20 Books of Summer 2016 Wrap-Up

Better Late Than Never!

20 books 2016

It’s a well-known fact that, here in Scotland, summer can be unpredictable, sometimes almost to the point of non-existence. So I don’t feel too badly about deciding to extend it into mid-September this year – the warm nights and constant rain of this pre-autumnal period being not significantly different from the weather we had in the peak summer months of July and August!

All of which is my excuse for finishing the 20 Books of Summer challenge, hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books, two weeks late. Better late than never, eh? Considering I had to contend with the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open and Brexit, I think I did well to read anything at all!

So how did it go? Well… I’ve learned that an almost constant diet of review copies becomes extremely tedious after a bit. With nothing but blurbs to go on, lots of books that sound great turn out not to be. I’m looking forward to getting back to my usual mix of some old, some new. On the upside, my desire to get back to some classics and well-loved authors has given my willpower a desperately needed boost – I haven’t requested anything from NetGalley for over three weeks! (I still have 42 outstanding review copies, admittedly…)

Here’s the summary then, in ascending order of enjoyability – click on the title to see the full review…

* * * * *

😦

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – abandoned due to being plot-free and rather tedious polemics rather than fiction.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye – badly written but, on the upside, it gave me an opportunity to use the word misandry.

* * * * *

😐 😐

The Seeker by SG MacLean – I got lost amidst all the sects and plots in this historical novel set in the time of Oliver Cromwell.

* * * * *

🙂 🙂 😐

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury – didn’t really work for me, sadly. Too unstructured and not enough substance. (Full review to follow.)

Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott – a slight book about Alcott’s experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. Interesting as an insight into Alcott, but not much more than that.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich – a disappointingly unemotional description of grief with an almost invisible plot.

The Widow by Fiona Barton – somewhat tedious domestic thriller, with an investigation that’s full of glaring errors and omissions.

* * * * *

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Different Class by Joanne Harris – loved bits of this book set in a school, but less enamoured by other bits which crossed the credibility line. Well worth reading, though.

The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – well told true crime, but the lack of doubt over the guilt of the murderer prevented it from being fully absorbing.

* * * * *

😀 😀 😀 😀

Oliver Twisted by Cindy Brown – a fun cosy with an attractive lead character set on a cruise ship. Perfect for light summer reading.

* * * * *

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – moving and beautifully written account of childhood in Kabul outweighs the weakness of the latter, adult, part of the story. (Full review to follow.)

Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell – an excellent look at the hipster scene of Greenwich Village in the 1950s, with a good plot and great characterisation.

Zero K by Don DeLillo – takes a cliché of science fiction – cryogenics – and turns it into an examination of death and identity, leaving plenty of room for the reader’s own interpretation.

* * * * *

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Citizen Kane by Harlan Lebo – about the making of the movie. Loved the book far more than the film – one for my fellow geeks!

Enigma by Robert Harris – excellent writing, brilliant scene-setting, strong plot about the WW2 codebreakers in Bletchley Park. A great book!

The Girls by Emma Cline – a super début about what attracts people to cults and makes them cross moral boundaries.

The Perfect Pass by SC Gwynne – another geek-fest, this time about the development of the Air Raid offense in American football. Oddly, I loved this! (Full review to follow.)

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee – great writing and great research bring 1919 colonial Calcutta to life in this crime novel. Another first-rate début. (Full review to follow.)

The Visitor by Maeve Brennan – a wonderful study of loneliness, self-absorption and selfishness, of thwarted love, both romantic and familial, and of a longing for that nebulous thing we call ‘home’.

Exposure by Helen Dunmore – a brilliant cold war thriller, seen from the perspective of the wife and family of the man caught up in a fictionalised version of the Cambridge spy ring. Great stuff!

* * * * *

D’you know, I’m glad I did this summary. I thought it hadn’t been a great summer of reading till I reminded myself of some of the fab books I’ve loved. Eleven 4, 4½ or 5 star reads – not bad at all! And my Book of the Summer is… (ooh, this is a nearly impossible choice)…

enigma 2
* * * * *

Hope you got some great reading done too! What was the Book of Your Summer?

60 thoughts on “20 Books of Summer 2016 Wrap-Up

  1. I’m very glad you did this, too, FictionFan! One thing your summary shows is that you read more good/great books than you did – ahem – disappointments. To me, that says your time was well invested. And you read such an interesting variety of books, too! And you know what, with autumn coming as it is, why not extend summer a bit…

    • I must say that’s usually the case with me, even though I can sound quite critical in my reviews. But this summer I do feel I’ve abandoned too many books, so I was glad to remind myself of all the great ones! Haha! Yes, the variety was particularly weird this summer even for me – Citizen Kane and a book about American football!! And yet I loved them both… 😉

  2. Great list! My favourites have to be the Kite Runner & Enigma. Btw, have you ever read the Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid? I could not put it down this summer.

    • I loved The Kite Runner too, but not quite as much as I loved his later book – And the Mountains Echoed – which totally blew me away. No I haven’t read that one – it looks interesting though. One for the wishlist – thanks for the recommendation!

