2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 260 books.

A Slew o’ Reviews

So here at Jill-Elizabeth.com, we are not mindless slaves to tradition. No sirree bob. We respect tradition, sure, but do not feel the need to blindly follow it. Hence, this Book Review Tuesday post is going to be a little different than usual. I am not going with a theme or witty, clever repartee about reading or comparing books to life as I usually do. Nope, not today. Today I’m just giving you a slew of reviews (teehee – I’m a poet, don’t I know it?) for your reading pleasure. They are all for books that I have read this year – some good, some bad, some indifferent – and will give you a sense of the variety of things I read (and reread). They are not all of the books I have read this year – there are 46 to date and that would be a very long post, plus some of them have already made their way into other posts and I am trying to avoid repeating myself wherever possible (with the notable exception being Top Ten lists – sometimes a book just needs/deserves to be on more than one list or to be on a list even after it has already been reviewed elsewhere on the blog). So here you have it: a Tuesday Review Day slew of reviews. Enjoy!

Heartburn by Nora Ephron – I have loved Nora Ephron for years because of her movies. Last year I read one of her books of essays from the 1970s/80s and was pleased to note that her wit works its wonders without actors and a big screen too. The fictionalized story of Ephron’s own experience with (and subsequent divorce from) Carl Bernstein, Heartburn is a heart-breaker – literally. But it is also a cleverly written story of what happens when things go all to hell, and how it is possible to pick up the pieces and move on with humor and aplomb. Ephron manages to capture the breakup of a marriage in a way that is simultaneously touching, crushing, hysterical, and infuriating – I wanted to throw a pie at the heroine’s cheating husband myself long before she ever did…

The Pickup Artist by Terry Bisson – What a great premise – set in the nearish dystopian future, a “Pickup Artist” responsible for collecting artistic works that have been identified for deletion from the canon (because newer artists found it too hard to become successful/popular) becomes disenchanted with his life and job and rebels (in his own unique and somewhat unintentional way). Echoes of Fahrenheit 451 combined with dry wit in the first few pages made this seem like a natural fit for me. Unfortunately, the promise of the premise was never exactly realized. The story fell vaguely flat somehow – I am still not sure exactly where it went south, but just know that somewhere in the middle I realized I no longer cared what happened. Occasional witty bursts of prose combined with the premise kept me reading through to the end, but the story never quite seemed to live up to its potential – and more’s the pity, because I really did love the concept.

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury – I have loved Bradbury’s stories since I was in grade school. He was my first real guide into the world of science fiction and of horror. I found From the Dust Returned at the library and was immediately intrigued by the idea of a “new” Ray Bradbury. Combine that with the additional intrigue of finding a book that took over 50 years to complete (teehee, as an aspiring writer myself I love the idea that something can marinate in your head for decades and still end up published, as well as knowing that even great writers can get stuck and keep rewriting!), as well as the very interesting premise (the lone “normal” child in a family of supernatural characters drawn from across the sci-fi/fantasy canon) and I figured I was in for a rare treat. While some of the stories and characters are, in fact, a true Bradburyish gift, a number of them felt contrived or even just plain dull – adjectives I never thought I would ascribe to anything Bradbury. Perhaps it goes to show that there IS a point at which a writer needs to set the pen down and let the story be…

The Witches by Roald Dahl – How fun is Roald Dahl?! He is, to my mind, without a doubt one of the most imaginative human beings to ever live. He manages to write children’s books that adults also love; books that are best categorized as “odd” yet also somehow timeless and classic. The Witches is one that I had actually never read as a child – I picked it up at a used book sale recently and decided it was long past time I read it. And I was not disappointed. Dahl has a rare gift – the ability to turn an adult into a child again simply through the use of words. He paints his world so evocatively – his descriptions of the trials and tribulations of being a more-than-usually-clever child trapped in a more-than-usually-challenging adult world make it possible for even the most grown-up grown up to remember what it is to be small and uncertain and reliant on others. I, for one, will never look at “ordinary women” entirely the same again…

