This is a ridiculously long overdue reading recap, but I'm practicing that "secret of adulthood" and acknowledging that it's better late than never. Behold, what I've been reading the last three months (with one caveat: It turns out, I actually do less reading now that I work in a bookstore. What's up with that?).
Seating Arrangements was our book club pick for August, and the general consensus was "meh." We all just kept waiting for something to happen, an expectation I blame on the fact that most of us had just come down from finishing Gone Girl (which I reviewed here). Seating Arrangements just moved at a much slower pace, and all of the wedding hullabaloo highlighted on the cover panel never came to fruition in the ways we were expecting. It's a fine novel, especially given the fact that author -- a young 20-something female -- acts as narrator for a father of the bride experiencing a mid-life crisis. Despite its lack of action and our general discontent, the book fostered quite a bit of discussion about marriage, social/cultural norms, and character development. I compared it to one of my favorites of the year, Crossing to Safety, in the slow plot of movement. Unfortunately, it never quite reaches the level of Crossing to Safety's greatness, not for me, anyway. I'd recommend getting this one from the library and maybe even discussing among friends (the books we're not huge fans of often wind up being the ones that foster the most discussion), but Seating Arrangements is probably not worth purchasing.
I read The Art of Fielding while also trying to tackle Seating Arrangements, which may have contributed to my general lack of interest in Maggie Shipstead's novel. I was far too enmeshed in Chad Harbach's world of university politics and baseball stars. The Art of Fielding will probably go down as one of my favorite books of the summer, and I've tried to explain to store patrons: It's not just about baseball. Sure, it starts there, but it doesn't end there. It's about so much more. The characters are fantastic, and Harbach weaves the stories and plot lines -- friendships, relationships, jealousy, greed -- together effortlessly. The Art of Fielding ran a little long, but to be honest, it's not a big enough complaint to warrant failing to pick up the book altogether. This one is worth buying. It was a great summer read, but I think it might be the perfect book for cozying up in front of a fire this fall too.
This is one of those books that missed my high school years, so I never got around to reading it. In order to not break my don't-see-the-movie-before-you-read-the-book rule, I borrowed this one from a friend and finished it in just a couple of days. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is full of teenage angst, but the plot and the protagonist go deeper than that. Once I finished, though, I just didn't love it. I think most of that has to do with me being 26 and reading it for the first time -- let's face it; I'm no longer in Chbosky's target audience -- and the rest probably has to do with the fact that I led a pretty chaste adolescence. I had trouble relating to any of the characters. That being said, I thought Charlie was a heartbreaking, effective narrator. I never tired of his voice, and I became completely engrossed in the book, desperate to find out plot points and discover characters' full stories. Any lack of enthusiasm for this one comes solely from the type of reading I am; it certainly doesn't have anything to do with Chbosky or his story. I definitely think this one is worth reading just once.
This post from September more eloquently sums up how I feel about Joanna Brooks and The Book of Mormon Girl, but if you're still looking for a quick review, here it is: Read this book. Admittedly, it took a few chapters for me to really delve into its pages, but once I did, I was hooked. I stopped being fascinated with the Mormon faith and instead began to find similarities in our stories; that, to me, is the mark of a talented storyteller and an authentic faith. This isn't a tawdry tell-all; instead, it's a book about a girl coming to terms with her faith and what it means for her and for future generations. I admire Joanna Brooks for writing a book like this, for stepping out on faith and opening her mouth so others don't feel so alone. The Book of Mormon Girl isn't perfect -- it's not necessarily a can't-put-it-down page-turner -- but it is real, and that makes it worth reading.
I think I may be alone in my sub-par review of Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins. It came highly recommended from NPR and Indiebound, but I can't remember the last time I had this much difficulty getting passed the first page of a book. Maybe it was all of the italicized Italian phrasing, reminding me of Giada's over-pronunciation of mozzarella. Maybe it was the constantly changing plots and the countless characters. Whatever it was, I just couldn't really get into Beautiful Ruins, our book club pick for September. I finished it -- and I'm glad I did -- but the number of characters and the jumps in time sequence really bogged me down. It's certainly a unique book -- and other members of my book club really seemed to enjoy it -- but I just thought it was okay. Of course, full disclosure: The plot -- which begins in 1962 Italy -- didn't intrigue me from the beginning, so that may have been part of the problem. Jess Walter had an uphill battle to begin with. I'd be curious to know if any of you have read it, though, and what you thought. Most of the reviews I've read have been raves, and I'm wondering if it's just me. Thoughts?
I read The Happiness Project back when it first came out, so I was quick to buy Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home. Built along the same premise as the first book, Happier at Home follows Rubin's resolution making in her home and with her family. Both of her books get a little detail-heavy for me (which is funny, since Rubin often reminds me of myself), and it's hard not to feel like you're far behind the curve when it comes to happiness and organization. I'm a resolution-maker, and reading Rubin's books is almost inspiration overload for me. I can feel myself coming up with all these lofty goals that will die in a matter of weeks. There are principles, though, that I want to remember -- I always read with a pen in hand -- and I like having Rubin's books on the shelf to mark up and return to for research and ideas. If you liked The Happiness Project, you'll probably enjoy Happier at Home, though you might also find it a little redundant: Many of the same principles can be found in both books, and you get the feeling Rubin might be running out of material. I also got a little frustrated this go-around; some of Rubin's goals and discussions felt lofty and annoying to me; once I remembered, though, that happiness is what she "does" for a living, I could take a step back and apply her thoughts and principles in more practical ways to my life. Read this one with a dose of reality and authentic perspective: Not everyone's life looks like this, and realizing that can help make Happier at Home more enjoyable.
I'm just going to be honest: I bought this book for the cover. (And it was written by The Decemberists' Colin Meloy, so that didn't hurt either). I've been trying to read some YA and middle reader books -- I don't want to recommend to customers something I haven't read -- and I figured Wildwood was a good place to start. It took me a while to really get into and enjoy (that seems to be a theme among books I've read lately), but once I read it for what it was, I liked it. It reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, complete with fantastical characters, an evil queen, talking animals, and a lovable postman. I intend to recommend this one to middle readers; it's got a ton of action, a feisty female protagonist (and her equally courageous male partner), and underlying themes about nature. It also has some incredibly "real" portions (i.e., any dealing Prue, the main character, has with her parents) that I found almost more exciting than the fantastical parts. One complaint I did have about Wildwood was its unnecessary length; detailed battle scenes could have easily been removed or edited; sometimes it felt like a lot of description for a little meat. Otherwise, though, I thought it was a nice addition to the middle readers' shelf.