Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year-End Mini Book Reviews

In writing my 2013 favorite's post, I realized that there are a number of books which I read during this year but prior to my blogging return which I hadn’t reviewed; two of which even made it onto my 2013 favorites list (Murder as a Fine Art and The Ocean at the End of the Lane). In writing my reviews I normally like to write my own little story summary using a quote or two from the book, since what better way is there to give you a gist of its content than with the author’s own words; they’re always much more eloquent than I am; but since all my recent reads were library loans that have been returned, I’m going to skip the personal summary with quotes and instead provide a link to each novel’s Amazon page so that you can read the publisher-provided summary and I can limit my input to just my thoughts and feelings on the book.

I hope you don’t mind the mini-reviews but some of these were great reads and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put them on your radar screen in hopes that they might make it onto your upcoming reading list.

The Never List (Koethi Zan). While the story had potential, I found this book a little disappointing. We’re told that the main character is so damaged by her experience as a captive that for the past 10 years she’s been a virtual recluse in her home, but out of the blue – from one day to the next – she’s ready to fly cross-country to face someone from her darkest nightmares; staking out bad guys like she was out of NYPD Blue. Hmmm? A big reveal near the end was also a little predictable, but despite these issues, it was a relatively suspenseful and enjoyable, if not perfect, read.

Where'd You Go Bernadette (Maria Semple). I really enjoyed this book; it was smart and funny with a thoroughly original character in Bernadette which had me in stitches most of the time, and Bee was equally engaging. I thought the way the story was told through a mosaic of emails, flashbacks, etc. was ingenious; keeping things fresh and engrossing. It’s a little zany, in the best way, but I wouldn’t expect any less from an author who once wrote for Arrested Development.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman). Ooh, I loved this book; as you already know, since it made my favorite’s list for the year. It was a harrowing and thrilling tale that was at times sweet and poignant. I know it was written for adults since at times it conveys a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness you don't normally find in children's literature, but it still reads like a child's fairy tale; a perfect story of good vs. evil, friendship, magic and innocence, which leaves you wanting more and demands a follow-up Lettie story.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carol Rifka Brunt). Three adjectives come to mind when thinking of this book: beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful. A moving story that poignantly depicts through a child’s eyes the fear and misconceptions that ran rampant in society about the AIDS epidemic during the late 80’s and in turn highlights how far we’ve come. A multiple Kleenex read for me.

The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey). The only reason this didn’t make my recently published favorites list is because it was published in 2012; if not, it would’ve been right at the top. A wonderful debut novel (amazing someone can crank this out on their first try) that reads like a magical whimsical fairy tale, that keeps you guessing if it’s real or not. The author perfectly captures both the harsh realities of a brutal land and its breathtaking beauty.

The Burgess Boys (Elizabeth Strout). I read this book because I had loved Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning previous novel Olive Kitteridge, and was hopeful of her delivering yet another gem; but I can’t say I really liked it. It was a good story with well-developed characters highlighting the usually interesting sibling dynamics within a family, but at the end of the novel, I just felt like it was all a little pointless and ultimately uninteresting.

The Other Typist (Suzanne Rindell). When I originally read the book jacket, I felt like the story had so much potential, but sadly I ended up not liking or caring about the main character and finding the story very contrived. The constant foreshadowing in the book also made the ending utterly predictable and elements of it unbelievable. I’d say skip it, but to each their own; the book actually has tons of great reviews on Amazon, go figure, so you make the call.

Murder as a Fine Art (David Morrell). I loved this book; a page-turning thriller with a great mystery and even better characters. Morell shares tons of information in the book about Victorian England, like the fact that a woman’s getup with whalebone hoops and corsets weighed around 37 pounds (probably why they’re always swooning in romance novels), but did so without making it seem like a history lesson. The methodical way De Quincey and Emily went about figuring out the crime put me in mind of Holmes and Watson (or current day, Miller and Liu in Elementary).