Monday, July 31, 2017

May, June, and July Retrospective

So, none of these were a home run for me. They were all somewhere in the "no thanks" to "yeah, I guess I kinda liked that" range. I really need a home run! But plenty of these made it to the bases! I just want to love a book soon. Three months is a long time to report on all at once so I really felt the tension building of "maybe the next one... maybe the next one." I will go back to monthly reporting after this, and maybe it won't seem so much like the pressure to find a winner is building.

1) The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood - I struggled to enjoy this one because not a lot happened and I found the main character, who I am pretty sure I was supposed to like, not very likable. And not that much happens. However, I find that when I tell people about it, they want to read it! So, I guess it's just me.

2) Peace Like a River by Leif Enger - I liked this one. It also lacks action except at the beginning and the end. Or at least it feels kind of quiet and slow somehow. Most of the story is snowy, rural days in North Dakota. It felt more like a boy book and I am pretty sure George would like it even more than I did. I was going to keep it out from the library for him to read after me, but his book stack is so tall right now, I decided he might enjoy it more in the winter anyway.

3) I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - This was from Modern Mrs. Darcy's list of endearingly quirky families. I didn't find them as endearing as I wanted to though. Most of the characters seemed extremely selfish to me. Reading something like this that people generally think is wonderful and feeling more or less meh about it makes me feel like something is wrong with me. What am I missing here?

4) Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue - This was from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide from the "Beachy Reads" section. It was a quick, cheesy read. But it was also a bit disturbing. Also, and I have said this before, I really hate when the cover of a book makes no sense with the book. The cover of this book has a little girl who looks to be about five or six on a step ladder kissing her mom. The book is about a fourteen year old girl and her horse and her creepy friend and her mom. So why the cover? Anyway, it seemed like maybe the book was supposed to be for teens except that it follows the mom quite a bit. Basically, it was a bad Hallmark movie. It bugs me that Modern Mrs. Darcy is not more discriminating with this category. She has another on that list this year by Jenny Colgan who wrote the dumbest book I have ever read. And I have read a lot of dumb books. And the reason I read it was because Modern Mrs. Darcy recommend it! I was trying to read two from each category this year, so I do have one more from the list, but if it turns out to be just as bad, I may have to discount her completely when it comes to what is fun to read.

5) Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham - This was also from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide, and a selection from her Minimalist Summer Reading Guide. It was good. Reading about racism and cruelty is always hard, but this one managed to do it in a way that had you want to keep reading. Instead of detailed portraits of villains (which it is not without), there were more portraits of people we could love and cheer for.

6) Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle - This one is also from the endearingly quirky families list. Originally published in 1960, it had the feel of a book written in 1960 and I really liked that about it. The Austins are a sweet family and it made me a little sad to think that so few families are anything like them anymore. I loved their picnic packing, stargazing, record listening, deep thinking ways.
And I just realized, upon looking for the picture for this post, that there are more books about them! Hurray!

7) A Room With a View by E.M. Forster - This one was from the endearingly quirky families list as well. And not a lot happens here either. That seems to be a theme for me lately. But it doesn't always bother me. I enjoyed this book in spite of it being a very short and simple story. There was a lot of big thinking going on that I'm sure I missed because I didn't take the time to think too much about the ins and outs of what was going on in turn of the century England- how the culture was shifting and what Forster thought of religious and political climate himself. I am sure that one of my English professors could have droned on for hours about all of that, but I didn't miss the extra insights or commentaries.

8) The Dry by Jane Harper - This one was from the Minimalist Summer Reading Guide. I drank up the first 200 pages in less than 24 hours. And then I hit page 220 or thereabouts and had the mystery solved and still had 120 pages to go. The "unraveling" of the mystery turns out to be stuff one could never have figured out on one's own. We end up with information that the characters in the book could never obtain because we get flashbacks, written in italics as all of the flashbacks in the book, of private moments from the lives of people who have died- so the living characters in the book who are trying to unravel the mysteries will never have the information we do as the reader. It's very unsatisfying. And more than that, it feels like cheating on the part of the author. Furthermore, the explanations for what actually happened are pretty unbelievable. I started out liking this a lot, but the ending (or last third of the book) ruined it.

