Mid-Year Book Review — The Best of 2017… So Far

July 11, 2017

I have read a pile of good books this year. A top 5 list at the end of the year just wasn’t going to do justice to them all, so I am posting a mid-year book report. These are my top 5 for the first half of 2017 along with those books that I would recommend reading and, finally, those that just didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

 

5. The Memoir Club, Laura Kalpakian

Since I am currently working on writing my own memoir, I have been reading a LOT of memoirs this year for inspiration. The Memoir Club a story that stood out from the rest. The story follows six strangers who all take a university class on Writing Your Memoir. Although they all come from different backgrounds and are dealing with different struggles, they form a Memoir Club and forge a new present through revealing their pasts. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew these women and could have been right along with them in their journey.


4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

This is an entertaining look at the life of Stephen King. He tells the tale of how he became a writer and gives advice to the novice using anecdotes from his own life. For those that want to write, this book provides invaluable advice from a seasoned, wildly successful author. He offers practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and overabundance of adverbs.

3. This Is How It Always Is: A Novel, Laurie Frankel

Frankel’s own explanation of what this book is about was summed up perfectly on her blog:

  • The sexy pitch: This is a book about a family with a secret. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever. 
  • The provocative pitch: This is a book about how children change…and then change the world.
  • The romantic pitch: This is a book about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family.
  • The what-the-hell-does-the-title-mean explanation: This is a book about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again; parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts; children grow but not always according to plan.
  • And, finally, the just-tell-me-what-the-damn-book-is-about pitch: THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS tells the story of a family with five boys, the youngest of whom becomes a girl.

2. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson

Another memoir takes the number 2 spot on the mid-year top 5. This one from Bill Bryson, who tells his story about walking the Appalachian Trail – a trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Bryson is most entertaining as he tells of the history and ecology of the trail and goes on to provide a humorous look at the people he meets and the situations he encounters along the way.

 

1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

This book is about listening to your little voices. Grabbing hold when inspiration strikes. Embracing your curiosity and letting go of needless suffering. A must-read for anyone struggling on their creative path. Gilbert discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits one needs in order to live a creative life. I read this book when I was feeling stuck in my own writing. By the end, I felt recharged and ready to recommit to the writing process and work on finishing my book. I know this will be a book I turn to again and again when I am looking for inspiration.

 

books worth reading…

 The Last Tribe, Brad Manuel

After a virus wipes out 98% of humanity, how will the remaining 2% behave and thrive? I think I have become so expectant of post-apocalyptic fiction to steer towards chaos, oppression, or tragedy that I kept waiting for something bad to happen. But it never did. People treated one another decently and worked together, checking their egos at the door. It’s really a story of ideal human behavior under extreme circumstances. While this made the book a little hard to believe, I did enjoy the story.

The Yellow Envelope, Kim Dinan

I picked up this book after reading the book jacket and realizing that it was a memoir similar to the story I wanted to tell. Minus the envelope, and the money, and the rocky relationship, and the volunteering… Ok, maybe it wasn’t exactly like the story I wanted to tell, but it had some notes of familiarity. And being that it was another memoir, I hoped to gain some insight into my own writing. I didn’t love this book, but I was entertained enough to finish it and still come out with a feeling like I had a story to tell.

The Life We Bury, Allen Eskens

A college student working on a writing assignment becomes bent on uncovering the truth about the subject of his paper, a Vietnam veteran and convicted murderer, when his stories of war-time heroism and the conviction for rape and murder don’t quite add up. While the investigation and results of poking around are a little far-fetched, the story was engaging and kept me turning the pages.

The Nowhere Man and Orphan X, Gregg Hurwitz

I’m pretty sure that the only reason I picked a book about an orphan who is adopted by the government and trained to be a deadly secret operative was due to the narrator being Scott Brick. But the story kept me entertained enough to read a second book in the series. In each story, “Orphan X” struggles with is humanity and his relationship with the only man he has known as his father. The human nature side of the story combined with the mystery of the secret operative made for interesting reading.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel, Rachel Joyce

This book had been on my wish list for a while and when I saw that it was being made into a movie, I knew I had to read the book first. While the book dragged a bit in the middle and was predictable, the characters were enjoyable and I found myself rooting for Harold to make it to his destination. I am not sure that it will translate well into movie form, but the book is worth reading.

