July was an extremely busy reading month for me. Thanks to my week-long vacation and a string of really excellent titles, I managed to finish 10 books last month. But, even with all the strong writing, I was not able to write individual blog posts or reviews for every single book. Here’s a round-up of what else I read in July, the good, the bad and the excellent.
This book must have been recommended to me 20 times in the past few years, but somehow I never got around to reading it. I’m glad I did. Alexie does a brilliant job with Junior, growing up unpopular on a Spokane Indian reservation, which doesn’t hold a candle to freaky unpopular off the rez. “Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.” He cleverly uses illustrations along with text and finds a heartbreaking honest voice for Junior. I can’t wait to introduce this book to my sons (just not quite yet.)
The Madonnas of Leningrad 2 stars
This was a Book Club pick; otherwise, I may have given up before finishing. I knew very little about the siege of Leningrad or the treasure of the Hermitage so I think the author, Debra Dean, hit upon a very winning subject. She had all the drama she needed in an unusual setting. Unfortunately, she never developed the characters enough to capture that background material. Boring.
Another, “How could I have waited this long?” moment. When everyone else was caught up in the hysteria of reading these books, I was not at all interested. I didn’t read kids books, fantasy, or books that topped 700 pages. A couple of years ago my oldest son took on the entire series and finished it between school years. He too told me they were great. Finally, this summer, my sons had the challenge of needing to listen to an audio book for the summer reading program. I suggested we find something for the car that we could all listen to. Harry Potter won. Such a great book. Excellent writing which appeals on many levels. My sons just love the story and the characters. I appreciate that Rowling’s writing is also a magnificent metaphor for the trials of growing up, especially if you’re a little different from everyone else.
Only knowing John Irving’s work through film adaptations, I was shocked by this book. I’m not a prude by any stretch, but something about his descriptions of a bisexual boy coming of age in Vermont struck me as “dirty old man.” The sex passages felt lascivious instead of feeling integral to the plot or character development. And, in the end, I didn’t really get the book. I enjoyed reading it in the moment, but was left with, “So what?”
The Weight of All Things 4 stars
I picked this book off the library shelf because I remember reading and really liking Night of the Radishes last year. I’m glad I did. Once again, Sandra Benitez transported me to another place (war-torn El Salvador) so completely that I lost sight of where I was actually sitting (poolside in the American Midwest). We see the war through the eyes of 10 year-old Nicolas who feels the weight of his mother’s death in the book’s first pages. We then follow him over the next couple months where he is caught between and amidst both the guerillas and the national army. Benitez expertly shows the horrible costs of war, especially when there are no clear lines of bad and good, only the victims. Beautiful writing.
I knew nothing about the Armenian genocide when I opened this book. Seriously, I didn’t know it existed, so Bohjalian had an immediate hook for my interest. The intense drama of the circumstances provides an excellent backdrop for the novel’s love story. This is the kind of sweeping historical saga that I love to read. Bohjalian did not disappoint.