Reading Round-Up: August 2011

Reading is my longest-standing, and also my favorite, hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for August, 2011…

Molotov’s Magic Lantern, by Rachel Polonsky – Being interested in all things Slavic, I was intrigued by this travel-history-biblio-memoir by a British journalist who discovers upon moving into an apartment in Moscow that she is living directly below the apartment of one of Stalin’s most prominent henchmen.  Molotov was responsible for sending countless numbers of writers and intellectuals to the Gulag, but he was also an “ardent bibliophile” who collected the works of those same writers.  Polonsky explores several towns in Russia and describes their histories, their contributions to Russian intellectual life, and their connections (if any) to Molotov.  Interesting, if a bit dry at times.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins – I got the second volume of the Hunger Games trilogy from the library and was almost as blown away as I was by the first.  Katniss was just as brave and Peeta was just as wonderful as in The Hunger Games.  When the insane cliffhanger ending arrived I realized I simply couldn’t wait for my name to come up in the library queue (I was around 120 on the list) so I downloaded…

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins – The final volume of the Hunger Games trilogy wasn’t as strong as the first two, but it provided plenty of food for thought and great dramatic tension.  Not enough Peeta for me though!  I always want more Peeta!

The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas – Loved, loved, LOVED this charming and sweet story of a little eight-year-old girl who stows away on her father’s business trip to Stamboul during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and winds up impressing the emperor with her sage political advice.  The language was so evocative that the story was like gazing at a tapestry of color and texture – beautiful.

Faith, by Jennifer Haigh – This was a profoundly disturbing, yet also sensitive and compelling, story of the aftershocks in the family of an Irish Catholic priest accused of child abuse during the 2002 Boston archdiocese scandals.  I found the subject matter difficult, but fascinating, and the book was written in a compassionate way.  Loved it.

My Love Affair With England, by Susan Allen Toth – This was a re-read, and I don’t even know what number it was.  I’ve had this travel memoir since high school and I pull it out whenever I want to sink knee deep into one of my favorite countries.  As an avowed Anglophile, I can’t get enough afternoon tea, the Tube, Stonehenge, walks along National Trust paths… Since I’m preparing for my next big vacation to England, I pulled out this old favorite and, as always, it didn’t disappoint.

 A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness – I wasn’t sure what to think of this book.  I went back and forth.  At first I loved the descriptions of Oxford (I’ll be there in October!), and the character’s haunts in the Bodleian Library and Blackwells, and all the tea she drinks.  Then the romance started up and I found it pretty saccharine, and the main characters grated on me rather.  I finished the book and thought, “Well, I guess I really am immune to vampires.”  Then a weird thing happened… I kept feeling compelled to pick up the book and flip through it again.  And the vampire grew on me too.  Very strange.  I guess I did really like this book after all.

Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson – There were laugh-out-loud hilarious bits sprinkled throughout this travel memoir, but it started to wear thin by the end.  Still, Bill Bryson clearly loves England and the English people, including their quirks and foibles.

I had a good August in books.  Some really wonderful books read, and no major flops.  Faith, The Oracle of Stamboul and A Discovery of Witches were highlights.  Three very different books, but all compelling in their own ways.  As always, to see a complete (or as close to complete as possible) list of my books read since 2007, or for full reviews of the books listed here, feel free to follow me on Goodreads.  Happy reading!

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