Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What I've Been Reading: July 2017

There is a quote from Sir Francis Bacon: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."

This quote has resonated with me this last month, as I've hit upon several books in a row which require more diligence and attention than much of my normal fare. So while the list this month seems a bit slim in comparison to some others, I have only felt a lack in speed, not in depth.

Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane. Lehane (Shutter Island, Mystic River, etc.) has a real gift for psychological thrillers. After television journalist Rachel Childs has a crippling panic attack while on the air, her career is in shambles and she becomes a virtual shut-in. That aside, she seems to live an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until small clues start to hint that the reality she's constructed for herself isn't at all what she thought, and that she may be living with a stranger. Gripping, tightly plotted and constantly surprising, this was an incredible novel and I recommend it very highly, especially in audiobook format.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This is a reread for me after many years--I know that the adaptation on Hulu is very popular, though I haven't had time to check that out yet. However, the audiobook is read by Claire Danes, and how could I pass that up? Offred (literally Of Fred) is a Handmaid of the Republic of Gilead, and while she can remember personal freedom in the time before, her days now are strictly regulated to daily walks and steps to ensure her health, because her worth now is in the child she is meant to produce. With Atwood's delicate touch, the tale is at once horrifying and unexpectedly funny, altogether convincing.

Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor. Out for a hike in scorching Sycamore, Arizona, a newcomer to town happens upon what appear to be human remains. As news travels within the small community, residents fear that these may be the remains of Jess Winters, a teenager who disappeared one night eighteen years earlier. This dredges up old memories, stories and rumors about what happened surrounding Jess's disappearance, an event which, as the story unfolds, appears to have shaken the community to its very core, the aftershocks still felt after nearly two decades. Chancellor's prose is beautiful, and her images beg readers to stop and savor them. This is one that will haunt me for some time.

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko. Ko's debut follows mother Polly and son Deming/Daniel through the events surrounding and following one fateful day, when Polly, an undocumented Chinese woman, leaves their apartment for her shift at a NYC nail salon, and disappears without a trace. Deming enters the foster system, is adopted by his white foster family, his name becoming Daniel. Daniel is a keeper of secrets and self-destructive behaviors, constantly haunted by his mother's disappearance throughout his adolescence and early adulthood. Polly's story in China later fills in some of the gaps that plague Daniel.

Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan. Sullivan (Maine, The Engagements, etc.) excels at telling a story from multiple points of view and across decades. Here, she tells a new story in her signature style. Sisters Theresa and Nora leave rural Ireland in the early 1960s and travel to Boston, where Nora's fiance and his family await. The girls find work and struggle to adapt to America, only to have a single chance encounter change everything for both of them. In the decades that follow, the sisters live apart, but constantly bound by the events that redirected their courses, until they finally meet once more. Sullivan's characters are captivating, I couldn't stand to put this down for a moment.

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