Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – May 2020

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Spring is usually a time when I sink into great literary fiction, dive into epic novels, and embrace the more difficult reads on my list.

In these months, we’re past the craziness of the holidays and the lighter reads of summer haven’t yet overtaken my TBR. Spring is perfect for my Big Reads.

Except for this year.

This spring, I’ve struggled to settle down with my books. I’m impatient with heavy reads with high stakes. Can I take anymore high stakes than real life right now? 

It’s hard to say, but I might have to. We’re lucky to be healthy and mostly just tired of quarantine. But the immediate future still feels very uncertain, and I think that’s why high stakes in books feel like too much.

So, yes, I’ve muddled through a few books, and even enjoyed them. But instead of curling up and conquering the backlist on my shelf, I’ve had better luck staying in motion.

Audiobooks have been just what I’ve needed as I walk the neighborhood, walk around and around my house, and tackle yard work with more gusto than I ever have before.

So, I’m trying to go with this. I didn’t post a May 2020 reading list, because I really have no idea what I’ll read through this month. I’m working through some of the books from my March and April reading lists. But otherwise I’m just trying to choose books that feel good right now

Hopeful, lighthearted, and escapist books are the best options for me, but I know others are going straight for the dystopias.

I’d love to know how you’re handling reading right now. In the grand scheme, it’s a small thing, but it’s also disorienting for a regular source of comfort to feel so difficult.

Here’s what I’ve been reading. What books have worked for you?

May 2020 Book Reviews

Author: Jennifer Finney Boylan
Source: Celadon Books via Edelweiss
Publish Date: 04/21/20

Quick Take

3/5

My Thoughts

I love a good dog story, and Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoir is an original take on the typical dog memoir. From her boyhood through her transition and adulthood as a married woman with children, this book is less about the dogs themselves than about how their presence punctuated the pivotal moments of her life. For a person struggling with identity, these dogs were unrelentingly (often hilariously) themselves. 

Grounding Boylan’s journey–foreign to so many readers–in the relatable love of dogs serves to make her story relatable as well. Unfortunately, uneven writing and abrupt and disorienting jumps in time took this down to three stars, especially in the first half. It ended strong, with memorable dogs and more solid writing.

Author: Emily Gould
Source: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss
Publish Date: 04/14/20

Quick Take

4/5

My Thoughts

In her early 20s, Laura moves to New York to pursue her songwriting dreams. A heady but toxic relationship with a musician sidelines her and takes her life in a direction she never expected.

Fifteen years in the future, her daughter is asking questions about her father. Laura is torn between the family life she’s built and the dreams that still tug at her. This is a fast and thoughtful read, perfect for anyone who misses their more carefree and creative days, or who looks back and wonders, what if?

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Source: Library
Publish Date: 03/10/20

Quick Take

3.5/5

My Thoughts

I have such mixed feelings about this buzzy book about a teenage girl who is sexually abused by her much-older teacher, Strane. There is no question that it’s abuse, but Vanessa’s turmoil over her role in the “relationship” drive the narrative. Jumping back and forth between her teen years and sixteen years later, when the #MeToo movement prompts another girl to come forward with accusations, Vanessa’s life is defined by Strane.

This is a hard book to read–similar to the experience of reading Lolita, which is invoked often. It’s well-written (if a little over-long) but also repulsive and infuriating. Strane’s manipulation of Vanessa is clear, but Russell also helps the reader empathize with Vanessa’s determination to remain an actor in her own life, and not just a victim. 

I found this impressive but depressing–it was not an enjoyable reading experience for this stressful time. Recommended for anyone who’s okay with a heavier read.

Audiobooks

I struggled a bit to read the books above, but audiobooks have been helping when I want to get lost in a story and can’t settle down to read. The audiobooks below are all winners, in their own ways. The genres vary, so if you’re having the same trouble reading, maybe one of these will suit your needs right now.

Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Source: Library
Publish Date: 03/03/20

Quick Take

4.5/5

My Thoughts

Shay Miller is struggling with jobs, roommates, and loneliness when she witnesses a woman jump in front of the subway. Her already precarious mindset threatens to topple as she obsesses about the woman, who she learns is Amanda. She soon is entangled with the group of friends who are mourning Amanda. They are charismatic and welcoming, and amidst her turmoil, Shay is thrilled to have new friends. But they are interested in more than just Shay’s friendship. 

