Some Quick Reviews of What I’ve Read This Year

I’ve read thirteen books so far in 2014 and have written reviews for exactly zero of them.

Oops.

Honestly, nothing I’ve read has really knocked my socks off or even made me excited enough to want to sit down and write about it, or they were really bad and I didn’t care enough to put the effort in. Sometimes it was a matter of not having anything to say that hasn’t already been said by most reviewers.   It’s easy for me to fall away from things, like writing for instance, because I get lazy or bored.    In an effort to rectify that, I put together some short thoughts on some of what I’ve read this year.

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

3.5/5

I don’t have much to say about this book which is kind of odd since I did like it. A middle eastern family is moved to the US as refugees after their tyrant father is killed by their power-hungry uncle and we follow their story through the eyes of the teenage daughter who had been told, and believed, that her father was a king. After some meetings with characters from their home country, the beauty of internet access not limited by the government and some snooping, Laila struggles to reconcile the memories of her father with the image of the man the rest of the world knew as a tyrant, all while trying to acclimate to live in the United States.

It’s a good read, nothing shocking or unpredictable but the reader comes to feel for Laila as she attempts to navigate her new life. She is a likable character and the reader easily wants to see her “win,” whatever form that may take.

Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me?: Based on a True World War II Love Story, by Carrie Nyman

3/5

Nyman has taken the tale of her grandparents relationship and turned it into a bittersweet little novel that weaves it’s way through love, war, distance and family. Switching between two first-person narrators, this could have easily gone wrong, especially with a story so personal to the author. Nyman isn’t afraid to paint her characters with the brush of reality, leaving you with characters that are far from perfect, that make mistakes (often big ones) and have lists of regrets. The last third of the book made sticking through the slower parts worth it.

 

 

The Great Derangement: The Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire, by Matt Taibbi

2/5
Taibbi’s problem is, always has been, and always will be Matt Taibbi. He can’t get out of his own way to tell the story for the story’s stake without making it all about himself. There are great themes in this book, like much of his work, but it’s so easily missed, cast aside or just plain overlooked because he injects so much of himself into his work. This wouldn’t be such a problem if he didn’t come off as such a douche all the time. Anyone familiar with his work can often be said saying something similar. He can be insightful when he wants to be but he’s so condescending and full of contempt that the bits of insight get lost in the shuffle. There are good things here if you can brush away the dirt of ego.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Nothing new to say that hasn’t been said before and much better than I ever could. Like everyone, I cried. It’s been awhile since I’ve had that book hangover that take a day or two to move beyond a book after reading.  I won’t spoil the big parts but this book will make you take another look at your opinion on Will’s wishes. I have an uncle that had ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease) and this book only solidified my feelings on that matter. Great read, even if it is so emotionally jarring.

 

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Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen
2/5
Basic “chick lit” (as much as I hate that tag) book. It’s so damn hard to get a book published and I’m glad Chen did. I’d like to see her push herself a bit more with the next one.  It’s good work for a debut novel. I think she has the ability to do something bigger and I look forward to seeing that happen.

 

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The Price of Politics, by Bob Woodward

3/5

Only hardcore political nerds will read this one. That just so happens to be me.  It’s a shame that most Americans will never sit down to read a book like this because only then can they really have a chance at grasping why next to nothing is getting accomplished by this Congress. In true Woodward fashion, it tells the facts without taking sides.

If you want to understand why we have gridlock in DC that is the worst in the history of our country, you can find that here.

If you want to a better understanding as to why the Republican Party is imploding from within, you can find that here. (Spoiler: temper tantrums abound!)

If you want to pull your hair out ok frustration because some folks still say “but both sides do it!” here is a long list of reasons showing that’s not exactly true.

Don’t read this book if you’re looking for tips in how to maneuver through DC politics. This book is more of a study in character through the facts and actions of those we’ve elected to office.

Both sides of the aisle need to stop with the “I’m taking my ball and going home” meltdowns because they were left out of the loop on meeting or because their egos weren’t stroked JUST right.

Overall, as we know going in, Woodward once again complies a factual, well researched piece that pulls back the curtain on policy and pomp in Washington.

The HBO Effect by Dean J. Defino

3.5/5

Unfortunately books have to start at the beginning and beginnings can sometimes be boring. There’s a bit of an info dump on how HBO came to be that is a bit dry. Once DeFino gets through that and sinks his teeth into the impact of HBO’s programming and thematics, things pick up.  From Sopranos, to Sex & the City, Six Feet Under to Game of Thrones, including its focus on stand-up comedy specials, HBO shows have had an impact on television, movies and society as a whole.

I had no clue that HBO has purchased the film and television rights to the complete works of William Faulkner.

There’s an interesting section that discusses the programming choices of viewers based on their political leanings.

“Liberals tend to be more intellectually curious, open to experience, and creative while conservatives tend to be more conventional in their thinking and supportive of the status quo. In other words, liberals seem to better able or more willing to process ambiguous, nuanced material while conservatives tend to want to keep things simple and familiar.” Fun fact: The more politically conservative you are, the more you hated the ending of the Sopranos.

Overall, I liked it. I love those things that take easy to understand subjects (tv, pop culture, etc) and show how it translates into the real world and manipulates our psyche. Good read.

 

 

The Furies: A Thriller by Mark Alpert

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one and wasn’t exactly in love (or even like) with it. It’s a little left of center compared to my normal reading choices. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The character and world-building was good but the ending felt a little rushed or unstructured, as if the author came up with a good story idea but wasn’t sure how to end it. Not a bad piece, it had its highlights, but the ending lacked a bit of oomph needed to pull it all together.

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The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

2/5
Nothing really happens in this book. It’s a different concept, told through the documents of a divorce case. Epistolary novels can be fun if done right but there’s not really much of a plot or character development. Sophie, the main character and attorney handling the divorce of the title, is so incredibly boring. Through emails, memos, court documents and client letters, we follow the divorce of a couple with a daughter. That’s it.  No plot twists, no big arc, nothing.

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This Town: Two Parties, a Funeral – plus plenty of free parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich

1/5

I’m a big political nerd. I wouldn’t have read this book if I wasn’t, right? I mean, I’ve watched C-Span on an regular basis and -livetweeted it. Nerd. I follow politics closely and knew of most of the players in this book and yet still every page turned was met with a mental sigh and a silent “Oh my God NO ONE cares about this stuff.” Unless you’re in the book, you don’t care. I promise you this.

The phrase “verbal masturbation” came to mind over and over and over again. This book is a perfect illustration as to why “regular” Americans hate on Washington DC and politicians. I still don’t understand why so many people were touting this book as being so great. Leibovich tries to come off like he’s taking aim at these DC insiders, poking at them to point out that they’re so “inside” that they’re removed from reality. They ARE removed from reality but what Leibovich doesn’t seem to grasp is that he, too, is inside the toxic little bubble that is DC and is just as removed from reality as the others. He’s part of the game and falls into every trap he tries to expose with his book. It’s a mess of insider stories that don’t matter anyone, a ton of name dropping about who he gained access to, and a case study into the hypnosis of conceived power. Leibovich not so secretly longs to be Mike Allen of Politico and practically draws hearts and stars around Allen each time his name is mentioned. Politico is mentioned 134 times in the book while Mike Allen was directly named over 100. Man crush much?

The biggest issue is that the author thinks that any of what he’s written about matters. It doesn’t. At all. It’s a glorified gossip column. Maybe his attempt at making himself seem more relevant to the proverbial movers and shakers in DC? I don’t know.

My God, man. Get the hell out of DC. Take a vacation.

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