Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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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Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Garden Party is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the form, and the author herself as something of a rival Virginia Woolf.  I’d never read any Mansfield, which I suppose is unsurprising given my well-documented preference for the novel form (or poetry, or essay, or history, or memoir, or basically anything) over the short story form.  I just find it hard to get into a short story, hard to care about the characters or to buy into the world of the narrative in anything shorter than a novella.  The only short story author whose work has ever really captivated me is Eudora Welty, but since the Classics Club Challenge is all about broadening horizons, I resolved to give some famous short stories a chance.

What I learned: Mansfield is indeed a master of the form, but short stories are just not for me.  With just a few exceptions, I bogged down even in the capable hands of an expert storyteller.  That’s not to say that Mansfield’s writing isn’t wonderful, because it is.  Y’all know I love a good descriptive paragraph, and Mansfield excels at them.  For instance, from The Prelude:

As they stood on the steps, the high grassy bank on which the aloe rested rose up like a wave, and the aloe seemed to ride upon it like a ship with the oars lifted.  Bright moonlight hung upon the lifted oars like water, and on the green wave glittered the dew.

I mean – I can see that.  Can’t you?

As with any short story collection, there were hits and misses for me.  I really liked The Stranger, and all three of the stories featuring the Burnell family – The PreludeAt the Bay, and The Doll’s House.  But there were quite a few stories mixed in, in which I had NO idea what was going on.  And again, because: short story, I was not really invested in deciphering the confusing parts.

As expected, though, The Garden Party stands head and shoulders above the rest of the stories on offer.  It’s a simple, limited world – but so much happens.  The Garden Party is the story of an upper class family on the day of – what else? – a garden party.  When the story begins, the family is sitting around the breakfast table making preparations for the party, and Laura – the “artistic” one – is dispatched to oversee construction of a marquee on the lawn.  As Laura goes about her party preparations, her day is upended by the news that one of the villagers – a near neighbor, geographically speaking, but not socially – has been killed in an accident.  Laura is staggered, and immediately thinks it would be best to call off the party, but the rest of her family disagrees.

“Mother, a man’s been killed,” began Laura.

Not in the garden?” interrupted her mother.

“No, no!”

“Oh, what a fright you gave me!” Mrs. Sheridan sighed with relief, and took off the big hat and held it on her knees.

Laura is outvoted, and the party goes on – and she convinces herself to forget the tragedy next door and concentrate on the party.  (I was reminded of Scarlet O’Hara: “I won’t think about that now.  I’ll think about it tomorrow.”)  After the party ends, Laura is elected emissary to deliver leftover party food to the bereaved home, where she encounters the corpse and the family.

As I said, it’s a simple, constrained story – limited in time and scope – but contains masterful writing and plotting within.  I won’t say that Katherine Mansfield converted me to a fan of the short story form; I’ll never enjoy it as much as I enjoy other literary forms.  But I could definitely appreciate her phrasing, her plot twists, and the imagery in her lovely paragraphs.

Are you a reader of short stories?

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George Eliot’s short novel, Silas Marner, reads like a parable or a fairy tale – uplifting, redemptive, a little sad.  When the novel opens, Silas is a young man who has been swept up into a closed religious community – Lantern Yard – in his hometown.  He is happy and content, with a fiance he loves, a pastor he trusts, and a best friend from whom he is inseparable – until he loses it all to a false accusation of theft.  Bereft of his love and driven out of his community, Silas wanders until he loses himself in a small community called Raveloe, where he sets up as a weaver in an isolated cottage.  The villagers view Silas – pale, nearsighted, with a tendency to fall into trances – with suspicion and a great deal of fear.

When Silas is engaged to weave for a local resident and receives his first payment, he cleaves to the money – having lost everything that matters to him.  Silas is unused to having money to call his own; nearly all of his wages used to be paid to his religious community.  He begins to hoard the payments he receives for his work, and because he is an excellent weaver, his money stash grows and grows – until the day that he is robbed.

Silas’s loss has the unexpected result of bringing him closer to the community.  After living on the outside looking in, Silas finds himself an object of sympathy, and the villagers’ curiosity about him takes a more gentle turn.  But the true change comes one day when Silas loses himself in a trance, only to find a golden-haired toddler on his hearth.  The nearsighted Silas imagines, at first, that the heap of gold he sees is his money returned to him; when he gets a closer look and discovers that it’s actually a little girl, he is smitten.

