A Book Year (so far) in Review

In my experience, there are four tried and trusted methods to find good books:

1. The good, old-fashioned in-shop browse and buy

2. Book reviews from sites/publications/blogs you read

3. Personal recommendations from friends

4. A combination of options B and C, platforms like Good Reads

I love discovering new books previously unknown to me, and I always love hearing others’ opinions before committing myself. I also happen to belong to a book club (proud geek alert) which is a sure way to come across books I wouldn’t usually even pick up off the shelf, and find some hidden gems in the process. For any like-minded bookworms out there, I have done a quick re-cap on books I have read this year, seeing as we have just passed the halfway mark (howwhatwhy? Let's just take a moment to reflect on the fact that it's JULY people!). From thrillers to romances, classics to biographies, I’m pretty sure there’s something for everyone, and just maybe it will encourage you to something a little different... go on!

'How to be Good' (Nick Hornby)

Genre: Novel/Fiction

In a nutshell: London GP Katie who is driven half mad by her husband’s sudden change of heart and attempts to ‘do good’. As he invites the homeless to stay, gives away their children’s toys and even their Sunday lunch, Katie come to ask herself: if charity

begins at home, maybe it’s time to move

My thoughts: Humorous and thought-provoking in equal measure, I think anyone who has ever wished that they did something more meaningful with their lives would enjoy this book. It does get a bit far-fetched at times, and there was no character that didn’t annoy me a at least a little bit, but definitely a fun and easy read. Lots of quotable gems that can be applied to anyone's life; this certainly encourages plenty of self reflection!

Star Rating: 3.5 stars

'Lucky Us' (Amy Bloom)

Genre: Coming of age story

In a nutshell: Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

My thoughts: I always enjoy stories that span a significant period of time, seeing characters travel and change through time. I loved seeing Iris and Eva go from their quiet hometown to dazzling L.A. and overwhelming New York. A good story, but not always told in the most engaging way. Not what I would call a page turner, but a good, easy read, this woulf be perfect for your next holiday.

Star Rating: 3 stars

'Tuesdays with Morrie' (Mitch Albom)

Genre: Biography/memoir

In a nutshell: Mitch Albom, a successful sports journalist, reconnects with his high school mentor as he is in the last months of his life. Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final 'class': lessons in how to live.

My thoughts: Loved it. Really, really loved it. I feel grateful for having been introduced – albeit through reading – to the legendary Mr Morrie Schwartz. I liked this one so much I wrote a blog all about it at the time – check it out here.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

'Sharp Objects' (Gillian Flynn)

Genre: Thriller

In a nutshell: When two girls are abducted and killed in Missouri, journalist Camille Preaker is sent back to her home town to report on the crimes. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims - a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story.

My thoughts: The epitome of a page turner... You know where the author of crime favourite 'Gone Girl' is involved, it’s going to be a good read. Personally I liked this story even more than its predecessor - the twists just keep on coming, and as odd as it sounds, when a story truly disturbs you as much as this one does, you've got a bloody good book in your hands.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

'A Recipe for Bees' (Gail Anderson-Dargatz)

Genre: Novel/Fiction

In a nutshell: When her mother dies, Augusta is bereft and directionless until she marries her first suitor, Karl, the shy son of a detestable old farmer. She finds life on their remote, rustic farm almost unbearable. While some friendships are made, eventually, she and Karl and their young daughter, Joy, move on to a farm of their own, and Augusta looks for new ways to assert her independence. It is not until she resurrects her mother's beekeeping equipment that sweet possibilities unexpectedly twist together, the indulgences of youth, and the many delights and exasperation of old age are enchantingly revealed.

My thoughts: A story spanning a lifetime, this is definitely a read for those who enjoy slow, quiet novels. While the main character is very likeable, and the story a good one, I couldn’t help but feel a bit deflated after reading it. Even when events of significance take place, I found it to be told in such a subdued voice that it all came across as rather unremarkable - not really what I look for in novels. A sweet story nonetheless.

