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

Summer Summary Badge (erinreads.com)

In this final Summer Summary, I’ll cover what I read and listened to in September of 2015. As with the previous four installments, rather than go in reading order, I’ll list the books 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: Rising Strong by Brené Brown (narrated by the author)

I love Brené Brown’s work. That’s all there is to it. So of course I was thrilled to receive her newest book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program! Every time I encounter her work, I’m inspired to engage with what she teaches. She has a way of imparting what she’s learned through her research in a way that’s inviting and honest, and she’s always right there with you — never on a high horse looking down or preaching from the safety of a pulpit.

In Rising Strong, she looks at how to recover from our falls in a way that leads to a more fruitful, healthier resolution than most of us know how to achieve. Highly recommended, whether you’ve already encountered her books/TED talk or not.

The Verdict: Amazing

#2: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario (narrated by Tavia Gilbert)

It’s What I Do is a photojournalist’s memoir — and not just any photojournalist, but one who is drawn to documenting conflict, war, and their impact on the people they touch. Addario has worked in places like Afghanistan and the Congo, risking her life to do the work she can’t help but do, and in this book she traces her career from its beginning.

I think what I appreciated most about this memoir is the insight it gave me into why someone would risk her life to take pictures. The calling Addario clearly feels to tell a particular kind of story through still images is something I’ve never felt — yet with her words, she’s able to help me understand. I’d say it’s well worth the read.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#3: Icebreaker by Lian Tanner (narrated by Anne Marie Gideon)

Petral is a young girl living on a ship that’s been tracing the same course for three centuries. Everyone but her has a place among the ship’s three classes, making the “Nothing Girl” invisible to all but a few of its crew; Petral’s only real friends are two talking rats. No one can remember what the ship’s purpose is, so it just keeps on circling — until one day a strange boy is rescued from the ice and taken aboard.

I liked how creative Icebreaker is. It’s not really like anything I’ve read before, so I couldn’t work out what to expect. A surprising number of characters are vividly drawn, and Tanner even manages to get in some character development alongside the rather fast-paced plot and without the story dragging on forever. Supposedly this is the first book in a trilogy, but it doesn’t end with a cliffhanger — thank goodness! I received Icebreaker through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#4: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (narrated by Kim Mai Guest)

Sapphique is the second book in what I believe is meant to be a trilogy; Incarceron, which I reread (okay, listened to) in August, is the first. Sadly, I didn’t think Sapphique measured up to Incarceron. It was interesting enough, I suppose, but kind of meandering and muddled, too. I feel like I’ve already forgotten a lot of what happened, and it’s hardly been a month! I’ll probably listen to the third book, if there ends up being one, out of curiosity, but I won’t be rushing to read it.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#5: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (narrated by Mozhan Marno)

After all the buzz surrounding Hausfrau, I had to read it. I had almost zero idea what to expect, as I tend to avoid reviews of books I’m planning to read.

It’s about Anna, an American living in the suburbs of Zürich with her Swiss husband and their three children. Her life looks picturesque, but in truth Anna is a mess. The three things that occupy her time, aside from her family, are German class, psychotherapy…and a string of affairs she can’t seem to help getting herself into and struggles unsuccessfully to extract herself from. By the time she snaps out of her own skewed world, there are parts of her life that have broken irrevocably.

I found the novel to be intellectually intriguing, but it did not make my list of favorites by a long shot. I think the biggest problem is twofold. First, I didn’t actually like any of the characters. That’s not always a problem, of course, but on top of that, I didn’t really care what happened to any of them. What I did like was the book’s structure, with memories and “sound bites” from the main character’s therapist filling in holes and adding commentary throughout. And the reader somehow fit the book, which is always nice!

The Verdict: Mediocre

#6: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (narrated by Emily Woo Zeller)

Yes, I finally succumbed to the peer pressure and read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It kind of…left me scratching my head. There are things I agree with, sure, and ideas that sound worthwhile, but suffice it to say I’m not a convert. Would my clothes really be happier if I thanked them for keeping me warm each day? Is the answer really to get rid of every single thing that does not give me a thrill of pleasure when I touch it? Is there actually room in my (very small) closet for most of my possessions as well as a shrine to any secret interests I want to hide from my friends AND my bookcase(s)? (I can answer that one definitively: NO.) There were a few parts where I actually giggled out loud, like when she said some people have as many as 40 unread books as though it were some ludicrous, unimaginable number. Also, that my socks would rest so much more easily if I would fold them instead of balling them.

