What I Read: June 2019

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I have no real definition of a “summer read.” Whatever I happen to read is a summer read to me. But I do find that in the summer, I read a wider variety of genres. I hop from one to the other and back again, which feels like a far richer experience.

Here’s what I read in June:

  1. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
    Arthur Less, an author of limited renown, receives an invitation to his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Instead of going, he decides to accept every other invitation he’s received. While traveling the world, he turns fifty and figures out his life isn’t over yet. This novel is gentle, charming, and satisfying.
  2. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
    College friends meet up for a New Year’s getaway at a remote estate in Scotland in the midst of a storm. Like any good homage to Agatha Christie, one friend ends up dead. Which person is the victim? Who is the killer? An intriguing locked-room mystery with plenty of cold weather to counteract the summer heat.
  3. The Killer You Know by S.R. Masters
    I checked this book out of the library because I thought it was something else, but I ended up reading it anyway. Childhood friends meet up as adults (for New Year’s–I’m sensing an accidental theme in my reading). When Will doesn’t show up, other three friends remember that he once told them he was going to murder three people and nobody would ever know it was him. They start digging and discover that maybe Will has already killed twice. They have to stop him before he gets to three. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems.
  4. The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
    This book is terrifying. I’m glad I read it, though, and not just because Lewis is an incredible reporter and writer. It’s a great resource for learning about what U.S. federal government agencies do. (Answer: a whole lot.) The Trump administration, in typical fashion, has either filled agencies with unqualified people who are destroying years of important work (either by design or by incompetence), or the departments are just languishing with nobody at the helm. It turns out that I can still be surprised by how many ways the Trump administration is destroying America.
  5. Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly
    Billed as a psychological suspense novel, Stone Mothers is about a woman who is still reckoning with decisions she made as a teenager. Told from different voices in different time periods, the narrative weaves threads of a mystery into a larger commentary about mental health treatment.
  6. The Remains of the Day by Kizuo Ishiguro
    I read this years ago, but I decided to re-read it after seeing it on a list of summer reading for AP English. I’m not sure I would have appreciated this as a teenager. It’s quietly brilliant because it’s so contemplative. As a high school reader, I would have been too focused on finding the plot. It’s a lovely portrait of a middle-aged man, Stevens, taking a motoring trip to visit a former friend while he reflects on his life as a butler and his work supporting a so-called great man.

My favorite book of June was, hands-down, The Remains of the Day.

Happy Reading in July!

What I Read: May 2019

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Here’s what I read last month:

  1. Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
    Messed-up parents mess up their adult child who then messes up other people. Good mystery with some interesting characters and plot turns.
  2. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
    Sleeping for a year won’t fix your life, but if you are rich and beautiful, you can give it a try. Thoughtful meditation on depression and trauma with one of the most truly unlikable narrators I’ve encountered in a long time.
  3. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
    A wife tries desperately to make her husband’s mother like her. It all ends terribly, but it’s an interesting journey.
  4. A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson
    Mothers have hidden layers; so do daughters.
  5. The Better Sister by Alafair Burke
    You might be able to steal your sister’s life, but that doesn’t mean you should. Good psychological novel.
  6. The Position by Meg Wolitzer
    Parents who write an extremely popular (and illustrated) sex manual should probably just keep that from their kids.
  7. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
    We may be able to create synthetic humans that are better than us, but they’ll make stupid decisions and end up being worse than humans. Good literary sci fi with a neat alternative timeline.

My favorite for the month of May was The Position. I always forget what a virtuoso writer Meg Wolitzer is.

Happy reading in June!

What I Read: April 2019

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Another semester is done and in the books! It’s a good thing because it really cut into my reading time.

Here’s what I read in April:

  • Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
    A surprisingly calming and meditative book about how messy the world is. No surprise that we feel anxious all the time, given that we live in a garbage fire. Matt Haig presents essays on anxiety (and related topics) along with lists and observations that are poignant and often funny. This is definitely not self-help (that’s a compliment), but it will make you feel a little less alone on this planet.

 

  • Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
    When your brain can’t think anymore, an Hercule Poirot mystery is just what it needs. I’ve already forgotten the entirety of the plot, but I enjoyed reading it. It was like a cup of tea on a rainy day.

