Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Ahhhh – Thanksgiving!  That quintessential celebration of parades, mashed potatoes, Detroit Lions football, and family squabbling.  We’re celebrating with my folks, as usual, and anticipating a quiet and peaceful holiday.  But if you’re already gritting your teeth in anticipation of a shouting match over the pumpkin pie, here are three stories of family drama, featuring a spectrum of heroes and heroines from passive to feisty.

The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery – Valancy Sterling is the heroine we all need.  Twenty-nine, unmarried, living under the thumb of her domineering mother and a slew of disapproving relatives, Valancy’s entire grim existence changes when she receives a diagnosis of a terminal heart condition.  Determined not to waste any more time of the year-odd remaining to her, Valancy decides she is going to say what she’s thinking and please herself for the first time in her life.  Her staid, stiff relatives are shockedshocked I tell you, when Valancy’s wit and snark comes out for the first time at a family dinner.  They react in true Ron Burgundy stunned style – Baxter, I’m not even mad, that’s amazing – and the shocks keep coming as Valancy takes herself off to keep house for a local ne’er-do-well and his disgraced daughter, then pulls the biggest surprise of all.  The Blue Castle is required reading for anyone who has ever wanted to lob a grenade right into the middle of the Thanksgiving table.

The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse – If you have ever had a domineering aunt, Bertie Wooster’s plight will be so real it hurts.  Really hurts, because Bertie has not one, but two, of those estimable relatives.  Aunt Agatha is sternly proper and upright, constantly despairing of Bertie’s flighty nature, embarrassing friends, and apparent failure to close the deal with any of the upper class young women she selects for his bride.  Aunt Dahlia seems better, at first, but she can’t seem to help herself enlisting Bertie in her schemes – of revenge against people who have slighted her, to keep her cook Anatole in good spirits, or for funding for her self-published magazine Milady’s Boudoir.  This despite having no great opinion of Bertie’s mental faculties.  In The Code of the Woosters it’s Aunt Dahlia who is the bane of Bertie’s existence – sending him into deep undercover to steal a cow-creamer.  Fortunately, Bertie has the incomparable Jeeves at his side, and all will be set to rights.  Are you intrigued?  Of course.  And look at it this way – when your aunts and uncles are driving you crazy over the Thanksgiving table, at least you can be thankful that none of them have ever manipulated you into committing petty larceny, probably.

 Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell – Families are complicated, right?  And it only gets more complicated when you start adding step-parents and step-siblings into the mix, as the widower Doctor Gibson discovers when he decides – in a panic after his daughter attracts a suitor for the first time in her life – that what young Molly needs most is a mother to guide her.  He doesn’t bother to ask young Molly what she thinks of this plan (or to let her in on the secret crush that he intercepts) and he doesn’t make the best choice of a second wife, either.  Hyacinth Clare Kirkpatrick, former governess to the local earl’s daughters, is self-centered and a bit ridiculous.  Really, the only benefit to the new Mrs. Gibson is that she comes with a daughter, Cynthia, who proves to be a built-in pal for Molly.  Cynthia is beautiful and high-spirited, and she tends to suck up all the local male attention, but Molly adores her and Cynthia’s great redeeming characteristic is that she adores Molly, too.  Of course she introduces all sorts of complications, but it’s a Victorian novel, so what else can you expect?

There you have it – three stories of feisty families to make you grateful that you don’t have a raft of stick-in-the-mud cousins, an aunt with criminal leanings, or a stepmother who schemes to marry your stepsister off to the local squire’s son.  Unless you do have one or all of these family situations, in which case my advice is: bourbon.

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It’s probably fairly obvious, but I’ve been trying to transition this space into more of a book-focused blog, and less of a family-and-life-potpourri.  I’ve got a number of reasons for this, which maybe I’ll go into at some point, but in the meantime – I’ve been scouting around for more, and different, ways to feature books and reading (two of my favorite subjects) here.  Recently I happened upon the archives of NPR’s “Three Books” series, which seems to have ended around 2013 from what I can tell, and it recalled to me something similar that Book Riot used to do (or might still do?).  And it also recalled to me the monthly “Seasonal Reads” episodes that I’ve been enjoying via the From the Front Porch podcast.  All of which inspired me to put my own spin on the idea and tackle themed book flights here.

