I saw some other people do this and since I’ve been reading more lately, I thought I’d try ranking the books I’ve read in May from highest to lowest and the reasons why I liked/disliked them. So, without further ado, here they are!
Oh, there may be light spoilers, but I promise not to give too much away.
1. Camino Island by John Grisham
I first heard about this novel when John Grisham and Stephen King shared a Zoom call together. They were talking about the writing process, their new novels, and other literary subjects. King talked about “Let it Bleed” and Grisham talked about “Camino Winds” and I thought Winds sounded like a pretty cool premise. A few days passed and I noticed Winds was on the bookshelf at Wal-Mart, so I nabbed it and luckily the paperback version of “Camino Island.” It took me three days to burn through Island, I enjoyed it so much.
The characters, both major and minor, immediately caught my attention because they were so lifelike. A short summary: Five manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald are stolen and then promptly disappear. The protagonist, Mercer Mann, is enlisted to spy on a possible dirty rare book dealer on Camino Island which serves as Mann’s childhood summer home. Mann soon gets tangled up with the island’s group of authors and also with the charismatic antagonist, Bruce Cable (the rare book seller).
What I loved about this book is that the group of writers matched the group of writers I spent my college life. There were times I laughed out loud from some of the dialogue when the writers were spending the evening at one of Cable’s parties.
The ending was also one that I didn’t see coming and I absolutely loved it. I’ve never been a big fan of John Grisham. I read a few of his earlier works and didn’t quite enjoy the legal thriller genre, but let me tell you: I’m so glad I watched that Zoom call with King and Grisham because Camino Island is one of my favorite reads this month, if not this year.
2. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
There was a lot of mixed reviews about this book when it was released in 2015. If I’m being honest with you, I didn’t pick the book up then because I let my emotions and prejudices about it get in the way. I hated the fact that Atticus was going to be pictured as a racist and not the pillar of morality that was displayed in the novel and the film adaptation “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Five years passed and I grew up a little, just as Scout did. Harper Lee was as amazing in Watchman as she was in Mockingbird. I can’t imagine reading the second book before reading the first book. The first painted this child’s picture of Atticus and the second book gave you the reality. Reading Scout’s journey as she figured out that her picture didn’t match reality was heartbreaking. There were times as I neared the end of the novel that I wondered how things could resolve with, so few pages left.
And things didn’t go back to normal in the end. Scout had to come to terms with her father not being the man she worshipped as a kid. And that’s okay because that’s reality. And that’s why I liked this book. It was a realistic story that I related to and it was almost as perfect as it’s predecessor.
3. An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris
Having never read a book by Harris before, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I found this one in a suggested Hoopla list so I decided to give it a try. The world that this novel is set in immediately grabbed my attention because it mixed magic and the wild west inside a United States that fractures into several countries after President Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated during the Great Depression.
The protagonist, Lizbeth Rose, is a gunnie for hire. After the rest of her team is killed in action, she’s hired by magic wielding Grigori. Grigori are Russian wizards that Rasputin founded. That’s right, that Rasputin.
The storyline starts with a bang and fires on all cylinders right up until the ending where things are left for a sequel (and there is a sequel, I think). The weird, interesting, plot and setting will keep you wondering how gunnie Rose could possibly live to see the next sunset. This is definitely a must if you like alternate history and/or magical westerns.
Also, I listened to the audiobook version and the voice actress was amazing. I would listen to another book performed by Eva Kaminsky any day.
4. Camino Winds by John Grisham
Having loved “Camino Island,” I didn’t hesitate to plunge into its sequel. In the beginning, it was like the first never ended. Grisham is amazing when it comes to character development and I still loved the interaction between the familiar writing group. However, when Hurricane Leo kicks the island’s butt it’s really the beginning of the end for the story and the amazing characters.
So, this story centers around reformed bad guy Bruce Cable and how he acts as the anchor of Camino Island. He insists on all his authors to leave the island, but some stay. When the hurricane departs, he finds one of his authors has died from questionable circumstances. Cable leads a crusade to find out who the killer is and who paid the assassin.
This is really a good story with awesome characters, but just as the story heats up Grisham sets it on warm. And that’s where Cable and his team of crime sleuth writers exit the picture until right up till the end to bat cleanup.
