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Wondering what this Summer Summary thing is all about? Here’s the context!

Summer Summary Badge (erinreads.com)

In this first Summer Summary, I’ll cover what I read and listened to in March, April, and May of 2015. Rather than go in reading order, I’ll list them in order from favorite to least favorite. Title links will take you to Goodreads, if you’d like more of a summary than I’ve given.

#1: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I fall more in love with Kingsolver’s writing with every book of hers I read. In addition to being my favorite from this three-month period, Prodigal Summer is also near the top of my list for 2015 overall. I actually reviewed this one in full before I disappeared.

The Verdict: Excellent

#2: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (narrated by John Lee)

If you can suspend your disbelief for the time it takes you to read this book, it’s a seriously fun ride. I listened to this one as part of my Classics Club challenge, and I reviewed it in full shortly thereafter.

The Verdict: Excellent

#3: The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

Another Classics Club read that got a full review. One thing I love about Calvino (or what I’ve read of him so far) is how he so fully believes in his own quirky premises that you can’t help but go along with them.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#4: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (narrated by the author)

I read this memoir back in high school but remembered basically nothing about it. I knew I wanted to revisit it, so I put it on my Classics Club list. The version I listened to was read by the author, which (provided the author isn’t a terrible reader) always adds an extra dimension to memoirs for me.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the story of Angelou’s early life, tracing her path from the Deep South to St. Louis to San Francisco. It’s the kind of book that leaves an overall impression months after reading rather than specific events or characters. For me, that impression is of struggle, suffering, learning, growth, perseverance, love, and self-acceptance.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#5: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite)

This audiobook kept me company through much of April’s Readathon. The story is a little out there, but I don’t think it’s meant to be taken completely seriously. It’s fun, but with an edge of seriousness lurking beneath. I certainly enjoyed listening to it and was rather surprised by where the story ended up. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a fairly fast-paced read without being all plot, and I think it would make a good get-out-of-a-reading-slump book in particular.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#6: Driving the King by Ravi Howard (narrated by Adam Lazarre-White)

I received this audiobook through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program and quite enjoyed it. The reader was excellent, which always helps, but the story was good as well. It’s the fictional account of a man who went to jail for defending Nat King Cole during a mid-concert attack and how his life and Cole’s ended up intertwining.

The man — also named Nat (Weary) — is now Nat King Cole’s driver and bodyguard, and the pair is back in their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for a show Cole is determined to give — despite the fact that it was Montgomery where he was attacked all those years ago. As the hours before the concert tick down, we learn about Weary’s story, particularly surrounding the attack and the years that followed.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#7: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham (narrated by Kristen Bell)

I never watched Veronica Mars (show or movie), nor did I know much about the story prior to picking up this spinoff series. A friend recommended it to me, and my library had it in downloadable format, and I was super nauseous and looking for distraction. I’m glad those three circumstances came together, because I actually enjoyed this quick, sassy mystery.

I don’t know how much of the series’ premise is based on the show and movie, but I’m guessing a fair amount. Veronica is working as a private eye in her father’s firm when a college student goes missing during the town of Neptune’s infamous spring break. Of course, it’s up to Veronica to get to the bottom of the story.

I was extremely pleased to find that it wasn’t at all hard to follow along, even though I’m sure there’s tons of backstory; in other words, you don’t need to have watched the show to enjoy the books. I also appreciated that The Thousand Dollar Tan Line isn’t gratuitously violent or graphic the way so many contemporary mysteries seem to be — one of the things that usually turns me off to mysteries. And while its subject is certainly serious, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously. I liked this one enough to listen to the second in the series a few months later!

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#8: Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

I adored Gulland’s Josephine B. trilogy and had been meaning to read Mistress of the Sun for a while. It was good, but pales in comparison with the trilogy. See my full review for more.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#9: Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee

I’ve read two by Mukherjee now, and neither has blown me away. There are aspects of her writing I enjoy and others that aren’t so much my cup of tea. I wrote a proper review of this one, if you’re curious to hear more.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#10: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

I feel like Tales of the City is a book you just have to read if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are nine volumes total, published between 1978 and 2014, the first few of which were serialized in San Francisco newspapers before they were published in novel form, and you can kind of tell. The brief chapters read as vignettes, and while there are certainly story lines running throughout the novel, it doesn’t feel as cohesive as what I’m used to.

