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Summer Summary: July 2015

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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  • http://readingtheend.com/ Jenny @ Reading the End

    Oh, remind me, have you read Maggie Stiefvater, or nah? Her fantasy YA novel The Raven Boys was one of my favorite books of last year — but I can’t remember if you’re a big fantasy reader? The book’s super lovely, and it’s got two sequels and a final book out early next year.