What I Read in August

August was a loooong month for me, in ways both literal and figurative. I managed to finish 21 books, which just barely beat my record back in January of 20. I’ve been laying around more than usual lately, due to a heath problem involving my inner ear. that’s great for my reading time, not so great for everything else.

August was also my birthday month, which means I was gifted (by others and myself) a bunch of shiny new books! I treated myself to a restart of my Book of the Month subscription and used up all my gift cards for my local indie store and Amazon.

What I Read in August 2019

 

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

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For the While I Was Reading challenge category: A book recommended by someone you trust I love this idea: a retelling of Sherlock Holmes as a woman. The novel has a strong beginning and ending, the middle is a slog in spots. It was difficult to keep track of so many minor characters. The writing is witty and fitting for the time frame. Charlotte Holmes is a fantastic protagonist and fitting for the role of Sherlock. I appreciated her tenacity, and the feminist themes throughout the story. Overall, this was a mostly enjoyable read that required me to do a lot of thinking. I recommend this for fans of mysteries and historical fiction. 

 

 

The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz

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This novel is labeled as a thriller, which is accurate, though it is so much more. There’s a mystery at the center: Billie James returns to the small Mississippi town of her birth, hoping to learn the truth about her father’s mysterious death. This is a beautifully written novel about identity and place. The story develops slowly yet the pace of the writing is one that I couldn’t tear myself away. I listened to the audio book in three sittings in a 24 hour period. Bahni Turpin’s narration is excellent (as always) giving the characters emotional depth and creating a strong sense of the culture in the Mississippi delta. I highly recommend this for audiobook listeners, as well as those who enjoy mysteries/thrillers. 

 

 

Man Fast by Natasha Scripture

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As a writer of memoir myself, this feels like a first draft. It’s all telling and no showing. I didn’t feel any emotional connection to the author, and she comes across as shallow and privileged. This book had so much potential though. There are a lot of interesting aspects that would have created a richer story if explored. Overall it’s a totally “meh” memoir, and I wouldn’t recommend it. There are many others in the genre that are much much better.

 

 

Windows96 by Cal Holmes

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This novel reminds me of the movie Office Space, except the protagonist is a teenager, and the industry he works in is door to door sales. The movie is much funnier, but that’s in a silly way and there’s a lot of smart wit here. Set in England in the 1990s, the book has a melancholy vibe. Alex is not necessarily a likable character, but he’s relatable. Anyone who has worked a dead-end job, or found themselves trying to fit in with and shady crowd just to be liked, will relate to him and his situation. While there are many redeeming qualities here, I simply couldn’t figure out what the point of the story is. The middle felt long and rambling. I suppose it’s a coming of age tale, but I found it generally unsatisfying.

 

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Colson Whitehead is incredibly skilled at using historical facts to create deep, realistic characters. For a short book of just over 200 pages, this novel contains more emotional power than many that are 2-3 times its length. Each word is obviously carefully crafted, each tidbit of information given to the reader is deliberate, each side character is crucial to the narrative. I thought I’d fly through the book since it was short. Nope. I could only handle brief sitting because every single page packs a wallop. I learned and felt so much, that I had to stretch it out. This is an important book, a story that all Americans should know. I had no idea these “schools” existed, and while I’m not surprised that this is in our nation’s history, I feel it’s my duty to learn as much as I can. I am thankful for storytellers like Whitehead who can educate me with their talent and grace. For readers of literary and historical fiction, and those interested in the history of race relations in the United States as well as social justice. 

 

 

To Make Monsters Out of Girls by Amanda Lovelace

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As always, Lovelace’s formatting and wording choices stun me, she makes each poem look like a work of art. This collection didn’t resonate with me as her previous work has though. These poems felt shorter and perhaps not as emotionally deep. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good. There were a few that struck a chord with me. Overall this is a fine collection, just not to the caliber of her other work.

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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This unique thriller was absolutely gripping all the way through. I listened to the audio book, Louise Brealey and Jack Hawkins narration is spot on, totally adds to the creepiness factor. Towards the end, the plot got confusing with the alternating timelines, and I’m still not 100% sure what was happening when it ended. Otherwise, this is a decent thriller, and I recommend it for readers of the genre. 

