2017 in books

Here’s a quick recap of what I read in 2017:

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Defending Jacob by William Landay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time by Mark Haddon

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

A Season in the Congo by Aimé Césaire

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Bees by Laline Paull

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

No Future without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu

Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

The Program by Suzanne Young

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Total books: 25

Total pages: approx. 7,367

Favorite reads: Quiet, Devil in the White City, You Will Not Have My Hate, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Secret History

Least favorite: The Road, The Bees, The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Slaughterhouse Five



Small Great Things

Happy New Year, everyone! I finished another book in the final hours of 2017 and I thought you’d want to know about it.

Small Great Things is Jodi Picoult’s latest novel (at least I think it’s her latest novel and one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to stop second-guessing myself) and tells the story of an African-American nurse, Ruth, who is thrown into an impossible situation. While working on the maternity ward, she is taken off a case because she’s black. The parents of the newborn are white supremacists and refuse to allow Ruth handle their child. As fate would have it, the child goes into cardiac arrest and Ruth is the only one in the nursery. Should she help the baby because it is her duty as a nurse? Or should she carry out the parents’ wishes and her supervisor’s direct orders and not help? Her choiceless choice leads to an indictment and a trial in which she is charged with murder and negligent homicide.

In the way of most of Picoult’s novels, this story is told from several perspectives. Ruth, the nurse, reflects on her career, her family, and the discrimination she’s faced throughout her life. Kennedy, Ruth’s white public defender, slowly comes to terms with white privilege and passive racism. Turk, the white supremacist father, spews racist thoughts and anger for losing his son.

In most of Picoult’s novels, I think the multiple perspective writing really works. But I felt that this story focused too much on the white narrative. This book, at least for me, is ultimately about the discrimination and racism people of color face on a day-to-day basis in America. Wouldn’t that story be better told by the characters of color? For instance there are five other black characters whose voice could have been used. There was Odette, the state prosecutor; Edison, Ruth’s 17-year-old son; Adisa, Ruth’s sister; Howard, the young second-chair on the defense side; and Wallace Mercy, a social justice advocate and pastor.

As Picoult tried to highlight white privilege and the ways in which whites benefit from racism, she also took agency and voice away from her characters of color. Was it intentional or malicious? No. Picoult wrote this novel in response to the police brutality against the African American community and clearly stated in her author’s note that she cannot speak for African Americans. However, I think she could have addressed racism by using the voices of her black characters instead of focusing on an idealistic lawyer and a skinhead.

Publication Info

Small Great Things. Jodi Picoult. Ballantine Books, 2016.

480 pages


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

For those of you who do not know, I adore David Sedaris. I love his quippy world view, and his stories of France reflect my own experiences living in that country. I was excited to start  Jenny Lawson’s book, because many people have compared her writing style to that of Sedaris.

For the most part, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was funny. Lawson is quite sarcastic, and some of her anecdotes are outright hilarious. However, her writing lacks a certain refinement, which was disappointing to me. Her humor is a bit obvious, and sometimes it seemed she was trying too hard to be funny. Her book lacked the effortlessness that Sedaris has. I understand that sometimes it takes authors a few tries to find their voice and style, so I’ll certainly give Furiously Happy a shot as well.

While I wasn’t completely blown away by this book, I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fun read. If you can get past a lot of the unfunny banter with her husband and the writing in all caps, you could easily read this book in a few days.

Publication Info

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. Jenny Lawson. Putnam, 2012.

318 pages


If on a winter’s night a traveler

My senior year of college, I took a class on the Oulipo, a group of (predominantly) French writers who used constraints to test the limits of their story telling. Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler was one of the Oulipian works my professor assigned us. I decided to revisit this book a couple of weeks ago, because, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually read it in class (my undergraduate thesis took priority over an Honors elective.)

It’s difficult to describe this book in a succinct way. The best description I can give you is this: Calvino wrote this book specifically for readers, for those of us who love books. If on a winter’s night is a bit complicated because it’s divided into multiple stories. At the beginning, you, the Reader, begin to read If on a winter’s night, unfortunately, you find your copy is bound incorrectly with another book. And thus your quest for locating the real copy begins. On your journey, you meet other Readers, and begin other books which you will never finish.

Calvino’s work is an interesting read, although it may be bothersome to those of you who can’t stand to leave a book unfinished (in this book, you’ll start nearly a dozen books and only finish one.) However, if you love reading for reading’s sake, then try this book out.

Publication Info

If on a winter’s night a traveler. Italo Calvino, L &OD Key Porter, 1982 (first published in 1979).

260 pages


The Paris Architect

To be honest, this book never stood a chance with me. Why? Because when a historian (me) reads a fictitious account (The Paris Architect) that takes place in her field of knowledge (Vichy France,) she is bound to be overly critical. Here’s a quick look at what I liked and didn’t like about this book.


