Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Books I Read in June

Guys, I'm just so discouraged. I already typed up this whole post a week or so ago, and then when I went to publish it, my internet or something failed me and the whole post got deleted. Between summer schedules, holidays, some fun travel (a weekend in San Francisco, hopefully more on that later), and the fact that I've been trying to buckle down and get to work preparing for my exams (or comps, or orals, or whatever those intimidating things are called) which I have take this next semester, I just haven't had as much time as I've wanted to spend over here on this old blog. But, I've got plenty of things I want to say! So much I want to write about! So many good books I've been reading lately that I need to talk about, so hopefully I'll be able to squeeze a little more time out of my summer to spend here in this space.

But first, let me just quickly (for the sake of record keeping, or whatever) re-type up all the mini-reviews of the books I read in June. Yes, yes, we're halfway through July, but these round-up posts are the one thing I feel committed to on this blog. I don't know why (does anyone besides myself find them useful?), but here we go nonetheless.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

I saw this one highly recommended on someone's Best Summer Beach Reads list somewhere, saw that it was about a big law lawyer in New York, and decided to check it out (being married to a lawyer who worked in big law for a while, I love seeing how the lifestyle gets portrayed in books/tv/media, sometimes they make it seem so glamorous). Basically, this was the stupidest book, probably one of the trashiest books I've ever finished (still not sure why I did finish it). I'm surprised how long it took me to recognize how toxic and immature all the characters were (yes, even the main ones). Definitely skip this one, I don't recommend it at all.

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

If you remember, I read the first three books in this series in May, and have conflicted feelings about it. On the one hand, I think the world is fun and the characters and plot intriguing. On the other hand, I found the romantic entanglements, while not graphic, to be far more mature than appropriate for the target middle-grade audience. I generally recommend this for older audiences who like fantasy and can handle middle-grade pacing (rather complex problems and plot points that feel huge tend to get solved relatively simply and quickly, something I didn't mind), but wouldn't necessarily give any but the first book to an actual middle-grade kid. But that's just me. Overall I quite enjoyed it and will probably read more by this author some day.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

If you also recall from my May reading list, this was the book I meant to read but confused it with another title. Once I figured out the real title it was easy to get this one on hold, and I was not disappointed. This is a heart-breaking book. I've never spent much time thinking about Alzheimer's or dementia, but this story of a relatively young, brilliant, successful woman grappling with the early symptoms and slowly losing her memory and mind was incredibly poignant. It was beautifully written, and raised all sorts of interesting questions for me (Just how much of our identity/worth is tied up in our ability to remember our lives? How do you define "self"? How do you treat someone with respect or dignity who can't remember their own name? What awful strain care-givers must grapple with!). All in all, this is a strong recommend, but fair warning, you will find yourself questioning your own mind and sanity as you read.

The Dry by Jane Harper

I can't remember if I mentioned it here, or only over on Instagram, but we took a nice long road trip in June out to Idaho. My husband and I like to listen to audio books together while we drive, and so I spend some time picking out titles that will appeal to both of us. On previous trips we've had a lot of fun listening to a few murder mysteries from the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series (it's fun to talk about the clues leading up to the reveal and make guesses about who the culprit is), so I thought we'd try this highly rated mystery out. The Dry, centering around investigator Aaron Falk in a small farming community in Australia, was quite a bit grittier and less "cozy" than Three Pines, but as far as mysteries go it was quite good. Neither my husband nor I guessed the twist, and it was a satisfying reveal (just want you to know that it still feels weird to me to describe a book about murder as "good" and "satisfying"). We'll very likely listen to more of this series on future trips.

