August Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from August!
These are the books I most loved reading during the past month. The list skews toward light fiction, but I've got a mystery, a great novel by Allison Larkin, and a wonderfully witchy historical fiction read on here as well.
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
Teenaged April has been dealt a difficult hand in life, and watching her struggle to make her way and connect with others in Allison Larkin's new novel alternately broke my heart and made it soar.
In Allison Larkin's new novel The People We Keep, April is struggling. She's failing out of school, working some shifts at a diner, and living in a nonfunctioning motorhome that her father won in a poker game. She lives in a town where she's never felt like she belongs, within a family where she doesn't feel that she matters.
A borrowed car and an open mic night open up new possibilities for April, while a fight with her dad sharpens her focus on leaving. April flees, heading out on the road with few expectations, aside from changing the trajectory of her life.
Along the way, she meets various people and must decide whether to open her heart to them or to keep herself at a distance; she considers what she truly wants from her life; and she writes songs to cope with and interpret the world around her.
02 Don't Look for Me by Wendy Walker
Walker offers a terrifying, disturbing premise--but I was fascinated with the character depth, explorations of grief, and the twist I never saw coming in this suspenseful book.
Molly Clarke is dealing with bottomless grief. Her youngest daughter died in an unthinkable accident, and for Molly, making her way through each day is like wading through floodwaters threatening to drown her.
So she walks away--from her distant husband, her always-furious oldest daughter, her absent middle son, her broken life, and her relentless pain. At least, that's what the clues left behind seem to indicate.
But the truth of what has occurred is horrible, terrifying, twisty--and absolutely fascinating. Don't Look for Me has disturbing echoes of Emma Donoghue's Room, and Walker's premise is often difficult to read and experience on the page.
Our main protagonists are satisfyingly clever and resourceful, but they meet with plausibly complicated challenges, and nothing is too easy. There was a twist that I didn't see coming, and I thought it worked beautifully. Some of the wrap-up details near the very end felt a little bit unsatisfying, but resolving them cleanly might have felt too easy. I was intrigued by this book and flew through it in a day.
03 People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Henry strikes the perfect tone for this wonderfully sweet, funny, friendship-based, romantic story that has lovely depth. People We Meet on Vacation made me laugh a lot--and got me a little teary in the end.
In Emily Henry's newest novel People We Meet on Vacation, best friends and polar opposites Alex and Poppy are on their annual vacation. Poppy is impulsive and fun-loving, and Alex would generally rather stay home and read than seek out adventure.
The pair has long been emotionally inseparable despite living in different cities--Poppy in New York and Alex in their small hometown. But two years ago on their vacation, something BIG happened. It threatened their friendship and continues to loom over everything between them.
This was a will they/won't they story I loved. Some of the structure of having one character hold such emotional power over the other was frustrating because of the unlikely obliviousness required on the part of that character. But Henry strikes the perfect tone for this wonderfully sweet, funny, friendship-based, romantic story that has lovely depth.
04 The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Ursula unknowingly lives her life over and over again as Atkinson explores how choices large and small cause enormous repercussions for an individual--and sometimes for the entire world.
Ursula isn't aware of the countless number of lives she lives.
In Life After Life, Atkinson focuses on the character of Ursula, her relationships with members of her family, and details of life during World Wars I and II.
This would be a captivating book even without the redoing-life element. But Atkinson's thrusting of Ursula back into her same existence as she shifts her circumstances slightly (with enormous repercussions); opens up her life to be bigger and more fulfilling (and often in these cases, longer); and develops inner strength, conviction, and self-assuredness--that's the real magic.
I read (listened to) this immersive story about do-overs from Kate Atkinson at the recommendation of my wise friend Laura. I feared I'd get turned around in time by listening to the book rather than reading it, but narrator Fenella Woolgar's delivery kept me on track.
I mentioned Life After Life in the Greedy Reading List Six Fascinating Second-Chance, Do-Over, Reliving-Life Stories.
For my full review of this book, please see Life After Life.
05 Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
This light fiction young adult novel offers (reluctant) romance, best friendships, dance lessons, glimpses into the future, a reimagined family structure, and lots of heart.
In the newest young adult book by Nicola Yoon, teenaged Evie Thomas is reeling from her parents' divorce--and from her haunting secret knowledge that her father was seeing his girlfriend before he split with Evie's mom.
So Evie doesn't believe in love or happy endings anymore. But then something really strange happens. Unexpected visions start overwhelming her. She's able to see the past and futures of the couples around her.
But that's not all: Evie gets roped into taking dance lessons and inconveniently meets an incredible guy.
Evie copes with loss and some heavy issues, but Instructions for Dancing was also romantic, sweet, fun to read (well, to listen to as an audiobook, which I did), and it focused on quirky friends, family loyalty, and looooove, all in a light fiction wrapping.
For more summer reads, check out the Greedy Reading List Six Lighter Fiction Stories for Great Escapism.
06 The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore
Blakemore's book--which is based upon witch hunts during the seventeenth-century English Civil War--is smart, shadowy and gothic, often infuriating, and consistently fascinating.
In a small town in seventeenth century England, Puritanical fanaticism is opening the door for witch-hunting paranoia.
Rebecca West is fatherless, without marriage prospects, and generally defiant--all of which render her vulnerable to suspicion and subject to the various, often harmful whims of men.
The Manningtree Witches is smart and thoughtful, and the tone of Blakemore's novel is shadowy and gothic. Rebecca despairs at her situation, yet she is a wonderfully defiant and strong character--her mother is, dangerously, even more so.
The Manningtree Witches is infuriating in its recounting of the horrific cruelties and tortures enacted against so many women at the time. But I appreciated the dark humor and strength Blakemore allows the formidable female characters in the book.