I didn’t really like any of the characters, and the story wasn’t gripping enough to keep me turning pages. What I did like was the glimpse of a past San Francisco. There were locations I recognized, and I always find that sort of element fun in a book. Worth the read, but only because of the geographical and mild historical elements.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#11: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

This was another LibraryThing Early Reviewers book. I wasn’t a huge fan. The premise sounded good (or I wouldn’t have requested it!), but the execution didn’t work for me. It even brought out my skeptical face, which you can see in my full review.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#12: Runaway by Alice Munro

I really feel like I’m supposed to like Alice Munro, but based on Runaway, I kind of don’t. I found the stories in this collection to be both absorbing and frustratingly incomplete, like each should have been a full novel but was inelegantly cut short or too aggressively compacted. Should I try something else by her? I’m cautious but willing if someone says I should. Otherwise, I have plenty of other books to read!

The Verdict: Lacking

Average for these three months: on the high end of mediocre. Meh. Though to be fair, the top two books on the list were good enough to keep me happy!

Your Turn!

What have you read lately that surprised or delighted you?

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It’s been a while. Yet again. I got on a roll there, for a month or two, and then…nothing.

What happened? This did:

Pregnancy silhouette (erinreads.com)

My husband and I are expecting our first little one next month! Which means the past seven months or so have looked something like this:


Felt SO INCREDIBLY NAUSEOUS that almost literally all I did was sleep, eat what I could, and lie on the couch trying to lose myself in fiction. (Might sound fun, in a way, but I would not suffer months’ worth of constant nausea for all the reading time in the world!) Discovered that forcing myself to review what I’d been reading worked as a distraction tactic, so did some of that.


Started to feel better. Sort of. Some days. Lots of out-of-town company, so little reading and (also thanks to the fact that I no longer needed distraction as badly) basically no blogging.


Mostly felt like a human being again. Yay! Which meant I could turn my attention to all the baby-related books I’d been meaning to read but couldn’t bring myself to even look at while the super-nausea reigned supreme. (I am someone who likes to Know About Things, so there were — and are — a LOT of these.) Also, spent a couple of weeks traveling. Too busy enjoying not feeling like crap 24/7 to worry about blogging.


Audiobooks and I became even more inseparable than we have been for the past few years. While baby books ruled my nightstand (and who wants to read reviews of those on a mostly fiction blog??) and my to-do list grew (and grew and grew), pleasure reading took over my headphones. On top of that, I realized I still have a baby quilt to finish and tons of knitting to do, which means even more audiobook time! I don’t see this setup changing in the next month.

Time to play catch-up!

Summer Summary Badge (erinreads.com)While I have not been reviewing, I’ve certainly been reading (and listening) — and lots of those books have been the sorts of things I usually write about. And this time, rather than forget everything I’ve read while not blogging, I actually kept a list. Woo!

So over the next few weeks, I figured I’d play catch-up, posting short review blurbs of the books I read or listened to by month. I’m calling these posts Summer Summaries, even though — let’s be honest — I’m including, like, half the year here. I may then promptly fall off the face of the planet again…but at least my reading record will be up to date!

Stay tuned. In the meantime…

Your Turn!

How has your summer been? (Or winter, if you’re on the flip side of the planet.) What are you looking forward to in the months to come (reading or otherwise)?


I bought myself a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo many years ago. I have no idea why I did so. (Turns out it was one of those sneaky abridged versions that doesn’t state anywhere obvious that half the book has been cut out, but that is beside the point.) As I clearly haven’t made any progress with the written version, I got excited when I discovered my library had the digital audiobook of Dumas’s classic tale — read by John Lee, whom I knew to be good. The thing is 47 hours long, though, and it seems I wasn’t the only one interested in the digital version, so I had to wait through a few rounds of holds to get through the whole book.

