Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Wrap Up: August 2020

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Reviews Of Books I Read In August

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. I finished my reread of the His Dark Materials trilogy! I loved these books when I was a kid, but I hadn’t reread them since I was 14ish. I was scared I would hate them. I didn’t! Rereading the series was tons of fun, and the books are still clever and creepy. If you’re not familiar with this series, it’s about two kids who can open doors to parallel universes. The world-building is stunning. I love how distinct—yet believable—each of the universes are. The author is not kind to his characters. This series gets dark. I think that’s why I loved it as a kid.

I do have some criticisms that I didn’t notice as a teen. The beginnings of the first and third book are excruciatingly slow. Some events happen too easily or conveniently. Whenever the main character gets in trouble, someone shows up at the last second to save her. Those are minor criticisms. I highly recommend this series. I’m still deciding if I want to read the other books set in this world. If you’ve read them, are they good?

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is excellent, like all of Backman’s books. He’s got a talent for creating realistic characters with memorable personalities. Beartown is about the fallout in a small Swedish town after a star hockey player rapes a teenage girl. It’s heartbreakingly realistic and has more humor than you’d expect. My only complaint is that the author sometimes tries too hard and over-explains things. I can figure out the moral of the story on my own, thank you very much. I highly recommend this novel, especially if you love sports.

I liked Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. I guess I’d call it a literary alternate present novel? The world is almost the same as it is now, but abortion is illegal, and there are laws about who can have children. The book follows 5 women who are trying to start families or escape from families. I liked some perspectives more than others. My favorite is a (possibly?) mentally ill “witch” who is on trial for allegedly poisoning a pregnant woman. I also appreciate the perspective of an older woman who is trying to get pregnant before it becomes illegal for her to have children.

My problem with this novel is that I can tell the author has an MFA in writing. Sometimes the book is weird for no good reason. (I know from experience that college professors love books that are weird for no good reason. I also have an MFA.) For example, there’s a character who randomly eats a handful of dirt. The dirt-eating ties into the book’s themes, but it’s heavy handed and doesn’t fit with the character’s personality, so it pulled me out of the story. Despite the random weirdness, I’d recommend this book to fans of literary dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale. It will give you a lot to think about.

 An American Marriage by Tayari Jones hooked me from the first page. Five stars! Unless something drastic happens, it’ll be on my “best books of 2020” list in December. It’s about a husband and wife who are both kind of awful. They have affairs and make other questionable choices. Then, the husband is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the wife starts wondering if she really wants to stay married to him. Every character in this book feels like a real person. I love how involved the main characters’ families are in their lives. The family members have opinions about the characters’ marriage, and they don’t keep those opinions to themselves! There’s so much drama. This is a novel where you hate everybody, but you feel bad for them at the same time.

The only thing I didn’t like is the melodrama. The characters are over-the-top people. Sometimes I wished the author had scaled back the angst a little. Don’t let that put you off, though. If you like books about family issues, this is a must-read. Like I said, 5 stars.

I reread The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I still love this novel, but I hadn’t reread it since the movies came out. I remembered the book being more violent than it actually is. I was surprised that most of the deaths happen “off screen” or are only given a sentence or two of description. (This is a good thing. The violence does not feel gratuitous.) I guess the book was more violent inside my head? I was remembering my memories instead of what was actually on the page? That’s weird. And possibly disturbing. My brain must be a messed-up place.

Then I read something on the opposite end of the spectrum from The Hunger Games. I read Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle. This hilarious book is based on a comic strip series that you may have seen around the Internet. It’s about colorful aliens who enthusiastically participate in baffling human activities. A few of the comics fell flat for me, but mostly this book is an instant mood booster. I highly recommend it if you enjoy comics or happiness.

In August, baby Brooklyn forced me to read Who’s That Cat? by Steph Clarkson and Erica Salcedo. It’s a rhyming picture book about a bug-eyed cat that causes mayhem in a family’s home. The illustrations are funny. I’m pretty sure the story is a metaphor for the parent/child relationship. The family loves the cat, even though it destroys literally everything. (Just like the cat, Brooklyn is a goddess of chaos. Be happy you can’t see my house right now. The floors are so . . . unpleasantly milky.) This is a cute book that would make a great gift for pet-obsessed kids.

