What I Read in August 2020
I can’t believe August is over already! I finished twenty books this month, which is tied with March as my biggest reading month so far this year. I managed to read eight non-fiction and twelve fiction, which is closer to the 50/50 goal I made at the beginning of the year but has fallen to the wayside.
I discovered a new favorite author this month, Rufi Thorpe, whose newest novel The Knockout Queen came out at the end of April and was highly recommended by a friend. I devoured this novel as I recovered from my hand surgery, then immediately ordered her other two. I’ve finished one of those and the other is on deck for September.
Here’s a summary of those novels as well as everything else I read this month:
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
This novel is weird in a fantastic way. It’s the story of Paul, who is a shapeshifter of sorts. He can change his body gender at will. Set in the 1990’s, this coming of age story is unlike any I’ve read. I feel it gave me a realistic view into what it might be like to not feel connected to the body/gender you were born with. I highly recommend this one for readers of magical realism and LGBTQ+ issues.
The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe
Bunny is “the queen of North Shore.” She’s a tall, blonde, volleyball star with a rich father and a pool in her backyard. Michael moves next door with his aunt and cousin after his mother goes to jail. It’s a cramped, modest house that never feels like home to him. When Bunny catches Michael smoking in her backyard one evening, he is quickly drawn into her life, and it becomes clear things are not as perfect as they appeared from the outside.This is a portrait of a friendship, of true unconditional love, and the journey to ones’ chosen family when the biological one isn’t what we need.I highly recommend this one for readers of literary fiction who enjoy dark humor and twisted storylines, as well as those who enjoy coming of age stories and LGBTQ+ fiction.
SPLIT by Alexis Sands
I was incredibly eager to read this after finishing the first book, SLATED. I found this one a bit stronger and easier to follow. Though the first half felt slow, the second half is much faster paced and pretty much pure sex! The author does a great job of conveying the frantic feel of Sloane and Ryan’s relationship, both in the bedroom and out. Sloane’s Borderline Personality Disorder is addressed a bit more in this novel than the last. I appreciated how she was honest with people in her life about it and they want to support her. I recommend these books for readers of erotica who want a bit of suspense and characters they can connect with.
The New Corner Office by Laura Vanderkam
This book would be great for those who are new to working from home and/or those who work from home as part of a team. I’ve working from home for myself for a few years now, so I didn’t get a lot out of this. There were definitely a few tips I will try, such as planning my week on Fridays and working by task, not time. The other things that pertain to me I’ve already learned the hard way, like the importance of setting up a work space that is comfortable and pleasant. Overall, I’d say read this book if working from home is new to you or if you’re struggling with it.
Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn
Advanced copy from NetGalley, published August 4th This novel has a Fredrik Backman vibe to it, though it’s not as emotionally complex. Danny is single dad to 11-year-old Will, who hasn’t spoken since he was in the car accident that killed her mother a year ago. Danny is down on his luck in every way possible, so he takes some drastic measures in an attempt to earn money to pay their back rent. I enjoyed the characters a great deal and wish I’d gotten to know them better. I recommend this one for readers of literary fiction.
Find A Way by Diana Nyad
I listened to the audiobook read by the author. It’s slow going at times, however I found her story inspiring and fascinating. Diana gives her life history starting with her childhood and going all the way through to her successful swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013 (her fourth attempt.) The writing is simple, and it’s all straight up telling without any showing. It’s “this happened, then this, then this”, without much internal reflection. While the stories are interesting, I wanted to know more about Diana’s emotional and mental state during some of the situations. Overall I liked this memoir and recommend it for readers of the genre, particularly sports memoirs.
Bunnicula by Deborah & James Howe
I hadn’t read this in at least thirty years. I chose to re-read it for a reading challenge category for a book with a non-human narrator. I was surprised to find the story has aged pretty well. It’s almost as fun as it was in my childhood. The writing is more advanced than I expected. The storyline is strong and the animal characters are fabulous. I laughed out loud a few times. This was a very enjoyable re-read.