So – meet “Themed Reads,” a new blog series.  Each month I’ll feature mini reviews of three books, all on the same theme, from my library.  And if you have any ideas, or want to co-host and make this a more formal endeavor, do reach out.

 Check in on Friday for the first Themed Reads post – three books about feisty families, to get you all riled up in time for Thanksgiving!


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Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I 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 October, 2019

Pumpkinheads: A Graphic Novel, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – I was saving this one for October, and I gulped it down in one day and loved every second.  Would Josiah talk to the Fudge Shoppe Girl?  Would Deja get her snacks?  I had to know.  It was a delight from the first page to the last – sweet, charming, and cozy.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis – Our new tradition, to start off the school year, was family storytime.  Every evening we’ve all been piling onto the couch together and reading our way through classic children’s novels.  First up was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because Steve and I both loved it as kids.  I’m pleased to report that the magic holds.  There’s not much to say about Narnia that hasn’t already been said, but on this read-through I was especially enchanted by the homespun details and the beautiful descriptive language.

Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft, ed. Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe – Spotswood and Sharpe continue to knock it out of the park whenever they collaborate on a short story collection.  As you all know, short stories are generally not my jam, but I do really enjoy these girl-forward, diverse and queer-positive collections.  The historical fiction stories were winners for me in this collection – I preferred them to the ones set in present day, although each story had its merits.

The Eagle of the Ninth (Roman Britain #1), by Rosemary Sutcliff – Sometimes you pick up a book and you know within the first paragraph that it’s going to be one of your highlights of the year.  The Eagle of the Ninth was that for me.  I found it so utterly captivating that I couldn’t put it down, and my only complaint was – I wish it was longer!  I could have accompanied Marcus and Esca on a dozen more adventures and not gotten bored.

Washington Square, by Henry James – Having never read any Henry James before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – but Washington Square was approachable and readable.  I enjoyed sinking into Gilded Age New York again (kept expecting to meet Edith Wharton’s characters in the streets and drawing rooms) and appreciated James’ dry wit and wonderful writing.  By the end I wanted to slap all of the characters, but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what the author intended.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden – I saw this one on #bookstagram and knew immediately that it would be right up my street – and it was.  Other than the butterfly and moth illustrations (shudder) I loved pouring over Holden’s beautiful artwork and reading her diary entries from a year of wandering the fields and hedgerows of England and Scotland.

Slightly Foxed No. 63: Adrift on Tides of War, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – In a particularly busy week, the only reading material that held my attention was the current issue of Slightly Foxed, but it was a good one.  Even if I am not interested in the particular book that a given essayist is reviewing, I love the warm writing and sparkling literary commentary.  Also, I need to read Noel Streatfield.  It’s really beyond time.

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott – Sally, Irina and Olga were my companions throughout a stressful week of business travel, and they were good ones.  I loved their courage and fire, and it was particularly fun to read about Washington, D.C. in the 1950s.  (Prescott had clearly done her homework – the characters’ bus routes through the city all made sense, and there were shouts to D.C. institutions like the Hay-Adams Hotel and Hecht’s department store that told me she had either lived here or researched thoroughly.  Since one of my bookish pet peeves is incorrect details about D.C., I appreciated Prescott’s accuracy.)  I probably could have done without the third of the book that focused on Olga, even though she was a wonderful character – I just loved Sally and Irina, and their Cold War D.C. haunts, more.

Sula, by Toni Morrison – My first Morrison fiction (I’ve read some of her essays) was a good one.  I found Sula easy to follow and absorbing, if depressing.  Morrison created such a rich world with her words; we are so privileged to have them in the world.

The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery – My book club’s read for this month (my selection!) was a re-read for me, and I loved it just as much the second time as the first.  I found myself delighting in Valancy’s wit and mischief (“Say damn.  You’ll feel better.”) and in her relatives’ shocked, stumbling reactions to her transformation.  And, as always, the nature writing spoke directly to my heart.

Poems Bewitched and Haunted, ed. John Hollander – Another re-read to close out the month and to celebrate Halloween – of course!  I love the Everyman’s Library poetry collections, and this one is such fun.  By turns spooky, wistful, and playful – I blew through it and just wished I was reading it outside, under a brooding sky and a gnarled tree with golden leaves.  That’s really the only thing that could improve the reading experience.