 

  • Adele by Leila Slimani
    I loved Slimani’s previous novel, The Perfect Nanny, which is why I grabbed this one from the library. It’s tough to read about someone who is ruining her life because of her sex addiction, but I appreciated Slimani’s depiction of what the depths of addiction really look like. It’s not sexy in the slightest; it’s tragic.
  • Proust and the Reading Brain: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf
    Human brains were never meant to read. That is, our brains didn’t evolve to read; we simply invented reading out of pure ingenuity. And what a wonderful invention that was! I love nonfiction that tells a good story humans, history, and brains. This is a great intro to reading and what wonderful things it does for us and our brains.
  • The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah
    I generally love Sophie Hannah’s books without reservation. This was my least favorite in the series, though. It’s still worth reading if you are committed to reading the whole CID series (as I am). But I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting place. It’s sort of an odd book about a comedian (who doesn’t really seem to be funny) who may or may be targeted by someone who may or may not be murdering pairs of friends. The ending was cartoonish.
  • Our House by Louise Candlish
    I adore family psychological thrillers set in England. This one might be the best I’ve read in that sub-genre for a long time. After separating, Fiona (Fi) and Bram Lawson agree to take turns living in their family home (rather than having their kids moving between house and flat). Everything is going swimmingly until Fi comes home early one day and discovers that Bram has sold the house, taken the two million pounds from the sale, and fled. Subsequent chapters shift between Fi’s story (as told to a podcast) and Bram’s story (as told in what might be a suicide note). I picked up on a few twists early, but the ending was stunning and perfect. I stayed up really late finishing this one.

So that’s April 2019. My favorite book for the month was Our House by Louise Candlish.

Happy reading in May!

What I Read: March 2019

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I can’t believe another reading month is behind us. Here are the seven books I read in March 2019:

Family Trust by Kathy Wang–Stanley Huang is dying. The question now is who is going to inherit his fortune? His second wife or his children from his first marriage? Complications ensue when Stanley’s family begins to suspect he doesn’t have any money at all. Good family saga, set in Silicon Valley, about a Chinese-American family coming to terms with their own mortality.

My Pitch: If your rich dad is dying, hurry up and visit. 

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The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman–I think Lolita is a masterpiece, but I’m conflicted about that opinion because it’s a book about a grown man who assaults a child. Can I love a book about something so horrific? I haven’t found a satisfactory answer yet, but I am glad I read this nonfiction book about Nabokov and the true story that inspired Lolita. Sally Horner deserves to be remembered in her own right.

My Pitch: Sally Horner deserves her own crime podcast.

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar–Jonah Hancock is an unhappy widower and merchant who has come into possession of a mermaid corpse. That coveted mermaid leads him to the lauded courtesan Angelica Neal, a woman he dearly wants to make his wife. Set in the late eighteenth century, this historical novel is excellent from beginning to end.

My Pitch: Mermaids are always bad luck.

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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones–Adam and Emily are the perfect couple, but Adam’s mother Pammie is the mother-in-law from hell. I guessed the twist ending–and it’s a bit contrived–but it’s still fun to read about all the ways Pammie inserts her monstrous self into her son’s marriage. I read this over Spring Break, and it was perfect for vacation. It didn’t tax my brain in the slightest–and that’s a compliment!

My Pitch: Don’t forget: You are marrying his mother too.

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The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani–I’ve read enough of Kakutani’s New York Times book reviews to know that she’s cranky. Rightfully so, given the era we’re living in. I agreed with almost everything she says here about truth (and the lack of it in civic discourse), but it felt more like reading a blog post that summarized the state of world affairs. The writing is elegant, and I do hope she writes more books.

My Pitch: The death of critical thinking is the death of reason is the death of truth. Good luck, us.

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As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Chaney–Matt and Marie are happily married with two grown daughters. While on a mountain hike, Marie falls off a cliff while taking a selfie. Matt looks increasingly suspicious, especially after police discover his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. I guessed the twist on this one too, and while the plot is pretty unrealistic, I appreciated the author’s attempt to make the characters believable. Enjoyable read.

My Pitch: Never marry a guy who is a sandwich shop salesman.

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Come With Me by Helen Schulman–Amy Reed works for a Bay Area start-up. Her boss is a Stanford whiz-kid who has figured out how to explore multiverses. With this software, Amy can finally see how her life would be different if she’d made different choices. I liked the book just fine, but I was deeply disappointed by how little of it is about the multiverses. It’s really just a book about a marriage on the rocks. I think it’s been pitched wrong.

