I’m so overdue on this Reading Report!! It’s funny because I was very excited at the end of the quarter to share my reading, but then I got distracted and busy and here we are, almost done with July and I’m just now reporting in. I had a great quarter, as you’ll see:
City of Lost Souls, Cassandra Clare – For a minute, I thought that this was the last book. Which kinda sums up something about my feelings for these books: while I occasionally get exhausted by the sheer size of them and by the main couple, Clary and Jace, who can be pretty annoying, I’m ready to rip through hundreds of pages whenever Clare doubles down on the tension, which is often. She is always raising the stakes in these books. Just when you think things couldn’t be more impossible, or when you think they’re resolved, a new plot twist comes along, grabs you by the collar and hauls you through the next several hundred pages. Perhaps it is needless to say, but I was one of the first people to request the sixth (and “real” last) book from the library.
Hint Fiction, ed. Robert Smartwood – This was a great read during a long train trip. The extremely short stories (25 words or less!) were little entertaining nuggets of story that I consumed like popcorn.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier – Read the Re-Reading post here.
Now I’ll Tell You Everything, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – Something about the Re-Reading Project, about encountering influential books again, inspired me to catch up/finish other series that I’ve loved. This one was hard, the final Alice book. It’s 500 pages and covers Alice in college, getting married and through age 60, as she and her classmates are digging up their time capsule. It was poignant, but head-spinning, as so much time was covered in so few (relatively speaking) pages. I felt a little cheated. I could’ve done with at least one book dealing with all of Alice’s college years, and then maybe one more covering a lot of the other ground. But it’s also an amazing experience to have focused so intensely on so many years of a character’s life.
Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City, Wendelin van Draanen – As I predicted in my last Reading Report, a lot of things came to a head for Sammy in this book. Her living situation is shaken up drastically, but not in the way that I suspected. I’m relieved to be wrong in this case. I talked in my last Sammy write-up about the power of the community that Sammy’s been building in all of the previous books and that really came into play with this book, in amusing and creative ways.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han – Jenny Han is one of those authors who could write pretty much anything and I’d read it. Her stories are always funny and poignant, the way that the best books that reach us in our teens (the ones that stick with us forever) are, yet they can appeal to the adults who pick them up, too. I was already grown when I first read Shug and we’re of the same generation, so I think her books appeal to the part of me that’s nostalgic for the reading of my youth. When teens now are our age in 15-20 years, I think they’ll be nostalgic about her the same way folks are nostalgic about Judy Blume and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Anyway, I snagged All the Boys from the pile of ARCs at the bookstore and danced around the store with it while my co-booksellers stared at me knowingly (they’ve all done the same thing for new books by certain authors). I inhaled the book in pretty much one sitting, loving every minute.
The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison – This book of essays is pretty incredible. While some of the essays are stronger than others (the title essay, “Devil’s Bait” and “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” stand out), they were all compelling and interesting, sometimes a bit stomach-turning. Jamison has an interesting habit of working within the deeply personal and zooming out to encompass the more universal aspects of her topic, toggling between the objective and subjective, usually to great effect. These essays are like Lena Dunham meets Montaigne.
Shades of Earth, Beth Revis – I bought Across the Universe as Borders was going out of business (three years ago!) and was blown away by the story of a teen waking up from a cryogenic sleep on a spaceship and encountering the society that had formed there while she and her parents were sleeping. I realized recently (around the same time I was catching up with Sammy Keyes and Alice) that after I read the second book in 2012, I never finished the trilogy. I struggled to get into the story a bit at the beginning, but once I did, I enjoyed the unexpected places that the story went and how the characters interacted in a new environment.
The Princess, Jude Deveraux – Read the Re-Reading post here.
Divergent, Veronica Roth – Another case where I was curious to see how the movie and book compared. If I haven’t already read a book/series when I hear a movie is coming out, I usually wait to read the book/series after seeing the movie (my logic: the book is less likely to disappoint, so the odds are I’ll enjoy both this way). I enjoyed the book, getting more detail on the world and the story and am curious to read more, as well as see the sequel movies. I’m not rabid about the series the way I have been with others, but I’ll probably read the rest of the books.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman – I’ve been a fan of Alice Hoffman for a long time and I enjoy the time period she writes about here, as well as the freak show/curiosity museum culture she depicts, so I was really looking forward to this book. I found it a slow read in that Hoffman’s writing is often (and never more so than here) so measured and quiet. The story builds from a big historical moment to another big moment and the characters exist in between these two historical plot points. While the plot is important, while there is a ton of dramatic tension, the overwhelming feeling while reading Hoffman, especially here, is one of reflection. It’s like reading a book of poetry, contemplating the story and characters in stillness and quiet inside your mind.
An Untamed State, Roxane Gay – I’m eagerly anticipating Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist later this year. I knew her novel was supposed to handle some pretty tough subject matter, so I planned on reading it later. But it came up in a conversation with a friend, as an example of a female character who is not always likable, even as she is completely impossible to ignore. This is one of the most emotionally difficult books I’ve ever read, but also so heartbreakingly honest and beautiful. I feel like the rhythms of the book took my body over while I read it – filling me with tension, sadness, empathy, epiphany, fear and pain. It was impossible not to feel while reading this book.
