2014: A Year in Reading

I’ve finally finished my yearly reading stats post! As I’ve done in previous years, I also attempted to choose my favorite books from the year (it’s always so hard!)! Overall, I’m really pleased with the amount and variety of books I read in 2014. I’ve made an increasing effort over the past several years to diversify my reading selections, and I think the reading stats are starting to show that.

If you’re curious, you can click the following links to see how 2014 compares to previous years: 2012 & 2013.

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Reading Stats for 2014:

Number of books read: 59

Number of paperback/hardcover: 29

Number of e-books: 1

Number of audiobooks: 30

Number of fiction: 47

Number of non-fiction: 12

Average Rating (out of 5 points): 3.78

Most books read in one month: 7 books in January, May and August

Longest book read: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin at 784 e-book pages (1060 paperback)

Longest audio book listened to:  Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois: 32 hours and 49 minutes (800 hardcover pages)

Female author : male author: 35 : 24 (note I have left off an anthology which featured selections from both male and female authors)

Total number of books read that were NOT set in the United States: 25

Total number of unique countries read: 11 (United States, Canada, Spain, Chile, United Kingdom, Nigeria, India, Australia, China, France, and Democratic Republic of the Congo)

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I still can’t believe I read 59 books last year…that just doesn’t seem possible! I’m also very happy with the number of non-fiction books I read (12!?)…I think this is the most I’ve ever read in one year. In 2015 I will be participating in challenges that will encourage me to read both books in translation and books set in countries that are not the US, so hopefully I’ll have more than 11 different countries to report!

In addition to collecting the stats, I also reflected on all the books I read and attempted to choose some favorites. It’s always hard to pick the absolute favorite, so I listed some runners up as well.

Best Fiction Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

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Choosing a fiction book was so, so hard this year, but this epic, wise, and very entertaining novel is the clear winner in my mind. I definitely plan to re-read this novel and more George Eliot in general in the future.

Runners up: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Best Non-Fiction Book: Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

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Just ask my (long-suffering) boyfriend…I’m STILL talking about this book. I was already familiar with some of the facts Moss described in this book, but learning more about the science of taste (and how much time and money the processed food industry has invested to both acquire and exploit this knowledge) has forever changed the way I eat and think about eating in general. It’s not that I think the giant food companies are inherently evil or that I will never eat processed food again…but lets just say I go much farther out of my way to find an alternative than I did before reading this book.

This book is eye-opening, interesting, and totally worth your time if you have access to a copy.

Runners up: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Best Audio Book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

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I absolutely loved this book, and the fact that it was read by Cheryl Strayed herself.

Runners up: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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Next up will be my 2015 reading challenges…and then I’ll be all caught up(ish)!!!

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Book Review: Sisterland

sisterland

“We all make mistakes, don’t we? But if you can’t forgive yourself, you’ll always be an exile in your own life.” –Curtis Sittenfeld, Sisterland

Title: Sisterland
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Format: Audiobook
Reader: Rebecca Lowman
Publisher: Books on Tape
Publication Date: June, 25, 2013
Source: My local public library

Synopsis:

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”–innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that a devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. More troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister, and truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

–From Goodreads

My Thoughts:

In my 20+ years of reading, I have generally run across four types of books: 1) the kind that start out great and keep you hooked all throughout, 2) the slow-starters that make it worth your while in the end, 3) the slow-starters that never live up to their promise (and make you rue the day you ever saw that blasted book cover!), and last but not least 4) the kind that start out amazing (“Oh my goodness this is going to be a 5-star read!”) and let you down so much that you feel bitter every time you think about them. Sadly, Sisterland falls into the last category for me. It was all going so well until it wasn’t…

Initially, I picked up this book because it seemed like it would combine a story about a strong sisterly bond with some sort of mysterious event. I have a sister whom I’m very close to and I like to read books that examine the amazing and complicated web of relations that arise when you have a sister. But even I can admit that the sibling story can be a bit stale after awhile, so why not add in a little mystery? Sounds perfect, right? Right. Well the “mystery” quickly takes a backseat, and the book becomes a character study with little to no plot progression. This would probably turn some readers off, but I actually like a good character-driven story so I kept reading.

The story is told entirely through Kate’s perspective, both in the present and through flashbacks. In the present, Kate is a mother to two young children and wife to Jeremy. She describes (the story is told in first person) the struggles and rewards of motherhood and homemaking while also trying to rein in her less-conventional twin sister Violet (Vi). In the flashbacks, Kate describes her past and especially her relationship with Violet.  Although these flashbacks are a bit lengthy at times, they provide a lot of insight into the current state of Kate and Vi’s relationship. Kate is serious about her responsibilities and wants to “blend-in” while Vi loves to stand out and be spontaneous. These sisters clearly love each other and are always there for one another, but they rarely see eye-to-eye.

