Book Review, Spring 2014

I read a lot.  I love escaping into a good book for a while, and I always, ALWAYS, have jet lag when a book ends.  I need at least an hour to let it go.  At least, with the good books anyway.

I post the books I am reading to my Instagram account, using the hashtag #mcreads.  You can always follow along there to see what I’m reading on a daily basis.  I also post my books on GoodReads (user name: KatieMC).  But, I don’t usually go back and update what I thought about each book.  So, I thought I’d post a list of what I read this spring and give feedback on each.  There were highs and lows.

(One thing to remember is that I am a middle school teacher, so I alternate between reading adult novels and young adult fiction so that I can stay current and keep conversations going with my students.  I’ll tag each young adult novel with an * so that you can skip those if they aren’t your thing.)

The Dovekeepers (5 out of 5 stars) – This book is just beautiful.  It is now on my top five list of favorite books I’ve ever read.  It is the story of Masada in Jerusalem during.  From the Amazon description, “Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.”  This is the historical fiction account of four women in Masada.  It is absolutely spellbinding.

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The Maze Runner* (3 out of 5 stars) – This young adult novel was a favorite with my students, but sort of missed the mark with me.  The story itself is really good.  It’s about a group of teens are sent into this maze with no recollection of how they got there or what their lives were before.  They spend their days in this community they have formed and trying to find a way out of the maze.  It’s pretty interesting, actually.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the writing and was never able to imagine what the author wanted me to imagine, so I had a hard time connecting with this book.  But, my students all loved it, so if you’re looking for something for your tween or teen to read, this is a good one.  It’s the first in a trilogy, too, so it kept some of my students hooked for quite a while as they read the series.

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Winter’s Tale (5 out of 5 stars) – I loved this book.  It was so well written.  Like, REALLY well written.  Well written enough that I actually read all 748 pages of it!  It is one of the longest books I’ve ever read, but the story was so captivating that I couldn’t stop.  It takes place in New York around the turn of the century and is the love story between a dying heiress on the Upper West Side, and a low-class thief and on-the-run Irish gang member.  Read this one if you appreciate classic writing.  It is very much written in the style of Dickens to me.

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Love Life (4 out of 5 stars) – This Rob Lowe’s second novel about his life.  Amazon’s review says that he tells “stories and observations from his life in a poignant and humorous series of true tales about men and women, art and commerce, fathers and sons, addiction and recovery, and sex and love.”  (Less emphasis on the sex and more on the love, actually).  I am a big fan of Rob Lowe.  If you’ve ever seen him interviewed, you can easily see he is a relatively normal guy with a really positive, healthy outlook on life and his place in it.  This book is a simple read and reminds you that humor and life-long learning never stop.  I liked it most because it was a perfect balance between hollywood stories and his home life.  Amazon goes on to say that you will find stories about:

• Kissing Unexpectedly
• The secrets they don’t teach you in acting school
• His great, great, great, great, great-grandfather’s role in the American revolution
• Parks and RecreationBehind the Candelabra, and Californication
• Trying to coach a kids’ basketball team dominated by helicopter parents
• The hot tub at the Playboy mansion
• Starring in and producing a flop tv series
• Camping at Sea World
• Playing saxophone for president Bill Clinton
• The first journey to college with his son
• Warren Beatty
• The benefits of marriage

Not only that, but Lowe is a really great writer, which makes those stories even better to read. (The cover art ain’t so shabby either…)

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The Saturday Boy* (4 out of 5 stars) – I read this book in one day.  It was that captivating.  It tells the story of a young boy whose father is serving in Iraq during a really pivotal point in a boy’s life.  The boy is just the sweetest and his love for his dad is palpable, even through the pages of a novel.  It is a pretty simple read, but some of the context might be tricky for younger teens to understand.  You are seeing things through a child’s eyes, and to get the full effect, the reader should be older than the character (who I believe is in 5th grade).  A younger reader could definitely master the reading part, but I don’t think they’d understand all the nuances that make this book so special.  I’d suggest 13 or older for this one.

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And the Mountains Echoed (5 out of 5 stars) – My love of Khaled Hosseini is deep and true.  He is one of my go-to, favorite authors.  His writing is so gentle, even when he talks about unspeakable horrors.  If writing can be soft-spoken, then this writing is.  This book (as do all of his books) takes place in the Middle East, which is one of my favorite settings for a story.   He tells the story of a family torn apart and of finding their way again.  Parts of it made me laugh out loud and parts of it made me reach for a tissue.  The characters are so well developed,  complex, and even the most terrible characters almost seem lovable, or at least forgivable.  This is not a light read.  I don’t think I’d take it to the beach with me.  But it is intelligent, moving, and strong.  It is one of my favorites of his.

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With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (3 out of 5 stars) – I wrote about this one last week, and I’ve had some time to think about this book since then.  It was definitely challenging to my faith, and has made me much more aware of my relationship with God.  But it was difficult to read.  Even for someone like me who enjoys studying doctrines of theology, this one was a little wordy.  I really like the concept, but the writing was hard to sift through.  I got so caught up in how the author said something, as opposed to what he was trying to say.  But if you are looking to deepen your relationship with God and if you don’t mind slowly meditating through a book, this might be a good choice for you.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had a Bible study group to talk to about it, though.