I know Kondo’s approach has worked for a lot of people. Perhaps I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it, but I don’t think I’ll be implementing the KonMari method any time soon.

The Verdict: Mediocre

Average for the month: another high mediocre. Honestly, I wasn’t blown away by much of what I finished this month. Eh…it happens!


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

Summer Summary Badge (erinreads.com)

In this Summer Summary, I’ll cover what I read and listened to in August of 2015. As with first three installments, rather than go in reading order, I’ll list the books 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: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham)

The way Puck Connolly sees it, her only choice is to enter the Scorpio Races, an annual (and deadly) tradition on her island where riders race the dangerous, unpredictable water horses they catch and train each year. Her parents are dead, her older brother is planning to leave the island, and there’s no money left for her and her younger brother to live on unless she can win some in the race. Meanwhile, returning champion and local water horse expert Sean Kendrick is preparing for his own run. As something of a loner, he holds himself back from the drama surrounding the Races — until he finds out about Puck’s crazy plans.

I would not have picked this one up based on the description alone. It doesn’t sound like something I’d like at all. But on Eva’s recommendation, I gave it a shot, and I’m so glad I did! Everything from the story to the characters to the narration drew me in and kept me finding excuses to listen. It’s the only book by Stiefvater I’ve read, and now I’m thinking maybe I need to read more.

The Verdict: Excellent

#2: Armada by Ernest Cline (narrated by Wil Wheaton)

Zack Lightman is a gamer. He works part time in a video game shop and spends all his spare time mastering Armada, following in the footsteps of his gamer father who died young, before Zack had the chance to know him. Then one day, Zack sees a flying saucer — no joke. And not just any flying saucer — one that looks exactly like the alien ships he’s spent hours of his life battling in Armada. It’s an understatement to say from that moment on, his life will never be the same.

I adored Ready Player One, so of course I was excited for Armada. For me, sadly, it didn’t measure up. Had it been written (and read, for that matter) by someone else, most likely I’d have put it down before the end. It felt like a lot of build-up and waiting, and none of the “revelations” or twists seemed as unexpected as they were in Ready Player One. It’s always possible Ready Player One is casting too long a shadow over Armada for me — making it too hard to measure up — but that’s how it goes sometimes! I’m still glad I listened to this one, and I’m sure I’ll be listening to whatever Cline puts out next, too. Especially if Wil Wheaton reads it!

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#3: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (narrated by Reese Witherspoon)

Oh, the controversy! I was almost afraid to read Go Set a Watchman, just in case it somehow ruined To Kill a Mockingbird for me. Good news: it didn’t, at all. I didn’t love it nearly as much as To Kill a Mockingbird, but it didn’t do any lasting damage.

Go Set a Watchman covers such a short span of time that it almost felt like reading a short story, though the passages where Scout dips back into childhood memories brought to mind the feel of the first book. I think my favorite part was hearing a bit about what happened to the characters I loved after To Kill a Mockingbird ended. Reese Witherspoon wasn’t as phenomenal as Sissy Spacek, in my opinion, but that’s a tough act to follow!

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#4: In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster

This dystopian novel is framed as a journal, of sorts, written by a woman trying to stay alive in a crumbling city to a relative back home. It was a little reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s Blindness, where people must adapt to ever worsening conditions, curtailing expectations until their lives are unrecognizable. I found the world creative and the story engaging. It’s not a long book, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#5: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (narrated by Kim Mai Guest)

This one was a reread for me, because I wanted to read the sequel (Sapphique) but couldn’t really remember what had happened in Incarceron. The two main characters are Finn, a prisoner in the self-aware prison Incarceron, and Claudia, the warden of Incarceron’s daughter and prisoner of a different kind in a world that’s not allowed to change. It’s one of the more original YA novels I’ve read, and the narration is good. I found it to be an enjoyable reread.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#6: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham (narrated by Rebecca Lowman)

In this second installment of the Veronica Mars series, Veronica is hired by the Neptune Grand, a local hotel where a woman claims she was assaulted and left for dead by one of the hotel’s employees. The hotel simply wants to know whether or not they are liable — but of course, Veronica can’t let it go at that.