      And thanks for popping in and commenting. 😀

  3. Congrats on reading 21 books during the period!

    Amused by your response to the Bradbury. I didn’t like to say anything before you read it, but your brief summary more or less takes the words out of my mouth.

    • Haha! Yes, I’d get through these lists much better if I didn’t allow myself to be distracted by new shiny things! I should have swapped your book in and dumped one of the 1-stars…

      Well, I’m relieved to hear it – I had this horrible vision of hordes of fantasy fans chasing after me with placards. What a disappointment that one was after me loving The Martian Chronicles so much.

      • I thought the older stories in Dust were just about palatable, but the newer material seemed very sloppily, self-indulgently written.

        Considering I had to contend with the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open and Brexit

        And you haven’t even mentioned the Test/ODI series against Pakistan!

        • Yes, that’s pretty much how I felt – some of it seemed totally empty, just words without much meaning beneath them. And a bit overblown in places…

          Hahaha! I used to love watching test cricket when it was on the BBC – so relaxing! And such fun trying to work out what on earth a silly mid-off might be. But it’s not the same now it’s on channels with ad breaks – the zen-like feeling is totally destroyed…

          • But it’s not the same now it’s on channels with ad breaks

            Too right. And over here (I can watch on CricInfo, which carries the Sky feed), because cricket is a minority interest and perceived as being even more so than it is, the number of willing advertisers is limited . . . so they repeat the same ads over and over and over and over again, to the point where certain products will never, ever extract a single red cent from me.

            • Hahaha! That’s the effect constant ads have on me too! I almost never watch anything on TV anymore for that reason – I’d much rather wait and get the DVD. Unfortunately that doesn’t work with sport. And in the tennis, the ad breaks mean one rarely gets to see the shirt-changing at the ends of sets… a devastating loss! 😉

            • In the cricket it’s doubly aggravating because sometimes the commentators interrupt their drivel at the end of the over and actually offer some interesting insights. So you get, say, Michael Holding start, “Just look at the way he has fingers across the seam of the . . .” and then it’s cut to the 48th repeat that day of two fat men discussing hamburgers.

              I guess I should dig out an online streaming of Test Martch Special to watch alongside a muted TV version, but the synchronicity is likely to be out. (The TV version is always at tad delayed since the mike once caught Andrew Strauss at the back of the box expressing his opinion of Kevin Pieterssen in straightforward terms.)

            • Haha! Yes it was always the commentators’ babbling that made cricket so special. Brian Johnson burbling on about what cakes he’d received and them attempting to explain the more arcane terms to people like me – googlies and gullies and legspins. It was so… quaint!

              With the tennis now being mainly on Eurosport I have to admit that the ads do provide a welcome break from Mats Wilander’s dire monologue in the commentary box. In fact, they’re just long enough to send an outraged complaint tweet to Eurosport, I’ve discovered…

            • I’d heard that Wilander wasn’t the greatest of commentators. Here we have the likes of Patrick McEnroe . . .

              For the cricket coverage the Wilander equivalent is David “Bumble” Lloyd, who even manages to make Ian Botham (“Good shot. That’s a boundary. A four. Reached the rope. Not a maximum but . . . four more. Off the bat. Did I mention that I don’t need viagra?”) sound vaguely intelligent.

            • Hahaha! It’s always great when they point out the bleedin’ obvious, isn’t it? The powers that be seem to think that because they were good players they’ll automatically be good commentators – hmm! Mind you, I can listen to John McEnroe burble on for ever – in fact, I regret the roof at Wimbledon ‘cos I used to love all the old-timers they filled the rain-breaks with. Except Cliff singing, of course…

            • To be fair, some of the TV commentators are pretty okay: Holding, Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Nick Knight; they even drafted in people like Wasim Akram (who I imagine might be a favorite of yours) and Mahela Jayawardene. But some of the others — hoo, boy.

            • 😆 Ooh, is Wakim gorgeous then? Must check! I don’t remember him. I never really watched it seriously enough to get to know any except the top English players and now I’m even out of touch with them. But maybe I should have a cricket hunks gallery to compete with the tennis boys… 😉

    • Yes, I’m looking forward to working back through Harris’ other books. I did love The Kite Runner but not quite as much as his later one, And the Mountains Echoed. Did you read it?

  4. A book I loved this summer against all odds was Kazuo Ishiguro’s The buried giant. I don’t often read fantasy fiction, but decided to try it because I’ve enjoyed some of his other books. A sort of epic saga involving an old couple, knights, warriors and a dragon, it was a subtle exploration of memory loss, old age, marriage and a lot of other things besides. Very original. I’m now making myself read Elena Ferrante in the original…Wish me luck!

  5. Well, congrats on completing the challenge! Who cares if it was two weeks late?? It sounds as if you had more positive thoughts than negative ones over your selections, and I’m sure that made summer pass quickly. And golly, who can read with all the sports on TV right now?!?