My Pitch: You’ll mess your life up in every iteration of the multiverse, so just chill out. 

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My favorite book of March was The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Happy reading in April!

What I Read: February 2019

February 2019

February was a good book month, but I’m at that point in the semester when I find it hard to concentrate for long. I read a lot in bits and pieces, which means I struggle to read anything that requires much brain work. That said, I did manage to read a couple of nonfiction books and a literary novel that engaged my melon. My total for the month was eight books.

Here’s what I read:

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender–Caroline is a 12-year-old Caribbean girl who has been abandoned by her mother. A perpetual outsider with no friends, Caroline’s life changes when a new girl comes to school. Together the girls search for Caroline’s mother and develop a friendship that begins to grow into something much more.

Euphoria by Lily King–This is a fascinating historical novel based very loosely on some aspects of Margaret Mead’s life. Set in 1933, it’s about three anthropologists in New Guinea. While they are gathering data, they find themselves entangled in a love triangle that threatens their work and their future relationships.

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson–I picked up this book because I’d read that the author published it, his first novel, when he was in his sixties. I love the idea that anyone can become a writer at any age. The novel is about Lucy and Matt’s troubled marriage; any details beyond that give too much away, so I’ll just stop there. It’s definitely not a thriller (and I feel like the jacket copy sort of suggests it is). It’s more of a domestic slow-burn. My one complaint is that the author’s depiction of Lucy often feels like a man’s idea of what a woman would think or do. I thought Matt got a lot more authorial sympathy, but he was the far more flawed character in my opinion.

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet–I have a weakness for psychological thrillers, and since I’m terrible at predicting plots, almost everything delights me. This one was particularly twisty and satisfying. Caroline and Francis do a house swap for a week of holidays. Once in the new house, Caroline figures out that whoever owns the house knows her…and knows her darkest secret. The plot here is meatier and more serious than a lot of thrillers. I also appreciated all the attention Fleet gives to character development.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker–If you are afraid of everything, as I am, then I think this nonfiction book is worth reading. De Becker is a security expert who specializes in helping women avoid and respond to violent (or potentially violent) situations. In a world that still excuses violence against women, I found it helpful to have some specific strategies for recognizing violence and responding to it quickly and firmly. Trigger warning: This book does talk about sexual assault. De Becker is very careful to avoid victim blaming.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold–Mim is traveling on a bus to find her mother. She meets a cast of characters along the way in a thoughtful and action-packed road trip novel for young adult readers. I think the book is even more interesting once you realize it can be read as realistic fiction or magical realism.

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boyland–I picked this up because of the comparisons to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, one of my all-time favorites. Unfortunately, I think the book suffers from the comparison because outside of a death and some kids in college, they aren’t really similar at all. I thought the pacing was off in this one, but I still think it’s worth reading for a plot point that raises some really important questions (and shows representation that’s not often included in mainstream fiction). I’m being coy here, but you’ll see what I mean if you read it. I think it would have been a better book if it had just focused on that particular character and topic and left out the murder mystery. Still worth reading.

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby–I could have an epic rant about this book, but I’ll keep it short. The first half is great. Jacoby makes a compelling case that American has lost its grip in rationalism, the very Enlightenment value the country was founded on. The second half of the book, though, reads like a crotchety old lady yelling at everyone to get off her lawn. And her anecdotes posing as data is exactly the thing she’s arguing against in the beginning! The rants about higher education were particularly annoying because so many of them were ill-informed about how higher ed actually works. Note that I read the older version, not the updated version, so it might have been better in the second edition.

My favorite of February was definitely Euphoria by Lily King.

Happy reading in March.

 

What I Read: January 2019

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I’ve been sick for almost a month. The upside is that the plague provided some unexpected downtime which I filled with reading (and naps) (and coughing).

I managed to read six books in January. Oddly enough, I read two in a row that were basically the same book. The plots were almost identical. Both involved maritime law, crashed planes, stolen money, double-crosses, international banking, and offshore accounts. I feel somewhat prepared to open an unmarked bank account in a tropical island nation.

