Books 2016: Q3 & Q4

One of things I like about Goodreads is that it helps me track the books that I’ve read or listened to. Every year, they have a book challenge. For the past two years, I’ve pledged to read 30 books. In 2015, I didn’t quite make my goal and ended the year with 23 books. In my defense, I did have a weekly New Yorker magazine to read. I’m happy to report that for 2016, I easily met my goal (and then some) by finishing 36 books (33 read, 3 audio). For 2017, I’m increasing my goal to 35 books. (Pretty wimpy considering the average Goodreads challenger pledges 46 books for the year. But what can I say, I try to set attainable goals.)

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Instead of doing the detailed book updates I did for Quarters 1 and 2, here’s a quick run-down of the books I read in the latter half of 2016 (in chronological order of when I read them). Recommended books are in bold.

  • Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner (3 stars)
    I got this book at a yard sale while I was in Maryland. It was a perfect vacation/airplane book. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it (it’s about women who are part of a mothers’ group), but by the end, I found the characters really well developed and some of the conversations relatable and realistic.
  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4 stars)
    I got this book at the same yard sale as Little Earthquakes. I thought the story was entertaining and full of imagination and whimsy. This was my first Neil Gaiman book, but I have a feeling it won’t be my last.
  • The Girls by Emma Cline (2 stars)
    So much hype associated with this book! It was an OK plot but the prose was too melodramatic for my taste.
  • The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (3 stars)
    Starts off with an interesting enough premise, but I didn’t like the characters and was never fully invested in the “horror” of Positron/Consilience. Not Atwood’s best but a quick read.
  • Mad About the Boy (Bridget Jones #3) by Helen Fielding (2 stars)
    I was looking for something to read and this was available on loan from the library. Mad has the same formula as the original Bridget Jones, but falls a bit flat. Maybe it’s because the blog/diary format no longer feels fresh, or perhaps because I can’t relate to a 50-something single mom who can’t seem to get herself together despite all of the resources she has access to.
  • Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (3.5 stars)
    I admit that I put this book on my list mostly because it had the word “running” in the title and it was well-reviewed, which is super rare (in my experience). When Goodreads told me that the eBook was on sale for $1.99, I jumped on it.

    It was a good thing that I didn’t really know what this book was about (a Tutsi runner’s coming of age story during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994), because I’m not sure I would’ve been so eager to read it. I thought both the plot and prose were OK – not bad, but not great either. I spent the last quarter of the book trying not to cry, so keep the tissues handy, and avoid reading on public transportation like I did. The best thing about this book was learning about the history of Rwanda and the basis for the genocide without it feeling like a history lecture. The author seems to have done a great amount of research and was sensitive to presenting the story from a Rwandan perspective; at no time did I feel like, “Oh, a white American woman wrote this.”

    I would give it 4 stars, but it’s hard for me to say that “I really like” stories about genocide. But this is definitely a book that will stay with me for a long time, and I highly recommend it.