Some reviewers have commented that Kate is “boring,” but I disagree with this assessment. I found her to be interesting, sometimes humorous, compassionate, and honest. She felt real, almost as if she was someone I knew in real life. In my opinion, these character-driven sections are the best part of the book. Sittenfeld’s prose is sharp and spot on.

However, during the last 1/3 of the book the “action” begins and things just go from bad to worse. Many of the things that occur in this section of the book are not only implausible, but just completely unbelievable. It was incredibility disappointing to see this story veer from an interesting, character-driven drama to a blase melodrama. Not only is the plot direction Sittenfeld chose way overdone, but in this case it was not even done well. In recent memory, Sisterland is the most disappointing reading experience I can recall.

Admittedly this is probably the harshest review I’ve written yet, which is surprising considering how excited I was about it during the first 2/3 of the book. Seriously, it was a 4-5 star read until “the big event” and all the ridiculousness that followed. I’ve looked through reader comments and it seems nearly everyone agrees with me. I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone. It has its bright moments, but these are overshadowed by a poorly thought-out ending.

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 2/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The strong character-driven sections (basically the first 2/3 of the novel)
  3. What I didn’t like: The ending (*shudders*)
  4. I would recommend this book for: People who enjoy family melodramas

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Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.” –Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Quirk
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source: Personal Collection

Synopsis:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

–From Goodreads

My Thoughts:

I started reading this book while sitting on an airplane that was “overweight” and was consequently delayed for an hour and half. In spite of (or maybe because of) the “will we or won’t we ever leave the ground” drama playing out in the background, I found myself getting surprisingly sucked into this novel. I had previously held out on reading Miss. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because I had been run over by the “hype train” one too many times (i.e. The Hunger Games trilogy, Water for Elephants, etc), and I learned it was part of a series (groan). However, I kept hearing about how “unique” the book is, and that it was going to be made into a movie. So I caved.

As I alluded to above, the novel starts off really strong. I enjoyed following Jacob, the protagonist, as he navigated the often tricky teenage existence. He has a job he hates (and doesn’t try very hard at), his parents don’t understand him, and he doesn’t fit in very well with people his own age. Jacob is however very close with his grandfather, Abraham, who shows him pictures of children he knew on an island in Wales. Riggs’s prose is sharp and witty in these early pages, and I found myself nearly laughing out loud (on a crowded plane full of cranky passengers nonetheless). The vintage photographs were also fascinating, and I liked how they were tied into the story.

However, after Jacob sets off in search of the children in the photographs my enthusiasm for the story began to wane.  The prose became much more sloppy, and the photographs come so quickly at parts that they seem to detract from the story rather than add to it. This is especially true with regard to the peculiar children themselves–I had to keep flipping back and forth because I couldn’t keep them all straight. I also had a hard time accepting the world Riggs created since it wasn’t well explained and there were many plot holes in the explanation. Hopefully, some of these will be cleared up in the next book in the series.

What I think this book is really lacking (or at least lacking for me) is character development. Aside from Jacob, most of the other characters are so flat and underdeveloped that they are forgettable. There are a few who stood out (Emma, Abraham, Miss Peregrine), but they were in the minority. I especially do not understand why more time wasn’t devoted to Jacob’s parents. Clearly, Riggs is trying to paint them as the stereotypically “absent and vapid” parents, but they were almost comically unbelievable to me. Why not just have Jacob be raised by his grandfather? Not only would little have been lost from the plot by omitting Jacob’s parents, but I think the narrative would have felt more genuine.

And one other thing: the love story? No. Just no. I can’t say anymore without giving away spoilers, but if you’ve read it I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.

Overall, I really like the premise of this novel and am curious enough after reading the ending to give the second book in the series, Hollow City, a try. The best parts of the book–the beginning, the atmospheric setting of Wales, and the peculiar children–offset the bad parts enough to make the reading experience enjoyable. So in the end, while this book didn’t live up to its initial promise for me, I still think it was pretty good.

What Others Had To Say:

*Let me know if you have a review published and I’ll add a link to it!

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 3/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The visually stunning photographs, the overall premise of the novel
  3. What I didn’t like: Lack of character development, the bad romance, and slow second half of the book
  4. I would recommend this book for: People who like vintage photographs and/or enjoy young adult books

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Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review. All opinions expressed are my own.