2019 Year-end Book Roundup: Here we go (sort of)

First of all, NO, you adorable fools, I do not remember everything (or anything, almost) that has happened for the last ten years, I did in fact scan my blog for every single event - if I didn't blog it, it might as well not have happened. I undoubtedly missed several important events - just realized I didn't put going to Blissdom with the inestimable Hannah and Nicole, which was HUGE, mistake now rectified (rectified, hee hee). And I agree with Nicole that all of that stuff seems to have happened no more than three years ago, so wth, time, you're just fucking with me now? We have an agreement with our group of friends that for most things we just don't do the math - everything happened "about five years ago". It works for us.

We have had a lovely Christmas holiday. Some rest time, some family time, some time with friends, our yearly viewing of Mickey's Christmas Carol (the Ghost of Christmas Present trying to say 'pistachio' used to make little Angus howl with laughter) . Christmas Eve we had my parents and couple of extra friends. Christmas Day we were here for presents, at my parents' for brunch, came home for naps and went back for dinner, which was as close to perfect as we could get without my sister's family here.

Angus got a book of funny wrong exam answers in his stocking and read out an entry before every present opened ("Describe hard water: 'Ice'; Define the term free press - 'when your mother irons your pants for you' etc.) I get everyone way too many presents, trying to hit a judicious range of useful, desired and quirky - I have no regrets.

I have spent a few evenings in the recliner in the darkened living room with the lit-up Christmas tree watching dark foreign dramas, which is one of my favourite things to do (Angus is settled in there tonight - Matt just asked him if he wanted a smoothie before Matt went to bed and he requested a Moscow Mule instead - the times, they are a-changin').

We had a few really nice impromptu friend drop-ins before Christmas, which meant I could sit down for a drink without worrying about doing my hair or taking my apron off in between baking toffee shortbread and gingerbread scones and buttercream wafer cookies. New Year's Eve was our usual gathering here (in our friend group, once you've done something once and it has been found satisfactory, you might as well get used to doing it that way at that time forever until you die. This has way more pros than cons, so I don't try to buck the trend).

As the children have grown and in some cases partnered up with other children (they are children, I said what I said), the initial arrival can feel slightly overwhelming, but then the girls go upstairs and the boys go downstairs (more or less) and things settle down a bit until near midnight when everyone comes to the family room for champagne, and the fact that our kids still want to hang out with us on a fairly regular basis is pretty freaking cool and totally justifies the borderline alarming amount of M&M appetizers the boys (and Rachel) can mow through).

The only thing that I've missed is getting outside more, but my feet and back are in rough shape at the moment, and the combination of icy streets and winter footwear don't help that at all. I'm hoping some treadmill walking and chiropractor work next week will calm things down. So generally it's been a wonderful break, with periodic bouts of sudden grief and mortality-related terror, which might be due to the fact that I'm approaching fifty or an indication that my iron levels have to be tested.

I've been feeling much calmer and happier about my reading year, even though I read the fewest books since 2009 (weirdly satisfying symmetry there) which is a pretty good sign that I'm being slightly less neurotic. I ended up at 99 books, which gave me a very small pang at not cracking 100 and yet I find 99 as a number more aesthetically pleasing (weirdly satisfying asymmetry) than 100, so I kind of like it (yeah, I did say slightly less neurotic). My page count is also only a couple hundred less than last year's (109 books), partly because I read Middlemarch which is over 900 pages. I read some things I'd been meaning to get to for years, I think I hit a good balance, and my four-and-five-star reads far outweigh the two-and-three stars, so the situation is pretty much full of win.

I did hit a bit of a rut through much of November - not in not knowing what to read, but just not reading a lot. I feel like I was reading Edgar Cantero's Meddling Kids for weeks, which is quite unusual for me. I also feel like I wrecked myself with Christmas prep more than the past few years, which undoubtedly has something to do with it and needs to be addressed, but that's a different post.

I wasn't really planning to start tonight, but here I am with only five two-star reads so why not get them out of the way?

Two-star reads generally happen when I get stuck trying to figure out what to read next and end up borrowing a library eread based only on plot description and no reviews. It's become clear to me that I should not do this, because once in a blue moon it turns out well but much more often it does not, and I think I'm doing it less often. I should also learn to stop reading books that aren't worth finishing, and I've also gotten better at this (not a lot better, but a little). Fortunately, I read fast so I can always just kick it into high gear and plow through.

