Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What I've Been Reading: September 2014

Hard to believe that September is drawing to a close! I've gotten a lot of reading done this month, and I can't wait to share my reviews with you!

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I couldn't keep it to myself, I loved this book so much. Poignant, beautifully detailed, heart-wrenching. Superb. You can read my full review here.

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. If you're wondering what your neighbors are reading, I can tell you that this might be it--it has been hugely popular among the library's readers since it debuted at the beginning of the summer. The Posts put the fun in dysfunctional, for sure. Franny and Jim are seething in the wake of his marital indiscretion, which also resulted in his forced early retirement. But they're determined to make the best of a two-week trip to Mallorca with their children and a couple of family friends. However, everyone has brought emotional baggage with them and the forced confinement in their villa brings things to a boiling point in no time. While the ending fell a little flat for me (I almost wanted another hundred pages to dig a little deeper, as everything felt wrapped up a little too hastily), this was a fast, compulsive read. Straub's got talent, so I'm hoping her future novels are even better.

The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty years, the novel's celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known by her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door for Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills, who in 2004 moved into the house next door, spending the next eighteen months sharing meals and conversations with the Lee sisters and their close friends. This is part journalist memoir, part revelation as Nelle Harper Lee finally took the opportunity to set the record straight after decades of conjecture. Very much a book for readers and book-lovers, as well as fans of Lee's one and only novel.

The Girls of August, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Originally slated for publication last year, readers have finally gotten their hands on the new Siddons novel. Having enjoyed some of her other work (Burnt Mountain, etc.), and then having to wait an extra year to get a new book, to say my hopes were high might be an understatement. And sadly, this was not what I'd hoped for. For years, four friends would get together for a week in August. And when one of them dies in a terrible accident, the tradition lapses for several years, until the remaining three decide to rekindle the beach house vacation one August, bringing their friend's replacement, the ditzy 20-something named Baby that their friend's husband has married. In the process of their get-away, the old friends deal with illness, divorce, infertility, and teach their youngest member a few things about friendship, even as she has her own lessons to teach them. And while the premise had some promise, it is so unlike anything from Siddons that I've ever encountered, I'm still left a little baffled and more than a little disappointed. Normally, I consider Siddons to have some great gothic appeal, full of nuance and subtle foreshadowing. This was clunky and cumbersome, the foreshadowing repetitive and obvious, and the overall execution was weak. I can normally find some good things to say about a mediocre book, but this one has left me speechless.

Neverhome, by Laird Hunt. What makes a woman leave behind her home, and her husband, in order to disguise herself as a man and fight in the War Between The States? Hunt's novel, told by our protagonist, Ash Thompson, wends its way through battle, capture, escape, injury and madness to answer these questions. I don't want to give much away, as part of the glory of this slim novel is unraveling the mysteries behind Ash's flight from her past, and her slow but inevitable return to confront it. But this is a unique tale, quietly powerful and beautifully researched.

Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach. I stumbled across this while I was compiling one of the reading lists I've put together for October. I was intrigued because it originally started as a reddit post, as a series of interconnected short stories. Since then, it has been illustrated, turned into audio recordings, and adapted into a series of short films. And, finally, revised and expanded into a novel. I actually bought a personal copy, I was so intrigued. What makes this so intriguing, and scary? Well, how well do you remember your childhood? I mean, really remember? What would happen if a series of events in your childhood, which you never associated with one another, were actually all connected? What if your parents hid those connections from you, and that it is only as an adult that you finally can ask the questions they hoped you'd never ask? This is quite possibly one of the most tautly suspenseful tales I've read in recent years, short, spare, and awash with a constant, looming sense of dread. If you can track down a copy, do.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Yes, since the movie is coming out later this week and because my book club is reading it for their October meeting, I re-read this one. You can read my original review here. I will say that this is a book I really enjoyed re-reading. This is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book, and I'm intrigued to see how it will translate into film. I liked combing through this for clues the second time, things that I missed the first time around. The characters are just as unlikeable to me as the first time around, but I still like that inevitable train-wreck-feeling of their story and found myself unable to look away. I'm anxious to see how my fellow book club members feel about it!

The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum. This was another title I came across during my search for great horror novels. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy through Interlibrary Loan. Loosely based on actual events, this novel is set in shady, quiet suburbia, at the end of a dead-end street, where two teenage sisters are held captive by their sadistic aunt who is descending into madness and her three sons, equally depraved. Only a single troubled boy with a very adult decision to make stands between the sisters and their ultimate fate. The novel is graphic, disturbing, and absolutely terrifying. It's not a book I can actually recommend, but fans of the horror genre with very strong stomachs might consider adding it to their reading list when they want to sleep with the light on for a week straight.

Ok, so that's 8 titles for the month of September, and that makes 59 titles for the year. I have just 3 more months and 16 titles left to hit my goal of 75 books in a calendar year. If I can keep up my current pace, I'll have this in the bag! 

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