July 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

July 12, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 18

July 2018 Books to Read

 

Well…July was a bit of a letdown after my excellent June reading. I only really enjoyed two books (but, I’ll be adding both to my 2018 Summer Reading List!) and suffered through two others that didn’t work out…then, there are the DNF’s. 

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Read These

Charlotte Walsh Likes to WinCharlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: July 24, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: When Charlotte Walsh leaves her high powered job as COO of a Silicon Valley tech darling to run for Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania, she’s forced to confront the impact on her marriage, her sanity, and her past.

My Thoughts: I’ve been loving books about substantial topics that read easy this summer and I can now add Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win to that list! Though it reads easy enough for the beach, it’s full of astute commentary on women in politics, women in business, managing your image in public life, marriage, motherhood, and gender roles. It makes you feel how truly soul-sucking campaigning and politics can be. But, it also has snappy dialogue, a badass sister-in-law (Kara), and a Friday Night Lights name-check (the easiest way to my heart). Charlotte is a complex character and your sympathy level for her will probably flip-flop throughout the story. The ending will drive some people bonkers and made me say “WTF,” but the more I thought about it, the more it fits with the overall message of the book. An excellent choice for fans of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close, for book clubs, and for your beach/pool bag!

“You’re thinking, ‘Why does it matter?’ Why does your husband matter?” Josh read her mind. “Your husband matters. Your marriage matters. As a woman, you bear the burden of having to appear to be charismatic, smart, well-groomed, nice, but not too nice. If you’re married, you need to look happily married. If you have kids, you should be the mother of the year.”

Give Me Your HandGive Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Fiction – Thriller (Release Date: July 17, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: When Diane and Kit become lab partners in high school, Diane shares an explosive secret. And, when the two women meet again as star lab scientists, the secret comes back to haunt them both. 

My Thoughts: Megan Abbott is one of my go-to authors for intense summer reads…generally about demented high school girls (The Fever and You Will Know Me are my favorites). She’s kept her streak alive with Give Me Your Hand…her most grown-up novel yet. This story is set in the world of science and Abbott’s writing makes the lab, the competition for limited positions on important studies, and the researchers’ dedication seem like the pressure cauldron of an Olympic Trials (similar to how Michael Ruhlman wrote about the Culinary Institute of America in The Making of a Chef). The players are intriguing: the enigmatic legend who seems almost non-human (Dr. Severin), the star researcher who is possibly unstable (Diane), the flirty and slightly reckless researcher (Alex), and the obedient worker bee (Kit). I guessed some of the twists, but not nearly all of them, and each twist revealed deeper layers to one of the characters. Ultimately, this is a story of two women locked in competition…and how a secret that gets told can tear apart both the secret-teller and the person she tells. Grab this one if you like dark and twisty with some substance…and I’ll be adding it to my 2018 Summer Reading Guide!

I wanted to know her secrets, but I didn’t want them to be this. And now I was in there, in that heart of hers, the coldest, darkest place I’d ever been.

Skip These

Baby TeethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Fiction (Release Date: July 17, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: When four year old, non-verbal Hanna begins to escalate her terrible behavior towards her mother, the whole family must decide how to handle their only child.

My Thoughts: This book left me kind of speechless. It’s horrifying, but also weirdly intriguing. I kind of hated it, but also needed an explanation for what was going on (which was why I finished it). Hanna is hands-down the most diabolical child I’ve ever read about and I felt bad for her parents. But, they have their own faults. Hanna’s father is in denial about Hanna’s behavior and coddles her. Before Hanna’s behavior got really bad, her mother made her feel unwanted. Hanna is jealous of the affection her father gives her mother and sort of pits them against each other. If you need likable characters in your reading, you won’t find them here. The overall family dynamics and premise of the book could have been really fascinating, but Stage took the plot way over the top (won’t say more to avoid spoilers!). If she’d left out one particular element and cut back on another, I think I could’ve liked it. The ending did bring things down to earth, but I wish the culmination of the story had happened earlier (maybe 60-70% of the way through?) so we could explore the aftermath and how it impacted the family. I wanted more psychology and less shock value. If you’re on the fence about having kids, Baby Teeth might just push you into the “hard no” camp.

It was unacceptable; Mommy was failing her tests to prove her motherly love. And the more she failed, the more opportunities Hanna tried to provide for her to redeem herself. Though she wasn’t always sure of the rules to their war games. And when she scrunched up her brain, she couldn’t quite remember who had started it.

Fruit of the Drunken TreeFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: July 31, 2018)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday Books)

Plot Summary: Amid the violence of Pablo Escobar-era Bogota, Colombia, a wealthy young girl (Chula) and her maid (Petrona) become friends while growing up side by side, but end up with very different stories.