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

This was another audio book I listened to with my husband on our trip. We are both huge Sanderson fans, but this one was a little different from his usual high fantasy stuff. This is a book combining three novellas about Stephen Leeds, a man with multiple brilliant personalities, or mind projections, who help him solve complex cases. I thought the first novella was spectacularly good, the second one so-so, and the third one a satisfying conclusion. The whole book offers an interesting look into the psyche of Sanderson himself as an author, which I found most intriguing, and I think which also offers an interesting explanation for why I find most of his characters so one-dimensional (basically, because any dimensional depth gets flattened out into a new character). Generally a strong recommend.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This was the last audio book I listened to with my husband, and it was a bit of a risky choice. I've never read anything by Stephen King before because I am adamantly not a fan of horror, but I'd read that this one was different than his other fare, more historical fiction, and I had a hunch my husband would like it. I was right, we both loved it, but it was not what I expected. I was prepared for this to be some kind of retelling of the JFK assassination, and it was that in part, but it was also a sci-fi time-travel novel with years of intricate plot and world-building that had absolutely nothing to do with JFK. Stephen King is definitely a brilliant writer, not necessarily at the sentence-level like I usually prefer (the man uses so many cliches), but he is a master at intricate plots and creating extremely evocative settings and moods. A few caveats: this thing is long. It was thirty hours of audio book time, and even at double speed we didn't finish it on our trip (but for a few days after the trip, we'd put our kids to bed, then get ready for bed ourselves and just lie there listening for a few hours). Also, while it is not strictly a horror story, there are definitely some dark and disturbing and violent parts. And King is rather fond of swearing. But even still, I recommend this to anyone who likes intricate, well-crafted plots with sci-fi historical fiction elements. You won't be disappointed.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I finally got my hands on this hot best-seller, and I've got to say, I loved it! It's worth all the praise it's been getting. I found Michelle's voice and story to be so relatable. I don't know if it was the fact that we lived in South Side Chicago for three years so many of the place names were familiar (we actually lived on the very same street as the Obamas' house, and our road would get blockaded every time they came to visit), or the fact that I'm also married to a busy lawyer and have had to deal with some of the same struggles (although, thankfully, my husband has never had a whiff of interest in political office), or the fact that her conflicts about being a working mom made me say, "Yes! Me too!" but I found so much more common ground than I expected. I found her to be real and inspiring. I liked her so much. I had lots of thoughts while reading that I think I'll save for their own post, but generally, I highly recommend this book. It was fantastic.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

This book. I have so much to say about this book it's definitely going to need its own post. Honestly, this book is part of the reason I haven't made as much time to write around here, and that I took an unintentional hiatus over on Instagram. At first I didn't really think this book was for me, since I pride myself on not being the attached-at-the-hip phone-addict he describes as characteristic of the Millennial generation. But this book made me question so much what I'm even doing on social media and what my priorities in life are and all sorts of things. So I have lots of thoughts that I want to talk/write about as soon as I can get around to it. But basically, I want to hand this book out to every Freshman who walks into my classroom and strongly recommend to everyone else besides. Also recommend his other book, Deep Work. Both are amazing.

And that was it for June. Just eight books, a slow month for me. But, I still managed to pass the 50 book milestone for the year, which means, if I keep up my current pace, I'm well on my way to surpassing my goal of 75 books for the year and on track to hit 100 books again. Which is kind of crazy to me. That's a lot of books. What fun!

As always, if you've read any of these books I'd love to hear your thoughts on them! Please share!


  1. I've probably said this before to you, but the Tamora Pierce books I give to middle grade are The Circle ones, starting with Sandry's Book. There are four of them, and the characters are all children. I think of the Alanna books as more aimed at junior high kids -- middle school rather than middle grade. And there are two books about Alanna's daughter that are YA. The Circle books have a sequel quartet called The Circle Opens that are aimed at older kids (middle school or even young high school) and then there's at least one book that is YA but I don't think that will end up being a full quartet.

    Fun anecdote: When the YA book came out, my sister and I had just started a book club with a friend, and we invited a fourth woman into it. We picked the new book, and casually mentioned that you could optionally read the other eight just for background. The newcomer was SO INTIMIDATED by us and our planned 9 books per month pace (hey, they were all lkid books, and you didn't HAVE to reread them...)

    I also loved the Obama book, especially about how she learned to live with an ambitious politician and still build a safe family life for her kids. Congratulations on rocking your yearly goal so far!

    1. Right, nine kid books a month sounds totally doable... haha!

  2. I for one look forward to these round-ups (and other posts)!

  3. Oh, Still Alice. That book messed with my mind! I agree with everything you said about it. It was heartbreaking, and awful, and so relatable. The year after I read it, our neighbor's husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. They are still good friends (we have since moved), but now some 10 years later, she cares for him completely. I don't think he even recognizes her anymore. It's so sad.

    For the record, I like your roundup posts!

    1. Oh man, I'm terrified someone close to me (or myself?) is going to get Alzheimers now. It's so unlike any other disease. Anyway, thanks for reading!