Eleven titles strikes me as pretty darn good for a month in which I worked about fourteen hours a day, every day.  What the list doesn’t show when presented this way is that the books were mostly front-loaded toward the beginning of the month; after my birthday, I was much slower in turning pages.  There are also a few easy ones on there – a graphic novel, a journal, and two re-reads – but hey, I’ll take whatever I can get.  It’s hard to choose highlights, because I had so many wonderful reading experiences this month.  Pumpkinheads was a delight from start to finish, and The Eagle of the Ninth took my breath away.  L. M. Montgomery is always a winner, and always a good choice for comfort reading, which I needed this month.  And I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to 1950s D.C.  It really was hard to go wrong this month!  For November, I’m looking ahead to cozy nights with a blanket, peppermint tea, and my favorite classics.  Catch you on the flip side!

What did you read last month?

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The best word to describe Catherine Sloper would be “stolid.”  The only daughter of a wealthy doctor, Catherine is an heiress and should be a sought-after socialite – but she isn’t.  Tall, plain, and painfully shy, not especially witty or brilliant, Catherine’s one great quality (aside from her expectation of a great deal of money) is her constancy and steadfastness.  Unfortunately, since steadfastness is, by definition, not especially flashy, Catherine’s value is largely unappreciated by the people closest to her.

Catherine lives with her father, Doctor Sloper, and his widowed sister, Lavinia Penniman.  The doctor is a caustic and sarcastic man – he can be very funny, but he can also be very cruel (and enjoy it).  Aunt Penniman is flighty and impulsive, and when a young fortune-hunter sets his sights on Catherine (and her inheritance), Aunt Penniman casts the two as the stars in her own private romantic drama, with herself as the puppetmaster.

Mrs. Penniman delighted of all things in a drama, and she flattered herself that a drama would now be enacted.  Combining as she did the zeal of the prompter with the impatience of the spectator, she had long since done her utmost to pull up the curtain.  She, too, expected to figure in the performance – to be the confidante, the Chorus, to speak the epilogue.  It may even be said that there were times when she lost sight altogether of the modest heroine of the play in the contemplation of certain great scenes which would naturally occur between the hero and herself.

The “hero” of Aunt Penniman’s imaginings is Morris Townsend, whom Catherine meets at an engagement party.  Morris is handsome, charming and witty – but has nothing else, really, to recommend him.  He is lazy and indolent, and it’s obvious to everyone with clear eyes that he’s only interested in Catherine’s money.  The only people who don’t see right through Morris are the infatuated heiress herself, and her silly aunt.

Catherine’s father is not deceived, but he’s not especially active in separating the two lovers either – and therein lies the central conflict of the novel.  Doctor Sloper does not want a lazy grifter for a son-in-law – quite understandably.  He’s not particular about Morris having money or not; after all, Doctor Sloper was once poor before he married a wealthy heiress himself.  But where Doctor Sloper had ambition and intellectual interests, Morris’s sole ambition seems to be to marry a rich woman and then spend her money.  But Doctor Sloper’s character flaw, which will get in the way of his protecting his daughter’s interests, lies in his general lack of respect for women.

The doctor eyed [Morris’s sister, Mrs. Montgomery] a moment.  ‘You women are all the same!  But the type to which your brother belongs was made to be the ruin of you, and you were made to be its handmaids and victims.  The sign of the type in question is the determination – sometimes terrible in its quiet intensity – to accept nothing of life but its pleasures, and to secure these pleasures chiefly by aid of your complaisant sex.  Young men of this class never do anything for themselves that they can get other people to do for them, and it is the infatuation, the devotion, the superstition of others that keeps them going.  These others, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are women.  What our young friends chiefly insist upon is that someone else shall suffer for them; and women do that sort of thing, as you must know, wonderfully well.’

Unfortunately, since he doesn’t respect his daughter, Doctor Sloper waits too long to deal with the Morris situation, and by the time he actually takes an interest – even then more of a curious interest, because he’s intrigued by the question of whether Catherine will “stick” – it’s too late to break them up – at least, without permanently damaging Catherine’s relationship with her father.  Catherine is implacably devoted to Morris, and he’s determined to wait out the doctor, with Aunt Penniman’s incorrigible encouragement.  Perhaps if Doctor Sloper respected women more (he strikes me as a less-charming Mr Bennet, if Mr Bennet sort of placidly disliked Lizzy) he might have made the situation better, not worse.

