Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – August 2020

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Summer reading has meant audioboooks for me in 2020, and this particular group is excellent.

Every one of the audiobooks I listened to over the past month has hit my “light but smart” sweet spot. I happened to have some extra listening time while doing some repetitive work tasks–something that doesn’t happen often–and it was great to have these enjoyable stories to carry me through.

I also did fit in a couple of print books, one of which disappointed but another that may be one of my best books of the year–a rarity for a nonfiction book.

As with everything else this fall, upcoming reading is a big unknown. My kids will be doing virtual learning for at least a few months–likely longer–and we’re still waiting to learn what that will mean.

Listening and reading time will almost certainly be affected, but like everything else, we just have to roll with it.

Print Books

Author: Glennon Doyle
Source: Library
Publish Date: 03/10/20

5/5

I started reading Glennon Doyle’s work years ago, mostly on her blog Momastery. My feelings have always been mixed–I sometimes just found her writing a little too much. What I always appreciated was her relentless insistence that “we can do hard things.” Like Marie Forleo’s mantra of “everything is figureoutable,” I–and many other women–find these simple phrases bolstering.

With Untamed, her writing, to me, felt more focused and certain than I’ve read before. It’s a memoir of sorts, but also a treatise for overwhelmed women who are trying to be and do everything they’re told they should. She implores women to discover themselves, to trust their own knowing, and build lives that feel true. All messages we’ve heard before, but Doyle’s writing hits hard:

“…discontent is the nagging of the imagination. Discontent is evidence that your imagination has not given up on you. It is still pressing, swelling, trying to get your attention by whispering: “Not this.”

 

Author: Elisabeth Thomas
Source: Custom House via NetGalley
Publish Date: 05/12/20

2/5

I had high hopes for this gothic campus novel, set at an exclusive and mysterious university called Catherine House. Students who attend are isolated from the rest of the world for three full years, devoted entirely to their experimental courses of study. Graduates are elevated to the highest echelons of society.

While the dark and gothic mood held throughout, unfortunately, the mysteries of Catherine House never quite came together. The book veered toward sci fi, but those elements felt just out of reach–as did so much backstory that was alluded to but never fully explained. Most characters, too, felt at a distance. I didn’t connect with this one.

Audiobooks

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Source: Library
Publish Date: 05/19/20

4.5/5

What if Hillary Rodham had never married Bill Clinton? In this imaginative book, Sittenfeld imagines their early years together (based in fact)–and then veers. Instead of accepting Clinton’s third proposal, Hillary declines and moves ahead on her own.

She eventually makes her way into politics, following a similar but not identical path through multiple presidential runs. Her decision not to marry Bill affects his political career as well–and thus the fate of the country. Ending just after the 2016 election, this is yet more “what if” fodder for those of us still wishing for a different outcome.

An extremely compelling  story that humanizes Hillary (maybe too much–some intimate scenes with Bill were uncomfortable) and has excellent narration. It’s definitely for fans of Hillary, but I couldn’t stop listening.

Author: Hazel Prior
Source: Library
Publish Date: 05/02/19

4/5

Ellie is a housewife in the English town of Exmoor. She’s a little lonely and bored, and one day on a walk, she stumbles on a barn. In the barn is Dan, a talented harp maker. Sensing her discontent, Dan gifts Ellie with a harp. When her controlling husband protests, Ellie begins visiting in secret to practice on her harp.

Dan and Ellie strike up a friendship that becomes increasingly important to both of them. When Ellie discovers a secret that changes Dan’s life, her own secret is also in jeopardy.

This is an utterly charming book, and fantastic on audio. Dan is endearing–he’s likely on the spectrum–and his narrator is perfect.

Author: Katherine Center
Source: Macmillan Audio via Netgalley
Publish Date: 07/14/20

3.5/5

School librarian Sam loves her job at a school in Texas. After leaving behind her previous job–and an unrequited crush–she’s had a fresh start. But when that crush, Duncan Carpenter, shows up as the new principal of the school, she sees no option but to leave, knowing she’ll be in his thrall again.

But this Duncan is wholly changed and not the happy, charismatic man she remembered. When he starts imposing strict rules and operating the school like a prison, she knows she has to stay and push back.

I always enjoy a Katherine Center book on audio, and this was another solid listen–though maybe not quite as good as her others.

Author: Beth O’Leary
Source: Macmillan Audio via Netgalley
Publish Date: 08/18/20

4/5

Leena, a 20-something overachiever, is good at her job. But she’s also burned out, and her boss has forced her to take a 2-month break. She goes to her grandmother Eileen’s house, and they find that Eileen could use a little shake-up as well.

So Leena stays in Eileen’s small English town, while Eileen goes to Leena’s London flat. Adventures, quirky characters, and a little romance ensues for both.

Put this in the lighthearted, charming, and delightfully cozy read category–and on your reading list. 

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Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Source: Macmillan Audio via Netgalley
Publish Date: 06/16/20

5/5

As Mallory lay on her deathbed, she tells her son to call Jake McCloud–the husband of the leading candidate for President. He can’t imagine how she knows Jake. 

The story flashes back 28 years to 1993, when Mallory and Jake first meet at the Nantucket cottage she inherited. Over the next few decades, the two meet every year for one weekend, never having contact in the time between. Their connection runs deep, and complicates the lives they live outside of that weekend–but it is also essential to each of them.

While there were frustrating parts of this (at times it was hard to believe they didn’t just decide to be together), I loved listening. The characters were compelling and Hilderbrand’s Nantucket is always a dream. She’s another go-to for me on audio, and this is one of her best.

Author: Byron Lane
Source: Macmillan Audio via Netgalley
Publish Date: 07/28/20

4/5

Author Byron Lane is Carrie Fisher’s former assistant, and while this is not a memoir (as the two legal statements at the start make clear!), it is fun to speculate how much of this novel is based in fact.

Charlie lands the job as eccentric actress Kathi Kannon’s assistant by chance. He starts as a fan, and an employee desperate to keep his job. He soon becomes essential and Kathi becomes a friend. As she becomes more dependent on him, he starts to wonder where he starts and she ends–and whether he can save her from herself.

This was such a fun listen, filled with snark and Hollywood absurdities. It’s fiction, but a great choice if you love a good tell-all.

Books to Read in August 2020

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3 Comments

  1. Ahhh I also thought The Switch was charming and delightful.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Untamed – I agree that some of Glennon Doyle can feel like alot of the same so I’m glad to see that you still enjoyed the book – it goes on and off my TBR

    Here’s what I read this month, including my family’s picks and read alouds, including The Switch which I too listened to on audio.
    https://www.everyoneslibrarian.com/blog/quick-lit-august-2020

  2. We felt exactly the same about Untamed, Rodham, and Catherine House! I had high hopes for Catherine House, but it was weird to the point I DNFed it. I had no idea where it was going.

    A Star is Bored sounds like fun- adding to my TBR.

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