I did not expect to enjoy this new Veronica Mars series, but (as I mentioned in my March to May Summer Summary installment) I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The books are fun, not too graphic, and easy to pick up even if you know next to nothing about all the Veronica Mars stuff that’s come before. Rebecca Lowman, not Kristin Bell, narrated this one, and while it’s not the kind of book I usually imagine her reading, she did a nice job.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#7: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert (narrated by Andrus Nichols and Caitlin Davies)

In early 1960s Chicago, Naomi and her daughter Sophia have carved out a life for themselves around Naomi’s stagnant career as a jazz singer. When it seems a cover story in Look magazine will finally catapult Naomi into stardom, though, their world is shaken by an unexpected tragedy. The narration moves back and forth between mother and daughter, Naomi’s segments revealing parts of her past about which Sophia is ignorant.

I had mixed feelings about Last Night at the Blue Angel. I liked the story, the characters, and the writing. I especially liked learning more about Naomi as her story got told, seeing how things in her past explained what her daughter in the book’s present didn’t know or understand.

My issue was with the ending. I won’t say much so as not to spoil what happens, but it felt like the story was just getting going when suddenly it was cut short, like the second half was lopped off and discarded. And something about the big event toward the end seemed forced to me, like the author couldn’t let things end on the note they were tending toward and so had to throw something unexpected (and maybe a little unrealistic) in.

Still, overall, I enjoyed the book. I received it as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#8: Dinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo

I’ve read all three of Roland Merullo’s _[meal]_ with Buddha books at this point, Dinner with Buddha being the last and most recent. There are things about all three books I like and other things that aren’t really my style. Overall, it’s an interesting set of books.

Dinner was my second favorite of the three, after Breakfast. It alternates between descriptions of and meditations on America, action and dialogue that move the story forward, and spiritual musings. The thing that bothered me most was how by the end of the novel, Otto — protagonist, narrator, and average sort of guy to whom I could always sort of relate in the past — slips beyond the reader, leaving no character the reader still feels like s/he can identify with. Without giving away too much, the book’s ending is barely graspable for Otto but not really graspable at all for me. What always felt like a simple, interesting, satisfying story morphs into something rather far-fetched. But other than that, I enjoyed making my way through Dinner with Buddha.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#9: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (narrrated by Jonathan Davis)

I spent a looooong time not reading this book, passing it over every time I went to my shelf for my next read. Finally, I was able to get a copy of the audiobook from my library and could check The Shadow of the Wind off my list!

The novel centers on Daniel, the son of an antiquarian book dealer in Barcelona who stumbles on a captivating novel by one Julián Carax. Intrigued to learn more about this unknown author, Daniel dives into the tangle of lies and mysteries surrounding the man and his works, moving further into danger with every knot he manages to untie.

The bottom line: It was too weird and convoluted and dramatic for me. I don’t have a lot to say beyond that, except that I was happy to part with my hard copy once I’d made it through the audio version. Hooray for freeing up shelf space!

The Verdict: Mediocre

Average for the month: on the high end of mediocre. Not as great as last month, but the awesomeness of #1 and the anticipation of finally getting my hands on #2 and #3 (even if neither blew me away) made this a pretty darn good reading month.


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

Summer Summary Badge (erinreads.com)

In this third Summer Summary, I’ll cover what I read and listened to in July of 2015. As with first and second installments, rather than go in reading order, I’ll list the books 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: Every Day by David Levithan (narrated by Alex McKenna)

Oh, I loved Every Day. The premise is that our narrator, known only as A, wakes up every morning in someone else’s body and life. It’s always a teenager, always geographically nearby, and A has to navigate that person’s life without screwing it up until A goes to sleep that night. The next day, it starts over again. Usually A doesn’t get involved in these others’ lives — that is, until that life belongs to Justin and A falls head-over-heels in love with Justin’s under-appreciated girlfriend, Rhiannon.