The 28 Days Lighter Diet, Ellen Barnett & Kate Hanley – First and foremost, this is not a diet, in my opinion, at least not in the way that we have come to think about diets. Essentially, it is a lifestyle system, in which you modify your diet and exercise regime based on the 28-day menstrual cycle. It’s easy to dismiss a system like this because, as the authors point out themselves, both men and women (in America at least) have gotten way too comfortable dismissing menstrual cycles. I learned a lot about female anatomy and hormones while reading this book and I’ve slowly started implementing some of the practices suggested (the yoga routines in particular). I’ve noticed immediate results in my energy and body when I’ve managed to be consistent with the practices. There are recipes and other resources as well. Invaluable. I haven’t stopped talking about it and recommending it to other women since I read it.
Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon – I read this graphic novel/writing manual while doing a load of laundry, in about an hour and a half. I’d seen some of the panels/advice before, being sent around by my writing friends. It’s a good compilation of writing tips and encouragement, a good “graduation gift” for beginning writers and also a good reminder for more established writers, when they need to remind themselves of what they already know.
Lion’s Bride, Iris Johansen – Read the Re-Reading post here.
Mud Season, Ellen Stimson – This reminded me a bit of Bootstrapper, at least in theme. I found Stimson not as relatable or as compelling of a central character. A lot of the mess she gets into in Mud Season is of her own making. She does acknowledge this, but I spent a lot of time being annoyed with her character, which is odd when you’re reading a memoir. I also responded to the whimsy and the recovery-after-failure in her story. She’s written a sequel to this memoir called Good Grief! which I plan to read.
Still Writing, Dani Shapiro – I saw Shapiro speak on an amazing panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival (along with Roxane Gay, Kiese Laymon and John Freeman) and it was one of the best panels I’ve ever seen. I quoted Shapiro over and over in my notes and resolved to read this as soon as possible. It’s part memoir, part craft book, part meditation and it was all very, very necessary and timely for me.
Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn – I bought a $1 copy at the library sale and took it with me on a trip. It turned out it was the perfect environment to read Flynn’s deeply uncomfortable and creepy first novel. Even though this book and her second, Dark Places, are both pretty slim, I’m finding that I need a significant break between Flynn novels. They’re so dark and emotionally overwhelming. But they’re very, very good. She writes about women in a very uncommon way: her female characters are both extremely disturbed and frighteningly human. None of her characters are admirable or likable in that way that it feels like female characters have to be, but they are impossible not to empathize with and understand.
Broken, C.J. Lyons – Returning home from my trip, I read this on my e-reader on my flight. I don’t enjoy flying, so it helped that I had something to read that was compelling and funny. It’s a very unique YA novel that has good company: it’s like The Fault in Our Stars meets (of all things) Sharp Objects. That might be a tiny spoiler.
The Forbidden Game, L.J. Smith – Read the Re-Reading post here.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak – Once again, I watched the movie first. I’ve been hearing good things about the book for years and it’s been on my to-read list. I was so invested in the movie that I wanted to read the book to find out more about the characters, to get that rich subtext that movie adaptions can’t always carry. While the book might be most well-known for it’s unique narrator, I found it startling throughout, using the oddest details and metaphors that always worked. The relationships were so clear and vital, especially between Liesel and her foster father Hans. And between Liesel and the narrator, of course.
I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson – The author did extensive research and experimented on herself, trying to eliminate sugar in all its forms in order to help with her multiple autoimmune disorders. I personally have a huge sweet tooth, so I was a bit skeptical, but I’ve been working to eliminate processed sugars from my diet for a few months now, so I decided to check it out. The book is essentially a detox program, going week by week to help you eliminate sugars and offering extensive recipes that the author has created and collected. While I’m not planning on doing the full 2-month detox right now (perhaps in the new year), I’ve used a lot of what I’ve learned to start scaling way back. What impressed me most was that Wilson offered a lot of encouragement and understanding advice, as well as smart recipes and tricks, and actually makes eliminating sugar seem possible.
City of Heavenly Fire, Cassandra Clare – I’ve been waiting for this book for months, yet was strangely reluctant to begin it, probably because I didn’t want the series to be finished. Which was ridiculous because there were at least 2-3 points that most authors would’ve finished this massive 6 book series. Yet, Clare always shifted and tightened the tension from book to book (thousands of pages!). She started this book with a chapter from a new point of view character (a young Nephilim child) who witnesses some pretty bleak and horrific events, from the get-go. I’d love if Clare wrote a new series focusing on the younger generation of Nephilim that she introduced in this book. Even as I wrote that, I did a simple search and saw that she plans to do just that. (Yay!) Until she does that, I still have the three books of The Infernal Devices series to read. I had decided to finish The Mortal Instruments books first and while I’m glad I waited, so many Infernal Devices references came up during City of Heavenly Fire and they mostly went right over my head! It’s gonna be interesting to read that series now I already know what happened to some of its biggest characters.
I’m already looking forward to sharing my 3rd Quarter Reading with y’all, so check back in October for that. Well, I hope you’re reading the Re-Reading Project posts as well. I have many more amazing books to re-read this year, as well as some fantastic guest posts scheduled.