Books I Read in August

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I think I maybe hit a bit of a reading slump in August. Although I managed to read a respectable five books, I felt like some of them took me a long time to get through, although I enjoyed the majority of them for the most part. Perhaps it had something to do with the comedown from reading and adoring Circe; I mean what book was ever going to compare?

Book stack and plant

The ReckoningJohn Grisham

Grisham attempts to do something new here. It almost works. Not his usual legal page turner but an interesting read.

Look up this book and you’ll see it falls under a new category for Grisham: historical fiction. In this book Grisham takes a slight step back from his usual legal thriller and attempts to weave some historical fiction into his storyline…and it almost worked to perfection.

This story focuses on Pete Banning; Clanton’s ‘favourite’ son and a returned World War Two hero. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, Pete drives into town and shoots the town’s Reverend dead. He immediately admits the crime and is arrested but will not offer up any explanation as to what has driven him to this extreme course of action.

Grisham takes us back and forth in this novel between the present day story and Banning’s journey in the war as he is sent to the Philippines, becomes a Japanese POW, his subsequent escape and how he becomes a guerrilla fighting with the locals against a Japanese invasion. He attempts to explore, fairly well I think, the thin line between what makes a hero and what makes a villain; what it takes to break a man and muddy the waters between what is right, what is necessary and what is wrong.

The difficulty I had with the book, and it’s only minor really, is that Grisham packed in a lot of factual information and it didn’t read well. Rather than informing us through the story he chose to just lay down the facts and it got a tiny bit boring in parts. That said, I didn’t know a lot about the American occupation in the Philippines and the hard war which was fought and lost there and so it was certainly interesting to discover more about this. I did also feel that there were some questions left unresolved at the end, to say that the book is quite lengthy at 500 pages.

Certainly worth a read if you are curious but as this neither falls into the crime nor the historical fiction genre completely I’d suggest going in with an open mind.

The President Is MissingBill Clinton + James Patterson

A swing and a miss. I was intrigued at the fact that the Bill Clinton had written a book. But this was much tamer than I anticipated and I was ultimately bored by the story-line.’

This book was my stumbling block this month. It was passed to me by someone at work and I’ll admit I was intrigued at the idea of the Bill Clinton venturing into the world of fiction so I decided to give it a whirl.

This is a mystery thriller which centres around the President of the United States as he attempts to thwart the biggest threat to the US yet. Terrorists are honing in on the United States and it appears that there may be a traitor within the very walls of the White House. When faced with no-one he can trust, the President must go it alone.

I have to be honest and say I didn’t enjoy this book at all. It felt like a poor attempt at a thriller, without any of the thrill. The President is sold to us as a ruddy-cheeked saviour of the world and it just didn’t wash for me. Sure, we were given an insight into the world of POTUS and how Clinton views the current political climate but there just wasn’t enough of anything to capture my interest. I don’t generally mind stories where lucky things, timing, situations etc happen to fall into the lap of our protagonist and thereby saving the day when I have bought into the characters themselves but this wasn’t the case here.

Having read some of James Patterson’s early works I was actually quite surprised by how tame this was and maybe this is where I went wrong. I went into this book expecting something dark and twisted and instead I got a little kitten of a book.

Probably one I’d suggest giving a miss. Two stars, if that.

The Song of AchillesMadeline Miller

‘A dark and sexy re-telling of Achilles and Patroclus. It doesn’t quite strike the same notes as Circe but another firm favourite.’

As you might imagine, I was super excited to read this book after falling for Circe. This was Miller’s debut so I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be as honed as Circe but still…I wanted great things.

This follows the story of Achilles and is told primarily from the POV of his closest friend Patroclus. Everything about this book charmed me; it wasn’t quite on a level with Circe but my goodness, there is something about Miller’s writing which is just so enchanting. I tried to drag out the reading of this book as long as possible, to soak up every inch of what she was writing about but at the same time fighting the urge to race through and find out what happened next.

This book is rich, heartbreaking, vivid, sexy and just about everything in between. I loved the way she portrayed the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and the view she took on just who they were to one another and Achilles as a hero in general.