The story is so original and unexpected, the characters so absorbing (even as one of them changes appearance and circumstances on a daily basis), and the narration so good that I wanted Every Day to go on forever. And that about sums up my feelings toward it!

The Verdict: Excellent

#2: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (narrated by Kirby Heybourne and Ariadne Meyers)

All the Bright Places follows the unexpected friendship between popular-girl Violet and social-outcast Finch. Neither is in a particularly good place when they meet, and their relationship is anything but smooth. Somehow, though, they’re good for one another. I can’t say more without major spoilers, but I can tell you that it isn’t exactly a happy book.

I thought All the Bright Places was masterfully told. It’s heart-rending and fragile, full of sorrow and hope and love, and its two main characters are wonderfully three-dimensional. It’s the kind of book you can’t just walk away from when you’ve finished it — it lingers, even months later.

The Verdict: Excellent

#3: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (narrated by Robert Petkoff)

I was a little nervous to read Being Mortal after some of the reviews I’d seen. I thought it would be really hard to get through, the kind of book I’d have to force myself to read because I knew it would be good for me. Instead, the word that sticks in my mind when I think of Being Mortal is “comforting.”

Gawande believes there are some serious problems with the way we approach our own mortality. In Being Mortal, he lays those problems out and addresses them, offering research and alternatives as well as individual stories to explore each one. I’m so glad I listened to it. It’s left me feeling hopeful and reassured somehow, like there are ways of approaching the ends of our lives that go against our often scary or hopeless cultural norms.

The Verdict: Excellent

#4: Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren

I knew only a little about Jillian Lauren’s first memoir, Some Girls, when I picked up Everything You Ever Wanted for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, so I was coming to the latter fairly fresh. It chronicles the experiences and struggles of Lauren and her husband as they adopt and parent a little boy from Ethiopia.

My favorite part was the way Lauren uses language. It’s raw and immediate, precise and forceful without being overpowering. She has a way of shaping words to impart what she wants to say — something all authors must, to some extent, be able to do, but in Lauren’s case, she does so in a way I’ve never quite come across before.

She does not shy away from the tough parts of her experience, but she also doesn’t paint them in exaggeratedly lurid dramatics just to amp up the story. The whole memoir felt honest, real, candid. Overall, a well written, well balanced reminiscence worth reading.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#5: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (narrated by Jesse Bernstein)

I loved Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, so of course I had to give Liar & Spy a shot. Georges (the “s” is silent) and his parents have just moved into a new Brooklyn apartment building. While down in the basement, he and his father see a sign about a spy club meeting, and Georges’ father encourages him to go. That’s how Georges meets Safer, a spy-obsessed, coffee-drinking introvert, and his little sister Candy. It’s also how he ends up spying on Mr. X, another building resident Safer is sure is up to no good.

Liar & Spy is a cute story. I think it’s perfect for its target age group. I didn’t like it as much as When You Reach Me, but I’m still glad I gave it a listen.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#6: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (narrated by the author)

I’m still not sure why, but I keep seeing Two Boys Kissing referred to as the follow-up to Every Day (reviewed above). Maybe that simply means the books were published chronologically and I misunderstood. I thought it was a sequel of some kind — which, as far as I can tell, it is not.

There are numerous interesting elements to Two Boys Kissing. It’s based on true events, for one; for another, it’s narrated by a Greek-style chorus of gay men who died during the AIDS epidemic. It flits around between several different, lightly intertwining stories. The two boys referenced in the title are Harry and Craig, ex-boyfriends (but still friends) who have decided to break the world record for longest kiss.

I did not love Two Boys Kissing the way I did Every Day. Part of that might have been because I expected the two books to be connected, but I don’t think that was the whole problem. It felt distant, somehow, and I never really felt like I got into it. Oh well.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#7: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (narrated by Kim Mai Guest)

Anna has been sent off to France to attend a boarding school, very much against her will. On her arrival, though, she makes a friend in her dorm, who pulls her into a group, and soon she’s feeling less like an outsider — and has fallen hard for one of the group’s members, Étienne St. Clair. The only problem is that he has a long-standing girlfriend (of course).