Good news: It was worth the wait! It’s also the second book I’ve finished from my Classics Club list.

About the Book:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (audiobook, reviewed on Erin Reads)

I honestly don’t know how to sum up this book without giving something away, so if you know nothing about it, plan to read it, and really hate spoilers of all kinds, maybe just skip this review. But really, I think the intricacies of the plot and the particulars of how each piece is accomplished are what make the novel what it is, far more than the overall arc of the story.

Still here? In that case…

Edmond Dantés, having just returned from a successful sea voyage, is on the verge of marrying the love of his life and being made captain of his own ship. Surrounded by the golden glow of happiness, he cannot imagine he has any enemies who would wish him harm. But there is one man who loves his betrothed and another who envies his place on the ship — and together, they set in motion a plan to remove the obstacle that is Edmond Dantés from their paths.

The rest of the book — of which there is a LOT — follows Edmond’s conviction, incarceration, escape, and (most of all) revenge.

My Thoughts:

When I mentioned in my March wrap-up that I’d started The Count of Monte Cristo, Care commented: “I adored ADORED it! Such a romp.” And I cannot think of a better way to describe this book.

It is madness. I can’t even put into words how much fun it is to grab this book by the horns and let it take you on its crazy, unpredictable ride.

To be fair — and this is a complaint I’ve seen in some reviews — it’s not entirely realistic. Every cog in the great machine of Edmond’s revenge turns flawlessly. Every scene and scheme goes the way he intends it to (with a single minor exception). Chance seems to smile endlessly upon him. The evil are punished, the good rewarded, and the irrelevant largely ignored — no exceptions. The plot and its characters can be a bit (ok, quite a bit) over the top.

But in my opinion, it’s a story worth suspending your disbelief for. The intricacies, the twists and turns, the chain of dominos Edmond spends years constructing, piece by piece, so that he can set off the chain reaction at precisely the moment of his choosing — it’s really fun. There are secret identities, startling connections, elaborate plots, and endless surprises. A few things are obvious or easy to figure out, but for the most part, you just have to keep going to find out how all the pieces fit together. And in the end, they do. It’s satisfying that way.

Yes, it’s long. Very long. But I do not understand how the book could possibly survive in abridged form (much less as a movie…though I have fond memories of the Wishbone version from my childhood…). It would have to be missing entire plot lines, and that would be very unfortunate.

John Lee did a commendable job narrating. It was one of those audiobooks that had me making up excuses to listen to just one more chapter. He had at least slightly different voices for the main characters (of which there are roughly a zillion) and accents for the foreigners, which always helps me keep people straight. His French pronunciations sounded way better than they would’ve in my head (thank goodness!). He doesn’t do women’s voices very well — but then, he doesn’t really try, so I have no complaints!

Sadly, nowhere can I find the translator for the edition I listened to. But whoever it was, s/he did an excellent job.

The Verdict: Excellent

The Count of Monte Cristo gets two thumbs up from me. It’s not the kind of book I usually go for, but it was so well executed that I couldn’t help but end up engrossed. Highly recommended.

If you do read it, go for the unabridged. It’s worth it. And I’d recommend going for the audio version, too!

Your Turn!

What’s the last book you read (or listened to) that kept you on the edge of your seat and surprised at every turn?



It’s tiiiiiime! *happy dance*

Update #1: 5am PDT

Good morning, fellow readers! It’s 5am where I am, and though I know many of you are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and already delving into books and snacks, I’m most likely still asleep, saving up energy for a full day of reading.

I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten, and that I’ll be joining you soon!

(P.S. Reading by email? Click through to the site to see updates to this post as the day progresses!)

