Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – July 2020
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Need a good book to read this summer? Check out the latest July 2020 book reviews, including The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Beach Read by Emily Henry, and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, plus audiobooks Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, Recursion by Blake Crouch, and The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee.
Summer reading in the dog days! It’s still all over the place, but I’m finding my groove by alternating heavy and light books.
It seems to be working and keeping me out of the ruts that are so easy to get into right now.
Also working right now? Bookish nostalgia!
Anyone else loving the new Babysitter’s Club series on Netflix? My girls and I watched them together, and they’ve been watching them regularly since. The show does a great job of balancing the nostalgia with modern pre-teen life, and the casting is just wonderful.
I picked up a stack of the books from my library book sale last year and my oldest daughter has already devoured one of them. I’m tempted to reread them myself (and I know I have tons more from my own childhood somewhere!).
On to the reviews!
July 2020 Book Reviews (Print)
Finally–my first 5-star NEW book of 2020! No doubt you’ve heard of this one, and if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend picking it up. Bennett tells the story of two Black twin sisters, raised in a small town where light skin is valued and sought after when building families. The two run to New Orleans as teens and then take very different life paths, only to be reunited decades later and forced to reckon with their choices.
Bennett hilariously responded to a Twitter prompt to “Describe your own novel in as boring a way as possible” with this: “Sister moves away, doesn’t call.” Those who’ve read it know this book is so much more, with intricately drawn, multi-generational characters exploring race, identity, and family.
January has reluctantly moved into the beach house her dad left her after his death. The house was a surprise–as was his second life she never knew about. Now she’s trying to clean out his house, get over her writer’s block and submit her next romance novel to her agent, and deal with her grief. Discovering that her neighbor is her college nemesis, Augustus (Gus)–who also happens to be an award-winning author–isn’t helping. Until they make a deal to switch genres and rivalry leads to romance.
Rom-coms are not my usual reads, but the banter and fast pace of this book were a delightful change of pace. Plus, the issues that both January and Gus were dealing with made their closeness feel realistic and not too fluffy. This struck just the right balance at the right time and I really enjoyed it.
After reading Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys last year, I knew I wanted to read The Underground Railroad. While I wouldn’t say this tale of slavery and reimagining of the underground railroad as an actual railroad is an enjoyable read, it is quite brilliant.
Cora is a slave suffering the indignities and brutality of plantation life when Caesar convinces her to run. The famed railroad takes them to South Carolina where they try to settle into a false comfort, knowing they are being hunted. The comfort is short-lived, and Cora runs again.
There is so much to appreciate here–not least being the railroad metaphor turned literal (fourth grade me, who was confused when first reading about Harriet Tubman, appreciates having my initial imaginings brought to life). Hard as it is to read, Whitehead brings the absolute horror and brutality to life in a way I’ve never read before, along with the humanity of the slaves who experienced it all.
Meg is an artist who has made a name for herself creating hand-lettered journals and other commissions in New York. She also has a bad habit of hiding things in her designs, which no one has noticed until Reid confronts her about it.
The two forge an unexpected connection and begin spending more time together. What begins as an artistic exercise (and explanation for her bad choice) blooms into romance.
This audiobook seemed like it might fall in my light, fast-paced sweet spot, but it fell a little short. While I loved the idea of all the artistic lettering backing the story, it didn’t quite translate and really slowed it down. It may have worked better in print (I’m curious if any hand-lettering made it into the print version).
Detective Barry Sutton is trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious illness known as False Memory Syndrome. Afflicted people suddenly wake up with memories of a whole other life, which ultimately torment them.
Helena Smith is a neuroscientist who is working on a device to preserve memories, with an aim of helping people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. When someone sees potential in her technology that she never imagined, she and Barry find themselves jumping back and forth in time and memories, racing to save the world.
Like in Dark Matter, Crouch builds a trippy world and a face-paced adventure that stretches the limits of understanding. I don’t read sci-fi very often, but both of his books have been fun rides.
In the early 1900s, Jo Kuan–a teenager of Chinese descent–lives on the fringes of Atlanta. She and her adopted father Old Jin cobble together a life by squatting in the basement of a newspaper and working jobs that barely sustain them.
When the newspaper is in danger of folding, Jo comes up with a plan to save it–and her home. She begins anonymously writing as “Miss Sweetie,” an advice columnist who gets people talking with her progressive ideas about race, gender roles, and suffrage.
This YA novel was excellent on audio, with compelling characters and a fascinating history I never knew.
oooh – The Downstairs Girl wasn’t high on my list before but it is now – thanks for your review. I too loved The Vanishing Half (totally lives up to the hype) and really enjoyed Beach Read
It’s so fun seeing what books other MMD fans are reading
Here’s what my family & I have each been reading this past month
The Downstairs Girl sounds fascinating! I love reading about American history from the perspective of minority groups, especially ones that I haven’t read much about! I am also eager to read Underground Railroad! I am right there with you — I was so confused as a grade-schooler about the Underground Railroad not actually being a physical railroad, so the premise of the novel is something I’d love to read.
Linking my recent reads, if interested!
I really loved The Babysittters Club series and the Karen books (Babysitter’s Litte Sister series). I watched the first episode of the Netflix series and I agree – it is a great mix of nostalgia and present day. There are so many books – I hope they continue to make more episodes.
I do, too–and fast, before the girls grow out of it (though I know that might be tough with COVID).
It’s funny; I never much liked Karen when I read the books, but I find her character so delightfully dark on the show!
Love Lettering was a definite let down for me too. I liked the concept, but the story was just…blah. I have The Vanishing Half on my shelf and I’m eager to get to it! I also gave Beach Read four stars! A great option for summer.