What I’ve been reading: Summer version

What’s been going on lately? Well, it’s a rather unimpressive litany of failing to exercise regularly, struggling with revision, work, a brief (but wondrous) trip to Rome, summer. Sometimes the world feels like it’s falling apart (or maybe that’s just what Donald Trump would have us believe), but I’m constantly reminded that there’s always beauty and—thank goodness—books. Here’s what I’ve been reading, listed in no particular order!

Middle Grade and YA

Ink and Bone (The Great Library) by Rachel Caine – This was an amazing series opener with real thrills and provocative questions set in a very compelling world (Thank you, Linda Perez at Albany Middle School for telling me about this one!). Basically, power is concentrated in libraries, who use mystical means to control reading materials—and therefore people. From initial exalted principles the Great Library has festered into a den of corruption. Thrust into appalling danger, a diverse and appealing group of librarians-in-training try to survive war, betrayal, and each other. Loved this, and have already gulped up the recently released sequel, Paper and Fire.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – I admit to initial trepidation because the story is put together through various comms and IMs, redacted reports, ships logs, and so on, and usually I prefer the illusion created by “traditional narrative” (insofar as such a thing actually exists). But I was wrong to resist. This was incredibly fun and speedy. Space disaster, conspiracy, love, and valor.

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung – Funny and heartwarming tale of a Korean American girl’s rather unexpected discoveries about her family. There are a lot of crazy, snort-laugh moments (of course, it’s Mike Jung!) but incredible feeling as well. Such a great middle grade—and I must mention the launch party was amazing.

The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet – I’ve loved all of Anne’s books for their magical imagination, deep sensitivity, and delightful world-building. This story, about a girl who builds a musical instrument, setting in motion a chain of life-changing events, is not to be missed. Friendship, music, and loveliness.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee – In 1906 San Francisco, Mercy Wong is determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Irresistible blend of pluck and big-heartedness. I’m in awe of people who write historicals, especially those that feel immediate and you-are-there real. Stacey Lee does it again. Yay, Stacey!

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye – Dueling magicians in an alternate Tsarist Russia. Lots of lovely illusions, gowns, and confections. Very stunning, from another awesome Bay Area writer. This was an immediate bestseller, and it’s easy to see why: suspense, magic, a headstrong heroine, and yummiest boys!

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan – A boy on the run finds friends and purpose in a kingdom of dark magic. Super fun middle grade, with spookiness and a giant bat!

Adult(ish)

How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell – A huge delight and an extremely comforting book. Montaigne lived through harrowing times (religious wars between Catholics and Protestants) that brought out the worst in humanity. Somehow he kept his equanimity and wrote his Essais. Bakewell is fantastic at making Montaigne feel vital and modern.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – reminded me strongly of Alice Munro, in that it’s absolutely gripping even though it seems like not much is happening. Terrible things are hinted at, but curiously, not much is revealed (making the couple of details that are remembered starkly horrifying). She has that magic touch of being able to say profound things about life in beautifully limpid, naturalistic language.

The Past by Tessa Hadley – I became a fan of Hadley’s through her stories in the New Yorker. She has such a beautiful prose style, coupled with clear-eyed insight about people—women’s lives in particular. Without a lot of fanfare, she hones in on the moments that in retrospect are huge turning points. This story, about siblings and others gathering at their family’s country house for one last summer before selling it, is near perfect.

Career of Evil by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith – Another murder mystery in the Cormoran Strike series. Perfectly entertaining and fine, except that it’s hard not to see her strengths and faults thrown into relief. For me, I guess the disappointment has been in realizing that she has great imagination, but rather limited (or maybe old-fashioned) ideas. Still, I anticipate reading more of these.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – In a land battered by geologic activity, some have the ability to control the earth. Strikingly original, with a narrative that jumps in time and POV (with a twist). I picked this up after reading an interview with Jemisin in the Guardian. It’s stuck with me long after I finished it. (Needless to say, I will be reading the sequel, The Obelisk Gate.)

The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho – This was a short, and I’m so glad I took a chance on it. A hilariously deadpan and imaginative vision of the afterlife that lingers in the mind.

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin –
Of course I had to read the finale of this epic vampire trilogy! We finally get the backstory of what went down in that Bolivian jungle so many years ago. Zero’s narrative felt a tiny bit underwhelming after the grand craziness of before. But I’ve loved the scale and sweep of this series. All in all, a mindblowing achievement.

Happy reading and happy summer everyone!

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