Friday, February 06, 2015

January Reads

One of my goals for 2015 is to read at least 35 books. Currently, I'm consuming books at a very fast rate (averaging a book a week!) and if I keep this up, smashing that goal will be easy. (What can I say? It is winter, I love books, and finally getting a library card was the best thing that ever happened to me.) Instead of reviewing books one by one, I thought it might be easier to round my reads up in a monthly post. (Longer reviews are posted on Goodreads, which I'm getting better at using - feel free to add me!)

Here's monthly reading recap number one, otherwise known as January.

Euphoria, by Lily King

I actually started this book on New Year's Eve and finished it on New Year's Day, but I'm still counting it for 2015, as it was the perfect way to kick off the year. The novel is a fictionalized account of Margaret Mead's life, of which I know very little, so that tidbit didn't mean much to me. My ignorance didn't affect my reading of the book, since I ended up loving it so much. It follows three anthropologists in the early 1930s who are studying tribes along a river in New Guinea. Of course there is a love triangle, but there's also a lot about human nature, desire, ego, the role of the anthropologist, etc. It's mostly told from the POV of Bankson, an anthropologist who has been living with a tribe for over a year and is on the brink of suicide, until Nell Stone and her husband Fen come along, looking for their own tribe to study. This sets the triangle - and all kinds of tragedy - in motion. According to my spreadsheet, I gave this book 4/5 stars. 

The Bees, by Laline Paul 

I heard about this book last year and couldn't wait to read it. It takes place IN A HIVE and the main character is a worker bee named Flora, who is different from her sisters in a world where differences are seen as mutations, anomalies, things that must be stamped out. While some of the plot points were predictable, the ending took me by surprise, in a good way. I loved seeing the world from Flora's point of view. Entering the hive and exploring the tunnels of comb, seeing how the author, Laline Paull, created a complex world and society that springs from the actual world of a hive, was fascinating and really, really fun. That said, as a beekeeper, some of the details were a little hard to swallow. Yet even in the moments where I paused in my reading and thought, "Wait a minute... That can't... But what about..." I still kept going, caught up in the story. At times it felt like one of those epic fantasy books, with battles and quests, which isn't entirely my cup of tea but was fun to read regardless. If you love bees, it's a must read. 3/5 stars. 

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankin

Despite my best intentions, I don't read a lot of poetry. I was compelled to pick this up by two things: the current state of race relations in America, and my dear friend Erica's gorgeous review. I felt like it was my duty to read this book, and I'm glad I did. Meditative, difficult, sad, angry, and really, truly beautiful, it does an amazing job of illuminating the reality that minorities face in our country. From the everyday inconveniences to deadly repercussions, Rankin doesn't shy away from anything, and why should she? I didn't feel better after reading Citizen, but I did feel wiser. 4/5 stars. 

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

There were many things to love about this book, but I'll start with the sentences. They were so perfect, so lovely, so rich and detailed, and managed to open the story wide in unexpected ways. There were certain paragraphs I read three times in a row, just because I'd never seen something so beautiful. This is important, because the actual story the sentences are telling - the lives of two characters, running parallel to one another in the years leading up to and through WW2 in France and Germany - is as dark and sad as you'd expect. Speaking of those characters, I loved Marie-Laure and Werner so much, but I also loved the secondary characters. They were all so rich and complicated, and so very human. I never thought I would feel tenderness for a Nazi, and yet I did. That's because Doerr is a great writer, able to make the reader see the struggles we each face, how we don't always get to choose the decisions we make or the life we lead. It took Doerr 10 years to write this book, and I'm not surprised. It's just about perfect. 4.5/5 stars. 

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng 

I know it's only January, but I'm pretty sure this book will make my personal "best of" list for 2015. It opens with the death of 16-year-old Lydia Lee, and follows the effect her tragic death has on the rest of her family - mother, father, older brother, and younger sister. Neither her family (or the reader) knows if Lydia's death was an accident or a suicide, but as the book goes on, we get to piece her last weeks together, thanks to flashbacks that let us inside Lydia's mind. We also get to see the struggles faced by a multicultural family in 1970s Ohio (Lydia's father is Chinese, her mother white, and "mixed marriages" were very uncommon) and how being different affects each member of the family. This is one of those books where the shifting POV (close third on each family member, at different times) really, truly works. No one is perfect - in fact, everyone makes a ton of mistakes, and not small ones, either - but I was in love with each of them anyway. This was one of those reading experiences where I wished the book was three times longer - I couldn't put it down, and didn't want to. 4.5/5 stars.