Two Star Reads

For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt. Synopsis from Goodreads: On their first date back in law school, Natalie and Will Clarke bonded over drinks, dinner and whether they could get away with murder. Now married, they’ll put the latter to the test when an unchecked danger in their community places their son in jeopardy. Working as a criminal defense attorney, Nat refuses to rely on the broken legal system to keep her family safe. She knows that if you want justice…you have to get it yourself.
Shocked to discover Nat’s taken matters into her own hands, Will has no choice but to dirty his, also. His family is in way too deep to back down now. He’s just not sure he recognizes the woman he married. Nat’s always been fiercely protective, but never this ruthless or calculating. With the police poking holes in their airtight plan, what will be the first to fall apart: their scandalous secret—or their marriage?

In more skillful hands this could have been riveting. As it was, I paged through it quickly in a couple insomniac hours to find out what happened. None of the horrific things really felt horrific. The dialogue was desultory, the motivations venal. I have read gripping, insightful accounts of adultery and murder - those were not here. Disappointing.

The Homecoming by Alan Russell. Synopsis from Goodreads: Seven years ago, young Stella Pierce vanished from the face of the earth. Now her grieving, broken family—along with Detective Orson Cheever, who never stopped working her case—is stunned by her mysterious return.
The now-teenage girl claims to have spent her missing years in the company of Travelers—extraterrestrial nomads—voyaging through space.
Despite her family’s effort to keep Stella’s incredible tale secret, the story becomes a national sensation. Most people want to discount her story, saying it’s the result of trauma; only Detective Cheever seems to want the same thing Stella does: the truth.
The enigmatic Stella finds herself in the eye of the storm while vying forces—some visible and some not—swirl around her. Is it her tale that is incredible, or is it Stella? As new questions surrounding the girl gain terrifying urgency, Cheever learns that there is nothing—and no one—he can trust.

This was a cheap buy from the Kindle store that had been on my Kindle for a while. It was an interesting premise and I probably could have been a little more generous - I may just be too cynical at this point in my life, although I do read quite a bit of fantasy and I have read things similar to this that were just done more to my liking. It was just okay for me but I wouldn't dissuade anyone else from reading it.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. Synopsis from Goodreads: Entertainment Weekly's 20 New Books to Read in September
Nylon's 12 Great New Books to Read This September
Newsweek's Best Books to Read in September 2018
Paste's 12 Best Novels of 2018
Library Journal's Best Debut Novels of 2018
BookPage's Most Anticipated Fall 2018 Fiction

In his much-anticipated debut novel, Hank Green--cocreator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShow--spins a sweeping, cinematic tale about a young woman who becomes an overnight celebrity before realizing she's part of something bigger, and stranger, than anyone could have possibly imagined.
The Carls just appeared.
Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship--like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor--April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world--from Beijing to Buenos Aires--and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.
Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
Compulsively entertaining and powerfully relevant, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing grapples with big themes, including how the social internet is changing fame, rhetoric, and radicalization; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration spring for the same dehumanization that follows a life in the public eye. The beginning of an exciting fiction career, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a bold and insightful novel of now.

I wanted to like this. I love John Green's books and I love his relationship with his brother. I wanted it to be like Liane and Jaclyn Moriarty, where I adore both of their work in different ways. It was a hard to get a handle on this while I was reading it, and I'm not sure what I can say about it. It's likely that I'm just too old and not the target audience (it certainly seems like a large cohort of people liked it very much). I understand the concept of influencers and the weird kind of 'ownership' that comes with discovering something and breaking a story, and April as a character is a satisfyingly flawed and complex way to play it out. I get that this was supposed to be about a person's experience of being caught up in something remarkable. I'm just not sure it had much to say to me. I don't think I'll follow up with the next book (I was annoyed by the obvious cliffhanger ending too). I did love that April named the alien thingies Carl, which was what Eve used to call all the trees she talked to while walking home from school when she was little. 

I'll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie. Synopsis from Goodreads: What happened to Amanda Holmes?
Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.
Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it's sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family's center, hasn't made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done.
But then the will is read and they learn that it's much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can't move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?

I don't know why I kept reading this - it was obvious fairly early on that it was a dud. It's a bad mystery. It's a bad novel about family relations. It's clunky and has no spark. It's a list of people who have few redeeming qualities but that's not even described well. No one's motivations are ever very deep or even discernible. People wander around being angry or conflicted, the person who can't remember something remembers it in the dumbest, most unbelievable fashion, and the mystery is revealed not gradually or honestly, but by inserting knowledge that we should have been given earlier on but weren't. The dialogue is wooden and now I'm just annoyed and searching for more unflattering adjectives and I should move on.

