1. What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen
I'm a sucker for a "who was Jack the Ripper, really?" novels. I admit it. And The Turn of the Screw is on my list of to-read books for this year, so I thought the premise was intriguing. In this novel, novelist Henry James, his brother William, and his bedridden sister (who is also in a maybe-lesbian relationship with her caregiver - kind of weird allusion to that) Alice team up to solve the Jack the Ripper murders in London. They do...maybe. The ending, as with almost all JtR mysteries, is ambiguous. This was a pleasant read, but I wasn't overwhelmed. I thought Cohen could have fleshed the characters out more, and I thought the ending was hurried.
2. Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern
This was just a really cute story, with some serious subject matter underneath. An architect named Justin donates some blood (although he is terrified of needles), and his blood ends up going to a woman named Joyce who has suffered a terrible accident and a heartrending loss. After receiving his blood, she discovers she has most of Justin's memories and, impressively, his architectural knowledge. Of course, as with all romantic stories - they are destined for each other. This is the first book I've read by Ahern, and I enjoyed it enough to read some of her other works.
3. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Oh, I loved, loved, loved this. The story begins with a woman receiving a letter - 50 years too late. I don't want to give away any more of the plot because it's just that enchanting. I have loved all of Morton's books (especially The Forgotten Garden), and I think she's quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This book was so magically sad and haunting that I almost didn't want to finish it. I just wanted to live inside the story with the mysterious Blythe sisters and their crumbling castle for a little while longer.
4. Persuasion by Jane Austen
I'm ashamed to admit that I'd never read this gem. I think this novel has been the easiest Austen offering I've ever breezed through, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Aside from Anne, the rest of the Elliot family is probably the most odious since Mr. and Mrs. Elton from "Emma," and I found myself loving to hate them (especially Mary).
5. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
I enjoyed this book, in that it was a quick, easy read. I still think that Weiner's "Good in Bed" and "Best Friends Forever" are her best offerings, but I did find it interesting that she chose to write this book from the viewpoint of a middle-aged woman, rather than her normal young protagonists. For some reason, all of her books make me hungry. She is all about mentioning everything that every character consumes - usually fancy cheeses. Her books should appeal to all foodies.
6. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp
Ok. I have a lot to say about this book, and I'm probably going to step on some toes, because everyone else I know adores this book. I wanted to adore it, too. I really, really did. In fact, for the first two chapters, I did. But then I started getting a headache.
First things first.
Things I liked about this book:
1. I like the premise - that gratitude is essential to a Christian life, and that when we become aware of how much we have to be thankful for, our perspective on day-to-day mundane and stressful activities shifts.
2. Voskamp is a poet. Some of the sentences are beautifully crafted.
Things I did not like about this book:
1. Voskamp is a poet. But this book isn't supposed to be poetry. I started getting annoyed by the flowery prose and started yearning for her to just. Say. It. I get it. The moon is beautiful. "Eucharisteo" (repeated about a jillion times) is great. But do you ever speak in a normal vernacular? Ever?
2. She seems to hate the words "the" and "my." Seriously: "He's already hunched over keyboard..." "dishes in sink," "I am bell," "I hold the bowl in hand..."
3. She leaves "ly" off of almost every adverb: gentle, not gently; careful, not carefully
4. There's a weird sentence structure: "water warm," "plate of cheese grated"
Yes, yes, yes. You're a poet. But it's still bad grammar.
5. She hyphenates everything. Everything. God-glory, God-Man, Word-God, Love-Body
6. She can't just tell us the names of anyone in her family. Once again, weird hyphenations: Farmer Husband, Boy-Man, Tall-Girl, Little-One...She also speaks about and to them in some weird poetic voice. Her son is "the child I ripened with, bore down and birthed from the heart..." Ew. I found myself saying "Really? You actually asked your kid 'can I help you find the laughter again?' after he threw a piece of toast in his brother's face instead of asking him 'Hey, how about you don't throw toast in your brother's face?'"
7. Lastly, the final chapter was horrifying. Horrifying. This is an actual sentence: "I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God." I'm sorry. Please do not compare the love we feel for God to the joy of sex. She does. Repeatedly. Graphically. I got the heebie jeebies.
All in all, I felt like this book was just some self-important drivel from someone who thinks that God's plan is for everyone to bear six children (she refers to her globe-trotting cool aunt merely as "childless"), live on a farm, and have time to contemplate how gorgeous sunlight hitting suds "in sink" is. Navel gazing at its worst, and I sort of finished the book wanting to force her to watch "The Office" or something so she could speak like an actual human.