9) My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout - I read this one because it involves "the world" in which a book on the Minimalist Summer Reading Guide is written. It was a quick read for sure. It was a little sad though. Or really, a lot sad. I liked Lucy's tone though- she wasn't out of touch with her pain, but she also wasn't stuck in it. Overall, I guess it's not one I'd recommend, just because it's got some super sad things in it and is not redemptive, but it's not one I am annoyed about being recommended to me, because it had a real feeling to it and I think it was just well done for what it was.

10) Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead - This is a kids' book, but I really enjoyed it. I read it cover to cover in the car on the way to Atlanta and, as soon as I was done, passed it back to the back seat for August to read. It was a good story with an interesting twist at the end. I have only read one other of Stead's but it had a twist at the end as well. This is the one I've liked best on the list thus far.

11) The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - This one was from the endearingly quirky families list but I would take issue with the the word "endearing" here, and even "quirky" is a bit of an understatement. Buster Fang was endearing. Buster's parents were not. Buster's parents were off the charts awful- though I was on the fence about this at first. And Buster's parents lack of being endearing meant that his sister Annie was pretty messed up to the point where she really couldn't be characterized as endearing either. Modern Mrs. Darcy says readers either love this one or hate this one, but I neither loved it nor hated it. It was very interesting and very original, I thought. And it was somewhat redemptive. So I did like it. It was just also heavy and sad. And I guess I just don't really love heavy, sad stories.

12) The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett - This one took a while to get into, but I enjoyed it. It was from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. The female lead, Bethany, was not very likable for me. She wasn't awful, she just wasn't someone I could be friends with- very snarky and opinionated and proud. Ugh, I kind of hated her. I was supposed to like her though. The author liked her. The other characters adored her. But she ruined it for me. The male lead, Arthur, was endearing to me, and she was always finding fault with him. He wasn't perfect by any means, but he was our hero, and he was easy to root for. The story was a historic British religious mystery involving antique books, liturgical worship services, and a group of friends who gathered to read and drink wine, and that was a really fun combination for me- lots of elements I can appreciate.

13) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - This is one that George loves and has had all of our kids read. It's okay. It's a cool idea, but it's kinda creepy. It's a good story though. It's about a little boy who is orphaned on the night his parents are both murdered.  His ghost parents ask the (no longer living) inhabitants of the graveyard down the street to care of and protect him, and so he grows up alone in a graveyard. So it's just also kind of sad. So I tend to understand more why August doesn't like it than why George does like it so much. However, I have a friend who loves Halloween who also loves to read with her grandkids and I am definitely going to recommend it to her- though it has nothing to do with Halloween, it has much to do with the stuff of Halloween.

14) Hourglass by Dani Shapiro - This is just a memoir about marriage. It had some big picture thoughts but it didn't bowl me over. It came to me highly recommended, and I liked it just fine, but I wouldn't really pass on the recommendation. I finished it about a week ago and I already remember very very little about it. I will say that the world needs more honest, redemptive, positive looks at marriage, so it may be a good thing that this is out there.

15) The Door Before by N.D. Wilson - This was Wilson's newest book that united the worlds of Ashtown Burials and 100 Cupboards. It would've been really fun to see the worlds collide if I remembered anything about the other books. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory for details from what I've read. But this felt like it belonged and I am glad he wrote a prequel- I just feel like I need to go back and reread the others now!

16) When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon- Again with a distracting cover! This one actually comes very close except for the frequent mention of the main character's very curly, even unruly curly, hair. And the girl in the picture has straight hair. Come on, people! Still, this one was a fun read. It was a modern day teen rom com about Indian Americans. It was a little familiar with the whole "my first generation immigrant parents want me to do things the way they did in the culture from which they came, but I am a modern American and want to do things the modern American way but I don't want to disrespect my parents" thing. So, it's definitely a story we already know, but it was fun to read it in this particular setting with these particular characters. And maybe I should leave it at that. But I have to say, this strong female lead who is all about sass and career and ambition and opinions is kind of heavy handed for me. It feels like criticism. What is wrong with being traditionally feminine?  What is wrong being sensitive and wanting to get married and not having an interest in a high powered career? Is that character boring to people? Or maybe people don't think she exists anymore? Because I'm kind of sick of this other character I keep seeing everywhere. Cranking out the same career driven, doesn't need a man, awesome at everything and beautiful too, if only she could just make time for love leading lady is what every Hallmark movie and every YA romance and every Disney Princess retelling is about. Granted, I could've used a little more of that growing up, but I'm begging now for a whole lot less!

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