Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. -P.J. O'Rourke

So I made it to 40 – we’re here, Thank God.  I’m just not sure I’ll make it to 52 this year, but now I have a goal for next year, right?  RIGHT.  So, every 20 books I’ve done a blog to commemorate those twenty and give my humble opinion of the past twenty books I read.  Some of them I wanted to get through as fast as possible to find out what happens at the end (sometimes I flip straight to the end, read the end and then go back and read the rest so I don’t have a violent mood swing at the end of the book.  Yes, I know that’s cheating, but I’ve been known to throw temper tantrums when I finish a book that upsets me terribly – God Shaped Hole, for example).  Sometimes, I can’t stand a book and it takes me weeks to get through, so much so that I have to start another book in the process of reading the horrible book.  I have also decided to no longer take recommendations from friends because I read some strange books and people usually recommend best sellers or the dreaded Jodi Picoult for me, and that just won’t do.  And no, I still have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I will.  Let me get through The Tomorrow Series when I get home and then we’ll talk.

Here goes nothin’

21.  After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread my Wings and Flew Away – Joyce Carol Oates. I love her, let me just start there… she’s amazing in almost everything she writes.  Poetry, and short fiction are my favorite things that she puts down on paper, but she has some pretty epic novels as well.  This is kind of her go at a Young Adult Novel (there are lots of those on this list because I’m thinking that’s what I want to start out writing and so I’ve been eating young adult novels.  They’re so easy to read and I’m close enough in age to go straight back to my young adult years…maybe I’m even still in them).  However, this book just didn’t do it for me.  Oates’ poetry, I’ll stew over those word choices for days, but this book was kind of trivial and typical of young adult.  I think Sonya Hartnett changed my idea of young adult novels by really breaking boundaries with a few of her books, and so now my reading of Oates’ book has really taken a tumble.  Oates is amazing, I’d recommend anything by her, but I wouldn’t recommend this first.  You have to get used to Oates’ writing and then read this because it’s totally different to her normal style.  She’s amazing with description of people and setting and this book just wasn’t.  It was like Oates’ evil twin or something writing this.  Maybe young adult is her true downfall, who knows.  I’d have to read more of her young adult books to really make an opinion.

Quote:  “See, people come into your life for a reason. They might not know it themselves, why. You might not know it. But there’s a reason. There has to be”

22. Men and Dogs- Katie Crouch I read Crouch’s first novel Girls in Trucks and fell in love with her writing style.  Plus it was kind of about the Southern culture and I occasionally like to delve into that since living in North Carolina my whole life inevitably made me a Southern girl.  Men and Dogs is a bit different because it deals with an older, middle-aged main character who is going through a rough patch in her life and it’s because of emotions she hasn’t dealt with from her past.  You learn early on, maybe first page, her father has just disappeared one day and she’s back in the town of her very wealthy stepfather and mother and her childhood sweetheart.  That pretty much sets the tone.  The only thing I really didn’t enjoy about this book is there was no ending closure.  Sometimes this never really bothers me, but in this book since a lot of her emotional breakthrough would come from an ending with closure, the ending didn’t work for me.  I don’t know about anyone else, this is just my opinion.  I’ll continue to read Crouch though, I quite enjoy her writing style and her book titles and covers intrigue me.  Short and sweet.

Quote: “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”  — Robert A. Heinlein

23. Unlikely Disciple – Kevin Roose I have to admit, my motives for reading this book weren’t entirely good, at all.  This book is about a kid who exchanges from his Brown Education to go to Liberty University for a semester (just before Jerry Falwell…famous ignorant, Evangelical minister died) and he writes about everything he sees from students, to singing in the Church Choir, to mission trips in Florida.  I mean the kid gets all the details.  I actually read this book because I have an ex-boyfriend who kind of broke up with me because he got fanatically religious and I … well I didn’t.  And so, after we broke up he became engaged to a girl that went to Liberty and he goes there to I think and so I kind of secretly wanted to know the deal with this campus and this school.  I mean … there’s a dress code for girls on campus, and people can’t show any signs of public displays of affection, so you know it was intriguing for me to get the inside scoop.  And Kevin Roose gave me just that.  I love reading non-fiction sometimes, especially the kind like Roose’s writings because it really opens your eyes to both sides of the coin.  I walked away from this book learning more things about Evangelicalism then I ever thought I would and learning more things about the human condition.  I think this book would really be good for anyone and it was written by someone my age (probably your age if you’re reading this) and it’s enlightening without being overbearing, just how a non-fiction book should be.

