Book Reviews: September + October


Whoops, a bit behind on my book reviews – I think because during the early part of fall I had a run of so-so reads/books I couldn’t even get through. Lately that streak has ended and I’ve read a few great ones recently that I can’t wait to share…but for now, here’s what I read in September and October:

Rules of Civility: I have little to say about this book, which followed the lives of three young people in 1930s NYC. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. It was well-written and unique, with an interesting story and setting, but for some reason it didn’t totally resonate with me.

A Window Opens: This book had scores of great reviews on Amazon and was the subject of two articles in the New York Times, so I had pretty high expectations – which, unfortunately, were not met. In a nutshell, it’s about a working Mom who goes from part-time career to full-time career, and finds difficulties in balancing work and home life. It’s a topic that has been well-mined, and I just didn’t feel that this book added anything new to the discussion. I kept waiting for something surprising to happen – or more generally, anything at all interesting to happen, and it never did. Didn’t care much for the characters either.

Spinster: One of my issues with this book was that while the premise purported to be about living independently and making “a life of one’s own,” the author was never actually single – and in fact, the bulk of her life, as she wrote about it in the book, seemed to center around her boyfriends. Bolick had a steady string of serious relationships throughout the duration of the book, and the one time she was between boyfriends, she described feeling lost and miserable (depressed even) – so I just wondered, why is she even exploring the topic of singledom? The other thing she did in the book was write about single women throughout history who she found inspiring – but I just couldn’t get into the essays or the women. One of them was extremely promiscuous – which is fine, to each their own, but she wasn’t my idea of an inspiring “spinster” – especially since the author didn’t really share much else about the woman’s single life and what she made of it, other than her promiscuity. Another of her “inspiring spinsters” wound up mentally ill and homeless on the streets of New York City. Again, inspiring that is not. I had to give up on this book.

Better Than Before: I loved this book! I’m a fan of Gretchen Rubin – if you’ve read her blog or her previous books (The Happiness Project, for example), you know that she’s interested in exploring subjects that fall under the umbrella topic of “self-improvement,” but more in an intellectually curious way than a hokey or self-helpy way. This book seemed like a natural follow-up to her previous explorations on the subject of happiness, since it focused on how habits shape our lives and why they can make us happier. In addition, Better Than Before explored how different personality types form habits, why some people are better at keeping them than others, and what strategies people employ to form and uphold habits (or not!). It was interesting, informative, and kind of inspiring (I joined the gym shortly after reading it!).

Fates and Furies: Man, I may be in the minority here (it’s nominated for the National Book Award and made the front cover of the Times Sunday Book Review), but I kind of hated this book. The first half, the story of a marriage from the husband’s point of view, I found to be a slog to get through. I had to push myself, hoping that the second half (the marriage from the wife’s point of view), would be more interesting or engrossing. It definitely was, but it was also just disturbing and discomfiting, as well as, to me, plain un-enjoyable. I’m not one to shy away from disturbing or depressing books (case in point), but this one just didn’t work for me at all. The writing style wasn’t my cup of tea and overall I just really disliked pretty much everything about it.

The Seduction of Water (audiobook): This book was billed as a mystery, and throughout the first part I kept wondering, where’s the mystery? Then about halfway through, the setting changed and the mystery kind of took off…at which point it got interesting, so I did enjoy it. My only issue was that in that second half, SO many characters with different connections were introduced that I found myself a bit confused, about who was who and also how they all connected (especially since a lot of them were dead at the time the action was taking place, so they were “off-stage,” so to speak) – so it was a bit hard to follow, but other than that it was good. It might have been better if I had been reading it (rather than listening), so I could have flipped back to refresh my memory on who was who.

Have any of you guys read these books? Agree or disagree with my assessments? I’d love to hear!

Leave a Comment

  1. You’re killing me! hahah I loved Rules of Civility and Fates and Furies 😉

    Published 11.13.15 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      Eek, I know! I must be the only one who just didn’t get Fates and Furies!

      Published 11.22.15 · Reply
  2. Adrienne wrote:

    I liked Spinster. I think her aim was to discuss the idea of *marriage* not actually being single. It was the sort of introspection most women go through when faced with the idea that they are going against the norm when not married. I mean, if she was constantly in, what seemed to be, great relationships, why was she so disinterested in actually pulling the trigger.

    If anything, my qualm was with the fact that most (all?) of her idols were actually not spinsters! Unlike you, I found the idea of being promiscuous and going against the Victorian norm to be completely fascinating!

    Published 11.13.15 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      Good point, thanks for bringing that up! More about marriage than being single…yes, perhaps that was the crux of the book, and I just had different expectations. Thanks for your comment, I love hearing others’ opinions on books I’ve read!

      Published 11.22.15 · Reply
  3. I just read Unbecoming and loved it, so thanks! and I’m reading Broken Harbor and so far so good so thanks again!

    Published 11.24.15 · Reply

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