Let’s start off the new year with January’s best books and one huge, gigantic, overwhelming disappointment.
If you are new here to my website, I will tell you I read a lot. A Lot. In 2021 I read 137 books. I did not review all of those! Each month I choose only my very favorites that I think my readers will enjoy. I do usually add in a book that was a pure disappointment.
This month I have three amazing books to share. And, if you read my first sentence of this message you know I have one clunker.
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The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jacob teaches writing in a workshop setting at a small, rather woebegone college called Ripley and he is really not looking forward to his newest round of students, one of whom wrote this line in a story Jake read to prepare for the workshop, “The corpse’s breast were like ripe honey melons.” (Just an aside here: That last sentence was rather lengthy, but this is the style of the author of this book. I will come back to that later.)
On the eve of the new workshop’s beginning, Jake attends the faculty barbecue and unfortunately meets a most distasteful, arrogant young person. And you know where this is headed… the young man turned out to be Evan Parker, Jake’s student.
Later in a one-on-one meeting with Jake, Evan turns out to be rather full of himself and his coming good fortune because he tells Jake he will be writing a book that will win awards, be made into a movie, and earn tons of money. Scoffing at this declaration Jake listens to the plot of the book. Evan is right. It’s a splendid plot.
Time passes, the workshop is over, and Jake continues plodding through a novel he is trying to write and wishing he had a better plot idea.
Jake always wonders what happened to Evan’s book and when he begins searching for news of it her finds that Evan has died. The book was never written.
Does Jake dare do the unthinkable? Can he, should he, will he write the book using Evan’s plot line? I will leave it up to you to find out. But do!
Now, let’s talk about this author’s style! To be honest, I plodded through the first 20 pages wondering how on earth I could get through those long complicated sentences without going nuts. But, trust me, you get used to it and it becomes the rhythm of the book. Goodness, I have written this review in that style and I do not normally do this, I think.
The book that Evan wanted to write is included in snippets throughout the story of Jake. This is really fun to read a few pages and then jump back to Jake’s grand dilemma.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
And I am so glad I did. This is definitely one of January’s best books and may be on my top ten list at the end of the year.
The book is a year-long jaunt through the New York society with a charming young woman named Katey Kontent. The book opens in 1966 with Katey and her husband viewing an art exhibit. Val, her husband, notices a young man in a photo that also appears in a different photo.
Val wonders why the young man pictured seems to be well-off in one picture and quite destitute in the other. What happened to him? It seems Katey knows the answer. And we are off…
It is the 1930s and Katey is a working-class woman that somehow aligns herself with wealthy about-town types and she gets invited quite often to parties, socials, and what have you that keep her in the limelight.
And then, Katey sees Tinker Grey in a restaurant and becomes slightly (maybe more than slightly) enamored with him. She and her friend Eve, strike up a relationship with Tinker. Through an unfortunate set of events, Tinker becomes the companion more to Eve than Katey.
Katey, in the meantime, sets out to better herself. She finds her own apartment rather than continuing to live in a boarding house and she changes her job position somewhat easily. And this continues for a year of the characters’ lives.
So, why, you ask is this book worth reading? Ah, book friends, it is the writing. Towles is a master with words and I found myself using my Kindle’s dictionary feature many times. The delicious writing… well, let me show you.
“We had to wait 15 minutes for the train. It rattled into the station like it was coming from another century.”
“I saw Charlotte Sykes approaching from the washroom. She had changed into high heels and a tangerine-colored blouse that clashed with all her best intentions.”
I loved this book and laughed out loud several times. I also struggled through the mid-section when the story did get a little tedious. And the ending, oh my. I also imagine you will wonder if the rules of civility were really part of this book. 4.5 stars for this one!
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
To be honest, this is going to be a hard review to write.
This book was written in such beautiful stream-of-consciousness and catch-your-breath moments…
…and yet, I cringed often.
It is, nonetheless, one of January’s best books!
This is the story of Leda, a 47-year-old mother of two grown daughters. She is vacationing in Italy, alone. She does keep in touch with her daughters who live in Canada with their father. Leda lives in Italy.
Leda rents a beach house and is enjoying the beach and reading or studying alone. Lonely is the word that comes to mind. Why are her daughters in Canada?
“When my daughters moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn’t upset; rather I felt light, as if only then had I definitely brought them into the world. For the first time in almost 25 years I was not aware of the anxiety of having to take care of them.”
Leda, it seems, is caught between feeling guilt and remorse for not missing being a mother and enjoying not being an active mother. Hmmm… and then she sees a young mother, Nina, at the beach. She becomes totally enamored of the mother and her relationship with her young daughter, Elena. The young girl has a doll that she completely adores.
Nina’s family also factors into the events that occur on the beach. And this is where the book takes a turn that I did not expect. It is alarming and sad and dreadfully complex. The writing from this author perfectly captures the loneliness of Leda and the loss all the mothers in this book feel.
The Most Disappointing Book of the Month
I have written about books from this author so many times. It was probably 2001 when I read the first book in this series. And, that book, along with most of the other 7 books, has been read over and over. I have listened to the first 4 and have the others in my Audio library. But, this one, number nine, oh my goodness.
The story of Claire and Jamie continues by picking up exactly where book 8 stopped. Three hundred pages later I learned a lot about bees and how to hunt and how to build things in the new house the family is building. I know all about the lodge being built to use a school and a church.
The story is taking place during the time of the Revolutionary War and there are plenty of characters that visit Fraser RIdge and portend of the approaching war. However, there is also a storyline about magical blue lights that appear when someone is being healed. Now, you would think I would understand this in a book about time travel, but alas, I just didn’t buy it.
My overall thought about this book is that it is just a boring mess. After 300 pages I just could not give up. I made myself read a little every morning and I read 7-8 books during the whole time I was forcing myself to get “to the good parts”.
Sadly, I can’t say this one ever turned out to be a great read. It was just a letdown after waiting several years for it to be published. At some point, I just didn’t care to hear any more about this family. Heartbreaking. ). I would say it is just a nine-hundred-page preface for the tenth and final book of the series. I am giving it 2 stars only because I did finish it (finally)
And there you have it. Keep coming back at the end of the month and see what else I am reading!
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My rating system: 5 stars- perfection, the book was written well, held my attention, and I did not want it to end. 4 stars- the book was really good, but I had questions or concerns about parts of it. This might include the way it ended. 3 stars- the book was okay, but I just didn’t like it much. 2 stars- I skimmed most of it. 1 star- I could not finish it.