I was so excited to read another Sally Rooney book since I loved Normal People (and the show) so much. And, while I liked Beautiful World, Where Are You a lot, I didn’t love it. The lack of quotation marks and the interspersed letters between the main characters where they rambled on about esoteric topics didn’t do it for me. But, overall, it was a solid read. “Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?” (Amazon)
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole started off slow for me and I almost gave up. But I’m glad I stuck with it. While there were flaws, some cliche and repetitive moments, overall I liked the way Cole drew out the story and I appreciated the premise – it was clever and almost plausible. “Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller from a critically acclaimed and New York Times Notable author, in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo. But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.” (Amazon)
I didn’t realize that Nadia Hashimi was local. I just read this article about her. When the Moon is Low and The Pearl that Broke its Shell are two of her others. I have not read The House Without Windows and may give it a pass as I am realizing that these are not my favorites. She has also written a children’s book, The Sky At Our Feet which one of my Literature Circle students highly recommends. Sparks Like Stars, her latest, is timely. “Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives. Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon. A survivor, Aryana has refused to look back, choosing instead to bury the trauma and devastating loss she endured. New York, 2008: Thirty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge. Realizing that she cannot go on without finding the truth, Aryana embarks on a quest that takes her back to Kabul—a battleground between the corrupt government and the fundamentalist Taliban—and through shadowy memories of the world she loved and lost.” (Amazon) This was a good read and had a satisfying ending, but I didn’t love it. It was a little slow and didn’t really draw me in the way some of her others have.
There has been a lot of press about The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. His previous book, The Silent Patient (reviewed here) was one I enjoyed. “Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens. Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge. Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld? When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.” (Amazon) I didn’t really enjoy this read. It wasn’t particularly gripping and everyone seemed to be a suspect. While the ending did surprise me, I wasn’t particularly sad once I finished. I’d give this one a pass if I were you.
Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin was a short read and somewhat enjoyable but also filled with people I didn’t really like. That made it less of a good read, but I liked the story nonetheless. “When Ohio-born Pru Steiner arrives in New York in 1976, she follows in a long tradition of young people determined to take the city by storm. But when she falls in love with and marries Spence Robin, her hotshot young Shakespeare professor, her life takes a turn she couldn’t have anticipated. Thirty years later, something is wrong with Spence. The Great Man can’t concentrate; he falls asleep reading The New York Review of Books. With their daughter, Sarah, away at medical school, Pru must struggle on her own to care for him. One day, feeling especially isolated, Pru meets a man, and the possibility of new romance blooms. Meanwhile, Spence’s estranged son from his first marriage has come back into their lives. Arlo, a wealthy entrepreneur who invests in biotech, may be his father’s last, best hope. Morningside Heights is a sweeping and compassionate novel about a marriage surviving hardship. It’s about the love between women and men, and children and parents; about the things we give up in the face of adversity; and about how to survive when life turns out differently from what we thought we signed up for.” (Amazon)
On a recommendation from my favorite book blog, Everyday I Write the Book, I checked What Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz from the library. And, it was an OK read. Additionally, having part of it take place in DC was nice. “Washington, DC, 2019: Laura Preston is a reclusive artist at odds with her older sister Beatrice as their elegant, formidable mother slowly slides into dementia. When a stranger contacts Laura claiming to be her brother who disappeared forty years earlier when the family lived in Bangkok, Laura ignores Bea’s warnings of a scam and flies to Thailand to see if it can be true. But meeting him in person leads to more questions than answers. Bangkok, 1972: Genevieve and Robert Preston live in a beautiful house behind a high wall, raising their three children with the help of a cadre of servants. In these exotic surroundings, Genevieve strives to create a semblance of the life they would have had at home in the US—ballet and riding classes for the children, impeccable dinner parties, a meticulously kept home. But in truth, Robert works for American intelligence, Genevieve finds herself drawn into a passionate affair with her husband’s boss, and their serene household is vulnerable to unseen dangers in a rapidly changing world and a country they don’t really understand. Alternating between past and present as all of the secrets are revealed, What Could Be Saved is an unforgettable novel about a family broken by loss and betrayal, and “a richly imagined page-turner that delivers twists alongside thought-provoking commentary” (Amazon) The reason I only rate it OK, was that it took FOREVER to learn what had actually happened to Phillip, which was annoying. In addition, it was far too long, I thought. I didn’t find his story compleltely believable either. But I didn’t hate it.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry was a perfect last weekend of summer read. It was light and easy and a delightful jaunt. “Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together. Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since. Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees. Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?” (Amazon) There’s nothing deep here, but sometimes that’s really nice.
This summer I really held myself accountable to my summer reading lists (published here). I kept a printout of the covers above my desk for reference and checked off each as I completed it.
So, now for the overall reviews and recommendations from those I had chosen for the summer:
The Plot – 4.5 stars
Too Good to be True – 4.5 stars
Empire of Pain – 4.5 stars
Running with Sherman – 4.5 stars
The Last Thing He Told Me – 4.5 stars
My Brilliant Life – 4 stars
The Push – 4 stars
Greenlights – 3.5 stars
The Other Black Girl – 3 stars
While Justice Sleeps – 3 stars
The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World – 3 stars
Klara and the Sun – 2 stars
I also read some books “off the list” and the 5-star choices were:
Stacey Abrams is a hero. And, how could she do all that she has done AND write a bunch of books?! Seemed like reading her newest would be a good plan for the summer. While Justice Sleeps was the last book on my Summer to-read list. It is described: “Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together—excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn—the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases—has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court—a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington. As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth.” (Amazon) I liked this story at first and overall, it was interesting and well-told. I didn’t love it, however. It was too detailed, too hard to follow at points, and didn’t move at a breakneck pace, as I had hoped. So, while I am glad I read it, it didn’t do it for me.
Those of you who are familiar with my blog and reading habits might recognize that Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant is not the type of book I would choose. And, others who know my profession might guess that it was the summer reading book for school (nothing like finishing it the day before it’s due to be discussed). Well, I have to admit, I don’t love this type of book, I wouldn’t have picked it up on my own, and, I will admit that there are take-aways that I enjoyed and will think about further and in life and work. So, it was worth reading. The best quote is from the second to last page: “…what we need more is a leader who accepts uncertainty, acknowledges mistakes, learns from others, and rethinks plans.” There. You don’t need to read it. Like many of these types of books, you can get most of the content from the prologue and epilogue. The stories interspersed are good, though, and the book is definitely easily digestible and entertaining. Should this be your type of book (Dad, I’m thinking of you), it’s a good read.