April, May, and June Reads

So…it’s been a while. The good news is you didn’t miss much. I have been in a major reading slump–and an even majorer reviewing slump. But I caught up today. The secret, actually, turned out to be taking the number off all my IG posts. I didn’t think I was too invested in the number of books I am reading, but apparently the count was messing with my head (at least as far as getting reviews done).

April

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett//This was a re-read for me, and as is typical, I remembered very little except the general feeling of having liked the book. This is the story of a birthday party (black-tie affair for diplomats and international business bigwigs) turned months-long hostage situation. The focus is on the community and relationships that are formed among the hostages and between the hostages and the terrorists. I’m up for this kind of small setting—from beginning to end, the events of the book take place within the house—and for the novel to be entirely about character development (the monotony of the days is clearly part of the point). But I think I liked it less this time than on my first read. I enjoyed it enough to finish, but it took me weeks to get through (and to be fair, perhaps that’s precisely because it was a re-read). Also, the ending, which doesn’t ring even the slightest faint bell, was not my favorite. (In fact, I’m a little surprised the ending didn’t register as a dealbreaker for me. It’s not that it’s untrue to the book, though, and maybe that’s why I still registered the book with a positive opinion?) In the end, Patchett is such a gifted author, and I don’t think time spent reading her work is misspent, but also twice through this one will do for me.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris//This was our book club selection for last month, and while I finished the book early (too early as it turns out; by the time book club rolled around, I had forgotten the details and remembered only the feeling), I wanted to wait until after the discussion to form a final opinion. This one didn’t follow the usual pattern: on my own, I disliked this book—not intensely but it was in the dislike column; the discussion, though, rather than cementing my dislike actually nudged me toward possibly giving it another chance (honestly, though, I probably won’t, if only because there are gobs of books I want to read). I think I got crabby about the book early on (it was the third in a row I considered abandoning and the only one of those three I finished) and never quite recovered. In the end, this one read too much like a celebrity memoir (a genre I’ve given up) and, more important, Sedaris just isn’t for me. I read a review that said if you like Sedaris, you’ll probably like this one, and if you don’t, you won’t. So, eh, not my favorite.//⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan//This was just straight-up fun to read. Nothing particularly profound or worthy of discussion here, but I enjoyed reading it because it hit the spot. It felt like reading People magazine or Entertainment Weekly or watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which, you know, every now and again I like to do. There are two more books in the series, and the third one in particular for quite a bit of attention when it came out (last year), so I look forward to picking those up eventually.//⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mtsopusreads2018

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The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach//This book briefly held the top spot in my favorite reads of the year so far. It is a well-crafted story with good, believable (if a little thin/one-note in places) characters. It might have been about 75-100 pages too long, but I really enjoyed reading this one. It called to mind David James Duncan’s The Brothers K and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, both of which I read in college and haven’t revisited since, so that may be more the baseball connection and the feeling they left me with and less a writing style reminiscent of those authors (or maybe it’s all of that). Anyway, I liked this one a lot.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, by Aaron Mahnke//My friend Jenny introduced me to the podcast Lore—it is entertaining, informative, and just the right amount of creepy/chilling. I wouldn’t say I like ghost stories or stories of the paranormal or unexplained, but maybe I need to rethink that because the podcast is one of my favorites. When I learned that this book was coming out, I knew that listening to it as an audiobook would be the obvious choice. I often switch back and forth between audiobooks and podcasts. This was the best of both because it is read by the author and was exactly like binging on eight or ten episodes of Lore but also getting to count it as a book (in fact several reviews criticize it as having too much recycled content from the podcast). //⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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Whiskey and Ribbons, by Leesa Cross-Smith//This book came highly recommended by a friend whose tastes more often than not often jibe with my own. Without her recommendation I might have missed this book or passed on it, and I’m so glad I didn’t. It is told in alternating voices of (not in this order) a police officer who is killed in the line of duty, his widow, who was nine months pregnant when he was killed, and his brother. The storyline—the aftermath of loss—is often one I avoid, but this was so well written, the characters so insightfully and compassionately portrayed that I couldn’t help but love it. It’s holding strong as one of my favorite reads of the year so far.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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May

True Grit, by Charles Portis//Oh dear, I am really dragging on these little book reviews. I loved this short western. It was our book club selection this month, and, well, as one friend said, “Straightforward book, straightforward discussion.” This is the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl who hires a U.S. Marshall to help her track down and bring to justice the no-good scoundrel who killed her father. Mattie might be one of my favorite heroines ever—smart and no-nonsense and often (unintentionally) funny. The characters were uncomplicated without being flat; the plot was simple without being either ridiculous or boring. I discovered in discussing this book that I enjoy westerns; though I don’t think of them as my go-to genre, I have liked every western I’ve read (which may be something for me to keep in mind). The audio version read by Donna Tartt is great (I both listened and read).//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros//I may have more to say about this one in a couple of weeks because it is our book club pick for this month. But for now, I will just give it all the brilliant stars and say how much I adored it. This book is barely over one hundred pages, and I gulped it down in one morning (with a perfect little coffee while my kids were at skate school). The book is made of short vignettes (most just a page or so long) that give snapshots of a Latina girl’s childhood in Chicago. In feeling and in the sense of girls growing up, this book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Another Brooklyn, both of which I loved as well. Cisneros’s writing astounded me—she is a poet by trade—and I literally stopped in the middle of my reading to add more of her work to my TBR list. I’ve read a lot of good books already, but this will surely hold a top spot for the year.//🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟//#mrsopusreads2018

