June wasn’t as great of a month as I was hoping it would be, but I think I’m finally getting into the summer reading groove. I read nine books/audiobooks, a decent number, if a little below my goal, which earned an average star rating of 3.4/5.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the books mentioned below were provided by the publishers.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a wild tale that combines historical and supernatural elements. It centers on Willie Lincoln, President Lincoln’s son, who died of typhoid at the age of eleven. After he dies, Willie enters the Bardo, an intermediate state where he becomes a ghost. There he meets a number of other ghosts who do not realize they are dead. I listened to the audiobook, which features an all-star cast of a staggering 166 narrators led by Nick Offerman. This book is brilliant and frequently hilarious, but it’s hard to follow in places and the bits of funny dialogue are interspersed with long periods of stagnation. I wanted to love it but it took me a while to finish.
“Helena has a secret: her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature…and despite her father’s sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too.” More than twenty years later, her father escapes from prison. Helena knows that “only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King–because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.” Comparisons have been made between this book and Room for obvious reasons. While The Marsh King’s Daughter doesn’t measure up to Room from a literary standpoint, I think Helena is a unique character and the author does a great job of exploring her contradictory feelings toward her father. This book is billed as a thriller but it’s really more of a character piece.
“Are women actually the less monogamous gender? Do women really crave intimacy and emotional connection? Are women more disposed to sex with strangers and multiple pairings than either science or society have ever let on? And is ‘the fairer sex’ actually more sexually aggressive and anarchic than men?” These are the questions Daniel Bergner seeks to answer in this book, using science and personal narratives to form his conclusions. I don’t think he totally succeeds; conclusions are hard to come by in this burgeoning field of study. His approach is a bit too pop-sci for my taste but I think he raises a number of important questions and casts significant doubt on the stereotypes our culture clings to about the nature of female desire.
“Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him.” Margaret Atwood is brilliant but this book just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t invested in the characters and it left me feeling flat.9 Short Reviews of the Books I Read in JuneClick To Tweet
“One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung’s family to flee. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.” This is an incredible memoir. Ung writes in the present tense as if she were still a child witnessing the horrors of the Cambodian Killing Fields. I listened to the audiobook, read by Tavia Gilbert, which I highly recommend.
This sweeping overview of Protestant history “makes the case that we owe many of the rights and freedoms we have cause to take for granted–from free speech to limited government–to our Protestant roots.” In the process, it explores the history of the reformation, explains how Protestants have found themselves on both the right and wrong sides of history–with a focus on slavery and apartheid, and looks at the modern global church as a weathervane of where Protestantism might be headed. It can be a bit dry at times but Ryrie’s balanced analysis makes it worth slogging through.
Cass is driving home one stormy night when she decides to take a shortcut through the woods–despite her husband’s insistence that she stick to the main road. Along the way, she sees a car pulled over with a woman inside. Cass doesn’t stop, and that decision comes back to haunt her when the news reports that the woman was murdered that night on that road, not one hour after Cass passed by. Soon, Cass starts forgetting things–the alarm code, appointments, purchases she supposedly made–and grows concerned that she’s headed the way of her mother, who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of forty-four. And then the silent calls start and Cass feels as though someone is watching her. This is a real page-turner. In some ways it reminds me of The Woman in Cabin 10. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something entertaining to burn through on a rainy afternoon. Look for my full review coming soon.
“Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca, the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year fundamentalism took hold. In her adolescence, she was a religious radical, but what a difference an education can make. By her twenties she was a computer security engineer, one of few women working for Aramco. That’s when the Saudi kingdom’s contradictions became too much to bear: she was labeled a slut for chatting with male colleagues, her teenage brother chaperoned her on a business trip, and while she kept a car in her garage, she was forbidden from driving down city streets behind the wheel.” That’s when she became an unlikely activist for women’s right to drive. In this memoir, al-Sharif shares her story of what it was like growing up in a country and religious sect that dehumanizes women at every turn. Daring to Drive is a must-read for anyone interested in the global fight for women’s rights.
As You Wish is a collection of “inconceivable” tales and anecdotes from the making of The Princess Bride. If you’re a diehard fan of the film, like I am, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. I recommend listening to the audiobook, read by Cary Elwes, who is a charming narrator, with interjections by multiple members of the cast, plus screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner. You may also want to pick up a hard copy to see the exclusive photographs included therein.
What was the best book you read in June?