09 September 2021

What I Read in August 2021

It's been a hot minute since I last wrote about what I've been reading and what's on my reading radar. Today, I'm sharing what I read in August.

I struggled a bit last month and had trouble becoming totally invested in the books I chose. The books are presented here in the order in which I read them; I've also posted these thoughts on Goodreads. Here's hoping September treats me better!

Thanks to the publishers and/or Libro.fm for review copies (digital, print, and/or audio).

August Book Reviews from Beth Fish Reads

The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican (Grand Central Publishing): Hourican focused on the Guinness sisters as a way to examine the post-World War I years in England and the changing rules and social life of the privileged in both Ireland and England. Because this is historical fiction based on real people, other famous individuals of the era make appearances (such as the Mitford sisters). The time span is from 1918 to 1930 and is told through the eyes of a fictional character, a poorish cousin who comes to live with the sisters and be their companion. The author examines the elaborate rules of courting and having a season, the education of girls, women's changing opportunities, marriage, sisters, politics, labor, and the effects of the stock market crash. Worth the read. The audiobook is read by Roisin Rankin, who uses light, believable accents and captures the emotions and moods of the fictional cousin and the sisters.

Noyln by Michael J. Sullivan (Grim Oak Press): I just can't get enough of Sullivan and the universe he has created. I love the characters, the way the different series are linked, the world building, the action, the heartbreak, and the relationships. This book begins a new series that takes place after the "age of" books. I loved meeting new characters, visiting with a few familiar friends, and hearing how others became the stuff of legend. I can't recommend these books more highly for readers who like sagas, fantasy, great characters, and solid plotting. Note that if you're new to Sullivan, you can start at the beginning of any of the series and not be lost. I read the books in order of publication date, but you could also read chronologically, starting with the Age series. If you're an audiobook fan, you'll be happy to learn that Tim Gerard Reynolds is back as narrator. Truly, no one else could possibly be the voice for Sullivan's work. I bought both an audiobook copy and a print copy.

Home Waters by John N. Maclean (Custom House): This is more than the story of a family; it's a tribute to Montana, especially the big waters and the men who influenced both John and his father, Norman Maclean, the author of the novella "A River Runs Through It." In this well-crafted memoir, John tells the true story behind his father's fictionalized account of the Reverend Maclean and his sons, Norman and Paul. He also introduces us to his mother's family, the Burnses. John looks back at his family's history and recounts how he learned to fly fish, how five generations of Macleans have maintained the cabin built by his grandfather on the shores of Seeley Lake, and how Montana itself--with its wildness, waters, and beauty, shaped them all. For fans of his father's famous story, John writes about how the book came to be published by the University of Chicago Press, the factual account of his uncle Paul's death, and behind-the-scenes glimpses at how the movie was made. A beautiful book. For my thoughts on the audiobook, please see my review for AudioFile Magazine.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarity (Holt): This story of a missing sixty-something woman set in contemporary Sydney has some of the hallmarks of Moriarty's earlier work. The book starts with the disappearance of Joy Delaney on Valentine's Day 2020. Then the story looks into to the past, starting with the day about 6 months earlier that Joy and her husband answer their door to a young woman, clearly hurt and in distress. The present and past are revealed by introducing us to the four grown Delaney children and their father. We learn about their youth, their family dynamics, their relationships, their ambitions, and their connection to the sport of tennis. While the mystery of Joy's disappearance (a murder? a kidnapping? a running away?) and who may have been responsible is at the core of the novel, this is really the story of a family. For me, this was only okay. I didn't really connect to any of the characters and never got caught up in finding out what happened to Joy. The audiobook was read by Caroline Lee, who has narrated several of Liane Moriarty's books. Her performance was very good in terms of characterizations and expressive delivery.

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker (Tor Teen): I really wanted to love this book, but it didn't hold my interest in either print or audiobook format. It took forever for the action to pick up, though we know quite early on that this will be a quest / journey type of story. And even when that quest starts, the drama wasn't really there for me. The author drummed home & overemphasized some of the bigger issues of the story instead of allowing us to experience and feel them along with the characters. I quit reading at about 56% in. The book has gotten good reviews and praise from both print/professional sources and consumer/social media reviewers. I'm in the minority.

All's Well by Mona Awad (Simon & Schuster): I picked this up because the audiobook is read by Sophie Amoss, who is one of my go-to audiobook performers. I should have known better, however, because I had mixed feelings about Awad's previous two novels (13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl & Bunny). Awad excels at creating strange situations and unique characters. Miranda, the main character in All's Well, is an actor-turned-drama professor who has been in horrible pain after sustaining an injury that ended her acting career. The plot revolves around pain, Miranda's relationship with her students, a little magical realism ... and I just couldn't take it anymore! I DNF'd at about halfway. Sophie Amoss was *brilliant* -- she absolutely understands where Awad is going and is the perfect narrator for the book. I doubt I'll give Awad another chance, no matter who is performing her next novel.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead): Hawkins's latest thriller / mystery starts with the murder of a young man who lived in a shabby narrowboat. The larger concern of who killed Daniel and why is revealed through the stories of nosy neighbors, relatives, a one-night stand, and others. Everyone has something to hide or has survived a previous traumatic event. Family relationships are strained at best. Too many unbelievable connections and coincidences and too many characters with too many problems bog down the plot. For my thoughts on the audiobook, see AudioFile Magazine.

