What I Read: May

I know,  I know. Its more than halfway through June basically July, and I’m just now posting what  I read in May. I’ve been really busy? These posts take a long time to write? I’m lazy? All of the above?

That said, May was a big month for reading for me. I read more than normal, and as of now, I’m five books ahead of schedule to reach my goal of 70 for the year! (I love that Goodreads quantifies this for me.) So, here we go, in chronological order:

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Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight

From Amazon: In Reconstructing Amelia, the stunning debut novel from Kimberly McCreight, Kate’s in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.

An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump.

Reconstructing Amelia is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save.

From Elizabeth: This is one of those books that I’ve had on my “to-read” list for a while, but I didn’t commit to it until it was a Kindle Daily Deal in late April. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between this author and Gillian Flynn, but I’d have to disagree. That isn’t to say that the book isn’t enjoyable in itself, but I wouldn’t say it is on the level of Gone Girl. Moving past that, I enjoyed this book a fair amount. The story – flashing between Amelia’s social media posts and texts and her mother trying to figure out what happened – was fast moving and pretty compelling. I did see the big twist at the end coming, which happens a fair amount, but I still liked the story. It was more of a “beach read” for me than anything else; its just too bad I didn’t get to read it on a beach!

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 The Steady Running of the Hour, Justin Go

From Amazon: In this mesmerizing debut, a young American discovers he may be heir to the unclaimed estate of an English World War I officer, which launches him on a quest across Europe to uncover the elusive truth.

Just after graduating college, Tristan Campbell receives a letter delivered by special courier to his apartment in San Francisco. It contains the phone number of a Mr. J.F. Prichard of Twyning & Hooper, Solicitors, in London–and news that could change Tristan’s life forever.

In 1924, Prichard explains, an English alpinist named Ashley Walsingham died attempting to summit Mt. Everest, leaving his fortune to his former lover, Imogen Soames-Andersson. But the estate was never claimed. Information has recently surfaced suggesting Tristan may be the rightful heir, but unless he can find documented evidence, the fortune will be divided among charitable beneficiaries in less than two months.

In a breathless race from London archives to Somme battlefields to the Eastfjords of Iceland, Tristan pieces together the story of a forbidden affair set against the tumult of the First World War and the pioneer British expeditions to Mt. Everest. Following his instincts through a maze of frenzied research, Tristan soon becomes obsessed with the tragic lovers, and he crosses paths with a mysterious French girl named Mireille who suggests there is more to his quest than he realizes. Tristan must prove that he is related to Imogen to inherit Ashley’s fortune–but the more he learns about the couple, the stranger his journey becomes.

From Elizabeth: I LOVED this book. LOVED it. Until the last 20 or so pages. The book tells interweaving stories of Ashley and Imogen, star-crossed lovers in WWI-era England, and their putative grandson, Tristan. Tristan goes all around Europe on a quest to prove his relationship to these two, and during his quest, readers learn all about Imogen and Ashley’s relationship. In order of how much I enjoyed the stories: Ashley, Tristan, Imogen. Ashley was my favorite character, bar none. This book has a fairy tale quality to it (hence why I used the word quest twice in one sentence), which added to the mystery. You just knew the whole time that it was going to work out. Until we got an incredibly ambiguous ending that, quite frankly, pissed me off. I actually went back to reread the last chapter to make sure that I didn’t miss anything — and I didn’t. So frustrating that the mystery was never really solved; it feels like Justin Go got tired of writing it and just decided to end it when he was over it.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 3.22.45 PM The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

From Amazon: At 16, Hazel Grace Lancaster, a three-year stage IV–cancer survivor, is clinically depressed. To help her deal with this, her doctor sends her to a weekly support group where she meets Augustus Waters, a fellow cancer survivor, and the two fall in love. Both kids are preternaturally intelligent, and Hazel is fascinated with a novel about cancer called An Imperial Affliction. Most particularly, she longs to know what happened to its characters after an ambiguous ending. To find out, the enterprising Augustus makes it possible for them to travel to Amsterdam, where Imperial’s author, an expatriate American, lives. What happens when they meet him must be left to readers to discover. Suffice it to say, it is significant. Writing about kids with cancer is an invitation to sentimentality and pathos—or worse, in unskilled hands, bathos. Happily, Green is able to transcend such pitfalls in his best and most ambitious novel to date. Beautifully conceived and executed, this story artfully examines the largest possible considerations—life, love, and death—with sensitivity, intelligence, honesty, and integrity. In the process, Green shows his readers what it is like to live with cancer, sometimes no more than a breath or a heartbeat away from death. But it is life that Green spiritedly celebrates here, even while acknowledging its pain. In its every aspect, this novel is a triumph.