  1. The premise was interesting. An architect creates hiding places for Jews in Paris under Nazi Occupation.
  2. The protagonist was complex. Lucien Bernard hadn’t seen work since WWII began. Desperate for money, he agrees to design a hiding place for a wealthy Jew in return for a large sum of money and the promise of a huge commission. Bernard isn’t particularly likable in the beginning, having no compassion for his fellow man suffering at the hands of the Nazis. His story is similar to other’s from the Holocaust; initially, Lucien was a war profiter who capitalized on other’s sufferings. However, much like Oskar Schindler, he realized the importance of helping the Nazis’ victims and became a staunch ally to the Jews.
  3. The author, Charles Belfoure, is an architect. His knowledge of building techniques really shine in this book and provides exceptional details that help the narrative.

Didn’t Like:

  1. Some of the history wasn’t right. His description of Vichy, Jewish deportations, and the Resistance are in line with Vichy scholarship. However, he mentions Maurice Papon in passing and makes two claims that aren’t true. First, Belfoure states that Papon was an architect. In two years of studying this man (I wrote my thesis on ol’ Maurice,) I never found any indication that he was an architect. Papon had an extensive career as a civil servant, but that’s it. Second, he claims that Papon was involved in the Parisian police during WWII, that’s simply not the case. Papon was in charge of the Jewish Question division in the Bordeaux area during the Second World War. While it is true he organized Jewish deportations, he did not do so in Paris. In fact, he did not become chief of police in Paris until after the war.
  2. Belfoure’s writing needs some work. His choice of words does not fit with the 1940s, and that really bothered me.
  3. He introduced too many characters and groups. Belfoure got a little carried away with his characters. Vichy is a multi-faceted topic and it’s best to just focus on one aspect. Belfoure introduced the Gestapo and the Resistance, as well as multiple Jews who needed hiding, and nearly everyone in that network. Pair that with all the architectural lingo, and anyone reading is bound to feel overwhelmed. The parts with the Resistance didn’t add much to the story and could have been left out. There were several characters whose stories never got a conclusion, which left the book feeling unfinished.

Another Thing to Note:

The descriptions of Gestapo torture are very graphic. If you aren’t used to reading that type of content, it may be best to skip over it.

I can’t say that I was completely disappointed with The Paris Architect; it was a fast read and I couldn’t put it down. However, more editing and fact-checking would’ve taken this book from 3 stars to 4.

Publication Info

The Paris Architect. Charles Belfoure. Sourcebooks. 2013.

371 pages

ISBN: 1402284314



Anne of Green Gables

When I was about seven years old, my grandparents took a chartered bus tour to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. They brought me my very own red-haired Anne doll, as well as a copy of Anne of Green Gables. On days my grandparents picked me up from school, I insisted my grandmother put on the 1985 two-part film. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite heroines growing up, and, in a spell of nostalgia, I chose to re-read the book a few weeks ago.

Anne of Green Gables, for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it, is about an orphan girl who is (mistakenly) adopted by an older brother and sister. The book chronicles her adventures in Avonlea, a fictional town on PEI, and is a classic coming of age novel. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to Green Gables once again to watch Anne accidentally get her bestie drunk, become resolute in her endeavor to be the top in the class, and surpass everyone’s expectations.

When I was younger, Anne’s ambition in school motivated me to study more, while her love for reading inspired my own. This time around, Anne’s decision to decline a scholarship to college in order to care for her adoptive mother helped me realize that it’s okay to channel your ambitions in places you didn’t plan to. Sometimes life happens, and things go awry, but there’s always something to look forward to. Thanks, Anne, for once again sharing a very important life-lesson.

So how about you? Do you love Anne of Green Gables? Is there a book from many years ago you reread and learned something new from?

Publication Info

Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery. Bantam Books (Classics,) 1982. First published 1908.

ISBN: 055321313X

314 pages

The Program

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Young Adult fiction. For some reason, once I went to college, I felt that YA wasn’t sophisticated enough (it probably had something to do with befriending several literature majors.) Anyways, I found this book through Pinterest, and decided to read it without really knowing what it was about.

The Program is a dystopian novel set in nearly present-day America. Teen suicide rates have skyrocketed and the government, in an attempt to save the young generation, formulate The Program. While their intentions seem noble, The Program “rehabilitates” suicidal teens by tampering with their memories. Instead of sending the teens to grief counseling or having a psychiatrist treat them (many have lost friends or family members to suicide,) The Program removes their memories completely. When the young folks return to society, they are not the same people they were before, having lost large chunks of their identity and experiences.

The book follows Sloane who, months after her brother’s suicide, finds herself closely monitored by The Program. She and her boyfriend, James, fear they will be taken at any moment. and that, if taken, they will not be able to hold on to each other and they will return unable to recognize each other.

Much to my surprise, this was an exciting read for me. The writing was good, the plot was interesting, and the pace was fast. The one problem I had with the novel, and with a lot of dystopian literature in general, was the lack of background. How many children have gone into The Program? Were other methods tried? Why did the government think tampering with people’s minds (the books alluded to lobotomies) was preferred over counseling and psychiatry? How large was the suicide epidemic? What types of treatment do they plan for adults who have also experienced grief? Hopefully, the sequel will offer insight into these questions.

Publication Info

The Program. Suzanne Young. Simon Pulse, 2013.

ISBN: 1442445807

405 pages