Sunday, January 7, 2018


I absolutely love when other bloggers post lists of what they've been reading and after joining a book club back in Rome I certainly have expanded my reading horizons in the last couple of years. So in case you're searching for a good read here's what I liked (and didn't like) in 2017:

A Man Called Ove
Meh. To me this book felt like it was trying way too hard. But then again, everyone else seems to really like it so maybe I'm just turning old and grumpy myself. The book is about an old Swedish man who is grumpy and rude on the outside, but without fault entirely on the inside. It's like Up but it kind of beats you over the head with the main character's wonderfulness. 

The Girl with All the Gifts
Really liked this one. It was unique, didn't go for the traditional cop-out ending I was expecting, and had zombies. 'Nuff said. The film was really well done too.

Where'd You Go Bernadette
This was another book club book.  I found it pretty readable and it made me want to go to Antarctica (A LOT) which must mean I was inspired by it on some level, but it also started a trend for this year - mentioned again below - in which the main character is kind of unreliable for whatever reason and yet self-righteously resents everyone else for treating them as unreliable.  Are responsible, well adjusted grown-ups just not interesting enough?

Station Eleven
An interesting take on post-apocalyptic fiction. 

Go Set a Watchman
I had high hopes despite the bad reviews I'd read but in the end I was disappointed too. Not so much with the twist in character but because the justification for that abrupt shift just didn't seem to make any sense.

I, Claudius
Another book club book, suggested by a good friend.  Timely, considering these same characters made pretty regular appearances in the art and architecture of my beloved Rome.  Surprisingly easy read as well, or is that just because I got the audiobook? 

Between the World and Me
A couple of us basically had to drag the book group kicking and screaming to this book but we ended up really liking it and having a great discussion about it and racism in America generally. It's a short but heavy read. I would highly recommend it though as a book that doesn't shy away from difficult truths.

Gone Girl 
No comment necessary, right?  I'm sure you read this too and if not you probably saw the movie.

Divergent Series
I think I was over young adult fiction even as a young adult. There's only so many times I can read about a heroine who's really just naturally SO much better than everyone else - and how she's persecuted because of her innate better-than skills - before my eyes start rolling uncontrollably.

While the City Slept
Incredibly traumatizing. And I'm not afraid of violence. Really felt sick and wished I could unread the last part.  However, the build-up did a great job laying out the case for mental health care in the US. If you read this please do yourself a favor and stop before the assault scene is described.  Again, book club.

Ender's Game
I was really glad I finally read this on a friend's suggestion.  Though I guess it makes some of the same YA points as the Divergent series (young hero who is so much better than everyone else) it did so in a more compelling way.

The Girl on the Train
Now a major motion picture!  I actually liked this one though I agree with other reviewers that it was a bit difficult keeping the major female characters straight.

Don't Breathe a Word
Kind of weird but also has a surprising twist. Book club book.

I, along with the rest of the universe, read the Goldfinch, I liked the first section a ton, found the second bit disconcerting and the ending mostly sad.  Overall I'd still recommend it.

The Art Forger
Recommended by someone in my book club. It was an easy read and timely considering that I read itwhile I was living in Rome and spending so much time looking at artwork.

In Other Words
I read this one in Italian and spent a lot of time in awe of Lahiri's really extensive vocabulary. Not really a spoiler alert, but Jhumpa Lahiri learned Italian as an adult - just like me! - and then wrote a book in Italian. That's worth being a bit impressed by, right?

When Breath Becomes Air
Interesting and heavy - the autobiography of a doctor who finds out he has terminal cancer. I would highly recommend it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Not usually my sort of thing but it was a fun, easy read. And it's good to know that sometimes dorky girls do finish first.

French Women Don't Get Fat
The author starts out by lauding the easy French style of eating where you never have to diet - then goes on to describe a non-diet where you only eat leek broth. Um...sounds like a diet to me. I got fed up and didn't finish this one. 

