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 May, 2016…
The Regional Office is Under Attack!, by Manuel Gonzales – I picked up this comedic thriller about butt-kicking, possibly sort of superpowered, female assassins on the recommendation of Rebecca from the All the Books! podcast. The premise was a lot of fun and it was certainly action-packed, but ultimately, The Regional Office is Under Attack! left me cold. I struggled with the perspective-shifting and found some of the characters incredibly grating. And the violence wasn’t my cup of tea, either.
Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline and Jim Kay – I’ve been trying to avoid parenting books since I OD’ed on them last spring, but my pediatrician recommended this one, so I gave it a try. It did make some sense, and I’ve been trying out the recommended techniques with some mild success (but toddlers will be toddlers, you know). The main premise is that giving little kids choices helps them hone their decision-making abilities and empowers them, which I believe in – the trick, which makes perfect sense but which I didn’t really consider, is to make sure that you offer choices that you can live with no matter what the kid decides to do. Some of the suggestions for behavior correction won’t work for us because Peanut’s room currently doesn’t have a door, but when that eventually changes, I’ll revisit the tips for dealing with tantrums. All in all, a decent parenting book. I’m still cool on the genre, though.
The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson – I haven’t read Simonson’s other book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, although I own a copy and hope to get to it soon. Major Pettigrew has been popular for awhile, and I know that Simonson’s new novel was hotly anticipated by many Anglophile readers. I devoured it (and it’s a chunkster!) and really loved it. The story of two cousins, Daniel and Hugh, and their friendship with the new female Latin mistress at their aunt’s country school, was charming and moving. Daniel and Aunt Agatha irritated me a bit at first, but they quickly grew on me and I adored them both by the end. As for Hugh, Beatrice, and Celeste, they charmed me instantly. I can’t recommend The Summer Before the War highly enough, and I look forward to reading more from Simonson.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim – After reading and loving The Enchanted April, I downloaded another von Arnim (hurray for free classics on iBooks!) – the popular Elizabeth and Her German Garden. An autobiographical novel, Elizabeth follows the title character through all four seasons in the garden she loves more than anything. I adored the beautiful descriptive writing – von Arnim evokes every season with beauty and glory – but didn’t love the book itself. Elizabeth’s marriage to “the Man of Wrath” made me sad, and her life seemed so empty and bleak – despite having piles of money, a beautiful estate, and three sweet babies. What more could you want for? And yet, I felt she was deeply unhappy throughout the entire book, and it left me sad and confused. (And distracted, trying to figure out which parts were true to von Arnim’s life and which were poetic license.) I plan to read more von Arnim – including the two Elizabeth sequels – but I can’t say that Elizabeth and Her German Garden is going to become a favorite.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave – Another hot new historical fiction release, Everyone Brave is Forgiven was said to be based on letters exchanged between the author’s grandparents during World War II. I’d heard quite a lot of hype and was excited to pick it up. It was well-written and engaging, and I think fans of historical fiction and World War II would find a lot to like in here – I certainly did. But I was bothered by some of the language. Mary, the female protagonist, works as a teacher in London during the war, and she takes under her wing a handful of children of color after one young evacuee returns to London due to bullying in his village. Mary’s devotion to her young students is touching, but I was bothered by the racist language that the characters – even Mary – use from time to time, and by the descriptions of the minstrel show in which the children live. I suppose the language was true to life, but Cleave invented that part of the story – it wasn’t based on his grandmother’s life – and I didn’t think it was necessary to use such demeaning language. I’m afraid it rather destroyed my enjoyment of the book.
Heat and Light, by Jennifer Haigh – Haigh is always a winner for me, and especially her Bakerton books. I’ve read and loved Baker Towers and News from Heaven, so when I learned that Haigh had a new Bakerton book coming out, I was delighted and I immediately requested it from the library. Heat and Light returns to Bakerton, which is a ghost town after the last of the big mines has closed – until natural gas is discovered underneath the surrounding fields. Soon Bakerton is on the energy industry’s map again, and oil and gas giants are vying for their share of the riches in the rock. In Heat and Light we see some old friends and meet some newcomers, and I found myself drawn back into the town as I have been with Haigh’s previous novels. Heat and Light wasn’t my favorite of the Bakerton books, but any Bakerton book is a good Bakerton book. Recommended.
Good Behaviour, by Molly Keane – This was one of those “what to read if you’re still grieving the end of Downton Abbey” recommendations. Good Beahviour, which is probably Molly Keane’s most well-known book, follows the tribulations (no triumphs) of an aristocratic Irish family in decline. Money is trickling out of every edifice of the St. Charles family’s stately home, it’s impossible to find good help, and soon the family will be left with nothing but their icily impeccable manners. Much like Henry Green’s Loving, which I read a few years ago, something about this book just didn’t ring right for me. It was well-written, but I couldn’t love it despite my best efforts. Still looking for that perfect book to scratch the post-Downton itch.
There we have it – a bit of a slow month in May, and June isn’t looking any snappier. But I did read some good books – Heat and Light was a highlight, as was The Summer Before the War, and if I had a few flops the rest of the month, well, that’s to be expected. June promises more library reading as I continue to try to work my way through the stack and fight against urges to play outside instead of reading in my limited free time. I do have some fun picks on deck for June, so stay tuned for more recommendations.
What did you read last month?