In the end (spoiler alert!) no one ends up satisfied – which struck me as about the right result.  Both Doctor Sloper and Morris were dreadful people in their own ways (if they lived in 2019, they’d both be horrible mansplainers), Aunt Penniman was the worst sort of adult who never actually grew up, and even Catherine took steadfastness too far and turned it to stubbornness.  Catherine was by far the most sympathetic character of the book, but by the end, I wanted to slap her, too.

It may seem as if I disliked Washington Square – but I didn’t.  I actually liked it quite a lot.  The characters were intensely real, the scene-setting was wonderful, and the writing was delightful and witty.  Doctor Sloper, when he wasn’t being awful, and Catherine, when she wasn’t being maddening, could really be quite funny.  I loved watching Catherine’s courage and humor develop, and while I’d have liked to see a happier ending for her, James gives the story the ending that is fitting.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more Henry James novels.

Have you read any Henry James?

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The older I get, the better I know what I want to read, and the less patience I have with books that just don’t give me what I’m looking for.  My reading time is limited – curtailed by work, parenting, other responsibilities, not to mention that there are other things I want to do in the little bit of spare time I have.  So I’m choosy about the books I spend time with.  When I read a classic, it’s because they’re generally dependable for me – I know I’m going to enjoy the book and find that the reading experience was worth my time.  But there are exceptions to every rule.

It pains me to say this, because I’ve been meaning to read Flannery O’Connor for years, but – I did not like Everything that Rises Must Converge.  I went into it knowing nothing about what I’d be getting, except that O’Connor wrote a lot about race and religion – but just based on that, I figured I’d find plenty in the book to engage.  After a few of the stories, though, I realized that there was a recurring theme beyond race, morality, or faith – and it was [spoiler alert] horrible people dying horrible deaths.

The first story, the titular “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” was not so bad.  A reprehensible woman and her self-righteous (but also reprehensible in his own way) son ride the bus.  The woman, a casual racist, has an encounter with an African-American fellow transit rider, in which she exposes how ignorant and tone-deaf she is.  The African-American woman hits the reprehensible woman with her purse, and the reprehensible woman promptly has a stroke and dies.  And I found myself not even a little bit sorry.

That was just a foretaste.  The deaths got gorier and the characters more reprehensible as the stories marched grimly on – and I stopped paying close attention, mostly rushing through to get to the end.  (I’d have abandoned this book after the third story, “A View of the Woods,” had it not been on my Classics Club list.)  Sometimes O’Connor strayed from her main theme and delved into bad things happening to kids, which was even worse than horrible people dying horrible deaths.  In general, what I can say is: this book was very, very, very, very much not for me.

Since I was committed to reading it, I made a superhuman effort to appreciate O’Connor’s spare, elegant prose, the construction of her stories, and the witty descriptions she often assigned to her characters.  For instance, on the main character in “Greenleaf,” O’Connor muses:

She thought the word, Jesus, should be kept inside the church building like other words inside the bedroom.  She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true.

That just cuts right to it, doesn’t it?  Or the county official who marries two characters in “Parker’s Back,” and could be any disgruntled municipal worker anywhere:

The Ordinary was an old woman with red hair who had held office for forty years and looked as dusty as her books.  She married them from behind the iron-grill of a stand-up desk and when she finished, she said with a flourish, “Three dollars and fifty cents and till death do you part!” and yanked some forms out of a machine.

I did appreciate the writing and the characterization, when the characters weren’t being despicable or being murdered or murdering someone else.  And every so often I saw flashes of grace – a character who suddenly realizes that all of her meticulously defined social classes will be equal before God, for instance.  But those moments were not enough to make this a good reading experience for me.  I’m sure it’s me, and that I’m missing some vital message here – but my job and parenting life are demanding enough as it is, and when I read I want to be uplifted.  I’ll willingly struggle along for a bit, but at the end of the day I want to close a book feeling joyful – or if not joyful, exactly (looking at you, Edith Wharton) at least as though, when the final accounting comes, I’ll be glad to have given that time to that book.  I didn’t feel that for Everything that Rises Must Converge.  Again – it’s probably me.  But this book just wasn’t for me.  I can’t see myself picking up any of O’Connor’s other work or recommending it to friends.

What do you think of Southern gothic fiction?

