Ahhhh, September 1st is here. There’s a chill in the air and the promise of fall is just around the corner. Or not, ya know…because I live in Florida. Here, it’s still 80 billion degrees every day. And since the calendar tells me that we’re still a whole 20 days from the official start of fall, I feel completely justified in talking about my the books in my summer reading list.
Out of the nine books I read over the last three months, there were some old ones, some new ones, and one re-read. Four of them took place in modern times (including one non-fiction book) and five were historical fiction. Some were great, some were just alright, and there was one I wouldn’t recommend at all.
Which one do you think that was, I wonder? Let’s find out.
Books that are “old”
Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
Let’s start with the re-read, shall we? In the interest of full disclosure, I read this book because I really wanted to watch the movie. Unfortunately, you can’t find the Chris O’Donnell and Minnie Driver masterpiece anywhere for free. You can, however, find the book pretty easily at thriftbooks.com, so that’s what I did.
Maeve Binchy’s novel of friends and enemies and lovers and family set in 1950s Ireland is nothing short of a treat. Like comfort food with pages, the reader is transported back to a slower and simpler time where friendship is still cherished, relationships are still tricky, and heartbreak still hurts. But it’s all done with the lilt of an Irish brogue, so it’s even more special.
The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey
I almost quit reading this book before I even started it. Am I glad I kept at it, though? Absolutely! And I’ll tell you why.
As far as the mechanics of writing goes, this book was only so-so. The first chapter was particularly excruciating as the author used a lot of dialogue to tell you things she could’ve insinuated elsewhere, but thankfully, that improved as the pages went on.
The story, though? That’s what kept me going. Three college friends from Boston leave home to enlist as Clubmobile Girls through the Red Cross to serve the boys at the Front during WWII. One’s fiance is missing in action, one is a diva, and one is a shrinking violet with talent to spare. There’s adventure and romance, heartache and intrigue, war and peace. Whereas Circle of Friends was my idea of literary comfort food? The Beantown Girls is 100% book candy.
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Heartbreakingly beautiful, insightful, eye-opening, and challenging. These are the best terms I can use to describe The Dearly Beloved. The book spans the latter half of the 20th century (so maybe-kinda-sorta historical fiction?) and follows two men and the women they love as they minister and work together as pastors of a Presbyterian church in New York. Each man (and his wife) takes a different path to God that takes him on his own unique journey. But it isn’t until they find some solace in their shared faith, experiences, and friendship that life starts to make sense. I highly recommend this book.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
“Read Kate Morton,” they said. “You’ll love her historical fiction,” they said. And to them I say, “Meh.”
Billed as being “perfect for fans of Downton Abbey,” the book took place mostly during WWI and the roaring 20s. It followed nonagenarian Grace as she reminisced about her life as a servant (think Daisy from Downton) at the Riverton estate. There were two sisters who fought, yet loved each other dearly (think Lady Mary and Lady Edith), American money that came in to save the estate, and a romantic mystery that supplied the scandal. Taking place both in current day and flashbacks, it wasn’t overly difficult to figure out the mystery before all was revealed at the end of the book.
All in all, it’s a solid historical fiction mystery, but not my favorite.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Can a book that takes place in the 1970s be historical fiction? Maybe? For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll go with yes.
I’ll admit it, I have always been intrigued by Alaska. The majesty and beauty, the extreme cold, the midnight sun and the moon at noon just grab my imagination so easily. And what I learned in reading Hannah’s novel is that it takes a special kind of person to be able to thrive in that sort of environment.
The novel follows the Albright family as Leni and her parents move to Alaska after the Vietnam War. The story is one of upheaval, mental illness, abuse, love and, ultimately, survival through all of the elements of life’s unpredictability.
The story is equal parts enthralling, surprising, unbearable, maddening, and endearing. The one caveat to my recommending this book would be to take care if you are sensitive to abusive relationships.
Books that are “new”
All Things Reconsidered by Knox McCoy
It’s the tagline that gets ya with this book — “How Rethinking What We Know Helps Us Know What We Believe”. In his second book, Knox McCoy (of one of my all-time favorite podcasts “The Popcast with Knox & Jamie“) will have you rethinking everything from participation trophies to prayer. He is funny and endearing and his sincerity is as prolific as his Hamilton quotes. This book can be taken in small bites, just read a chapter here or there, and will have you laughing with each essay. And it will have you asking yourself more than once, “What is it that I need to reconsider?”
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Read it. Loved it. Would recommend it for absolutely everyone in high school or older, especially in today’s racially-charged climate. I wrote more about this book in this post. Friends, it’s a quick yet important read. Please pick it up when you can.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
And, reader, here we are. We have reached the book that I would not recommend. Don’t read it. Don’t waste your time like I wasted mine.
The genre for this book is “literary fiction.” Literary fiction is code for “the author doesn’t like to use quotation marks and switches points of view and timelines enough to make you feel crazy.” There’s also way too much sex, way too much kink, and way too much stupid ending.
Enough said? Ok. Moving right along…
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
This book will challenge you. It challenged me, that’s for sure.
When the infant son of a white supremacist dies just hours after his birth, the Black nurse who was caring for him gets charged with murder. The trial that follows explores race, privilege, prejudice, grief, and justice with tremendous compassion.
While the ending was a little more trite that I would’ve liked it to be, what could otherwise be a very heavy depressing book comes to a redemptive and hopeful conclusion.
More Books to Love!
My son couldn’t believe it the other day when I mentioned that I am currently reading my 30th book of 2020. But it’s true! In fact, my fall TBR list is starting off with a bang (and quite out of my wheelhouse) with The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow. Can’t wait to see where else this fall might lead!
In the meantime, be sure to share with me what you are currently reading and check out more books from summers past here on A Welcome Grace. Happy reading!
August Reads: Simply Miraculous
June Reads: Good, Old-Fashioned Summer Reading
August Reads: Three Books & Some Movies for Good Measure
July Reads: Crazy Rich, Jazz Age, and Beloved
June Reads: 2 of Substance & 2 of Fluff
1 thought on “Books Old & New: What I Read This Summer”
Hi Beth, great books! I was disappointed you didn’t like Normal People, but glad you said WHY, because I hate books written that way too. However, did you know it’s a 12-part series on Hulu? O.M.G… (there is a lot of sex), but it is a RIVETING story right off the bat, and both lead actors are so good, every emotion on their face, … I didn’t like the part where Mary Ann is with Jaimie either, or the black guy, but I am in the middle of my 3rd binge watch of all 12 parts, and I’ve never done that with ANY TV series (though I could happily watch all of Game of Thrones again). Definitely an adult only show, but you should give it a look.