Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reading, lately

A huge, belated thank you for all the suggestions after my last book post! I've been reading as much as I can lately and you guys pick the best books. I haven't gotten to all of them yet but hopefully they'll trickle in as they come off the waiting list.

Station Eleven - Predictably, I devoured this book. If you love post-apocalyptic scenarios, you'll love this novel about a band of actors and musicians traveling between sparsely populated towns and performing shows. There's drama, intrigue, suspense and the writing is very, very good. This could easily be the first in a series, although there's nothing to indicate it will be. In the spectrum of the genre, I'd say this is not as epic/intense than The Passage but less tender and dreamy than The Dog Stars (still one of my favorite books from last year). Station Eleven spends a bit more time exploring the characters lives pre-apocalypse, and jumps back and forth in time, which works really well here.

The Girls from Corona del Mar - This novel is darker than I expected, given the sunny title. It explores the limits of friendship and how much you ever know about another person, tracing the lives of two girls from a not-affluent (at the time the story takes place) part of OC and I'll admit that a part of the attraction for me was the setting. I grew up a little further inland but a lot of the descriptions ring true and there's always that visceral pang of recognition when someone plucks little parts of your childhood up and places them on the page. It's nice to have a reflection of Orange County that speaks more to where I grew up than, say, The O.C. did (although I enjoyed Ryan Atwood's antics as much as the next person, I feel like I spent all of 2004 explaining that most of Orange County is nothing like Newport Beach). So I'm biased, but I enjoyed this a lot. L, you know where I'm coming from. Literally.

The Interestings - Camp life! And what comes after. But really, this is an interesting (ha) exploration of the lives of a group of people who met at a terribly high brow artistic summer camp. I enjoyed it. If you get great satisfaction from seeing people's stories play out completely, you'll like this. It spans 40-some years.

A Tale for the Time Being - I wasn't totally sure about this one in the beginning, but it ended up sucking me in. A package washes up on the shore of a Canadian island, containing a diary in Japanese, among other things. The story takes place in two settings, as the Canadian protagonist reads the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl and goes on an obsessive mission to discover more about the author. I think I was initially a little put off by how very teenage the diary voice was but it eventually grew on me (like a real life teenager, perhaps?).

Binary Star - Ouch. I don't remember how I picked this one, but it was NOT for me. It's a stream of consciousness narrated by an anorexic astrophysics grad student. It was the most painful, unpleasant thing I've read in ages and I probably would have been happier if I'd let myself quit. I think it did a good job at what it was meant to do, which I assume is to communicate the intense pain and suffering experienced by someone with an eating disorder. So if you're curious and have a strong stomach, go forth and enjoy the astrophysics. WARNING - if you are at all trigger prone, in regards to eating disorders, you should stay far away from this one.

The Name of the Wind - Thank you for the recommendation, Andrea! I loved this. It's the first in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and I'm itching to get my hands on the next one (edit - and I did, a couple weeks later - I try to remember to write up these summaries as I go!). If you love fantasy, you'll enjoy the sweeping story of the mighty Kvothe, musician, magician, brawler. I found it less epic/sprawling than Tolkien, and less action driven than Game of Thrones (and less complicated than either). That sounds like a put down, but it's not. This book feels like sitting by the fire and listening to a really great story.

Glow - Madcap comedic thriller featuring a protagonist with an unusual sleep disorder. Heavy on conspiracy, corporate misdeeds, and drugs but with a love story thrown in. This is a really specific type of novel that not everyone will enjoy, but I think it's become obvious by now that I'm a fan of ridiculousness.

Everything I Never Told You - This is a sad novel that explores a family with a missing daughter. As they piece together the events that lead to her death (don't worry - that isn't a spoiler) they examine their family history. Really well written.

The Legacy of Lost Things - Another family drama about a missing daughter, oddly enough. Again, the novel explores the cultural and familial interactions that have led up to the event in question. However, I didn't even really compare the two novels while I was reading them. The prose is very different and the stories are completely different. I enjoyed this one a lot too.

The Little Friend - Another Donna Tartt novel. At first, I thought this was going to be my favorite of the three I've read. The protagonist is certainly the most engaging - a little 12-year old firecracker determined to solve the mystery of her brother's gruesome death. I was tearing through it and really enjoying it but I felt like it got bogged down a little about 3/4 of the way through and then I was disappointed with the ending. Call me lame and unliterary - I like a mystery with a nice clean resolution.

Liars and Saints - This story follows a family through several generations, tracing their origins and their relationships. I was absorbed immediately and loved it the whole way through. I never want to call anything a "beach read" but this would be a perfect book to take on vacation - provided you're planning to get a lot of uninterrupted reading time. It's not "light" but it's extremely readable, if that makes sense.

