2016 bookshelf update: august

WHAT A MONTH, Y’ALL. Seven books for the first time in a long time, and it feels so good.


Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, by Francis Chan

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I’m kind of mad at myself for not writing this review right after reading it because a lot of the fine details are escaping me now. But I did genuinely enjoy reading this, especially since it’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly three years now (oops). I recommend keeping a pencil with your copy as you read because it lends itself to underlining and earmarking quite well.

There was something about some of the phrasings and the tone that was…off? At least in my mind. Nothing was heinously sacrilegious, obviously, but there were some bits that didn’t totally hit with me.

[4.25/5 stars]


Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner

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Do I really have to talk about this? Ughhhhh.

Normally I am all. over. a missing person-based thriller, and so I figured this book and I would get along.

No.

So here’s the run-down: Post-grad Edith Hind is missing. Her well-to-do family is naturally distraught, and the police are struggling to find any solid leads. Is it the boyfriend? The best friend? The many-times-a-convict living nearby? The investigation is turning up very little, and the longer a missing person’s case goes on, the bleaker the outlook becomes. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw and her partner can’t make heads nor tails of it.

The problem with this book is that there are too many pieces being played with, and the ones that ultimately attempt some form of pay-off are the ones I wasn’t begging for more of. High-level events happen on the way to the resolution of the case that strung me along just enough, yet the actual answer was too simple to appease the set-up. I think what Steiner wanted was for this to be more of a character piece for DS Bradshaw, but that’s not what I was looking for here (also I didn’t like her all that much).

Compounding my disinterest in this novel was the fact that it left me with a really specific and intense loneliness while I was reading it. Like, I don’t know how really to describe it, only that I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop reading this book and all of a sudden I got very sad in a very specific, lonely way. So all in all, a big thumbs down from me, with only a slight uptick for some bits of solid writing.

[2/5 stars]


The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

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THIS BOOK. THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. After a long string of mostly sub-par books, this was everything I needed. Locked room murder mystery. Possibly untrustworthy narrator. Things that are not what they appear. And it all takes place on an uber-luxury cruise to see the Northern Lights. YES YES YES YES YES.

I flew through this book in just under 48 hours (it’s a relatively short book, but still). I absolutely could not put it down. I went double my usual walking distance on the treadmill because I didn’t want to stop reading. It is absolutely gripping.

The characters aren’t as fully textured as I usually like them to be, but I think more broadly drawn characters are suitable for whodunnits. The rich, suave host. The mystery girl. The snobbish woman who’s prone to backstabbing. The handsome gentleman with a possible secret. Not having to reckon with thickly-drawn characters can be more liberating in a book like this, so I can easily look past a lack of nuanced characterization here.

This was my August Book of the Month Club pick, and I could not be happier with my choice. BOTM is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in quite some time.

[5/5 stars]


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

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I wrote about this script/book earlier in the month when it was freshly read, and I still hold to everything I said in that post. If you’re interested in debating/dissecting it, I’m more than happy to share in that with you.

[4/5 stars]


The Assistants, by Camille Perri

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Since I had finished Cabin 10 and Cursed Child so quickly, I plucked this sub-300 page Book Fairy gift off my shelf to keep the speed read train steaming along.

In this novel, thirty-year-old Tina Fontana is the assistant to multi-billionare media mogul Robert Barlow. She’s excellent at her job, essentially invaluable, but she’s disgruntled watching her boss treat money like it’s a playtoy when she’s barely making enough to cover rent in NYC.

Due to a technical error, Tina is offered the chance to cash a personal reimbursement that she’s already been refunded. It’s enough to pay off all her student loans, and it’s such a small amount for Robert, so…she takes the chance and cashes the check.

It’s a very strange feeling, reading this book. I’m a chronic underdog supporter, but how do you support embezzlement, even when it’s done Robin Hood style? The author infused much more texture into her characters than I expected for this style of novel, especially in Robert Barlow’s case, which made the experience of reading this all the more confusing. The end does wrap up too simply for plausibility, in my opinion, but I found it to be a great easy-breezy summer read.

[3.5/5 stars]


Still Life with Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlin

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This was on a lot of 2014 best book lists, and so I was happy to pluck myself a copy from the library sale earlier this year. I really didn’t know much of what I was getting into, even after reading the cover blurb, but what I found in the pages was a unique, simple, layered, and satisfying portrait of a formerly-famous photographer and what living is like in the years after “life” has begun to unravel.

Rebecca Winter has moved to secluded cabin in a rural New York town for two reasons. One is that she needs inspiration. The other is that NYC is expensive, and she’s barely bringing in any new money. The first reason is mostly a cover-up for the second. How do you support your aging and ailing parents, yourself, and occasionally your adult son when your photography work isn’t making enough money anymore?

While tucked away, Rebecca discovers a friendship, a romance, a dog, and a reinvented sense of self. The other characters play off each other realistically enough, though with a level of “small town kook” to some of them that I mostly found endearing. There were elements of mystery laced through, as well, to satisfactory pay-off. I closed the book with a feeling of calm and peace, not just because of the story itself, but because of the way it was told.

[4.25/5 stars]


The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller

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I’ve discovered that the internet has very strong feelings about this book. It’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve seen reviewed, if not the single most polarizing. So logically, I fell somewhere in the middle.

Essentially, the story follows as so: A handsome, man of the road photographer rolls into sleepy Madison County, Iowa. He stops to ask for directions from a beautiful farmer’s wife, and immediately they both sense a connection. Over the few days he’s in town (the woman’s family is out of town for the week, of course), they ignite a passionate affair that ends with *SPOILER ALERT* him hitting the road again and her staying in Madison County because she can’t and won’t give up her family.

The main thing I enjoyed about this book was that the writing was really lovely. There are some beautiful pieces of prose in here, and I think that’s a big reason it’s lasted so long in the American literary consciousness. It reads fast, it’s paced well, and it’s definitely engaging.

What I didn’t enjoy was, you know, a “love” story rooted in adultery. A great many books that I read feature plot lines that I take moral issue with, and in most I can ignore them to a decent extent depending on the rest of the book. But this is a very short book with only one plot line, so it’s hard to skim over it.

I found myself comparing this reading experience to reading The Notebook. Both feature women in passion/loveless matches with otherwise-satisfactory men, who fall into affairs with a rugged man of nature. The book is written to convince you that the man who sparks passion is the right choice for our lead female. And in The Notebook, I’m happy to hop on board because no one is married. In Bridges, I’m looking at where Waller is trying to lead and balking because HELLO, ADULTERY??

So anyway. There’s more I could go into, but I’ll leave it here.

[Writing: 4/5 stars | Plot: 1/5 stars | Overall: 2.5/5 stars]


Favorite book this month: The Woman in Cabin 10

Most likely to re-read: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Crazy Love

Most likely to recommend: The Woman in Cabin 10 and Still Life with Bread Crumbs


August does always seem to be good to me in the world of reading. It’s nice to be rolling through books quickly again. As always, I’m happy to swap recs and dissect books any day, any time.

Keep reading and support your local libraries, y’all.

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