Book Club Pick: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Title: Hillbilly Elegy

Author: J.D. Vance

Published: June 2016

Rating: ★ ★ ★


Summary: An account of J.D. growing up in a working class family with roots in Appalachian Kentucky. A part memoir, part sociological observation.

My Thoughts: I have wanted to read this book since it came out last year. I had it at the top of my TBR list for months, but never was able to pull the trigger and read it. I thought it would be a perfect pick for our book club, plus it would force me to finally read it. Non-fiction is very rare for me. This might be the first non-fiction book I have read in over a year, perhaps longer. This book comes with so much hype, much from best-selling lists and media and much from myself. This is almost never a circumstance that bodes well for a book, and I wish I could say that Hillbilly Elegy escaped that fate, but it didn’t. I am glad I read it, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. This book was at its best in the middle 50% when he was relaying his family’s history and his childhood. I was surprised at how much I was able to connect with his story having come from a small, rural town in an area that used to enjoy booming manufacturing and mill work. I found J.D.’s story compelling in and of itself, but also because although he had some great hardships, I found his story to be nothing exceptional. I liked reading about someone who I thought might actually represent a typical person living in his part of the world. Where this book fell short for me, was in the beginning and the end. I didn’t really appreciate his commentary on the world of the working class white. Although he cited research, it felt like he was passing his opinion as fact, which I don’t really enjoy or respect.

Book Club Discussion: This book was not very well-received by my family. My sister Janette couldn’t even read it after reading through the first 50 pages or so. I do agree that the first 50 pages are preachy, but she didn’t push past it to get to his story. Otherwise, Erin, my mom and I were all on the same page. There were some interesting aspects, but it was a bit too big for its britches. We all agreed that it felt soap-boxy to a great degree (this coming from someone who mostly agrees with his point of view) and that it could have been condensed into a shorter read.

Next Month’s Pick: Middlemarch by George Eliot (March & April)

Book Club Pick: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Published: May 2015

Rating: ★★★


Summary: Ove is a 59-year-old curmudgeon who spends his days simply by monitoring the neighborhood for any rule-breakers and generally being dissatisfied with other people. His orderly life is thrown into chaos when a young family moves in next door. This quirky cast of characters and a straggly cat help to disrupt his life and force him to consider how he got there.

My Thoughts: Cutting straight to the chase, as Ove would likely prefer, this was not my favorite book. If it hadn’t been for it being a book club pick, I likely would not have finished reading it. I have to say that I really enjoyed the writing style of Backman and at times really enjoyed this book. There were chapters, which are more like vignettes, where I was overwhelmed with how beautifully written and poignant this book is. Where this novel fell short for me was in the length and redundancy. If there were a few less chapters about his contentious relationship with his neighbor, Rune, or even less devotion to his obsession with Saabs, I think I would have enjoyed this book much more. I can’t exactly recommend this book, but I would encourage someone to read it for themselves and make up their own opinion. I would not call this book a waste of time, just not my favorite.

Book Club Discussion: We were split down the middle in terms of enjoying this book. My sister Janette and I did not love it, but my mom and sister Erin liked it better. None of us, however, would classify this as a home run. Something we all agreed upon was that 59 isn’t really that old. This book continually describes Ove to be an old man and the way Backman describes him, you would think he was in his 80s. Maybe in Sweden they are even more fearful of aging than we are in the U.S.? We talked a bit about the Swedish influences, such as trying to imagine the neighborhood that Ove lives in or the “council” in “white shirts.” I watched the trailer for the Swedish movie made about this book to get some of my questions answered and was able to see the neighborhood set up, which is unlike anything I have ever seen in the U.S. We also enjoyed the many references of IKEA, me especially since my house is mostly furnished by the Swedish company. There were plenty of topics to talk about, so I would recommend its use in a book club.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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Title: Anna and the French Kiss

Author: Stephanie Perkins

Published: December 2010

Rating: ★★★★


Summary: Anna is plucked from her comfortable life in Atlanta to attend a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, courtesy of her successful author father. Feeling like she has been dealt the worst at first, Anna comes to make an interesting group of friends and a new crush in the City of Light.

Why I Am Recommending: This book is such a fun read! I would put it into my “cotton-candy” category of delicious, easy, romantic reads. I actually did not read this book, but rather listened to it as an audiobook….twice. Kim Mai Guest is the narrator and she does a fantastic job of providing the voice to an emotional, angsty, teenager. I enjoyed stepping into this experience along with Anna and experiencing Paris through her eyes. The characters in this story are quirky and likable and all add humor and insight to Anna’s story. I found myself laughing out loud and sighing with hearts in my eyes right alongside Anna. Such a great read, or in my case, listen. Again–the audiobook is fantastic and I don’t know that I would do this book any other way.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

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Title: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Published: September 2016

Rating: ★★★★★


Summary: Aelin and her growing court are endeavoring to build an army to battle the darkness in Morath. In this effort, Aelin is making allies and enemies alike as well as beginning to learn what it really means to be a Queen.

