July 2017 Books

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman: This book, about awkward, lonely Eleanor, was beautifully written and moving. Eleanor, a 30-year-old office worker, has no friends, no real family, and no idea how to live in the world with other human beings. She stumbles into a friendship with an IT guy from her office, Raymond, when they both help an elderly man who has passed out on the street. As more and more of Eleanor’s traumatic past is revealed, Honeyman keeps drawing the reader in, and I found myself really caring about this fictional character and what would happen to her. Despite some of the serious content and issues explored, Honeyman manages to insert lots of quiet humor, usually dealing with Eleanor’s unfamiliarity with common culture and societal mores. VGR

The Lost Letter, by Jillian Cantor: This was a lovely WWII novel that alternates between Austria in the late 1930s and Los Angeles in the late 1980s. The Austrian story deals with an orphan who has come to live with a Jewish stamp maker and his family to learn the trade. He falls in love with the elder daughter and she gets him involved with the Resistance once Germany annexes Austria. In the 1989 storyline, reporter Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and dealing with her father’s failing memory. He has collected stamps his whole life, and when he gives her the collection, she takes it to be appraised and thus finds an unsent letter with a very unusual stamp on it. VGR

Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner: My only issue with Turner is that she takes so long to write a new book (a six-year wait for this)! As always, her newest book is filled with delicious political intrigue and complex, layered characters. This book at first seems only tangentially related to the rest of the series, but as twists and surprises are revealed, the connections and tie-ins become more obvious. Thick as Thieves focuses on Kamet, slave and secretary to the Mede Nahuseresh, who left Attolia after failing to woo the queen in The Queen of Attolia. Kamet loves his position as a powerful slave and tolerates the occasional brutal beatings from his master. That all changes in an instant when Nahuseresh is poisoned and Kamet knows he and all of the other slaves will be blamed and put to death. Kamet flees his home and everything he’s ever known in the company of an Attolian, unnamed but recognizable almost immediately from The King of Attolia. If you haven’t read this series and love political intrigue, great characters, and circumstances continually surprising you, get to it! VGR

Lost and Found Sisters, by Jill Shalvis: Quinn is an L.A. chef whose life was turned upside down when her beloved sister died in a car wreck. After shutting down emotionally and going through the motions of her life for the year following the accident, a lawyer tracks her down with a huge secret and unexpected inheritance. Quinn ends up leaving L.A. on a whim and visiting the small California coastal town of Wildfire to explore her inheritance, and discovers the possibility of a whole new life for herself. Quick summer read.

The Reason You’re Alive, by Matthew Quick: I thought this was a much better read than Quick’s last novel, but I’m not sure everyone will enjoy it. The story is narrated by crusty old Vietnam vet David Granger, who goes about confronting his past in an opinionated, no-holds-barred narrative. I found him to be a funny and refreshing narrator, and his life story was fascinating, repellant, and appealing at various times.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay: Gay is such a fabulous writer. This book, where Gay confronts her issues with her obesity, is an emotionally tough read at times. Gay was gang-raped when she was 12 years old, and consequently started gaining lots of weight to make her body feel safe and untouchable. She clearly has a lot of contradictory feelings about being overweight, and articulates them very well. I was incredibly moved by her story and her descriptions of her internal conflicts. VGR

Midnight at the Electric, by Jody Lynn Anderson: A slow, quiet book that nevertheless was quite interesting. It alternates between three stories. In the first, Adri has been hand-selected to be one of an elite group of colonists on Mars in 2065. She is housed with a distant elderly relative while undergoing training and finds letters from previous inhabitants that draw her in. I didn’t really connect with Adri at all, but the two historical narratives were very interesting. There was Catherine, living through the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma in 1934, and then Lenore in 1919 England, struggling with the aftermath of having lost her brother in WWI. All the stories do end up tying together and it is a fairly well-crafted book.

Clean Sweep, by Ilona Andrews: This was a funny, light paranormal novel with a unique premise. Dina is an “Innkeeper” who runs an inn for non-humans. The paranormals on Earth are actually all aliens from other planets. When dogs end up gruesomely killed in her small Texas neighborhood, she teams up with a neighbor werewolf and visiting vampire to track down the killer.

