Monday, June 3, 2019

Books I Read in May

Halloo! Let's just jump right to the good news: in May I read sixteen books!!!!! Yes, that deserves five exclamation points, because this has to be some kind of record for me. I can't remember ever hitting such high double digits in a single month before, so feeling pretty excited about that. Now, to be honest, most of these books were light, quick, fluffy, and/or super short (but a few were longer and more substantial!), but even so, it was a great reading month. Welcome to summer!

Now, we have a lot to get through, so let's begin, shall we?

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

This one reminded me of a cross between The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Everyone Brave is Forgiven. It's not quite as good as either of those, but it's still charming and delightful and sad and depressing and so good in its own right. Yes, it's another WWII novel, but it really is worth a read if you're not sick to death of that genre. I generally recommend.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Yet another WWII novel, but this one did NOT hit the spot for me like the one above (maybe I shouldn't have read it right after?). I think Atkinson's writing is just beautiful. I love the way she structures sentences, and I love the way she does indirect discourse (although, does anyone *really* think in Shakespeare quotes?). However, the overall plot was really lacking in depth and interest. Which is crazy, considering this is supposed to be a spy/espionage/double-crossing agents thriller! I just think it fell flat. Generally, you can skip this one!

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

This book was quite a bit of fun while I was in it, but apparently hasn't left much of an impression on me, or a desire to read any other books in this series. In general, I'd watch the movie version if the opportunity ever presented itself, and I'd generally recommend this to middle-grade readers who enjoy action and good world-building (futuristic steam-punk, really interesting world). It's pretty good, but not fantastic.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Man, this one was stupid. And long. In general, definitely feel free to skip this one. I like the royal family about as much as the next person (okay, that's probably a lie, some people are obsessed, and I definitely don't fall into this category), and I was looking for a fun, light spoof on Kate and William. This would've been better if it actually had been that, but they just packed in so much extra drama I couldn't handle it. I kept reading it because I just wanted to get to a description of the big wedding day, so imagine my complete disappointment when the book ends the night before!!! Ugh, what a waste of my time.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Okay, don't judge a book by its cover, because the girl on this cover is definitely saying "Don't read this book, or I will burn you with the intensity of my disapproving glare!" But anyway, this is an older middle-grade fantasy series I'd never heard of but randomly ran across a recommendation that made it sound worth looking into, and I was not disappointed. It was short and quick, but packed in a lot of story! The main character is quite a fierce little girl (which is what that picture is trying to depict). She pretends to be a boy so she can learn to be a knight, and she fights hard to keep up with the other boys. It was a fun story, and I enjoyed the writing and the world enough to immediately jump into the second one...

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

And this one took a turn and surprised me a bit. In the first book, she grows from age to 10 to 14, and that feels like the target audience age for the book too. But in this one, she goes from age 14 to 18, and has much more "adult" experiences, but the writing style and pacing still place this firmly in middle-grade territory. So that felt a little weird. I mean, there was nothing graphic or descriptive, but it was all pretty casual, which I didn't see coming. Anyway, the plot in this one got rather exciting, and I enjoyed it enough to continue on with the series.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I read Moyes uber popular Me Before You and didn't love it as much as the rest of the world, but I could tell I liked Moyes' writing style. So I decided to pick this one up. It flashes back and forth in time between contemporary London and WWI France. And guess what? I do like Moyes... when she's writing historical fiction. I didn't care as much for the contemporary story (why do I have such a hard time with contemporary fiction?) but the overall plot was interesting enough to keep me hooked until the end. I liked all the war/looted art history stuff, and I think this would make a really interesting book club book because man, is there some controversial stuff to discuss (not just about looted art, but especially about "consent" in war time)! I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the plot, but I think it was just good enough this is a recommend.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Oh man, you guys! I loved this book! I'm really on a historical-fiction-Russian-fairy-tale-retelling kick (see these books), and this one fit that bill perfectly. I can't even really say what it is that I liked about this book so much. I think it was the fact that the story revolved around two women who were generally under-appreciated by their families, who both found themselves in less than ideal accidental marriages, and then who both displayed their true value and worth in saving their respective kingdoms! The romances were both slow burns (considering you wanted both husbands to die slow and torturous deaths for most of the book), but I wish this book could've gone on longer and longer and longer. It was everything I love in a good fairy-tale retelling!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I read some really positive and really intriguing reviews of this, so I decided to check it out, and yeah, this is kind of incredible. Jemisin has built a really cool world here with a really interesting magic (?science?) system, and I loved the way the plot unfolded. I especially appreciated that the main character was a mother (because so often in fantasy/sci-fi, mothers tend to not exist as real people), and there were just a lot of really cool things about this book. However, I can't recommend it. One of the story-lines just had some really gross graphic situations and was generally crude enough that I just couldn't love it the way I wanted to. I may still continue on with this series, but I'm letting it sit a while before I decide.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Not much to say here, but light, fluffy, mostly fun. The main character supposedly had this hard edge to her, but the book itself was quite clean. If you want a fluffy YA summer romance, this one is just fine. I've mostly forgotten about.

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Another light, fluffy YA summer romance, but I will say I liked this one quite  a bit more than the last one. I don't know why. The plot is utterly ridiculous (just read the Goodreads summary) and predictable, and yet... I liked it. However, this one likely won't stick with me long term either.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

This one is getting a lot of (well deserved) buzz recently, and I am on the bandwagon! I loved this book! It is such a fantastic middle-grade novel and hits really heavy topics (immigration, racism, poverty, etc.) with just the perfect tone. The main character is spunky and so fantastic! I loved the cast of characters. I will admit, I felt like some of the plot-line was a little far-fetched, until I read the author's note at the end about how many of these events are based on her actual life story!!! Unbelievable and so cool! I can see this one being read in schools all around the country, it's just so great. I highly recommend, to adults and middle-grade alike!