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Eleanor and Park* (2 out of 5 stars) – I was not a big fan of this book.  I didn’t think the plot was very interesting and the characters were sort of bland to me.  Now, a ton of my students read it this past school year and loved it.  But I just didn’t understand the hype of a story about two high school kids during the 80’s (which I could barely even tell, except for a few references to cassette tapes) who fall in love.  People say it is very similar to “The Fault in Our Stars,” but, full disclaimer, I didn’t like that one either.  “Eleanor and Park” was a simple, sweet love story, but definitely not the headliner I expected it to be.  Could be a good beach read, though.

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So, those have been my latest books.  I’m looking forward to devouring a few more this summer.  I’ll keep you posted on those, too.  Right now I am reading, “Still Life With Bread Crumbs” by Anna Quindlen.

What about you?  What’s on your summer reading list this year?  What’s been good?  What could you have lived without?  #givemeallthebooks

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17 thoughts on “Book Review, Spring 2014

  1. Rachel

    Some of my favourites this year have been Children of the Jacaranda Tree (Sahar Delijani), We Are Completely Beside Ourselves (Karen Joy Fowler), Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri), Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and Burial Rites (Hannah Kent). They’re all brilliant in completely different ways and definitely, definitely worth reading!

    1. Katie

      A+ on all these authors! Will have to look into some of these!

      1. Loz

        I picked Burial Rites for my bookclub a few months ago. First time in years we all agreed and loved the book!! Highly recommend.

  2. (Longtime lurker here)

    I’m also on GoodReads (author S. Usher Evans). Lately, I’ve been reading a bunch of independent authors in the fantasy/sci fi realm, but some young adults. I’ve got Maze Runner on my to-read list, thanks to a recommendation from one of my fans, so I’ll have to give it a go.

    Recommendations lately: Caroline Greyling, Teshelle Combs, J. Leigh Bralick.

    Trying to read at least 25 books this summer. So far so good!

  3. Jenn

    I just read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline for my June book club book. Great book, highly recommend

  4. Grandma Barnes

    Katie – you are so right about “The Dove Keepers.” I was fortunate to visit The Masada and it was an awesome experience.

  5. Aileen

    I just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and loved it. It’s a must-read, I highly recommend!

  6. Cece

    I really enjoyed Love Walked In and Belong to Me by Marissa De Los Santos. I LOVE her fun writing style and the characters are very endearing (it is about the same main character for both books). The books make me laugh, make me cry, and make me want to keep reading about the characters. Any book that makes you sad that the window into the character’s lives is closing at the end is a great book! Good summer reads though in my opinion Belong to Me is the best of the two!

  7. Erika

    Thanks for sharing! I am just finishing Eleanor and Park and I don’t love it. I also did not think The Fault in Our Stars was all it was hyped up to be. As a high school librarian I read both to keep up with the kids, but was not as wowed as they were.

  8. Katie S

    I’m so happy to hear I’m not the only one who didn’t like Eleanor & Park or Fault in Our Stars. I was bored, bored, bored….and saying that makes me seem like I have no soul. Ack! Can’t wait to check out your other recommendations. A few I recently read and loved – The Rosie Project, Me Before You and Goldfinch. All terrific.

  9. Heather

    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt changed my life. So much so that I decided to tattoo it to myself forever. If you like gorgeous writing messy characters and bittersweet endings I think you would enjoy the 800 or so pages. I call this type of book the savoring kind. It will change you if you let it.

  10. Rebecca

    Would love a list of your favourite books!

  11. Rebecca

    I love anything written by Miriam toewes (Canadian author) and Anne Tyler. I am trying to get back into reading, it is hard with two little ones. I might start with something easy like the new Bridget Jones.

  12. Tanya B.

    I follow you on Goodreads and I’m so happy to hear that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t particularly care for The Fault In Our Stars. It was just okay in my book. I’m taking it easy this summer and sticking with easy, romantic reads that are fun.

  13. Hilary

    You know, when a seventh grade student of mine handed back “Little Women” and said, “Eh, it was a bit long,” I almost cried. This was a kid with a very advanced level of reading comprehension and I was convinced she would love the classic as much as I did. That being said, I will not hold it against you that you did not like “The Fault in Our Stars” or “Eleanor and Park” even though I practically ate them. The amazing thing about books (and writing in general) is that each person will connect in different ways, even if the attachment is very flimsy for some. I read “Gone Girl” last fall and LOVED it, but maybe our tastes in lit are different. Give it a try, though.

  14. Sarah M.

    Since you love to read (as do I), I wanted to recommend this book to you: “A Misfit’s Guide to Infiltrating a Cult.” It’s the author’s first novel, which she self-published! I had the privilege of meeting her yesterday. She’s wonderful, and her book is too! Fast read, captivating, and enthralling. I hope you enjoy it!

    http://www.amazon.com/A-Misfits-Guide-Infiltrating-Cult/dp/1497567327

  15. Jenn

    Rainbow Rowell!! I knew I recognized the name… she used to write the best columns for the Omaha World Herald (hometown newspaper)! I’m sad the book wasn’t as good. 🙁

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