Mini Book Reviews: Old favorites, uneven play, and synchronized reading.

This week feels like I got hit with every allergen out there. But I will say this for feeling under the weather – it’s a great excuse to burrow under the blankets with an old friend a good book. I feel like I had quite a few books started, but nothing to show for it! Uh: Fixed it.

Book190You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (2016, Little Brown, 352 pages, ebook). This was the deal of the day a week or so ago, which worked out really well for me because I only found out about that because I was going to buy it anyway. Megan Abbott is my idea of a fantastic summer read: something you feel like is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but not so ditzy that you’re ashamed to admit to reading her. Her suspense has enough beefcake to make you cringe at times (and laugh, wickedly), but enough brains to keep its scholarship. The fact that I was reading a book about a cutthroat and kickass girls gymnastics prodigy (and the parents of her gym) during the reign of the Fab 5? Couldn’t have been better timing! I felt like I was attending an immersive summer abroad program. The book did start to feel like it was dragging about halfway through, so I needed to find an extra gear to hang in there and see where the twists and turns lead me. A bit predictable, but in a happy, headrush kinda way. 4 of 5 stars.

Book189In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware (2015, Scout Press, 352 pages, paperback). I bought this way back in July when Kim was visiting, with an eye towards using it as an airplane read. It didn’t quite work out that way (though I faithfully carried it from Texas to Connecticut to Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Connecticut and back again). I finally made time for it and couldn’t quite figure out what it was that bugged. The characters felt a bit off (but not quite), the writing seemed almost good (but not quite), the plot felt almost contrived (but not quite)(I mean, a bachelorette party for an old friend you hadn’t talked to in 15 years but suddenly have time for?), but…something made me stick to it. Something made me give up naps at lunch for it. And then it clicked. I suddenly needed to know the way good books do you, and there it was. I was hoovering it down. I figured out the who of it, but not the why of it (or at least, not precisely why) and in a way that tickled me. It was such a fun romp, in fact, that I paid full pocket-gouging price for Ruth Ware’s new book The Woman in Cabin 10. 4 of 5 stars.

Book187Remember Me Like This, by Bret Anthony Johnston (2014, Random House, 368 pages, library eloan). I have a thing for books about missing people. I have less of a thing for books about affairs. So I wasn’t quite sure how this one was going to go. The jacket copy wasn’t shy about throwing around words and phrases like “taut” and “emotionally gripping” and “nuanced”. The problem then is that I get rather annoyed when the writing doesn’t follow through. Then I couldn’t care. Everyone seemed empty and vapid and just like bags of bones…and instead of shading everyone in (or fleshing them out), all I could see was wasted opportunity, like Jacqueline Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean. What a shame. 1 of 5 stars.

Book186Don’t Let Him Know, by Sandip Roy (2015, Bloomsbury, 256 pages, eloan). What a nice contrast! Roy’s story tells of a family steeped in nuance and shades of every color and perspective. Love, sacrifice, loyalties, and boundaries. There was very little I didn’t enjoy analyzing in this novel, even though I wasn’t really feeling the characters as people. See what I mean about contrast? I couldn’t connect with the people inside Johnston’s Remember Me Like This, and struggled to find another entry point into the book. I didn’t like the characters in Don’t Let Him Know, but the strength of the writing (and universality of theme) gave me so much more with which to engage. My favorite theme might have been the missed connections of his mother and the romance she didn’t quite dare to enjoy, but (god, who have I become?!) instead I found myself drawn to the changing relationships between parents and children as the roles of caretaker and dependent shifted and were constantly being renegotiated. There’s something here for everyone, depending on where and how hard you want to scratch. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book185Denton Little’s Death Date, by Lance Rubin (2015, Knopf, 352 pages, library eloan). The premise was original and seemingly solid in this YA much-buzzed-about book: everyone knows the day they’ll die. Denton Little, he of titular fame, is an “early” – someone who dies before they’re 21. As a result, Denton is trying to cram in a few last firsts – first make-out session, first sex, first hangover – and picks up a bunch of universal truths along the way. Not as funny as John Green, but it fits in my wheelhouse way better than Matthew Quick, if that’s a better gauge for you? Still, as original and quirky as it was, I felt the gap between me and YA on this one. 2 of 5 stars.

Book191The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware (2016, Scout Press, 352 pages, ebook). I enjoyed Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood so much that I ended up going out and buying this new release, just days later and even at price-gouging levels because hey! I’m having fun with this suspense kick I’m on. I maybe should have waited longer because it was a bit soon; even though I reminded myself that Ware’s first book took me awhile to sink into, and I wanted to ditch it a few times, I ended up being swept away by the pacing. I couldn’t get there with Cabin 10. The heroine seemed a bit too ditzy and self-destructive for me to root for her or take her seriously. Without that, I felt like I was floundering. Most won’t be half as picky, but I still had to force myself to finish. 2 of 5 stars.

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