A Garden of Tiny Book Reviews

I have been reading a metric ton this summer–fiction plus memoir, my two favorite genres, in hardbacks and paperbacks exclusively. I haven’t liked looking at screens to read, of late. Not that anybody asked, but I clearly like to overshare when it comes to my reading habits.

I don’t have the mental bandwidth what with the all-kids-all-the-time tableau at my house this summer, so these really are going to be little/possibly not very thorough reviews of:

Books I Have Enjoyed to Varying Degrees. Beginning with…


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I no longer have to hide my face in shame over not having read The Great American Read or whatever. I read it. I found it pretty avant garde for the time in which it was written. I do not feel about it the way much of the world seems to feel, which is that it is the one book that most deeply touched them. Holden Caulfield as a character has a big, memorable voice. His narration is the best part of this funny, yet essentially sad story. I value this book and what it has to offer. It is an important book. But I’m not in love with it. There. I said it.

Historical Fiction

The Summer Before War by Helen Simonsen

I found this book delightful. It felt like Downton Abbey set in Sussex solely before and during The Great War. Beatrice and Hugh as central characters are lovely and real and just what I always want in a good book, which are people I can really SEE and believe in. There is a lot of humor in this story of a small English town and its quirky residents as they come up against the brutality of a war. Because it’s also a war story, it’s not all garden parties and happy endings. I loved it.

Magical Realism

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman is a prolific (seriously so prolific) and excellent writer who favors magic, witchery, and dark themes in her stories about people who have a different set of gifts, yet who still must cope with the vicissitudes of life. This book follows the three teenage Owens siblings in New York City, who have been forbidden by their mother from dabbling in anything relating to magic, yet who seemingly can’t keep the development of their proclivity for these powers away. They are schooled in becoming who they are by their aunt Isabelle, who lives in the family’s ancestral home in Massachusetts, of Salem Witch Trials fame. I did not expect this book to follow the sibs through their entire lives, but it does and I found that it was more than a fantasy with lush imagery. It was a solidly written, tender story of a family, which does tend toward dark outcomes.

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This book reminded me a bit of Station Eleven, which scared me to death, yet which I enjoyed nonetheless. But The Dog Stars was much better imho. So much better. The narrator, Hig, is one of few people left after a flu decimates the world’s population. He is a gentle soul, yet somehow manages to survive in the brutal aftermath, where people will kill each other to take each others’ supplies, even if it’s just a bunch of cans of soda. There is also so much beauty–so much awareness for what life is and what makes it worthwhile. I don’t even know how to summarize this story in order to do it justice. It is sad, hopeful, inventive, human, and beautiful. I loved this book and felt that it changed me.

Women’s Fiction

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

I have liked everything I’ve read by Moriarty, whose stories are set in Australia. This is one of her earlier books and it felt a little less polished to me than What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I still enjoyed it, but felt that the story had some pretty implausibly big gaps. It’s about a mystery surrounding a family living on Scribbly Gum island near Sydney, involving a baby, a possible double murder, and multiple story lines which eventually do find resolution. It’s light-hearted chick lit. A beach read, basically.

Young Adult Lit

Thief of Happy Endings by Kristen Chandler

Chandler is a Utah writer (yay locals!) whose story follows a teen girl whose parents are divorcing. Cassidy spends the summer away from her family on a troubled youth horse ranch in Wyoming, where she struggles not only with getting on a horse and being constantly dirty, but with understanding who she is. This book could have felt really predictable, but it wasn’t. There’s a bit of romance and a hefty dose of coming to terms with difficult family situations in this introspective coming-of-age tale.

The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson

Pearson’s three books in this fantasy series have really sappy titles (The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal, and The Beauty of Darkness), but that didn’t stop me from diving in and immersing myself happily in the story of a runaway princess avoiding an arranged marriage. Lia, the protagonist, has a firecracker personality and spends the trilogy realizing she is destined to save a country far to the east, but historically connected with her own land. Because this is kind of epic, world-building stuff, there is A LOT that happens. So much. I can’t do it justice here. I read all three books in a matter of days. They were a delightful escape, as books in summer should be.

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

The blurb on the cover of this book describes it as “Hatchet meet The Revenant” with a big dose of fierce female resilience, which is pretty spot on. It’s the story of a young woman who ends up stranded, injured, and alone in the remote Canadian wilderness for six months. She writes the book in the first person, in a journal form, which skips between her life before and the stark reality of survival which comes after the events which placed her in this situation. It is scary, raw, and exciting, but would benefit from more exploration of Jess’s emotional journey.

Reader, what are you reading? Or better yet, what are the three best books you’ve read in the past year? Comment and give me and each other some good recommendations xoxo.

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