From Elizabeth: I may be the last person in the world to read this book. I’ve actually owned it for years (I think I bought it when I was in law school?), and I’ve thought about picking it up many times. I never did, probably because every time I told people I wanted to read it, I was regaled with stories of tears and the like. I mean, I know the book is about kids with cancer, so I didn’t expect a happy ending, but I don’t like to make myself sad on purpose. I only picked it up now because I thought there was a chance I’d want to see the movie, and I always like to read the book first. Y’all, this book wrecked me. I know why people love it so much. I laughed, I cried, I want my own Gus. I’ve seen criticisms that the characters aren’t very realistic, but I read books about not realistic people all the time, so that didn’t bother me.

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The Mangle Street Murders, M.R.C. Kasasian

From Amazon: Funny, fresh and sharply plotted Victorian crime starring a detective duo to rival Holmes and Watson.

Gower Street, London, 1882: Sidney Grice, London’s most famous personal detective, is expecting a visitor. He drains his fifth pot of morning tea, and glances outside, where a young, plain woman picks her way between the piles of horse-dung towards his front door. Sidney Grice shudders. For heaven’s sake – she is wearing brown shoes.

Set between the refined buildings of Victorian Bloomsbury and the stinking streets of London’s East End, THE MANGLE STREET MURDERS is for those who like their crime original, atmospheric, and very, very funny.

From Elizabeth: This is one that I found on a list of “Best Books of 2014,” so far – I wish I could find a link, but it was a while ago – and I don’t know if I missed the point, but I didn’t love it. I’m pretty sure Sidney Grice was supposed to be like Sherlock Holmes, personality-wise, but I found him grating and uncaring. I found myself skimming through this long speeches simply because he annoyed me. I did enjoy March Middleton, Grice’s ward, and Inspector Pound, and I found the mystery compelling, to be fair. It would have been better if Grice had been at all sympathetic, rather than money-hungry and ungentlemanly, at least for me. It is the first in a planned series, and I don’t know that I would pick up the next one.

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The Devils’s Workshop, Alex Grecian

From Amazon: They thought he was gone, but they were wrong. Jack the Ripper is loose in London once more.

Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad faces the most shocking case of its existence, in the extraordinary new historical thriller from the author of the acclaimed national bestsellers The Yard and The Black Country.

London, 1890. A small group of the city’s elite, fed up with the murder rate, have made it their business to capture violent criminals and mete out their own terrible brand of retribution. Now they are taking it a step further: They have arranged for four murderers to escape from prison, and into the group’s hands.

But the plan goes wrong. The killers elude them, and now it is up to Walter Day, Nevil Hammersmith, and the rest of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to hunt the convicts down before they can resume their bloody spree. But the Murder Squad may already be too late. The killers have retribution in mind, and one of them is heading straight toward a member of the Murder Squad, and his family.

And that isn’t even the worst of it. During the escape, one of the killers has stumbled upon the location of another notorious murderer, one thought gone for good, but who is now prepared to join forces with them.

And Saucy Jack has learned some new tricks while he’s been away.

From Elizabeth: This was another one of those Amazon Kindle Daily Deals impulse purchases that I’m prone to, and I enjoyed this book. I love murder mysteries, I love historical fiction, I love England – this book had so many of my favorite things. I did initially find it a little confusing because the viewpoint switches a lot, but I figured it out within three or four chapters. The book switches between Jack the Ripper’s POV, as well as a few other characters, to get in the mind. I liked the premise of the book, though I did feel that it wrapped up a little too conveniently. However, that ending wasn’t too far off how most crime shows end now, so I guess I shouldn’t attribute that to the author but rather to Dick Wolf. I’d be interested in reading other books by this author, but they aren’t works that I’m going to seek out immediately. I have too much on my to-read list.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 3.23.45 PM VB6, Mark Bittman

From Amazon: I live full-time in the world of omnivores, and I’ve never wanted to leave. But the Standard American Diet (yes, it’s SAD) got to me as it gets to almost everyone in this country.”

Six years ago, an overweight, pre-diabetic Mark Bittman faced a medical directive: adopt a vegan diet or go on medication. He was no fan of a lifelong regimen of pills, but as a food writer he lived—and worked—to eat. So neither choice was appealing.