The other theme, which I accidentally landed upon, was just crime in general. I just read a lot about crime this month, and it was perhaps a fitting theme for a month that just feels criminal. I know that not all bad things happen in January, but shouldn’t they? I mean, isn’t that what January is for?

I ended the month with a book set in Australia during a heat wave. (And by chance, it was the second book I read this month set in Australia). By month’s end, I was ready for sun and sweat and intrigue in the desert.

Here’s a brief summary of what I read:

I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara–A tragically beautiful meditation on one woman’s relentless search for the Golden State Killer. It’s all the more tragic because the author died before the book was published, and she never learned that police finally caught the person who terrorized California for decades. It’s more than just a true crime story. It’s a deeply personal narrative about obsession and fear. And about what it means to be a woman in a world where women are so often prey for sadistic men. Don’t read it in the dark, though. I woke up every night thinking someone was in my bedroom. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I appreciate McNamara’s respect for the victims. She never exploits them, and that’s so rare in true crime.

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger–The first of the two books I read about high-stakes financial crime. I just love a good book about rich people behaving badly. This one is well-written and carefully plotted and believable.

There’s Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman–More rich, good-looking people doing bad things in international waters. The plot twists in this one were pretty bonkers–and not all that believable–but it was still a fun chase to the end to find the bad guy. I would say this is the less “literary” of the two books. It’s a beach read for sure.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper–All of my thrillers came from the library at the same time. This one caught my attention because it’s about five women who go into the wilderness but only four come back. I’ll read anything set in a forest or some secluded space away from civilization. I think it’s because I barely want to drive past a campground, let alone stay in one, so this is how I commune with nature. Read it for the setting.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger–I’ve read this one at least five times. I re-read it for a class and was reminded what a beautiful book it is. I really think it’s underrated. Holden is annoying, for sure. But he’s a rich, white teenager who doesn’t understand how to be an adult. Of course he’s an ass. The beauty is in his kindness. You want to bottle it up and save it because we all know he’ll eventually turn into an investment banker in the 1980s, do blow in the bathroom, leave his wife, marry his secretary, invest his money offshore to avoid taxes, run for congress, and at the age of eighty-five make a ridiculously racist and/or sexist comment and wonder why everyone is so sensitive. But the Holden in this book still cares about the world. The world hasn’t worked on him yet.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty–In lesser hands, I don’t think this book would have worked. But Liane Moriarty can do anything. Nine people go to a strange health spa and learn about themselves. It’s more interesting than it sounds, but it’s also weird in ways that work. Not my favorite of hers, but I still liked it.

My favorite for the month was definitely I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

Happy reading in February. I’m already behind schedule. Let’s just blame the groundhog.

What I Read: December 2018

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As usual, it was a sprint to the end of December, but I survived and even managed to do a fair amount of reading.

In the month of December, I read five books:

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen–This one was pure escapism. I love a good book about domestic drama, especially if the twists are ridiculously over-the-top in a Lifetime Movie kind of way. I think this one is best read without knowing anything about the story. I’ll just say it’s about marriage gone wrong.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne–I really loved Boyne’s previous book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I liked this one just as much, but the main characters in the two books could not possibly be more different. Cyril Avery in The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a delightfully plucky narrator who wins your heart as soon as you meet him. Maurice Swift in A Ladder to the Sky is a deliciously unrepentant sociopath and plagiarist. The comparisons to Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley are apt.

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction by Chris Bailey–This is a helpful book if you need a reminder about all the things you let hijack your focus every day. The second half of the book, about creativity, was particularly helpful to me. I sometimes forget that you can’t be creative if you never let your brain “un-focus.”

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell–This is another domestic thriller filled with middle-class people behaving badly. Lot of secrets and unrealistic plot twists make the book enjoyable–as long as you don’t expect anything too deep. I read a lot of psychological thrillers, and I thought this one presented one of the more original plots. I haven’t seen the movie. Let me know if you have.

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard–I love all of Candice Millard’s nonfiction because she knows exactly how to perfectly merge together facts and narrative. Everything she writes is just so propulsive–even when you know the outcome to the story. This one is an interesting portrait of Churchill in South Africa as a young man. He sounds like an unsufferable ass, but that explains a lot about his later life. My brother doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll be getting my copy in the mail. Nobody tell him that Churchill does escape.

Happy reading in January!