Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
Have you ever looked at a bestselling book and wondered if it’s worth the read?
We’ve all picked up that hot new release only to discover it can’t truly deliver what the book jacket promises.
Every year, I compile my Read This Not That list of bestsellers worth the hype. But my list only contains 7 books worth reading and 7 that are not. Considering how many books I read a year, so many excellent books, and some not so great reads, don’t make the list.
I asked myself: Why not give monthly book recommendations?
Welcome to my monthly reading roundup. Each month, I write up short reviews of all the books I read that month. Find out which books I recommend and which to skip.
I know the month isn’t exactly over, but let’s take a look at my July Reading Roundup by the numbers:
- 2019 Releases: 7 New Releases (including 5 Advanced Review Copies)
- Genre: 8 Nonfiction, 8 Fiction
- Authors: 10 Female Authors, 6 Male
- Format: 1 Audiobook, 5 E-books, 10 Print Copies
- Total Page Count: 4,945 pages
But I didn’t write this post to show off my reading. I wrote it so you can hear my thoughts on the books I read this month.
Plus, take a sneak peek at some of what’s coming soon on the book blog.
Reading Challenge Update
For our 2019 Reading Challenge, we are reading one book a week from a list of 52 categories. Here are the five books I chose for July:
27. Listen to an Audiobook: Making its way onto The New York Times bestseller list, The Second Mountain appears to be the hottest self-help book of 2019. David Brooks ponders the question: What makes a life meaningful? His hypothesis: the people who fail and then climb a second mountain are the ones who feel the most purpose in life. Brooks’ arguments are well-reasoned and his insights are extremely thought-provoking. Unfortunately, I listened to this as an audiobook, and I wasn’t in love with the narration. I’ll have to check out the physical copy so I can finish it.
Sharon M. Draper
28. Set in Your Home State: Actually, I read this last month, but I decided to count it this month for the category – book set in my home state of Ohio. One week at her mom’s. One week at her dad’s. Not only is Isabella’s life split in half by her parents’ divorce, but also she feels as if her own identity is divided into two. Half-white and half-black, Isabella’s split custody parallels her split racial identity.
Sharon M. Draper’s middle-grade bestseller explores Isabella’s need to figure out how a blended girl bridges the gap in a world full of duality. Not nearly as light-hearted as the pink striped color suggests, Blended is a more serious discussion on important topics for kids today – divorce, racial profiling, and blended families. A great explanation of Black Lives Matter for middle schoolers.
29. Started but Never Finished: We all know diseases can spread like wildfire, hitting that tipping point that spurs it from outbreak to epidemic. Yet, so can ideas, trends, and social behaviors. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explores the causes of such phenomena. Gladwell is a master of storytelling, taking interesting events and statistics and weaving them all together in fascinating new ways. From Paul Revere’s midnight ride to the Micronesian suicide rate, Gladwell shows how small ideas can change the world with just the right factors to create the tipping point.
30. One Word Title: The best science fiction always starts with what if, and Recursion plays the what-if scenario perfectly. America has fallen victim to False Memory Syndrome – a disease where victims are driven mad by memories of a life they never lived … or have they? It’s up to NYPD cop Barry Sutton and neuroscientist Helena Smith to figure out how to stop this epidemic, even as reality is shifting all around them.
You’ll have a hard time putting this one down. It takes about a third of the novel to figure out what is going on, and then you buckle in for a wild ride as you deal with the shifting of reality. Probably my favorite contemporary sci fi I’ve read since The Martian. You’ll certainly want to pick up a copy before the film adaptation hits Netflix.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crown Publishing through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Sarah J. Maas
31. Fairy Tale Retelling: In her super popular series, Sarah J Maas introduces you to Feyre, a teenage girl turned huntress doing all she can to provide for her poor yet ungrateful family. After she kills a faerie disguised as a wolf, Feyre is taken to an enchanted land run by her captor, a powerful man who can turn into a beast. Maas starts the story as a typical Beauty and the Beast retelling but transforms it into her own original work. Be aware, though the book reads like your typical YA fantasy, a few more descriptive sex scenes push it solidly up into adult fantasy. A good read for anyone who loves The Cruel Prince or Graceling and wants a more adult romance.
