‘Tis the season to hole up with a good book in front of a cozy fire. In December, I didn’t do as much of that as I’d have liked, but January is already shaping up to be a hibernating sort of month. Brrrr!
I read five books in December, all very different in genre and themes. My December reads ranged from a heart-wrenching war tale to a fluffy Christmas yarn. I explored secret passageways behind bookshelves and launched missiles beneath the sea. December brought a heist involving rare manuscripts. I went along for wild rides as one mystery was solved using old-fashioned girl sleuth clue-gathering and another using Google-designed pattern recognition software.
Before I get to my December Book Reviews, let’s talk about the 2017 Goodreads Book Challenge. Did you participate? My goal for 2017 was to read 55 books. With the addition of these five December books, I exceeded my goal and read a total of 68 books in 2017. I read some fantastic books, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m a changed person for having read them. I’ve reviewed each book here on the blog, so if you missed any of my reviews, the links are included at the end of this post. (I’ve posted my reviews on Goodreads, too.)
I’m setting my 2018 goal at 70 books which may be wildly optimistic on my part, but hey, goals are good, right? If you are interested in participating, click HERE. It’s fun!
Enough with the blathering. On with my December reads.
December Book Reviews:
The Boat Runner
by Devin Murphy
As the war accelerates and the Nazis invade Holland, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman’s idyllic life disintegrates in a heart-breaking way. This coming-of-age story offers a different take on WWII, one that will make the reader think about circumstance of time and place. As Jacob suffers tragedy and loss at the hands of the Allies, he volunteers to fight for the Germans. Later, when faced with a moral dilemma, Jacob changes courses and becomes a boat runner helping to provide the Jewish with safe passage abroad. This thought-provoking debut novel (spanning four years) is ambitious, haunting, and not for the faint of heart. Readers who enjoy historical fiction such as The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See will appreciate this powerful novel written in an authentic voice. Fair warning: While you read in the comfort of your warm home, The Boat Runner will leave you emotionally drained and extremely grateful.
This book made me: research solo submarines which I knew nothing about.
My favorite line: “It’s the little stories of our day that hold the only things of value in this world.”
by John Grisham
This is the story of a heist, a young writer (Mercer Mann) suffering from writer’s block, and the tourist town bookstore owner (Bruce Cable). When Mercer unexpectedly loses her college teaching gig, she doesn’t know how she’ll pay bills or buy groceries. Voila! A mysterious woman offers her an intriguing job in a much warmer locale. With nothing better to do and student loan payments looming, Mercer sets off for Camino Island—somewhere off the coast of Florida—to help recover F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts stolen from the Princeton Library. Maybe she’ll even have time to write? Camino Island is fast-paced and plot driven with colorful characters. The book begins with a bang. The manuscript heist part of the story is a gripping, roller coaster of a ride. I had forgotten how enjoyable Grisham can be.
This book made me: eager to read a few of the other Grisham books lining my shelves.
My favorite line(s): “So I had this girlfriend once… Her name was Talia, a sweet girl who was gorgeous and talented and really messed up in the head.” (tee-hee)
Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park is the story of two high school students and their unlikely relationship. Already, it sounds like one of those “been there done that” stories, doesn’t it? But there’s a difference. The main characters aren’t the typical gorgeous sort with parents who exist only to accommodate their adventures. Eleanor is a chubby redhead who dresses as though she tries to draw attention to her odd fashion sense. Her home life is horrendous. She’s that girl everyone at school picks on. Park is a quiet sixteen-year-old from a mixed race family (his mom is Korean). He’s a loner who loves music and comic books. Guess where Eleanor & Park meet? On the school bus. Oh yes, the infamous school bus, the place where bullies run unchecked and hormones have been known to stir amid decades of notebook paper dust. Yes, this book is young adult. No, I’m not a young adult. Even so, sometimes I find this genre a sweet change of pace, and I like to think it keeps me current-ish. The book is told in super short chapters rotating between third person points of view of both main characters. The dialog is realistic. I suspect an author with the name Rainbow has no trouble remembering what it felt like to be a teenager. The ending smacked me in the face, but I am a big fan of abrupt endings, so it worked for me. I’m surprised we haven’t already seen Eleanor & Park on the big screen because this story seems perfect for Hollywood today.
This book made me: think about bus rides to basketball and football games back when who I might sit with was a very big deal.
My favorite line(s): “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
by Mary Kay Andrews
After reading The Boat Runner, I decided Christmas Bliss would provide a mental break while getting me in the holiday spirit. Plus, I love the cover—those bottle brush trees! Mary Kay Andrews’ books are always fun, never deep, often silly in a good way. (If you’ve read other books by this author, you will recognize the characters.) The storyline: Weezie is getting married at Christmastime, and her best friend, BeBe, is expecting a baby in six weeks or so. Of course, complications ensue making the nuptials a tiny bit questionable. And oh, yes, there’s the matter of a divorce that wasn’t quite finalized (BeBe’s not Weezie’s). The book is lighthearted and fluffy with a teaspoon of mystery. I cannot tell a Christmas lie though—early on, I found the narration confusing. The points of view pivoted between the two protagonists (their voices sounded identical on my audio version). The plot line was a tad far-fetched and the ending predictable, but for a Christmas read, it provided a whimsical escape. Sort of like a box of ribbon Christmas candy that looks bright and fun and nostalgic, tastes delicious if not a little too sweet, and afterwards makes your teeth hurt.
This book made me: wonder if this story is a Hallmark Christmas movie yet. Because it most definately should be.
My favorite line: “In Savannah there’s a law that says you cannot get engaged, married, christened, or buried without a nicely polished silver tray of cheese straws.”
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
by: Robin Sloan
What happens when encoded ancient books are combined with modern technology to solve life’s largest questions? A quirky quest which is the basis for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The premise: During the recession, Clay Jannon loses his job in a San Francisco web design firm and takes the only job he can find as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s odd little bookstore. In no time, Clay discovers the bookstore is atypical with very few visitors and no mainstream books for sale. He sets out to discover it’s secrets. “This is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard.” This clever, fast-paced tale is filled with twists and turns that take the reader from dusty bookshelves into secret societies. There’s an interesting mix of old and new at play— ancient books and cutting edge technology, geriatric bookstore “members” and young nerdy sleuths, old ways of thinking and new ideas. The book is classified as Magical Realism and Mashup (huh?) and reads like Young Adult. It’s fun and different, yet probably not for everyone.
This book made me: think about the larger picture of problem-solving using technology, and how I don’t know beans about most of it.
My favorite line: “The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest–not a friendly Californian forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.”
And, “This is no library. This is the Batcave.”
My 2017 book reviews are a wrap! Thanks for following along.
If you missed any of my previous book reviews catch up by clicking on the links below:
I wish you happy reading in 2018.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson – Winter Song