I should have put this one down early. The prose was completely overdone and too flowery for a novel. A short story, maybe, could have worked with this writing style. But for me, it was way too much. The characters were simply not likeable. There was no discernable plot. To me, this book felt like something that came out of an MFA program, and would only appeal to a very small subset of readers. I was not one of those readers.

What do you think about this list? Do you disagree with me about any of these? What is on your least favorite list from 2018?

Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Reading!
Angela

WWW Wednesday!

IMG_6331

Hello fellow book lovers,

Well, my summer goal of blogging regularly certainly got away from me. I would give some excuses for myself, but since I haven’t written a word of…well, anything…since July, I couldn’t really tell you where the rest of my summer went.

But solidly into October, and the weather in DC has not turned, but I’m in full teacher mode. It’s the time of the year where I’m finally hitting my groove, which means I’m not face-planting into bed every night so I actually have the energy to read a little before passing out.

Seems a logical time to return to this book blog thing.

And as it’s Wednesday, I am the WWW meme, hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. Here’s how it works…

 The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

AliceNetwork

A good friend in my book club recommended this pick. We have an affinity for historical fiction in my club, and this one is a hit so far! The Alice Network is the story of two women, Charlie and Eve, who so far seem pretty badass. Charlie’s side of the story takes place right after World War II in France. She’s enlisted the help of Eve Gardiner to find her cousin Rose, who went missing during the War. Eve’s side of the story takes us back to World War I, when she worked as a spy in occupied France.

What I like in the first 135 pages I’ve read: rich, vibrant characters. Both Charlie and Eve are strong, compelling women, and I’m completely hooked on both of their story lines already. This would be a great book club read! I may need to revise my rule about only reading books no one has read…

Recently Finished: Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

SweetLittleLiesOK, technically this isn’t the last book I finished. But I didn’t loved that book, and Sweet Little Lies is the last book in recent memory that had me totally absorbed—to the point where I’m pretty sure I read the last 100 pages in one sitting. This was my August Book of the Month pick, which I somehow didn’t get around to reading until late September. (Again, I blame school). This crime fiction is very reminiscent of Tana French, who is one of my favorites. Sweet Little Lies follows Cat Kinsella, an emotionally effed up detective as she investigates a murder that has a connection to her past. I loved everything about this book. It did start a little slow, but picked up maybe 50 pages in or so.

What I liked about it: great character, well-paced, and a great blend of mystery and psychological conflict. And yes, a few great twists in there too. I didn’t see the last one coming at all! Please. Just go read this book.

Again, why couldn’t I have picked this one for book club?

Reading Next: The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

TatooistThis one is actually for my October book club meeting. Not one of my suggestions, so I can’t take credit if it turns out to be awesome. (That accolade will be bestowed upon my friend Hillary, fellow teacher and book club member extraordinaire). After a random assortment of picks, including a memoir, a romance, and a disappointing mystery, Hillary offered this World War II novel up to the group. We immediately accepted. The Tatooist of Auschwitz is about Lale Sokolov, a Jew who is put to work tattooing his fellow prisoners. There will be resistance to atrocities of the camp, and a love interest. I look forward to starting this one, and seeing what my book club thinks.

Thoughts on these choices? Which ones have you read? Have you done the WWW meme? Let me know so I can see what you’re reading!

Happy Reading,

Angela

By the Book: A Review

Seeing Adam’s library now made me feel ill with want. I felt like he’d stolen part of my dreams, like he was living the life I’d wanted. “This was supposed to be my library,” I wanted to scream. Was he taunting me? Showing me the life I could have had if we hadn’t broken up?

By The Book

By the Book
By: Julia Sonneborn
Published by: Gallery Books
Purchased on: Amazon
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Why I read it

I bought this book on a whim. I was looking for future book club picks on Amazon, and this title popped. When I read the premise—a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—my heart dropped a little. For NaNoWriMo 2017, I also wrote a modern retelling of Persuasion, which I’m still working on. So, naturally, I had to see what this one was like, and I bought it on the spot.

Premise

Anne Corey is living the dream as an English Professor at a small college in California. Unfortunately, that dream also includes crushing student loan debt and the struggle of trying to get an academic book published—not to mention that her job security depends on getting said book published. Add to that an aging father who needs to be moved to an assisted living facility nearby, and she’s got quite enough to be going on with outside of her teaching load. But then, everything gets a little more complicated as her ex-fiancé makes his debut as the new president of the college. Continue reading “By the Book: A Review”