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Summer Summary: March to May 2015

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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  • http://www.lindsayedmunds.com Lindsay Edmunds

    The controversy over GO SET A WATCHMAN inspired me to finally read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which is as great as people say. Read WATCHMAN and my verdict was meh.