The Best Books I Read in August

I’m doing something new with my book round ups going forward – I’ve been reading so much lately that instead of listing and talking about all the books I’ve read (about 20-25 last month alone), I’m picking the top 3-5 books or so I’ve read each month.  For August, the six below make the list. Several of them are pretty dark – either apocalyptic or WWII – but they’re all books that I found memorable or that made me think.august books

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. (From Goodreads) My thoughts: A friend introduced me to Neil Gaiman in high school, and I’ve found his storytelling either too strange or wondrously enchanting. This book fell in the latter category for me – I love the strength of the two younger characters against a mysterious and terrifying world.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?” (From Goodreads) My thoughts: This is a high school classic that I somehow never read and wow, I would not have been ready to read this 10 years ago. It is a dark, dark book about the draw of evil and what goodness really means.

Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn – “A dusty road stretches into the distance like a pencil line across the arid landscape. Lions, rhino, and buffalo roam the plains on either side. But I haven’t come to Kenya to spot wildlife. I’ve come to run.” – quote from the book  My thoughts: At first, I thought the author was ridiculous for re-locating his whole family to Africa to train for a race (okay, I still do), but it was pretty interesting to learn about the Kenyan style of training and understand a little more why they’ve come to dominate the marathon distance.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. (From Goodreads) My thoughts: This was such an unusual post-apocalyptic novel – it weaves between the before and after in a fragmented way at first, but starts to come together in the middle of the book. I also enjoyed the beautiful portrayal and symbolism of art and culture struggling to survive in a darkened world.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson – Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fundraiser when he is suddenly accosted and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamosc. Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice. Solomon persuades attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family only to betray them during the Nazi occupation. But has Solomon accused the right man? (From Goodreads) My thoughts: I originally bought this book only because it was a Kindle sale item, but found myself unable to put it down. It tells the story of two brothers slowly torn apart by the war, and the legal efforts afterwards to bring a betrayer to justice. I found the transformation of the characters and relationships to be both realistic and sad.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. (From Goodreads) My thoughts: Continuing on my WWII historical fiction kick, this book tells the story of a Jewish girl in France, whose family is subjected to a terrible fate. The author’s motivation for this story was to bring to light a lesser known massacre in the Vel d’Hiv’ and remember the French Jews that suffered at the hands of the Nazis and French officials. I don’t find these books easy or pleasant to read, but I read them to remind myself how easy it is to stand by and do nothing, and to steel myself to (hopefully) make the hard decisions that circumstances sometimes demand.

I’ll have some lighter books on the September list, I promise ;) What’s one thought-provoking book you’ve read lately?

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