 

Why She Lied by Julie Coons

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Holy cow, this is a compelling read, I couldn’t put it down. In the book, Julie states that she’s not a writer, she’s a storyteller. While that sounded weird at first, it made sense by the end, and somehow it totally works. The writing is simple, and sometimes repetitive, yet it adds to the readability and frantic pace. It feels like a friend is telling me her story in every day language. Every few pages I would stop and think, holy s- did this really happen? It’s a compulsive page-turner, thriller and mystery. It’s also a story about one woman’s strength and courage, it’s about survival, relationships, community, believing in yourself and in doing the right thing even when it’s scary. There’s a lot going on in this story, it will surprise you and inspire you to think about your role in the world. Recommended for readers of thrillers and true crime. 

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Rooney’s writing is mesmerizing, there’s a hypnotic rhythm to it. We follow two young people as they finish high school and try to find their way in the world. They drift apart and return to each other over the years. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a complex story about not only love of others but love of self, of identity and belonging. There’s even aspects of class and societal expectations, along with family obligation and loyalty.  Connell and Marianne as characters are deep and flawed, they’re annoying at times, yet I understood them because they are utterly human. Both characters resonated with me at different times. It’s a beautiful story told with gorgeous, emotional writing. Recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

 

To Drink Coffee With A Ghost by Amanda Lovelace

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A beautiful collection focused on grief. The style is the same as her previous works. I appreciate that Lovelace’s poems aren’t wordy. Her power lies in the exact words she chooses to use, since there aren’t many. As I’ve I said about Lovelace’s previous poetry collection: To witness any form of art which is so obviously part of the creator’s healing process is a gift. Any reader will likely find something in any of her books to aide in healing and foster a sense of belonging.

 

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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For the Pop Sugar Challenge Category: A book with over a million ratings on Goodreads I first read this 13 years ago, when I was 27 and recently divorced. I found it solidly fine but it didn’t move me in any particular way. I listened to the audio book this time and it resonated with me on a very deep level. Since I’m familiar with the story, I focused more on the writing and Liz’s philosophies. Many people find this book life changing, I found it life-affirming. It reminded me I am on the right path, that there’s nothing selfish in following your heart’s desires. It’s a great example of what a freaking great writer she is, her phrasing is deliberate and accurate. She tells her stories with honesty and grace, doesn’t divulge dirt on anyone besides herself. There’s humor and sadness and grief and love, the whole package when it comes to memoir. This is a must read for fans of the genre. 

 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

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Advanced Copy From NetGalley, expected publication September 24, 2019 This novel is incredibly complex and rich with detail. It’s the story of two siblings whose mother leaves when they are young. It’s their story, but also the story of this house they live in, which drove their mother to leave, and where they stay with their father. It’s difficult to sum up what this novel is about: Family, place, belonging, expectations, loyalty, obligation, forgiveness. It’s ultimately a family drama, packed with history and geographic details. The writing is poetic and vivid. It spans time and family generations, going back and forth to tell the story in a way that can be confusing, though I can see why a traditional linear timeline wouldn’t have as much emotion. I highly recommend this for Ann Patchett fans, and any readers of literary fiction.

 

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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For the PopSugar Challenge Category: A book that has inspired a common phrase or idiom This is a pretty spectacular story, when you remember it was written in 1900 and nothing quite like it had come before. It’s definitely weird, and dark – there’s a LOT of heads getting chopped off – it’s also funny and wonderfully fantastical. I listened to the audio book narrated by Titus Burgess, who brought the story to life with multiple voices, sounds, and emotion. There was a forward that gave a little history on the adaptation to film and why certain things were changes. It’s definitely worth reading to get a feel for how the whole Wizard of Oz phenomenon started.

 

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

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This is a stunning family drama. It’s beautifully written, the author obviously taking care to get details right when it comes to life for immigrants, and police officers, as well as mental illness, addiction, and how family members are affected by these issues. At its center, this is a love story, and I appreciate that it’s not fluffed up. It shows what it means to truly love someone unconditionally. It’s about many different kinds of love, about family, and loyalty. I truly felt for every character, even when I disagreed with their actions. The timeline felt rushed in spots, passing over years with just a few sentences, then sometimes there’d be a flash back and I wasn’t always clear where things were happening in time. Ultimately, it’s a beautiful story, told with raw truth and grace. I highly recommend it for fans of literary fiction.

