I don’t know what happened last month, but I was on a reading spree — Couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop until my eyes were sore, my head was aching, and before I knew it, I’d read NINE books in one month. I’m pretty sure that’s a new record for me.
Since summer is approaching, I had to share what I’ve read with you. Some of these books were AMAZING, and would make great summer beach reads. Others? Well… See for yourself.
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
I loved Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl — Dark Places just didn’t match up to it. The premise, for one, is far more disturbing — A woman whose family was brutally murdered when she was a child confronts the horrific experience as an adult, trying to figure out whether her teenage brother really was the one responsible for the crime. The murders are described in detail and as a mom, it was hard to take. Beyond that, the plot twists just weren’t as intricate or interesting as those in Gone Girl, and while Dark Places isn’t horrible, it also isn’t one I’d enthusiastically recommend.
This will definitely be one of my favorite books of the year — I’m already planning on gifting it to all my favorite readers for their special occasions. In Station Eleven, a pandemic has killed over 90% of the world’s population. The book cuts back and forth between the time leading up to the pandemic and 20 years later, when the reader follows a band of actors and musicians who travel between the remaining colonies of survivors and perform Shakespearean plays. The storyline is gripping — a bit like The Walking Dead without all the gore — but Mandel does an excellent job delving into the hearts and psyches of her characters as well, creating a novel that’s involving on many levels. Station Eleven is a book that will entertain you, make you think, and stay with you for a long time to come.
This novel, a modern retelling of King Lear, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1992, so I had high hopes — Unfortunately, I was disappointed. In A Thousand Acres, a prosperous aging farmer decides to sign over his land to two of his three daughters while he’s still alive. Because of this decision, all three daughters’ families and lives are forever changed. Although the overarching themes were rich and ripe for book club discussion, I personally wasn’t a fan of the two sisters central to the plot, or of Smiley’s meandering writing style, meant to take the everyday lives of small town citizens and elevate their seemingly petty dramas to Shakespearean heights. A Thousand Acres wasn’t bad enough to put down, but I found myself yearning for it to end — not a position I want to be in when reading a novel!
A private plane crashes into the ocean. Only two people– an artist and a young boy– survive. This novel follows the artist in the aftermath of the plane crash as he tries to piece together what happened while being plagued by detectives and relentless members of the media. Written by the creator of TV’s Fargo and Legion, this novel reads a bit like a miniseries. You’ll be intrigued enough to make your way through the story and find out what really happened on the night of the crash, but you won’t think about it much once you’re done.
My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
I’ve been wanting to read an Elizabeth Strout novel for a long time, so when I found this at my local library book sale, I was thrilled. Not only did I love this book, I read it in a day! That said, I’m guessing Strout’s writing style is one you’ll either absolutely love or despise.
Lucy Barton is a seemingly ordinary woman recalling the five days her mother stayed with her in the hospital when she was there for a prolonged illness. Most of the book details the conversations she has with her mother during that time, who had not been much of a presence in her adult life, and the thoughts and feelings Lucy has later about those conversations. With such a simple premise, it could have been the most boring book EVER. However, Strout is such an incredibly gifted writer that she’s able to very naturally carry the reader right to the heart and raw emotion of her characters without anything extraordinary happening or even much being said. Not only did I come to love and admire Lucy Barton but I also found myself able to confront some of my own mother-daughter issues through reading about Lucy and her mother’s interactions, and I also benefited from the narrator’s emotional growth and reflections. I have no doubt that thousands of other readers have done the same thing.
This memoir of a woman’s years growing up in a polygamist colony in Mexico is so dark and heartbreaking that I can’t say I’m glad I read it. However, Ruth Wariner does a very good job of making you feel like you, too, are stuck with she and her siblings in a dirty adobe shack, surrounded by polygamists and ruled over by a dangerous stepfather in rural Mexico. At times, the book is so detailed that it drags, but by the book’s end, the minutiae ends up making the reader feel all the more close to Ruth’s family members, and invested in their outcome.
This sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen is every bit as enjoyable, with the added bonus that when you dive into it, you already are well-acquainted with the large Gilbreth family and feel like you are revisiting old friends. Belles on Their Toes is a warm, cozy blanket of a book, allowing you to feel as you read it like you’re part of this outspoken, enormous family and to experience a little of what daily life was like in the first half of the 20th century. Although I love the entire Gilbreth clan, I have to admit that my favorite character in this book was Tom Grieves, the unlikely cook/gardener/nanny/housekeeper!
The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom
This compelling and immersive read about the tensions between the owners and slaves of a Virginia plantation at the turn of the 19th century, is elevated by Grissom’s talent for dialect and description. I could vividly see and hear each character in this novel, as well as the plantation itself, and found myself thinking of them as if they were real people. Events in the novel often veer into melodrama and hand wringing, but this is one book you’ll keep reading anyway– because you’ve just got to know what happens next. While the storyline is entirely fictional, Grissom tirelessly researched the real-life time period of The Kitchen House, and it shows. You’ll be haunted by the powerlessness of slaves and white women of that era — and the physical and emotional toll it took on so many of them — long after you’ve finished the book.
A professor seduces a student and his life unravels. That’s the premise of Disgrace, but it only scratches the surface of the complicated emotions this novel uncovers. Disgrace covers some tough topics ranging from rape and the objectification of women to deep-rooted racism, the indignity of aging, and an incredibly dysfunctional parent-adult child relationship — but Coetzee lays it all bare in a way that made me as the reader profoundly grateful for the unflagging honesty of his protagonist and his prose. Read this book only if you’re prepared to feel deeply uncomfortable and unbox some potentially disgraceful issues you generally prefer to keep locked deep inside your own subconscious. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time to come.
What are you reading right now? Do you like it? Please share in the comments!