I also think this book should be read because it was in essence banned from Liberty University.  Jerry Falwell Jr. took it off the campus bookshop shelves, then they had a meeting to determine if it should be a part of the bookshop, put it back on the shelves, but with a three page disclaimer…who doesn’t want to read that, I mean come on! Disclaimer can be read here:

There isn’t a quote that I think adequately represents this book at this time.

24. Tomorrow, When the War Began – John Marsden This is my first Aussie novel, and also my first Young Adult Aussie Novel.  It’s ….. so good.  I also saw the movie so I might be a little biased because I’m pretty sure it didn’t even open in America (but the movie was really amazing to).  This is a book about a group of teenagers that go on a camping trip only to return home and find that their country is at war, and all their parents are missing.  The rest of the book is a thriller all the way to the end, which is perfect because it’s a series.  It basically replaced my obsession with Twilight for the time being and now I’m commencing on reading the entire series (haven’t started yet because I can’t actually find them anywhere in Australia, but I know they’re in the Raleigh Public Library so that’s a plus).  I recommend this definitely, just to read some Australian slang.   However, the author is kind of an asshole.  There’s this picture book (illustrated by my favorite Shaun Tan) called The Rabbits, that John Marsden wrote (the author of the Tomorrow Series) and Shaun Tan wanted one word changed in the book and John Marsden refused to talk to him about it and when he finally responded to any of Tan’s questions, all he said was “no.”  So, if you can get passed possibly paying for a dick author’s income, be my guest.  The books are good.  He also wrote The Tomorrow series because he thought Australia didn’t have any good young adult novels at the moment.  Pretty intense opinion with writers like Sonya Hartnett floating around, but that’s a pompous author for you.

Quote: “All these words, words like ‘evil’ and ‘vicious’, they meant nothing to Nature. Yes, evil was a human invention.” — John Marsden

  • “We’d thought that we were among the first humans to invade this basin, but humans had invaded everything, everywhere. They didn’t have to walk into a place to invade it.” — John Marsden

25. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton I loved this book.  It’s a modern day fairytale in the best way possible.  There’s the normal fairytale heroin who sits on her ass and waits for Prince Charming who turns out to not be so Charming, and is actually pretty pale.   But then there’s Eliza who’s her own heroin and amazing.  I’m pretty sure my highlighter ran out of ink while reading this book because I was constantly loving what Eliza was saying.  It’s also an easy read (even though it’s a bit long) because it switches between generations of women throughout the family.  The chapters switch between characters minds and persons and that always makes a book more interesting (unless you are only really interested in one story and one voice, and then the other voices get unbelievable annoying).  This book has A LOT of important women characters and so that part can get a bit confusing at times, but otherwise I totally recommend this book.  Plus, it’s semi-set in Australia, AND has a character named Cassandra so that’s always good, right? haha.

Quote: “Memory is a cruel mistress with whom we all must learn to dance”

  • “You must learn to know the difference between tales and the truth, my Liza, she would say. Fairy tales have a habit of ending too soon. They never show what happens afterwards when the prince and princess ride off the page.”
  • “Life’d be a lot easier if it were like a fairy tale,” said Cassandra, “if people belonged to stock character types.”
    “Oh, but people do, they only THINK they don’t. Even the person who insists such things don’t exist is a cliché: the drear pedant who insists on his own uniqueness!”
  • “Cassandra wondered at the mind’s cruel ability to toss up flecks of the past. Why, as she neared her life’s end, her grandmother’s head should ring with the voices of people long since gone. Was it always this way? Did those with passage booked on death’s silent ship always scan the dock for faces of the long-departed?”

26. Shiver – Nikki Gemmel She wrote my favorite book The Bride Stripped Bare and so I’ve been trying to get through her other books since they only really sell them in the UK and in Australia.  There’s two I still need to read, but the library doesn’t have them so I’ll probably have to pay a ridiculous paperback Australian price to get them, but with Gemmel I’m sure it will be worth it.  Shiver is actually set in Antarctica (or a boat traveling to Antarctica) and so at first you don’t actually want to believe what it’s saying because it’s so far from what you know.  But, like all good stories, the love ties you to the ground and it could be set anywhere and you’d still believe everything Gemmel writes.  I’d probably recommend this and then her Bride book since this is the worse of the two and you should always go from worst to best with authors so you remember them well (at least  that’s what I believe).  The endings a little drastic, and abrupt, but I guess I understood and accepted it rather than throwing the book across the room.  I love Gemmel so for my bias reasons I can’t say anything against her.  READ HER.