My Thoughts: Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a debut novel inspired by the author’s life. That, the juxtaposition of Chula’s privileged perspective and Petrona’s perspective of poverty, and Pablo Escobar (I’ve always had a weird fascination!) were what attracted me to this book. And, all the pieces for a home run were there, but it was missing the intangibles for me. I loved seeing the drug wars through the eyes of a child and I identified with Chula’s combination fear / fascination with Pablo Escobar and the violence that accompanied him (on a far less personal level, I remember feeling similarly about the Russians as a child during the Cold War). And, the story had explosive plot elements that should have kept me frantically turning the pages. But, something about the way the story was told made all of it feel very distant and kept me from getting invested in these characters. Overall, I wavered over whether to recommend it, but decided against since I found myself frequently zoning out, checking Instagram, and sampling other books while reading it. 

I knew there was no gate surrounding the invasiones where Petrona lived, no iron locks on the doors, no iron bars on the windows. When I asked Petrona how she and her family stayed safe, she laughed. Then because I was embarrassed she shrugged her shoulders. She thought for a moment then said, “There’s nothing to lose.” Five syllables.

The DNF’s

What We Were PromisedWhat We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (Released July 10, 2018)
DNF at 18%

I was just kind of bored. Nothing was happening and I didn’t care about the characters.

 

 

 

The IncendiariesThe Incendiaries by R.O. Kwan (July 31, 2018)
DNF at 10%.

This debut novel about a girl who gets wrapped up in a cult and the boy who is obsessed with her has gotten tons of pre-release hype (and Annie Jones and Tyler Goodson both rated it 4 stars), but it just seemed weird to me. I kept spacing out and the writing was really distant.

 

 

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July 2018 Books to Read: I'm adding two of these to my 2018 Summer Reading List! #reading #books #bookish #bookworm #booklover #bookstagram #summerreading

18 Responses to “July 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)”

  1. Susie | Novel Visits

    I’m so glad that I went ahead and put Fruit of the Drunken Tree down. It might have just been too serious for summer reading. It’s disappointing to hear about The Incendiaries, too, but I’m happy you’ve vetted it.

    Looking forward to Charlotte Walsh.

  2. RK

    I’m reading What We Were Promised right now and actually really loving it. Looking forward to Give Me Your Hand!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I know. I was bummed. Will be interested to see how much praise it gets once it’s published. Or if we’ll hear crickets…

  3. Allison

    Charlotte Walsh sounds like a good one. I’m in a bit of a reading slump and I’ve decided I need some lighter reads for the rest of the summer–but I don’t want something too fluffy, either. This sounds like it hits the sweet spot.

  4. Jan

    I’m happy to hear the new Abbot is good – love her books! I’ll add the Walsh book to my tbr. My favorites this month were Tin Man and This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I think these two would make a good Alcohol & Advil pair – ha!

  5. Catherine

    Thanks for saving me from Fruit. It sounds like something I might like, but not right now.

    I’m glad you liked Charlotte. I really like Piazza’s writing. You still need to try Fitness Junkie. It is totally summer reading!

    My best read of the month so far was Hot to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran. I love her writing, but do still feel that How to Build a Girl was better.

  6. Madeline

    July to date is up and down.

    I’ve read two Abbotts in the past. Not going there again. YA at its worst. Fruit of the Drunken Tree I knew wasn’t for me.

    This month:

    Us Against You which was incredible. And I thought Beartown was good!

    I’m becoming a Anthony Horowitz fan … The Word is Murder is hugely entertaining.

    A book getting big buzz in the Bay Area due to its setting and the roots of the author is There There by Tommy Orange. Tells an important American Indian story (sorry, even Indians — aka Indigenous Peoples — call themselves that) but I can’t say it was a great, or even good, read. But compared to Heart Berries it’s a 10.

    Social Creatures .. OK but flawed and some characters were annoying.

    I’m half way through Anne Tyler’s new one: Clock Dance. It’s pure Tyler. Has a bit too much front story but I’m hitting the sweet spot now.

  7. Jenny @ Reading the End

    I had that same reaction to The Incendiaries! I didn’t get very far in — maybe like 25 pages — and the writing just wasn’t grabbing me, plus I had uh lots and lots of other books to read, so I just gave up on it. Another time maybe!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haven’t heard of it – will check it out! Hope all is well with you!

  8. Kate Elkins

    I’m intrigued by Charlotte Walsh. My summer favorites so far- Chasing Hillary by Amy Chozick- fascinating account of what it’s like to be a female journalist on a presidential campaign. A page-turner! I also enjoyed The High Season by Judy Blundell – a perfect beach read. Backstabbing on Long Island- rich people behaving badly. Fun, and I thought the writing was good.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Chasing Hillary sounds like Unbelievable – the book by Katy Tur (journalist following Trump)! Good companion reads!

  9. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I’m very interested in both of the books on your ‘read these’ list, especially as a scientist living in silicon valley 🙂 I didn’t love The Fever, which didn’t provide enough of an explanation for me, but I want to love Megan Abbot for taking the problems of teen girls seriously.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Did you know The Fever was based on a true story that happened in upstate NY? I think I linked to the story in my review of it…

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