The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie. Synopsis from Goodreads: Can you hide a secret with the whole world watching?

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.
A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.
Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

Just saw the author of this book and the previous one and face-palmed. Who's the idiot here? IT'S ME, YOU GUYS. I can't readily figure out how far apart in time I read the two books, but it probably wouldn't have mattered. Clearly I should do a few more minutes' research before eborrowing. This sounded kind of cool, basing a mystery around a 9/11 type event, and I was busy so the fact that I only got to read a few pages at a time kept me from realizing for a while how hollow and facile the whole thing was. One character's motivation in particular, was mystifying - it was like the author was trying to make her bad but not TOO bad, and it just ended up being silly. And then a twist built on a twist that felt like cheating. 


StephLove said…
I'm glad you had a good Christmas. That book Angus got sounds like a hoot. I hope your feet are better soon.

I just set a Goodreads goal of 36 books, after a 60 book year. At first I looked at my 2019 list and subtracted poetry books, since we're not doing our nightly poetry reading any more and that left me with 45. Then I subtracted books Noah was assigned to read for school that I read with him and that left 36. Then I subtracted books Noah and I read for fun, and that left 28 and I thought I can't set a goal that's less than HALF of 2019, so I went back to 36 because presumably not reading with Noah so much should leave me free time to read more books on my own (though that's not really how it went down this fall) and he will probably be home next summer and we'll read then and because 36 is divisible by 12 and I liked that. I am including all this detail so you will feel less neurotic by comparison, or at least less lonely in it.
Unknown said…
Your 2-star books were not on my To-Read list (phew!) so I don't need to rush over to GoodReads and remove them. Because I would. I've not actually heard of them, so it's also possible that I need to explore more book reviews than I currently do.

I was looking over my summary of books that I read in 2019 and there weren't a lot of AMAZING books for me, which is sad, but maybe I'm also becoming cynical and just tired of reading the same stuff over and over. However, you only had 5 two-stars, so possibly you had a better year than I did in terms of reading. I find I don't give a lot of 2-stars (and really almost never a 1, because that seems so mean), but I have a massive amount of 3-stars.
Marilyn said…
Oh for...I'm logged into my work email and now I can't seem to log into my own email...I'm not unknown!!! It's Marilyn. Ugh. Google is such a pain sometimes.
Ernie said…
It's official- I want to be you. Friends stopping by? Buying a hilarious book as a gift for a college kid? Time to read SO many books? New Year's Eve with friends - not just stuck letting the kids entertain their friends in the basement while you fall asleep on the couch in the family room? Not regretting your gift purchases? Yep- I am green with envy. Since I read a FRACTION of the books you read, I doubt I will cross paths with your 2 star list- but thanks for the heads' up.
Ernie said…
So I posted that above comment while at my son's travel b-ball tournament - after my daughter's travel game - when my battery died. I borrowed Coach's phone to be able to comment (BECAUSE THERE WAS AN HOUR WAIT BETWEEN ALL 3 GAMES WHICH WAS MIND BLOWING BECAUSE I FELT TRAPPED BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 3:15 pm AND WALKED TO MY CAR AT 8:15 pm - AND HERE I THOUGHT IRISH DANCING WAS A FORM OF TORTURE FOR PARENTS WHO ARE STUPID ENOUGH TO PUT THEIR KIDS IN IT) and now I think my name is connected to nothing in the above comment so I thought I would say howdy from my real address. I can't wait to see if it makes a difference or if I bored you with that court-side day recap for nothing.
Busy Bee Suz said…
Your holidays sound easy and fun....but you could be lying to us.
Sorry about your back issues; hopefully you’re on the mend. I also had no gift regrets this year. I didn’t purchase that many, but was happy with what I did find. I think I read 3 books last year and I was kind of proud of that, but now I’m embarrassed. We’re heading out of town this week and I suspect I’ll have some down time and I’m hoping to read some non two star books.
Lynn said…
Totally getting that book for my oldest. Sounds hilarious and also may confirm that he actually is able to read.

Also: Totally get the part about being delighted that your kids want to hang out with you. Our kids still do things like come and eat lunch with us when we are spending a day at the ski hill, even though they have friends there, and spending all New Year's Eve playing board games with us and telling stupid Meme-based jokes. As they get older we feel more and more lucky that we have this, and we treasure it, and we whisper about it and feel terribly guilty telling our friends about this sort of thing, as if we won the lottery or something. It's glorious.

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