What happened? You guys, my reading was so slow for months and then I read 6 books in August. Just like that. I don’t know how I turned things around, but hey, I’ll take it.
The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve (★★★★☆)
I love me a book with a good heroine and Grace definitely fits that bill. This book is based on the catastrophic wildfire that wiped out coastal towns and cities in 1947 in Maine. Grace finds herself left behind with two toddlers and a third baby on the way, when her husband Gene leaves to fight the fires. The first few chapters were a little slow for me and I was expecting to find the book mediocre at best, but the story (and writing, IMHO) picked up towards the middle of the book and I found myself rooting for Grace and her children.
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh (★★★☆☆)
I really wanted to like this book. Smarsh writes about her upbringing in poor, rural Kansas and tells us about her family and how their extreme poverty lead to generations of teenaged pregnancies, drinking, abuse, lack of education, bad or absent parenting, all while her family members, especially the women, tried hard to keep things together. I wish this book had been organized chronologically instead of thematically. Smarsh jumped around in time, which made it hard to keep track of her many relatives and what they were doing, and what happened when. There was a lot of repetition in general that got tiresome. With better organization, the book could have had a stronger message because I think her experience is important and needs to be told.
The girl that smiled beads by Clemantine Wamariya (★★★★☆)
This book was heartbreaking and brave, thought-provoking and humbling. This is the memoir of Clemantine Wamariya, who became a refugee at 6 years old, when she and her older sister were told to run from the genocide that was about to happen in Rwanda. To think that she survived, let alone made it to America where she was put in foster care and managed to get an education and goes on to become a Yale graduate and activist makes for a good “story” by itself.
But this book is much less about her beating the odds, but about her losing her family, her culture, her country and her identity at the age of 6 and how this had a ripple effect throughout her life and how she still struggles with her identity and all that has happened to her. The reason I gave this “only” 4 stars is that at the end of the book, I had so many more questions that were left unanswered. Definitely read this.
The friend: a novel by Sigrid Nunez (★★☆☆☆)
I’ve heard about this book on an NPR interview with the author and bookmarked it right away. Unfortunately, the book fell flat for me. I don’t know, maybe I expected the book to be more about the dog? There is a thin story about the narrator, a woman grief-stricken over the death of a dear friend and mentor, and how she has taken on caring for his dog, but it’s more of a side plot than the main story. A lot of the book is just ramblings about the plight of being a writer. Maybe I would have loved this book more, if I hadn’t expected something different (after all, it was called “a novel”), but as it was, the book wasn’t coherent enough for me.
You think it, you’ll say it by Curtis Sittenfeld (★★★★★)
This book completely surprised me. When I realized that I picked up a book of short stories, I wasn’t sure this book was going to be for me, but turns out, I loved it. Sittenfeld tackles many relevant topics — social media, class issues, gender roles, political differences, etc. I was particularly surprised by how much she made me care about the characters in just 10 to 20 pages; she did a phenomenal job of developing a story and making me feel invested in a short amount of time. I found all of the stories well executed and my only ‘complaint’ is that I wanted them to last longer and to learn more about the characters. Sittenfeld is a great writer and I highly recommend this book.
Calypso by David Sedaris (★★★☆☆)
Not sure if my expectations were just too high, but this book didn’t live up to the hype for me. I’d given it 3.5 stars, maybe. Yes, it was well written and I chuckled a few times, but it didn’t make me laugh out loud (as a lot of the reviews said). The book revolves around Sedaris’ family in their more recent years and the time spent together in the family beach house, reflecting back on earlier parts of their lives. Some parts were personal and honest, some were outright weird (like the one with his fatty tumor and the turtle). I didn’t really feel engaged (and maybe that wasn’t the point?) but had to motivate myself to keep reading.
What did you read in August? Anything you’d like to recommend? Leave a comment, and then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch.