I’m continuing Quick Lit week with reviews of five more books I read in the past month. While none were runaway favorites, I enjoyed aspects of each one.
Summer of ’69, by Elin Hilderbrand: The summer of 1969 is a momentous one for the Levin family. Kate, the mother of four children, is devastated when her only son is deployed to Vietnam, and Kate spends the summer drinking away her fears while staying at her mother’s home in Nantucket. She is accompanied by her 13-year-old daughter, Jessie, who experiences her first love and heartbreak, as well as plenty of other teen dramas, over the summer. Jessie’s college-aged sister, Kirby, is spending the summer working on Martha’s Vineyard, where she encounters racism in her own search for love, and physical abuse in the relationship of a friend. And oldest sister Blaire, who is newly married and now massively pregnant with twins, is summering in Boston while mourning the career she has sacrificed at the request of her brilliant but increasingly distant husband.
There is a lot going on with this story: an exciting time period, countless family secrets, and a cast of unique characters united by family bonds yet each experiencing loneliness in the midst of drama, poor choices, and unfair circumstances. With its engaging prose and intriguing storylines, it took me a while to realize I didn’t particularly love this book. The characters are unlikeable, and though the novel has a wonderful sense of time and place, the writing feels too modern for the 1969 setting. Some of the book’s themes—including feminism, suicide, grief, racism, and misogyny—take center stage at times, rather than coming through naturally within the storylines, with Hildebrand trying just a little too hard to emphasize the prominence of these issues.
One highlight of the book was Blaire’s twin pregnancy, which was fun to read about as I was spending my own summer pregnant with twins and resonated with a lot of her experience (though thankfully not the familial drama!). In the afterward, Hildebrand notes that the birth of the twins is largely her own birth story, as she and her twin brother were born under similar circumstances around the time of the first moon landing!
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
The Sentence is Death, by Anthony Horowitz: In this second book in the Detective Daniel Hawthorne series, Anthony Horowitz (who has written himself as a character in the series) is reunited with the eccentric private detective to solve another puzzling murder. Richard Pryce, a successful divorce attorney, was recently murdered in his own home, bludgeoned to death by an expensive bottle of wine. Several clues point to the murderer being the maligned ex-wife of one of Pryce’s recent clients, but of course that would be too easy. Pryce had many enemies; now it’s up to Hawthorne to determine the true killer . . . as long as Anthony manages to keep from foiling the investigation!
This is another great installment of a series I’m really enjoying. I was less invested in the primary mystery of this book than that of the first book in the series (which I reviewed on Monday), but I was just as intrigued by the Hawthorne/Horowitz dynamic and enjoyed the insights into each of the two protagonists and their unconventional careers. I love the way Horowitz manages to make the story seem so lifelike: I actually felt like I was reading a true crime book for much of the novel. Such creative storytelling, combined with a compelling mystery (replete with red herrings and enigmatic characters), takes this a step beyond the typical whodunit.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and Why God Calls Us to More, by Sharon Hodde Miller: I was impressed with Miller’s message when Annie Downs interviewed her on this podcast, and was eager to get my hands on her latest book. In Nice, Miller calls out niceness for the idol it has become within the church. Niceness wins us friends and gains influence, but it can also lead us to compromise our values and our message, producing bad fruit of cowardice, inauthenticity, and corruption.
Miller confesses to the ways in which she has sacrificed her character and message to the idol of niceness within her own Christian walk, and she leads readers through the process of setting down niceness to cultivate better fruit. Miller draws from examples within Scripture and her own life to illustrate the ineffectiveness of niceness and the benefits of pursuing Biblical truth instead.
I really resonated with the message of this book and found many of the chapters convicting. I especially appreciated the agricultural themes that fit well with my pursuit of abiding in Christ in 2019. My only qualm with the book was its repetitiveness. As with many similar titles, the meat of the message lies in the first and last chapters, with the middle of the book presenting many variations of a similar theme. Still, this is a worthwhile read with a message most Christians need to hear.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
The Last House Guest, by Megan Miranda: Sadie Loman and Avery Greer were unlikely friends. Though both grew up in Littleport, Maine, Avery was a poor year-round local of the seaside town, while Sadie was a wealthy summer resident. However, for each summer of the last several years, the girls were inseparable—until the summer evening when Sadie is found dead, presumably the victim of suicide. Avery is certain many in the community blame her for her friend’s death, and in attempting to clear her name, Avery becomes increasingly convinced that her friend did not take her own life. As we jump back and forth in time between the summer of Sadie’s death and the following summer, when Avery is piecing together what really happened that night, we begin to see that nothing about Sadie’s death—or even her life—was as it seemed.
As with all of Miranda’s books, this is a haunting, atmospheric novel with dark themes and slow-burning suspense. With evocative prose and a deceptively complex mystery, this thriller has a literary bent to it that I enjoyed, even though it made the story difficult to follow at points. However, I didn’t love the characters, and the buildup was too slow to hold my attention: the mystery begins to pick up around the 75% mark, but in my opinion that’s too long to wait for a story to get good! If you’re new to Megan Miranda, I would start with All the Missing Girls or The Perfect Stranger instead. This is a decent mystery, but far from Miranda’s best work.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman: Twenty-nine-year-old Nina Hill is quite happy with her quiet, orderly life. Her days are spent at her job in a bookstore, while evenings are occupied by trivia nights and quiet time at home with her planner, her books, and her cat Phil. The only child of an absentee single mother, Nina has never had much family to speak of, so she is shocked to discover that her biological father—a man whose name Nina had never known—has recently passed away, leaving behind a complicated array of ex-wives, children, and grandchildren. Suddenly Nina is surrounded by a cacophony of family members she doesn’t know what to do with. Meanwhile, Nina finds herself falling for Tom, her cute but unfortunately non-bookish trivia nemesis. Nina knows it’s time to lay aside her carefully structured days and open up to the people and opportunities in front of her, yet all of her books and planning could not have prepared her for this new and slightly terrifying life.
I loved this book’s witty tone and nerdy setup, and it’s no surprise that I adored the character of Nina, who is a true kindred spirit. I resonated with her on nearly every level, from her love of books and planners to her social anxiety and inability to let go of control over her life. I found her trivia-infused dialogue slightly pretentious, but still endearing, and I enjoyed watching her get to know her long-last family members.
Unfortunately, the story itself didn’t really work for me. I found it far-fetched yet predictable, and I struggled to keep her numerous family members straight. There are also a few rather crass conversations that I could have done without. Still, a fun read for bibliophiles and fans of quirky romantic comedy.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
I’ll be back on Friday with my final installment of this month’s book reviews. Until then, happy reading!