Jul 26, 2014

The Lazy Days of Summer Reads

What I’ve been reading lately.

The Lazy Days of Summer Reads

Summer is more than half over and, it’s true, much of my “to do” list remains irritatingly unaccomplished. I have not managed to paint the front porch. I didn’t create time to paint the girls’ room (hydrangea blue, in case you were wondering). The attic remains unorganized. And worse, I’m nowhere near ready to run a 5K, as I’d hoped to be by summers’ end.

I have, however, indulged in the archetypal summer pastime: reading. With the kids ensconced in one thing or another, I have successfully carved out time to get utterly lost in some titles that have been on my “to read” list for a while now. So follows a brief overview of my summer reads so far.

I finally got around to cracking The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. I’m often leery of Pulitzer Prize winners; they tend to be groundbreaking in style, but not all that linear or lucid. Sadly, The Stone Diaries was no exception. The narration was disorganized as it scanned three generations of the Stone family members’ lives. As a summer read, it was OK, but not all that memorable or remarkable.

The Killing Circle, by Andrew Pyper, is not the type of book I typically read.  The accolades at the back of the book describe it as “haunting, gripping and unnerving.” Another said: “A fright-filled thriller.” Life is unnerving enough and I do not seek to be frightened when I sit down with a novel at the end of a long day. But this one was excellent and I was drawn in from the opening pages. It’s about a single dad who joins a writing group and encounters the creepy essays of another participant. Soon enough, art begins to imitate life. Part whodunit and part psychological thriller – I can only say it had me engaged to the end.

I’d been meaning to read Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain since its publication in 2008.  Not only was it hailed as “innovative, captivating, heart-wrenching and deeply funny,” but I’d heard from many that it was “a great read.”  Suffice it to say by chapter two I was done with Enzo’s first person narration – Enzo is the family dog. Mr. Stein is clearly a think-outside-the-box writer, and I applaud his originality. The dog’s “voice” just got tedious very quickly for me. Moreover, I couldn’t be bothered suspending my disbelief when the characters were so anemically developed and the plot so predictable.

I almost never read a novel if I have seen the movie first. I made an exception with The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and I’m really glad I did.  Whether you’ve seen the movie or not (it stars George Clooney, so of course you’ve seen it!), this is a tender and well-observed book. The plot covers fresh ground and I thought Hemmings nailed the character of the bewildered dad forced to take over parenting his two willful daughters after his wife lands in the hospital, comatose, having suffered massive head trauma from a boating accident. It meanders a bit, but is still moving and affecting.

John Green is not an author I’ve ever been inclined to read, but a friend of mine was so taken with The Fault In Our Stars that I decided to check this book out. It’s a sweet story, if you can say that about a book whose plot concerns teens with cancer. The characters are certainly appealing, the pacing is fine, and yet – this book lacked something. I guess I expected a more groundbreaking approach to the subject matter. But in the end, Green added nothing amazing or particularly memorable to the cancer novel milieu.

Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay addresses subjects I’d be drawn to if I ever wrote fiction. The book explores how a middle-aged couple copes in the aftermath of the tragic loss of their young son and how ultimately grief slowly poisons their relationship. Not a light read, but it’s rendered gently and humanely.

Undressing the Moon, by T. Greenwood, is also not a light read. As the plot unfolds, readers encounter childhood abandonment, grief, and terminal illness. These are topics that could have been handled in a maudlin way, but somehow Greenwood deftly and tenderly weaves the subject matter together.

Finally, my bookgroup selection for its summer read was Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. Our group meets tonight to discuss this book, so I’ll hold off my observations for now. But tune in to this space next week, and I may share some thoughts from what I expect will be a most interesting conversation on the topic of science and sex!

Meanwhile, tell me: what have you been reading this summer?

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