Another month gone by, another roundup of the books I read, and a quick review of each of them. (Also, if you use Goodreads and are interested, you can find me here.)
I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows) years ago and remember loving it. This time around, I listened to it on audio and loved it every bit as much as I remembered, if not more. This charming novel is written in letter format between writer Juliet Ashton and the residents (and literary society members) of the little island of Guernsey shortly after World War 2. Every character is so lovable, so unique, with such a strong and recognizable voice, and it manages to be absolutely charming and funny even as it handles heavy, difficult war and post-war issues. And the audio is fantastic—the narrators for each character are absolutely spot-on, and it’s a great easy listen. I loved it to bits.
Oh, how I wanted to fall in love with The House at Riverton! I have loved what I’ve read from Kate Morton in the past (The Forgotten Garden was GOLD, I say! The Distant Hours was quite awesome as well), and while I enjoyed this one, it just didn’t have the same suspense or creepy mysterious air or strength of characters as the others. In 1999, Grace Bradley, a former housemaid of Riverton Manor, begins to record her memories of her time at Riverton and of the mysterious suicide that took place there in 1924 that drove the family apart. I think some of the blame for my lack of enthusiasm for this might fall on my choice of reading time—I almost exclusively read it late at night when I was exhausted and winding down for bed, so maybe I was too worn out to really engage in it. It felt slow and plodding, and maybe it only felt that way because I read it on a half-asleep brain? I’m not sure. Although I enjoyed it and certainly don’t feel like I wasted my time on it (I think I’ll always have fun with Kate Morton’s books, even if I don’t love them all), I don’t think the writing, plot, or characters are at the same level as Morton’s other novels.
Far and away, the most absorbing and memorable book I read this month was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Susan Cain explores our current culture and its preference for extroversion, the effects of this culture on introverts, the (often unnoticed!) strengths introverts possess, how to use those strengths to make an impact in a loud and extroverted world, as well as information/advice on navigating relationships between extroverts and introverts and how to help an introverted child to grow up confident and secure (especially if you are an extroverted parent and struggle to understand/connect with your shy and quiet child). Everything you’ve heard about this book being incredible? Absolutely spot on. As an introvert myself, I’m surprised I didn’t pull any muscles in my neck from the forcefulness of nodding my head the entire way through—“YES, this is describing me, this is how I think and operate, finally someone gets it and is confirming that this is a good way to be, YES!” I have too much to say about it to fit here—I’m going to have to devote an entire post to review this one. As of the writing of this post, Quiet is $2.99 in the Kindle store, if this sounds like something you’d love, too.
I figured I wouldn’t love The Martian (Andy Weir) (I was right!) but it was (more or less) interesting anyway. I’ve heard it described as “Castaway on Mars,” which is the perfect description for it. When a violent dust storm forces his crew to abandon their mission on Mars, they believe astronaut Mark Watney has been killed, and have no choice but to leave him behind. Far from being dead, Watney is not only alive but totally alone. He is forced to find a way to survive on Mars, alone and without a way to communicate with his crew or anyone on Earth . . . and they all believe he is dead. It was way too technical for me, and the log/journal format really slowed things down (“Day 20: I hit this problem, but then I figured it out, and here are 20 paragraphs of physics/chemistry/botany detail to explain precisely how I survived!”). It was often slow going and I frequently found myself skipping the scientific explanations to get to the action. Not to mention the characters were all hilariously poorly written, including Our Hero Mark who everyone seemed to agree was The Best! and So Likable! but he always just seemed like a big goofy idiot to me. Despite all that, it was definitely interesting and original, and had a handful of riveting and exciting moments tossed in. Not my style of book at all, but I can see why others are enjoying it—different and unique, space adventure, tenacious survival story, etc.
I believe I got the recommendation for The Likeness (Tana French) from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s summer reading list, and I’m glad I followed her advice! This one sounds so silly and unreal, but I’ll do my best: when a body is found—killed by a stab wound to the chest—that looks almost identical to detective Cassie Maddox (and has ID naming her as the false identity Cassie herself invented to use undercover years ago), Cassie decides to go undercover and assume the victim’s life to investigate the murder from the inside. Just reading that sentence—yeesh, it sounds like an unbelievable, over-the-top train wreck, right? But somehow—and I don’t know how Tana French did it—somehow it works, and works really well. It’s creepy and surreal and absorbing, and I could hardly put it down. There’s a lot you have to be willing to let go of (really, our detective friend is 100% indistinguishable from the victim? she’s so fantastic as an undercover agent that none of her 4 incredibly tight-knit roommates raised an eyebrow when their roommate recovered miraculously from a chest wound, or suspected anything was odd when Cassie shows up claiming to be Dead Lexie?). But if you can sort of ignore the things that are a little unbelievable, it really is a great creepy and mysterious read.
What was on your bookshelf this month?