There were parts of this that felt a bit far-fetched, but it was such a riveting listen that I just didn’t care. Data analyst Shay is likable, the others are intriguing, and the back-and-forth perspectives kept me guessing. This is one of the few audiobooks that I binged.

Author: Kelsey Miller
Source: Library
Publish Date: 10/03/18

Quick Take

3.5/5

My Thoughts

I love a good new TV series, but I also love a good comfort rewatch of my favorite old shows. Friends is one of those, and I finished watching it again just before Netflix stole it away from us (good timing, Netflix–we really all could use it right now!).

Anyway, this history of Friends is almost as good as a rewatch. From each of the friends’ journeys to the show to the memorable moments-turned-cultural-touchpoints to the parts that now make us cringe, she covers it all. If you need something light and familiar, definitely give this one a listen.

Author: Agatha Christie
Source: Library
Publish Date: 1934

Quick Take

4/5

My Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I picked up an Agatha Christie novel and I’ve been eager to read this classic. The Orient Express is stuck in the snow and when one of the passengers is murdered, Hercule Poirot is ready to solve the case.

Christie writes clever puzzles that are fun to piece together alongside her detectives. Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey) does a fantastic job narrating this.

Author: Clare Pooley
Source: Library
Publish Date: 02/04/2020

Quick Take

4/5

My Thoughts

When elderly Julian Jessop leaves a notebook in Monica’s cafe, she is intrigued by the question inside: “What would happen if you shared the truth?”

So begins the notebook’s journey through six strangers, each examining their truths and finally coming together to form unlikely friendships. Filled with quirky characters and lovely connections, this is a little bit rom-com but more of a feel-good story that’s the  perfect comfort read (or listen) for these lonely days.

Struggling with reading? Take the quiz for a recommendation that’s just right for your reading mood.

Books to Read in May 2020

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9 Comments

  1. My reading life has been different, too! I couldn’t get through Writers and Lovers or Valentine, despite really enjoying both. They were too hard to focus on, I think! Thrillers and woman’s fiction have been working well for me.

  2. I have the same reading problems right now. My book club was annoyed that I didn’t enjoy our beautifully written book club choice last month (a definite me problem, not a book problem). Thanks for these suggestions. I’m particularly intrigued by You Are Not Alone.

  3. I had been doing good with getting all these new exciting books read. Then, started reading book club selection for June and my progress can to a screeching halt. I’m struggling to get through The Gulf The Making of an American Sea by Jack E Davis. Not a big history fan and definitely not a fan of books that aren’t story oriented. I’m determined to finish, but will never attempt another one like this,

    1. I sometimes have this problem with nonfiction books as well–the topic sounds interesting, so I try it out. But then I find it’s maybe not quite interesting enough for me to read a whole book on it. I’ve gotten much more comfortable putting down books that aren’t working for me–reading time is precious!

  4. I’ve been in a bit of an audiobook slump right now, but I’ve signed up for the Audiofile Sync free summer program (for teens, but many books have adult appeal, too), so I’m hoping for some inspiration.

    1. I often find middle grade and YA books are excellent audiobook listens. It’s easy for me to lose the thread of complicated books when I’m listening, either because I get distracted or interrupted, and they tend to be a little easier to follow. Hope you find something great!

  5. Not sure when you posted this, but I imagine it was before George Floyd’s death. I was starting to settle into a routine of being at home and reading was providing relief, but last week everything exploded. My brain is either mud or a tornado of emotion. I can’t even say what works for my reading. Most recently I’ve enjoyed Exciting Times, The Vanishing Half, and now A Burning, but I’ve DNFed The Second Home and All My Mother’s Lovers.

    Surprisingly, I loved the audio of Jessica Simpson’s memoir Open Book. Like many I’d pigeon-holed her as pretty but ditzy singer, but she was really interesting to listen to.

    1. That’s a good way to describe it–mud or a tornado of emotion! Yes, this was before George Floyd’s death. I haven’t nailed down what’s working for me now either. I’m struggling with The Book of Longings–I want to read it, but it’s just not holding my attention at the moment. I’ve been listening to So You Want to Talk About Race, which is excellent. The Vanishing Half is on the way from BOTM, so I’m glad to hear you liked it.

      I just finished listening to Open Book this week and was surprised how much I liked it. I didn’t really have a positive or negative impression of her prior to this, and I wouldn’t have picked it up if so many people hadn’t liked it.

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