Update #2: 7:06am PDT

I’m up! I have a feeling today is going to be heavy on audiobooks, as I have a whole bunch of things to do around the house…starting with making breakfast! As soon as I finish this update, I’m off to whip up some oatmeal while listening to Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

  • Currently reading: N/A
  • Currently listening to: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Running total of pages read: 0
  • Running total of time spent reading: 0
  • Running total of time spent listening: 0


  • Kickoff Meme
    1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Outside of San Francisco, California
    2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Probably Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, which I’ll be listening to
    3. Which snack are you most looking forward to? Popsicles!
    4. Tell us a little something about yourself! Let’s see. Fiction of most stripes is my favorite, and I love audiobooks. I’m a knitter and a quilter. I’m an Ohio transplant to the West Coast. I have one cat, who I’m sure will make an appearance at some point today!
    5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I wasn’t up for the start time…that’s different! I’m trying to go easy on myself this time around, which is hard, because I want to participate as much as possible.
  • Classic Words of Wisdom

    “…until the end comes, enjoy your life,
    spend it in happiness, not despair.
    Savor your food, make each of your days
    a delight, bathe and anoint yourself,
    wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean,
    let music and dancing fill your house,
    love the child who holds you by the hand,
    and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.
    That is the best way for a man to live.”
    — From Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell

    I love this quote because it reminds me of how I want to live my life. I’m someone who easily gets bogged down in little things and can stew over a problem far longer than necessary. I also love how these words from an ancient epic gives us permission to live our lives with joy, pleasure, and love. To me, that’s something worth remembering!

Update #3: 12:56m PDT

It’s definitely been a listening day so far! I’m really enjoying Where’d You Go, Bernadette? on audio and have gotten laundry folded, a knitting project finished, and food made. At this rate, I’m going to need another audiobook before the event is over! I did read a bit of Diary of a Provincial Lady, which is really fun and makes for quick reading. I’ve also done a few mini-challenges, which are fun.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 3 hours, 38 minutes


  • Treasure Hunt: Here are my three books containing a snow, a tree, and a weapon:

Readathon Treasure Hunt Mini Challenge

  • Book Spine Poetry: Mine reads “Crossing to safety, their eyes were watching God. Small wonder everything is illuminated; little altars everywhere.”

Readathon Book Spine Poetry Mini Challenge

Update #4: 4:24pm PDT

All listening for the past block of time. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? on audio is utterly absorbing! I cooked lunch, cleaned the kitchen, and then settled down to knit some more. I’m feeling a little sleepy, too, and listening while doing something with my hands keeps me awake better than reading does.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 6 hours, 46 minutes


  • In 100 Years…
    • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: This book has a solid plot, memorable characters, emotional depth, and relevant themes — all things that contribute to a book becoming a classic, in my opinion!
    • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: This one is such a literary masterpiece, such a work of creativity and delight, that I sincerely hope it will be enchanting readers for centuries to come.
    • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: Not only does this novel grapple with a modern tragedy, it does so through a character whose voice is unique and powerful.
  • Mid-Event Meme:
    1. What are you reading right now? See above!
    2. How many books have you read so far? I haven’t finished anything (slow reader here!)
    3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Finishing Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I couldn’t stop myself from listening to the rest of it if I tried.
    4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not really. Just a few brief conversations with my husband, who decided not to participate in the readathon after all and was trying to get stuff done around the house.
    5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How much I don’t actually want to read! I may end up listening to books for the rest of the event. That’d be a first.

Update #5: 9:06pm PDT

The listening continues! I finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (fantastic, and fantastically read as well) and started in on The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert — different, but also really good so far. I had dinner, but mostly I’ve been knitting while I listen. I doubt I’ll make it for more than a couple more hours.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 10 hours, 22 minutes (whoa!)


  • Music Is Muse: I listened to Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple earlier today, and in it the characters listen to Abbey Road by the Beatles. I’ve had “Here Comes the Sun” stuck in my head ever since! It was a mother-daughter moment, where two generations connected in a way neither probably expected. But since that’s such an easy answer, I’d also say Carole King’s “Where You Lead” for the same relationship. Partly the Gilmore girls come to mind, yes…but also, if you’ve read the book (no spoilers!) and think about the lyrics, well…it’s a pretty good fit (minus the specific relationship stuff, of course).
  • Reading Story: Today I’d rather listen than read!