If I had to criticise, I felt the ending was a little rushed and I felt like she skipped over some of the darker parts. An example is a later point in the book when Achilles has defeated an enemy and he does something which is ultimately quite grim and it wasn’t really acknowledged but skimmed over. I think I would have preferred her to examine just how dark this was. It would have been fitting with the t one of the rest of the novel and would have given it a darkness which would have been…divine.

I simply cannot wait to see what Madeline Miller comes out with next. She is 100% an auto-buy author for me.

A Spark of LightJodi Picoult

‘Pacey, with a challenging premise. All the hallmarks of your typical Picoult novel which left me with plenty to think about’

Talk to me about books of any kind and it won’t take long for me to bring up that Jodi Picoult is one of my all-time favourite authors. I find her writing flows and is easy, and that she chooses to cover topics which don’t always make for comfortable reading. I never walk away from a Picoult book without feeling challenged in some way about the content, and my automatic reactions. So I was excited to finally get my hands on a paperback copy (cos you know your girl doesn’t like the hardbacks) of her latest release.

Spark of Light focuses on a shooter/hostage situation which is taking place inside Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic. There are a number of hostages inside, who have all come to the centre for various reasons along with members of staff. It becomes very obvious, very quickly, that the shooter has experienced some kind of emotional event which has forced his hand and caused him to take this course of action. What is interesting about the format of Spark of Light is that Picoult has chosen to write each chapter as a different hour, working backwards from the moment when the negotiator decides to enter the building and exchange himself for…*drum roll* his daughter. Shock twist everyone. It means we get to meet all the characters and then discover snippets of their story and what has brought them to the clinic. I enjoyed that we had a variety of people from all walks of life with individual back stories and I liked how Picoult attempted to give a balanced view of people who consider themselves pro-choice and those who consider themselves pro-life.  As a Christian, I was concerned we’d come off pretty badly in the book but overall I think Picoult managed it quite nicely.

My main criticisms with this novel would be that it felt a little rushed; it is about a third of the usual size of her books, and I felt like we didn’t get much resolution to everyone’s stories. If I’ve invested in a character you know I’m going to want some kind of conclusion but that wasn’t really the case here.  She even drops a large bombshell in your lap in the epilogue and then just leaves you there.  I’d sort of seen it coming (both ‘big’ twists in fact) but I would have still expected something by way of closure. If you don’t like books which leave a lot of unanswered questions, this may not be your jam.  As far as your typical Picoult book goes, I think this ticks all the boxes and then some. I’m excited to see what she will be writing next.

Daisy Jones and the SixTaylor Jenkins Reid

‘I loved the unique format and the way Jenkins Reed brings the individual characters to life’

I was keen to pick this up after seeing a whole heap of buzz in the book community but in my typical way, I managed to avoid a lot of the spoilers so didn’t really know what I was getting myself into!

This is book based around a rock n roll band in the 1970s who suddenly, at the height of their career, disband with no apparent explanation. The unique thing about this particular book is the format; the story is told through a series of interviews with members of the band and those who were close to, or involved with the band when they were together. The story is broken down into sound-bites from these interviews and so we follow the band’s progress as they go from basically nobodies to one of the biggest bands in the world. The format was key to this reading experience for me; so many times during the book I stopped and went to google something that Jenkins Reid mentioned, before remembering that it was all fictional! She managed to capture the era so perfectly and I was totally captivated.

One thing which did throw me about the format, was that I had expected it to be a quick read and it really wasn’t. I didn’t connect with the characters, initially, so well although I do think as you progress through the book you see their individual personalities coming through more and more. In my opinion it is worth persevering with though as it’s such a fun read and well worth the hype. I don’t want to go into too much detail really about the storyline as I think it unfolds at just the right pace and I wouldn’t want to let any spoilers slip!

Criticism would be that you don’t get the fully fleshed out characters which can feel a bit jarring at times, especially for any reader who really loves character progression and development. I thought I would find myself in the camp of not liking the book all that much because of this but I found myself in tears at the end; Camille…enough said. If you know, you know.

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