Another book Brooklyn wants to read incessantly is Lift, Pull, Slide, Find ABC by Scott Barker. This is a flap book on steroids. So many flaps! Like the (ultra-creative) title suggests, it’s full of stuff to “lift, pull, slide, and find.” There isn’t a plot. It’s just an alphabet book with a different letter and illustration on each page, but Brooklyn adores it. She’s mastered the flaps and is making progress on the slides. I like the book, too. The design of it is aesthetically pleasing.

The final book I finished in August was a short story collection called The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The stories are set in the 1970s and feature characters who are Vietnam War refugees. The characters and writing are great. My favorite story is about a professor and his wife. The professor is losing his memory and starts calling his wife by a different name and talking about things she doesn’t remember. He thinks she’s a different woman. She wonders if her husband invented this woman or if she’s someone from his past who he never mentioned before. Like most short story collections, this one is a mixed bag. Some of the stories are entertaining, and some of the plots didn’t come together for me.

Best Books Of August

Most-Viewed August Blog Posts

August Bestsellers

Here are the books that people bought on Amazon or Book Depository last month after seeing them on Read All The Things! (Don’t worry, the link-tracking robots only tell me which books people are buying, not who is buying them. That would be creepy.)


August Life Snapshots

(I did nothing in August, but the local wildfires have created some very smoky sunrises.)

All The Things!

Number of unread books on my to-read shelf: 51 books

What did you do in August?


  1. Sounds like you had a pretty great reading month. I read 10 books in August, which was actually a lot more than I thought I'd read. LOL


  2. The Refugees sounds interesting. I read five books in August (a Caro book should count for 3). I've starred the ones I've reviewed: Jesse Cole, "Find Your Yellow Tux: How to Be Successful by Standing Out"*; Chrys Fey, "Tsunami Crimes"; Myrlene Hamilton, "All I Needed to Know About Ministry I learned from Fly Fishing'; Robert Cole, "The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power"*; James Cone, "The Cross and the Lynching Tree"*


  3. I was so excited to see a picture of the baby! So cute! I am glad to see people reading Hitchcock's book. It was so good. Did you see she has a new book coming out next year?

  4. Interesting mix of books this month! I'm glad you enjoyed your rereads!

  5. Sounds like you had a great month! I haven't read The Hunger Games in a while, but I did read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes when it came out earlier this year.

  6. August wasn't the best month for reading and I hope for more over the next two months to set me up for a strong end to the year!

  7. I enjoyed His Dark Materials, right up to the end. I didn't like the endng, though. I have a hold on the audiobook for An American Marriage as I'm going to a virtual author event later this month. Check out my monthly wrap-up

  8. Even with the smoke, those sunrises are stunning. It's been such a bad fire season. I really want to read Beartown and An American Marriage. I am glad you enjoyed them so much. I am curious about The Refugees. I'll have to check that one out as well. It sounds like overall you had a good August in reading. I hope you have a great September!

  9. It sounds llike you had a great month of reading! I am starting to feel my reading abd blogging mojo coming back..

  10. Beautiful photos, AJ! I remember the days of reading the same book over and over to my girls. Those flaps are pretty popular with the toddler crowd. I think I have a copy of An American Marriage on my shelves somewhere. I should give it a try based on your thoughts. Have a great September!

  11. Looks like you had a great reading month! I love the Nathan W. Pyle comics, so I can definitely see how a book full of them is an instant mood booster. Also, I haven't read any Fredrik Backman yet, but I hope to soon. Hope you'll have a great September!

  12. I've never read Pullman's books or The Hunger Games (I haven't watched the movie either). I'm glad you had a great reading month and enjoyed your choices. Brooklyn is so big! I love that she's an avid reader like you. And speaking of smoke--we had very hazy, smoke-filled days and nights here, even though we are 1000s of miles to the east. My August favorite book was Rebel Spy.