July Reading Wrapup
When asked what inspired her famous work, The Love Poem. renowned poet Fiona Skinner tells the story of her family. After her father’s sudden death, Fiona’s mother goes into a deep depression for three years, basically leaving the young children to fend for themselves. The four Skinner siblings’ lives forever changed during this period which they refer to as “The Pause.” They emerge closer than ever, but that time changes each one of them, with consequences following them throughout the rest of their lives.
I found this to be a solid piece of literary fiction, that just missed the mark from being classified as great. I like that the characters felt layered, showing the complications of family relationships. Plus, Conklin’s writing is just what you want from literary fiction. Yet, all in all, the overarching message left me unsatisfied. From literary fiction, I always expect to be left pondering deeper meanings at the end, and The Last Romantics didn’t quite fulfill that.
Verdict: Worth the read … if you like literary fiction
Jennifer Weiner’s sweeping novel follows the lives of two sisters as they struggle to find their way in the world. Bethie becomes a free-spirited nomad while Jo settles into the role of a traditional American housewife. Despite their differences, each sister is searching for happiness in this ever-changing world.
The world needs more stories of women becoming who they are meant to be, so I was excited to pick up this June 2019 book release. Everyone seems to be raving about Mrs. Everything, but I honestly wasn’t impressed. To me, Weiner seemed to take all of today’s values and shove them into baby boomers.I felt the novel dwelt too long on their childhood – the entire first half is about Bethie and Jo growing up – but then skipped large chunks of their adult lives when they were interesting, only to cram in the next generation at the end.
Mrs. Everything touched on so many themes (molestation, rape, lesbianism, feminism, biracial relations, #metoo, etc.) that it didn’t deliver a strong message on any of them. In all, I can’t say that I would ever recommend this book, but to each their own.
Verdict: I say skip, but so many others would disagree.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Atria through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
On the 19th anniversary of their son’s murder, Lord and Lady Hardcastle throw a party with the same guests as that fateful day long ago. At 11 pm, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. In a Groundhog Day-esque fashion, Aidan Bishop must relive this day 8 times, but from the perspective of eight different witnesses. His task – identify Evelyn’s murderer, or do it all over again. Evelyn Hardcastle will throw you into a brilliant game of Clue as you see the same events from multiple layers. Just ignore the why this happening and jump right into the mystery come to life, with plenty of fun twists and turns along the way.
Verdict: Worth the read … super fun Clue-like mystery
In a small Virginia town, Korean immigrants Young and Pak Yoo run a medical center with a hyperbaric chamber called the Miracle Submarine – a pressurized oxygen chamber patients can use to treat illnesses like decompression sickness, but that many use in an attempt to treat such conditions as autism and MS. When the chamber catches fire, killing two, an intense murder trial begins revealing secrets and lies from all involved. Compared to Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng, Angie Kim’s debut novel will keep you guessing at who started the fire, but more importantly, it will draw you into the moral decisions the flawed characters have to make.
Verdict: Worth the read … if you love legal thrillers
I love the concept of this book (as well as the title). Shauna Niequist encourages her readers to cast aside their need for perfection and instead to live in the moment. Sadly, Niequist approaches this interesting topic rather poorly. She focuses too much on her journey instead of speaking inspiration about how you can achieve this sense of presence in your own life. After a chapter about how great her lake house is and then another focusing on the history of her husband’s job as a minister – neither of which illustrated any principles, I just couldn’t force myself to read another page. Hopefully, someone has written a better treatment of this topic because it’s such an important issue in today’s Instagram-worthy society.
Verdict: Skip … way too preachy
For her hit book The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin set out to bring more happiness into her life. Not that anything was wrong with her life, she just wanted to appreciate it more. In her follow-up book, Rubin decides on a new happiness project – similar to her last one but now focusing on being happier at home.
First off, I loved The Happiness Project. It is exactly the kind of project I would do, and if I ever write a book, I think it would be in a similar vein. That being said, Happier At Home was rather “meh.” Since the novelty of the concept of a happiness project is gone, you’re just reading about Rubin’s random resolutions – many of which would never translate over to readers. I felt that I didn’t glean any new information, and just got a rehash of lots of old information. If I were you, I’d suggest just sticking to The Happiness Project.
Verdict: Skip … read The Happiness Project instead
In her recent guest post for me on non-parenting books for moms, Kristin mentioned the helpfulness of Francine Jay’s The Joy of Less. I can’t seem to resist a minimalism book, so I knew I had to peruse this copy. As with all minimalism books, Jay’s account is split into three sections: why you should embrace minimalism, her de-cluttering method, and specific advice for different parts of the house. Having read most all the minimalism books out there, where do I think this one falls?