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life.  Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold – that the gold had turned into the child.  He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

The baby’s mother has frozen to death in the road outside Silas’s door, so Silas adopts the little one and names her Eppie.  With his decision to take Eppie to his heart, the villagers’ goodwill – which was already flowing into Silas’s little cottage – overflows.  Eppie connects Silas to his neighbors, and the whole town is irrevocably changed.

Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit – carried them away to the new things that would come with the coming years, when Eppie would have learned to understand how her father Silas cared for her; and made him look for images of that time in the ties and charities that bound together the families of the neighbours.  The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winter-flies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into her joy because she had joy.

Silas Marner started slow for me, and some of the scenes – especially a long scene in the local pub, the Rainbow, during which peripheral characters spent two chapters discoursing over something irrelevant – made me think that Eliot may have originally intended a longer, more developed story, more Middlemarch-ian in scope.  In the end, I’m glad Eliot focused on the pared-down story of Silas, Eppie, and their connection to the local squire’s family.  This core of the novel was the most interesting and moving part, and the narrative really picked up steam when Eppie arrived on the scene and the village started to open its heart to Silas.

The one thing that I found really distracting about the book was the constant description of Silas as being nearsighted, groping around and practically blind.  I know that he was supposed to seem like a mole or some other underground creature – symbolism, y’all.  But all I could think was – I know glasses existed in Victorian times, and the village had a doctor (he appears in several scenes).  Why did no one suggest that Silas wear glasses?

That’s a minor gripe, though.  Altogether, I loved Silas Marner.  I found it sweet, sad, and profoundly moving.

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction.  We see no white-winged angels now.  But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently toward a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a child’s.

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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 July, 2019

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean – One morning in the spring of 1986, a fire broke out at the main branch building of the Los Angeles Public Library.  The fire spread quickly and swallowed up hundreds of thousands of books, including some irreplaceable treasures.  To this day, how the fire started and who was responsible is a mystery.  Susan Orlean dives into that mystery and spins a fascinating narrative – part history of the LA public library system, part true crime exploration of the possible 1986 arson, and part personal memoir of her own love affair with libraries.  I confess I was reluctant to read this one because of the hype surrounding it, but I’m so glad I picked it up – it was a wonderful read from the first page to the last.

In Morocco, by Edith Wharton – After reading about Wharton’s high maintenance travel habits in Hermione Lee’s doorstopping biography Edith Wharton, I was anxious to check out some of Wharton’s travel writing.  (I also thought it would be fun to read some of Wharton’s wonderful writing without getting depressed at the end.)  I downloaded both In Morocco and A Motor-Flight Through France for my kindle and decided on In Morocco first.  It was enjoyable and atmospheric, but I can definitely see the problems with it – namely, Wharton is very Eurocentric, pro-Colonial, and a little racist.  I read it as a product of its time, and was able to appreciate it for what it was.

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf – I won’t say too much, because I’ve already posted a full review here, but I’m so glad I finally made time for Mrs. Dalloway.  I’ve had mixed experiences with Woolf (who hasn’t?) but I think the story of Clarissa Dalloway’s day is a new favorite – I might like it even better than Between the Acts.  I was swept along by Woolf’s style and masterful use of language, and I found myself empathizing with almost all of the characters (didn’t really see the point of Septimus Smith, I have to admit) and loved every moment.

Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin – This has been the summer of Pride and Prejudice updates – first I read Eligible, then Unmarriageable, and now Ayesha at Last.  Ayesha was my favorite of the three – I loved that I could spot the Austen influence, but Jalaluddin put so much of her own spin on the story that it really felt like reading something new.  The story of Ayesha, her self-centered cousin Hafsa, and religious neighbor Khalid, was fresh and sweet.  There’s a twist for Hafsa, which I saw coming but enjoyed all the same, and I delighted in the solid and supportive friendship between Ayesha and her college BFF, Clara.  Overall, just a charming and lovely reading experience.

