Now THIS was a reading month…
We’re going to jump right in because there’s a lot to cover:
The Breaking Point: Short Stories – Daphne du Maurier – 3* – (July 6):
Short story collections are so hard to rate. I picked this book up, excited to learn Daphne du Maurier had written short stories. The collection started strong. “The Alibi” is the first entry and perhaps my favorite. It set the bar high with its creepy demeanor, complex characters, and twisted ending. “The Blue Lenses” came next and while it wasn’t quite my thing, it was quite other-worldly and “off” enough that I appreciated it. “Ganymede” was more my style and the plot took turns I didn’t expect, which some people find frustrating, but I often find satisfying. I enjoyed “The Pool” up until the end when it sort of lost me. “The Archduchess” was both very interesting and yet torturous to read at the same time, a real feat. I enjoyed “The Menace” – exploring the adaptation of a big Hollywood star to new technology while his entourage manages him so poorly brought about a rewarding ending. I didn’t feel much about “The Chamois,” and the final story, “The Lucky Ones,” felt like it was either rushed and underdeveloped or a bit of a throwaway.
Lady Susan – Jane Austen – 4* – (July 8):
This story is presented in epistolary style. The letters revolve around Lady Susan and her meddling in the lives of everyone around her. She’s a master manipulator, primarily of men while the women are less taken by her charms.
At first, it was difficult to separate the characters in my mind because so many of the letters are between family members with the same last names. Once I figured that out, I found the characters to be well-developed and a lot of fun.
Hangsaman – Shirley Jackson – 3.5* – (July 8):
While this story was typically dark and twisted per Shirley Jackson’s usual style, I was completely with her until it took an exceptionally weird turn at the end. It almost felt as if the last 15% of the book changed direction so much that it belonged to another book altogether.
Of the three Jackson books I’ve currently read, this is my least favorite. It’s still better than a lot of other books I’ve read.
Very much in the same spirit and style of the other book I’ve read by this author, The Shadow of the Wind, but shorter and supposedly YA.
I’m not sure who I would recommend this to as it’s a wild ride. It’s quite gothic, involving secret potions, automatons, life and death, disease, romance, secret family histories, and a lot of darkness. One gripe I have that I commonly have with YA is the complete lack of involvement from the main character’s parents. He comes and goes, often for days at a time, with little mention of them at all. Conveniently absent so he can have complete autonomy. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it was strange.
My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier – 2* – (July 14):
I’ve rated this book lowly because the edition I read (not the one I’ve linked) was condensed. I didn’t realize this when I bought and read it as it wasn’t at all advertised as being anything other than a full version. Anyways, it may be a good story but it felt so choppy and poorly-developed that I can’t honestly say. Perhaps I wanted to smack everyone because I didn’t understand their motivations in this abbreviated version. Or perhaps I wanted to smack Amazon for selling me a condensed version and ruining my first impression of this novel by one of my favorite authors. (Note: Amazon has refunded my purchase.)
My Name is Memory – Ann Brashares – 3.75* – (July 14):
I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would! Not that I thought I’d hate it. It’s a book roughly about reincarnation, only our main character, Daniel, remembers everything from his previous lives. The thing he remembers most is Sophia, the woman he’s been in love with for approximately 1500 years as she is also reborn over and over again. The problem is that she is often born out-of-sync with him, and she doesn’t remember him. The story is told primarily in present-day, where they seem to be somewhat aligned until Daniel comes on too strongly and scares her away. It then flashes back to previous lives as he shares his prior experiences. It was a quick read though I found the ending a bit unsatisfying.
Almost Famous Women: Stories – Megan Mayhew Bergman – 5* – (July 16):
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a short story collection about real women who attained some level of recognition but remained on the edge of achieving true fame for whatever reason. Bergman imagines bits of their lives and shares them in vibrant, beautiful snippets. Each story has a unique voice and style, and while I enjoyed some more than others, I didn’t dislike any of them. Many of these historical fiction imaginings left me wanting to look up their real stories. This book is newly available in paperback and worth picking up if you’re interested in reading more short story collections.
Identical – Scott Turow – 3.25* – (July 20):
I found this to be a fairly standard crime novel/whodunit. It was a fun ride and allowed me to suspect everyone at one point or another. The pursuit of the truth, the idea of someone pretending to be an upstanding citizen when they’re hiding deep, dark secrets always keeps me going, even when I expect I’ll be disappointed in the outcome.
This book allowed me to put my recent Forensic Science course to use – lots of fingerprinting, DNA, blood spatter, and other crime scene evidence was discussed in more detail than some other crime novels I’ve read so I enjoyed feeling as if I had a handle on the information. I enjoyed the ride of the book, even though I was let down by the ending, resulting in the rating.
Last Summer of the Camperdowns – Elizabeth Kelly – 3.25* – (July 24):
The story and mystery here were interesting. 13-year-old Riddle (yeah, her parents actually named her that) witnesses something suspicious but because she’s not sure what she saw, she hesitates to tell anyone. The way she acts and how others treat her often feel incongruous with her age and events happening throughout the book. But there were things I didn’t see coming, right until the end, that connected well. Overall, the book seemed very inconsistent. Parts of it hit hard, and parts missed by a mile.
Ellis Island and Other Stories – Mark Helprin – 1* – (July 25):
I had high hopes based on his full-length novel, “A Winter’s Tale.” That book was beautiful, though long and a bit of a ramble. I thought if Helprin applied his lovely language to the more focused medium of the short story, it would be very special. In fact, I bought THREE of his short story collections at last year’s library book sale. But after reading just part of this one, I took them all to the used bookstore and sold them. Sorry, dude. I tried.
Book of Unknown Americans – Christina Henriquez – 5* – (July 29):
Each chapter shifts perspectives between immigrants from a Latin American country to Delaware. Sometimes, the person only has one chapter to tell the story of how they arrived and what had happened to them since then, almost like a stand-alone character sketch. These characters also showed up as secondary characters on the edges of the main characters populating the through-story. Alma and Arturo came to the US after their daughter Maribel’s accident to seek better care for her. She became friends with the neighbor boy, Mayor, and the book also followed his family, who have been established in the US for much longer.
The stories of these families were very humanizing of this “unknown” population. Some of their struggles were very specific to their situation; some were very common. There are many people I’d recommend it to who probably should read it. Unfortunately, those are the people who probably never would read it. I found it very touching.
I made my Goodreads goal for the year! Woohoo!
I also made a crazy commitment last month to read 11 books. And I did it! If I could somehow average 10 books a month through the end of the year, that would be 100 books in 2015. I’m not committing to that, but wouldn’t it be amazing?
Diversity? With 11 books, I think I did fine. Two short story collections, some YA, a classic novella, two modern classics, and a book about another culture.
Star ratings: This is based on the flat stars Goodreads displays in list-view, not the quarter-star system I assign in my reviews.
- 5 stars: 7 books (including one re-read and 2 this month)
- 4 stars: 23 books
- 3 stars: 13 books
- 2 stars: 5 books
- 1 star: 1 books (not sure why I don’t use this rating more often)
- 0 stars: 1 book (book I edited but didn’t rate)
One last stat – pages read:
- January – 2010
- February – 2166
- March – 2419
- April – 2349
- May – 1752
- June – 819
- July – 2786
That’s better! Total is 14,301 pages for the year.
I also blogged every week in July. And all of this while cramming in a ton of work and two weekend trips for a reunion and a wedding. Not bad!
So let’s see what August brings!