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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 September, 2019

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache #1), by Louise Penny – My Aunt Maria has been encouraging me to read Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” mysteries for ages now, and I finally picked up the first one.  Wow – I loved it, and can’t believe I let myself wait so long!  (I had thought Louise Penny would be too scary.  Turns out I had her mixed up with Tana French.)  Penny sets her scenes so beautifully, and I loved her writing, the characters, the pacey plot – even if I did guess the identity of the killer.  I can’t wait to read the next one, but since it’s set around Christmas I’m saving it for December.

Garden Poems, ed. John Hollander – I’ve been picking my way through this little anthology of poems about gardens and flowers for months now.  As always with the Pocket Poets series, there are some really beautiful selections.  It was a light and calming read.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan, by Claudia Gray – I have really enjoyed delving back into the Star Wars universe with the new movies and some of the new books.  After reading Bloodline, I was excited to pick up Leia: Princess of Alderaan, by the same author.  Both were wonderful, although I think I liked Bloodline a bit better.  (I did enjoy the Narnia reference in Princess of Alderaan.)  Now we need a Holdo novel!

Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3), by L. M. Montgomery – A perennial read for back-to-school season, I pulled out my favorite volume in the eight book Anne series and spent a day happily wrapped up in Anne’s studies at Redmond College and life at Patty’s Place.  There’s not much to say about Anne that hasn’t already been said, but – I just love everything about this book.  I laughed, cried, and hugged the book at the end – gently, because I was reading my treasured first edition.

How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran – Probably wouldn’t have picked this one up if my book club hadn’t been reading it (yes, we’re trying to start up again).  Caitlin Moran is not nearly as well-known here in the Colonies as she is on the other side of the Pond, but I found her funny and relatable.  (Although her childhood was horrifying.)

A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver – I’ve been on a total poetry kick lately, in case you haven’t noticed, and I really wanted to read some more about the technical aspects of the craft, to better appreciate what I’ve been reading.  I’m not sure how much I really retained, but Oliver’s down-to-earth style broke down and explained the different styles and methods of poetry writing in a really approachable way.

English Country Houses, by Vita Sackville-West – Grabbed off my shelf on a whim, and I enjoyed this book-length essay about the traditional English “country house.”  Sackville-West wrote English Country Houses as a piece of World War II propaganda, and soldiers carried it with them as a reminder of the traditions and charms of the country they were defending.  It’s well to read this with that in mind, because Sackville-West tends to get a bit sniffy about other countries and a bit defensive of Great Britain’s fundamental superiority over every other country – which could be annoying, if you happened to forget that this was wartime propaganda “to keep the spirits up.”

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1), by Alison Weir – I think I saw the “Six Tudor Queens” series on Instagram and, to be honest, a six-book series of six-hundred page novels about the lives of Henry VIII’s wives is very much my jam.  I really enjoyed the first one, focusing on Katherine of Aragon – although man, was it sad.  My only complaint was that the book was too long.  Weir is a historian by training and a writer of historical biographies, and it shows – both the good (so well-researched) and the less good (probably don’t need details of every tapestry hanging in Katherine’s room in every palace where she ever lived).  I thought the book could have benefitted from an editor’s red pen and would have been perfect if it was about 400 pages.  But I still had a good time over it, and I’ll certainly keep reading.  (Inquiring minds want to know how Weir is going to squeeze 500+ pages out of Anne of Cleves.)

Everything that Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O’Connor – Read for my Classics Club list, and I’ll be reviewing it in full here shortly, so I’ll keep this short and just say: I HATED EVERY WORD.  Perhaps I’m just not smart enough to “get” O’Connor, but I didn’t see the point to this parade of horribles at all.  It was just a long slog of horrible people dying in horrible ways, with the occasional bad stuff happening to kids, just to keep you on your toes.  A miserable reading experience.

Slightly Foxed No. 7: Waist High in Kale, ed. Gail Pirkis – Slightly Foxed always delivers!  I am working my way through back issues slowly, so as to savor them, and issue number 7 was a particular winner.  The essays on George Eliot and Angela Thirkell were my favorites, obviously.  (I am nothing if not predictable!)

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan – This was another one that I saw all over social, and was a little worried about picking up – on account of all the hype.  It was good, but not great.  I really liked the concept – a young slave boy is plucked from his brutal and heartbreaking life and thrust into a life of travel, adventure, art and science.  Parts of the book were really wonderful, but the story wasn’t as smooth or as pacey as I’d expected it to be, with such a fabulous concept.  A good, solid read, but won’t be in my top ten.

