Thursday, February 1, 2018

What's Val Reading? (January 2018)

Happy February! How is it that we're already through January? I'm not complaining, though ... the closer we get to spring, the better!

As we head into Val's reads, I want to share something she recently told me: she has a hard time giving less than 3 stars to any book. So, I'm just guessing here, but I'd say that her 3 stars would be equivalent to my 2 or 2-1/2 stars. So when she gives a book 3 stars, she's probably not recommending it. Just FYI 😉.

(I've linked each book's Amazon page in the title in case you want to check it out. These are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase, I'll get a small commission.)

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (Goodreads)

I had high hopes for this book, as it’s written by the author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which I really enjoyed. Maybe because of those high expectations, this book let me down a bit.

The protagonist is Aviva Grossman, a young congressional intern who has an affair with a married congressman. In an effort to escape her past and start new, she moves across the country and changes her name to Jane Young. The book flashes back and forth between dual timelines, showing us both how the affair happened, as well as Jane in present-day (over a decade later). I thought the book made some good points about the way society reacts to scandals like this one, how it is often much more difficult for the woman involved.  However, I didn’t connect deeply with any of the characters (though I did find the Congressman’s wife to be the most likeable/empathetic, which surprised me).  Part of my reaction could be that I just don’t enjoy an affair as a plot-point in a book, especially one unfolding as the book progresses (if it’s mentioned as having happened in the past, that’s a little easier to swallow). The writing was good in this one, so maybe for another reader, it would be an enjoyable read. 3.5 stars.

Content: I don’t think any of the sex was described, but I’d say this would definitely get a PG-13 if it were a movie.

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan (Goodreads)

The story is about Zoe, the “Perfect Girl” of the title.  Except she isn’t at all perfect.  Zoe is a teenage piano prodigy with a very high IQ who struggles with social interactions. A few years ago, Zoe was driving a car that crashed and killed her three passengers, also teens. She was convicted and did time in a detention center, and now she and her mother are trying to rebuild their lives.  But then her mother is found dead.

Let me just start by saying that this book was well-written, but about 200 pages longer than it needed to be. All the events in the story take place within a 24-hour period, but the book is 435 pages long…so it takes a long time for anything to happen.

I picked up this book because last year I read What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan, and I really enjoyed it. I assumed that The Perfect Girl would be another thriller, but I’m not sure that term really applies, since it didn’t feel suspenseful at all.  I could tell that the author was trying to convey a sense of foreboding, and I wanted to find out what happened, but it certainly wasn’t a nail-biter. If you’re looking for a good suspense novel, I’d definitely recommend that you skip The Perfect Girl and instead read What She Knew. 3 stars.

Content warnings: Domestic abuse plays a role in the story, so if that’s a trigger for you, you may want to avoid this book.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett (Goodreads)

This book alternates between present-day England and England during Jane Austen’s day. It also alternates between being annoying and enjoyable. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the Jane Austen parts more than the present-day parts. I expected the Jane bits to be gimmicky or annoying, but she felt just right. I’m still shocked I liked it so much.

Too bad I can’t say the same for Sophie, the contemporary protagonist.  Sophie is a bibliophile who especially loves Jane Austen, but has a soft spot for all books, thanks to her Uncle Bertram.  Uncle Bertram recently died in an accident (or was it?), and Sophie is to inherit his books, some of which are quite valuable.  But when she gets to his flat, his books are gone, and there’s more going on than it seems.

The story ends up being a bit of a literary treasure hunt, and for the most part, it was fun and kept my attention.  

I don’t want to say too much about what annoyed me because it really would be a spoiler if someone were to read the book. So I’ll just say that Sophie made some unintelligent choices that seemed obviously wrong to me. And then I rolled my eyes pretty hard at the way the book wrapped up. 3 stars.

Content warnings: There’s an unnecessary amount of sex in this book. I can’t remember how descriptive it was, but every time, I wished it wasn’t included. Side note: Sophie thinks about sex more than I think a person would if they were in the middle of a dangerous mystery while investigating their uncle’s death.  But that’s just my opinion.

 A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman (Goodreads)

I am late to the game on this book, but I’m so glad I finally read it! What a lovely, hopeful, uplifting story.  The book centers around Ove, a 59-year-old recent widower.  Ove reminds me a lot of the old man from Up – his wife was his whole world, and he loved her with all his heart.  And now that she’s gone, he doesn’t really know how to keep living. A Man Called Ove is the story of an unlikely group of strangers becoming a community, then becoming family.  I cried four times in the first half of the book, then basically sobbed the entire last chapter. (But it was a good sob!)  I can’t recommend this book highly enough. 5 stars. 

Content: No sex, very little language. 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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