What I Read: Summer 2014

I read a lot of books this summer (June, July, August), and I think it would take me about a year to type up a review of that length/it could surpass the length of some of the books I read. So, I’m going to make a list, as much as for you as for me, and I think I’ll detail my top 5. My blog, my rules.

June 2014 (8)

The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery, Catherine Bailey

That Summer, Lauren Willig

The Heiress of Winterwood, Sarah E. Ladd

The Headmistress of Rosemere, Sarah E. Ladd

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, Tom Rachman

Hard Choices, Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith

The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty

July 2014 (8)

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book, Peter Finn

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson

Landline, Rainbow Rowell

A Triple Knot, Emma Campion

What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty

The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August, Claire North

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

The Fortune Hunter, Daisy Goodwin

August 2014 (11)

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Lauren Willig

The Magicians, Lev Grossman

The Magician King, Lev Grossman

The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman

Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Syrie James

The Gameboard of the Gods, Richelle Mead

The Immortal Crown, Richelle Mead

Best of them (at least to me)

I recognize that everyone has different feelings about books, but of the 27 I read, these are the ones I most enjoyed:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 5.57.35 PMThat Summer, Lauren Willig

From Amazon: 2009: When Julia Conley hears that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. She hasn’t been back to England since the car crash that killed her mother when she was six, an event she remembers only in her nightmares. But when she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house—with the help of her cousin Natasha and sexy antiques dealer Nicholas—bits of memory start coming back. And then she discovers a pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house’s shrouded history begins to open…

1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. The one bright spot in her life is her step-daughter, Evie, a high-spirited sixteen year old who is the closest thing to a child Imogen hopes to have. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur’s collection of medieval artifacts, including Gavin Thorne, a quiet man with the unsettling ability to read Imogen better than anyone ever has. When Arthur hires Gavin to paint her portrait, none of them can guess what the hands of fate have set in motion.

From ElizabethIt is no secret that I enjoy pretty much everything that Lauren Willig has ever written (and I may or may not be counting down the days until the 12th and final Pink Carnation novel comes out, The Lure of the Moonflower, in August 2015), and I admittedly had high expectations for That Summer. Well, she met them and then some. I loved both stories — 1849 and 2009 — and even though I thought I had it figured out, I was wrong! Didn’t see the twist ending coming. The intertwined stories of Imogen and Gavin and Julia and Nick were fabulous, and I only slightly enjoyed the more modern story — probably because I could better relate to it. All in all, if you like mysteries and the mix of modern/historical fiction that Willig does so well, I’d recommend it.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.14.29 PMThe Magicians Trilogy, Lev Grossman

From Amazon: 

Book 1: The Magicians – Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn’t real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn’t bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they’d imagined.

Book 2: The Magician King – Quentin Coldwater should be happy. He escaped a miserable Brooklyn childhood, matriculated at a secret college for magic, and graduated to discover that Fillory—a fictional utopia—was actually real. But even as a Fillorian king, Quentin finds little peace. His old restlessness returns, and he longs for the thrills a heroic quest can bring. Accompanied by his oldest friend, Julia, Quentin sets off—only to somehow wind up back in the real world and not in Fillory, as they’d hoped. As the pair struggle to find their way back to their lost kingdom, Quentin is forced to rely on Julia’s illicitly-learned sorcery as they face a sinister threat in a world very far from the beloved fantasy novels of their youth.

Book 3: The Magician’s Land – The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

From Elizabeth: I must have been living under a rock because I don’t remember hearing anything about these books until right before The Magician’s Land came out in August. To be fair, the first two came out when I was in law school, and pleasure reading didn’t really happen that often. I listed them all together because I read them all in the course of a week, and I can’t really mentally separate them. I LOVED THESE BOOKS. I’m one of those that had remorse when I didn’t get my Hogwarts letter, so the idea of magic college is awesome (are there magic graduate schools, and can I please go?). I’ve read some criticisms of Quentin — namely that he’s never happy — but that didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. The stories were well thought out, unique, and I absolutely loved the end. I can’t wait to reread them.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.17.53 PMDear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay

From Amazon: Sam is, to say the least, bookish. An English major of the highest order, her diet has always been Austen, Dickens, and Shakespeare. The problem is, both her prose and conversation tend to be more Elizabeth Bennet than Samantha Moore.