Star Rating: 3.5 stars

'Me Before You' (Jojo Moyes)

Genre: Chick Lit

In a nutshell: After finding herself suddenly and unexpectedly out of a job, Louisa finds work as a caregiver for Will Traynor, a cynical former banker who was completely paralyzed by a motorcycle accident two years prior. At first, he reacts coldly to her spunkiness, but they soon become friends and develop feelings for each other. My thoughts: Classic chick-lit. That is to say, a little too soppy, a few too many cringe-worthy moments but damn it I can’t help but enjoy every page. While the cliché moments are plenty, this story goes where many of its peers doesn’t; it delves into one of the most divisive, controversial topics in the world, euthanasia. If you think the film looks/is rubbish, don’t let that stop you reading this, it’s a good’un.

Star Rating: 4 stars

'Thrilling Cities' (Ian Fleming)

Genre: Travelogue

In a nutshell: In 1959, Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was commissioned by the Sunday Times to explore fourteen of the world’s most exotic cities. Fleming saw it all with a thriller writer’s eye. From Hong Kong to Honolulu, New York to Naples, he left the bright main streets for the back alleys, abandoning tourist sites in favour of underground haunts, and mingling with celebrities, gangsters and geishas. The result is a series of vivid snapshots of a mysterious, vanished world.

My thoughts: An awesome mix of travel – my all time favourite topic – and history, though the latter is unintentional, and merely a result of the time in which it was written; a time so very different from our own. For a full breakdown on my thoughts on this book, check out this post.

Star rating: 4 stars

'This House of Grief' (Helen Garner)

Genre: True Crime

In a nutshell: On the evening of 4 September 2005, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother when his car plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven, and two, drowned. Was this an act of deliberate revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner's obsession. She was in the courtroom every day of Farquharson's trial and subsequent retrial, along with countless journalists and the families of both the accused and his former wife.

My thoughts: Having been hooked on two of the most high-profile and truly gripping true-crime cases of late, podcast Serial and TV series Making a Murderer, I had high hopes for this book. The tragic true story and subsequent trial is a gripping one, but I found Garner’s writing style to be hard to engage with, and despite events, I lost interest. I feel terrible speaking so bluntly given the horrific nature of the subject, but I feel I just as easily could have read about this case and gathered information online.

Star rating: 2.5 stars


'The Best of Everything' (Rona Jaffe)

Genre: Classic fiction

In a nutshell: When Rona Jaffe's superb page-turner was first published in 1958, it changed contemporary fiction forever. Some readers were shocked, but millions more were electrified when they saw themselves reflected in its story of five young employees of a New York publishing company. Almost sixty years later, The Best of Everything remains touchingly and sometimes hilariously true to the personal and professional struggles women face in the city. There's Ivy League Caroline, who dreams of graduating from the typing pool to an editor's office; naïve country girl April, who within months of hitting town reinvents herself as the woman every man wants on his arm; and Gregg, the free-spirited actress with a secret yearning for domesticity.

My thoughts: This book is amazing. One, because it paints a picture of New York City as it is in my dreams: vivid, exciting, and full of adventure. Two, because this is essentially a pre-cursor to Sex in the City i.e. wildly entertaining and yet surprisingly relatable, only set against a fabulous 1950s backdrop. Some topics which are standard fare today (extra-marital affairs, abortion, single life in general) were beyond scandalous at the time, and Jaffe’s honest, open treatment of these topics is one of the many things which makes this such a great read. One of my favourite books, highly recommended – the only thing that let it down for me was the ending, but it’s one I’m sure many would love.

Star rating: 4.5 stars

'The Rosie Project' (Graeme Simpson)

Genre: Fiction/Humour

In a nutshell: Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father.

My thoughts: I rarely get through books as quickly as I did this one. It’s a bit like reading a love story as if told from the perspective of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper; so rest assured there is hilarity to be found throughout. The story moves along at a fast pace thanks to the pragmatic lead, and the book is written with a wit that ensures a thoroughly enjoyable read. I can’t imagine anybody not enjoying 'The Rosie Project'.

Star rating: 4.5 stars

'The Alchemist' (Paulo Coelho)

Genre: Quest/Adventure

In a nutshell: A shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried beneath the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.

My thoughts: I knew almost nothing about this now classic book before reading it, but I really had a feeling of something special when immersed in it, a feeling that this is a story everyone should read. It has a certain universal appeal, and would be relished by those young and old, Western and Eastern, today and 100 years down the line It’s what we read novels for: adventure, inspiration, imagination, dreams.

Star rating: 4 stars

I am always on the lookout for new reads - if you have any recommendations for me please feel free to send me an email at rachel@the-room.co.nz

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