 

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

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For the PopSugar Challenge Category: A book with a question in the title When tragedy strikes, it can be easy to forget how many people are affected. This is a beautiful story about what that looks like. It’s about community, family, loyalty, and humanity in general. June is the only survivor of a shocking disaster takes the lives of her entire family. She leaves town right after the funerals, hardly speaking to anyone. What follows is a heart wrenching journey of grief and guilt. Everyone June leaves behind in her community, along with those she encounters after she lives, is affected by the tragedy in their own way. The writing is beautiful and realistic. The tone is sad yet hopeful. I highly recommend this novel for fans of literary fiction. 

 

Dear Writer, You Need to Quit by Becca Syme

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This is an honest look into what derails writers and how we can navigate that territory. It is more directed toward authors who are self publishing, using Amazon as a platform, and/or believe they should be writing a book a month. This is NOT the kind of writer I am! However, I still found many useful tidbits when it comes to productivity and self-sabotage. Ultimately this book is about breaking down our misconceptions about ourselves and what we think we should be doing as writers, versus what we are capable of. It’s also a guide on how to recognize what you’re doing well as a writer and to set yourself up to succeed.

 

Kitchen Table Tarot by Melissa Cynova

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As an absolute newbie to Tarot, this book is exactly what I needed! Melissa gives thorough explanations of each card and suite. She also adds in personal anecdotes and guidance. I appreciate the positive tone of the book, and her emphasis on staying true to oneself and being kind when giving readings. Her writing is straightforward and easy to understand. I have a lot more confidence about reading the cards than I did before I read this. There are lots of great tips for what to do and not do regarding everything from handling your cards to eventually charging money for readings.

 

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

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The writing is exceptional, it feels like fiction and not non-fiction reporting. This presentation is what makes the women’s stories compelling, but also caused me to wonder “what’s the point of all this” a few times. By the end, the point was loud and clear: women are judged for their sexual appetites (and actions, and their bodily functions. Judged not just by men, but by other women, and by themselves.) Meanwhile, the men suffer few consequences of their actions in the same exact scenarios. It’s extremely sexually explicit at times, and will make most readers uncomfortable at some point. That’s part of why this is such an important book. I listened to the audio book and recommend this format. 

 

Blubber by Judy Blume

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Read for the Country Bookshelf Challenge Category: A banned book I’m certain I read this as a kid and liked it, although I don’t have any specific memories besides the bullying theme. I re-read it now as an adult and could barely finish, I disliked it so much. The kids are absolutely horrible to each other, our protagonist is a brat, and the teachers are clueless. I listened to the audiobook and it was almost painful at times, to continue listening. However, despite all that, I’m able to recognize it’s pretty dang accurate as to classrooms and school buses at the time it was written in the mid 1970s. It even hit close to home a few times as to experiences I had in the 80s and 90s. Honestly, dynamics between kids are probably still similar today…Ugh…Anyway, the story is crappy but that’s the point. As always, Blume perfectly captures the inner workings of a kids’ minds.

 

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

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For the PopSugar Challenge Category: A book revolving around a puzzle or game I didn’t read this book as a kid. If I’d had, I’m sure I would have loved it then and felt differently about it now. I had never heard of it and read it only because it fits a tricky reading challenge category. If it wasn’t for that challenge, I probably would have quit this about half way though. I’m glad I didn’t though because it did become a bit more interesting after that. It’s true I did want to know how things turned out. I had a hard time keeping all the characters straight, and the writing is quite dated. I can see how this was probably a fantastic book in its time, it just isn’t for me now.

 

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

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Not my favorite by this author, yet still a lovely story. As always, her writing is straightforward, making for a quick easy read. This story has a lot of sensory descriptions, sights, smells, tastes, that are described well, to create a vivid setting. In this small southern town, your family name means everything. Each family has its own legacy, and the young people sometimes feel burdened by what they were born into and what’s expected of them. Here we have two sisters, Claire who has embraced her legacy, that of being from a family of magical women. And Sydney who is returning home after many years away, finally realizing there is more at home for her and her daughter than she ever considered. While there are some heavy moments, this is such a fun novel. The story is moving and sweet. I recommend this for romance readers, as well as fans of magical realism.

 

 

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