The Impossible Vastness of Us, by Samantha Young: Excellent contemporary YA with a very likable cast of characters. India has survived an abusive childhood and has built up a life she loves at her California high school when her mother announces she’s in love and moving them both to Boston where her new fiancé lives with his teenage daughter. The daughter, Eloise, is cold and unwelcoming, as is her gorgeous boyfriend Finn. Eventually, India starts to uncover their secrets as they learn hers. This book explores some hard issues in a realistic manner and although there is some romance, it’s really about families and trust. VGR

Never Let You Go, by Chevy Stevens: Well-written thriller about Lindsey, who is raising her teenage daughter alone after escaping an abusive marriage. Andrew, her ex, had gone to prison for killing someone while driving drunk, and now that he’s out it seems like he’s stalking Lindsey and trying to scare her. Stevens alternates between the present and the past, showing how Andrew became more and more obsessive and abusive in his relationship with Lindsey. I accidentally saw a spoiler before I was done with the book, but if I hadn’t, I think I would have been completely surprised at one of the plot twists. VGR

About a Dog, by Jenn McKinlay: Easy, sweet romance with very little conflict and enjoyable characters. Mac hasn’t been back to her hometown in seven years, since the night she was left at the altar and then hooked up with her best friend’s younger brother in the aftermath. Now she’s back in her small Maine hometown for her best friend’s wedding and coming face-to-face with the little brother, all grown up.

The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson: Jackson’s writing keeps getting better with each new book. This tour de force features Leia, a graphic novelist who finds herself pregnant as the result of a one-night stand at a con with a man dressed as Batman. At the same time, her stepsister’s marriage is in crisis and her 90-year-old grandmother is suffering from dementia in her small Southern town. Jackson explores privilege, family, and racism while managing to spin a funny and empathetic story. VGR

The Summer I Became a Nerd, by Leah Rae Miller: I really wanted to like this book, but the main character was very unlikable and unrealistic. Maddie is a blond, popular cheerleader who hides her true self (a comic book-loving nerd) from everyone she knows. She starts falling for Logan, whose parents own the local comic book store, and in the process lies to everyone who loves her and generally acts like a complete prat. A last minute save at the end of the book was not enough for me.

She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper: Eleven-year-old Polly is a smart, strange kid. Her father Nate is about to get out of prison when he makes an enemy of the powerful leader of a white supremacist gang. The leader then puts the “greenlight” on Nate, Polly, and Polly’s mom, marking them all for death. Nate is too late to save his ex-wife, but as soon as he gets out of prison, he grabs Polly from school and takes her on the run to try to keep her alive. This book will put you through a roller coaster of emotions. Harper writes very vivid, real characters, and your heart will break for Polly again and again as she is indoctrinated into a world of violence and base survival. VGR

Ginny Moon, by Benjamin Ludwig: Another heartbreaker of a main character. Ginny is a 14-year-old autistic girl who survived a horrific childhood with a neglectful mother. She is now on her fourth “forever” family after several failed foster placements, and her new parents can’t understand why she keeps trying to contact her birth mother to see if the baby doll she left behind is okay. Her new “forever mother” is pregnant and finding it harder and harder to deal with Ginny’s special needs. The author himself has adopted a teenaged autistic girl, and he writes with great empathy and insight. VGR

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich: This is a powerful, emotionally raw book that weaves together a true crime story and the author’s own history of being molested as a child. Marzano-Lesnevich is incredibly open and personal as she takes this journey to unearth her own history and uncover details of the life of pedophile and murderer Ricky Langley. VGR

The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood: I’m surprised I haven’t heard more buzz about this book, which came out over a year ago. It has a unique format and is an absolutely beautiful story. The main characters are 104-year-old Ona Vitkus, an unusual young boy who has come to help her with chores through his Boy Scout troop, and the boy’s absentee father, Quinn, a guitarist who doesn’t know how to grieve the loss of his son (this isn’t a spoiler, as you find out right at the beginning that the boy is dead). The story and characters are engaging and I really cared what was going to happen to each of them. VGR

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