2016 Books: Q1

Some social media platforms are more useful than others. I joined Goodreads in late 2013 and have really enjoyed it. I like that it allows me to track my books, see what my friends are reading, and find new books. Two of the cooler benefits I’ve benefited from recently are giveaways and eBook deals. If you tell Goodreads about books you want to read, they’ll alert you if the publisher is giving away copies of the book, so you can enter a contest if you want. I managed to win a giveaway for My Brilliant Friend, which is quite exciting. Goodreads will also notify you if there’s a really good deal online. For instance, Running the Rift, which was on my “want to read” list, was on sale for only $1.99 in the Kindle store for 2 days. I snapped it up.

(By the way, all of the above is my personal opinion and not paid or part of a promotion. Just in case you were wondering.)

Anyway, the other great feature of Goodreads is setting annual reading challenges. Last year, my goal was 30 books, but I only read 23 since I also had a New Yorker magazine subscription. For 2016, I decided to try for 30 books again. I’m happy to report that I’ve just read my 30th book, and it’s only mid-September!

Since I’ve read a lot of books already, I decided to break down these book posts by quarters. Here are the books I read (in chronological order) from January 1st to March 31st:

henrietta-lacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Goodreads rating: 4.02 stars (out of 5); 345,000+ ratings
My rating: 3 stars
Categories: Non-fiction, science, ethics
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory…she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories?” —Tom Nissley
My 2-cents: I started listening to the audiobook version of this about 6-7 years ago on my iPod, and then upgraded to an iPhone. I couldn’t figure out how to transfer the Audible file, so I never finished it. (Lazy, I know.) Anyway, so I finally got this book from the local library and finished it. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but I felt like the second half dragged. I think the book does a decent job of describing why Henrietta Lacks’s cells are so special, yet also pointing out the ethical problems with how they were attained. The latter half of the book focuses on Henrietta’s children and grandchildren, and their general distrust of the medical profession. I thought it could have been more neatly edited, but that’s just me.

crazyrichasiansCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Goodreads rating: 3.65 stars (out of 5); 40,000+ ratings
My rating: 3 stars
Categories: Fiction, high society, East Asian
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.”
My 2-cents: This is the classic “sneak peak into the upper class” genre but with an Asian (Singaporean) twist. The twist was what kept my interest. The characters and plot were interesting enough, but nothing too surprising or out of the ordinary. A fun, light read.

dearlifeDear Life by Alice Munro
Goodreads rating: 3.74 stars (out of 5); 20,000+ ratings
My rating: 4 stars
Categories: Fiction, short stories
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “With her peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but spacious and timeless stories, Alice Munro illumines the moment a life is shaped — the moment a dream, or sex, or perhaps a simple twist of fate turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into another way of being. Suffused with Munro’s clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these stories…paint a vivid and lasting portrait of how strange, dangerous, and extraordinary the ordinary life can be.”
My 2-cents: I upgraded this collection of short stories to 4 stars mostly because I think it’s really difficult to write a solid short story. I always felt a bit detached emotionally from the stories because of the setting (time period, characters, and geography), but I can’t deny that they are very well-written. Some of the stories will stay with me for a long time.

howbadHow Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald
Goodreads rating: 4.21 (out of 5); 99 ratings
My rating: 5 stars
Categories: Non-fiction, essays, sports psychology, performance
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “The greatest athletic performances spring from the mind, not the body. Elite athletes have known this for decades and now science is learning why it’s true. In his fascinating new book How Bad Do You Want It?, coach Matt Fitzgerald examines more than a dozen pivotal races to discover the surprising ways elite athletes strengthen their mental toughness.”
My 2-cents: Probably my favorite Matt Fitzgerald book yet. Even if you don’t care about the sports psychology aspect of the book, which I thought was fascinating, the athlete profiles and stories in each chapter were riveting and inspiring. (Note: I heartily recommended this book to several running friends, who said they did *not* agree  with me about the riveting part, and promptly fell asleep every time they tried to read it. To each, his/her own!)

allthelightAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Goodreads rating: 4.31 (out of 5); 396,000+ ratings
My rating: 3 stars (more like 2.5)
Categories: Fiction, Historical (World War II)
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
My 2-centsI know a lot of people who loved this book; I was not one of them. I don’t have any severe criticisms, it just didn’t move or grab me. One thing that really bugged me were the short sentences. But otherwise, I thought the plot and characters were fine…nothing more, nothing less. It reminded me a lot of The Book Thief, actually, which I also didn’t love (but others did). 

goonsquadA Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Goodreads rating: 3.64 (out of 5); 130,000+ ratings
My rating: 5 stars
Categories: Fiction, modern
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.
My 2-cents4.5 stars, rounding up to 5 just because. I thought of it more as a collection of related short stories rather than a cohesive novel. Each chapter was compelling, unique, and added to the overarching web of characters. Also, there’s an entire chapter that’s a PowerPoint presentation!

12yearsTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Goodreads rating: 4.14 (out of 5); 55,000+ ratings
My rating: 4 stars
Categories: Non-fiction, memoir, slavery
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, Twelve Years a Slave is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. It recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation.
My 2-cents: *audiobook version, read by Louis Gossett, Jr.*
Great first-hand account of slavery on top of a compelling chain of events makes this jump from 3 to 4 stars in my opinion.

empressEmpress by Shan Sa
Goodreads rating: 3.68 (out of 5); 4,500+ ratings
My rating: 2 stars
Categories: Historical fiction, China
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “A ravishing historical novel of one of China’s most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.
My 2-centsInteresting from a historical perspective, but I kept rolling my eyes at the over-the-top prose. I wonder if it was better in the original language (either Chinese or French)? (It seemed like a bad translation. A quick Google search revealed that the author speaks Chinese and French.)

 

furiouslyhappyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Goodreads rating: 3.94 (out of 5); 46,000+ ratings
My rating: 3 stars
Categories: Essays, Humorous, Quirky, Depression, Mental illness
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “In LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED, Jenny Lawson baffled readers with stories about growing up the daughter of a taxidermist. In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.
My 2-cents: I didn’t think it was anywhere as funny as Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. For people who suffer from paralyzing depression and anxiety, I think this book is probably awesome. I just couldn’t relate to it very well, and got a bit impatient with it after a while. Still, it was enlightening to read about the author’s experiences and I felt like it made me more sympathetic to those who struggle with mental illness.

everythingineverEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Goodreads rating: 3.76 (out of 5); 104,000+ ratings
My rating:4 stars
Categories: Fiction, Immigrant experience, Dark
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio…A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
My 2-cents: Well-written and great storytelling, but there was something about the prose that left me cold. Growing up in a predominantly white area, I related a lot to the Lee family in the book. (And not just because we share a last name.)

fatesfuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Goodreads rating: 3.56 (out of 5); 56,000+ ratings
My rating: 5 stars
Categories: Fiction, Relationships, Dark
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but behind closed doors, things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.
My 2-cents: I don’t remember why I gave this book 5 stars (I didn’t write a review at the time), but I think I just really enjoyed it. I thought the storytelling was gripping and I loved the structure of the different perspectives. That said, I can see how not everyone would enjoy this book.

missoulaMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Goodreads rating: 4.05 (out of 5); 21,000+ ratings
My rating: 4 stars
Categories: Non-fiction, Journalism, Criminal Justice, Sexual Assault
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “From bestselling author Jon Krakauer, a stark, powerful, meticulously reported narrative about a series of sexual assaults at the University of Montana ­— stories that illuminate the human drama behind the national plague of campus rape.
My 2-cents: In retrospect, I might bump that 4 star rating to a 5. I’ve referenced this book a countless number of times since I finished it. It’s such a well-rounded, well-researched piece, not just about college rape, but also the criminal justice process and acquaintance rape in general. One interesting fact I learned was that most people who commit acquaintance rape tend to be serial rapists, and educating police investigators of this fact may lead to more successful prosecution of these rapists. This is such a relevant, important topic, and I can understand how most people wouldn’t want to read about it (because it’s depressing, duh), but I think it should be required reading for all people, especially college students – men and women.

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About

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Book review, Books
8 comments on “2016 Books: Q1
  1. iampotassium says:

    Yay books! How fun! It’s fun to read your descriptions of books I’ve read too. I’m glad you liked Fates and Furies. I don’t know why but I HATED it…. :-/ Someday we will have to discuss it. I am interested in your opinion!

    PS – Why are we not GoodReads friends?! 😀

  2. Angela says:

    Thanks for validating many of my own opinions! 😉

  3. Grace says:

    I am far too lazy for Goodreads. I agree about Henrietta Lacks – the author had a really compelling story, and it is a great *story*, but could’ve been faster-paced. I LOVED A Visit from the Goon Squad! And I’m with you on How Bad Do You Want It. A lot of my (speedy) runner friends said they were kind of meh about the sports psychology insights and stories, but many of the stories were new to me.

    • Jen says:

      Oh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way about Henrietta Lacks! I was afraid I was going to get hate mail/comments. 😉

      I think that my friends that didn’t like HBDYWI are actually really good at tapping into their inner potential/pushing themselves – much better than I am! So maybe they don’t need the sports psychology as much as I do?

  4. […] Previously: 2016 Books: Q1 […]

  5. […] of doing the detailed book updates I did for Quarters 1 and 2, here’s a quick 2-cents of the books I read in the latter half of 2016 (in […]

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