Sunday, July 27, 2014

2014 Summer Reads

I know summer isn't technically over yet, but the Summer Reading Program at my library wrapped up on Friday. The past couple of years I've only finished about 3 books during SRP, but in my defense, I was in grad school at the time. This year I was able to rack up a lot more reads by listening to audiobooks at work and in the car. My goal was twelve and I'm stupidly proud that I reached that goal.

I didn't really think too much about what books I was going to read, but I ended up with a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, young adult and adult novels. Here's a quick run-down of my summer reads:

1- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. 
This is a sweet romance between two outcast teenagers growing up in the '80s. I felt like it pretty accurately captures the physical feeling of falling in love as a teenager. Nothing graphic, don't get me wrong. One moment that has stuck in my mind is the first time that Eleanor and Park hold hands, and Eleanor wonders if her hand has sprouted extra nerve endings or if she has always been able to feel so much. Definitely recommend.

2- Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. 
Astonish Me really seems to pull back the curtain on the inside world of the ballet. It's a work of fiction, but it seems very real. Rusakov has to be based on Mikhail Baryshnikov. The book is the story of ballerina Joan, who helps world-famous Russian dancer Arslan Rusakov defect. Joan later retires when she becomes pregnant and marries her high school sweetheart. Okay, my description sounds kind of boring, but the book is very good, I promise.

3- Just Kids by Patti Smith.
Patti Smith makes New York in the '60s seem like a magical place, where one could run into Jimi Hendrix in a stairwell or Allen Ginsberg at an automat. I kind of wish I had a time machine. My only complaint about this book is that I listened to the audiobook. Smith reads the audiobook herself, and I think the book could have benefited from having a professional narrator. Occasionally, Smith's emotions come to the surface and the audiobook takes on a certain quality, like you're hanging out with Smith and she's telling you stories from her youth. But for much of the book, Smith's narration barely rises above a monotone. I would definitely recommend checking out the print version of the book though.

4- Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. 
Holy moley. This was a difficult one to get through. There was a point in the prologue where I thought "there's no way I can make it through this book." But I did make it through, and it is a fascinating story. Fascinating in the way that car crashes are fascinating. This is the true story of a hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, where everything that can go wrong goes wrong. They lose power, and with it the air conditioning. Then the generators fail. Rescue efforts are slow to materialize and inefficient. And then the doctors start euthanizing patients. YEAH. Honestly, this one was hard to get through, so I would totally understand if you want to skip it. I did recommend it to a cousin who is in nursing school, since this book is full of questions about medical ethics.

5- Stardust by Neil Gaiman. 
This is a sweet fairytale romance. I saw the movie years ago and really enjoyed it. This was a really quick read (or "listen" in my case) so I would definitely recommend this one as a nice summer read.

6- Go Down Together by Jeff Guinn. 
I first saw the late '60s film version of Bonnie and Clyde's life of crime sometime in high school. I was on an old movie kick, because I thought being into old movies made me cool. I was never very good at recognizing what made people cool in high school. Anyway, I found the movie fascinating. And then a couple years ago there was a made-for-TV movie. It struck me as odd that we're still portraying B&C in such a glamorous way. It's weird. Gritty reboots are so popular now, I thought someone would tackle the Bonnie and Clyde story in a more realistic way. Then I heard about this book, and I knew I had to read it. Honestly, I found the real story more fascinating than the glamorous version. From the societal factors that lead to Clyde's criminal career to Bonnie's deep embarrassment over the incorrect notion that she smoked cigars (photos had been discovered of her posing with a cigar in her mouth). Bonnie was more worried about people thinking she smoked cigars than people thinking she was a murderer. Anyway, highly recommend.

7- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. 
Another fairytale novella from Gaiman. Honestly, I wish this had been longer. I would love an expanded version or a sequel where we learn more about the Hempstock women. They're fascinating characters and I would love to know more about their mythology.

8- Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. 
This was another hard one to get through. I love love loved Code Name Verity. LOVED. This book was also fantastic, but the gritty descriptions of torture experienced in the Ravensbruck women's camp was difficult. I had to take a break from it for a little while. It gets dark.

9- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. 
I read this book because I enjoyed Anderson's Wintergirls. Not sure which I liked more. This book describes high school freshman Melinda's slow recovery after she's raped at an end-of-the-summer party. Oh, spoilers I guess. Melinda doesn't actually describe what happened to her until about half-way through the book. At the start all you know is that she's now a social outcast for calling the cops to said party. But I knew the secret going into it, and it didn't disrupt my enjoyment of the book at all.

10- Paper Towns by John Green. 
I liked it better than Looking For Alaska. But this book is basically Looking for Alaska plus a scavenger hunt. And manic-pixie-dream-girl Margo is barely in the book, so she didn't get on my nerves nearly as much as Alaska did. So if you've read The Fault In Our Stars and you want to read more Green, skip LFA and just go right to Paper Towns.

11- Notes To Boys by Pamela Ribon. 
Oh man. If I hadn't been too shy to even talk to boys in high school, I'm sure I would have written some notes like this. The overly-dramatic, somebody-love-me-please attitude definitely reminds me of me in high school. Reading this book a single thought kept popping into my head: "I am SO glad I'm not a teenager anymore!"

12- In Between by Kate Wilhelm.
This was a weird one. It's a mystery about two ghosts who solve their own murder. Ghost detectives. Doesn't really sound like my usual thing, right? It's not. I listened to this audiobook specifically because it was only three discs long and I knew I could finish it before SRP ended. I mean, I'm sure if ghost mysteries are your thing you'd like this book more than I did. But I prefer my ghost stories to be more haunted house horror.