Summer Reading Rejects

I Am Pilgrim- Terry Hayes
Best thriller, best of 2014, best debut: every conversation I’ve had about this book has been laced with superlatives. It was a good book (although I wouldn’t want to burden any book with those kinds of expectations). Two problems: while I like big, thick books, there aren’t any doorstops in the reading guide (well, at least not to the tune of its 700 pages). And some of the storylines are pretty gruesome. Okay, seriously gruesome. Strong narrative drive, intriguing plot, but maybe not a crowd-pleaser. At least not this crowd.
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I first discovered Hannah when so many of you recommended her as a sweet spot author. You recommended this as one of her best, and I enjoyed it. The poignant story sucks you right in, and I especially admired Hannah’s depiction of female relationships: mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. But I cried like a baby during the last two chapters, and I don’t think a good beach read should make you cry. At least not a whole box of tissues’ worth.
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Over her long career, Berg has consistently written strong female characters at many ages and stages. In this book, I appreciate her portrait of small town life, her recently widowed 55 year old protagonist, and the significance of different kinds of friendship to the story. When the main character was in a bad way, it wasn’t a man who came to her rescue—it was her friends. (Fun fact: Liane Moriarty cites Berg as her favorite author and early inspiration.)
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Auden said that for an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five; here's mine. Sittenfeld can write; she does what she does very well. But it's not to my taste. I enjoyed so much about this book. But her brief yet vivid depictions of adolescent sex make me shudder. It’s not because they’re badly written, or particularly graphic: I think it’s because she nails it. These passages are painfully accurate, emphasis on painful. They take me right back to scandalous gossip sessions in the high school bathroom, and that’s not a place I’m eager to revisit.
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You may know Misty Copeland from her stint as a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance. (Don’t hate me—but I’ve never seen it.) Copeland made history by earning a spot as the only African American soloist at the American Ballet Theater. In this memoir she examines her path to success, from her peripatetic childhood to the incredible opportunities ballet has brought her. (I loved the chapter about dancing with Prince.) This look into Copeland’s life and the world of dance is fascinating, though the narrative sags in places.
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This novel asks, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" The answer: just like this. Stegner weaves a compelling story out of four ordinary lives and their extraordinary, life-changing friendship as it spans across forty years, tackling themes of love and marriage, calling and duty. One of the best explorations of friendship in literature. This gorgeous, graceful novel will appeal to fans of Wendell Berry and Marilynne Robinson. Finish the book and go right back to the beginning—so much becomes clear on a re-read. With a deliberately paced, steady feel. in good hands.
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