Playing Catch-Up: January Reads

After my post a few weeks ago about rehabilitating my reading habits, it’s probably not a tremendous shock that I finished a fair number of books in January.  In fact, I finished twelve books during the month of January.  Such an improvement over my pitiful reading productivity in 2013.

So, here’s my quick run-down of January’s twelve books (ordered chronologically), along with a short, spoiler-free review of each.  Along with my rating, of course!

January 2014 Reads

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The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein | 3/5 stars

While The Hobbit is descriptive and imaginative, it is too laden with detail to really work as a narrative hinging upon action.  Originally intended as a children’s tale, I think this book is beautifully written, but doesn’t capture the excitement of its contents.

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The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth | 3/5 stars for all three

Let’s just get through Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant all in one swoop.  Without getting into spoilers, I think that Roth does an excellent job of creating a dystopian reality, but neglects to address ethical and political questions in this series fully.  Christian sentiments and imagery in this series are unmistakable, so it’s important to know that getting into it.  If you don’t mind spoilers, I recommend reading my friend Alexandra’s commentary on the third installment of the series.  The jury is still out on whether or not I’ll see the movie in March.

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Gone Girl  by Gillian Flynn | 4/5 stars

What a pleasant surprise.  Flynn unwraps this story carefully throughout the entire book, and it definitely kept my attention.  Depth and volume is given to a number of relationships making them dynamic and spellbinding.  I’m interested to see the film adaptation later this year, which is rumored to have a completely different ending than the book.

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31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan | 2/5 stars

I’ll be honest, this was on my back-burner shelf for a long time.  I’m clear on why, now.  The story isn’t tremendously eventful, and while its characters are likeable, Horan struggles with writing in a pseudo-Victorian style while developing momentum the way that authors like Bram Stoker were able to.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak | 2/5 stars

I am perhaps the only person who doesn’t adore this book, and it makes me feel terrible.  I think the book is important, and that it tells a story of Nazi Germany from an often-overlooked perspective, but I didn’t think that the book was wholly satisfying.  Interesting, yes.  But the author seems to be trying to achieve a lot of depth in the narrative that I don’t think is accomplished.

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The Inquisitor’s Key by Jefferson Bass | 4/5 stars

This is the seventh installment of the Body Farm series, and I enjoyed it tremendously.  Unlike its predecessors, this book jumps across space and time, and takes the series’ protagonist to an international crime scene.  This story is rich and pushes the boundaries of what the series have done thus far.  The Jefferson Bass team was definitely successful with this book.

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The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein | 5/5 stars

I mentioned this book briefly in a post a few weeks ago, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoyed it.  It is not dripping with emotion, but rather, creates sentimentality through a good-hearted and earnest narrator: Enzo, the family dog.  As someone who lost a beloved pet in December, this book was very special to me.  It was heart-warming, but also heart-releasing, and helped me to cope with my sadness.  A special achievement, indeed.

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The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom | 2/5 stars

Selected for my new book club, I had high hopes for this book.  I enjoyed the sense of momentum Albom created, and the portraits of different lives he painted.  Unfortunately, the overarching message was unclear.  Maybe this was by design, but I suspect that the ellipses that seemed to be placed at the end of the book was an attempt to attract agnostic readers and leave things open to interpretation.

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Cut to the Bone by Jefferson Bass | 3/5 stars

I’ve separated this Body Farm novel from The Inquisitor’s Key because it is a prequel to the rest of the series.  I think this is an important part of the series for a number of reasons (which involve spoilers), but the cunning craftiness that accompanies most of the Body Farm books was missing.  It is great to have a better sense of the protagonist’s character, but Jefferson Bass definitely left the thrilling mystery out of this book, which dampened my expectations.  Also, fair warning: this book is more gruesome than the others in the series.

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The Fault in our Stars by John Green | 5/5 stars

I had no idea what to expect from this book, having never read John Green’s other books, but I was very moved by Fault.  The narrator is witty and vulnerable with an adult’s observational capabilities and an adolescent’s perspective.  The prose itself is magnificent, and a great break from the dumbed-down texts that I’ve found in many coming-of-age stories.  Moreover, this is a coming-of-age story not just for young adults, but for people of every age.  I will definitely go see the film adaptation in June.  Bravo, John Green.

Did you read anything you’d like to share this month?  Share your insights (no spoilers please) in the comments!

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