Sunday, September 20, 2015

Books - Summer Reading Roundup

This is a list of my summer reading (some fluffier and lighter than others, but all very readable - no tomes or lengthy discourses here).  I hope you find it helpful if you are looking for some reading inspiration - and please feel free to share anything you have discovered.

I will start off with my favorites.

A Hundred Summers, by Beatriz Williams. This is still my favorite book of hers so far, but I also read "The Secret Life of Violet Grant" and "Tiny Little Thing."  So far the books are all about different members of one family (the cousin, the sister, the aunt, etc.) and it is a great escapist journey into the conservative, wealthy, upper crust families in the early-to-mid twentieth century of Northeast America.  There is always love (usually thwarted until it isn't), a mystery (or three), and very compelling characters.  Her next novel, Along the Infinite Sea, is already in the works.  Overall though, I would say I like them in descending order (the first one best, and the last one least), so I am not sure how excited to be for the next book.

Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Reid Jenkins.  This was fun, very readable, and very much like a novel of "Sliding Doors," the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow showing "what would have happened if…." I read this in one sitting and, despite it being a classic chick-lit style book, really enjoyed it.  It made me think a lot about fate, choices, actions and consequences.  Jenkins does a great job showing the growth of the character in both scenarios, such that as the reader you cannot help extrapolating to your own life and thinking, no matter what happens, maybe you do end up okay in the end.

Who Do You Love, by Jennifer Weiner.  Speaking of fate, choices, actions and consequences, this latest novel by Weiner really made me think too - about childhood, first love, second chances, and just life generally.  It is heartwarming good.  I also read this in one sitting (but maybe I just do that a lot).

The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand.  From what I can tell, her books are all set on Nantucket.  While I was tempted to write her off as an author of average-middling summer fluff, "The Rumor" is different.  I read this in one sitting (ditto) because I just had to find out what happened next. There have been plenty of books about the destructive power of rumor and gossip, so this book isn't groundbreaking in that aspect, but Hilderbrand has elegantly spun an irresistible novel about friendship, betrayal, marriage and the very small things that can unravel us.

The Girls From Corona del Mar, by Rufi Thorpe.  I did not know what to expect with this novel, having picked it up on a whim for no reason other than its title and the art on its cover (I know, I know…).  I really had no idea what it was about, and I think it was a better read for me for it.  Thorpe  explores how a friendship can influence and form a life long impact on an individual.  Thorpe is a fierce and unapologetic feminist writer and I love her for that.  The book touches on a myriad of challenging issues that every woman should think about, relating to a woman's body, childbirth, motherhood, love, and hard choices.

I liked these but didn't love them, also roughly sorted in descending order:

The Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline.  This was a story with engrossing characters, detailing a time in American history when orphans were shipped onto a train and sent out to the Midwest in the hopes that they would be adopted by families, either looking for children of their own or an extra hand around the house.  I thought parts of the story could have had a little more depth, but dovetailing between the past and present, it is well researched and came together in a very satisfying read overall.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari.  I was really surprised that this turned out to be a sociological book with research backing it and footnotes, to boot.  I was expecting something more like the fluffy novels a la Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, etc.  Instead, the book tries to figure out the unique challenges of the modern dating world, including the surfeit of apps but also our changed expectations.  Entertaining and humorous but I don't think this book addresses anything new that hasn't been considered before.

The Sunlit Night, by Rebecca Dinerstein.  If you want a quirky, odd story - this book had so many strange characters.  But somehow it worked - I felt so much affection for the father and the son and I liked their story the best.  The book was very slow (too slow) at times, but in a way that pacing allowed me to feel like I was experiencing the long sun-filled Nordic summer days and nights with the characters, as they all randomly came together so fittingly at the top of the world.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I am slightly mixed about this one -- I read such a rave review about this book that my expectations might have been set too high.  The writing is beautiful and elegiac at times.  At other times, the story seemed to blunder a little, going at a slow, uneven pace.  Certain characters resonate with you for a long time.  Others are just weird and creepy.  Overall, I liked that this was not just the "typical" apocalyptic novel, but it was not as gripping as I expected.

And finally, I don't think I would have bothered with these (with my disgust intensifying in ascending order):

Best of Enemies, by Jen Lancaster.  Told from viewpoints of two women who used to be friends but then hate each other a lot, this was a little bit lazy, what with hysterical characters that were not always fully fleshed out, and ultimately a bit unbelievable at the end.  I read it to the end but it tried my patience quite a bit.

The Daughters, by Adrienne Celt.  This started with promise, but ultimately, the plot kept stalling as the author meandered through fairy tales leading nowhere.  I wanted to shake her -- make up your mind, do you want this to be a magical realism novel or not?  I came close to giving up quite a few times - it was one of those experiences where you just wanted the author to finally redeem herself, but she never does. Very unsatisfying.

Woman With a Secret, by Sophie Hannah.  This book was on a few suggested reading lists and looked super promising - ooh, a woman with a dark secret, suspense, twists, maybe fast pacing and some good plot?  Nope.  By page 2 my heart was sinking.  By page 20 I had abandoned it.  What made me give up on it so quickly?  The novel opens with nearly ten pages (or what feels like 80 pages) of the main character having a panic attack while driving through a police checkpoint.  The scene could have been really riveting but instead it was stream of consciousness writing, ricocheting everywhere, and very painful to read. I think I knew what her secret was by the second chapter - and it didn't seem like a great secret, but I also distinctly remember thinking, "I don't even care if this is THE secret" -- I just couldn't take the drivel any longer.

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.  This was so, so terrible.  This book was on the must-read list of nearly every publication this summer, so I was really excited for it.  After "Gone Girl" and "Girl on a Train," I thought I knew what to expect when it came to these novels with suspenseful reveals.  Well, this book was not any of that.  I'm forced to conclude that calling it a suspense novel with a twist was just a publisher's ploy to keep it wrapped up like a riddle with a secret in an enigma, because then no one would realize how terrible it was.  I didn't make it to page 30, and I only got that far because of the reviews.  The character was utterly unlikeable, the plot had no direction.  Something really bad happened to the character a long time ago but we don't know what it was and it clearly had no impact or effect on her because she prattles on in the novel like an insensitive, utterly unaware, spoiled and despicable person.  Plbbbbt.

No comments:

Post a Comment