Overall, I have to say it falls surprisingly close to Marie Kondo. I honestly love the simplicity of Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” sentiment. However, Jay’s STREAMLINE method is a less touchy-feely decluttering strategy. For Americans, her tone is much more conversational and down-to-earth than Kondo, and Jay grasps not only American culture but also life with kids as well. If you want to try to declutter but aren’t warming up Marie Kondo, try Jay’s The Joy of Less instead.
Verdict: Worth the read … if you want to declutter without sparking joy
In 1992, moose hunters found the body of a young man alone in the Alaska wilderness. Investigators soon found out it belonged to Christopher McCandless, who had hitchhiked to Alaska to live alone in the wild for a summer. Journalist Jon Krakauer first explored the story of Christopher McCandless in an article for Outside magazine.
Now turned into a book, Krakauer looks at the entire life of McCandless. How does a well-educated young man from a well-off family five it all up – give away all his money, abandon his car and tramp around the US for years? What drove McCandless to see out the wild? Telling as well the stories of those other souls throughout history who have sought out the wild, including himself, Krakauer is the perfect person to pen this insightful chronicle of Christopher McCandless’s life, a story that will stay with you for a long time.
Verdict: Worth the read … if you love learning about other people’s lives
Often when I see a reading challenge tell you to read a book set in your hometown, I get rather annoyed. I’m from a tiny little town in Ohio, so there are no books that are set in my hometown. Except for this one. Well, almost. Set in the nearby small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, Not That I Could Tell is a domestic thriller whose shining virtue is that it is set where I grew up. After that, it’s just a middle-of-the-road thriller. There’s not much action, a little bit of mystery, and some attempt at a character study. It’s not a particularly great book, but I do love hearing about all the places that I know so well.
Verdict: Skip … unless you like domestic thrillers
Known for bringing nonfiction to life, Michael Lewis, author of such bestsellers as The Blind Side, Moneyball, and The Big Short, tackled Wall Street in his fascinating 2014 bestseller Flash Boys. As the United States stock market switched from human traders to a computerized system, a whole complex network formed. A system that rigged the whole stock market, taking billions of dollars out of the economy and placing them into the pockets of high-frequency traders – the people technologically savvy enough to game the system.
Lewis tells the story of Brad Katsuyama, a man who set out to figure out what was wrong with the market and how, if possible, it could be fixed. Lewis does an excellent job keeping the story interesting while exploring a highly technical subject in a way normal readers can understand. I almost didn’t read this one, but I’m so glad I did.
Verdict: Worth the read … if you love investigative journalism
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Sometimes my inner math geek comes out and I read deep scientific stuff, more because I feel I should than I want to read them. The infamous physicist Stephen Hawking, with the help of Leonard Mlodinow, relates the mysteries of the universe to the layman like me. The book started fascinating – explaining the history of scientific breakthroughs including, gravity, space-time, relativity and quantum theory.
From there the book became boring, getting super heavy into the science for a time before concluding with a discussion on the big bang theory and god. I would say not to pick this one up unless you are really into physics. Also, don’t listen to the audiobook – heavy topics like this one really should be in written form where you can easily read sections to ensure you understand.
Verdict: Skip … unless you like physics
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
My friend finally convinced our book club to read The Road Back To You and to tell the truth, I was beyond skeptical. If you’ve never heard of the Enneagram, it’s an ancient personality test that describes how you interact with the world. The Enneagram is split into nine personality types, each that can lean toward one of its neighbors and takes on different characteristics when it’s stressed or when it feels secure.
After reading it, I am a doubter no more. I connected immediately with my type (I’m a five!) and gained a lot of insight into why I sometimes react the way I do. Better yet, I made my husband read it (he’s a nine all the way), and we had an extremely insightful chat about how our personalities affect our marriage. Is this the best Enneagram book out there? I couldn’t say. But I suggest trying out an Enneagram book and seeing what insights you can gain into yourself.
Verdict: Worth the read … if you love personality tests
One of the best perks of being a book blogger is receiving advance review copies (ARCs) of upcoming book releases from publishers.
At the beginning of each month, I cover all the new book releases coming out, and the August 2019 book releases are right around the corner. Here’s a peek at the August releases I’ve already read.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back in August to see which ones I read.
What books did you read in July?