Not so light summer reading

7 Jun

Wow, what happened to May? I wish I could say I’ve been doing something extra exciting or productive in my absence, but well… Instead, here are some quick reviews of a few books I’ve read lately.

Sometimes I go to the library with no idea what I want, so I check out their recommending reading section or just wander up and down the aisles and pick up a couple of books they have prominently displayed. That’s how I ended up with The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon.

The Road is about a father and son’s struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic America. You don’t know what’s happened, but there are very few survivors in a country covered in ash and completely devoid of renewable resources. The father and his young travel on foot from town to town alone, scavenging for whatever remnants of civilization they can find to sustain them. Their situation seems hopeless yet they press on despite the constant threat from the elements and other survivors whose desperation has driven them to unspeakable acts. This book is depressing and at times deeply disturbing, yet the relationship between the father and son is very moving. I enjoyed the simple format of the book (there are no chapter divisions and sparse punctuation and dialogue), and found it a very effective way of conveying the bleakness of both the landscape and their situation.  Warning:  Language and sex are not issues in this story, but I was not kidding when I said this book was at times deeply disturbing.  (Think cannibalism and graphic imagery, but don’t think too hard.  Shudder.)

Slightly less depressing is Jarretsville, the tragic story of star-crossed lovers in a small town in post Civil War Maryland.  The people of Jarretsville are still very much divided between north and south sentiments and loyalties, and naturally the couple come from these different backgrounds.  The book begins with a murder and ends with a trial, with the middle a series of flashbacks, telling the story from the different characters’ points of view.  While I didn’t love the book, I rather enjoyed it (or at the very least, didn’t feel like it was a complete waste of my time).  I’m a fan of historical fiction, and in the age of Twilight mania, Jarretsville is one of those finely crafted stories that you feel the author deserves to have read by more than just a handful of people.   Warning: Obviously, with the murder there is some violence, but nothing too bad, and while language is not an issue, some might be turned off by some moderate (I guess this depends on how you define it!) sexual situations.

I had Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher on hold at the library for several weeks after reading this review from my sister.  (I recommend reading her review because I’m certain it is much, much better than what I will write, but here’s the gist of the story.)  Thirteen Reasons Why is about a teenage girl who commits suicide, but before she does she records audio tapes detailing the 13 people/events she feels are most responsible for what led her to do it. She mails them to the first person before she kills herself, along with instructions that once they’ve finished the tapes, they need to send them to the next person on the list. The story is told from the point of view of the 8th or 9th person to get the tapes, alternating with her point of view as told through the audio tapes. Again, a depressing story, but I had a really hard time putting it down, and appreciated the thought-provoking nature of the story.  We never really know what kind of impact our actions have on others, and how much harm can be done with or without intent.  I found the end a little contrived, but I understood the author’s attempt to inject a little hope or some kind of good out of tragedy/lesson learned moment.  Warning: Some occasional mild (and maybe an instance or two of stronger–I can’t really remember) language and a few strong, but not overly explicit (again, depending on how you define it) sexual (including rape) scenes.

Each of these books are around 300 pages or less and are fairly quick reads, even with the heavy subject matter.  If you’re in the mood for something a little darker, I think these will do.

I’m currently working on The Manchurian Candidate, recommended by Madhousewife.  I’m a little over halfway through and have had a hard time getting into it.  I suspect I’m just about to the point where it starts getting really good, so I’m going to stick with it.  Up next is book five of Fablehaven, the YA fantasy series by Brandon Mull.  I’m too lazy to do another review, but I will say that these are rather enjoyable fantasy books for younger and older audiences.  If your kids (or you) enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (another one I’m too lazy to review), they would probably like this one as well.  

What’s on your summer reading list?  Do you have anything to recommend?

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21 Responses to “Not so light summer reading”

  1. Patience June 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I like Cormac McCarthy, but I’m not really into reading about deeply disturbing things right now. 🙂 Thirteen Reasons Why sounds really good, albeit depressing, but it’s true that we all impact people in ways we aren’t aware of.

    I’m reading a fabulous Australian series written in the 1950s by Martin Boyd. Titles are The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, An Outbreak of Love, and When Blackbirds Sing. It’s about several generations of an Australian family. Nice comfort lit, very well written, in parts serious, funny, touching. Sadly, not easy to find in the US. I had to resort to Amazon UK to get a copy of the last book in the series.

  2. Evitafjord June 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    We went to the library for the first time this summer and since I had the youngest 4 kids with me, I had the middle 2 girls each pick me a book to read while I tried to keep the 3yo from running amok (the 5yo did remarkably well. i was impressed). Anyway, after they both brought back romance after romance (vetoed), I finally agreed to a 1922 edition of O. Henry’s The Gentle Grafter and well, I gave up on the other one and grabbed The Whole Truth by David Baldacci, which I have started twice since it came out, first on CD (I think I got to #2 or 3 on the ride to and from the airport) and then later the book (which I don’t think I even opened). I love Baldacci, so I’m fairly determined to get through it this time. I’m excited to see the other recommendations you get – I don’t have any recommendations of my own. I think I told my sister-in-law that I would read Hunger Games, but I couldn’t remember the title while we were at the library.

  3. Janelle June 7, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    I just read Hiking Through by Paul Stutzman which is about a man who hikes the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail to grieve the loss of his wife to breast cancer. My MIL was diagnosed with terminal cancer while I was reading this book, and so the story helped me process my thoughts better.