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I am probably one of the few people of my generations who hadn’t read Great Expectations. When I couldn’t find a book that captured my interest, I turned to a classic. Trying to recap now, I find that I can’t remember the ending. I might have to go back and reexamine this one to see if it really is one that held my attention.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

This book has been in the current media lately and has recently been made into a TV series. Possibly why it was chosen as a selection for my book club. Many of my friends said they found the book to be scary and were often frightened while reading it. I was angry. I would not have lasted long in this apocalyptic society where women were treated like property. I would have been one to fight back and resist the brainwashing and probably would have ended up dead.

Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt

The month of March celebrated Irish authors in my second book club, so I picked up Angela’s Ashes. It also happens to be a memoir detailing McCourt’s early childhood in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 1940s. The story details the family’s struggle with poverty and his father’s alcoholism. The witty characters and vivid descriptions keep the reader engaged throughout the story, which ends with McCourt’s arrival in America at the age of 19.

Run and The Magician’s Assistant, Ann Patchett

I have wanted to read Ann Patchett for a while and finally got around to reading two different novels. For the most part, I liked both stories, but I found that in each one the ending was abrupt. There was a nice ribbon that tied things up nicely, but no bow to make it special. In both cases, I was left wanting a lot more. I wanted to know more about the characters and what happened to them at the end of the tale. Which, I suppose is a sign of a good story if I want to know more. I have another Ann Patchett novel coming up in my book club so we’ll see if the trend continues.

The Whole World Over, Julia Glass

I picked this book up Nicaragua at a used bookstore in the touristy area of Granada. I like the story about the complexities of family and marriage and career and the choices we all make. However, there were several issues that were raised that never really took hold. The main character’s mother was introduced in a number of places and there were some mommy issues alluded to that were never resolved. This was another novel, similar to Ann Patchett’s work, in which a compelling story comes to an abrupt end leaving you wanting a little more.

Struggled to Finish…

The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara

This was the biggest disappointment of the year so far. Last year, the book A Little Life by the same author took the #2 spot on my Top 5 of 2016 list. I thought that it must be good if it was written by the same person, but I was wrong. Oh, so wrong. This was a strange tale about a lost tribe that had found the secret to eternal life and how they were exploited by an American scientist. The main character ends up adopting 47 children, caring little for any of them beyond providing for them and ultimately is charged with sexual abuse. The story dragged and was difficult to finish.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

It’s not really fair to rate this book quite yet since I haven’t finished it. But, I have been listening to it for at least a month and I have finished three other books in that time. I think my main problem with this story is that I do not know enough Spanish. There are times in the book where crucial words and phrases are spoken in Spanish, and not reiterated in English, which only leaves me guessing. Since I am listening to the story rather than reading a hard copy, I am usually not in a place where I can stop and look up what is being said. So overall, it isn’t working out for me. I will finish it eventually, and if things change, I will post an update.

Don’t Bother…

Serial, John Lutz

Honestly, I can’t even remember the story and I just read it in January. I even read the publisher’s overview of the book and that only help me recall a bit of the story. If I can’t remember anything about it, I don’t feel like it is something I can recommend.

 


My favorite way to “read” is via audio books. I have a two book per month subscription to Audible and I use every credit I get. I love the service and would recommend it to anyone interested in audio books. Click the Audible icon to the left to try it out!

3 Comments
    1. This is great! Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am always trying to learn through “reading”- I also use audible. But only listen when I’m driving alone- when do you listen? I’d like to carve out more time.
      I also loved Big Magic- and I want to start reading more for pleasure and not just personal development so I love having a list to work from that is already vouched for!
      I have a 3 book a month subscription but my little Madi could use them up on her own if I let her. Sometimes we end up buying extra credits. She’s already through Tamona Quimby, Ralf s mouse, chronicles of narnia and almost done with Lemony Snicket!!!

      1. I often listen in the car, but also while making dinner, working on a project, or just taking some time for me in the hammock. I imagine it is a little more difficult with little ones under foot. If you come across anything you love, please let me know. I’m always looking for great books!

    1. Love knowing what others are reading and having book lists to work with. I have a road trip coming up so I am going to look for one of
      these which I own in hard copy but are sitting on my “to read ” shelf and then check the CD out of the library. That way if I haven’t finished listening to it I can finish reading it and move it off the “to read” shelf which seems to get bigger, not smaller!

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