27. Local Girls – Alice Hoffman Local girls is a typical coming of age with a bit of a fantastical twist.  I love this about Alice Hoffman.  She always gives me just enough of a fantasy tweek to fill my fantasy needs and then I can move on.  I like her, but this book was average compared to the others I’ve read by her.  She’s still a good writer and this was pretty quick read, but she’s done better.  That’s all I’m sayin’.

Quotes: “Jill told me that when you’re really in love, you know right away. I’m not exactly sure how this happens. Is it like a flash of lightning? Like an angel tapping you on the shoulder? Or is it similar to choosing a puppy? You think you’re picking the cutest one, but really you wind up going home with the one who keeps insisting on climbing into your lap.” – Alice Hoffman

  • “…he had a way of taking your hand which made it clear he’d have to be the one to let go.”

28. The Wilderness – Sarah Harvey This book could have been good, but it just wasn’t.  It was about a man who was slowly losing his memories to Alzheimer’s disease, but he literally kept remembering only fragments from the same exact Alzheimer’s and it just got really annoying.  I guess that’s how a patient with the disease, or a relative caring for someone with the disease must feel, but it’s not the way a good book should go.  This book was far too repetitive and it was way too flowery for my taste.  First book in this 20, that I definitely don’t recommend.  It’s not even on either, so I’m going to assume no one really loved it.

29. Mirror, Mirror – Gregory Maguire He should have stuck to Wicked.  Although Wicked became long and daunting towards the end, the book was fantastic and the play was even better, I’m always listening to the soundtrack in my car.  However, every other book I’ve read by Greg has failed miserably in comparison.  This book had WAY too much history (which normally really interests me, I mean I was a history minor) but in a fiction book, that gets kind of annoying.  The seven dwarfs are stones so they have literally no personality, and Snow White doesn’t have much of one either.  The best character is the kitchen aid who ends up losing her tongue and can no longer speak, so…that pretty much ended the book for me.  It leaves a lot to be desired and I had to push hard to get through it.

Quotes: “The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.”

  • “Books fall open, you fall in. When you climb out again, you’re a bit larger than you used to be”
  • “If you’re ever in doubt, throw a pepper in the air. If it fails to come down, you have gone mad, so don’t trust in anything.”
  • “Even God used silence as a strategy.”

30. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates I loved this book, I actually was quite obsessed with it for days after it ended.  The book made me stew, it made me think, it made me want to keep reading, it made me want to personally Thank Richard Yates and then continue on to more Vintage Classics, which is kind of frightening because I normally really dislike classics.  It actually reminded me of a 1950’s Gatsby in a really weird way.  I think that might just be me though.  It was great and I really want to see the movie now with Leo and Kate.  It’s about a couple who believe that the ideals in life for everyone else aren’t the ideals for them and while the man is off doing his job in the big city (where he does relatively nothing until he does something rather quickly and the boss things it’s ingenious and people know him) then he wants to stay and his wife wants out and she discovers she doesn’t even know who she is.  And then the story all unfolds.  Richard Yates is an incredible writer and I’m going to go ahead and put all his books on my list after this one.  Plus Yates has a pretty appealing beard in all his google image pictures, and I do love a beard (que Devin Forkel, best bearded man I know).

Quotes: “…if you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone.”

  • “I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere, as far ahead of me as the seniors at Rye when I was in the sixth grade; people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occured to them to do anything less then perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I Belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I’d been meant to be one of them all along, and everything in teh meantime had been a mistake; and they’d know it too. I’d be like the ugly duckling among the swans.”
  • “Are artists and writers the only people entitled to lives of their own?”
  • “People did change, and a change could be a bloom as well as a withering…”

31. The Gospel According to Luke – Emily Maguire If you’re religious, and find your religiosity important to you and believe the priests/pastors of your church are superhuman then I’m not sure this is the book for you.  It’s about the obsession of love being beyond the power of morality, ones values, or even ones own religion.  But then…I really enjoyed it because…it kind of points being a good person over being a religious person and maybe a lot of people struggle with this like me.  The idea that really good people, are going to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus.  I just can’t…believe that.  And this main male character falls for a woman who is really a wonderful person, who has a job that is helping other people but may not go with ones religious values.  I like the love in the book, it’s very raw and emotional.  I’m not sure I like the religious bigotry.  I’m not sure I like the final outcome of it all (actually I’m pretty sure I don’t at all), but it was an easy read.

