For some reason, I was reading at a pretty steady clip this month. I finished up 8 books - let me tell you about them (briefly)!
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
In some ways, this was great. I really loved so many of the observations within this novel and the author really brings you right into each scene with her beautiful writing. The content, though, was eh. What was with the weird love triangle?
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
Don't confuse this with the fluffed out listicle type book so popular on bookstore shelves today. In fact, Peterson deep dives into the thought behind each rule, with examples ranging from Biblical stories to modern scenarios and back to the beginning of time. He's blunt and interesting and I suppose fairly controversial at this point. His chapter on not raising kids to become people you would hate was especially interesting to me. I would recommend, but clear distractions before jumping in.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
As loyal readers know, I think everything Reid touches turns to gold. I would agree with that in this case, especially because it was more or less marketed as a beach read and has that fun 1980's glamourous rich-and-famous in Malibu feel. It won't change your life, but it's fun family drama drenched in alcohol and dusted with cocaine.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
This was our book club book, as suggested by me, and I feel good about having suggested it - hopefully everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. My favorite part? Strong female characters AND strong male characters! This novel jumps back and forth between a daring woman pilot a couple of generations ago and to an actress playing her in the present day. Fascinating, and not the sappy mess you might be envisioning, I promise.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Four Winds is about the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the migration to California, little work and poor wages, families suffering together, and what it means to be a strong person in the face of obstacles. I do usually like Kristin Hannah, but I feel like she was reading the book alongside of me and constantly tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of the points she was trying to drive home. "Don't forget, we should all work together for the betterment of society" and "Sometimes you have to be strong even when you're scared!" So the story took a backseat and I think I like it better when I can enjoy a story and then sit back and think I'm really clever to have unearthed the theme that ran along under the surface of the story.
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
I started this book while in Charleston, as I had heard it described as Conroy's love letter to Charleston - which it was! But, like Prince of Tides, it was packed full of drama centered around a group of friends, jumping forward and back in time. The main character could've been the same main character from Prince of Tides and certainly several other components of the plot had some similarities. I'll have to read a few more, but so far in my reading of Conroy it seems like he loves to make you laugh, make you cry a few lines later, and then make you laugh again, maybe with some WTF thrown in among the paragraphs as well. It's a strange reading experience and I kind of love it.
Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
This memoir was a fast read, and certainly Ford has been through some stuff, but nothing so crazy or interesting that I thought about anything any differently or felt compelled to recommend this to a friend. She's a good writer and seems like a good person, but I was glad that this only took a couple of days to get through. I'd suggest a pass on this one, unless you're in the mood for a speedy read about family dynamics, fathers in prison, and sexual assault.
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes
Spoiler alert: Flour and sugar make us fat. I really loved how Taubes argues his case and now I feel like I need to be reading his book at all times so I can be encouraged to lay off the danishes. I highly recommend this book, which is really a pretty quick read and probably skimmable if need be, to anyone struggling with extra pounds. The implementation, though.... that's the hard part!
How did your July reading shape up? Did you read anything you would recommend?
Many of my five star reads are those that might only appeal to a few like-minded readers. Others have tremendous universal appeal and I embarrass myself with how often I recommend them. I've actually gotten into a bad habit over the years of making unsolicited recommendations and thus, I started a book blog.
You opted in to this!
So- here are five books I'm *always* hyping up (other book bloggers might say "the books I'm always pressing into hands" but I'm more of a library and Kindle reader, so this would involve us taking a quick road trip to the library to select the book that I can then press into your hands, or my downloading the book on your reading device which I would then press into your hands. Anyway, I'm pressing, okay?)
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
This book is full of music - the descriptions of musical pieces are unlike anything I've ever read before. You'll be googling and listening and reading and suddenly you'll realize you just read the best love story EVER. Look, now you're crying. SO GOOD.
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Well, there are tons of Jodi Picoult fans out in the world. Picoult was what I read when I was making the transition from reading nothing in college to voraciously reading everything. Picoult was my pit stop and why not? She's great at examining all sides of an issue (though her writing can get tedious. I remember the book about whales...my God...so much information about WHALES).
Of her books, I loved Nineteen Minutes most, by far. Her trademark is played out best here, where the reader finds themselves truly seeing all sides of ...a school shooting? Incredible.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
I remember loving this book so much when I read it last summer, but I'm amazed at how many times it has come up in conversation (I interjected it into the conversation) since then. This was the ultimate beach read - glamorous, fun, not too gritty but not brain candy. Grab it while the pools are still open!
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Now that I've read this phenomenal peek at the life of a therapist (who goes to a therapist), I've been following Gottlieb online and I have to admit - she's the ultimate advice-giver. This book is like a therapy session every time you crack it. I will probably read it again, which I never do.