  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (4 stars)
    A lot of suppressed giggles on BART with this one. I enjoyed it more than Mindy Kaling’s first book.
  • Purity by Jonathan Franzen (2 stars)
    I managed to finish this book even though I didn’t enjoy 90% of it. I hated all of the characters and why were all of the mothers so unstable/smothering/horrible? The writing was fine but lacked emotion or grace. The one redeeming thing was that I liked the ending.
  • You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein (5 stars)
    In the genre of comedian memoirs/essays, this one was a gem. Not as many “LOL” moments, but I found myself nodding, grimacing, and chuckling in sympathy to many of Jessi Klein’s essays. The topics range from the somewhat superficial and trivial (e.g., porn, lingerie, why women are obsessed with Anthropologie) to deeper issues (e.g., ignoring red flags in destructive relationships, following a passion even if it seems scary). What’s more, there were so many parallels between me and the author (and so many of my women friends), I instantly related to her stories. She doesn’t hold back and I admire her raw honesty.
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman (2.5 stars)
    What I liked about the book: a new-to-me setting (SW Australia) and an engaging moral dilemma/conflict. What I didn’t enjoy: it was super melodramatic and drawn out, and featured ultimately unsympathetic main characters. It was pretty obvious to me how to solve the moral dilemma, but the main characters were very stubborn and emo for about a third of the book. I found this to be very frustrating. I can see why they made this book into a movie, which I think would be more enjoyable in a 2 hour format as opposed to an overly long novel.
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, translation by Richard Peavar and Larissa Volokhonsky (4 stars)
    I read this book for book club, but it had been on my radar for a while, based on the recommendation from friends. Things I loved: the talking cat, the absurd/magical realism and how well it’s pulled off, and generally all of the parts with Margarita, the Master, and Woland & crew. What I didn’t love: the Pontius Pilate sub-plot/parallel story and reading a lot of footnotes. I think I would enjoy this more upon a second reading; I’m sure I would catch things that I missed the first time.
  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (3.5 stars)
    This was on our family’s shared Kindle account – I was looking for a light read after The Master and Margarita, and this was the perfect palate cleanser. This book is like junk food that tastes good *and* is moderately good for you. While I was reading it, I felt like it was such a guilty pleasure, but I also found it well-written and well-paced. There could’ve been a whole lot of eye-rolling, yet this book stays slightly above the fray. I found the conflict and characters compelling as well. I’m definitely interested in reading more from this author in the future.
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – audiobook (3 stars)
    I love Aziz Ansari, so I had very high expectations. Unfortunately, Modern Romance was kinda dry and dull – it’s basically a synopsis of research that Ansari did (with the help of academics) on the world of online dating. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook version, because Ansari occasionally does one of his goofy voices or goes off on a tangent and those are priceless. It probably didn’t help that I listened to a good chunk of this book during one of my worst training runs for CIM (where I bonked hard).
  • 1984 by George Orwell (4 stars)
    This was our book club pick for November. I can see why it’s been so influential. Reading it as Trump was elected President was surreal and brought the authoritarian aspects of the book to a terrifying possible reality. Even though the overall feeling of the book is depressing, I still walked away hopeful that the government would never be able to quench human nature and its desire to be free.
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (3 stars)
    Full disclosure: I won a copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway.
    Several friends raved about My Brilliant Friend, so I went in with very high expectations. I thought it was very readable, but I found it kind of boring at parts. Perhaps it reads better in Italian as well. Overall, what I liked most about MBF was the coming-of-age story about two young women in 1950s Naples – definitely a time and place I’m not familiar with, and I enjoyed learning about the cultural norms of the period.

 

 

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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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4 comments on “Books 2016: Q3 & Q4
  1. Angela says:

    I am going to have to go back & read your reviews from earlier this year as well, because several that you read this year are on my ‘to read’ list &, obviously, I need to know if they are worth my time or not! (ie, you’ve convinced me not to bother with “The Girls,” “The Light Between Oceans,” & “Modern Romance.”)

    (Also, I wouldn’t feel too bad about your goodreads challenge goal, because I have a feeling that average skews high due to some people who read, like, multiple books a week for their job, or don’t HAVE a job, etc. I read on the internet (!) that the average person reads 3 books a year, the obvious conclusion being that you are 12x more awesome than the average person. 😉 )

    • Jen says:

      Glad to help! And good point about the skewed goodreads challenge goals. Considering that I read less than 10 books a year for many, many years, I’ll take anything greater than 12 as a victory!

  2. Layla says:

    2016 seems to be the year of 36 books: You’re the third person I know who did so.

    I’ve read a couple of these books and added a couple to my “to read” list, so thanks! Like Angela, I found it helpful to see your views of “The Girls” and “The Light Between Oceans,” especially the latter, because I was thinking I should read it even though it didn’t look that great.

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