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This one is supposed to be a light contemporary romance, but man, I came away so depressed from this one. I both agree and disagree with how this book ended. I mean, the main character is in an impossible position (it's Castaway, but from the wife's point of view, where she's engaged to be married when her dead husband turns out to be alive after being stranded on an island for three years), and we are meant to be sympathetic to how she's changed and moved on and become a new person who is not the same person she was before grieving the "death" of her husband. Yet! I believe in eternal marriage! So yeah, this one was just depressing.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

Knocked out the third book in this series in a day, and yeah, same thoughts as the second book. I like this world, this character, this story, but I just don't feel like it's appropriate for middle-grade? But I guess I'm just super prudish? Anyway, there really is zero graphic description, so I do recommend this for older fantasy readers (who can handle a middle-grade plot pacing).

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

How has it taken me this long to read this book!!! I know how, because this book does not exist in audio book format!!! Ugh, that has been so frustrating for me, because this book has been on my list for ever now, but I had to wait for school to end before I could sit and read it in paper (well, e-paper, but you know, still had to use my eyes instead of ears). Anyway, I loved it! So much! I think the plot is incredibly predictable, and I think "Barney Snaith" is the worst name for a hero ever conceived, but this book was just delightful on every level. Oh, how dreamy Valancy's year in the Blue Castle sounded! What a sweet and lovely little story! I will definitely be re-reading this one some time, it was just so wonderful! Highly, highly recommend (especially if you like Montgomery).

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Okay, so I read this one by accident. I thought I would be reading a book about a woman with dementia/Alzheimers, but turns out that book is called Still Alice (can you see how I got those two titles mixed up?). Anyway, I realized pretty quickly this was not the book I thought it was, and I also realized pretty quickly that this book had an almost identical plot to a Sophie Kinsella book I read a while ago and didn't care for (called Remember Me? but at least there weren't children involved in that one). Anyway, I ended up getting sucked into this one, and it ended up being pretty good. I'm glad it ended the way it did. If you like contemporary fiction, this one is okay (some swearing, some infidelity, nothing graphic). It was better than the other Moriarty book I've read (The Husband's Secret).

Whew! Can you believe that was just one month? Man, this is going to be a good summer! As always, which ones of these have you read, and what are your thoughts? I always want to know!


  1. I feel exactly the same about Dear Mrs. Bird and Transcription. I loved hearing your thoughts on The Royal We.

    People who have more tolerance for fluff rave about this book and I've wondered if I was missing out...but my fluff capacity is pretty low.

    That cover for The Front Desk is horrible! It looks like a kid's magazine you'd find in a doctor's office! I would never pick it up based on the cover, but maybe I'll put in on my list.

    One True Loves - I believe in eternal marriage, but I also believe marriage is a partnership where you go through life's ups and downs together. So if someone disappears for years, I can't blame the other person for moving on. Obviously in this (fictional) case the husband's disappearance wasn't a choice, but I think back to all of those plural marriages in the nineteenth century where men married wives and then basically left them (sometimes in a totally different part of the state) to fend for themselves. That's not a marriage.

    I always get What Alice Forgot and Still Alice mixed up too.

    1. Yes, skip The Royal We, total waste of time! And give Front Desk a try. I agree the cover is kind of cheesy, but I thought the book is just classic middle-grade at it's best. Oh, I go back and forth on One True Loves, because I get why the book went the way it did, I just also don't think you can back out on a commitment just because you've "changed." Sometimes I think our mortal conception of marriage is entirely different than an eternal conception of marriage (polygamy proves that entirely). It's almost like love doesn't even matter, at least not romantic love, and that's hard to swallow. Anyway. Deeper thoughts and doctrine than I care to really figure out right now.

  2. Oh, that sounds like a wonderful reading month. Discovering Alanna, The Blue Castle, and Spinning Silver in the same month! Wow! The Blue Castle has been a comfort book for me for 30 years, and I love both Novik's fairy tales but that one is my favorite. I couldn't believe that she worked me around to accepting both marriages in the end (after hoping for the slow torture for so much of the book).

    I found Fifth Season really powerful but also draining. I keep meaning to read the rest but fluffier books tempt me away...

    I loved Tamora Pierce's auido books for road trips with my kids (starting in elementary). Most of them are done in Full Audio, so there's a full cast of voices for all the characters and some sound effects. If premarital sex bothers you (I'm assuming that's what you are referring to), stay with the Circle books. But --warning -- I may not remember everything since the Alanna books didn't bother me that way -- she's old enough and clearly responsible. It seemed appropriate for her society. But maybe not for yours, so I can see not starting your kids with that! Anyway, my boys enjoyed them (Circle books, Alanna books, side books) on our 15 hour drives to Utah.

    1. It was such a great reading month! Yes, it was the premarital sex that bothered me in Alanna, both because of how entirely casual it was and because of the target audience age. I don't know that I'd recommend this to middle-grade aged children for that reason, but it wasn't graphic, so I'd be happy to read more Pierce myself (although I must admit, I don't usually love full cast recordings...). Anyway, I'll check those Circle books out.

  3. Wow, impressive reading month indeed! I had to laugh at Melanie's comment up there about the cover of Front Desk because I thought the EXACT same thing, and it totally made me not want to pick it up initially, ha ha. Now that I've heard multiple good reviews on it though, maybe I'll get over my cover bias :)

    1. Someone should tell the publisher we're all having this negative reaction, maybe give it a makeover, because it really is a fantastic middle-grade novel!