Recent Reads | January 2017
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. This highly anticipated new novel was worth the wait; from the first 20 pages I knew I was holding something truly special. I feel like Towles really hits his stride with this book and finds his style. Clever, beautiful, satisfying, and featuring an extremely likable main character, the story runs it's course smoothly and elegantly. It manages to truly run the gamut of emotion from hilarious to tense to hopeful within a beautiful structure and compelling plot. Deftly woven though it are bits of history, wine pairings, traditional manners, literature, architecture, and philosophy. I definitely see why this made it on so many people's favorites lists last year, it's one of those rare, pitch-perfect, magical reads that will stick with you for a long time.
The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante- The second in the Neopolitan novels and Ferrante continues with her deceptively spare prose with just a ton of themes and issues to unpack within the text. It's interesting how the writing never draws attention to its self and yet these books are profoundly literary. The story picks up right after the first volume left off and is a much swifter pace than the first, as Elena and Lila are now young adults and there is a lot happening in their worlds with men, family, education and in their neighborhood. The series is definitely gaining momentum here, and I found this second book much harder to put down than the first.
The Making of a Chef, by Michael Ruhlman- Staying true to my resolution to read more non-fiction, and knowing I enjoy narrative non-fiction and food memoirs, I picked this up after hearing it recommended on a podcast. It was compulsively readable and relates what it's like to be a student at the Culinary Institute of America, from the first days learning to make broth, to advanced cooking skills, stints as a waiter in the school's restaurants, the science of baking bread, and so much more. Ruhlman does an excellent job of talking about the instructors, their backgrounds, and what makes them truly incredible at their jobs, and by extension, what makes the school so illustrious. He relates his experiences in classes, in the kitchens, and as a member of the waitstaff, while weaving in snippets about his fellow students, and it all combines to give a really interesting peek into what it would be like to go through the program.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan- This was my total fluff read for this month, pure brain candy to balance out Jane Eyre this month and it did not disappoint! It was an interesting (fictionalized) peek into the ultra wealthy asian culture and into a part of the world I know next to nothing about, was fast paced and gossipy, and just the perfect lighthearted counterweight to my other reading. I also really appreciated that the plot was multilayered and from the perspectives of several characters, which tends to be my preference in novels like this.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë- A classic I haven't read in at least ten years, re-visiting it as a buddy read with Rikki and as an adult reader was a really good experience. I think I really have a lot more appreciation for gothic novels as a genre now. They are such a specific flavor, and you kind of just have to roll with the melodrama and the contrived plotting and the spooky stuff and just appreciate it as a whole for what it is. You also have to love that this novel really started a bunch of now-commonly used tropes including "horrible boarding school" and "madwoman in the attic". Jane herself is quite the admirable heroine, fiery and strong under her calm, plain exterior, it's very easy to appreciate why she is so beloved. She's simply indomitable and that is so fresh and admirable, even today. It's very obvious why this classic has stood the test of time, and I look forward to reading it again in another ten years.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett- I am a long time lover of Ann Patchett and was super excited to get my hands on this. This novel was honestly completely mesmerizing. I'd forgotten how much I love her writing, but when I picked this up, I flew through 100 pages before I could tear my eyes away from the book. This is a great look into of the inner workings of a blended family over decades, and how people related to one another within the bonds of blood and marriage. It's a loosely formatted novel, making leaps around in time and between characters without once losing it's train of thought or purpose, while keeping everything artfully twined together, all without it feeling remotely forced. Add all this to an almost too realistic portrayal of blended families....it's simply gorgeous.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë - I haven't had enough Brontë in my life. As it goes for classics, this is undoubtedly one of the greats. As another goal this year is to read through some classic literature, this novel also appeared at the library to join the ranks of recent reads this month. I've been hearing a lot about Jane, her hard life, endurance, and heroine character - and let's just say I wasn't disappointed. There was some predictability and obvious coincidences, but I enjoyed this and look forward to reading this with my daughter when she's older. Go Jane!
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness - I saw there was a movie coming out on this and jumped on reading it. This will be a buddy read with my son so we can watch it together. I didn't really know much about this story, except that a monster comes to a little boy's window looking for answers or something. Then, there's a pretty big twist and some heart-wrenching emotional rollercoaster scenes. Definitely not what I expected, but it was written well and one of those stories that sticks close to your heart.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling - Bear with me guys, but this was actually my first time reading any Harry Potter book. If you remember this about me, I'm not about reading what's popular, and so, I've waited FOREVER to read it. After realizing that this series is what got my son started on his love of reading, I decided it was just time to give J.K. Rowling the credit she's due.
Beastly, by Alex Flinn - I LOVE this movie. Admittedly, it's not anything super spectacular, but it's a fun, modern play on Beauty and the Beast (huge fan over here!), and I watch it often. I didn't know it was a book until I happened to stumble upon it at a book store clearance section and it was just meant to be! This is also a RARE instance where the movie is a bit better than the book, but I'm still happy I read it. Fun, quick read!
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple - I've been hearing about this book all over the place, and after the last few heavier reads I had, I needed something fun. Library holds coming in all at once for the win! I quite enjoyed the unique, charismatic, albeit off kilter characters and storyline. Another fun, easy read for the month.