This year, I’m participating in two reading challenges: 1) a personal Goodreads goal of 50 books by the end of December and 2) Popsugar’s 2016 Reading Challenge. All of the books I read in April satisfied a requirement of the Popsugar challenge. The single audiobook I listened to kept me company during long drives to visit students at their clinical sites and tempted me to exercise, even when I didn’t feel like it.
Joyland, by Stephen King. Joyland was written for the Hard Case Crime series and highlights King’s substantial storytelling ability rather then his dark imagination. Even though the book is touted as a murder mystery with a dash of the supernatural, the real story centers around a broken-hearted college student named Devin Jones, the months he works at a boardwalk amusement park, and how those experiences impact him and his life.
My thoughts: I read a fair amount of Stephen King as a teenager and young adult and most of it was the horror variety. Joyland is completely different and I loved it. The protagonist as well as the other characters are believable and likable, the plot is interesting, and the ending is just what it should be. All this with no horror and very little gore (it’s a murder mystery, after all). Joyland is a well-crafted, satisfying story that was a pleasure to read – one of the happiest surprises of my reading life this year. It would be a perfect beach or by-the-pool book for the summer.
(The first book you see in a bookstore -Popsugar Reading Challenge)
The Pearl by John Steinbeck. The Pearl is a retelling of a Mexican folktale that Steinbeck heard on a trip to La Paz in the 1940’s. It is the tale of Kino, a poor pearl diver who lives with his wife Juana and baby son in a small hut by the sea. One day, Kino finds a glorious pearl worth a fortune which ultimately turns his world upside down. In the course of this novella, Steinbeck takes the reader through anguish, joy, hope, anticipation, suspicion, rage, murder, desperation, grief, and acceptance. Greed and it’s consequences are at the heart of this story which is often viewed as a parable.
My thoughts: First of all, the writing is simply beautiful. Steinbeck is able to manipulate the reader’s emotions or create the feel of a scene with meticulous word choice and I loved that aspect of the story. On the other hand, the plot is simple and the general outcome of the story is obvious (which is expected, I suppose, with a parable). I also found the pace to be sluggish until the end of the book. When I first read The Pearl, I didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about it. But, I find myself returning to it again and again, thinking through the different aspects of the story. I will probably reread this at some point because it’s the type of book that reveals new insights or pieces of wisdom with each exposure.
(A book that ‘s under 150 pages – Popsugar Reading Challenge)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Annawadi, a makeshift slum erected near the Mumbai airport, is the setting for this award winning book. Over the course of several months, Katherine Boo chronicles the experiences of several families and individuals as they struggle to survive and thrive in this difficult environment. An unknown world is revealed to the reader, a culture is explored and the human reactions to life in this “undercity” are investigated. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a National Book Award Winner and Katherine Boo is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
My thoughts: It is obvious why Katherine Boo receives awards for her investigative journalism. Somehow she manages to present a difficult story that often showcases the worst characteristics of humanity without turning the people demonstrating those characteristics into villains. She writes the truth about an existence that is wholly foreign to my own with intelligence and empathy. Behind the Beautiful Forevers was a very difficult book for me to read because of the ugliness, desperation, exploitation and immorality it presents. However, it has forever altered my understanding of what raw humanity looks like in the midst of relentless poverty and corruption. Even though I spent a large part of my reading time feeling frustrated and/or helpless, this book was invaluable for developing a more accurate world view outside of my very comfortable middle class American life.
(A National Book Award winner – Popsugar Reading Challenge)
Scarlet: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Scarlet is the second book in the wildly popular Lunar Chronicles series which takes fairy tale characters such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood and places them in a science fiction setting filled with technological advances, a devastating plague and a thoroughly evil alien queen. This installment continues Cinder’s story from the first book and introduces Scarlet, a young woman who’s grandmother has gone missing and no one seems to care. Scarlet embarks on a mission to find her and the ensuing adventures comprise the bulk of the story.
My thoughts: I feel so-so about the Lunar Chronicles in general and Scarlet in particular. The premise of the series – fairy tale characters which are re-imagined and placed in a futuristic setting – should draw me, a lover of fairy tales, right in. I do appreciate the imagination and creativity behind this concept and the fact that Meyer has created some strong, independent female protagonists and interesting supporting characters. However, the clunky writing style annoyed me to the point I couldn’t enjoy the story. And more masterful world building and scene creation would have increased my reading pleasure immensely. Since Scarlet carries a Goodreads rating of 4.31/5 stars, my opinion is an obvious oddity. I guess I’ll be one of the few weirdos who do not continue with the series – unless my daughter, who loves The Lunar Chronicles, twists my arm.
(A YA bestseller – Popsugar Reading Challenge)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. The plot of A Wrinkle in Time revolves around the slightly eccentric Murray family. Mr. Murray, a government scientist (perhaps a physicist?), has been missing for months and no one knows where he is. Two of his children, Meg and Charles Wallce, and a neighbor boy named Calvin O’Keefe are sent on an extraordinary quest across space to find him and battle the darkness that is encroaching on the universe. This science fantasy novel takes the reader on a wild adventure with unusual creatures through imaginative and diverse worlds. A Wrinkle in Time is a Newberry Medal winner and begins The Wrinkle in Time quintet of books that follow the Murray and O’Keefe families through many fantastical exploits.
My thoughts: I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was in sixth or seventh grade, a.k.a. a long time ago. At that time, only three of the five books had been published and I loved them all. The interesting characters, fantasy elements, magical creatures and good versus evil theme was an irresistible combination for me then and still is now. I picked up this book in April to fulfill a Popsugar category (“a book you haven’t read since high school”) and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Meg was a bit needier than I remembered but it didn’t ruin the story for me. Did you know that Disney is making A Wrinkle in Time feature film? Only the writer and director have been named so it’s anyone’s guess when the actual movie will be completed. Even so, it’s something to look forward to.
(A book you haven’t read since high school – Popsugar Reading Challenge)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. (Do I really need to summarize this classic?) A friendless, loveless young woman, Jane Eyre, takes a position as governess for the French ward of a wealthy Mr. Edward Rochester. She falls in love with Mr. Rochester and agrees to marry him, not knowing he harbors a dark secret that ultimately crushes her dreams of matrimonial felicity. After a span of time, much hardship, and several plot twists Jane is finally able to realize her dreams.
My thoughts: Jane Eyre is one of my favorite stories of all time. I first fell in love with it while watching the BBC movie version starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. This prompted me to actually read the book, which, of course, is exponentially better. Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Loyal Books and happened upon an excellent free audio recording of Jane Eyre. The talented narrator, Elizabeth Klett, brought Jane to life for me in a new and refreshing way. I cannot recommend this audio version highly enough. This was another very happy reading/listening experience for me in April!
What I am currently reading:
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. I’m slowly listening my way through this one. It’s dense and I’m needing time to mull things over.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It was a slow start and I almost gave up but am really enjoying it now.
What books are you currently reading? I ‘d love to hear about them.