One of the things I didn’t care for was that the author that died wasn’t one of the authors from the first book. I really wanted either Cable or a pre-established author be killed. Instead, we have an author that we saw once or twice in the story. This is a problem because I didn’t feel anything when you found out that the author dies. If Mercer, Cable, or another book one author dies, it would have resonated inside the reader and want to have justice just like Cable wants justice.
The ending was too convenient, and things cleaned up almost too nice. Having read “Camino Island” right before this and absolutely loving the ending, my expectations for a similar ending were quashed and I was left unsatisfied by the end. Overall, not a bad read but it wasn’t like the first one.
5. Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare
Beautiful cover just wanted to say that first. Second thing, this 580+ page hardcover is extremely light weight and I’m wondering why Stephen King’s publisher can’t use the similar cover/pages.
Having said that, this book was just so-so. I liked the characters and the action, but I really didn’t like how predictable things were. Clare shapes such an original world where angelically charged up fighters patrol the world and defeat demons by night in old-timey London is really intriguing and captured my interest.
However, the romantic triangle between the main characters was sorta boring at times and the ending just seemed to drag on and I wasn’t that satisfied about the cliffhanger. Overall, this was a meh book but I’m glad I spent the time to read it. Most likely, I’ll read the sequel when it comes out. I have two other books in that world, so I’ll probably read the rest of that series in the future.
6. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
For such a short book, 195 pages total, it took me such a long time to finish. Having seen the film, I purchased the book to see if it was different from the film. I didn’t really enjoy the film so I was hoping for a different experience from Vandermeer’s original content.
Once again, I disliked the book for several reasons. Short summary: Five unnamed female scientists are sent into Area X, a section cut off from the rest of the world for years by an invisible barrier. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. Expeditions into Area X have ended in disaster or death.
The main reason I disliked the book was that there was really no character development that made me care about the teammates or for the protagonist. We find out that her husband was in the prior expedition, but the protagonist really doesn’t care much. At least in the film, Natalie Portman cared about her husband.
Another reason I didn’t care for the novel was that there was little conflict. Except for the ending, there was hardly any rising conflict throughout the second act. If there were more action sequences amongst some animals or maybe from humans from prior expeditions, or even between the teammates it would’ve been more exciting.
I know that most people liked the film and the book, but this was a dud for me.
7. First Comes Love by Emily Goodwin
This was also an audiobook that I listened to this month. Performed by Philip Alces and Romy Nordlinger, this book follows the lives of Noah, the bad boy, and Lauren, the Disney obsessed little sister of Noah’s best friend. They meet in high school, but years later they hook up because of drinking too much and Lauren finds out she’s pregnant. After dating some, they get married, have the kid, and live happily ever after.
The issues I have with the novel are few, but they’re enough to not really recommend the book to others. Noah is way to articulate for being the “bad boy” he’s supposed to be, and he’s way too emotional. Lauren, I felt, was pretty realistic and I didn’t have much of a problem with her character.
The conflict in the story comes in two forms: Noah’s self-loathing, destructive nature derived from his relationship with his father, and Lauren’s struggle to compare every relationship with that of a Disney/princess film.
I didn’t particularly feel that the voice actress for Lauren, Romy Nordlinger, fit the role. I couldn’t quite fit her voice into Lauren’s tone/attitude.
Having said that, First Comes Love isn’t your traditional romantic novel, but it is a rather quick tale to keep you pacified for a time.
Sidenote – As a fellow Hoosier, I am quite a fan of Goodwin’s other works. This one just didn’t resonate with me.
8. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (Based on an original story by J.K. Rowling)
I finished this in about two days. Which, as a script, this isn’t a surprise. Harry Potter grows up and has children. One of those kids, Albus, gets sorted into Slytherin when he goes to Hogwarts. He befriends Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s boy, and instead of gaining his father’s love, Albus finds himself on the opposite end. It’s not like Harry hates Albus, he just doesn’t understand him.
This drives Albus and Scorpius to be friends with Delphi, Cedric Diggory’s cousin. This triad of wizardry decides to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic and steal a time turner from Hermione Granger’s office. She’s the minister of magic, by the way.
Using that time turner, they decide to steal the plots of Back to the Future (1985) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). After some pillaging from Doctor Who they save the day by fixing what they originally broke.
The characters don’t feel like the characters from the original series, the reunions from the dead characters fall flat emotionally, and there’s even a deus ex machina at the end that’s so convenient it’s really just sad.
Ultimately, I wish I had stolen a time turner so I could go back and prevent myself from buying this sad piece of glorified fan faction.