December Reads

Monday, December 26, 2016

December was a great book month for me. Since it's been so cold and I hadn't been in the midst of binge-watching a show for most of the month, I spent a lot of my free time cozied up under a blanket with a book and got through SIX* in December alone.

And now my 2016 reading is complete. I set a goal of 12 books and ended up reading 31* (!!), which I am oddly proud of.

Book 26 of 12:
"The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern
Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams, a magical place where the illusions are real. Celia and Marco have spent their entire childhood training for a "game," a challenge that they are bound to yet unfamiliar with. They don't know what they should do, how they can win, or even that they are each other's opponent. With the circus set as the game's venue, the two compete and collaborate as they make their way through the challenge. What they do not realize is that the game is not only about them – its consequences affect everyone else around them.

This was a very magical, enchanting story, unlike any other that I've read. It involved multiple perspectives and even two different timelines (a "then and now"-type set-up), which I always enjoy. It felt a bit slow at times, but as the book progressed and the two timelines began to merge, I was eager to keep reading. The one downside for me was that the progression of time was too quick for me to be able to buy into the romance aspect. It felt like a week had passed between two characters when it had actually been a decade. It made me feel a bit disconnected from relationships. Still, a very unique story.

People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see."

Rating: 3/5

Book 27 of 12:
"Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear"
by Elizabeth Gilbert
As the title depicts, Gilbert's book explores how to pursue creative living – defined as "living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear." She discusses what attitudes, approaches, and habits will benefit us creatively and help us get where we want to go. It's a book of inspiration for anyone who loves to create, wants to create, or yearns to take a leap toward their goals.

Warning: I'm about to gush over this book a bit. (Maybe a bit too much, but who cares? Not me.)

I had been meaning to read this for quite a while and am so glad I finally picked it up. I know saying "This book changed my life!" sounds a little over-the-top, but it kinda did. At the very least, it changed my mindset. Before reading this, I didn't consider myself creative, because I defined "creative" as being able to think abstractly, to come up with brand new, unique ideas on the spot. As someone who tends to think more logically rather than imaginatively, and is not the best at coming up with anything on the spot, I ruled it out. Following Gilbert's definition, though, simply staying curious and not letting fear stop me from trying to new things makes me creative. And that feels good.

"Big Magic" is as good as I thought it would be. Gilbert's advice never comes across as preachy, and her overall attitude about the creative process is refreshing. Despite her failures and struggles, she was never a cynic; she trusted the process and kept going.

My favorite, favorite part of everything was the notion that curiosity is more important than passion: "But a lot of people don't know exactly what their passion is, or they may have multiple passions, or they may be going through a midlife change of passion—all of which can leave them feeling confused and blocked and insecure." Yes! I've written about this before! About the confusing grey area of not really having one single passion! I felt insecure about it! But I shouldn't. What really matters is that I stay curious. That's what will bring in new ideas.
The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels—that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt—that's what I call Big Magic."
Rating: 5/5

Book 28 of 12:
"Love, Rosie" by Cecelia Ahern
AKA "Rosie Dunne," or "Where Rainbows End" in the UK

Rosie and Alex have been best friends since childhood. They've been with each other through thick and thin – sleepovers, birthdays, college applications, and one-night stands. The two both apply to colleges in the U.S., but life-changing news keeps Rosie home in Dublin: She's pregnant, thanks to a careless night with a boy after a school dance. While Rosie raises her child as a single mother, Alex pursues a medical career in Boston. Despite living on separate continents, the pair can't help but question their feelings for one another, raising the question, What if the one that got away came back? 

I picked this one up because I had watched the movie on a flight a couple years ago and didn't realize that it was also a book. "Love, Rosie" is more than a love story; it's also a story about life (and its struggles). With it being made up of emails, IMs, and letters, there's very little fluff, no boring parts that you're eager to get through or tempted to skip altogether. I was also impressed with how easy the timeline was to follow, given the unusual structure. It was always clear when there was a passage of time – not with headings like "TWO YEARS LATER," but with birthday cards and christmas cards and references to seasons or holidays. It's a very cute story.
Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a quick few minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?"

Rating: 4/5

Book 29 of 12:
"Identical" by Ellen Hopkins
With a father who's a judge and a mom running for a position in Congress, identical twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne are part of an all-American family, or at least that's how it seems. Behind closed doors, the two girls are battling their own demons. For Kaeleigh, affection from her father that no daughter should know. For Raeanne, drugs and alcohol. Neither sister can get through it alone, so who will help who?

Within the first 20 pages, I knew this story would be messed up. Still, a story can be disturbing but still be a good story, you know? Hopkins' writing style is powerful. (Don't be put off by it if you aren't a fan of poetry; it still reads like a regular story.) The format and structure of the poems adds its own layer to the content itself, especially in mirroring the two characters' perspectives.

Rating: 3/5

Book 30 of 12:
"I've Got Your Number" by Sophie Kinsella
Poppy Wyatt isn't having the best day. She's lost her engagement ring during a hotel fire drill, and while hunting for it, got her phone stolen. Her luck starts to look up when she finds an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers, right? Now she has a phone to get her by and a number to leave with the hotel in case they find her ring. It's the perfect plan – until, that is, Sam Roxton starts calling, a business man who demands his phone be returned. These unexpected circumstances leave Poppy and Sam wrapped up in each other's personal lives more than either one of them would like.

This is my second book by Kinsella, and again, I felt that it read realistically, especially with the dialogue among the characters. It ended up having more plot than I was expecting too, in a good way. It's an enjoyable read that had me thinking about the ways I communicate with people.

Rating: 3/5

*     *     *

*EDIT: After publishing this post on Monday, Dec. 26, I ended up finishing a sixth book (yeah, I don't know how either) Wednesday night. I didn't expect to get through it so quickly, but since I did, I'm adding it in to the December list. It'd feel like cheating if I passed it off as my first book of 2017.

Book 31 of 12:
"The Woman In Cabin 10" by Ruth Ware
Laura Blacklock, who goes by Lo, is a travel journalist, assigned to spend a week on a luxury cruise. It is the maiden voyage of Aurora, a small ship with only ten cabins. It's the opportunity of a lifetime. Then one night, Lo hears a noise, and, rushing out onto her balcony, witnesses a woman overboard, the woman from cabin 10 next door. Did she jump? Did she fall? Was she thrown? Lo immediately alerts security, only to be told that there was no one assigned to cabin 10, and everyone on board is accounted for.

I'm between a 2.5- and 3-star rating with this honestly. It's a good plot, but with rather poor execution. I'm going with 3 stars because I was intrigued for the majority of the book, but once you get to the big reveal, the storyline DRAGS. You'd think that's where it would really pick up and be impossible to put down. Also, the characters all felt like their only purpose was to be a red herring, so much so that I just started immediately ruling out any character that was portrayed as a suspect.

All in all, a compelling storyline but not the best book. If you are into the crime/thriller genre, it's a worth a shot.

Rating: 3/5

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