His solution was a deal with himself. He would become a “flexitarian.” He adopted a diet heavy in vegetables, fruits, and grains by following a healthy vegan diet (no meat, dairy, or processed foods) all day. After 6:00 p.m. he’d eat however he wanted, though mostly in moderation. Beyond that, his plan involved no gimmicks, scales, calorie counting, or point systems. And there were no so-called forbidden foods—he ate mostly home-cooked meals that were as varied and satisfying as they were delicious, but he dealt with the realities of the office and travel and life on the run as best he could.

He called this plan Vegan Before 6:00 (VB6 for short), and the results were swift and impressive. Best of all, they proved to be lasting and sustainable over the long haul. Bittman lost 35 pounds and saw all of his blood numbers move in the right direction.

Using extensive scientific evidence to support his plan, the acclaimed cookbook author and food policy columnist shows why his VB6 approach succeeds when so many other regimens not only fail, but can actually lead to unwanted weight gain.

From Elizabeth: I’m going to leave talking about this to later next week because I plan on following Bittman’s plan in the next month, but I loved this book. I found it easy-to-understand and inspiring, and I can’t wait to share more.

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Maid of Secrets, Jennifer McGowan

From Amazon: In this breathtaking start to a series, a secret society of young women make up Elizabeth I’s most trusted royal guard. God Save the Queen—or the Maids will.

Orphan Meg Fellowes makes her living picking pockets—until she steals from the wrong nobleman. Instead of rotting in prison like she expected, she’s whisked away to the court of Queen Elizabeth and pressed into royal service, where she joins four other remarkable girls in the Maids of Honor, the Queen’s secret society of protectors.

Meg’s natural abilities as a spy prove useful in this time of unrest. The Spanish Court is visiting, and with them come devious plots and hidden political motives. As threats to the kingdom begin to mount, Meg can’t deny her growing attraction to one of the dashing Spanish courtiers. But it’s hard to trust her heart in a place where royal formalities and masked balls hide the truth: Not everyone is who they appear to be. With danger lurking around every corner, can she stay alive—and protect the crown?

From Elizabeth: This is a book that I wouldn’t have ever picked up but for Amazon Prime – mainly because the cover is awful – but I absolutely loved it. I’m a British history lover, and I’m drawn to books about this period, so that isn’t a surprise. However, you don’t have to be a Tudor Britain fan to like this book. It was an interesting story, and I liked Meg as a protagonist. She had a very strong POV, and since she was “new” to the court, it was a nice way to be introduced to this author’s universe. The spy story + love interests + clothes descriptions + burgeoning female friendships + royalty = a win in this girl’s book (blog?). I’ve already preordered book 2 in the series – Maid of Deception – and I can’t wait to read it when it comes out. While this was the story of Meg, Book 2 will tell the story of Bea, another one of the Maids. I’m excited to (presumably) read the story of all the girls.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 3.24.23 PM Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, David J. Schwartz

From Amazon: On an Earth that saw the weaponization of demons instead of uranium during World War II, a lone agent battles supernatural forces—and enemies within her own government—to unravel a conspiracy that threatens our very existence. This vivid alternate history sets the stage for a modern-day fantasy adventure that’s equal parts Harry Potter and The X-Files.

Across the world, a steady flow of illegally trafficked demons is fueling terrorist attacks known as “Heartstoppers,” which leave bodies lifeless but not technically dead. Authorities have identified Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, a quaint school on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, as a demon trafficking pipeline. Now it’s up to Joy Wilkins, a young agent from the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs, to go undercover as a professor and find the source. But when her mentor turns up murdered and the clues point to a secret society known as the Thirteenth Rib, Joy finds herself in the middle of an ancient war that leaves our world hanging in the balance.

From Elizabeth: This is another one of those books that I found on a list of “overlooked books” or something like that; I should really keep track of those in the future. I liked this book, but I can see that it wouldn’t be for everyone. The premise is definitely unique, and I found all of the different overlapping details confusing at times, but I would recommend it to anyone who likes Harry Potter or the Jasper Fforde books. The tone was irreverent, the story was fleshed out, and I really liked Joy as a protagonist.

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Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver

From Amazon: For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

From Elizabeth: I loved this book, and I hoped the entire time that it wouldn’t end how it started: with Sam’s death. I know, I know, that wasn’t realistic at all, but the optimist in me always wants a happy ending.  Sam was definitely annoying at first, but by the end of the book, I was rooting for her and all that she was trying to accomplish. The secondary characters were all great, and by living through Cupid Day seven times, we got to get to know all of the characters. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this one.

So, have you read anything good recently? Want to know more details about any of these? Let me know.

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