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Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover//This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read, and it’s also one of the best books I’ve read this year. The story is captivating and heartbreaking and so well told. I was completely fascinated by the implications of Westover’s lack of formal education (her family lived “off the grid,” and it’s not that she was homeschooled or even unschooled; she had no education at all prior to studying to take the ACT to try to get into BYU)—for example, not being able to differentiate between historical figures and fictional characters in a novel because she had never learned history. I was also so fascinated (already used that word, I know) by how she processed mental illness and abuse in tension with deep love for her family. I listened to this as an audiobook, and the narrator was excellent. All the stars// ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Mr. Kiss and Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham//I mean, this is a Veronica Mars episode in book form; what’s not to like? I listened to this as an audiobook, and the narrator was not as fabulous as Kristen Bell, but that’s okay. Two caveats: the book references the tv show quite a bit, and I’m not sure how that would be if you weren’t familiar with it, and also some of the content was pretty graphic.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara//This was such an intriguing book on many levels: it was well-written true crime; as the subtitle suggests, the author’s pursuit of answers is central to the book, so there’s an additional element, not simply a chronological account of the crimes and a psychological profile; and the author actually passed away before she finished the book. I did enjoy reading the book, but the crimes were truly horrific and reading about them really did affect me (I couldn’t read this at night at all). As an interesting side note, Golden State Killer was arrested a few weeks before this hold came available at the library (after I had requested it, but before it was my turn); I held off reading much news about the arrest before I read the book.//⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mesopusreads2018

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Blink:The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell//This was a great listen (read by the author). The thing about Gladwell is that his titles and subtitles do a pretty good job of letting you know what the book is about, and from there it’s all interesting stories and accessible explanations that I’ll half remember and try to tell you about and then I’ll end up telling you to read the book because I’m not doing it justice.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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THE DRY, by Jane Harper//This book got a lot of attention last summer (and, in fact, I still had to wait a while on the hold list), and I totally get it. I really loved this atmospheric mystery. I feel like it had a lot of the same elements of other books I’ve read—namely, a law enforcement agent now in a big town goes back to his (or occasionally her) smaller hometown to contend with a current situation that dredges up, and may or may not connect to, an incident from the protagonist’s distant past that he’s been trying to forget/outrun/atone for. The thing is, though, I’m a total sucker for this plot, and, unlike some, Harper lands the plane; I think my biggest disappointment in books is when I’m loving the book but then it tanks in the last forty pages. I really enjoyed the writing in this one and found the even the ending really satisfying.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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June

THE ENSEMBLE, by Aja Gabel//I have pretty wide-ranging tastes in books, but if I *had* to pick just one kind of book that is my favorite, it would be this kind of book. I will try to articulate: character development of a small group of friends over a number of years, quiet plot (not to be confused with no plot), beautiful, insightful writing, and, as a bonus, glimpse into a world I know little of. This gorgeous novel follows the relationships—on a personal and professional level—among the members of a classical string quartet. It reminds me very much in feeling and scope of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and in feeling and content of Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me, and also a little bit of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding (though the connection is less obvious to me, but again, something about the feeling, I guess). This book is as great as its cover. All the stars.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey//Although the plot was appealing to me (a locked door mystery involving three widows who practice purdah, or strict seclusion), I was for some reason skeptical that I would like it. I needn’t have worried. Preveen Mistry is the only female lawyer in 1921 Bombay, which puts her in a unique position to interact with these women and unravel what really happened when a man was murdered in their home. There is a further mystery that unfolds as we learn more about Perveen’s past. Both storylines are rich and interesting, and both are satisfying in their resolution. This felt like a light read, and yet it had plenty of substance. I am thrilled that this is the first book in what appears will be become a series. Very highly recommended.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨//#mrsopusreads2018

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OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, by C.S. Lewis//This was our book club pick this month. Because it was a short book (less than 200 pages), I put off starting because I didn’t want to finish too early and forget what it was all about before our meeting. This was a mistake, though I did finish literally the minute I needed to leave for book club. Although I generally cared about what would happen, I consistently found it hard to get into or keep much momentum. Discussing the book helped me to see that I didn’t really ever connect with the characters; nor did I bother to actually picture the alien landscape or beings (I just thought, “Ok, everything’s different” and moved on.) I realize that doesn’t sound like I would have liked the book very much—neutral about the characters and glazed over the whole setting—and yet I did. I liked it quite a bit, actually. Ultimately, I found Lewis’s perspective fascinating. I am glad I read this one (and I think my positive evaluation of it is much influenced by the good discussion we had at book club).//⭐️⭐️⭐️✨//#mrsopusreads2018

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