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield – This is the rarest of rarities – a story that had a twist that I did not see coming. I love when that happens – especially when it occurs as a result of beautiful and evocative storytelling. The Thirteenth Tale is a joy to read – or listen to (even though I am not normally a fan of audiobooks, believe me, this one is worth listening to – the clipped British accent lends the appropriate gravitas to the story and makes it an auditory as well as intellectual treat). The interwoven stories of Vida, the famous author with an unknown past, and Margaret, the ingénue hand-picked to reveal it, are delicately tangled together into a complex and strangely unified whole that is sure to capture your imagination. The cast of supporting characters is impressive both in scale and scope – as are the settings for the various chapters of each woman’s life. It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma twisted around a secret – and I virtually guarantee you will not be able to put it down until you know exactly how the pieces fit together.

Brazen by Ghislaine Dunant – Ok – I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up at the library used book sale. I only knew that the cover art was interesting (vaguely Matisse-like café scenes) and that I thought the title was great (I love the word “Brazen” – so evocative and sadly underused!). The opening scenes – an accident involving an explosion, flying shrapnel, and a wounded artist – suggested faint hints of The Gargoyle, which I loved. And then I kept reading. And realized I was WAY off. And then I looked the book up online and realized it was French erotic fiction – and then it all made a little more sense. It is a tale of obsession, but falls somewhat flat in both the erotic and the fictional aspects. After a somewhat enjoyable beginning, I rapidly found myself utterly indifferent to the fate of all of the characters and utterly disinterested in their sexcapades. Suffice to say I don’t think this one quite lived up to the title – but I still think the title is great!

The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt – Normally I do not pick up books with movie scenes on the cover – this is a minor snobbery thing of mine, I admit – but when I found this at the used book sale for 25¢ and read the back-cover synopsis, I figured it was worth trying. And I’m very glad I did. The Pledge is the tale of a horrible series of crimes, a promise to a grieving mother, and the lengths that one man will go to in order to fulfill that promise. It is also an extraordinary story about obsession – both good and bad – and the lengths to which people will go to convince themselves that the world is the way they need it to be. It grips you tightly and forces you to ride the craziness out all the way through until the end. It is a dark ride, but well worth it. And I might even see the movie.

Utopia by Thomas More – I have, of course, heard many things about Thomas More over the years. What I had never heard was how witty and funny and wry he was. Utopia surprised me in many ways – it was snarky, packed with clever one-liners, and despite my Republican tendencies I found things even I agreed with contained within its vaguely communist manifesto-ish pages. I love when a book that is heavily weighted toward political satire and/or social commentary tied to a particular place/time includes footnotes. I know most people do not, but I like reading the annotations and getting a better sense of what made a given book “dangerous” for the author at the time it was written – even if, truth be told, some of the annotations inevitably end up meaningless to me because I lack the larger context. I found some of the descriptions of what would make a society “perfect” to be surprisingly timely given current events; also surprisingly timely and relevant (unfortunately) were many of the criticisms of the political environment at the time. We really do not learn very well from history, do we?

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3 comments to A Slew o’ Reviews

  • Spangle

    I haven’t read a lot of the books on your list, but I definitely agree with what you have said about ‘The Witches’!

    In my opinion, Roald Dahl is the greatest children’s writer. His quirky wit and story telling can reach both children and adult readers.I devoured his books as a child. You have made me want to read this again.

    • Thanks for your comment Spangle. I couldn’t agree more – Dahl is FABULOUS and always worth rereading! I find something new (a twist, an image, a phrase) each time I reread one of his books…

  • Wow, what a great, diverse assortment of reads. The Nora Eprhon sounds like a lot of fun, and I love your assessment of Roald Dahl but haven’t actually read The Witches with my kids- he is an utter delight,through and through.

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