Celine, by Peter Heller – I kept hearing Heller’s name come up and decided to give him a try when I read a blurb billing Celine as a “missing persons novel in Yellowstone National Park.”  It was, but there was a whole lot more going on than that.  I really liked Celine overall, but bogged down in certain parts.  Heller spends an inordinate amount of time on Celine’s backstory, which was mostly relevant but didn’t warrant every other chapter dedicated to it.  I often found myself thinking, ugh, can we get back to the mystery, please?  The chapters where Celine and her husband Pete are working to track down their quarry – a National Geographic photographer who disappeared in the park 23 years prior; the official story was that a bear killed him, but his daughter never believed it – moved much faster and were more fun to read.  The best part was the characters – I absolutely loved Celine and Pete.  Celine is an aristocratic elderly private eye – think Miss Marple, but New York WASP and packing heat.  She was completely bad@$$ and I loved her.  (There’s a scene in a rough biker bar where septuagenarian Celine single-handedly takes down a misogynistic biker who assaults a waitress.)  I loved the relationship between Celine and taciturn but loving and supportive Pete – who is described as always dressing as if he’s repairing a boat in Maine – and between the elderly characters and their young client Gabriela, and Celine’s son Hank.  Just a joy.

On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas – I’d been looking forward to Angie Thomas’s sophomore effort, On the Come Up, pretty much since I read her debut novel, The Hate U Give, but I was underwhelmed.  The Hate U Give was a brilliant book – timely, urgent, and with a compelling main character who was easy to root for and care about.  On the Come Up didn’t feel like any of those things.  I understood the book’s central message – the hypocrisy of people who believe that guns are just fine in the hands of white people, but view people of color with suspicion even without guns.  I agree with the point Thomas was making, but it just didn’t work as well as THUG.  The book didn’t feel like it was especially timely or of the moment, and the main character – Bri – was an obnoxious kid who made terrible choice after terrible choice and treated her family and friends horribly.  I’ll still read anything Thomas writes, but this one fell a little flat for me.

July was a short, light, somewhat slumpy reading month.  Part of this month’s low book total – only six! – can be attributed to a vacation earlier in the month, on which I didn’t really read anything.  Steve and I were kayaking in the Salish Sea and I was trying hard to pack light.  Anything that wasn’t strictly necessary did not make it into the boats – so, no books; I even left my birder’s journal and Audubon marine mammal guide back on shore.  And since I don’t like to read on my phone (headaches) I spent the week watching sunsets and chatting with new friends instead.  Hashtag worth it.  The rest of the month was slow because of my weird commute.  You never really appreciate what you have until it’s gone, right?  Come back soon, Metro!  I need that hour of reading time every day!  But even with the slow month, I managed to squeeze in some good books, with the best ones front-loaded at the beginning of the month.  Mrs. Dalloway was the highlight of the month, and I also loved The Library Book.  Here’s to a good bookish month in August!  I have a great one on the go right now, and a beach trip coming up later in the month – so while I’ll choose watching the waves (and lifeguarding the kids) over reading on the sand, I’m looking forward to a long car ride and a week’s worth of post-sunset evenings in which to get my book on.

What were your July reading highlights?

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Clarissa Dalloway is having a party.  She doesn’t go in much for religion, but parties are her church and her art form, and Virginia Woolf’s classic quotidian novel focuses on the day of one such party.  As the novel begins, Mrs. Dalloway has walked out to buy flowers for a party she is throwing that evening.  Throughout the day, as the bells of Big Ben toll the hours one by one (and the half hours, and the quarter hours) Mrs. Dalloway muses on the past, on love, on her marriage, and on what might have been.  Meanwhile, as she goes about her day, the reader skims from Clarissa’s thoughts to the thoughts and contemplations of her husband, daughter, servants, ex-flame, and others she encounters or nearly misses each hour.

Somehow, I had not managed to read Mrs. Dalloway before – as I mentioned to a work colleague, I think many people hit these modern classics in college, but I majored in industrial relations.  I mostly read economics textbooks and labor studies during the school year, and I really only had the summers to catch up on fiction.  I’ve read a few Virginia Woolf novels before – Between the ActsTo the LighthouseNight and Day and The Voyage Out come to mind – and while I liked some of them (especially Between the Acts) I can’t say I really “got” Woolf.  I still probably don’t “get” her entirely, but I loved Mrs. Dalloway.

There’s so much in Mrs. Dalloway, I can see myself reading it again and again and again and taking something new away with me each time.  On this first reading, what I was most struck by was the widening gulf between Clarissa Dalloway and her nearly-grown daughter, Elizabeth.

