Friday, August 19, 2016

7ToF: Summer reading report 2016, plus one

1. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Serra Manning. This British chick lit novel is just about the perfect beach read. Neve has spent the three years since the love of her life left for a job in the US losing weight, exercising, and getting her life in order. But she hasn't figured out how to be in a relationship yet, so she figures maybe she better practice before her prince Charming returns. The practicing ends up being better than what she thought was the real thing, no surprise there. I loved, loved, loved this book for 99% of it. It's funny and well-written and Neve is great. But I hated the ending more than I can say. Neve has lost well over a hundred pounds, and she's down to a size 14. She's happy and healthy and even her worst enemy tells her she looks great. So you think part of her epiphany at the end is going to be that she's awesome just the way she is. But nope, in a teary tantrum on the last few pages, she insists that by God she is going to lose that last bit of weight and get down to some mythical size that she doesn't need. I was so disappointed it almost ruined the book for me, but since you've been warned, you can just enjoy the first 99% and ignore the ending. Great read. Even with the disappointing ending, this is still a don't-miss summer read.

2. Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming, third in the Clare Fergusson-Russ VanAlstyne series. The first book in this series (In the Bleak Midwinter) was a bit flawed, but intriguing enough that I kept picking up later books in the series when I would see them on sale or in used book stores. Then I finally got around to reading the second one, and it was remarkably disappointing. Clare, a former army helicopter pilot turned Episcopal priest, breaks a confidence in a spectacularly public way, and also she was turning into one of those annoying characters who is always right. If I hadn't already bought the other books, I probably would never have read another. I finally picked up the third one this summer and was suitably surprised. A man walks out of his house and doesn't return. Figuring out the details turns up a mystery that's gone unsolved for decades. It's a bit tricky keeping track of the dates-- the story is told in flashbacks-- but interesting mystery and Clare turns out to be not quite so irritatingly perfect in this one.

3. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. This book has over 17,000 ratings on Amazon, and I kept hearing about it. But even though I bought it a couple of years ago when the Kindle version was on sale, I never managed to get around to reading it until a couple of weeks ago. It's a curious book. Her writing style made me nuts-- frenetic, is the only way I can think to describe it, like a voluble, nervous, chatty acquaintance who can't stop talking ninety-to-nothing when you run into her at a coffee shop. There are three storylines: uptight but happily married Cecilia, who discovers that her husband has a secret (hence, you know, the title of the book); Tess, whose husband falls in love with her cousin and best friend; and Rachel, whose daughter was murdered years ago and who is haunted by the unsolved mystery of her death. However much I disliked her writing style, Moriarty is a great storyteller, and handles the complicated inter-weaving of the three stories with ease. Difficult to put down. I'm not sure I'd say I like it, but there are a number of intriguing moral dilemmas raised. I kept thinking about it for days after I put it down. Worth reading. Would be a great book club book with lots to discuss.

4. Remember I told you awhile ago that I'm usually reading a literary fiction, a genre fiction, and a non-fiction at any one time? My non-fiction book for this summer was The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It took me several months to finish it, because the science was fairly dense, but I felt like I should understand it, so I would wade through the details. I finally started skimming over the complicated science stuff and enjoyed it much more after that. I do get the basic idea, and Dean explained a couple of other things I was mystified by, so even though I don't get every nuance of all the iterations of things they tried before they found something that worked, I think I got the message. What intrigued me was all the non-science stuff-- the stories of the interactions of the scientists and the rivalries and the history of how it all unfolded with the looming war in Europe. Well worth reading, and probably most of you would do better with the science parts than I did.

5. Let It Breathe by Tawna Fenske. Something else I told you awhile back-- I couldn't remember the last time I'd read a really good romance novel. Fenske's latest is. Really good, I mean. Reese and Clay were part of a trio of best friends in college, until Reese married (and then divorced) the third guy, and Clay went off to sober up. They've got some past issues to work through, and some current complications, but overall this was just the right mix of fun, funny, and serious. Great beach or plane read. The only false note for me was that I found her supposedly-perfect parents to be nauseating and irritating rather than enviable. But that's only a minor part of the story, this one is definitely worth reading.

6. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Something about the cover of this one caught my eye at the library and I grabbed it. But I almost put it down after the first three pages. Oh, no, I thought. I'm not reading another foodie novel where ever-more perfect taste is exhibited in inflated language about food and every chapter has a recipe. But by the end of the first chapter, something had hooked me and I kept going. Kitchens is really a series of short stories, all revolving around Eva Thorvald, a pure soul and gifted chef. Only one story has Eva as the main character, she is just another character of varying importance in the others. There is a touch of magical realism (an unborn child communicates with his mother via text messages, for example), a lot of beautifully worded sentences, occasional sharp bursts of humor, and an interesting mix of criticism-of/homage-to foodie culture. Eva has become a little too perfect by the end, and one of the stories (the one about Pat) didn't really find its heart until two thirds of the way through, but other than that, there's not a false note anywhere. Loved it. Highly recommended.

7. So I could make this a perfect seven, but even though I read another half dozen books this summer, none of them seem worth reporting here. So I will tell you we went to see the new Star Trek movie last night. We are long time Star Trek fans-- we bonded over watching ST reruns in the dorm TV room back in the 80s-- and we have loved the new movies with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Carl Urban as Kirk, Spock, and Bones. This one was fun and had some great moments--and it more than accomplished its purpose of distracting us from a hot, grumpy August night. At one point we were laughing so hard that we were probably irritating the heck out of our neighbors. But the thing is, I'm not sure we were meant to be laughing. This one isn't nearly up to the standards of the first two. If you're a Trek fan, you're long used to the uneven quality of the different iterations, so no problem there. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, and we'll probably get it when it comes out on DVD and watch it again, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed-- a disappointment that was very nearly redeemed by several classic ST moments.

That's it. Have a great weekend. The great college drop-off is next week and I have a few other things going on, so I probably won't post again until after Labor Day, but you never know.

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