The Muralist
Did not finish this. I was a little bit sick of art stories I guess. And stories where the main character is feminist in a suspiciously modern way.

Storia del Nuovo Cognome (Elena Ferrante)
I read this in Italian and it was so hard! But good. But hard! It's available in English of course and I recommend the whole series.  Ferrante just has a way of describing relationships - particularly friendships - that is so real and powerful.

The Woman in Cabin 10
Light and mostly fun but at this point I just can't help calling out the pattern where no one believes the main character when she makes outrageous claims because she is a heavy drinker/has a criminal record/has been unreliable in the past. 

It took two tries for me to get past the initial, quite boring, opening and into the meat of the book but once I did I found that I really enjoyed it. Thanks book club for inspiring me to finish!

One of Us
Intense, kind of frightening. Also a great exploration of how systems - even good ones - at times fail individuals.

Salt, Sugar, Fat
Interesting, but quite long considering the straightforward premise- with the inevitable result that the author ends up covering the same territory again and again. I'd recommend it if you know nothing about the food industry in the US - otherwise you've probably already got the gist.

Seemed incredibly repetitive and after a while I got sick of feeling like the author was just hanging out waiting for a reaction shot from me. ("Weren't they just SO awful?" "Can you believe it?")

Deadly Embrace
About the relationship between the US and Pakistan through the years.  I was disappointed with all the missed opportunities to provide context and delve deeper - but it's an interesting topic and one I'd like to read more about.  The author clearly has a good grasp of the players involved down through the decades, but he doesn't always provide enough supporting detail to bring the less-expert reader around to his perspective.

The Return of Depression Economics
Very interesting as it compares the responses of society, policy makers, and economists to the Great Depression with those of today.  I might not be quite as optimistic as the author about how far the field of economics has come, but it was definitely an enlightening read. 

Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Atrociously written, but it did inspire me to gain some financial literacy. Also (almost) inspired me to send a letter to the author offering to be his proofreader. Also, just so it has been said, it isn't heroic or smart to not pay taxes; it is selfish.

The Rise of the Rocket Girls
I thought this was going to be Hidden Figures but I was wrong - they're based on some of the same characters but are completely different stories.  Unfortunately I thought this version didn't go very well.  It's such a fascinating - and true - historical era that it deserved a thorough, nonfiction treatment. Instead the author chose to weave in personal stories, but didn't do the greatest job of it - confusing the story with too many bit parts to keep straight or care about  any one character - and wasting lots of space on repetition and useless side comments that don't go anywhere. I'm sure the idea was to add character and context, but instead it just felt directionless. 

I read this solely during my trip to Sweden - in the airport, on the plane, and over coffee and cinnamon buns whenever I was exhausted with sightseeing. I know it's not actually about Sweden (the story is set in a remote Icelandic fishing town) but the general northern setting set the right tone for my trip and it was an easy read. 

The Light Between Oceans
Powerful - especially because most books are SO predictable, even (especially?) when they try so hard to surprise you, while this book, by forcing its characters to make impossible choices, left me unable to imagine any ending.  Yes, it was melodramatic and ultimately implausible, but the set up was just the vehicle to tell a broader story about what people do with unbearable emotions and that felt very real indeed.

The Expats
This really reads like lifestyle porn and it was hard to take the book too seriously. I didn't finish in the end. It did make me wonder though, is this how people saw my life while I was living in Europe? An endless string of designer outfits, elegant surroundings and lazy coffees? (Ok, the lazy coffee part is true.)

Ok, that's it - or at least that's everything I can remember.  If it seems a little on the negative side I can only say that joining a book club was great for getting me outside my reading comfort zone - and that sometimes meant reading things I didn't specifically like.  But no regrets!  My top recommendations are:  The Girl with All the Gifts, Between the World and Me, Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan series. and When Breath Becomes Air.

Happy Reading!

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