One of my literary pet peeves is when I know, beyond all uncertainty, how a story is going to turn out. It should never be that obvious — there should always be at least a shadow of doubt, the slightest chance that things might go in a completely different direction. Not so with Anna and the French Kiss. Honestly, I’d probably have enjoyed the book more a couple of years ago, but as I was listening, all I could think of was how much better it would have been had Rainbow Rowell written it! It wasn’t bad, exactly, but I wouldn’t call it good, either.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#8: Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver (narrated by Jim Dale)

Liesl & Po is written for a younger audience than Oliver’s other books. Liesl is a little girl who’s been locked away by her stepmother; Po is something like a ghost who can cross over from the Other Side. The two make one another’s acquaintance. Meanwhile, an alchemist’s apprentice makes a serious mix-up while carrying out an important delivery. The consequences and their own stories draw the three characters together on an adventure full of misunderstandings, close calls, good luck, and friendship.

It was cute enough. Rather unique, at least among the middle grade books I’ve read. I think my favorite part was the glimpses into the Other Side we get from Po. And Jim Dale is always a pleasure to listen to, so no complaints there!

The Verdict: Mediocre

#9: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (narrated by Kathleen McInerney)

In the Unlikely Event centers on a true historical event: three plane crashes that occurred in Elizabeth, NJ, in a five-month period in the early 1950s. The central character is Miri, who is fifteen when the accidents occur. We also hear from plenty of characters around her — friends, family, acquaintances, strangers — as the disasters’ ripples spread outward through the community.

My feelings toward this one were just lukewarm. I enjoy hearing about historical events, especially those I’ve never even heard of, and I thought it was interesting to use a large slice of the community to tell the story. I didn’t love that the whole book was in limited third person (though perhaps it had to be to work with all the narrators?) — that kind of writing usually leaves me missing a unique character voice. And overall, the book felt a little flat and juvenile…understandable, I suppose, since most of Judy Blume’s novels are written for young adults! I’m glad I listened to it, but wasn’t blown away.

The Verdict: Mediocre

Average for the month: a very high mediocre, bordering on enjoyable. I was extremely happy with my reading (ok…listening) this month. The three excellents more than made up for the books I didn’t love as much, and most of the mediocres were on the high end, closer to enjoyable than lacking.

Your Turn!

I’ve really been enjoying young adult stuff lately. Have you read (or listened to) anything spectacular that you’d recommend?

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

Summer Summary Badge (erinreads.com)

In this second Summer Summary, I’ll cover what I read and listened to in June of 2015. As with the first installment, rather than go in reading order, I’ll list the books 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: Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko (narrated by Kirby Heyborne)

I really enjoy this series, which follows a group of kids who live on Alcatraz in the 1930s, when the prison still functioned as such. Their parents are wardens and guards, and the country’s most infamous prisoners are part of daily life. Central to the series are its narrator, Moose, and his autistic sister Natalie.

Al Capone Does My Homework is the third in the series, featuring the same group of kids as the first two. Each incorporates some crisis on the island, an interaction with prisoners, group-of-kids dynamics, and something to do with Natalie and her family’s ongoing struggle to help her gain acceptance in their tiny community. Kirby Heyborne, who’s narrated the whole series so far, does an excellent job. Suffice it to say I’m looking forward to book number four, whenever it comes out!

(Here’s my review of the second book in the series, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, if you’re curious!)

The Verdict: Enjoyable

#2: Across the Universe by Beth Revis (narrated by Lauren Ambrose and Carlos Santos)

I’m not really sure I can summarize this one without spoilers, so I’ll let you check out Goodreads (link above) if you’d like to learn more. I sort of feel like I was the only person who didn’t read it when it came out, so perhaps a summary is unnecessary anyway!