Anxious People by Frederik Backman
Advanced copy from NetGalley, publication date September 8, 2020 This is a story about an attempted bank robbery that turns into an unintentional hostage situation. 90+% of the book takes place in a single day, over the course of several hours. I liked how that timing gave the story even more urgency. Ultimately this story is about connection, and the way we interact (or choose not to) with strangers on a daily basis. It’s about how finding something in common with a stranger forges connection and understanding. It’s an emotional story full of quirky characters. I recommend it for Backman fans, as well as readers of literary fiction.
Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox
I listened to the audiobook read by the author. What a stellar human being he is. His memoir is honest and simple. Self deprecating at times, funny, and unflinching, Fox tells his story from being a kid in Canada, to coming to the U.S. to be a young actor. His Parkinson’s Disease plays a crucial role in his story, but that’s not all this book is about. When faced with his diagnosis, he could have chosen to react in a number of ways and has repeatedly chosen positivity. The book is ultimately about staying positive, and doing his best. The writing is pretty simple, which is the only complaint I have. I wante more emotional depth. I liked hearing his voice tell his story. I highly recommend this for Fox’s fans as well as readers of memoir and inspirational stories.
The Boys of my Youth by JoAnn Beard
Revisiting this essay collection decades after first reading it, now a writer myself, I am struck by just how dang good Beard’s writing is! Together, this collection of essays is a memoir of sorts. while not in chronological order, the individual pieces revisit people and places in the author’s life. Together they give the story of her life as a woman, her divorce, her best friendship, and her dogs. Her writing is strong and invokes vivid imagery of universal life experiences: coming of age, marriage, divorce, grief, loss. I highly recommend this book for readers of memoir and personal essay as well as writers of those genres.
Don’t Hex and Drive by Juliette Cross
Advanced copy from NetGalley, publication date September 8, 2020 I needed this book in my life right now and I had no idea! Isadora is an introvert witch with strong healing powers. She does the books for the family businesses and prefers to spend her time with plants and animals as opposed to people. Devraj is a 300 year old Vampire warrior in town on business. He’s fascinated by Isadora and determined to get her to open up to him. There’s a mystery at the heart of this story, missing girls and rogue vampires, that kept me engaged throughout the book. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down and I was sad when it was over. The writing is witty and sharp. I highly recommend it for readers of paranormal romance.
More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn
Advanced copy from NetGalley, published July 21st
This novel left me swooning for days! A well written YA romance makes my explode in the very best way. Vada and Luke have been secretly crushing on each other for years. They’re practically adults, desperate to get out of their town and on with their lives.When their paths cross with regularity thanks to her job, and then a collaboration at school, both feel they’re in over their heads. Hahn perfectly captures the magic of first love, along with the joy of sharing your cherished music with someone you care about. The story is ultimately about learning to stay true to yourself despite others’ expectations. It’s also about loving people even when they disappoint us, and becoming strong enough to set boundaries around that. I highly recommend it for readers of young adult fiction and romance, and music lovers.
Maid by Stephanie Land
A well written memoir about Land’s experiences as a member of the working poor while raising her daughter alone. It’s framed as commentary on the way the poor are treated in the US, which is certainly interesting. I found this more of a deeply personal account of what it means to be human, especially a woman. We love the wrong person, we make mistakes, we try our best, we work hard. It’s about the universal feeling of wanting to be seen and connect with others. The writing is top notch, honest and vivid. I highly recommend it for readers of memoir, women’s issues, and social/class issues.
