Wednesday, August 01, 2012

30 Second Book Review: Deep in the Heat of Summer


June and July have been so damn hot that spending time lying motionless on my deck reading or spending time sprawled in front of a fan reading has been pretty much all I've done lately. Oh, we've traveled and worked and seen friends and forced ourselves outside now and then to exercise and whine and complain about the nauseating heat, but reading has taken over as it usually does in the summer. (Except I may have just begun an addiction to Breaking Bad, that show is so good.) So here's a quick rundown of a few choice book selections you might like to add to your own reading list. And some to avoid like the boring plague that they are. I've got a nice mix of light and heavy, fiction and nonfiction, audio and regulo thrown in, so here goes! 

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith - I feel like I have a lot to say about this book but don't know where to begin. How troubling the setting is, Stalin's Soviet Russia, how troubling the main plot of paranoia, political intrigue, treachery and trauma, starvation and murder, how troubling that almost from the first pages you know that there will not be a positive or vaguely happy ending to this book. It's a dark book, but I'm glad I read it. And now it's sent me off into a curious quest for as much Russian history as I can stand. I never realized how little I knew about Russia until I started this fictional novel. All those WW2 novels and nonfiction books always focused on Germany and the Holocaust, with good reason, and I feel like I've missed something significant. So now I'm intrigued and troubled by the whole system. And I look forward to tackling the next two books in the series.

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch - At turns beautifully descriptive, funny, sad and purely wholesome, I loved this book and the 13 year old ocean-obsessed protagonist Miles. Sweet, salty little novel. It makes me want to live right on the water.

Teach Me by R.A. Nelson - Intoxicating, obsessive and captures that chaos and intensity of first love and first betrayal with all the stupidity, drama and joy that you remember. A super quick read that I sucked down on a Saturday afternoon.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Beautiful and glib and shiny and depressing. A melancholy story of wasted love. No one else uses language and description quite like F. Scott Fitzgerald, but all his autobiographical main character's talent and success provide no cure for his wife's mental illness, based heavily on Fitzgerald's relationship with his own wife, Zelda.

Where Men Win Glory - The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer - I've liked every book of Krakauer's that I've ever read, but this one wasn't my favorite. Pat Tillman was an amazing athlete, scholar, patriot and family man, and the way the government co-opted, lied and manipulated the story of his death into war propaganda was shameful. Though I felt like this book could have been shorter and still presented the full story, I respect the depth of research and analysis provided alongside a more full and accurate portrait of Tillman and his family's quest to find out the truth about his death.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley - Kearsley does what she does best, romance, Europe and a bit of time travel. If you've read Winter Sea or Rose Garden, you'll like this familiar and sweet story. Makes me want a scone and a cup o' tea.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - I adored this second novel of Rainbow's. So much so that I devoted a whole blog post a few weeks ago to this book and to her. Go read it here. This book isn't out in the US yet, but it's worth buying from England, go ahead and buy it, you won't regret it.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan - More like 2.5 stars for solid writing, but not my favorite for several reasons. The passive voice of the narrator, this sort of vanilla observational telling of dramatic events made the book a drag. I didn't feel that any of the passengers were full, fleshed out, active characters. The writing itself was good, but I skimmed the last 50 pages because the monotony was getting to me. The slowly paced, disjointed way that the story was told in dribs and drabs and out of order just never gave me a clear picture of the boat accident, the trial or who the main characters even were. Bummer, it was a great premise.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill - I love a good ghost story. And this is a perfectly rendered classic ghost story. I got goose bumps reading it in the middle of the day.  I look forward to renting the movie with Daniel Radcliffe.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen - Like cotton candy with a funnel cake chaser: sweet, charming and fun.

Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson -  If you've ever read Jenny Lawson's blog over at The Bloggess, you think you know how funny she is. But until you listen to this audio book and hear her voice and her silly intros and her Texas accent, you'll realize that she's funnier and as ballsy as nearly anyone you've ever met. Ever.

Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch - Funny, sweet, insightful and different. Rather like Dratch herself. Dratch proves that your life doesn't have to follow a formula to be a success.

Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower - Just not great. I found myself 50% of the way through it and I didn't really care about most of the characters. I am fascinated by the political intrigue and history of the time, but the innocent young narrator does nothing to flush that out. She barely understands what is happening around her. I need a different Borgia book. I skimmed this one until the end. Skip it!

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin - A very well mannered and well appointed romance novel, wonderful period detail and a well written little treat to keep me amused until Downton Abbey returns. But it all felt a little cool and artificial in comparison. It will make a lovely movie or miniseries though.

My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark - I liked this little book, but I didn't love it. It was a curious glimpse into Marilyn's life from the viewpoint of a young movie set staffer, but it got a bit slow towards the end. Again another movie adaptation I look forward to renting.

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison - I like the idea of this book more than the actual book itself. With a fascinating historical setting and populated with immensely famous characters, I never connected well with the two main protagonists, in part because of the disjointed manner of the novel. Constantly jumping around from time period to time period, filled with bits of magical realism and a bit of historical fact, I just couldn't connect with this book. I forced myself to finish because the actual writing was so masterful, just didn't love the final product as a whole.

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline -  A basic mystery novel, but with a stellar audio performance from Mary Stuart Masterson, I found myself sucked in and anxious to know what happened next. Solid, straight forward and slightly far fetched, but a nearly perfect audio book.

Johannes Cabal The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard - Funny, strange and totally mad. Reminds me of Good Omens mixed with some Christopher Moore. Adding book two to my library hold list now.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg - Time to rework some of my own less than useful habits. Excellent book that balanced an even mix of personal stories and science to explain why our brains make and follow habit loops. Fascinating.

The Passage by Justin Cronin - I loved this book. Reminds me of Stephen King's The Stand.  The writing is clean and straightforward, with fleshed out characters and deeply disturbing plot and enough action to make the 700 plus pages fly by. I admit I feel a bit obsesses with this book and I'll anxiously await the next installment in October.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley - The second in the series of mystery novels with 11 year old chemist in training, Flavia, as our guide, detective and our heroine. And as usual Flavia is a superb heroine. She is nearly unbelievable, but charming, wicked smart and way too savvy for her age. But again I found myself swept away by the quirky characters living in the 1950's small English town of Bishop's Lacey and the winding, strange mystery Flavia finds herself in the middle of once again.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King - This novella set in Maine, examines an unsolvable cold case mystery. Two elderly journalists share the story of a local murder with their young protegee as they try to test her wits as she unravels the story, and actually fails. The mystery isn't solved. It's weird and unsettling and perfectly Steven King.

A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness - For my original review of A Discovery of Witches which I read for the first time last year along with the Blogher Book Club, click here. (It might take longer than 30 seconds to read though, so heads up.)  I just re-read the book last week as a lead up to reading Shadow of Night, the second in the series, that was just released. These aren't perfect books. They have flaws, they have missteps, they use some faulty time travel logic, they talk too much about fake genetics and Elizabethan household chores and clothing for my taste, but I love the characters. They are sweeping, fun, vast novels, chock full of adventure, historical characters and woven together with big doses of magic, really they are rollicking good reads. And though simply a more researched, adult version of the Twilight series, they are the kind of books you lose yourself in. And who doesn't like a little vampire time travel romance?

So up next, Tana French's latest in her Dublin series, a nonfiction about sharks called Demon Fish, a memoir charmingly titled, Slow Fat Triathlete (stick around for future posts on this topic!), and then a whole slew of other library selections. My hold list has jumped to about 18 books, so much for my self imposed library ban this summer. But enough about me, what are you reading this summer? Any recommendations? Please don't say 50 Shades of Gray.

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