Personal - The latest Reacher novel but not my favorite, to be honest. I kept getting bored and losing the plot, which is twisty and international but not particularly exciting. I know what I'm getting in for when I pick up a book from this series. There are some standout thrillers (I think the ones that focus less on weird political conspiracies are more successful) and some duds. This one falls closer to the dud end of the spectrum.

The Wise Man's Fear - The second in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and just as good. I'm happy these are so long because I was sad to finish it, especially because there's no word on when the third book will be out.

Observatory Mansions - This is a bizarre book that I ended up liking much more than I expected. The main character is Francis, a reclusive middle aged man who is repulsed by his own hands and has to wear spotless white gloves at all times. Living in his family estate, which has been subdivided into cheap flats, Francis goes about his strange life until a new tenant comes to live in the building and everything starts to fall apart. There's a dreamy, gothic quality to this novel that you just have to give in to if you're going to make it through. Francis is both sympathetic and horrifying, in turn. I liked the complexity and the unpredictability of the characters.

Whew. That was a pretty good streak. I still have a few unread books on my Kindle (and some on the waiting list) and then I'll be hunting for more. As always, feel free to talk about what you're reading in the comments - curious to know what you guys have been doing this summer!

30 comments:

  1. I also l-o-v-e-d Station Eleven; I'd be thrilled if there was more to come in that series. Recently I read The Art of Fielding. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The style kind of reminded me of The Secret History. Don't let the baseball theme or jargon put you off (unless that's your jam anyway). I thought it was excellent.

    Have you read any Kate Atkinson? She's my all time favourite writer. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is a good starting point and then get into the 4-part series about private investigator Jackson Brodie (starts with Case Histories). They are sublime.

    I also really enjoyed Disclaimer by Renee Knight, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (trashy thriller you could read in a few hours) and, last but by no means least, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Complete escapism.

    Happy reading :)

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    1. I love Kate Atkinson! I'm pretty sure I've read all of hers, but I'll double check.

      Thanks for the recs! They were all checked out but I'm on the wait list now!

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  2. Do you use Kindle Unlimited? I'm contemplating it (I spend way too much money on books) but I'm not sure it's worth it - the library selection seems kind of weak! I'm contemplating going back to my local library and reading paperbacks again, even though I love my Kindle.

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    1. I haven't tried it or looked into it! But I almost exclusively check out e-books from the library. I splurge and actually purchase if I think I'll re-read something or if I'm going on vacation and want to load up my Kindle with treats.

      Does your library have e-books? I'm lucky because the Los Angeles system has a pretty good selection. I often have to wait for something and they don't have everything I want, but it's pretty solid. I just have to remember to donate money to them now (before I figured my frequent late fines could count as a contribution but no late fines with e-books - they just disappear).

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    2. I'll try that! I actually didn't know you could even check out e-books. I just looked on Overdrive and it looks like they do!

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    3. Update: signed up for Overdrive through my local library and you can rent Kindle books through Amazon. So easy, so convenient, so FREE. Highly recommend to anyone else considering it!

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  3. I also really liked Emily St. John Mandel's first book, Last Night in Montreal. Maybe not as intriguing as Station Eleven but the writing is still good and the story is still compelling.

    Also, you may be totally opposed to YA but The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater is A++++++++++++. It's kind of a mystery to find the grave of a Welsh king among other things but so clever and well written.

    And, of course, I still have to recommend Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher!

    Oh, and if you're looking for a southern Gothic a la To Kill A Mockingbird or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows is EXCELLENT.

    And for a gory thriller through the NV/CA border desert, Swerve by Vicki Pettersson is really, really good!

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    1. I am never opposed to young adult!

      And I do still have Mud Vein on my list! Thank you for the recs! Added a bunch to my library holds!

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  4. May I recommend "My Brilliant Friend" or on the opposite end of the spectrum "Night Film?" I loved them both and selfishly want to hear your opinion!

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    1. Night Film was fun - I think I liked Special Topics in Calamity Physics, but I think I'm also a sucker for campus-y novels. It was a highly entertaining one though!

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  5. I am about a third of the way through Station Eleven and I love it so far. I'm going to add some of your recently reading to my list!

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  6. Nice list, will check some up if they area available at my local bookstores as well :)

    xx

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  7. I have read Everything I Never Told You and really liked it. I really enjoy your book reviews when you post them. I am currently reading the Wayward series by Crouch-there are 3 of them. Wanted to check them out after watching the TV show. They are ok-like you though-I have to finish the series since I started it and I am on book 3. Looking forward to reading Life after Life next-

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    1. Life after Life is great! Hope you love it.

