On Annie's Nightstand: June 2015.
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor. This gift-style book came out a couple of years ago, and I received a copy for Christmas, but never quite got around to reading it. A Prayer Journal is exactly what it sounds like; the book is a compilation of Flannery's written prayers from her 20s. If you're a person of faith -- or just a fan of Flannery's -- you'll know what a large role her Catholicism played in her life and in her writing, and these prayers show just how early she began thinking about incorporating her beliefs into her stories. There are also profound truths about ambition and Christianity throughout the book's pages; it's a short read, but it's meaningful, and would especially make a great graduation gift, especially for an English or creative writing major.
The Rocks by Peter Nichols. So good, you guys. The Rocks debuted this summer, and it's an incredibly well-done epic, summer-time book. You won't fly through this one in just a few hours; instead, I imagine you'll take at least a few days to savor it and enjoy the nuanced twists and turns. The book begins by introducing us to an older couple as they're arguing; they've got a history, but the reader doesn't know what it is yet. Within the first two or three pages, the couple dies in a tragic accident (no spoilers! it's all in the premise), and we're left to wonder why and what led up to such a tense moment. The book travels backwards in time from there, and it's beautifully-written and set almost entirely in Mallorca, Spain -- the same setting as Emma Straub's The Vacationers. (The two would make great companion novels; snag both for your next trip.) For fans of Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins.
Me & Earl & The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. I read this one on both a customer's and a sales rep's recommendation, and although I'm glad I read it (I want to see the movie adaptation later this summer), it was a tough one for me to get through. The book is written poorly intentionally; the narrator admits as much in the opening pages, and although I appreciate what the writer is trying to create -- a realistic teenage protagonist -- it made it somewhat difficult to endure as a reader. I did appreciate how different this book was from The Fault in Our Stars (which it's of course being compared to), and it was nice to read a YA book that didn't entirely revolved around romance of some kind. Read it if you want to see the movie so you can compare.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Favorite book of the year, hands down. The "post-apocalyptic" description really prevented me from trying Station Eleven; don't make the same mistake I did and continue putting it off any longer. The book is beautifully written and perfectly paced; I cannot stop raving about this one enough. The novel was up for the National Book Award last year, and now I see why. Station Eleven takes place in the years following a fatal plague that wipes out most of the world's population. What's left is a dying landscape intent on survival, and Mandel does an incredible job of creating a cast of characters we want to see succeed. This book isn't dark or fatalistic; instead, it's so hopeful -- a reminder of what our world gets right. If you've had this one on your list, please go ahead and snag it in paperback. You'll be glad you did.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. Okay, everyone has raved about this book, and I agree: It's cute and fun and definitely satisfies any royal obsession you might have since it's pretty much a fictional take on the William and Kate love story. Unfortunately, I read it right after Station Eleven, which was a complete error in judgment. I thought it would be fun to have something light after the depth of that novel, but instead, The Royal We left me wanting just a bit. I'm recommending it to customers who want something fluffy to read this summer; I thought the writing was decent and the characters likable (what's not to like about a fictional Prince William and Kate Middleton?), and there were portions of the novel that were downright touching. I think my only mistake was pairing this one with a National Book Award finalist -- it was like a good wine served with the wrong cheese. Make sure you tackle this one with other summer-y fare.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I was completely impressed by this book. Even if you're a married person who's been out of the dating scene for a while (or, if you're like me, approximately forever), you'll be fascinated by Aziz Ansari's take on dating in a technological age. Modern Romance is NOT Aziz Ansari's personal story; this isn't a comedic memoir a la Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling. Instead, Ansari got together with a sociologist, and the two have tackled the subject of modern relationships in an intellectual but relatable way (there are charts and graphs, folks). I thought Ansari was a genius for crowd-sourcing stories and anecdotes from the audiences at his comedy shows; those stories add a lot to the already-interesting research. Book clubs would be wise to try this one; the conversations would be as valuable as the book itself, I'm sure.
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. I picked this one off the shelf based entirely on the cover design. It's a beautiful book, and I had high hopes; the premise sounds like lots of other novels I love: Dysfunctional family, small business, a little bit of romance, etc. The book opens as a young woman arrives at her brother's bar in her wedding dress a week before the actual wedding. Her dad is in the middle of harvest at their winery, and her mom is in the middle of an affair. Eight Hundred Grapes starts strong, but so many events happen to these characters that I got a little lost -- one customer compared it to a soap opera, and I guess that's the overall vibe I got, too. The bits about the family-owned winery were really interesting, so if you're taking a trip to wine country, this would be a fun guide. Otherwise, maybe check this one out from the library, or buy it to sit pretty on your shelf, because it's gorgeous, even if a little bit wanting.
Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho. This was my second YA novel of the month, and although it definitely held my attention, the defining moment in the book -- the climactic moment -- was so odd and controversial -- in my mind -- it was all I could focus on for the remaining pages, which is a shame, because the moment comes about halfway through the novel. I was grateful to be reading this one with a book club, because by the end, I only wanted to know their opinions on that one moment. The book is typical YA, but the setting is the mid-90s, which adds a different feel thanks to lots of music references and fashion depictions. (Think Eleanor & Park.) Althea and Oliver have been friends since childhood, but now they're almost seniors, and things are beginning to change and are becoming a little odd, in part due to Oliver's undiagnosed illness, which leaves him asleep for weeks at a time, a gender-reversed Sleeping Beauty (in more ways than one, you'll see as you read the book in its entirety.
Second Life by S.J. Watson. My book club read Before I Go to Sleep years ago, and I liked it, as I recall. The book was a perfectly good suspense, and I expected the same from S.J. Watson's newest book, Second Life. When Julia discovers her sister has been murdered, she immediately goes into undercover detective mode, which gets more and more dangerous as she enters her sister's online world, including websites designed specifically for brief sexual connections and encounters. The story is pretty predictable, and it was all a little too sexual for me -- I only finished out of a stubborn desire to know the end. This is another book I'm anxious to hear your opinions about (but I'd read Before I Go to Sleep instead).