Quotes: “It was disconcerting that being in love felt lonelier than lonelines.”

32. The Red Leather Diary – Lilly Koppel I thought this book was going to be different and better than it actually was.  The back cover quote makes it seem like this women had a lot of sexual adventures with some really important people both male and female.  But then, even though she did, there’s no erotica in there.  If I pick up a book because I want a good sex scene or two, then that’s what I want.   Don’t tease me on the back with something silly.  I like the fact that it’s a true story and if I didn’t have these preconceived notions of the book I probably would have thought it was good, but I guess it was just okay.  The lady who the book is written about is so full of life and art throughout the novel and then you find out she’s just become this wife at the end (sorry to ruin it) and that just really frustrated me.  It’s just not in the cards for me to give up my artistic dream to cook dinner every night.  So that’s that book.

Quotes: “How I love – writing, acting, breathing the atmosphere- and one day I’ll have it. If I cannot write, I shall die.”

  • “Florence has a passion for books. When she saw the one she was seeking, she would recognize it, as if the volume had belonged to her in a previous life.”

33. Scar Tissue – Anthony Keidis We all know who recommended this book to me. (yes, the obsessed Red Hot Chili Peppers Fan I live with).  And it definitely wasn’t a let down (just a bit repetitive.  Typical Rockstar life; drugs, death, hot chicks).  I guess Anthony will always have a special place in my heart now especially the way he talks about all his exes and how much he loved them.  He’s clearly a hopeless romantic.  And he explains all the Chili Pepper songs (or the really clear hits) throughout the book and how he wrote them and who they’re about.  So, that makes it really worth the read because don’t you always wonder what inspired the songs that are like ballads to your life?  Well, I do, and now I got a bit of an explanation.  It was a good book, if you like music or you like the Chili Peppers, definitely give it a read.

Quotes: “The good news is that by the second year, those cravings were about as half as frequent, and by the third year, half as much again. I’m still a little bent, a little crooked, but all things crooked, I can’t complain. After all those years of all kinds of abuse and crashing into trees at eighty miles an hour and jumping off buildings and living through overdoses and liver disease, I feel better now than I did ten years ago. I might have some scar tissue, but that’s alright, I’m still making progress. ”

34. Crash Test Love I don’t even need to write about this book, watch mean girls and you’ll have read this book.  It’s free or really cheap for a nook so I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up reading it.

35. The Collector – John Fowles Creepiest book I’ve read in a long time, definitely doesn’t beat me putting The Shining in the freezer by a long shot, but it’s still skin cringing if you ask me. I’m not even going to go into what it’s about, but it’s a vintage book (I thought after Revolutionary Road I should try more…not sure still if that was a good idea) and it’s about just a creepy guy and a naive, artistic girl and how they come together.  I think the ending is the worst part of the entire book.  Not worst as in it was a badly written ending, but worst as in then you really just get weirded out and your skin crawls.  I guess I’d recommend it….it’s strange though, I don’t know.

Quotes: “It’s despair at the lack of feeling, of love, of reason in the world. It’s despair that anyone can even contemplate the idea of dropping a bomb or ordering that it should be dropped. It’s despair that so few of us care. It’s despair that there’s so much brutality and callousness in the world. It’s despair that perfectly normal young men can be made vicious and evil because they’ve won a lot of money. And then do what you’ve done to me.”

  • “When you draw something it lives and when you photograph it it dies”


36. The Memory Keepers Daughter-Kim Edwards Yea, yea, yea, I finally got around to reading this one even thought it was popular probably two years ago.  I wasn’t disappointed, but it didn’t thrill me either.  I think the plot took way too long to conclude and Kim Edwards flowery writing made the book longer then it had to be.  This book definitely could have been shortened by her editor.  There were unneeded characters and  unneeded traveling sequences.  I liked the dad, but no one else did.  I love the daughter, but everyone else picked on her.  I loved the nurse who took the daughter (you find this out by like page five so I’m not ruining anything).  I think the characters were just all ght stubborn.  I just don’t know how I feel about this book and I’m sure I’d almost like to know…none of these characters in real life.  Does that mean the book is bad? No, it just means it wasn’t how I thought it should be.  Humble opinion, my ass. Haha.

