It’s one of those reading months – where the books are so numerous that I’ll be bringing you more than two reading installments. So here’s the second half of what I’ve been reading during the first half of the month. Confused? Never mind – let’s get to the reviews:
There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, Paula Danziger
Marcy Lewis (of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, reviewed yesterday) leaves home for the first time, going to an arts camp as a counselor in training. She’s a less whiny, more interesting character in this book, and the setting is more fun (camp always is, right?). She meets an array of fellow counselors and campers who range from adorable to irritating. First romances, practical jokes, and yes, bats pepper the plot of this enjoyable summer story.
The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker, Janet Groth
I wanted to love this book, and I did enjoy the glimpses into literary New York, circa 1960-1975. But I never connected with the narrator – either Janet the young, Midwestern naïf or Janet the older, supposedly wiser professor and writer. She lacked self-awareness, and while some of her thumbnail sketches of famous people (Muriel Spark, for one) were interesting, there was a lot of name-dropping without much depth. For a much wittier, more thoughtful look into life at the New Yorker, I recommend E.B. White’s essays.
All Roads Lead to Austen, Amy Elizabeth Smith
I loved this international twist on Jane Austen and book clubs. Smith, a lit professor, travels to six Latin American countries, organizing Austen-themed book clubs and movie viewings in each one. She meets dozens of fascinating people (who have strong opinions about Austen!), gets an education in Latin American literature and even meets a couple of handsome men. Smith is a frank, thoughtful, wryly self-deprecating narrator with a deep wanderlust – my favorite kind of tour guide. Highly enjoyable.
Flunking Sainthood, Jana Riess
Riess embarks on a yearlong project of trying one new spiritual practice per month: generosity, hospitality, centering prayer, keeping the Jewish Sabbath, etc. While she fails empirically at most of the practices, she learns a great deal about faith, church history and her own exalted ideas of what a spiritual person “should” look like. Her voice is, wry, honest and relatable, and she sprinkles in some of what she learns about history and practice. (Blurbed and personally recommended by Lauren Winner.)
Curse of the Spellmans, Lisa Lutz
Izzy Spellman (of The Spellman Files, reviewed yesterday) is back – and she might be losing it. Her sister, brother and parents are all acting suspiciously (in different ways); someone is vandalizing a neighbor’s holiday decorations exactly the way Izzy did when she was a teenager, and she’s been hired to figure out who. And she’s convinced her neighbor, John Brown (if that is his real name) is up to something. But after four arrests, she might be prevented from finding out what. This Spellman sequel was just as zany and smart as the first one.
Revenge of the Spellmans, Lisa Lutz
The third Spellman book finds Izzy in court-ordered therapy, secretly living in her brother’s basement apartment and working as a bartender while on hiatus from PI work. Our heroine is struggling, but Izzy’s nothing if not resilient. She is, however, increasingly sleep-deprived, and wonders (among other things) why her dad keeps asking her to lunch. Does he have an angle? (This question alone illuminates some of the wacky dynamics of the Spellman family.) Lutz’s characters retain their hilarity, but everyone does a bit of growing in this book, and by the end, Isabel just might be on her way to reclaiming a “normal” (for a Spellman) life.
Thames Doesn’t Rhyme with James, Paula Danziger
In this sequel to Remember Me to Harold Square (which I enjoyed), 15-year-old Kendra and her family travel to London with her boyfriend Frank and his parents. As in the last book, the kids have to do a “scavenger hunt” visiting museums around London. But this book was more about Kendra’s constant (sometimes whiny) frustration with her parents and little brother. Cute, but not as much fun as the first one.
The Spellmans Strike Again, Lisa Lutz
(I’m starting to wonder if these titles are cribbed from the Pink Panther film series.) The fourth Spellman story has all the fun ingredients of the first three, plus Rae has discovered a passion for social justice and Izzy just might be ready for a real relationship. There’s a new character (Maggie) whom I really like, and the family dynamics are hilarious, as always. Good fun.
What are you reading this summer?