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Reading Roundup: July 2020

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
I will admit that there were times I found myself judging the women depicted in this book because of their life choices. However, that is exactly why Kolker wrote the book, because crime victims get judged just as much as, and perhaps in some ways even more than, criminals. This book is a good counterpoint to many other crime narratives, both fiction and nonfiction, that want to create neat, linear narratives with obvious 'good' and 'bad' participants. Real life is messy, complicated, and doesn't always offer us the neat solutions we would like. Another major lesson from the book, which resonates with several other books I read earlier this year, is that violent crime affects much more than just the victim, and for much longer than anyone anticipates.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
This book was a bit slow to get started, especially since it includes a number of different characters and storylines. Also, in th…

Reading Roundup: June 2020

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson
I learned a number of new things about the early history of forensics from this book. It was also an interesting way to reflect on the role the media and celebrity play in our culture; although the media we have now adds new complications, many of the issues were already present a century a year ago. Sometimes the writing in this book was a little dry and there were a few repetitive parts, but in general I enjoyed it.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
This is not a book to read quickly. It moves back and forth between characters and time periods throughout the book, sometimes revisiting events multiple times, each with a slightly different focus. I love reading books where all the pieces come together slowly and the author is so obviously skilled. This is quite different from St. John Mandel's previous book (Station Eleven), but I loved it just as much. 

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Pres…

Reading Roundup: May 2020

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar
This book alternates between two timelines, and suffers from the fact that one story is much more interesting than the other.  The author tries to make up for that fact by having the protagonist of the contemporary story start investigating events from the older one, but she never firmly establishes why there is a mystery or why it needs investigating. I thought this might have been a better book if it had only focused on one story and told it as more straightforward literary fiction instead of trying to manufacture unnecessary suspense.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
I'm not sure how to feel about this book. On the one hand, Wall is wonderful writer and the first half of the book builds up beautiful portraits of four different people. In some places it reminded me of Wallace Stegner and his attention to relationships. On the other hand, however, the plot wasn't formed around a particularly compelling conflict and last third of the book dragged. Als…

Reading Roundup: April 2020

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a big, sprawling book that covers a lot of different characters and two different time periods. In some ways this works and in others it doesn't; some aspects of the book, especially the historical parts, felt underdeveloped. It took a while to really get into it, but by the end of the book I was absorbed in the story and had a hard time letting go of the characters.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

This book seems like it should have gotten more buzz than it did last year. It's a complicated story about race, violence, and family legacies. The author alternates focus between two families who are intertwined as victims and perpetrators in different ways throughout the book. There aren't easy answers to any of the questions raised by the book, and I thought Cha did an excellent job leaving things realistically open in the end.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

I knew this book was going to be terrible, but I wanted to read something t…

Reading Roundup: 2019 Whitney Finalists

This year I decided to put all my reviews of Whitney finalists in one post. This year I read books from the General/Historical category and the Historical Romance category.

Whatever it Takes by Jessica Pack

My biggest issue with this book is the fact that it centers on a protagonist who is so closed off and defensive that it is hard as a reader to want to root for her and sympathize with her. The writing, however, is solid and the pacing is good. Pack (a pseudonym of Josi Kilpack) is an experienced writer and it clearly shows, even though this book wasn't my favorite.

Deborah: Prophetess of God by H.B. Moore

The Biblical story of Deborah is one that I'm not very familiar with, but I liked Moore's depiction of her as a strong and spiritual woman. Moore's books are always rich in detail about the lives of women during Biblical times and I feel like I learned a lot from this one.

The Book of Abish by Mette Harrison

I have to admit that I had low expectations for this boo…

Reading Roundup: March 2020

Saints: No Unhallowed Hand: 1846-1893

I actually read this in February and reviewed it over at Segullah. I enjoyed this latest installment in the series and look forward to the next two books.

A Student of History by Nina Revoyr

I grew up in Southern California, but not in Los Angeles--a distinction I never really understood until I was an adult and no longer lived there. In this book, Los Angeles and its history form an essential part of the plot, and Revoyr is a skilled writer who conveys a sense of the importance of this history for anyone who has never lived there. I also appreciated her skill in helping the reader sympathize with a character who spends the entire book making terrible decisions.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

This was a fairly quick read, but still powerful and important. Two of my kids also read it and loved it just as much as I did. I thought the art and the story were both excellent; it also thoughtfully ties together Takei's experiences as a child with …

Reading Roundup: February 2020

One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten

How does the year 1986 feel simultaneously like it just barely happened and also like ancient history? This book was an interesting collection of a variety of different stories about many different people and the many ways in which one particular day fit into the rest of their life. Weingarten uses a few stylistic tics that I don't particularly enjoy, but I mostly had a great time reading this book.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

Math is not a subject I know a lot about, but thankfully the author of this book describes it in such a way that I can still appreciate its significance to the story without fully understanding all the details. Some elements of the plot were a bit too melodramatic and cliche for my taste--it's getting hard to write an original novel about World War 2 in Europe anymore--but I still enjoyed reading it. The protagonist feels both historically appropriate and relatable…