Between planes, trains and time in the sun (or shade, for we fair-skinned redheads), August is probably my most productive reading month. I covered a lot of ground this year, from horror to young adult, to discovering a new favorite author. Let’s get after it:
1. The Fever, by Megan Abbott: An isolated small town is struck by a mysterious illness that seems to affect only teenage girls. Is it the result of the polluted local lake, whose green, algae-covered surface is now sealed away behind a fence? A side effect of the vaccine administered to the girls by the health department? Or is this simply a modern-day Salem? As the town descends into paranoia and frenzy, The Fever follows a father, his popular son, and the daughter who seems strangely immune.
See Also: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
2. Every Day, by David Levithan: Imagine waking up in a different body each day. Now imagine that on one of those days, you fell in love. The co-writer of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (and Hoboken resident!) explores the different forms that love can take, and where its limitations lie.
See Also: Beastly, by Alex Finn
3. The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta: A Rapture-like event leads to the instantaneous disappearance of people all over the world, except that afterwards, life apparently goes on as usual. Different people react in different ways—some join cults, some are paralyzed by grief for those they lost, and others reconfigure their recreational softball teams to fill the holes. If you’ve read the excellently twisted Election, you know that Perrotta has a way of gently mocking his characters, even while making you feel for them.
See Also: The Returned, by Jason Mott
4. What Alice Forgot, by Laine Moriarty: Alice wakes up on the floor of her gym after passing out during spin class. She’s a domineering supermom with three kids and a pending divorce action. Except that in her last memory, she’s twenty-nine, pregnant with her first child, and completely in love with her husband. Alice must piece together the last thirteen years to figure out how she got here, and if it’s still where she wants to be.
See Also: Thirteen Going on Thirty (totally cheating, because it’s a movie, but this story really reminded me of it.)
5. The Spies of Warsaw, by Alan Furst: Warsaw, 1939. Mercier is a French military attaché dispatched to the eastern city to monitor the movements of the Germans and collect secrets from the Russians. Some people are scared, some are opportunistic, and everyone is lying. Bonus points: I read this book while on vacation in Warsaw, which is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to. The book was also apparently made into a miniseries on BBC America last year.
See Also: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John le Carre
6. The Long Walk, by Stephen King: Every year, one hundred boys aged twelve to eighteen volunteer for the Long Walk. The rules are simple: Start in Maine, don’t slow to less than four miles-per-hour, and keep moving south until only one boy remains. But this is Stephen King holding the pen, and so as the walk goes on, the boys’ reasons for walking reveal themselves in twisted ways.
See Also: The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson
7. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo: Empire Falls is small town in Maine that revolves around a reclusive, wealthy woman who owns half of it. A college dropout has spent his life running her diner, where his father scams him for money, his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new fiancé challenges him to endless arm-wrestling matches, and his teenage daughter withdraws further and further into herself. More about its many colorful characters than plot, this is a book for people who enjoy reading sentences that make them say, “Damn it, why can’t I write like that?” I loved it (so did everyone else—it won the Pulitzer), and it almost got the nod as my favorite read last month. But in the end, that distinction had to go to…
8. Big Little Lies, by Laine Moriarty: Look, I don’t like to hate on whole genres of literature. The way I see it, even if something isn’t my cup of tea, if people are reading, that has to be a good thing. That said, I really don’t care for standard “chick lit.” I like an easy read as much as the next person, but I don’t want entirely empty calories. Enter Laine Moriarty. I can’t remember why I bought this book—probably an Amazon recommendation—but I was hooked from the opening pages. It’s smart and funny and oh-so-engaging.
The story is set in a wealthy Australian suburb, where we learn right away that the elementary school trivia night ended in the death of a parent. Time then skips back to the beginning of the school year and works its way up to the main event. Along the way, each chapter begins with snippets of the police investigation, and it soon becomes clear that while PTA elections, afterschool activities and child birthday parties are treated with grave importance, no one is that concerned about the death. I think anyone would enjoy this, but those who have engaged in elementary school parenting—a full-contact sport slightly more competitive than American Ninja Warrior—will find it especially funny.
See Also: Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. I WOULD NOT SAY THAT LIGHTLY, YOU GUYS.