{What I Read: August 2020}

In what would appear to be an effort to read as many regular books as Baby-sitters Club books this year (impossible), August was chockfull of new reads. Some were books I have been dabbling with for along time, in that I kept starting them and then reading something else… and some of those books are the something else (a.k.a. the new and interesting books I saw while I was still trying to finish other books)!

Beartown, by Fredric Backman

After reading and liking A Man Called Ove, I wanted to give another Backman book a try. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this one as much as the other. This book took so long to get through, but in my determination to finish what I start right now, I powered through. Where A Man Called Ove kept me entertained, this book could not hold my interest for very long, and I found the sheer volume of characters really difficult to keep track of.

Beartown is the story of a town consumed by the success of their hockey team. They are relying heavily on their junior team to win a big victory, and after they do,

***

How to Save a Life, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steineke

I found this one randomly on Amazon, and it was free with Kindle Unlimited and so I gave it a try. I’ve also read the other works by the authors and have, for the most part, enjoyed them. I was intrigued about this one, which focused on a Groundhog’s Day kind of plot line in which a man witnesses the love of his life die at the end of everyday, and comes to believe it is his mission to figure out how to save her.

Dom and Mia, ex-fiances, reconnect after ten years of not seeing each other. The spark seems to still be there so they agree to go on a date on a Thursday. At the end of the date, they are in an accident that spares Dom but kills Mia. However, when he wakes up the next day and it’s (again) Thursday), he believes the date to be a bad dream. However, the day gets weirder and weirder when everything starts happening the same way it did in the dream. The book then goes into full Groundhog’s Day mode (they even say as much in the story at one point), and Dom must try to save Mia or stay in an endless loop of tragic Thursdays.

This was a super light read, and I actually really enjoyed it. Perfect beach/poolside reading!

***

Girl Gone Mad, by Avery Bishop

While I don’t remember exactly I feel like I definitely got this one for free somewhere while I was looking for something new to read (perhaps Kindle Unlimited or a Kindle First Read). As such, I wasn’t expecting it to be brilliant writing… I find this often happens with the books that get offered for free, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. And personally I’m generally looking for a good, well-paced story rather than great sluggish literature.

This book explores what happens when a middle school trauma comes back to haunt a group of women in their late twenties. In their middle school days, they were known as the Harpies – essentially the Queen Bees of their high school. After a bullying incident involving a fellow eighth grader, the girls go their separate ways and must deal with the different consequences they feel following the incident. The main narrator is Emily Bennett, who arguably had the least to do with the incident, and the events are kicked off when she learns that a member of her former group has killed herself (spoiler alert: she didn’t kill herself, but I won’t go further than that… any astute reader can figure that part out, and Emily and her friend Courtney discuss it early on anyway).

Initially a slow read, I got into it once the meat of the mystery began, and it was a worthwhile summer read.

***

The One, by John Marrs

I read this whole book because I was kind of fascinated with the plot line, but I did not particularly enjoy it. Normally this is the kind of weird plot I enjoy – it’s set in a future where a matchmaking service that uses your DNA to match you with your soulmate exists, but this book just went down insane roads.

The book follows the point of view of multiple different characters as they go through different experiences upon meeting their soulmate. One, a happily engaged man, is shocked yet curious when his DNA is matched with another man. One woman discovers that her match has passed away before she had the chance to meet him, while another flies all the way to Australia to meet hers and is confused when she doesn’t feel any real connection to him. There is a handful of other characters as well, but to describe their ultimate role in the story would be to give a lot away, and if you’re interested in checking this book out, it’s best to be surprised.

It’s apparently being made into a show for Netflix, which I must admit I am intrigued by. Maybe it translates better onscreen? Though that’s not often the case with movie adaptations, there are some exceptions. In either case, I am intrigued enough by the concept to check it out.

***

Should Have Known Better, by A.J. McDine

I read someone’s review on Goodreads after I had finished this book and it was a perfect sum up: “if you’ve ever seen a Lifetime movie, you already know how this ends.”

It’s really true. This book tells the story of Kate and Chloe, mother and daughter who meet Adam and Ben, a father and son team from the same town while they are on a college tour. Kate eventually starts sort of dating Adam, while Chloe finds herself being an object of creepy fascination for Ben.

This is one of those stories that frustrated me because there was a severe lack of communication between the characters. When Chloe starts to suspect that Ben is being weird, she doesn’t tell anyone. Her mother starts dating his father and she doesn’t mention that she thinks the son is stalking her. I also found this weird because Kate was not portrayed as unreasonable. Throughout the story, she was shown as trying to talk to Chloe and they overall had a good relationship.

Of course, everything changes in the end, but to go into detail would be to spoil it for you. A part of me kind of really hopes they make this into a Lifetime film. Do they still make those?

***

The Night Swim, by Megan Goldin

I would venture to say that this is my favorite read of the month. It was my Book of the Month selection, and I was excited for it to arrive so I could get started. The basic plot revolves around Rachel, a true crime podcaster who travels to the town of Neapolis to cover a rape trial. As she works on the third season of her podcast however, another mystery comes to light.

