Reading Round-Up: July 2012

Reading is my oldest and 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 July, 2012…

Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs #9), by Jacqueline Winspear – Maisie’s final adventure to date (although there will surely be more coming!) weaves a tangled web.  A group of costermongers who knew Maisie as a child approach her to ask that she look into the death of Eddie Pettit, a “slow” man who had a gift with horses and who was a an important figure in Maisie’s childhood.  What Maisie learns is that Eddie was a pawn in the hands of forces he couldn’t understand, and that his death relates to the growing threats coming from Germany.  I was disappointed in Maisie during this novel – she was remarkably short-sighted, which is not something I expect from her, alienating most of her friends and her lover.  While she attained a measure of understanding  towards the end, she still has some personal growth to attend to.  But the mystery was the most fascinating and complex yet.

Betsy in Spite of Herself (Betsy-Tacy #6), by Maud Hart Lovelace – Betsy and Tacy are sophomores in high school and still going through growing pains.  In this installment, our heroine visits old friend Tib in Milwaulkee and decides to reinvent herself as dramatic, mysterious “Betsye,” which helps her to land the most coveted boyfriend in Deep Valley, but causes her to neglect her writing and pushes away her old friends at the same time.  Will “Betsye” ever realize that it’s better to be herself?

A Good American, by Alex George – I LOVED this family saga, which told the history of the twentieth century through the eyes of one immigrant family.  The Meisenheimers’ story begins in 1904 in Germany and ends in present day Beatrice, Missouri.  Along the way Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer and their progeny experience all the growing pains that America itself is experiencing, plus love, laughter, tragedy and every other emotion.  I was torn between wanting to read slowly to make it last and wanting to blaze through so I could find out what happened.  This is my new gold standard for family sagas, fully reviewed here.

I Am Forbidden, by Anouk Markovits – This novel takes the reader deep inside the Satmar, an insular sect of Hasidic Judaism, to focus on the lives of two sisters, Mila and Atara.  Mila is the adopted daughter of Yalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, and Atara is Stern’s biological daughter, only a year younger.  Even as the two sisters grow closer, their faith may tear them apart as Mila becomes more devout and Atara questions everything.  Much later in life, Mila is harboring a secret and only Atara may be able to help her.  I liked I Am Forbidden, since peeks inside unfamiliar religions are one of my literary weaknesses, but I wish the book had focused more on Atara, who disappeared halfway through the story and only reappeared briefly.

Village Diary (Fairacre #2), by Miss Read – I finally got back into the Fairacre books, and the second installment is just as charming as the first.  Miss Read receives a diary from a friend and proceeds to fill it in with her observations of village life, reflections on country schoolteaching, and sly, witty, slightly snarky commentary on her neighbors.  Such a fun read.

The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones – I liked, but didn’t love, this country house drama.  Emerald Torrington is about to celebrate her 20th birthday, but the party is interrupted before it even begins with news of a terrible railway accident.  Soon a motley crew of survivors descends upon the Torrington home… and from there, things get really weird.  I wasn’t quite sure what to think about this book.  I had a hard time getting into it, even though it was engaging, because I was swamped at work and not getting home until late hours.  But I also just didn’t quite know how to respond to some of the bizarre twists.  It was well-written though, and probably would have been more engaging had I been less stressed when I opened it.

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett – I really have enjoyed Ann Patchett’s fiction works and I’d been meaning to seek out this non-fiction memoir of her friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy for a long time.  It was beautifully written, but I found myself frustrated.  Ann and Lucy’s friendship never seemed to me to be a friendship of equals – it was always Ann taking care of Lucy, and Lucy suctioning all the attention and affection that not only Ann, but any of her other friends, had to give.  I found Lucy interesting at the beginning of the book, but exhausting by the end, and I don’t know how Ann put up with her for so long.  But still, a lovely tribute to a friendship that, however strange it may seem to those on the outside, did last two decades.

The Mommy Diet, by Allison Sweeney – I’ve been gradually reading this throughout pregnancy and have been trying to read along with the stage I’m currently in, but I finally decided to blaze through and finish it, and then just go back and revisit chapters as needed.  Allison is full of practical advice and encouragement for all three trimesters of pregnancy and for the recovery stages afterward, through nine months of mommyhood.  I’ll definitely be putting many of her tips into practice (as I’ve been trying faithfully to do up until now, anyway) for a healthy transition from pregnant lady to mom.  Recommended to any pregnant or mom friends.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff (ed.) – I haven’t read every single word in this tome, but I’ve read every single word that applies to me at the moment, so I’m declaring it done.  (That seems to be the way with these gigantic pregnancy books.)  I will certainly revisit chapters that deal with experiences I have yet to have (like the remainder of pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the first few postpartum weeks, all of which are covered in detail).  So many people consider WTE the pregnancy Bible and it does seem to be.  It can be a little scary in parts, but in my opinion it’s better to be prepared, although I did skip the scariest parts since I can always read them later if I really need to.  WTE is full of information and doesn’t shy away from telling the good, the bad and the ugly of pregnancy.  I’d recommend it to pregnant friends with the caveat that it’s better to skip or at least lightly skim information that scares you and isn’t likely to apply to you anyway.

***

July was a weird reading month for me.  I started off strong and blazed through a few books, then hit a major snag when a huge work project occupied all of my attention (including a few nights and weekends) in the latter half of the month.  Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t take me a week to finish a book like The Uninvited Guests (which was under 300 pages), but this month it did.  There are months like that – they happen.  I did have some highlights, though – most notably, A Good American, which I can already tell is going to be one of the best books I read this year.  I’m trying for more relaxation time in August, and hope to have plenty of good reading to report next month.

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