As Clarissa walks down the London street on her flower-buying errands, she muses on the state of being mid-life.  She will never be a bride again, or a new mother.  Instead, she looks ahead at a stretch of years unbroken by any more milestones except the final milestone – death.  (And Clarissa has been ill – some trouble with her heart.)  Perhaps that’s why she cares so much for her parties:

Well, how was she going to defend herself?  Now that she knew what it was, she felt perfectly happy.  They thought, or Peter at any rate thought, that she enjoyed imposing herself; liked to have famous people about her; great names; was simply a snob in short.  Well, Peter might think so.  Richard merely thought it was foolish of her to like excitement when she knew it was bad for her heart.  It was childish, he thought.  And both were quite wrong.  What she liked was simply life.

“That’s what I do it for,” she said, speaking aloud, to life.

Elizabeth, by contrast, stands at the very beginning of her life.  She is just recently “out” and has sprouted into a beautiful young woman.  Men are starting to notice her, heads are beginning to turn, but she’s not interested in the glittering city life that her mother thrives in.

And Elizabeth waited in Victoria Street for an omnibus.  It was so nice to be out of doors.  She thought perhaps she need not go home just yet.  It was so nice to be out in the air.  So she would get on to an omnibus.  And already, even as she stood there, in her very well cut clothes, it was beginning. . . . People were beginning to compare her to poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies, and it made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country, but they would compare her to lilies, and she had to go to parties, and London was so dreary compared with being alone in the country with her father and the dogs.

Elizabeth, in short, is nothing like her mother – she is her father’s daughter in every respect.  Richard Dalloway is a good, kind man, who loves his wife and daughter but struggles to speak Clarissa’s language – and Clarissa always wonders whether she made the right choice, when she married security and steadfastness in Richard, instead of fire and passion in Peter Walsh.  And Clarissa can’t reach Elizabeth any more than Richard can reach Clarissa.

(She was like a poplar, she was like a river, she was like a hyacinth, Willie Titcomb was thinking.  Oh, how much nicer to be in the country and do what she liked!  She could hear her poor dog howling, Elizabeth was certain.)  She was not a bit like Clarissa, Peter Walsh said.

Of course, the reader doesn’t need to wonder what it’s like for Clarissa and Elizabeth, since Woolf takes you inside their minds and thoughts – a mother and a daughter thinking and speaking past each other and wanting different things always.  Having a daughter myself, I was fascinated by this dual perspective, and Woolf does it so well.  You can feel Clarissa’s mild melancholy and twinges of envy and misunderstanding; you can feel Elizabeth straining at the strings binding her to the city and wishing she was in the country – you can see the gap between mother and daughter widening.

I’ll be coming back to Mrs. Dalloway over and over again, I know.  I wonder what I’ll find there next time.

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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 June, 2019

Much Ado About Anne (Mother-Daughter Book Club #2), by Heather Vogel Frederick – I am enjoying my second read-through of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series so much.  Things are getting crazy at work, and a visit to Emma, Jess, Megan, Cassidy, Becca, and their moms is just what the doctor ordered.  My heart breaks for Cassidy in this volume, as her mother moves on and finds love again while Cassidy is still grieving for her dad.  But there’s plenty of lightness too, and the girls read one of my favorite books – Anne of Green Gables.

Eligible (The Austen Project), by Curtis Sittenfeld – As I told Steve, I had to read Eligible because a teacher told me to.  Peanut’s kindergarten teacher pressed it into my hands (and just in case I forgot about the assignment, her “This Book Belongs to: E. Shaw” bookplate reminded me every time I opened the cover).  I didn’t really like it – I think Pride and Prejudice is a tough story to “update” for modern times, because the choice is no longer marry or starve for most women.  It was okay, but nothing I would have sought out for myself.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski – I sought this one out at the library after listening to Meghan and Kelly recommend it highly on the Sorta Awesome podcast, and it was more than just “sorta” awesome.  Twin sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski share some groundbreaking advice, solidly based in science, for breaking through the cycle of stress and overwhelm.  I’m trying to put their advice into practice and I am starting to notice some differences.  This book should be required reading for every woman trying to make it in 2019.

