Saturday, September 28, 2019

What I've Read Recently // August 2019

My very best and most faithful blog reader (Mr. Jones) had some fantastic feedback regarding the first "Recent Reads" post I made: "Give us less of what Goodreads had to say and more about what you have to say." Noted. Thank you. I love you.

Here's a list of what I finished in August.

One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus
From Goodreads:
The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.
What I thought: 7/10
Both Geneva and Piper recommended that I read this YA novel, having read it themselves each around age 12. This would be a good book to read along with your teen (if you're into that sort of thing). I think there are lots of things to talk about and could spark some good discussions around friendship, romantic relationships, social pressure, and trust. Overall, this was a solid mystery. I was captivated by the first chapter and I found the story quick-moving and easy to read. Twists and turns kept me guessing and engaged.

Forever, by Judy Blume
Adapted from Goodreads:
Katherine and Michael meet at a New Year's Eve party. They're attracted to each other, they grow to love each other. And once they've decided their love is forever, they make love.
Forever is written for an older age group than Judy Blume's other novels for children. It caused a storm of controversy when it was first published because of its explicit sexual content.
What I thought: 6.5/10
First published in 1975, the story is full of amazing retro references. These small details were fun in the same way that watching Stranger Things is enjoyable for those of us that remember the fashion, expressions, and decor of the time. I can't believe that I never picked this up when I was a teenager. (Did you?) It was very provocative for the time and banned in many libraries across the country. According to Wikipedia, Forever appears on the American Library Association list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for 1990-2000, coming in at number seven. Juicy. While the book is certainly dated, the overall message of having a healthy, responsible, mutually-satisfying sexual relationship is timeless. I hope my kids read it.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
Adapted from Goodreads:
Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life--its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises.
What I thought: 7.5/10
I found this novel to be totally original and refreshing both in plot and structure --plus it has recipes! Bonus. The story was warm, funny, wry, and quirky. Somehow, it managed to be both light and serious. Eva Thorvald is an interesting character who is introduced to the reader through the memories of the people in her life. It's hard to define her clearly; however, I think it's safe to predict that you'll enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
What I thought: 9/10 (Listened on Audible)
This book came on my radar because the newest Madeline Miller book, Circe, kept popping up in my feed and when I looked into that one, I discovered that she had written Achilles first --and that is where I felt I should start. I loved this book. Having little knowledge about Greek mythology (or ever having read the Iliad), I came to the story with zero expectations or ideas of where the plot might lead--which I understand might be different for readers who are more familiar with the content. I was completely taken away with the story. (It has to be said that the narrator was excellent and that listening to the book definitely added a texture and depth to the story that I may have missed out on, had I read it myself.) The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was deeply human and moving and this novel sits near the top of the list of the Greatest Love Stories I've Ever Read.

The Gifted School, by Bruce Holsinger
Adapted from Goodreads:
Smart and juicy, a compulsively readable novel about a previously happy group of friends and parents that is nearly destroyed by their own competitiveness when an exclusive school for gifted children opens in their community.
What I thought: 7.5/10
Ooh --this was a really good, quick-paced read that resonated on several levels. My bookclub has selected this for our October meeting and I look forward to discussing it there and hearing everyone else's take. I read it on my Kindle and was surprised to notice afterward that it's such a long book. It did not feel lengthy. Given the current news cycle around the college entrance bribery scandal, this book was especially topical. While it was highly entertaining and felt like a well-done mini series (think Big Little Lies), it also touched on bigger themes like privilege, class, and ethnicity. The parents in the book are outrageous and in all honesty --also relatable. Here's line from the mother of twin boys talking to her friend that absolutely rang through my bones (several passages hit close to home), "Swear to God, if there's one thing that makes me absolutely insane, it's the smug parents of well-behaved girls." Ouch.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama
Adapted from Goodreads:
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.
What I thought: 8.5/10
I received two copies of this book for Christmas and I finally got around to placing it at the top of my What I'll Read Next list. I'm so happy that I did. I can't believe it took me so long --especially having heard so many great reviews from friends of mine whose opinions I trust. I enjoyed the humor, honesty, candor, and reflection that Michelle expresses throughout. I thought the book was warm and inspiring. My only criticism is that I felt the beginning chapters dragged a bit. Once Barack showed up on the scene, the pace and my interest increased. The hardest thing about reading this book was having to pull my focus away from the memories of those years and back to the reality of our times.

Circe, by Madeline Miller
Adapted from Goodreads:
Rejected by her family and banished to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology. Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. 
What I thought: 8.5/10 (Listened on Audible)
I was captivated by the story of Circe, a daughter of the most powerful Titan, Helios (the Sun). Although she was born without any powers, she possesses her own talents and through the course of this epic story, learns how to cultivate her instincts and insights to find/create her place in the world. Circe is an outcast, a feminist, a witch, a mother, a fighter... there's so much here to dig into. Miller's writing is rich and beautiful and I loved listening to every word. Comparing the two Miller novels in this post, I would say that the writing was equally stunning but I feel a little harder for Achilles.

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