Why I Am Recommending: I have become a big fan of the Throne of Glass series since I first began reading them in 2014. Aelin is such a strong female character, but the book has several other strong female characters, most especially shining in this 5th installment. This book was the longest of the series, but I enjoyed every single page of the 693 page tome. I think the use of multiple perspectives is at its best in this book, which allows for a multi-dimensional story and the ability to leave secrets. The content of this book was the most adult of any in the series, which makes me finally make the assessment that although this follows young adults, it should not be categorized as a YA book series due to the more mature content. There was seriously so much about this book that I loved, but don’t want to give anything away. I will be waiting with bated breath for the 6th and final book of this series to release later this year. I can’t remember being so into a series of this size in a long time…dare I say since Harry Potter. Maas has done a great job creating this world and large cast of characters that has left me enjoying all 2,728 pages of the series and anxiously waiting for more. On a very excited side note, I have read that Hulu is developing a series on their streaming service, which will be called Queen of Shadows! 

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

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Title: The Ship of Brides

Author: Jojo Moyes

Published: 2005

Rating: ★★★★


Summary: Three very different young women join 600 war brides on a flight carrier ship after WWII ends leaving from Australia to take the brides to their British husbands. Along the 6 week journey, the young women get to know each other and themselves as they see exotic locations and move very far away from home.

Why I Am Recommending: Although this was a slow starting book, I was glad I stuck around to finish it. Jojo Moyes creates three really interesting characters from very different backgrounds and gives each of them a sense of vulnerability as they experience this unusual journey together. I am always up for a WWII period book, but this was an aspect of WWII that I have not read about in the many novels I have completed to date. It certainly seems like a different world, but it was great to get immersed in the story once the character development was done. The end is fast-paced and page turning, which will be the carrot I dangle in front of anyone who decides to read this book…keep going and you will be happy you did!

2017 Family Book Club Picks

 

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Happy New Year! It is the time of year for fresh starts and big goals. I love the feeling of the first of the new year when I have all the optimism that this will be the year that I will accomplish all of my goals–who knows, maybe I will this year!

There is one goal that I feel confident will be met this year, completing a book club with my sisters and mom. Each of us are avid readers and whenever we get together, books are always a staple to our conversation. So with this as the background, we decided to gift each other book club picks for Christmas to prepare for our first ever family book club. This year, my sisters, mom and I will make our way through 11 books, and spend time each month on Skype discussing the book. I will post along as we make our way through this delicious list of books. Here are our picks and the months we will be reading them:

JanuaryA Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman (Erin’s & Janette’s pick)

FebruaryHillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance (My pick)

March & AprilMiddlemarch – George Eliot (Janette’s pick)

MayWinter Garden – Kristin Hannah (Janette’s pick)

JuneTo The Bright Edge of the World – Eowyn Ivey (Erin’s pick)

JulyNews of the World – Paulette Jiles (Mom’s pick)

AugustCommonwealth – Ann Patchett (Mom’s pick)

SeptemberThe Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson (Mom’s pick)

OctoberWomen of the Silk – Gail Tsukiyama (Erin’s pick)

NovemberAmericanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (My pick)

DecemberEverything, Everything – Nicola Yoon (My pick)

2016 Book Wrap Up

♬ ♪ Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? ♫ ♪  

There is something so special about sitting on the cusp of a new year. I find myself reflective on this last day of 2016 and excited about what the year 2017 might bring into my life. As I am on that reflective note, here is a look at what 2016 brought to me in the world of books.

GoodReads Stats

My goal for 2016 was to read 30 books and I am pleased to see that I surpassed my goal. I had a really busy first half of my year as I was working full-time, completing an internship, and finishing up graduate school, so I read 2/3 of my goal in the last half of the year. I have to say that having that goal of 30 books dangling ahead of me kept me motivated to pick up a book whenever I had a spare moment.

2016-stats

I had a pretty solid year of books I enjoyed, many of which made my recommended list. Here is a list of my favorite books of the year along with a link to my post on it.

Below is a complete info-graphic of the books I read this year, 4 of which I gave 5 stars and 14 of which I gave 4 stars. I would say that is a sign of a good year of reading! There are likely still a few books I read this year that I plan to post about in the new year.

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