Keep Moving by Maggie Smith
Advanced copy from GoodReads Giveaway, expected publication date October 6, 2020 The majority of the book is Tweets Maggie wrote while she was going through her divorce. They are note-to-self type reminders to keep going though the hard times. I can see why those tweets resonated with her followers and resulted in this book. There are a few essays as well, explaining what was going on in her life at the time and how that inspired what she was tweeting. The theme of the collection is dealing with loss and grief. The messages in this book are especially relevant in this time of uncertainty we are facing due to the COVID pandemic. I found so much of this collection comforting and inspiring. Yes life is scary but I’m still here, waking up each morning, and there are things I want to do with my life. We could all use this reminder right now! I highly recommend this little book for anyone who needs some encouraging words, and those who enjoy personal essay and inspirational writing.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
Advanced copy from NetGalley, expected publication date October 6, 2020 Mae gets stuck in a Groundhog’s Day situation when she makes a wish that The Universe will show her what makes her happy. Suddenly she’s back on the plane six days ago, on her way to her annual family Christmas celebration. Mae learns from her past visit, and each time she wakes up on that plane to try again, she makes changes in her life. The biggest change is that she finally tells Andrew she’s had feelings for him since they were thirteen. The writing is funny, though feels cheesy at times. I didn’t like Mae much and couldn’t get behind what she was doing. The plot was predictable and moved a bit too fast. I didn’t like this as much at the authors’ previous books, and probably wouldn’t recommend it.
More Than Words by Jill Santopolo
This is a sweet story about having the courage to be your true self despite the expectations of your loved ones. I liked Nina and enjoyed watching her transformation. I just wish it wasn’t tied so closely to her romantic partners. There’s a lovely romance for her, but it kinda has the message that you need to be with the right partner for things to fall into place, which I don’t love. It’s more about the freedom in allowing people to see the real you. The setting of New York City gives this novel a lot of vivid scenery and emotional charge. The writing is solid and the characters feel realistic. I recommend it for readers of romance and fans of Santopolo’s other novels.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
This collection is going to require a re-read for me to fully absorb the poems. They alternate between going over my head, or speaking straight to my guts. His writing is concise. He gets right to the issue at hand, and evokes vivid imagery. This collection touches on Brown’s experiences based on race, sexuality, and his HIV status. The raw honesty of his words knocked the wind out of me a few times. My favorite poems are: Bullet Points and The Tradition.
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
As much as I tried, I couldn’t get behind this plot. I find it extremely unlikely a woman would get involved with the brother of the man who left her at the alter. However, there were parts I enjoyed, and I can relate to the way their chemistry was so strong neither could ignore it even though they tried. I also enjoyed the strong females in this story. Lina is certainly one, as are all the women in her family who are prominent, and the one she encounters in her efforts to land a new job. The way women have to work extra hard, particularly those of color, to present themselves in a business setting, felt authentic. The writing is a little cheesy and the story felt forced at times. I wouldn’t recommend this one.
The Girls From Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thorpe
This is a stunning, realistic story of female friendship. Rufi Thorpe’s writing is dazzling as she exposes the seedy underbelly of life in the suburbs. Mia and Lorrie Ann are two very different girls who become friends at a young age and stick together through heartbreaks and trauma. Their chosen life paths lead them even further in different directions, yet they continue to be drawn to each other. Their story is a powerful exploration of female friendship over time, and how sometimes we cling to those who have known us longest because we glamorize our pasts. It’s also a story about how to handle that inevitable moment when you realize the friendship isn’t what it once was and perhaps never was. I highly recommend it for readers of literary fiction and women’s issues.
Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth
This book is especially helpful for me in this time of COVID. It’s a reminder of the basics of mindful eating. The exploration of compulsive eating was helpful and gave me insight into why I turn to this behavior. overall, Geneen’s writing is gentle and positive. yet she tells brutal truths and doesn’t soften the importance of the message that the reader is the only one who has the power to change her eating habits. The title is a bit misleading. The God part is what had put me off from reading it for so many years. however it isn’t God in the Christian sense. In fact God isn’t even mentioned much past the beginning. It’s more about the spiritual component of food and particularly compulsive eating. I highly recommend it for readers of inspirational non-fiction, particularly about food.
What was your favorite read in August?