I read 8 books in June, which brings my 2015 total to 68.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Description: Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave in early 19th century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls of the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. The story is set in motion on Sarah’s 11th birthday, when she is given ownership of Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their journeys over the next 35 years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
Excellent, excellent book. Loosely based on a true story (I could easily spot the differences with a cursory Wikipedia search), it received a lot of great reviews when it came out, and rightly so. I liked how the perspective switched back and forth between the two main characters, and also how it didn’t linger for too long on one time period.
2) Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness, Jessica Valenti
Description: If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to have it all, if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support parenting, then why do it? Valenti explores controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white mommy wars over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion.
I particularly agreed with the chapter where the author says being a mother is not the most important – or the hardest – job in the world. In her words: “Telling women…that motherhood is the most valuable job in the world is not just a patronizing pat on the head. [I]t’s a way to placate overworked moms without giving them the social and political support they actually need to make their lives better.”
Description: Nightline anchor Dan Harris embarks on an unexpected, hilarious, and deeply skeptical odyssey through the strange worlds of spirituality and self-help, and discovers a way to get happier that is truly achievable.
I liked the author’s skepticism because I, too, am a skeptical person. Dan talks about his meetings with Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle (after reading their books and doing extensive research), and explains why he never found them to be completely believable or trustworthy. It wasn’t until Dan discovered meditation that he noticed a real difference in his attitude, and subsequently the way he lived his life. Interesting and informative read.
4) Where All Light Tends To Go, David Joy
Description: The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina is home to all kinds of people, but the world Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school, Jacob has been working for his father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things. Jacob is resigned to playing the cards dealt to him, but when a fatal mistake changes everything, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves.
This book is well-written, a page turner, but it was difficult to read about a teenage male so negatively affected by his upbringing and surroundings. Even though I grew up in a rural area, my life wasn’t anything like this – I never felt like I didn’t have an option to leave (and indeed, I left home as soon as I graduated from high school).
I didn’t like the subject matter, and I thought the guy made a ton of stupid decisions, but sometimes you have to read stuff that makes you uncomfortable in order to educate yourself about how other people live.
5) The Bullet, Mary Louise Kelly
Description: Caroline is beautiful, intelligent, a professor of French literature. But in a split second, everything she’s known is proved to be a lie. A single bullet, gracefully tapered at one end, is found lodged at the base of her skull. Caroline is stunned. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: that she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered. Caroline was there the night they were attacked. She was wounded too, a gunshot to the neck. Surgeons had stitched up the traumatized little girl, with the bullet still there, nestled deep among vital nerves and blood vessels. That was 34 years ago. Now, Caroline has to find the truth of her past.
I found multiple parts of this book to be far-fetched: 1) that someone would go to such lengths to avenge her birth parents’ death when she’d learned of their existence mere weeks before; 2) the way she ended up obtaining a gun; 3) the reason she temporarily left the U.S. The story was entertaining though, so I’ll give it a thumbs-up.
6) Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
Description: A Chinese-American family lives in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.
Unlike many books I’ve read recently, I wasn’t able to guess how this story would turn out (there were several surprises I didn’t foresee). Very well written; held my attention throughout; sad in parts but with a hopeful ending.
7) How to Be an American Housewife, Margaret Dilloway
Description: When Shoko decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan, she had her parents’ blessing and her brother’s scorn. Shoko also brought with her a secret she would need to keep her entire life. Half a century later, Shoko’s plans to return to Japan and reconcile with her brother are derailed by illness. In her place, she sends her grown American daughter, Sue, a divorced single mother whose own life isn’t what she hoped for. As Sue takes in Japan, with all its beauty and contradictions, she discovers another side to her mother and returns to America unexpectedly changed.
This was a nice story, but it felt like the conflict and angst wrapped itself up a bit TOO perfectly at the end.
8) Find Me, Laura van den Berg
Description: Joy spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a deadly sickness sweeps the country, Joy seems to have an advantage: she is immune. Her immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, but when the hospital’s fragile order breaks down, Joy breaks free on a journey to Florida. She believes she can find her birth mother there, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house.
I didn’t like this book. The story (and the writing itself) was weird. The first half was mildly entertaining, but about halfway through (once Joy escaped from the hospital), I kept wishing I was done with it so I could move on to something else.