Monday, May 29, 2017

Recent Reads | May



May - more than any other month so far this year - was consumed with reading; I spent the month free of working as I'm currently between two jobs, and with all the free time I made my way through twenty titles. My motivation for getting through so many books was finishing my library stack before my impending move to DC (and while I was at it, also paying off my four-years-in-the-making $18 library fine).

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé
I 100% checked this book out from the library because it was a translated French novel under the same publisher as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and it ended up being a great decision. A Novel Bookstore follows two friends, Ivan and Francesca, who open a bookstore in Paris filled only with works picked by a secret select group of bibliophiles. The extremely selective nature of the books chosen to be sold angers many in the bookselling community, and the bookstore is threatened by unknown faces.

I don't normally read romances, but I wanted something on the "fluffier" side and this book fit perfectly. Mia, an actress, and Paul, a writer, are pushed together under false pretenses but try to remain just friends. The book plays out rather predictably as a love story, but I did appreciate the inclusion of the translator's side story as it added something of a mystery to an otherwise quite ordinary tale.


Camino Beach is a fun, light read about two best friends who, on the eve of their 20th high school reunion, embark on a roadtrip to find out what happened to the third girl in their friendship trio after she disappeared right before high school graduation. The mystery aspect helps carry the book along quickly and I enjoyed the friendship dynamics between all the characters, but the story is made unbelievable by the immaturity of some of the characters and the 20-year gap in the story.


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I've been eyeing this one for a while as I have several friends who adore it. It's a touching fictional letter from a father to his son and is beautifully written, however, I didn't really like it. Perhaps due to its Midwest-in-the-50s setting or the types of characters, I didn't connect with the story at all, and though objectively it's a great book, it's not one I would pick up again.


Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman
Seeking Refuge is the last of the books I borrowed from my internship, and having spent so much time promoting it as part of my role in social media, it's a shame I never read it until the end. The book is a good one for those who want to know more about who refugees are, where they come from, how they are admitted to the US, what a resettlement agency does, etc. Even with having worked in one for 9 months, I found it very informative and interesting.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do... But You Could Have Done Better by Hilary Campbell*
Campbell's collection of submitted break-up stories are paired with Campbell's clever illustrations to create an incredibly amusing book. I felt a little guilty laughing at other's pain, but some of the stories were downright hilarious, and it made me glad I've never experienced a breakup like these.



4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie
This Miss Marple installation features the best of Christie's creations: strong characters and a conclusion I never saw coming. 4:50 From Paddington begins with a friend of Miss Marple's witnessing a murder on a train, but when she informs the police they can find no evidence of a crime having been committed. I was kept guessing until almost the last page, and I especially appreciated a not-overly-long explanation of how the crime was committed.


A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie
This go around, Miss Marple solves a murder with clues all pointing to the common nursery rhyme about blackbirds in a pie. The evidence leading to the wrapping of the case isn't as clear cut as Christie's works usually are, which I found interesting, but nevertheless kept me guessing.


At this point, I've read quite a few of Christie's works so I'm familiar with her general style. As such, it was interesting to go back and read her first ever mystery novel. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a Poirot novel, and as it is the first one, it makes for quite a contrast to later works. Many of Christie's works have straightforward plots, but this one goes around quite a bit, even including the murder trial after the supposed murderer has been caught.


Poirot and Hastings are again chasing a murderer, in a plot that is so layered that I can't quite recount everything in it, other than it involves matters of secret and mistaken identities. While I liked the complicatedness of it, I wish Hastings was more of a side character as he is in later books than the narrator like he is in this one, because he's rather full of himself and it's irritating to read his thoughts.



Multiculturalism within churches in a topic that's often been on my mind these days, and Brouwer's book explores the depths of that idea. He bases the book on his own experience as a pastor of an "international church" in Zurich and carries the topics out further than his own church doors to show what's most important when attracting a diverse congregation and how it all relates back to core church principles. Even as someone with no ambition to plant a church or enter the pastoral route, I found it a fascinating read.

I'm a huge fan of well crafted short story collections, and Arimah's debut is a beautiful selection. What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky combines magical-realism with stories about how relationships are tied together in written pieces that are equally powerful and heartfelt. Given how strong her debut is, I can only imagine how fantastic Arimah's future works will be.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
All About Love was my first bell hooks read, and I found myself surprised by its contents. I had always been under the impression that her books were more academic in nature, but All About Love was a very personal account of the different types of love existing in the world today with her personal stories scattered throughout its pages. hooks starts by giving the various definitions of love and how these imperfect definitions ultimately fail us in understanding what it is, then dives into the various kinds of love and how they interconnect.

Migrants and Citizens: Justice and Responsibility in the Ethics of Immigration by Tisha M. Rajendra*
Migrants and Citizens feels less like a nonfiction book and more like an expanded thesis, but once I got over the format I enjoyed it. Rajendra approaches the practical issues surrounding immigration from a theoretical standpoint, challenging many of the assumed statements about how citizens and migrants are supposed to interact and how "universal human rights" work in real life.


Sad Girls by Lang Leav*
Sad Girls is a dark, captivating coming-of-age debut from Leav that was hard to put down. It covers a number of heavy topics, including suicide, mental illness, unhealthy relationships, and drug abuse but still manages to maintain some humorous levity. I especially appreciate the emphasis on girls supporting other girls and helping each other through tough times. I didn't enjoy the ending as I felt it came out of nowhere and wasn't really necessary to finish off the story, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book.



I wanted to read this book because, as someone who grew up in a Christian home and continues to claim the Christian religion as my own, I wanted to hear about the Islamic faith from someone without a Christian bias. I found this book incredibly informative; it clarified some questions I had and gave me some general information about the religion and how it should be practiced. Despite this book only providing one person's perspective on Islam instead of a variety of interpretations, I would still recommend this book as a good introduction to understanding the religion and how its history relates to modern day events.

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
It's been seven years since Kostova's last book, and it was a bit of a letdown after her masterpiece of a debut, The Historian. The Shadow Land, Kostova's newest novel, follows Alexandria, an American who has traveled to Bulgaria for a teaching job, who quickly becomes entangled in a political secret after she accidentally takes a bag from an elderly couple she assisted at a hotel. The dual plot lines and the characters were fantastically handled, but overall it fell short of the greatness of her debut.

You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
I've read quite a number of serious books on racial issues, and I expected this to be more of the same but with a younger voice. Instead, it was a hilarious collection of essays on race, gender, and millennial culture that were as sharp as they were entertaining. If you want to read more about race issues and laugh at the same time, Phoebe's your girl.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
I've read many short story collections lately and have loved them, but I'm also trying to read more novellas, and there is no better place to start than Tolstoy's ponderings on the thoughts of a dying man in his final days. Ivan Ilych is a judge who always wanted more in life, but as he lay dying as the result of an injury, he wonders whether his life was all that he wanted it to be or not. It's not the most uplifting of reads, but I thoroughly enjoyed Tolstoy's style.

Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church by James Calvin Davis*
With the current divisive political climate, Davis's book is a timely reminder of how Christians should act towards one another when disagreeing. Davis describes the difference between "bearing with one another" despite disagreements and glossing over disappointments, and discusses how the idea of forbearance plays into other virtues like patience, justice, and truth. The book provides a balanced view of the issues and encourages Christians to use forbearance as a way to promote unity and improve the outside view of the church.


*I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


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