The year is just about halfway over, my friends! I’m not sure where these last six months went, but I guess it’s safe to assume that I’ve spent a good chunk of my time reading. I’m crushing my goal. (I want to read at least 52 books this year, but my stretch goal is 60.) I know that life will be a lot busier once work starts up next month (gulp!). Hopefully I won’t end up falling off the reading wagon completely. Lets take a look at the breakdown for this month:
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Dystopian fiction)
Short version: In the (not too distant?) future, America has turned into a fundamental state in which women have very little say, and some exist for the sole purpose of procreating with high-ranking men.
The verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. That one sentence summary was tricky because this book is so, so complex. As soon as I put it down, I just wanted to talk to someone, have a discussion about it, delve deeper into the text. Some parts were slow moving, but I feel as though Atwood was very deliberate in the way she wrote it. Even though that meant I was yawning at times, it also meant that everything had a purpose. And the ending! I felt like that took it to another level. I spent hours after I finished reading review after review of the book online. I’m still a bit perplexed about some aspects of the book (and would love to discuss it with anyone and everyone!), but overall, I can see why it’s so popular.
2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Mystery)
Short version: Amy Dunne goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her supposedly innocent husband, Nick, is looking guiltier by the day, especially after the police find Amy’s diary.
The verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. This book was described to me as a page-turner, and I agree. It’s a fast read and one that you want to race through to see what happens next. I knew there would be a plot twist, so I considered every possible angle in my attempt to predict it. Still, the twist was too much for me to see coming. (And I was surprised by those who said it was obvious. Really?) By the end of the book, I found almost every character so deplorable and mostly one-dimensional, that my affection started to wane. I looked up the movie trailer, and this may be one of the few times that I’m more excited about the movie than the book. (This never happens!) Ben Affleck appears to be perfectly cast, and I think the plot will lend itself better to film depending on how they approach certain elements.
3. We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride (Adult fiction)
Short version: Set mostly in Las Vegas, this book tells the intersecting stories of four characters, shining a light on the tiny moments in life that surround the life-changing ones.
The verdict: 5 out of 5 stars. You can read my full review on the Military Spouse Book Review here, but all you really need to know is that I loved this book! Characters, plot, pacing, themes, all of it. This was the best use of multiple narrators that I’ve read in a while. The writing teacher in me almost always finishes a book and thinks, “I wish the author would have…” But not this time. I couldn’t come up with any constructive changes. Standing ovation for this one.
4. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Nonfiction audiobook)
Short version: Pollan explores different food systems in America from an agricultural, economic, ecological, historical, and personal stand point.
The verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. I initially rated this book a 4, but when I was checking my ratings to write this post, I thought, “No way,” and bumped it down to a 3. Part of the reason I didn’t lurve this one probably has to do with the fact that I listened to it on CD. It was a bit too heavy for driving around town and I didn’t like the narrator. Despite the interesting subject, it didn’t hold my attention. My other complaint was that some parts were a tad self righteous. (Pollan eats a meal at McDonald’s during which he hems and haws about how he’d never eat fast food, how strange it smells and tastes. I get it – fast food isn’t as good as “real food,” but it came off as hoighty-toighty and out of touch.) That said, some parts were really eye-opening. Particularly the information about the economics and prevalence of corn. I’m already thinking twice about what I eat and making different food choices. Still, I was left wanting more of a call to action at the end. All that information, all that passion about the subject, and Pollan doesn’t prescribe a solution or answer some of my lingering questions.
5. Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans (Memoir)
Short version: A woman who grew up in a deeply religious town (home of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial) explores her doubts about Christianity, boldly doing the thing she was raised to never do: question her faith.
The verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I checked this book out from the library immediately after reading Stephanie‘s review here. I’ve always felt that there was room in faith for doubt, but I can see how that varies based on your upbringing. The author really had to be brave to seek out the answers she was looking for. (She went to a religious primary school, a religious university, and her father works in the church. That’s a hearty helping of religion!) She was able to talk about Christianity in a way that was open and interesting, relatable and self-deprecating. I appreciated that she didn’t necessarily find any answers, but she was able to meld her questions and her beliefs. There were a few areas where I was confused (I’m not up on the different types of Christianity and they weren’t explained), but overall, I thought this was a fantastic book.
6. All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard (Young adult fiction)
Short version: Two best friends are in a car crash in which one of them dies, but it is later discovered that there has been a case of mistaken identity.
The verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. The first 2/3rds of this book were really interesting. The accident, trying to figure out which girl lived, seeing how far things get before the mistake is discovered, watching both families react, and the surviving girl’s recovery and reception all made for good reading. The last portion, however, devolved into a schmaltzy love story that felt unnecessary and heavy. The majority of the book wasn’t a love story (it was about strength and family), so it felt like the most convoluted set-up to finding your true love ever. I would have rather all that be left out. The author typically writes adult fiction, and I wondered if the love story was what she thought teens would want or if that’s her regular schtick. The word choice could have also used some help. I initially assumed the book took place in the past when the kids talked about goofing and hanging out in a rec room. Or is that a regional thing? Nevertheless, this one was ‘meh.’
Total # of books read so far this year: 36
Total # of pages read so far this year: 10,477
Your turn! What are you reading these days? If you’ve read any of the books I did this month, lend me your thoughts!