Here is the last batch of January reads!!
Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough. Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it! Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up. For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – 4*
One of my 2022 goals is to clear at least 12 books off my classics backlist, and this one was very satisfying because it was so short! I didn’t exactly like this book, but Hemingway writes in such a way that I had trouble putting it down, despite the fact that it’s literally an old man going fishing. There is a tautness to his writing that makes it work, and so many layers to what is, at surface-level, a simple story. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the way it ended, but you can’t make everyone happy.
The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery – 4*
The Kindred Spirits Buddy Read group on Litsy is continuing their foray into Montgomery’s works through 2022, and this was our January pick. It had been a very long time since I read this one, so it was fun to revisit. It’s a rather episodic book, but I did overall enjoy it although it will never be one of my favorites. While the characters here are fun, they somehow lack depth – each of the children seems to fit a role and not go much beyond it. And despite the fact that the story is being told in first person, the narrator is probably the one we get to know the least, which is odd. Perfectly pleasant, but it will probably be another decade or so before I bother to reread this one again.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – 2*? 4*? No stars?
The Litsy group that read through all of Austen’s works last year (the PemberLittens) is continuing into 2022 by reading books about Austen and also other works from women from the Austen-ish era. Wuthering Heights was January’s book, and since I had never read this one all the way through – I remember abandoning it halfway in high school with the general feeling that the only “happy” ending would be for everyone to die of the plague – I thought I would give it a try as an adult and see if it was more palatable. In a word – yes, it was, but… it’s really hard for me to rate this one. First off, it was just absolutely ridiculous. I actually found myself snorting with (inappropriate) laughter in multiple spots because it was just so over-the-top. On purpose? Who knows. I was also absolutely befuddled by the fact that some people consider this a romance, or consider Heathcliff and Catherine to be a romantic couple. What?! These two are both mentally ill, unstable, obsessive, selfish, and creepy. At one point, Heathcliff digs up Catherine’s dead body. This isn’t romantic! What is happening?! But I weirdly did like the way the story ended, although some of my fellow-readers thought it was too tidy. I felt like Cathy, unlike her mother, actually outgrew her selfish whims and gain some balance to her personality, and I liked that. I can’t say I exactly enjoyed reading this, but it did keep me engaged. I was so confused by multiple people having the same name/being related that I printed off a little cheat-sheet towards the beginning of reading it and thoroughly enjoyed X-ing out everyone as they died… which was pretty much everyone, so my high school desire to have everyone die off for a happy ending was very nearly fulfilled lol All in all, it was a worthwhile read, I think, but not one I see myself revisiting. I did use this buddy read as an excuse to buy this pretty copy, though, which I’m perfectly happy to keep on my shelf.
Nation of Enemies by H.A. Raynes – 3*
This was another one that is a little hard to rate. It was also kind of creepy because it was published in 2015 (i.e. pre-Covid and pre-“vaccine passport” insanity) but was all about a future where the entire world is using a chip-based medical system where every person has a MedID rating based on how healthy they are and various genetic features that extrapolate how likely they are to be sick in the future (i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc). People with good Med numbers are able to get good jobs, housing, move from place to place, etc. while people with bad numbers are relegated to the outskirts of society. Many people tout this as a positive as eliminating the low numbers means that we are on track to eliminate said diseases, but others are beginning to grow uneasy with how swiftly the system has been used to alienate huge sectors of the population into second-class citizens. The MedID chips have now become a way to not only track medical history, but everything else, making it easy to decide “criminals” (both real and determined by people who don’t like people) are unable to purchase groceries, travel from state to state, or get a job. The story opens on the cusp of a huge presidential election, with one candidate determined to build on the MedID system and other poised to begin removing it, restoring the freedoms everyone once knew. In the decade since the MedID was instated, the country has descended into a state of constant terrorist attacks, many by frustrated low-MedID citizens, others by various anarchist groups, some by other political powers playing on the emotions of vulnerable individuals.
Rayes does a great job setting all of this up, introducing the reader to several people within the government and within society who are both benefitting and losing from the MedID system, and showing how various things are working behind the scenes of the big election. It was really terrifying and amazing to see how this concept, basically where the vaccine passports are headed, had changed the society, and it was all very believable. But about halfway through the story, things began to lose steam as Raynes slowly turned his story into a more typical political thriller instead of exploring a lot of the nuances presented by a society dominated by this system. In the end, basically everyone was a bad guy, which was kind of weird, and a lot of ends were left loose. This was also a really long book, clocking in at 528 pages, so it definitely felt like it could have used some editing to tighten things up. In the end, a story with some strong potential that just frittered away.
The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel – 2.5*
Apparently this book is also a Hallmark movie, but I haven’t seen it. It was chosen by a member of the traveling book club book, which is really the only reason I finished it as I found the main character, Livvy, to be insufferably selfish and bratty. Set during WWII in Colorado, Livvy is from an upper-class family and has always lived a rather spoiled life. The author tries to make her a sympathetic character by giving her a dead mother and a distant father, but she never felt like a real person to me. She gets pregnant from a one-night stand with a soldier with whom she’s gone on a few dates, and her father solves the “problem” by finding a farmer in eastern Colorado for her to marry, sight unseen. Ray is stereotypically strong and silent, but the main things we have to know about him is that he’s uneducated by Livvy’s standards and thus rather dumb, he immediately begins to worship the ground Livvy walks on for literally no apparent reason, and Livvy’s so concerned about Ray’s “heart” because of his “innocence” around women – she goes on and on and on about this, about how she’s sooooo “experienced” and Ray isn’t, despite the fact that she went on like 3 dates and got pregnant, not sure how that makes her some kind of relationship/sex expert and it REALLY got on my nerves. But Livvy’s that way about everything. She’s from the city and she’s gone to college, so she’s soooo smart and clever and worldly and wise and all these other people are just sort of dumb hicks. I kept think that she was going to recognize the fact that she’s just a blatant snob, but she never really does. She and Ray have like two conversations and then from there forward Livvy’s always saying things like, “I could tell from the love in his eyes how much he yearned for us to be together” blah blah blah, which was both boring and unbelievable. There’s this whole story about these Japanese women who are in a prison camp nearby and how the Japanese prisoners are working on the region’s farms, including Ray’s, but it’s really a sort of surface-level look at this because we never talk with Ray, we just get Livvy’s assumptions about how Ray feels about it. What Livvy assumes is that he completely approves of interning the Japanese and thinks the Japanese are stupid and guilty, despite the fact that he treats them incredibly well and absolutely nothing in his actions support her theory. Livvy also spends a bunch of time driving all over the countryside despite Ray specifically telling her that his gas rations are supposed to be being used for farm work, not pleasure. Livvy justifies it by basically saying she’s bored. I was also amazed at how a farm wife during World War II could be bored and have nothing to do, but here we are. Everyone else in my traveling book club seemed to really like this one (I was the last to read it) so maybe I’m just being overly harsh, but I found Livvy to be painfully unlikable, which made the whole story drag for me a lot, since it’s literally all from Livvy’s perspective and literally all about her in every way, because to Livvy, Livvy is the most important person in the world. I had absolutely zero confidence in her long-term happiness with Ray, because Livvy never actually changed as a person.