Monday, August 28, 2017

Recent Reads | August

In contrast to the month of July, I found myself with plenty of time and enthusiasm to dive into a number of books this month. It's so much easier to finish books when you're actually interested in what they have to say, and after the string of dry reads in July I was more than ready for the interesting picks of August.

Tornado Weather by Deborah Elaine Kennedy*
Flatiron Books, Publish date: 11 July 2017
Tornado Weather, Deborah Kennedy's captivating debut, is one of the best books I've read in months. The story circles around the disappearance of five-year-old Daisy Gonzalez, but each chapter is written from a different person's perspective so the book is more character driven than plot driven. The characters' storylines weave in and out of each other's and it isn't until the end that the truth is revealed. The ending was unexpected but I found it touching and it tied the characters' stories together well. Tornado Weather is one of the best debuts I've ever read, and is high on my list of favorite 2017 books.

Bathing Strictly Prohibited by Matthew Rhodes*
Matador, Publish date: 28 April 2017
Bathing Strictly Prohibited is a collection of observational poetry, full of beautiful language and unexpected but fitting comparisons. The words describe normal life, but the language employed makes each line feel extraordinary. It's a short collection, and as I'm not the biggest fan of poetry I was quite okay with that, but even in its shortness it manages to be a burst of inspiration.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
I read and enjoyed Wolitzer’s The Interestings a few years ago and decided to try another of her works. The Ten Year Nap - the story of four women who, after spending ten years out of the workforce being stay-at-home moms, get tangled up in a working mother’s life. It received mixed reviews when published and after finishing it, I too have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the writing is quite good and it’s an engagingly written tale. On the other hand, it’s superficial and a little catty, and the storyline fits better with a reality TV show than as a worthwhile piece of literature. If you’re into fluffier fiction this is a good one, otherwise I’d give it a skip.

Milk Teeth by Lizella Prescott*
Hungry Lizard Press, Publish date: 6 June 2017
I always love a good re-told fairytale, and Milk Teeth is just that: a collection of small fairytales reimagined for a more mature audience. Prescott gives some a modern do-over and others an infusion of modern hot topics. By imbuing each of the characters with more agency, Prescott gives readers more compelling reasons to care about the endings, and most of these tales are full of twists. I would gladly read full length versions of each of these mini stories.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith
I'd never read anything by Zadie Smith before and I was really excited to finally dig into one, but I was left disappointed by this one. Swing Time follows the path of two girls, the unnamed narrator and her childhood friend Tracey, as they navigate life in the shadow of fame: the narrator becomes a personal assistant to a internationally known singer and Tracey dreams of making it on the West End. Swing Time is a good story but the writing quality is very average, and though I'm still interested in exploring more of Smith's work my expectations are lessened.

The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson
I received this book as a free welcome gift at Batterson's church, but I was already familiar with Batterson's books through Draw the Circle, which was given to me by a friend a few years ago. I really liked Draw the Circle because it contained practical information about prayer that was applicable, whereas The Circle Maker fell flat for me because it felt more like a pep talk to get the reader excited about prayer. I don't doubt that this is a helpful book for many people, but as I'm not into inspirational speeches, I wasn't very into this book.

Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell*
Andrews McMeel Publishing, Publish date: 29 August 2017
Pillow Thoughts is a collection of poetry about relationships categorized by emotions/feelings: the nervousness of a crush, the overwhelming love of a happy relationship, the crushing disappointment when a relationship goes awry. While Pillow Thoughts contains good writing, it felt too straightforward and plain for poetry. Perhaps I would have connected with it more if I found myself in one of the situations in the book, but as a casual read it wasn't the most groundbreaking work on love I've ever read.

The Road Between by Courtney Peppernell*
Andrews McMeel Publishing, Publish date: 29 August 2017
While better than Pillow Thoughts, I was still not massively impressed with this work. The poems in The Road Between cover some similar emotional territory as Pillow Thoughts, but this time it's divided between places (The Sky, The Home, etc) and contains more introspective pieces. Some were really impactful, others fell flat; I am probably not the right type of person for Peppernell's work, but I think it might grow on me over time.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
This Hercule Poirot tale has been rated one of the best mysteries of all time, and I went into it unaware of what made it so highly praised. It takes almost all the book to build up to its unconventional twist, and it completely surprised me; it's absolutely worth the hype. Though by today’s standards the twist seems relatively ordinary, when originally published it was a controversial choice and shocked audiences.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
I read Death on the Nile immediately after finishing The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and while I actually saw the ending of this one coming from a ways off, I found the development of the story better than Roger Ackroyd. There are quite a lot of characters in this one and Christie clearly enjoyed herself setting up all the relationships between them all, and so while the conclusion is not very surprising, it’s a joy to read.

At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie
At Bertram's Hotel is an odd Miss Marple installation, as Miss Marple is actually in most of the story and the murder is more of a side point rather than the center of the crime. Bertram's Hotel is an old-fashioned establishment that seems too good to be true, and as Miss Marple spends a few weeks there on holiday she finds herself in the midst of a series of professionally executed heists close to the area. The ending is not as conclusive as Christie's usual stories, and though this one is not as highly praised as her other works, I still enjoyed it.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
After reading a number of Christie's fuller works, I was excited to dive into a selection of short stories, each of which is a Poirot mystery narrated by Hastings, his woefully unobservant sidekick. Though most of Poirot's stories involve murder, these short stories often delve more into crimes of robbery, and they feel more lighthearted due to their short length. I would recommend this selection to those who already enjoy Christie's tales of Poirot rather than as an intro to the character.

*I received a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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