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Ready to hear about the 10 books I read in June? I know … that’s a somewhat frightening number. (Plus I read Harry Potters 4, 5, and 6. Helloooo summer + getting to that point in pregnancy where I just want to lay around all the time.)
It’s more difficult to share these reviews on months when I read several things I really didn’t love. Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t for everyone; they just weren’t for me. I’ve tried to outline why and accentuate some positives.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray – My best friend and I have been reading a classic a month for almost a year now, and this is the first one I wish I had just laid aside. It has interesting characters, but probably half the writing is detailed descriptions of things that have nothing to do with the actual plot line. I realize it was written in 1847-48, but as a 2016 reader I just did not care for the style at all. Especially considering in April we read Wuthering Heights, which was published in 1847 and such an incredible page-turner.
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave – Very rarely do I feel like books would make better movies than they do books, but this was one of those cases. The plot seemed almost too theatrical: in the first chapter, main character Georgia flees her LA life for her hometown, showing up at the bar her brothers own … in her wedding gown. When she returns to her childhood home, she gets another shocker straight off the bat. As we follow her through the next week of her life, we encounter some flashbacks from her father’s point-of-view, giving some clarity to the current situations. I didn’t feel like it was enough, though–the plot seemed hurried, none of the characters were very likable, and in the end I was very unsatisfied. Like I said, though, I honestly think it would make a great romantic movie. The pieces are there, they just weren’t quite fleshed out enough for me for a novel.
The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty – A lesser-known title from the author of What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies, The Last Anniversary is very much in the beloved style of Australian author Moriarty. There is a little mystery, and while we unearth it we’re treated to the lives of many intertwined, real, crazy characters. In this novel, the main character is Sophie, who is shocked to find she’s inherited a house from her ex-boyfriend’s great-aunt. The house is on Scribbly Gum Island, home to only a few houses, all of whose occupants are related. They survive happily through the fame of the island’s mysterious Munro Baby, whose parents disappeared without a trace decades before. Sophie, a single 39-year-old with a womb crying for children, navigates her way through the family drama. Moriarty’s quirky, entertaining style makes tough topics seem like light reading, and this book is well worth a cover-to-cover read. (Note: lots of language and sex talk, plus a few “trigger topics” – happy to expand if you want via e-mail.)
(This book and review were featured in my post 5 Great Summer Beach Reads at the Chattanooga Moms Blog.)
This may be a weird grouping, but stick with me. These are both YA romances that came out this Spring. And I expected to love them more than I did. Note: this doesn’t mean I didn’t race through both, reading huge chunks at a time – because I totally did. They are good reads. But for me, they weren’t GREAT.
Here’s the thing: my high-school life was perhaps atypical. I was a youth-group girl. I didn’t go to parties that had alcohol and drugs; I wasn’t having sex. So when I read books that are maybe more “typical” teenager, it mostly makes me frightened for my kids. Bring on the nice, clean Jenny B. Jones stuff.
I think that has something to do with the fact that these didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Both are sweet stories with good characters. I didn’t LOVE The Unexpected Everything like I did Matson’s other books I’ve read – Second Chance Summer and Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour. But I think both hers and Buxbaum’s book have fun plotlines and are good YA reads. They just left me itching for something a little cleaner.
An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff – I can’t remember at all where I read about this book. It’s a few years old, a memoir by Schroff about her relationship with a young, panhandling boy in New York City. Prompted to turn around one day and actually see someone begging, Laura invited Maurice for McDonald’s … and into her life. It’s a sweet memoir, reflecting both on the relationship between Maurice and Laura and on her past. It doesn’t always seem quite to flow, and I would have loved to see more of Maurice’s point-of-view. But the nudge to see people and put yourself out there shone through.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – Galbraith is the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling, but don’t expect anything like Harry Potter from these novels. Set in real-live-modern-day London, Galbraith introduces us to her private detective, Cormoran Strike, currently on the cusp of losing everything. Strike is former military, brash, grizzly, and gets down to business solving a case brought to him by a deceased model’s adopted brother. Rowling/Galbraith paints a perfect picture of her hero, his assistant, the setting, and the mystery. Maybe I’m just naive when it comes to mysteries – I don’t read a ton of them – but I had no idea what was coming when I got to the end. I’m currently reading the second book in this series, The Silkworm. (With the warning from several that the ick factor in this one is significantly higher.)
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell – Having read Jane Eyre AND Wuthering Heights in the last six months, I had really high hopes that I would adore this one. And I didn’t. Maybe I’m not quite nerdy enough about the Brontes, or maybe it was just that the main character, Samantha, was so incredibly unlikable to me. I think the premise could have been really interesting, but this one was just not for me. (I will say Anne Bogel had it in her Summer Reading Guide, it has 4 1/2 stars on Amazon, and the average GoodReads rating is 3.73. I am vastly outnumbered here, and that’s OK.)
A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy – I don’t know where her husband and publisher keep unearthing Binchy things to publish – she died in 2012 – but as long as they do, I will keep reading. (I did put down Maeve’s Times, a collection of her newspaper articles, which didn’t especially appeal to me.) I was very pleasantly surprised by A Few of the Girls. While I’ve read Binchy’s short-story collections, they are usually much less appealing to me than novels. I think I have said before that I am just not a short-story reader; I like to dive into a nice, long, detailed novel. But in this collection, the characters are bright and varied, and I truly enjoyed hearing Maeve’s unique voice in each essay. In the forward, her husband said she never suffered from writer’s block; her characters were always hopping out of her head and onto the page. I love that image, and it suits this book well.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I saved the best for last, even though I read this somewhere in the middle of this line-up. By far the best book I read this month and one of my few 5-star reviews this year, Station Eleven is a masterpiece detailing a world where a vast majority of the people have died from a flu epidemic. I’m kind of mad at my husband, who read this last year, at not insisting loudly that I read it RIGHT THEN. Mandel weaves together past and present, characters minorly entwined, in a perfect balance of knowing and not-knowing. Just really, REALLY good and unique among the long list of post-apocalyptic novels.
So what did you read in June? Anything great?
This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy, assuming you can call 1300+ words quick …