I had intended to do a bit of a different bookshelf update this time, but things wound up getting in the way of that. Oh well, maybe next time.
Thanks to some lovely vacation time and the general slowing down of life during the summer (thanks, university job), I read 11 books in the last two months, 9 new and 2 rereads. Booyah. Here’s the roundup:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
May 2nd was the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, so I obviously had to reread the last book in the most important series of my generation. Cry count remains consistent at 3.
Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes
I grabbed this one at Target before leaving for #weekendgetashea since the movie just wrapped up filming in England (featuring my HP fave, Matthew Lewis). The back cover blurb didn’t do much to conceal the major plot point that drives most of the book, but that didn’t stop it from a pretty enjoyable beach read. It’s your standard unassuming girl meets fascinating, complicated man story with a hearty dash of interesting social commentary thrown in. Solid 3.5 stars.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
With all the buzz around the play (which just won Best Play at the Tonys, plus a bunch of other awards), I figured it was time to give the book a shot. It was…interesting. It’s written from the POV of Christopher, a teenager with some form of autism-type disorder. It’s never directly addressed, but his actions and the way his parents operate around him point in that direction. The word flow and book structure follow Christopher’s train of thought, which is great for the point of the book but not so much for me enjoying it. I’m big on emotion and personal motivation and character development, and Christopher as narrator isn’t on that track. So for me, it wasn’t a winner, but I can see how this would be an important book for anyone with similar disorders or their families and friends. It does present a fairly TV-stereotype version of autism, but it could be a good launchpad for further understanding. If you’ve read it (especially if you loved it), I’d really enjoy discussing it with you, so hit me up!
The Nanny Diaries, by Emma McLaughlin
This was another reread for me. I read it back in high school, I think, but I didn’t remember anything about it. It’s a definite chick lit/beach read-style book (though I think it tries to take itself more seriously than that fairly often), and it’s just engaging enough that you mostly enjoy the reading experience. But it also made me shrug and roll my eyes at the severe #firstworldproblems vibe. Good enough, not great.
The Magicians trilogy, by Lev Grossman
You know how I’m late to the party for nearly every major series? Guilty again. But it 100% worked out in my favor this time because this is not a series whose installments you want to have to wait for. The books follow Quentin Coldwater, a teenager obsessed with the Fillory and Further series of books (an obvious and intended Narnia reference). One day he discovers he is a magician and is invited to attend a secret college of magic (a la Harry Potter), and the plot of the series soars off from there.
However, this is definitely not a series for children. Grossman approaches this trilogy giving every allusion to the famous fantasy series many of us grew up on (a “Harry Potter burrito wrapped in a Narnia tortilla,” as I saw one reviewer put it), but gives the plot over to college-age/adult characters who act as college-age/adult people do (i.e. adult language and situations). There is actual weight to the battles. People die, sacrifices are made, and not everything turns out all hunky-dory. And while it’s almost a bit disconcerting to not have every plot thread tied up nice and neatly in a bow, it works well as part of Grossman’s overall storytelling mechanics. And the character development is top-notch, especially with Quentin himself. Even better, the books only get better as the series goes on. I don’t know that I can name another series whose last book is its best installment, but Grossman managed it here.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
After seeing the preview for this movie and then falling in love with the cover design, I thought this was a book worth reading. For someone else it might be engaging, but for me it was just kinda “eh.” The story is about an awkward teenage boy whose mother asks him to spend time with a classmate who is dying of leukemia. It kind of seems like The Fault in Our Stars 2.0, but this time without the love story and with a lot more f-bombs. It just felt thin, like there was more that could have been done with the premise. Oh well. Not every book can be a winner. The movie is supposed to be really good, though, so I might give it a chance still.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
This one came up a lot during my senior year of college, and I decided to pick it up as my non-fiction selection for our family beach vacation. The book tells the stories of two boys, both named Wes Moore, who grew up in fatherless homes in Baltimore. One (the author) grows up to be a college graduate, soldier, and respected businessman, while the other falls into the drug scene and eventually is convicted of murder and imprisoned. It is meant to illustrate how a caring support system can make a huge difference in a child’s life, and it includes an index of youth assistance organizations at the end of the book. It brings up some good general points, even if sometimes the author doesn’t seem to recognize some of the privilege he and his family benefitted from (though it is more explicitly addressed in the afterword). I think your reaction to this book depends on what you’re looking for while you read it. Definitely an interesting read.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
I managed to find a hardcover edition for under $10 on ThriftBooks last year, but I couldn’t find time to read it until this summer. Why, you ask? Because it’s a dang large book, y’all. I could lift weights with this thing.
Anyway, I had been chastised by no fewer than five people for having never read any Donna Tartt, so I was excited to launch into this one. It was…not what I expected it to be. This is more my fault than the book’s, really; I just had a misconception about the type of book it was. The plot follows young teenager Theo Decker, who survives a brutal incident that kills his mom. He winds up with a small, priceless painting (the titular Goldfinch) that drags him into essentially every situation he winds up in later in life. It was solid enough as a story, though far-fetched at times, and I occasionally found my mind wandering whenever Tartt got too wrapped up in backstory. The main character straddles the annoying/sympathetic line, often veering too far to the annoying side for my taste, but I try to make room on my shelves for the less-likable of protagonists. My favorite part of the book was the general appreciation and love for art and art history; I’m a sucker for that kind of thing (thanks, Dad). While this one gets a 3.75/5 from me, Tartt’s other books are supposed to be better, so I’ll be adding those to my TBR very soon.
Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell’s YA novel Fangirl has been on my TBR for over a year now, but after hearing about Attachments from all corners of the Internet lately, I had to let it jump in line. It’s a short-and-sweet novel that starts in 1999, where a newspaper’s Internet security officer, Lincoln, is tasked with monitoring the email filter for employees misusing company email (remember, it’s 1999. The Internet was scary for people). Two women in the office always send personal emails back and forth during the day, and Lincoln finds himself fascinated by their lives. Eventually, he starts to fall in love with one of the girls, even though they’ve never met and he doesn’t even know what she looks like.
When you just hear the premise, it sounds a bit creepy, but the book is actually quite adorable in the way it plays out. It was also a lot of fun to read a novel that has the Y2K “crisis” as a subplot, and of course I love reading things set in the journalism world, even tangentially. I 100% recommend this one, especially as a vacation read over the next couple of months.
I’ve already got one book down for July (Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I absolutely devoured), and I’m working on two more: Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
My TBR list is a mile long, but I’m always open to suggestions, so send them along! And if you’ve read any of the books I read in May/June, let’s chat (especially about The Magicians trilogy!).
Happy reading, everyone.