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The last of 2014’s 4-star reads

January 10, 2016

I have twenty-four more books left on my 2014 review list. (I’m not even going to look at 2015 yet. Baby steps. Eighteen of these books (really 21, because one was a comp of a series) were four-star reads.

The two-volume graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book changes art too often for me to really love it, but it’s a good adaptation, especially for kids who are more visual. The book itself is an old-fashioned ghost story, with murder and monsters, so sensitive kids might want to save this until they’re a little older, even if it is in the juvenile section.

Remember that time that I said that Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye run peaked with the second volume? Maybe the third? Well, I gave the second volume four stars. Have I mentioned how gorgeous the art is? Have I discussed how sometimes they’re all talking about stuff and you’re like “You know you’re missing a chunk of the conversation, right? The part that would let the audience know what you’re talking about?” This volume is a bit more verbose, which helps, and if I remember correctly has a very heartwarming section that made me love it.

Three Jennifer Crusie books got four stars, and they were all written with other people: Dogs and Goddesses, The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and her first collaboration with Bob Mayer: Don’t Look Down. Fortunately, she and Mayer get into a great writing groove with their second book. You know, as if four star is bad. Heh.

Avengers: Road to Marvel’s The Avengers is a collection of stories set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I really can’t remember much about it, but I know I liked it. Peter David, man. It’s practically a given.

As much as it kills me to read out of order, I’m still reading random Discworld books occasionally. 2014’s was Guards! Guards!, which is the first story of the City Watch. Vimes, yay! The good thing about Discworld for someone like me is that you can jump in here and there with different series of characters, at least. Unfortunately, the next City Watch book I have is like fifth in that sub-series. (We ended up with a bunch of the books when someone my husband knows moved? Or something?) So…that’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. I like Discworld, but not enough to seek it out. Which is supposed to make me a bad nerd or something, but I don’t care.

I couldn’t remember ever having read any Shirley Jackson, but my husband had a book so I borrowed it. Come Along with Me is probably not the best start, since it begins with an unfinished work, but it also had all those short stories I’d heard of, which are very very good. I wish I’d had a best of instead, but I’m glad I got a chance to read her work.

So it looks like I read Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X, which is the seventh in the Desperate Duchesses series. I have no memory of the story at all, which is not surprising because I’ve had a fever this past week. As with most James books, I really enjoyed it. James is on my very short list of romance authors I don’t mind reading, because she doesn’t mind being anachronistic so that I don’t want to bleed from my ears reading about institutionalized sexism and “titillating” rape.

Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series–also knows as Lilith’s Brood–is super trippy. It begins with our dying world, and aliens coming to save our race but only on their terms; and then it ends with a completely alien perspective. The middle book bridges this with a half-alien, half-human main character, but even then it started getting away from me. Butler is freakin’ amazing (I’m in a book club this year that only reads her books; you should totally join), and she makes alien things easy to read but difficult to deal with, if that makes sense. The plain language she uses makes the questions her works bring up weighty but answerable. I’m so excited for this book club, y’all. I’m also really excited to reread Xenogenesis.

Once upon a time, I took a class in literature set in the time of Cicero and Caesar. Robert Harris’s Imperium would’ve fit in there perfectly. But the syllabus was so huge we already had to cut it, and while Imperium was good, I enjoyed other books that are also mysteries set in the same time period more, like Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder series. Still, this was a solid mystery that I read for a book club, and I liked it.

The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman wrote a book called My Dog: The Paradox: A Lovable Discourse about Man’s Best Friend, which was as hilarious as Inman’s usual work. I think I borrowed it from my daughter.

Raina Telgemeier continues her sweet, middle-school level graphic novels with Sisters, a sequel of sorts to Smile. In this, Raina gets a little sister named Amara. I guess they are memoirs? Sort of? I’ve seen them in fiction and non-fiction, but not biography, so I have no idea. They are cute and you should buy them for kids.

Brad Meltzer’s I am Rosa Parks is part of a series and it’s a great series for kids. A picture book that tells Rosa Parks’s story, it also has a lot going on in the background, if I remember correctly. You can read just the main story, but the word balloons add to it. Which is to say, I never knew exactly what to read to the kids, so it wasn’t the best read-aloud, but I wanted something the little ones could follow. Also: Meltzer. Love Meltzer.

In that same book club where I read Imperium, I also read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. The former was a good look at introversion, but Cain paints them with the same brush in such a way that sometimes I–an introvert who likes to be social, but does not gain any energy from it–felt a bit excluded and even offended. Cain seems to think she’s part of the special people, and that was a bit off-putting. Kimball, on the other hand, lost a star for being…I wish I could remember exactly, but I want to say kind of lark-y, like “Isn’t my life so PRECIOUS?” Or maybe it was the fact that her husband sounds like a “my way or the highway” jerk a lot of the time. But she left her city life for his dream, and it was a fascinating look at farming, something I don’t really think a lot about because all the farms I know grow exactly 1-2 things: cranberries or blueberries. I mean, that’s not true–there are a TON of farms in South Jersey–but since my mom worked for the cranberry farm, it’s the one I know best. I was fascinated by Kimball’s life, growing all sorts of things, killing all sorts of animals for food, and especially running a CSA. I was blown away by how easily she tossed aside her vegetarianism because a dude was hot, but um, okay. As someone who mostly deals with large-chain grocery stores, I found the whole book engrossing; as a vegan, some parts were more difficult than others. Recommended.

Finally (whew), I listened to the audiobook of Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking. She’s so great, and I’m always coming down on the side of audiobook when it comes to memoirs. This is one of the reasons. Loved it.

That’s it for the last of the four-star books. Only six five-star books to go. Guess how many are by Jennifer Crusie!

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