Hops and Skips

Reading Roundup: August & September in Review

[INSERT HERE] a pithy quote about “best laid plans,” because my reading plans have most certainly derailed. I’m in a funk, and it’s not very fun. My picks have been a drag, so it takes me forever to get through them, made worse because I have so little time to read in the first place (especially since school began in August).

Generally, I’m a Completionist—if I’ve gotten more than 1/3 of the way through anything, I feel compelled to finish. But at this point in my life, I’m coming around to that cliched mantra of “life’s too short.”

Life’s too short to read to read uninspired books. Checklists be damned—I think I’ll be more carefree with my picks in October.

What I read in August…:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough ★★☆☆☆

My Australia/New Zealand pick for #ReadtheWorld21. The Clearys are an Irish family that move to the rugged outback to manage a large sheep farm in the early part of the 20th century. Multi-generational family sagas like this one are usually my cup of tea, but for some reason, I just did NOT really enjoy reading this. I’ll concede that my slow pace could’ve weakened my connection with the story, but also, I just didn’t much like the place or the people. Everything about the setting was harsh; the descriptions never let you forget it, and that lent an air of unpleasantness to the story. And in terms of the characters—I guess they were okay, though it took a REALLY long time for the spotlight to focus in on Meggie. And maybe in the 1970s when this was written, the “love story” between Meggie and a priest seemed torrid and romantic, but now it felt problematic and super inappropriate. The most compelling and sympathetic part of the story came at the end when the spotlight shifted to Meggie’s kids, but by then the novel was mostly done. Also, this author had zero qualms about killing off unsuspecting characters. Good lord, it diminished my drive to continue reading because who knows who’d die an unfortunate and surprisingly unpleasant death next.

One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks ★★★☆☆

Thirteen-year-old Juniper wins a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy, an elite boarding school, and finally she’ll be a part of the rigorous academic atmosphere she feels she’s meant for. Unfortunately, it’s not without the social politics that govern any middle school, and Juniper has more to contend with than just her school work; there’s competition and bullies and also rumor of some mystical beast that roams the school premises. This one has a good premise, but it’s not done justice because the length is so short; there are so many areas that the story could expand and go deeper. I’m SUPER surprised to learn that it isn’t the first in a planned series; as is, the story feels unfulfilled. Not bad, but I was left unsatisfied.

The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson ★★☆☆☆

A graphic novel about a ragtag middle school soccer team. Definitely a diverse cast of characters here, but it was hard to find a real focus and connection with any of them. The main character, Faith, kind of stood to the side – we experienced everyone else through her eyes while she remained most distant to the reader. Maybe it’s just my adult sensibilities, but I found the story lacked of any sort of cohesive theme or message. I have no idea what these characters “learned” from their shared experience on a crappy soccer team; everyone’s attitude seemed pretty negative, and they all just gave up and quit the team anyway. Hooray?

…and in September:

The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez (with Jenna Glatzer) ★★★☆☆

Chosen as the “memoir by a Latinx author” for the Read Harder Challenge. Raised by a single mom who had her first baby as a teenager, the author lived in a world where teen pregnancy was more than a stereotype – it was an expectation. So far, she’d lived her whole life working to defy that expectation, but for her high school senior thesis project, she wanted to understand more about the experience as a teenage mother in an effort to break the cycle. So, she faked a pregnancy. This memoir shares the whole picture – the author’s background, her motivations, and the day-by-day during this social experiment. A compelling read, even though the complexity of the issues addressed stems far beyond the scope of this memoir.

Biografi: A Traveler’s Tale by Lloyd Jones ★★★☆☆

The August prompt for #ReadtheWorld21 was the Balkans; this “traveler’s tale” from 1994 ventures into an Albania recently released from the grips of a Communist government. Our author and traveler is a Kiwi who heard via an Albanian friend and neighbor rumor of a dentist forced into the role as body double to dictator Enver Hoxha. This resulting tale sheds light on a place that was, at the time, incredibly isolated, thus leaving its people living in world of half truths and uncertainty. It’s a hard reality to comprehend but one that is frighteningly common throughout history. An excellent portrait of a particular time and place; supposedly the more recent publications (I had a first edition) include an afterword that shed some new light on the story.

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