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  8. I read "A Beautiful Place to Die" by Malia Nunn a few years ago (a murder mystery set in aparthied South Africa), and really liked it. Some other old favorites are The Seduction of Water and the Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I also recently read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman and loved both!

    If you want to borrow/have any books let me know - I live in the Beverly Grove area. We've got a baby on the way so we need to make room! I''ve got all of the books mentioned above, and Night Film, which another reader recommended.

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    1. Thank you for all these recs! And it's so sweet of you to offer up the books! I just added these to my library list so I think I can get them without imposing on you!

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  9. I love your "reading lately" posts. I look forward to them and then go through and mark them all as "want to read" on my goodreads list.

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  10. Ugh, when I recommended "The Little Friend" I totally forgot the let down at the end. But it is so gorgeously written that it's still one of my favorite books! Loved your list of reads this time around. I'd never heard of the Kingkiller Chronicles before, but I checked the first one out from my library and read it over the weekend and was riveted. Since you like The Kingkiller Chronicles and The Game of Thrones books I think you'd also like the Inda books by Sherwood Smith. They focus on a young boy growing into adulthood and the people around him. It is pretty epic in scope and the world building is amazing, but the characters are the best part. No, the best part is that each book is several hundred pages long, so the ending takes a while to come! I've never read Tolkien, always thought it would be a bit of a slog--would you recommend?

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    1. OMG - there are so many Sherwood Smith books! I'll have to sort through them to figure out which ones are which, but they look fun!

      To be honest, I haven't read Tolkien in years. I read them all growing up and loved them but haven't revisited in ages.

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  11. Thank you fo these posts! Normally I just sort of free range read, re reading or hoping to bump into good reads. These posts (and fabulous comments) have encouraged me to step up my book game, and I feel like I'm in middle school agson, just bouncing from book to book.

    I picked up 'the Name of the Wind' a couple of days ago, and have just been loving it, thank you Rachel!

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  12. I liked the Interesting s but found myself jumping pages. Ugh. Read Kook. It's a wonderful story about chasing your dream life but being happy right eye re you are.

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    1. Oh, I loved the Dog Stars, which was also written by Peter Heller! My library doesn't seem to have Kook, so I'll have to add it to my "eventually" list.

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  13. i stumbled upon glow when i was shelving fiction at my volunteer gig and was intrigued by how many times it had bounced between the science fiction / fantasy / horror and crime / thriller sections - and, well, because of foxes. and because ned had inscribed my copy to someone who'd let him crash at their house? i'm a sucker for inscribed books someone has decided to give away; someday i want to do a terribly depressing (or terribly uplifting?) art installation about them. anyway: i quite liked it, though 1) i have a very low tolerance as it were for cyberpunk-adjacent books about drugs - looking at you, jeff noon, even though you probably don't deserve it - and 2) i decided early on that cherish was actually FKA twigs, which made both the book and our FKA-twigs-heavy road trip confusing. he's nimble, in a somehow salman-rushdie-ish way, and very funny. i wish his host hadn't given away his book, but i'm glad she did?

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    1. I WOULD GO TO THAT ART INSTALLATION!

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  14. Finding this late, but I love reading through your list of books and everyone's recommendations! I've had a similar list of books read over the past year or so - I love that you're reading the Kingkiller Chronicles, they're such engaging books! I read through the first two so quickly, and then re-listened as audiobooks this past year, which is another great way to read them. Every so often I check on his blog to see if he's said anything but... nope (though it does look like Big People are talking about adapting the books for the screen...)

    I wish I had some recommendations, but it looks as though you've read through most of what I would recommend! I'm about to re-read The Secret History for my (tiny) book club, which I'm inordinately excited about. We just read both Life after Life and God in Ruins back to back, which was an interesting way to do it - it really let me realize how much I preferred the former. I took the (giant!) Rogues book out of the library to read the Rothfuss story The Lightening Tree, and there are some fun (and some odd) short stories in there by other big-name fantasy writers.

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    1. Oh! I just thought of a really good one. "All the birds, singing" by Evie Wyld. It completely overwhelmed me in the best way possible. I read it huddled in front of the woodstove this winter and literally could barely put it down. It was in the Tournament of Books and lost out early on, sadly, but was quite the book.

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    2. Thank you! Adding it to my list.

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  15. I read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson - sort of a memoir of childhood like To Kill a Mockingbird, but creepier.

    A super light read is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
    Novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer (posthumously published)



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    1. I loved Housekeeping! It really got to me.

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  16. Damn it. I'm halfway through The Little Friend and the end is disappointing?!

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