Hello, everyone! I spent this month reading all new books, which is a major accomplishment for someone who would rather re-read their favorite novel for the 70000th time than even venture to crack open a new tome. Alas, comfort zones must be left, boundaries broken, etc. On my shelf this month were two grisly crime thrillers, a humorous look at medical mishaps, an inventive fantasy, and a work of classic literature that I’ve been trying to finish since March. Surprise: I still didn’t finish it! The heart wants what it wants, and my heart does NOT want to keep reading Anna Karenina for the third month in a row when I can read another Naomi Novik book instead. Let’s get to it!
Pretty Girls and The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Quick Synopses: (Pretty Girls) After 19-year-old Julia disappears without a trace, her two sisters Claire and Lydia watch their family and lives fall apart. Claire marries Paul, a rich and successful architect, while Lydia falls into a spiral of addiction and recovery. When a sudden violent interaction leaves Paul dead, Claire is bereft and grieving, until she discovers a side of Paul she never knew before. With Lydia’s help, Claire must uncover Paul’s true nature, and discover what really happened to Julia. (The Good Daughter) Sisters Sam and Charlie never understood each other, but after their mother’s murder, their lives are irrevocably separated. It’s only when Charlie, now a defense lawyer, stumbles into a complicated case, that Sam comes back into her life, and they find out what really happened on the night of their mother’s death.
My thoughts: I’m a first time Karin Slaughter reader, and so far I’m really enjoying her novels. They’re fast paced, suspenseful, and well-written. My only caveat is the level of violence in her work: she makes her characters suffer in truly awful ways, with some descriptions too disgusting for even a seasoned true crime vet like myself to stomach. My favorite so far is Pretty Girls, as the constant twists and turns kept me hooked and reading long into the night. The Good Daughter was not as successful in my opinion, repeating many of the same themes as Pretty Girls, and having almost the exact same sister dynamic as the former. Even though the two books are not related, reading them in succession highlighted the thematic repetition to a disappointing degree. That said, both books are definitely worth reading, though those who hate gore and sexual violence especially should absolutely skip these books. They pull no punches.
To read or not to read? Read ’em, then sleep with one eye open!
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen
Quick Synopsis: M.D Lydia Kang and co-author Nate Pedersen take readers on a historical journey through the world’s worst cures.
My thoughts: I have some mixed opinions on this book. On one hand, I enjoyed the encyclopedic look at a variety of cures in many genres, including everything from antimony to electricity baths. It’s clear that the authors are knowledgeable about the subject matter, and the layout of the book, with its colorful text, antique photos, and entertaining anecdotes, make it easy for any reader, regardless of medical knowledge, to keep up with deluge of rapid-fire information. On the other hand, Kang and Pedersen’s desire to cover so much information in a relatively small book makes each short section seem superficial, and their attempt to make their book funny and modern ends up coming across as obnoxiously informal and pandering, almost like the “how do you do, fellow kids” of medical texts. I would have enjoyed the work more if they went more in-depth into each subject and kept the tone objective and professional. I get that they were trying to attract a wide array of readers, but we aren’t all dummies just because we lack a M.D after our name.
To read or not to read: It’s fine, but somehow I think you could find most of this information in a wikipedia article that doesn’t talk down to you.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Quick Synopsis: In the village of Dvernik in ancient Polska, a secretive wizard called The Dragon picks one girl each decade to live with him in his tower. Agnieszka has never expected to be chosen, but when The Dragon takes her to his tower, she soon discovers the reason why he picked her. With The Dragon’s begrudging help, Agnieszka uncovers her inherent magic and is soon on the way to becoming a formidable witch. But when her childhood friend is taken into The Wood and seemingly corrupted forever, Agnieszka must venture out on her own to attempt to save her friend, and all of Polska, too.
My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. It was the perfect mix of high fantasy and history with beautifully detailed world-building, great characterization, and gorgeous prose. I thought that Agnieszka was a compelling protagonist and I enjoyed seeing magic through her eyes and the way she viewed it as an organic craft, rather than a possession. I also liked The Dragon’s character, and even though at first he seemed like the stereotypical assholish bad boy, by the end he had mellowed out and became a worthy partner for the protagonist. The ending got a little too exciting for me, as I’m not a fan of huge battles in books (or movies for that matter), but I thought Novik managed to wrap up the story neatly and logically and I enjoyed the anti-war message.
To read or not to read? Read it!
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Quick synopsis: JK, there is no quick synopsis for this monster book. In brief, there are world-ending affairs and religious revelations. There is lots of farming and a coming-to-terms with the peasant experience. There is childbirth and a healthy but contentious marriage. It’s like a slice of Russian life that also happens to have a plot.
My thoughts: Oh Russia, how I love thee, but how I struggle to read your novels. Tolstoy’s greatest strength is his characterization. The main protagonists all leap from the page, and the insight into 19th century Russian life is invaluable. I just petered out by the 2/3 mark. It’s not that Tolstoy’s prose is dense, but rather that he is more preoccupied with philosophical discussions than the lives of his main characters. I prefer more plot heavy books, which is ultimately why Anna Karenina is not for me. That said, I still valued the experience of reading it. It was one of the more challenging books that I’ve read in my life and the complexities of Anna’s choices still have me pondering. That’s really all you can ask from a good book.
To read or not to read? You have to read it since it’s a classic. But do you have to finish it? Depends on your willpower to get through yet another scene about hunting snipe.