by Kristi R. Johnson
Once again, I find myself lamenting the end of another summer. The fall semester always seems to come back around a little too soon for me, and I rush to finish up any last-minute projects that I know there will not be time for once classes start. Although I work full-time throughout the year, the beginning of the fall semester still means a little less free time and a tighter schedule. This could be because I work at two different universities, both of which are naturally much more calm in the hotter months.
This summer I was once again able to read a wide variety of books from different genres. A couple of these books are titles that most are familiar with due to their ability to stay popular decades after they were first published. But there are some debut authors in this group, including one local author, and even a veteran that the reading community lost early last year.
Somehow I wasn’t forced to read East of Eden in high school or college, so I decided now was the time, despite its length. I am happy to say that I was not at all disappointed, even if it took me longer than I had hoped to finish it. John Steinbeck’s novel about two families essentially reenacting the fall of Adam and Eve, and the tension between Cain and Abel is certainly worth the time and effort it requires to finish it.
I adore Octavia E. Butler almost only on principle, mostly because in an interview, she tells the story of reading as a young girl and realizing that she could write a better story than what she had in front of her. However, Fledgling was difficult for me because it involves warring vampire families, and at the center of it all is Shori, a young vampire who has lost her memory, but is obviously in grave danger. When it comes to most things involving vampires I am most decidedly on Team Van Helsing, but I couldn’t help but cheer Shori on.
It was easy to decide to pick up the latest graphic novel by Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. I am always looking for graphic novels to pick up that are not part of a series, and Patience fit the bill nicely. Time travel, murder, lost love, and troubled youth all come together for a fascinating story told in glorious full-color pages.
Camille Di Maio is a local San Antonio real estate agent who has achieved her hard-won dream of becoming a published author. The Future of Us is a historical fiction novel loosely based on the song Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles. I actually had the chance to speak with Di Maio regarding her writing and publishing experience; the time she met Sir Paul McCartney, and why she and her husband chose San Antonio as their home. You can read the full article as published by The Rivard Report here.
Thanks for the Trouble
Last year I picked up Tommy Wallach’s We All Looked Up, and I thoroughly enjoyed his take on what the last few days on earth would be like for four high school teens. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I enjoyed Thanks for the Trouble quite as much, mostly because of one particular character that could be identified as a manic pixie dream girl. Aside from her, the plot is good, the other characters are interesting, and the action is there.
I have decided to recognize Shelter by Jung Yun as my favorite book of the summer. It asks the difficult question of what obligation do we have to a family that has a history of abusing us? What are we to do when the people who caused us so much pain now need us the most? It is an incredibly heart-breaking tale on the complexities of human relationships and the destructive cycle of abuse, and I recommend it to everyone.
Many people have read Stephen King’s The Shining, and many more have seen the movie, which often tops many lists containing the scariest movies of all time. It is arguably a masterpiece of horror, and has been scaring people for decades. And as fantastic as that piece of cinema is, I still have to say – well, not really, but I will anyway – the book is better. So much better. I can’t even.
The Mirror Thief
Of course, not every selection across a three-month stretch can be a gem, or even decent. Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief is decidedly my least favorite book of the summer. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been so upset about it if it weren’t so long. After 500+ pages, the payoff just wasn’t worth the trouble for a story that ultimately went nowhere with characters I couldn’t bring myself to care about.
Many of us who attended school here in the US are well aware of the horrors and atrocities that were inflicted upon Africans forced to be a part of the slave trade, removed from their homeland and brought over to work someone else’s land in a strange country. But what about those who remained in Africa? Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing explores both scenarios, following two branches of the same family tree. One side is captured and sent over to the US, while the other remains in Ghana. Neither side is free from oppression, and all involved must decide whether to follow the path laid out for them, or attempt to go their own way and suffer the consequences.
Stacey Lee follows up last year’s Under a Painted Sky with Outrun the Moon, the story of a Chinese-American girl determined to receive a better education than what even the best of San Francisco’s Chinatown has to offer. But it’s the early 1900s, and convincing an all white girl’s school to admit a Chinese student is not going to be easy. Once again I enjoyed Lee’s approach to historical young adult fiction and her ability to create approachable characters in seemingly hopeless situations.
This one was a bit bittersweet for me as The Long Cosmos is the fifth and final installment of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth series. Although Pratchett died in early 2015, the pair had actually finished the series long before that. I simultaneously looked forward to reading the series conclusion, and was also sad and a heartbroken knowing that there would not be anymore new books coming from Pratchett. Granted, there are still many of his books I haven’t read, but still.
Martha Hall Kelly’s historical fiction novel about World War II is told from the point of view of three different women in three very different situations. Lilac Girls follows Caroline, Kasia, and Herta as they navigate life, beginning when Hitler invades Poland, to well into the late 1950s. I do my best to avoid historical fiction that deals too much with war (something that is incredibly hard to do given humanity’s history), but something intrigued me about this book and I was ultimately glad I picked it up.