Rachel has a reputation for taking cold cases and shedding new light and evidence on them, solving what investigators couldn’t years earlier. Enter Hannah, who is still reeling from the death of her sister twenty-five years earlier. She wants Rachel to help reveal the truth of her sister’s death. Despite her cryptic way to get in touch, Rachel is intrigued by the story Hannah is telling and they do ultimately work together, though in an unconventional way.

I was riveted by this one from beginning to end. It was definitely one of those books that I started and had to carry around with me at all times so that I could read little snippets whenever I could. However, in true Kelly fashion, I did have the ending figured out really early on. But instead of being overly-eager to see if I was right, I enjoyed the journey of getting there.

***

The Escape Room, by Megan Goldin

After loving The Night Swim, I looked up Goldin to see if she had written anything else and I promptly purchased The Escape Room. I was not surprised to also love this one. I started reading in on a Monday evening and by Wednesday morning I had the whole thing finished (and likely would’ve been done faster if I hadn’t started reading it Monday at nearly midnight).

I appreciate when authors have plot lines that are nothing like their previous books, and this one was definitely quite different. Four investment bankers – Jules, Vincent, Sylvie and Sam – get called to participate in an escape room challenge as a team building exercise. Though they are all thoroughly confused by this, none are in a position to question their firm. However, they quickly learn that this is no game. They find themselves trapped in an elevator and have to face years old secrets among the group, all the while wondering who is keeping them in there… and why.

While I’m not particularly interested in the cutthroat world of investment banking, I was interested enough in the characters and the storyline to keep me interested until the end!

***

In the Shadow of Power, by Viveca Sten

I have read most of the Sandhamn murder series as they are mostly free on Kindle Unlimited. I have found them to be hit or miss – some are great while others feel like I’m slogging through them. This one was closer to the slogging category. This was mainly because it took so darn long for anything to actually happen!

The book takes place, as usual, on Sandhamn, Sweden, a small island in the Stockholm archipelago (I feel like I sound like I know what I’m talking about but, despite my mom’s grandmother’s family emigrating from Sweden, I have never visited the country; however I’ve looked it up and it looks beautiful). Carsten Jonsson, a wealthy investor, has built a huge house on the island that not too many of the locals approve of. Once a fire is set to the guest house and it is clear arson is the cause, the mystery gets underway. But it takes so long to get to that point, and I had no interest in the secondary plot line of Carsten’s business affairs, that I was pretty bored the entire time. I mainly kept reading because I’ve read all the other books and want to keep going with the series.

***

The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, by Ann Packer

As you may know from reading here or following along on Instagram, I’ve been on a big nostalgia kick the last month or so. So for my final August read I revisited my favorite book, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, by Ann Packer. I read the book for the first time when I was twenty-two, fresh out of college and having recently experienced my first horrible break-up. I was also on my first trip to Paris (it was my first time ever in Europe, actually, a graduation present from my grandparents who handed me a catalogue of travel tours and said “pick one”). The book had been purchased for the plane ride home (this was pre-on demand in flight movies in every headrest), but I ended up plowing through it in the mornings of the trip (my sister got really bad jet lag and the first few mornings she slept in and I got bored but was too timid to venture out on my own in a foreign country).

This was technically only my second time reading the book from cover to cover. I have read parts of it over and over again during the course of the last seventeen years and I feel like I could fill an entire separate post about this book but I’m going to try to keep it brief. The basic plot line explores recent college graduation Carrie Bell, engaged to Mike, her high school sweetheart but feels her feelings slowly changing and pulling her away from him. When Mike is in an accident that leaves him a quadriplegic, Carrie must decide whether to stay or to leave. She ultimately decides to leave Mike and go to New York (she’s from Madison, Wisconsin).

To this day, I cannot explain why this book spoke to me and still speaks to me to this day when I revisit it. I just know that it was a lifeline for me given all that was going on in my own life at the time. My specific situation was virtually nothing like Carrie’s. But we were close in age, and I just understood her confused feelings of not knowing who or where she wanted to be. I understood her struggle to stop defining herself as part of a long-term couple and try to figure out who she was on her own and, ultimately, how to merge the past and present together somehow. This quote sums it all up: “The future and the past. I couldn’t think about the former, and the latter was a minefield of old pleasures and regrets.” I actually didn’t clock that quote on my first read but I definitely noticed it on this reread, and it was so true at the time. For this reread, I’m nowhere near the place I was seventeen years ago, but I can still remember the feeling of reading it and thinking that this book somehow found me just when I needed it.

It also helped that Carrie sewed and I adore Packer’s descriptions of the sewing process (when I first read it, I was just starting to love sewing). In the early pages she writes “It was the inexorability that appealed to me, how a length of fabric became a group of cut-out pieces that gradually took on the shape of a garment. I loved everything about it, even the little snipped threads to be gathered and thrown away, the smell of an overheated iron, the scatter of pins at the end of the day. I loved how I got better and better, closer and closer with each thing I made to achieving just what I’d hoped.”

I really could keep going on and on about this book, with a bunch of different quotes and specifics on the characters. Perhaps I will at another time. But I will say one of the most disappointing things to ever happen was this book was adapted into a Lifetime movie starring Michelle Trachtenberg.

Somehow I managed nine books in August! I guess that what happens when your sewing motivation is lower than normal and you just want to sit and read. I have no idea what September is going to bring, work-wise so we shall see how many non-BSC books I can add to the list!

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