    • Thank you! Haha! Admittedly I still haven’t completed last year’s list! 😉 Yes, when I look back I usually find I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read, though sometimes it seems as if I get a run of “bad” ones all one after the other. I know! I’m actually getting to the stage of hoping for a week without tennis! Davis Cup this weekend…

  6. Congrats on completing the ambitious challenge!! I similarly agree with your rating of Americanah…not sure if my expectations were simply too high, as most people seemed to really enjoy it, but I just didn’t understand the hype. And I also loved Three-Martini Lunch! The setting fit right in my wheelhouse. Great list for summer reading, I’d say!

    • Thank you! Yes, I think my high expectations had a lot to do with my disappointment too and I also wondered if it might have had more impact on me if I’d read it when it first came out. But it was a major let-down – I’d been so looking forward to it. Suzanne Rindell on the other hand has been a great find! I loved TML and I loved her earlier book too, The Other Typist – highly recommended if you haven’t read it yet!

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

    • I did in the end, though at some points it felt as if I was abandoning as many books as I was finishing, which is highly unusual for me! Haha! I shall be writing the review today or tomorrow – I’m kinda scared ‘cos I might get all the terminology wrong and be attacked by hordes of angry football fans… 😉

  7. You did exceptionally well and overall more good than bad. Perhaps it’s a coincidence as I chose my own books to read, but the challenge really underlined how much I want to read more of these and less review copies too. I’m not so sure about your arguments for extending the summer though 🌞

    • I did have more good than bad in the end though there were points when it didn’t feel like it! Yes, much though I love getting review copies I have so many other books I really want to read – it’ll still take me months just to get through the review book backlog though. But I’m really going to try to resist adding more, unless they’re books I’d want to buy anyway. Haha! Given the weather up here, seasons don’t really matter… 😉

  8. I tried to come up with a best book of the summer for myself, but I just couldn’t do it. I’m terrible at making those (extremely important) types of decisions. But I also like to think it’s a sign that I’ve read lots of good books!
    I’ll be watching for your review of The Perfect Pass. For some reason, I’ve always loved Football movies, but I have never read a football book. I’m too afraid I’ll pick a bad one.

    • I could have picked several of these and nearly didn’t pick one at all. And now I feel guilty about the ones I didn’t pick! 😉

      Haha! I know (knew) literally nothng about American football and am kinda dreading writing the review in case I get all the terminology wrong and get beaten up by hordes of angry fans! It’s a real example though of how a great writer can make almost anything sound interesting…

  9. Oh, some goodies I forgot about! Adding The Girls and The Vistor.

    I say you did do great over the summer, FF! I’d have done better myself, but I’m too busy swooning over a Scot! I’ve been watching Outlander and the guy who plays Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is so, so, oh, there are just no words for the beauty of that man! *faints*

    • Oh yes! Both excellent! And The Visitor is also short…

      Oooh, I haven’t watched it but now I feel I must! Really, really must!! Thanks for the warning though – I shall keep some emergency chocolate on standby to fend off the swooning fits…

      • Oh, yes, you must! I insist! I’ll even say he’s better than Darcy. I know that’s a lot to handle, but I stand by this, FF. You’ll get the vapours, asking, “Who’s Darcy? Who’s this Rafa I swooned for so long ago?”

        • No!!! It can’t be true!!! I think I may need to keep a bucket of cold water beside the chocolate in case of emergencies… I shall train Tuppence to throw it over me if I start to drool dangerously…

    • Thank you! Finally made it! 😉 Yes, both excellent ones that I think you’ll enjoy…

      Ah, yes – I remember your great review of that one. I’m still dubious as to whether I’d be able to get through the Jamaican patois, but I am tempted. I may have to stick it on the wishlist…

    • I haven’t, and I suspect I picked the wrong one to start with. I’ve got Half of a Yellow Sun on my Kinde so hopefully I’ll get along better with that one. To be fair, I was reading it over the Brexit vote, which brought on a major reading slump. At another time I’d probably have stuck with it and might have appreciated it more…

  10. The extending the summer thing is fine. The summer down here in London has only just ended and it’s tipping it down. Might have to go and dig out Somerset Maugham’s Rain! I like the sound of Three Martini Lunch. I’ve sort of thrashed around with my reading this summer. Pick up book, read a bit, put to one side, start reading something on kindle put to one side… Now I’m reading the biography of Beryl Bainbridge which is completely gripping, so at least I’m going to finish something!

    • It seems to just rain constantly up here now. I’m sure it wasn’t like that when I was a kid – I feel I remember summer being sunnier. Maybe it’s just nostalgia! Now when the sun comes out we all rush out and cut the grass…

      Yeah, I was like that too this summer. I think a lot of us were – the whole Brexit thing seems to have thrown us all off our stride a bit, regardless which side we were on. But hopefully we’re all getting back to normal – glad you’ve found one that’s absorbing you!

    • Haha! Yes, I’d have done better if I hadn’t diverted away from the list too. Though I only read 23 in the period – way down on the 30 I read last year. Too much sport and politics this summer!

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