I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak
Speaking of reading again, this is on my list to read again. I hope I love it just as much as I did the first time. Did you ever have a re-read that totally fell flat? I don't think this will. I recommend it all the time (as it is my current FAVORITE book) but nobody EVER, EVER reads it for me. It's an excellent book marketed to the high school and college crowd that reveals lessons on the forms of human kindness. But it's not sappy sweet, it's awesome!
What book do you want to press into my hands?
I've made an alarming discovery about memoirs in recent years: the *best* memoirs are NOT by the rich and famous.
Think about the typical trajectory: they came from humble beginnings in a place like Central Illinoi, someone said they couldn't make it b the way, someone said they couldn't make it but they proved them wrong. The rise to stardom, the struggle with drugs or alcohol or weight or toxic love and the ultimate finding of their soul, capped off with a book deal. I've read this book by many authors.
The best memoirs are by those who have endured something crazy/interesting/meaningful and live to tell about it Here are some of my favorites:
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
I've started obsessively recommending this fantastic chronicle of a young woman's cancer battle and subsequent road trip. Jaouad certainly doesn't sugarcoat anything, so reading of her cancer journey can be hard, but that's the point. I still think of her regularly in the months since I've finished her memoir.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Be sure to read this eyebrow raising account of Westover's upbringing in backwoods Idaho and how her family relationships crumple as she seeks higher education. I worked my Google muscle so hard after finishing this, looking at pictures of her family like I'm some kind of private detective.
Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, The Cult that Bound My Life by Sarah Edmondson
Forgive her the excessively long subtitle, because this book is crazy good. If Educated was eyebrow raising, Scarred is jaw-dropping. Is there any limit to what someone will do to have control? Fun bonus: NXIVM traps their victims under the guise of a multi-level marketing (pyramid) scheme, which is a testament to how cult-like those can be (and I know, I sold Sensaria for a hot minute in 2005.)
Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Extremism (Also Titled A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church <so what's up with that?>) by Megan Phelps-Roper
Thinking about the Westboro Baptist Church usually makes me sick to my stomach, but the nausea is worth it here. Phelps-Roper does a great job of exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood by Leah Remini
Remini, oh the other hand, comes out guns blazing with this fascinating tell-all. While she does touch on her boring stardom stuff (oh, it's not THAT boring I suppose), she focuses on what a huge hot mess the church of Scientology is. Unfollow and Troublemaker would actually be fun to read as a doubleshot, to compare and contrast religious cult behavior.
Let It Go: My Extraordinary Story - from Refugee to Entrepreneur to Philanthropist
Ironically I had a donor recommend this book. I'm not sure I would have ever come across it otherwise, which would have been a shame. I absolutely loved the memoir and the author. Who doesn't love a self-made rags to riches story? Her deeply moving stories about her son and resulting philanthropy for Autism are intense, and I think of them often. Every aspiring philanthropist should read this!
What would YOU add to this list?
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
There is a whole new sub-genre of books that seem to be revealing themselves to me: beautifully written but very depressing content. Unsettled Ground is a story of family drama, poverty, trust, independence and was captivating from the word go. I was hopeful that many moments would be uplifting and hopeful but in fact, it was mostly all sad and unsettling. If you’re down with that, it’s worth a read!
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
File this one under nonfiction books that are beautifully written but with depressing content. Actually this thoroughly researched and well told story of how maddeningly awful that Osage nation was treated after they struck it rich through the discovery of oil on their land is depressing-with-purpose. This is a story that needed shared and there was no need (or way) to sugarcoat any of it. Fascinating, all of it.
Excavation by Wendy Ortiz
Last month I read My Dark Vanessa and shared that I was planning to read Excavation due to the accusation by Ortiz that Vanessa’s author had plagiarized and that the stories were extremely similar (despite Ortiz not having actually read My Dark Vanessa). I wasn’t too excited to delve back into the world of professors preying on their young teen students, but I wanted to read Excavation while Vanessa was still clear in my mind. This memoir certainly has a similar central focus but is really disjointed and the criminal act(s) in question seemed to affect Ortiz much differently than they did the fictional protagonist in My Dark Vanessa. While the comparison was interesting, the actual memoir wouldn’t be anything I would recommend to anyone.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
Enough of all of the depressing stuff! Where can we go to be happy? Luckily Eric Weiner travels the world to find out how other countries and other cultures achieve complete contentment. What an awesome travel memoir with a twist! The author is great fun as well (despite being a grump). You’ll laugh and learn and Google everywhere he goes.
July looks like it will be my month of brand new and buzzy bestsellers, including Kristen Hannah's newest which is receiving mixed reviews.
Mom of four, wife of one. By day I fund-raise with coffee, by night I read with wine and chocolate.