Quotes: “You can’t stop time. You can’t capture light. You can only turn your face up and let it rain down.”

  • “A moment might be a thousand different things.”
  • “This was her life. Not the life she had once dreamed of, not a life her younger self would ever have imagined or desired, but the life she was living, with all its complexities. This was her life, built with care and attention, and it was good.”
  • “…and the distance between them, millimeters only, the space of a breath, opened up and deepened, became a cavern at whose edge he stood.”

37. Sleeping Dogs – Sonya Hartnett I love her.  I love her Young Adult novels.  I love her ridiculous, and outrageous stories.  This story has incest, abuse, child negligence, child endangerment, a sort-of Miss Havisham, murder, I mean you name it and she’s thrown it in there.  And somehow it all makes sense.  And that’s all I want my stories to do, to make sense.  I want the characters to remain characters (even if it makes an ending sour and leave you with a bad taste)…if it makes sense I like it.  I was sneaking into this Young Adult class at UC and so this is one of the stories the professor recommended.  And I read what professors recommend just for my own shits and giggles and I happened to like this guy (he made up a powerpoint story about Justin Beiber once so I’m all for that) and so I read it and I love her.  I recommend it.  That’s all.

38. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR, HANDS DOWN (2nd Oscar Wao).  This book is immaculate.  It’s written in the voice of death first of all, so you know I’m all for originality.  AND it was published as both a young adult novel AND an adult novel.  It’s set in Nazi Germany and it’s a kind of coming-of-age tale of a young girl.  It’s not the happiest story to every be written, but it’s lovable.  It’s a beautiful story and I’m all for anyone who wants to read it.  I’ll probably buy it even though I read it through the public library, it’s THAT good.

Quotes: “The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”

  • “I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”
  • “He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.

    She was the book thief without the words.

    Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

39. Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel I hated this book.  I really, really, really liked the back portion where they tell you what the books about and then I really, really, really liked the first three chapters and then it all turned to poo.  Halfway through it didn’t even really make sense anymore.  And the main character just starts calling the other main character fat, ALL THE TIME.  Like that’s her only character trait by the end of the book.  The main character is just a hot, sweaty mess who is psychic.  If she would have used her psychicness more I probably would have been intrigued, but no, she just got old and boring like we all do.  Except books are supposed to make us feel like we DON’T do that, like everything’s either a fairytale or a massacre.  Caput.

40. Mathilda Savitch – Victor Lodato At first, I thought Mathilda was incredibly annoying, then in the middle, I thought she was incredibly lost and alone, then by the end, I think she’s breaking through to earth again.  She’s incredibly witty as a main character, but a very untrustworthy narrator.  You have to get past all her lies, and all her baggage to even like her and then by the time you do like her a little bit the book is over.  I’m not sure I could stand much more of her in my head by the end of the book though, so I’m glad it ended when it did.  I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book or not.

Quotes: “…not everything in your heart makes it to your mouth. A lot of it gets lost on the way.”

  • “Isn’t language amazing? I can’t get over it. Sometimes you can just say things and its like a bomb that blows all your clothes off and suddenly there you are naked. I don’t know if its disgusting or beautiful.”
  • “There is no imagination in the world. A person like me is basically alone. If I want to live in the same world as other people I have to make a special effort.”
  • “Birds are the lunatics of the animal world.” (darn right, I wrote this one down, I loved it so much while I was reading).

So, I’m reading “Cape Grimm” and “Girl Trouble” (because they were written by professors at schools I’m applying too) right now and then onto more and new books.  If anyone has any recommendations, ignore what I said up there, I’ll totally read your favorite book.  And I hope this helped anyone looking for a book to read…I can’t promise you’ll agree with anything I say, but maybe we’ll have similar tastes.


3 thoughts on “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. -P.J. O'Rourke

  1. Sarah Dion says:

    I love this because I always write down the books you read and suggest and they usually change my life (example, How to Kill a Rockstar). So, now I can’t even wait to order a few of these cheap off!

  2. Emilie says:

    The quote you have from Gregory Maguire about books falling open, did that come from Mirror, Mirror? If so, in what chapter? If not, where did it come from?

    • cassiemannes says:

      It came from It isn’t in that book, I really didn’t enjoy that book so I had to search for quotes that I liked that weren’t devastatingly long. I’m pretty sure he said this in an interview or podcast and not in one of his books at all, but I can’t be sure.


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