July was a not-so-great month for reading, at least in terms of quantity. Maybe it’s the oppressive heat, but I barely made it through four books last month, unless you count the three books I started but have yet to finish – also unusual for me. I normally stick to one or two books at a time, but last month? My reading was all over the place, and I found myself drawn more to my Netflix queue than to my stack of books. However, I trust this slump, too, shall pass, and in the meantime, I’ve got a few recommendations for your own reading lists. July may have been terrible in terms of quantity, but in quality? Well, three out of four isn’t bad:
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Hooray! I read this enchanting book as an advanced reader copy, but there’s good news for you: Kitchens of the Great Midwest released the last week in July, so copies are available and on our shelves now. And trust me: You’ll want one. Aside from Station Eleven (which technically released in 2014), this has been my favorite book of the year. Don’t let the title fool you; this is a novel, not a cookbook, and it manages to weave an intriguing, intelligent story about a young woman and her passion for food. I honestly don’t want to tell you much more than that; I think readers will be better served by trying this one without knowing too much in advance. It’s a book for foodies, but even non-foodies I know will appreciate such a well-told story. I couldn’t put this one down, and I felt better for having read it. Put it on your TBR list, stat.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. This is another book that will make my “Best of 2015” list, guaranteed. It’s a beautiful, literary novel; Lauren Groff (author of Arcadia) writes about marriage – and the two sides of every story – in a way I haven’t seen before. The book resembles one of my all-time favorites, Crossing to Safety, in its simplicity; this is the story of a marriage, and the bumps Groff describes are realistic and compelling, not over-dramatized to the point of caricature. It’s refreshing, and it’s heart breaking. The book carries the reader, and although Fates and Furies isn’t a page-turner in the traditional sense, it grabs the reader’s hand without ever letting go. The novel releases on September 15, so mark your calendars.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I was hesitant to read Go Set a Watchman. Scout and Jem are as dear to me as family, and when reviews came out in advance of the novel’s release, I was stunned to hear my beloved Atticus had become a racist in his old age. (Thank you, New York Times book review.) But I’m not just a reader anymore; I’m a bookseller, and I knew someone on my staff needed to read this book. I’m so glad I took the risk. Go Set a Watchman isn’t a perfect novel; much of the dialogue is clunky, and at times it feels as if we’re reading only half a story. But Harper Lee’s voice is still there, a diamond in the rough some editor had the genius to discover. The book is so clearly hers, and the characters, while changed, are also the same as the ones we fell in love with back in high school. All those concerns about Atticus? They’re valid, but they also ignore the novel’s setting, the state of the South at the time this novel was both written and set. I can’t help but wonder if the novel’s first reviewers simply aren’t Southerners, because if you’re a Southerner? This “new” Atticus may disappoint you, but he’ll also be familiar to you, and really? He may not be as far from the Atticus we discovered in To Kill a Mockingbird as you think. Go Set a Watchman is ultimately about race in the South, and it’s rare because it offers a nuanced, complicated look at what life was like (sometimes still is like) in our part of the world. Scared this new novel will ruin the classic you love? Don’t read it. But I imagine we can all keep To Kill a Mockingbird on its pedestal while also reading Go Set a Watchman as literary history: a reminder for how far we’ve come – and how far we have to go.
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. Luckiest Girl Alive is supposed to be the “it” book of the summer, this season’s Gone Girl, according to goddess of the Southern woman, Reese Witherspoon. I enjoy a good thriller; Gone Girl’s genius wasn’t lost on me, and I enjoyed Girl on the Train as much as the next person. Unfortunately, I found Luckiest Girl Alive to be lacking. Despite all of the descriptions and hype, the novel wasn’t anything like I’d anticipated; it’s filled with twists and turns you won’t see coming, but those twists don’t work in the book’s favor. I’ve thought a lot about how to describe this one, because I know some customers have loved it, and I don’t want to deter any readers who might be interested in it. So here’s what I could conjure up: Reading Luckiest Girl Alive was like watching a Lifetime movie. If that description appeals to you, read on! If not, skip this one in favor of something else; I recommend anything and everything by Tana French.