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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1 Comment

  1. I was baffled at how little I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Not to say that I disliked it, because I didn’t, but everyone else seemed to think it was insanely good, and to me, it was a very middle of the road Gaiman type book. Very much in his style, the sort of story that’s right in his wheelhouse, but nothing special as his books go.

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