The Turnout by Megan Abbott (Putnam): I love Megan Abbott's work and I danced well into my 30s, so I had high hopes going into this thriller centered around two sisters who inherited a well-respected dance school from their mother. Sisters Marie and Dara Durant and Dara's husband, Charlie, grew up together and, in fact, lived together in the Durant family home until a few months before the story opens, when Marie moved out to live in a room above the dance school. It's fall, just weeks before the annual Nutcracker performance, when disaster strikes: there's a major fire in one of the practice studios. Enter a smooth-talking contractor who infiltrates the trio's lives, eventually threatening to expose their secrets and destroy all they hold dear.

The descriptions of the dance studio, the rehearsals, the jealousies, and the competition ring true. The relationship among Marie, Dara, and Charlie was formed when they were still children, all living with the Durant parents and all dancing under the tutelage of the girls' mother. The contractor is creepy and sleazy. It isn't easy to tell who is bad and who is good; you wonder whom to trust. The novel has the bones of a good thriller and held my attention, but I don't think is Abbott's strongest work. The tension gets derailed by too much description and I found it hard to root for any of the characters. The audiobook is read by Cassandra Campbell, who captures the characters' feelings and voices.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (William Morrow): Set in north London, the story is told from the viewpoints of two very different people. As they get to know each other over their newly discovered love of reading, they provide mutual support and stability at a much needed time. Seventeen-year-old Aleisha takes a summer job at the library only as a means to help her overworked brother and to bring extra money to the household while their mother is experiencing a particularly bad bout of depression. Mukesh turns to reading as a way to keep his connection to beloved late-wife and to forge a connection with one of his grandchildren. When Mukesh gets his first library card, he asks Aleisha for a book recommendation. She doesn't have one until she discovers a reading list tucked inside a returned library book. As the pair reads each of the books on the list, they discover how much reading has to offer and how important it is to let others into one's life. Sweet without being cloying; escape with some good messages. Recommended. The audiobook is performed by Tara Divina, Sagar Arya, and Paul Panting -- there are no weak links here; each narrator delivered on expression, characterizations, and emotions.

Invisible Years by Daphne Geismar (David R. Godine; my personal collection): An important and moving true story of the fate of an extended family during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. Told via letters, interviews, photographs, and more, this is an incredible book. Sometimes emotionally difficult to read. This family story is made all the more important as eyewitnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust are aging and dying. It's nonfiction books like this that keep the true history alive and help prevent revisionist accounts.


(Diane) bookchickdi 9/9/21, 7:56 AM  

I liked The Reading List as well, and I will be putting The Glorious Guinness Girls on my TBR list.

Vicki 9/9/21, 10:26 AM  

I see a few that I may add to my list. My reading hasn't picked up much in the last few months.

Tina 9/9/21, 12:36 PM  

My reading was great in August and I hope to get more goodies for September. Netgalley has been kind to me this time. I would like quite a few on your review here. Paula Hawkins is a hit or miss for me. I liked The Girl on the Train but something about Into the Water made me give up.

fredamans 9/9/21, 4:16 PM  

I think you did a great job! Happy September!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 9/9/21, 5:40 PM  

I so appreciated you take on some of these new audio books. About 1/2 of what I read these days is in audio format or a combo read. I was especially curious about the Moriarty, Awad, Abbot, Hawkins and Adams books. Great reading month!

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours 9/9/21, 9:48 PM  

A nice and varied list! I hope September brings you great reads. Here is my wrap: https://wordsandpeace.com/2021/09/01/2021-august-wrap-up/

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 9/10/21, 11:25 AM  

I'm especially interested in The Reading List. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it.

Mae Travels 9/11/21, 7:48 AM  

Your little reviews are very enjoyable to read, but I don't see a single book that I actually would want for myself! As you say, the number of new books coming out this fall is huge. My own list is quite long without overlapping with yours.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

shelleyrae @ book'd out 9/11/21, 1:14 PM  

I’m looking forward to reading the Reading List!

Have a super September of reading!

Amanda 9/12/21, 9:39 AM  

I'm curious which works of Moriarty's you'd compare Apples Never Fall to? I've read quite a few of hers now, and they tend to range from love to hate for me.

thecuecard 9/18/21, 9:19 PM  

So does the Apples Never Fall novel have much about tennis in it? Some say it has a big tennis component to the story but does it? I am a tennis player so that would be a draw for me if so. thanks.

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