The River in the Sky, by Clive James – This was an impulse buy, based on the cover alone, at the new indie bookstore in Old Town.  (Can I say how much I love Old Town Books?  Y’all, we have NEEDED this.)  It’s an epic poem, written by Australian-born, Cambridge-dwelling James as he nears the end of his life.  It could be sad, but instead it’s just lovely, ruminative, and poignant.  There’s no real structure to the narrative; you’re just washed along on a wave of memory.  I gave myself over to the experience, and it was wonderful.

Our Castle By the Sea, by Lucy Strange – Can’t remember how I heard about this one, but the story seemed right up my alley.  Lighthouse?  Check.  Magic?  Check.  World War II?  Check.  It was good, an absorbing story with wonderful characters, but for some reason I had a hard time getting through it.  I blame work craziness and car commuting.

1939: The Last Season, by Anne de Courcy – I blazed through 1939: The Last Season, a snapshot of England on the brink of World War II.  De Courcy alternates between luscious descriptions of glittering parties attended by socialites and royals, and the tenuous political situation at 10 Downing Street as the world hurtled toward all-out war.  I loved every word.  Also, it was important that I say “Anne de Courcy” in a snooty Trollope-esque accent.

Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal – Two P&P adaptations in a month!  Who dis?  I liked Unmarriageable more than I liked Eligible.  Kamal sets her version of Austen’s classic in Pakistan in 2001; the Bennet sisters become Jena, Alys, Mari, Qitty and Lady Binat – stuck in a backwater after their paternal uncle betrayed their father and ruined the family’s reputations, but their lives change when they meet Farhat “Bungles” Bingla and Valentine Darsee at a society wedding.  Unmarriageable was a lot of fun, and I loved the shoutouts to all of literature teacher Alys’s favorite reads.

Dear Pen Pal (Mother-Daughter Book Club #3), by Heather Vogel Frederick – Continuing my re-read of this series – and I’m still having so much fun. The girls and their moms read Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, while Jess experiences mirroring events as a mysterious benefactor makes it possible for her to attend the local boarding school. Meanwhile, Cassidy’s family is growing and Emma delves into a new relationship with Stewart. Yes, the storylines are implausible – but these books are fun and sweet and totally worth it.

“Only” eight books this month – seems slow.  With no metro, a lot going on at work, and preparing for a big adventure in July – more soon – reading time took a hit.  But in the time I did have, I read some great ones! It’s always fun to visit with the Mother-Daughter book club.  And I had a great non-fiction month with Burnout and 1939.  Onward to July!

What did you read this month?



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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 May, 2019

Outer Order, Inner Calm, by Gretchen Rubin – The newest Gretchen Rubin was short and sweet – I read it over one day’s commuting – and pretty much common sense, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.  Rubin, guru of happiness and habits, writes about how cultivating outer order in one’s surroundings can lead to inner peace.  It was nothing I hadn’t heard and read a thousand times before, but the voice and the layout were engaging and Rubin is always good for a dose of inspiration.

Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee – It took weeks, since this doorstopper biography was way too big to haul on the Metro, but I finally churned through Edith Wharton – and finished it on the very day it was due back to the library, too.  I was really impressed with how much material Lee was able to pull together from the notoriously private and enigmatic Wharton’s life, and I really liked the combination of literary analysis and criticism with traditional biography.  Reading Lee’s take on Wharton’s most famous works juxtaposed with the events of her life at the time she was writing them was a fascinating exercise.

Giant Days, Volume I, by John Allison – Another one-day read, I’ve been meaning to get to Giant Days for years now, and I finally picked up the first volume at the library.  I loved meeting Susan, Daisy and Esther, and reading about their exploits made for a good escape from reality.  It was such a joy, although Esther was definitely the closest to my heart, and if you’ve read the comic, I’ve now told you way too much about myself as a teenager.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman – This was a re-read, but it had been quite a few years.  I was hoping that it would hold up, and did it ever.  I loved Good Omens just as much the second time around, and it made me even more excited to watch the adaptation.  Still love Aziraphale and Anathema the most, still entertained by Crowley and charmed by the Them.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling – I’ve been wanting to read this since I saw it on President Obama’s reading list (also, how much do we miss having a President who reads? #pleasecomeback).  Rosling is a global health professor who breaks down trends in living standards across the world to make the case that – while we still have a long way to go – things have never been better.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but his relentless optimism was infectious, and he had the stats to back up his argument.  Good stuff.

