Standard disclaimer: there may be spoilers, in case any of these are still on your “to read” list. Also: previous reads.
My last “recent reads” post was a year ago! So it’s been…a while. Reading has kinda fallen off my radar for much of this year, which is how it tends to go in my life. It’s something that I enjoy, but there are lots of things I enjoy, and reading doesn’t usually rise to the top of my list. Most of the books below were picked for me, aka they were book club selections.
Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
I may be an engineer but I don’t read much science fiction. I was happy to pick it up since I’d never read any Clarke and this seems to be a classic. I enjoyed it, but there was something about the writing style that threw me slightly off, and the plot left me wanting. I expected the storyline to go somewhere deeper, as opposed to what ultimately felt like a very surface level tale. (But maybe ending the story with nothing about Rama really explained was kind of the point? Something about how we don’t get to understand everything, or that some things are beyond our comprehension?)
I’m glad I read it, but also don’t feel like I would’ve been missing out if I’d never picked it up.
(Also: did you see the recent news stories about an object from outside the solar system giving us a fly-by? There are some really eerie parallels to the Rama story! Eek!)
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
This was for postal book club, made it about halfway through, but couldn’t motivate myself to finish before it was time to send it to the next person. While I appreciated the insight into the life and mind of someone struggling with addiction, and liked Knapp’s writing style, the narrative quickly became repetitive to me and I lost interest.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
This book seems to get mentioned every few months on the various blogs and social media streams I follow, so I checked out a digital copy from the library and gave it a go. It was eye-opening and thought-provoking but also just felt slow. It’s not a long book, but it took me weeks to get through it. I think it’s probably most impactful for those who have experienced significant grief. It’s a worthwhile read, but at the same time I’d have a hard time actually recommending it to someone without a lot of forethought.
Euphoria by Lily King
This was historical fiction about anthropologists in New Guinea in the 1930s — definitely not something I would have picked up on my own without book club prompting me to do so. The life of an anthropologist in that time frame was such an interesting setting for the story, but the love triangle felt a bit forced. Nell seemed under-developed, and Fen came across like a caricature. I most identified with Bankson, whose struggles and loneliness seemed very real. The book was fast-paced and kept me wanting to read more.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
This was fun and action-packed, but the entire concept of the multi-verse hurt my brain — not the physics, but just the confusion and disorientation of the same person turning up in so many different versions of the same world!
He Said She Said by Erin Kelly
I’m not sure where to start with this one — I guess it gets 3 stars? I’ll admit that it hooked me into wanting to find out how it would end, but all four main characters and their decision-making irked me to no end. The Kit/Laura relationship that was central to the story seemed strong only because I was repeatedly and explicitly told that it was strong. The twist at the end was somehow both surprising yet not surprising at all. Hmph. Definitely readable and kept my interest, but I just found all the characters rather annoying.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
I really enjoyed Where’d You Go Bernadette so I’d been meaning to read this one since it was released last year. But where Bernadette was funny and quirky, the main character here was flighty and annoying. I didn’t find it endearing or sympathetic at all and as a result, I just could not get into the story or find myself caring very much about her issues.
Birds in the Air by Frances O’Roark Dowell
I heard about this book on a quilting podcast. The author is a quilter, and quilting is a big part of the story. The characters aren’t super developed and the plot is rather predictable, but I enjoyed it. (The North Carolina setting was also a pleasant surprise, since I’m a NC native!) However, if you’re not a quilter, I doubt it would have quite the same appeal.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Y’all, I’m just a sucker for the young adult star-crossed meant-to-be love stories. This book sucked me in with that drama, but also touched on some interesting and much deeper themes about racism, immigration, and what parents want for their children vs. what the children want for themselves.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Of all the books on this list that I’ve read this year, this is absolutely the best by far. I finished it a couple weeks ago and while I was slow getting started, I sped through the last 3/4 of the book in only a few days (which is really fast for me). I had absolutely NO idea what this book was about before starting it and was totally caught off guard by Khalil’s death — a shock — so early in the book. But the story from there is SO compelling.
The subject matter and its direct applicability to society right now is part of that, but I also just really enjoyed the characters and the story. They all felt very real and balanced — you get to hear about their failures, but also their strengths, and are able to really settle in to the idea that good people can do bad things, and vice versa. I also thought it was interesting how information about each character (such as Mav’s background and prison time in particular) was sprinkled slowly through the narrative. It was very effective in getting me as a reader to consider the whole person instead of just one bad thing like “drug dealer” or “convicted felon.”
I recently heard that a school district in my area has banned this book after a complaint from a parent. The ban is temporary, to allow time for a full review…but either way, I think it’s a real shame. This is exactly the type of novel that a high school student should be reading — an engaging story that provokes a lot of thought and potential discussion.
p.s. I’m doing a 31 day blog writing challenge!