 Home Fires, by Julie Summers – Spotted on a blog (I forget which) and well worth the time and effort it took to read – Home Fires (published as Jambusters in the U.K.) told the story of the massive contribution made by local Women’s Institutes during World War II.  It was a book that demanded a surprising amount of attention and close reading, but worth it.

Whew!  Nine TWELVE (edited thanks to the lovely Zandria, and hey – I never claimed to be a mathematician) books in September – a good total, given how busy and overwhelmed I’ve been at work.  Some of the added reading time is attributable to having the Metro back – hurray!  It was a bit of a roller-coaster as far as enjoyment went.  One book I absolutely loathed, a few solid but not amazing reads, and Anne Shirley and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache on the other end of the spectrum.  I have some fun Halloween-ish books in the queue for October, so just hoping I get to them – it’s going to be a particularly crazy month at work, which I am sort of dreading.  I’ll need lots of books to keep me sane.

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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 August, 2019

The Butterfly Mosque, by G. Willow Wilson – I’ve been a fan of Wilson’s writing since first meeting Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, and I’ve been curious about Wilson’s conversion to Islam and her life in Egypt for some time now.  Her memoir of moving to Cairo, converting, and falling in love with an Egyptian man was beautiful and intimate.

Pies & Prejudice (Mother-Daughter Book Club #4), by Heather Vogel Frederick – Sometimes you just need a little sweetness, and re-reading the Mother-Daughter Book Club series is definitely providing that for me – much like the pies the girls bake for their new business venture in this volume.  When the book opens, Emma and her family are moving to England for a year and the other book clubbers are facing their own growing pains.  The gang pulls together and starts a pie-baking business to earn enough money to buy Emma a plane ticket home for spring break, and they all reunite in England for a fabulous summer vacation.  It’s good fun, as always.

Silas Marner, by George Eliot – Read for the Classics Club, and I really enjoyed my third venture into Eliot’s world.  (In my review, here, I wrote that while I’d read Middlemarch a few times, I’d not tried any of Eliot’s other work – then in scanning my bookcases, I realized I’ve also read Scenes of Clerical Life.  Too many books to remember!)  I found Silas Marner slow to begin with, but it really picked up when Silas adopted Eppie – and by the end, I adored it.

To Kill a Mockingbird: The Graphic Novel, by Harper Lee and Fred Fordham – Having heard good things about Fred Fordham’s new graphic novel adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, I grabbed it when I saw it on a library endcap.  I really enjoyed it – it was nice to experience an old favorite in a bit of a different way, and the illustrations were wonderful and really harmonized with Lee’s story and language.

Mosses & Lichens: Poems, by Devin Johnston – Grabbed on a whim from the poetry shelf at the small but wonderfully curated Old Town Books, I read Mosses & Lichens in one sitting and loved Johnston’s sensitive renderings of everyday images and experiences.

Slightly Foxed No. 62: One Man and His Pigs, ed. Gail Pirkis – Figured I should get around to the current issue of Slightly Foxed before the fall issue arrives on my doorstep!  As always, the journal was a smorgasbord of bookish delights, from the lead article on Lord Emsworth and his pigs – especially his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings – to a tribute to English food writer Jane Grigson and a struggle with Sense and Sensibility, I found plenty to enjoy (and added a few books to my to-be-acquired list).

Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston – Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about this charming romance featuring the First Son of the United States and a younger son of the Princess of Wales – and I can tell you, it lives up to the hype.  When the book opens, Alex Claremont Diaz, son of President Ellen Claremont, is preparing for his mom’s 2020 reelection campaign when he, his sister, and a contingent from the White House attend a royal wedding across the Pond.  Alex gets into an argument with Prince Henry, younger son of Catherine, Princess of Wales, and in an effort to do some damage control, the Palace and the White House coordinate a fake friendship to convince the world’s media that the two young men are actually good pals.  What happens next, no one bargained for: Alex and Henry fall in love.  But their romance – sweet, lovely, and wistful – threatens to sink President Claremont’s reelection chances and jeopardize the Crown.  Gosh, you guys – I just loved this.  I loved Alex, Henry, Alex’s sister June and best friend Nora, Henry’s sister Bea and best friend Pez, and the constellation of characters that buzz around them in the White House and at Buckingham Palace.  It was just a delight from the first page to the last.  Go read it!

