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 June, 2013…
Villette, by Charlotte Bronte – Read for the readalong hosted by Beth at Too Fond, and I enjoyed every minute. I haven’t read any Charlotte Bronte in a long time, and this was a perfect way to fix that: reading with friends! The tale of Lucy Snowe’s progression toward independence and self-sufficiency, and her resolution of her feelings for two men, is complex and provided plenty of food for discussion among the other readers participating in the #Villettealong. If you missed my posts about Villette, you can catch up here: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Reading Companions.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler – Seeing as I have a baby at home, I haven’t been able to get out to see many movies, and I didn’t make it to “The Great Gatsby” this spring. So I haven’t fallen headlong into Gatsby-mania like many people. Still, I enjoyed The Great Gatsby the few times I’ve read it, and I’m generally interested in the 1920s, so it was fun to get this fluffy glimpse into the Fitzgeralds’ life.
The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2), by Rick Riordan (audiobook) – Percy and pals continue to enliven my commute. In this installment, Percy learns that someone has poisoned the pine tree that guards the entrance to Camp Half-Blood. The pine tree isn’t just any old tree: it contains the spirit of Thalia, half-blood daughter of Zeus, and it protects the magical borders of the camp. With Thalia’s tree dying, Camp Half-Blood is dying too. The campers are overrun with monsters, and the usual lush landscape is withering. Meanwhile, Percy’s friend Grover is in danger. Percy, Annabeth, and new friend Tyson set out to track down the Golden Fleece – the one thing that can save their beloved camp – and rescue Grover in the process. These teenaged demigods are so much fun, and pretty much the only thing that keeps me from going insane while sitting in traffic on 19th Street of an evening.
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman – I’ve been looking forward to reading this non-fiction adventure, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the descriptions of the two travelers’ frantic preparations, the exotic sights and tastes they experienced in foreign ports, and their dashes to the finish line. I related more to Elizabeth Bisland – she was an Anglophile and a lover of books – and I thought she “did” the trip better than Bly, but reading both women’s journeys was fascinating. Highly recommended; read my full review here.
Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10), by Jacqueline Winspear – Maisie Dobbs always gives a good read. In this tenth (!) installment of Maisie’s adventures, she has finally gotten a handle, somewhat, on that thing she does where she meddles in people’s lives. She’s still not quite to the point of figuring out what she wants in her own life, but she’s thinking of an extended trip to India. India comes to Maisie, though, when she is engaged by an Indian man who asks her to investigate the murder of his sister, an expat living in London. Maisie delves into Indian culture and becomes more and more determined to travel. (And she learns to cook Indian food – yum.) I enjoyed this. I wasn’t banging my head against the table the way I did in Elegy for Eddie, the last Maisie installment, and I’m really loving watching Maisie’s growth as a person. Oh, and I do hope for a happy ending between Maisie and James.
Leonardo and the Last Supper, by Ross King – So, I thought this was a novel (not sure why) when I read about it on a book blog. I was expecting something along the lines of The Agony and the Ecstasy, which is a novel based on Michaelangelo’s life. In fact, Leonardo and the Last Supper is a non-fiction look at Leonardo’s life and work, through the lens of his painting The Last Supper. It was fascinating and informative. The author has written other, similar books, including Michaelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, which I am now itching to read.
The House Girl, by Tara Conklin – So, I had mixed feelings about this. The House Girl tells two related stories: one of a young attorney in New York City, 2004, who is brought into a slavery reparations case and, in her search for a lead plaintiff discovers that some famously sensitive portraits of slaves might not have been painted by their mistress but, in fact, by her house slave. The story of what happened to the house slave, Josephine, is interwoven with the plot involving the attorney. I loved the historical parts of the plot – Josephine’s story was compelling and moving. I also liked Lina, the present-day protagonist. My only complaint was that some of the things Lina does at work are just… unrealistic. No first-year associate in a large law firm would ever have “dozens” of briefs under her belt after only nine months. She’d have dozens of doc review projects. She also wouldn’t be the main drafter of an important brief: she’d get some research assignments, and if she’s lucky, may be allowed to write a paragraph or two on an unimportant, throwaway argument. (Stuff like that is why I work for a mid-size firm, where I got to write briefs and have client contact right away, but that’s neither here nor there.) The author was a lawyer in big firms before becoming a writer, so presumably she knows better – maybe this was her fantasy of life as a first-year associate? My colleagues and I got some good laughs out of it. But aside from my frustration with complaints being called “briefs” (there’s a difference) and the unrealistic portrayal of law firm life, I liked the book. It was well-written and engaging. Lawyers beware, though.
Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1), by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – Uh. So. I promised my BFF, R, that I would read this book, because she raved about it. And I tried, I really, really did, but I just didn’t get what was so great about it. I never really got into it, and I never really was able to work up any real interest in the characters. The story of Ethan and Lena’s relationship just didn’t ring true for me, and I just couldn’t care less whether Lena was “claimed” for Light or Dark. Blah. Read if you’re into teen witch stories; otherwise, give it a pass.
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer – Oh, this was so interesting, and so much fun. I hadn’t even heard of Ian Mortimer before, but when NPR Books tweeted a #fridayreads with The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, I knew I had to check it out, and that’s how I discovered this. It’s non-fiction and fascinating, providing a look at the life and customs of people of all stripes during the medieval times (defined for purposes of the book as the fourteenth century). What makes it a unique history book is that it’s structured as a travel guide: where to stay in the fourteenth century, what to wear and what to do in the fourteenth century, incidentals like money and traveling arrangements – basically, everything a modern guidebook would tell you about a country. I loved it, and I’ve got The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England on reserve at the library – I’m sure it recommends taking in a theatre production at the Globe or the Swan, but beyond that, I can’t wait to find out everything I should see and do on my next journey to the past.
The Mother-Daughter Book Club (The Mother-Daughter Book Club #1), by Heather Vogel Frederick – I’ve been wanting to start reading this series for awhile. It’s got such a fun, sweet premise: a group of moms form a book club for themselves and their sixth-grade daughters and spend a year reading Little Women together. The daughters, who aren’t all running with the same crowds at school, are reluctant to join at first, but gradually they learn to put their differences aside and become friends. It’s pretty charming middle-grade fiction; I especially loved Cassidy, the tomboy. My only gripe was that the moms employed a pretty icky double standard, lecturing their daughters about bullying even while they bullied another mother (who was unpopular for good reason – she was a piece of work – but still, the book club moms were immature). I was disappointed that the moms weren’t acting much like Marmee. But I’m definitely going to keep reading, both because I really liked it otherwise, and because I’m hoping to see some personal growth on behalf of the moms. (The girls too, but they’re twelve, so they have an excuse.)
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris, by John Baxter – Since I liked Baxter’s most recent book, The Perfect Meal, I hoped for more good stuff out of this book and for the most part, it delivered. Baxter, an Aussie expat married to a Parisienne, explores his adopted city on foot – alone, with his wife and/or daughter, and while leading literary walking tours. I loved reading his anecdotes about the expat writers of the 1920s – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc. – and I think I would have very much enjoyed one of Baxter’s tours. Occasionally, he delved too deeply into “This is where tourists went in the 1950s for some sexytime!” and I just wasn’t as interested in that. But for the vast majority of the book, I was hanging on Baxter’s every word and wishing I could jump a plane to Paris right this very minute. Alas, I can’t, but The Most Beautiful Walk in the World was a good substitute.
I’ve had a really busy month at work and at home, and it’s felt like everything has piled up on me and too much has just gone wrong. I’m hoping to get some relief soon (hoping, always hoping) but in the meantime, I’ve been escaping into books. As reading goes, this wasn’t my best month (October 2012 still holds that title) but it wasn’t my worst, either. There were a few books I wasn’t overly crazy about, but for the most part, I enjoyed everything I read this month. Getting the chance to sink into a good book has been my lifesaver this month and will continue to be for at least a little while. I’m glad that I have reading; I’ve needed it recently.