I had mixed feelings about Across the Universe. I liked the premise, found it intriguing. Amy’s struggles and feelings seemed real, but Elder struck me as rather dense — though perhaps that’s understandable, given his situation. Something about the story felt slow and anticlimactic, like it should’ve been the early part of a longer novel. I didn’t realize until I went to write this mini review that there are additional books in the series, so perhaps I’d feel differently if I read them. Sadly, my library doesn’t have them as digital audiobooks, which is about all I’m doing these days. That’s ok, though…I’m not really chomping at the bit to find out what happens next.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#3: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (narrated by Juliet Stevenson)

Having only ever read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, I really had no idea what to expect going into The Signature of All Things. It was…different. I think that’s the best way I can describe it. It contained very little that struck me as literarily commonplace. The main character, Alma, is a botanist, and the novel is laden with botanical tidbits. The story follows Alma throughout most of her life — much longer than I’m used to in contemporary fiction. There were many places it could have ended, but it didn’t. Not that I found myself wishing it would; it was more that my expectations were broken over and over somehow.

Juliet Stevenson did a lovely job narrating. Her soft, proper voice fit Alma’s story nicely. I’m honestly not sure I’d have made it through the whole book in print, though I find myself unable to put my finger on exactly why. I think it might have to do with the story being mildly interesting on the intellectual front but doing very little for me in the way of emotional connection or arc.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#4: Elizabeth I by Margaret George (narrated by Kate Reading)

My first Margaret George experience (with Helen of Troy) left something to be desired. However, the idea of the kind of novels she writes (first-person fictionalized autobiographies of famous women from history) appeals to me, so I thought I’d give her another chance. Elizabeth I and I got on better, but I’m still not completely sold.

Elizabeth I is the story of — surprise! — Queen Elizabeth I. The novel begins when she’s already well into her reign, and only little bits of earlier happenings trickle through as the story progresses. At times I found her strong and interesting; at other times, stubborn or frustratingly dense. There were certainly moments when I lost patience, and, as with The Signature of All Things, I’m not sure I’d have made it through in print. The history and characters were interesting at points, but often the story dragged.

It’s possible that George was just being true to Elizabeth when she wrote this book. Is it fair to judge the novel if it accurately depicts what we know if its subject? Maybe, maybe not. Part of me feels like one of the author’s jobs in this kind of story is to shape an engaging story, which didn’t quite happen for me in Elizabeth I.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#5: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (narrated by the author)

I’ve had The Geography of Bliss on my TBR shelf for years. The subtitle is “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World,” and for some reason that always intrigued me. When I discovered my library had the digital audiobook, I decided to take that approach rather than letting the print copy languish for who knows how many more years.

The book was fine. Weiner travels to and then writes about a variety of places with a reputation for happiness, exploring what’s so great about the way each location does what it does and trying out a few of its residents’ ways. I suppose it was interesting to hear about some of the factors affecting happiness, and Weiner is funny and engaging when relating his anecdotes, but the book didn’t leave much in the way of a lasting impression.

The Verdict: Mediocre

#6: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (narrated by the author)

Sometimes Neil Gaiman is too weird for me. Sometimes his stories work — as was the case with The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere — and sometimes I just sort of watch them go by, amused but too distant to really get into them. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the latter.

I do love it when Gaiman narrates his own stuff, though. I’m pretty sure that’ll always keep me listening to the end, no matter how bizarre the contents of what he’s reading might be!

The Verdict: Mediocre

#7: Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant (narrated by Edoardo Ballerini)

Sarah Dunant is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read for a while. My library had this one as a digital audiobook, so I downloaded it. (Are you noticing a pattern in my book selection process yet??) It traces the story of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and his family, beginning as he schemes his way into becoming Pope Alexander VI.

I didn’t like anyone in this book. I didn’t even find them interesting — just scheming, ruthless, and/or naive. No, I don’t need to like a book’s characters in order to enjoy the book itself, but they do need to intrigue me, even if that’s because I’m fascinated by how much I hate them. I think I was done with the Borgias before I’d even met them. It doesn’t help that the writing felt kind of distant, more chronological narration than compelling storytelling.

Why did I keep listening if Blood & Beauty and I were at such odds? Because sometimes it’s easier to stick with the audiobook you have than find something else to listen to!

The Verdict: Lacking

Average for the month: a solid mediocre, without much in the way of high points to redeem it. This was the month I traveled a lot and spent hours sewing together a baby quilt, though, so as long as an audiobook at least half held my attention (you’ll notice there are no print books on the list!), I was sufficiently happy.

Your Turn!

What have you read lately that didn’t quite line up with your hopes or expectations?

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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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