Stories, by Katherine Mansfield – Another one to check off the Classics Club list!  I’ve been meaning to read Mansfield’s classic short story The Garden Party for ages, and it was the jewel of the collection – as expected.  I also loved her long-form short stories The Prelude and At the Bay, and devoured The Stranger.  But, as with many short story collections, for every story I enjoyed there were three or four that fell flat for me.  I keep trying, but short stories just aren’t my genre.  (Fully reviewed here.)

Whisper Network, by Chandler Baker – Looming library deadlines made this mandatory reading, which is usually a recipe for not liking a book, but I loved this one.  I whipped through Whisper Network in two days and convinced the work wife to read it so we could discuss.  (She tore through it in one day and we had a good book gushing session over coffee on Monday morning.)  The story of three in-house attorneys who accuse their boss, the General Counsel, of sexual harassment just as he is poised to become CEO of their company was a total page-turner, but my favorite parts were the Greek Chorus of women who opened many chapters lamenting about the challenges of being a working woman and mother, especially in the legal field.  Those laments were all too familiar.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs (Her Royal Spyness #13), by Rhys Bowen – When you’re looking for a reliably fun mystery novel, Lady Georgianna Rannoch delivers every time.  I loved the latest installment, featuring Georgie and Darcy, finally married, off on their honeymoon in Kenya and tracking both a notorious jewel thief and Wallis Simpson (like you do).  The mystery was satisfying, as always, but I was disappointed in one aspect of the book: all of Bowen’s references to Georgie feeling tired, headachy, and nauseous had me convinced that a little O’Mara was on the way – spoiler alert! – but the pregnancy reveal I was expecting never happened.  Maybe in the next book!  Probably not, given how long Bowen made us wait for the wedding, but hope springs eternal.  The people want a Georgie and Darcy baby!

Summer Places, by Simon Parkes and Angus Wilkie – I’ve had this art book, featuring landscape paintings by artist Simon Parkes, for years and flipped through it many times, but this was the first time I actually sat down and read it cover to cover.  Angus Wilkie’s essays about the plein air painting tradition, the Eastern shore of Long Island, and the New England hideaways Parkes favors for his paintings were ruminative and beautifully written, and in between essays, Parkes paintings beckon the reader to summer shores.  It was a perfect way to go into Labor Day weekend.

Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I kept hearing all the hype about Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new(ish – I’m late to the party) book, a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of a Fleetwood Mac-esque rock band in the late seventies.  It didn’t sound entirely like my thing – I’m not especially interested in the seventies, and I’ve never really listened to Fleetwood Mac, unless you count the Practical Magic soundtrack.  I liked the story, but didn’t love it – a bit too much drugs and angst, but I guess that’s rock ‘n roll, right?  But where it might have been a bit of a miss for me just based on the story, the audio production put the book over the top.  The audiobook is read by a full cast of unique voices (and some big names – Benjamin Bratt, Jennifer Beale…) and was absolutely wonderful.  I’d definitely recommend this one, but get the audio version – it’s worth the extra time to listen.

The Tenth Muse, by Catherine Chung – Another hyped one, I liked but didn’t love The Tenth Muse.  I was expecting something more mythical, and didn’t find the story – of a young woman coming of age as a mathematician in the 1960s – all that compelling.  It was good, but not great, and sometimes I felt that it was almost too self-consciously feminist.  (Look, I totally agree with the case the book was making about equality and the unfairness of the choices women have had to make, and the sacrifices asked of us that are not asked of the men in our professional fields – but I am already living that life, and it was a little bit exhausting to read about it on every page.)  I found the story itself decently engaging but not as compelling as I’d expected.  Solidly good, but not a home run – for me.

A pretty darn good month of reading, especially with no metro, if I do say so myself!  Vacation – a long car ride and several evenings of beach house reading definitely helped – as did the good selection this month.  I almost can’t pick highlights, because there were so many – but I suppose any visit to Atticus, Scout, Jem and Boo is bound to be one.  Whisper Network and Red, White & Royal Blue both lived up to the hype in a big way, and the Slightly Foxed Quarterly and a Lady Georgianna installment are reliably good reads, too.  Really – everything was good, and no major duds.  A successful August, indeed!  Now – on to September reading.  And I’m hoping that the metro will be up and running, and with it my commute-time reading, soon too.  Onward!


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