Update #6: 10:01pm PDT

Aaaaaand I’m done. Too tired to read, and my hands are actually getting sore from all the knitting. So it’s bedtime for me! I got in just about 12 solid hours of book time today, and I’m happy with that.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 11 hours

If you’re still reading…have fun!!


The Baron in the Trees is the first book I read from my Classics Club list, as chosen for me by the recent spin. The version I read was translated by Archibald Colquhoun. I’d previously read (and been rather bemused and charmed by) If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Calvino (which I never got around to reviewing, sadly).

About the Book:

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (reviewed on Erin Reads)It is a disagreement over eating snails that sends eight-year-old Biagio’s older brother, Cosimo, up into the trees in the backyard of the family’s estate. In no time, this impulsive whim has calcified into a resolution, and from that day forward, Cosimo never again sets foot on the earth.

What does a life lived in the trees look like for an eighteenth-century nobleman — a proper baron, once his father has died and passed the title on? That is what Biagio sets out to chronicle. Relying on his own observations, the stories of others, and the tales he hears from Cosimo himself, Biagio assembles the story of his brother’s arboreal existence as his own life draws toward its close.

My Thoughts:

It seems to me that Italo Calvino had one of those delightfully creative literary minds whose premises alone make their novels worth reading. (In that respect — though not really in any others — he reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Jose Saramago.) What I like in particular is the way in which Calvino approaches his off-the-wall topics as though they were completely commonplace and not at all surprising. He makes you complicit, inviting you, too, to suspend your disbelief.

The Baron in the Trees was fun. Not because it’s a rollicking tale or full of tricks and antics or anything like that, but because it stretches the limits of what we’re used to in just one way. Calvino’s is not a fantasy world, nor is it some future Earth. In fact, it’s set in the past, in the very normal Italian community of Ombrosa, and peopled with the sorts of characters you’d expect to find in such a story — except that one of them lives exclusively in the trees.

Cosimo is both an enigma and a likable guy. He’s principled, earnest, kind, a touch eccentric, and just a little naive sometimes. He engenders respect as well as curiosity, both in the reader and in his fellow characters. From his perch, he helps his neighbors, furthers his education, corresponds with the great minds of Europe, solves problems for himself and others, and even conducts romances.

I was pleasantly surprised by how readable the novel is. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is rather convoluted and trippy, like you keep walking through door after door until you’re not really sure which way is up or which plot line you’re in. It’s good, but it takes some concentration to read. The Baron in the Trees, on the other hand, was quite readable, and I whizzed through it.

My one complaint isn’t even a complaint, really; it’s more of a curiosity or a wish. It has to do with who tells the story. Calvino’s use of Biagio as narrator allows a more objective view of Cosimo, certainly. Biagio is able to share insights and fill in details from the wider world that Cosimo’s perspective would have rendered impossible (or at least rather difficult). But Biagio’s view into Cosimo’s life is necessarily limited. Much of what he shares he admits comes from hearsay or from his brother’s constantly shifting stories. What I missed most, I think, were the particulars of Cosimo’s life: how he managed his daily affairs, what he thought about, how he saw his situation and the world around him. In short, a record of his life in his own words. But it would have been a different novel, and not necessarily a better one.

Fun fact: Apparently The Baron in the Trees is the second in Calvino’s Our Ancestors trilogy, the first and third installments of which are titled The Cloven Viscount and The Nonexistent Knight. With titles like those, I must admit I’m a little curious…

The Verdict: Enjoyable

I know If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is probably Calvino’s most famous novel, and it’s worth tackling. But I think The Baron in the Trees would be a nice introduction, too — or a good follow-up read should you want to explore more of what Calvino has to offer.

Your Turn!

Can you recommend a book that stretches the limits of our accustomed reality in just one small, mostly believable way? Or perhaps one that delighted you with its quirky premise?

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