But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. An anonymous, Dickensian benefactor (calling himself Mr. Knightley) offers to put Sam through Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s dark memory mingles with that of eligible novelist Alex Powell, her letters to Mr. Knightley become increasingly confessional. While Alex draws Sam into a world of warmth and literature that feels like it’s straight out of a book, old secrets are drawn to light. And as Sam learns to love and trust Alex and herself, she learns once again how quickly trust can be broken.

Reminding us all that our own true character is not meant to be hidden, Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

From Elizabeth: You know how you finish a book on your Kindle, and Amazon then (helpfully) makes recommendations based on what you just read? This was one of those books (I believe it came after a rereading of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell), and this book took me completely by surprise. Not the plot twist — that I could see coming 100 or so pages early, simply because I’ve read a lot of Jane Austen books — but the book. It was well written and moving, and I found myself pulling for all of the characters, especially Sam and Alex. One of the things that I hate about books is when authors write for the sake of filling pages, which wasn’t the case at all hear. Everything was thought out and had a purpose, and the story ended so satisfyingly. Reay comes out with a second book later this year, and you guessed it, I’m excited about that one, too!

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.15.43 PMBig Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

From Amazon: A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?  What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.  But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

From Elizabeth: I definitely went through a Liane Moriarty phase this summer, reading three of her books in about 4 weeks. I had a hard time choosing which of the three I enjoyed the most, but after a bit of thought, I realized that Big Little Lies stood out a little bit more than all the rest. To be fair, I would recommend all of them, so take that with a grain of salt. I loved the way the three stories interacted, and I was guessing the whole time as to who died in the first chapter (see! not a spoiler!). The book was twisting and turning, and I really appreciate how Moriarty isn’t afraid to tackle hard subjects — divorce, spousal abuse, illness, murder. She’s become one of those like Lauren Willig and Rainbow Rowell; I stalk their websites, waiting for snippets of noise about their upcoming works. If you haven’t read anything by her, what are you waiting for?

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.19.02 PMA Spy Among Friends, Ben Macintyre

From Amazon: Kim Philby was the greatest spy in history, a brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain’s counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War—while he was secretly working for the enemy. And nobody thought he knew Philby like Nicholas Elliott, Philby’s best friend and fellow officer in MI6. The two men had gone to the same schools, belonged to the same exclusive clubs, grown close through the crucible of wartime intelligence work and long nights of drink and revelry. It was madness for one to think the other might be a communist spy, bent on subverting Western values and the power of the free world.

But Philby was secretly betraying his friend. Every word Elliott breathed to Philby was transmitted back to Moscow—and not just Elliott’s words, for in America, Philby had made another powerful friend: James Jesus Angleton, the crafty, paranoid head of CIA counterintelligence. Angleton’s and Elliott’s unwitting disclosures helped Philby sink almost every important Anglo-American spy operation for twenty years, leading countless operatives to their doom. Even as the web of suspicion closed around him, and Philby was driven to greater lies to protect his cover, his two friends never abandoned him—until it was too late. The stunning truth of his betrayal would have devastating consequences on the two men who thought they knew him best, and on the intelligence services he left crippled in his wake.

From Elizabeth: What? A book that isn’t an easy beach read/chick lit/aimed at the millennial generation? Are you sure this is the right blog?

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a super big British history nerd (currently hanging out in the Wars of the Roses, but I’ll be back to the twentieth century soon). I spent a lot of time studying World War II and the Cold War, and it is something that I still read about in my free time. I knew a little bit about Kim Philby, and I know about the Trinity spies (subject of a fabulous book by Charles Cumming, if you are interested), so I was excited when this came out this summer. I couldn’t put it down. It read like a James Bond movie, and I mean that as a compliment. The spying and the tools used for it are so fantastic (both awesome and out of the realm of the ordinary) that it seemed like fiction at times. I knew how it ended, but I found that I didn’t care. The book was amazing, and it made me want to learn more about this era in history. My bank account hates when I go down rabbit holes like this…

RUNNERS UP (to the Top 5)

  • The First Fifteen Lives of Henry August, Claire North
  • What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
  • Landline, Rainbow Rowell

DISAPPOINTMENTS (Ugh. Why can’t everything be awesome?)

  •  The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
  • The Fortune Hunter, Daisy Goodwin
  • The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book, Peter Finn

Tell me, you four readers out there? What have you read that’s amazing recently?

PS/Sorry I wrote a novel-length book reviews.

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