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Summer Summary: August 2015

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.

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  • Kristen M.

    Are you the only person who doesn’t love Shadow of the Wind? 😉

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

    Well, if you DO decide to read more Maggie Stiefvater, may I recommend you read The Raven Cycle and not the Shiver series? The Shiver books are fine I guess, and the companion novel that goes with them, Sinner, is actually quite good. But by the time she gets to The Raven Boys, she’s moved forward as a writer so, so, so much. Everything is so much better imagined and realized and described, and it’s wonderful.