Travel As a Political Act, by Rick Steves – Steve and I have been huge fans of Rick Steves for years now – we’ve watched his show, carted his guidebooks around Europe, and Steve even travels with a Rick Steves backpack (#nerdalert) – but somehow I hadn’t gotten around to reading Rick’s travel manifesto.  Once I finally picked it up, I blazed through it and loved every second.  Rick makes an impassioned case for getting outside your comfort zone as a traveler, meeting real people and considering global and domestic issues in the context of actual lives.  My only complaint?  I got a sore neck from nodding along so much.

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, by Luke Barr – As a fan of Fisher, Child and Beard, I was really excited to read this interesting take on a brief time in their lives when they all came together for a few weeks in the south of France, written by Fisher’s nephew.  It was a delight, and I especially loved the food descriptions – and it made me want to pick up my copy of The Art of Eating again, and to whip up some dishes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Beard on Pasta.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Freshman Force: New Party, Who Dis?, by Josh Blaylock – Okay, I know that AOC is a pretty polarizing figure.  It seems like everyone has an opinion, and the whole world either loves her or hates her.  As for me, I’m solidly in the love camp.  I think her story’s fascinating, it’s obvious she worked insanely hard to get to Congress, and I love that she has big ideas and she doesn’t shy away from talking about them.  So clearly I was all in on this limited edition comic, which collects a bunch of graphic novel-style short stories about AOC and her friends on the Freshman Force (although there was not nearly enough Ilhan).  It was fun, different, and had me pumping my fists.

Women of the Raj, by Margaret MacMillan – I reserved a copy of this nonfiction study of the women who followed their husbands – or who traveled alone with an eye to catching a man – to India during the British Raj, after Claire recommended it.  It was fascinating, and I found it to be a really enjoyable and engaging book, but I think it caught me at the wrong time.  I was reading against a library deadline and was feeling something fiction, but had to knock it out – never a recipe for falling in love with a book.  Still, it was obviously well-researched, very well-written, and a good solid read.

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson – Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: everything G. Willow Wilson does is perfect.  Right?  Has she ever written something that wasn’t sweep-you-off-your-feet fantastic?  I mean, this is the woman who gave us Kamala Khan and Alif the Unseen.  Along with Catherynne M. Valente, Wilson is one of my must-reads, and The Bird King, a fantastical tale of a mapmaker with mystical powers and his loyal friend, a beautiful palace concubine, in Spain at the time of the Moors, was just wonderful.  I don’t know if it topped Alif the Unseen, which was one of my favorite books read in 2018, but it’s up there.  Go ahead and just sign me up for anything G. Willow Wilson writes, okay?

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport – I’ve been wanting to read this since Meghan and Kelly discussed it on Sorta Awesome, but I wasn’t the only one – there was a library wait list for months.  I finally got my hands on it, and it was really good.  Inspiring, thoughtful, and realistic, all at once.  I don’t know if I’m going to do the recommended thirty-day tech cleanse, but I’ve definitely come away with some tips for reducing my phone use (just haven’t put them into practice yet – I’ll get there) and a solid dose of inspiration.

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding, by Jennifer Robson – After seeing The Gown all over Goodreads and Instagram, I had to pick it up.  I won’t say it’s going to be one of the highlights of the year, but I really enjoyed it.  Ann and Miriam were delightful characters, and I loved following their journeys.  I had the same (small) complaint as I had with The Lost Vintage, though – Heather, the present day character, seemed unnecessary and was my least favorite.  I think these books that travel back and forth in time, between characters, are not my cup of tea.  I’d much rather authors just focus on the historic storylines without adding a present-day character to the mix.

Wow!  Twelve books in May – makes sense, because it’s a long month.  But it was also a month that saw a little travel – down to Virginia Beach for Memorial Day weekend – and the closing of my Metro stop until Labor Day (oof).  Still, even with those hiccups, I got a lot of reading in, so much that I’m not even sure I can come up with highlights, but I’ll try.  The Bird King was wonderful, like everything G. Willow Wilson does.  And Good Omens, a re-read, was just as good the second time through.  The one thing I’d have liked would have been to get to more classics, although I did finish up the doorstopper biography of Edith Wharton that I started back in April.  Hoping for some Gaskell or Austen in June, though.  Or maybe even some Trollope – I’m greedy.

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