Book Consumption: The Best of July/August 2016

I read twelve books in the last two months and started two more that I didn’t finish. Most of the books were of a fluffy, entertainment-only nature, and while they fulfilled their purpose, I don’t have much to say about them.  The two books I stopped reading were so bad they deserve their own posts to detail my dislike.  This leaves me with only three books to talk about which is far more manageable than twelve. And so, I give you my three favorite books of July and August.

The Best

before the fall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.  A small private plane crashes off the East Coast on it’s way to New York City.  The plane carries several wealthy individuals, one washed-up painter and the crew.  Only the painter and a young boy survive.  To tell the story, the author mingles the present, where the survivors try to make sense of what happened and authorities try to figure out what went wrong, with gradually illuminated histories of all the occupants on the plane, propelling the reader toward the cause of the disaster.

My thoughts:  Before the Fall was my favorite read of July.  It’s very well written and entirely believable.  I especially identified with the psychological aspects of the artist’s struggles after surviving the crash and his need to be true to himself in the face of relentless media pressure.  There are no mind blowing twists; they aren’t needed.  I enjoyed this story for what it is: a solid, satisfying mystery.

 

Girl with gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey.  I am not sure how to sum up this book without spoilers so I’m going to keep it as vague as possible.  A mutated Ophiocordyceps infection in humans produces a worldwide pandemic leading to a zombie infestation.  A special young girl named Melanie and several other children are the supposed key to saving what’s left of the human race.  Girl with all the Gifts is the story of Melanie’s experiences in this post-apocalyptic world.  (The book is so much better than I am making it sound!)  It’s a young adult sci-fi thriller with a hefty dose of gross thrown in.

My thoughts:  Zombie tales are not my typical reading fare but I thought The Girl With All the Gifts would make a great audiobook for our family road trip to the Adirondacks (I have three teenagers).  It was a huge hit, even with my husband and me.  The story is suspenseful and engaging, the quality of the writing is fantastic, the characters are well developed and believable, and the themes encouraged me to think beyond a superficial level about topics such as ethics in medicine and research and what it means to be human.  That’s covering a significant amount of ground for a YA novel. This was my favorite read of August.

Warning: The book contains a truckload of swearing and gory violence which feels appropriate for a story addressing zombie-like creatures and survival in desperate circumstances but can be jarring if you’re not accustomed to that sort of thing, especially if you listen to the audiobook.

(A book recommended by a person you just met – Popsugar Reading Challenge)

9938498

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. By sifting through letters, journal entries, public documents and historical resources, Eric Larson faithfully recreates Nazi Berlin of the 1930’s.  The book mainly revolves around the insights and experiences of William Dodd, the American Embassador to Germany and his daughter Martha and their struggles to make sense of the Nazi regime.  The account provides an intimate portrayal of the growing power and brutality of the Nazi party before WWII and the unwillingness of most nations to acknowledge the inherent dangers.

My thoughts:  I did have a few issues with In the Garden of Beasts.  It moves slowly and contains many characters which I occasionally found challenging to manage.  Martha Dodd comes across as a silly, naïve and promiscuous party girl with little understanding of the true political situation in Berlin and I couldn’t sympathize with her at all.  Despite these annoyances, the book was fascinating.  Larson is meticulous in his research and demonstrates incredible skill in composing historical non-fiction so that it reads like a compelling piece of fiction.  The behaviors of an unconventional embassador, the political maneuverings of embassy members, the escalating Nazi atrocities, the isolationist and anti-Semitic attitudes of America – it was all enlightening and I talked about it to anyone who would listen for weeks after I finished the book.  Much, much better than history class.

( A political memoir – Popsugar Reading Challenge)

*****************

The Rest from July and August:

  • Still Life by Louise Penny
  • Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (audiobook)
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – Didn’t finish…
  • The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audiobook)
  • The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer (audiobook)
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin – Didn’t finish…
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley (audiobook)
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

What I’m currently reading:

  • A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley.  Just finished reading this short story collection.  Definitely not as good as some of her other writing (i.e., Beauty).
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri.  My latest walking audiobook.
  • The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson.  Reading s-l-o-w-l-y for a Popsugar Reading Challenge category.

Any favorite summer reading books to share?  Please tell me about them!

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