    Super uplifting book! Not disturbing whatsoever.

  4. cheryl June 7, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    I bought the sequels to The Hunger Games. Obviously, the third one won’t get here until the end of August when it comes out. But the second one should arrive any day!

    For book club this month we read “Look Again” by some Lisa person. It was pretty good.

    I’m reading a ton of non-fiction right now, so nothing interesting from me. However, I’m going to the library in about 5 minutes with the kiddos, so hopefully I”ll find some of these! Who doesn’t want to read a depressing book now and again?

  5. tawnya June 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    My list is long and detailed and will be the subject of a blog post soon! Are you on goodreads?

  6. bythelbs June 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Patience—Can you recommend anything else by McCarthy? The Australian series intrigues me. I’ll have to poke my nose around.

    Evita—I enjoyed the Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire, both fun reads. David Baldacci sounds familiar, but I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything by him. What do you recommend from him?

    Janelle—I’m all for uplifting, but I’m afraid I might find the breast cancer angle disturbing. I’ll add it to my list, though.

    Cheryl—I can’t wait for Mockingjay to come out! Did you find anything good at the library?

    Tawnya—I’m not on goodreads. At least I think I’m not. Unless it was something I joined through a facebook application at one point. It is sounding vaguely familiar now. Either way, it’s not something I’m using now. Should I be? What is it?

  7. tawnya June 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    http://www.goodreads.com/

    It’s basically a book sharing site. I can see what my friends are reading, their reviews (if they post one), their ratings. It’s also a nice place for me to dump things I see that I eventually want to read.

    Let me know if you sign up.

  8. evitafjord June 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Baldacci wrote the book that the movie Absolute Power (with Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman) is based on and most of his books are that genre – FBI, CIA, that kind of thing. My favorite is The Winner, but I like them all. They are fairly light reading. I’m glad you asked, I didn’t realize he had 2 more come out since the last time I checked.

    And -yes, the word crap is definitely allowed on my blog. We were always allowed to say crap growing up, but butt was a bad word. Also, we’re hoping to be Loganites again in a couple of years. I loved it there, snow and all. Plus it cuts almost 2/3 off the trip to my parents’ house – from 2300 to less than 850.

  9. flipflopmama June 8, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    I read the Road a couple years ago and just could not get past the disturbing parts to enjoy the relationship between the father and son. That book will stay with me forever and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. So many people at my book club loved it for that reason, but I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

    I just finished reading The Help. It’s a great story about love and friendship and standing up for what is right and decent. I highly recommend it. Although I finished it in two days so you might need some more suggestions! 🙂

  10. bythelbs June 8, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    Tawnya—Thanks. I’ll look into it.

    Evita—I’ll have to put a Baldacci on my summer reading list. That’s funny about crap and butt because that’s exactly how it was growing up in my house!

    Flip—I totally understand why you would feel that way, though I don’t think it had that same kind of impact for me. I mean, I didn’t finish the book and think, “That’s going to stay with me forever.” Definitely not a book for everyone, which is why I felt the need to add the warnings. I’ve heard about The Help from more than one person, so I’ll put that on the list. Thanks!

  11. evitafjord June 8, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    That IS weird. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else who wasn’t allowed to say butt. Maybe it’s regional – did you grow up in the NW?

  12. tawnya June 8, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    Good grief. We weren’t allowed butt or crap (still not if you ask my mom!). I’m making up for it now…

  13. Flipflopmama June 8, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    We weren’t allowed to say butt in our house growing up either or fart. My, how times have changed. My mom would be so mortified.

  14. tawnya June 8, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    Oh, yeah, fart. I thought fart was “the” F-word for many years…

  15. evitafjord June 8, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    I think all of us say butt now that we are out of the house and mom laughs along with us, but I don’t think she’s ever said it herself. My friend wasn’t allowed to say crap and I still remember the day her teenage brothers pestered their mom so much that she finally said it. My husband’s family was allowed butt and couldn’t say crap or sucks.

  16. bythelbs June 8, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Evita—I’m originally from Oregon. My parents frowned on sucks, but it wasn’t taboo.

    Flip—My mother could curse like a sailor, so it’s pretty funny what words bothered her.

    Tawnya—That is still the F-word at my house. For some reason, I never got over that one.

  17. tawnya June 8, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    What do your kids call it, then? Just curious…

    • bythelbs June 9, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

      I typed a reply to this yesterday, but must not have hit the submit button. Anyway, I said:

      Tooting. I don’t know where that came from. Maybe my sister’s house? I don’t love the term, but have never found anything else preferable, most likely because I’d really just prefer not to talk about it at all.

  18. Alison Wonderland June 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    I’m currently not at all in a place where I can read anything with any kind of serious emotion in it. However, I quite enjoyed the fifth Fablehaven, as I did the Percy Jacksons and I’m going to pass on my new favorite YAs. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. It seems that the first one was originally called Skulduggery Pleasant but was later changed to Scepter of the Ancients but either way a search of skulduggery pleasant should find it. (I particularly recommend the audios.) Enjoy.

    • bythelbs June 9, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

      I will be looking for the Skulduggery Pleasant. What age would you say it’s appropriate for? Would my 10 year old daughter like it? She’s looking for something new to read.

  19. madhousewife June 10, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    I just read a book about Ted Bundy. That’s how my summer is going!

    How close am I to finishing the list of books I resolved to read in 2010? Not any closer than I was when I started!

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