Since today’s reading roundup falls on the last day of August, I’m doing a full review of books read this month. A big, expressive thank you (as always) to Taking on a World of Words for hosting WWW Wednesday and to Coffee and Cats for the happy introduction to it.
BOOKS I FINISHED:
* Asterisk indicates a #ReadMyOwnDamnBook
Back in July, my stated goal was to read at least 50 percent of my own books. I came so very close: four out of nine books I read this month were my own.
Thanks to Bout of Books, I finished four books since last week. They’re the last four in this section.
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (e-book) *
Stead’s When You Reach Me is a smart, profound time travel novel, exquisitely crafted to unfold layer by surprising layer. Reaching the end made me want to turn back to the first page and begin all over again. Liar & Spy achieves a similar effect. It’s 12-year old Georges’ story, begun when he moves into a new apartment building and befriends Safer, a homeschooled boy who runs a spy club. You think you’re reading one story, only to be socked with surprising reveals as the story moves towards its conclusion.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (library e-book)
Verse narrative has been one of my reading finds in 2016, and Lai’s poignant autobiographical story was this month’s happy discovery. The protagonist, Hà, describes her childhood in Saigon, her family’s escape by ship after the fall of the city, and relocating to the United States. Sensory experiences mediate emotional experiences, which lends a gentle touch even to the most difficult experiences.
The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Fleming (e-book) *
In this World War II novel set primarily in Crete, Penny, a British socialite (with Greek ancestry), longs for a more adventurous life. Pre-war, she travels to Athens to study architecture and gets caught up in the war effort. A series of dramatic – and, from what I can tell, largely historically accurate – events leads her to Crete and a significant role with the Partisans. The novel also has a frame narrative: Penny’s niece gets her tickets to visit Crete for the first time since the war, and the trip provides the occasion for Penny to reflect on her past. For me, the frame didn’t feel necessary. Another way of saying this: The novel’s strongest, most compelling moments were the wartime experiences. The descriptions of how everyday people survived and how they resisted were engrossing and suspenseful.
Re Jane: A Novel by Patricia Park (library e-book)
This contemporary take on Jane Eyre was a delightful read – a witty and insightful look at identity and how we interpret the world around us as well as immigration and the consequences on the second generation. Our modern-day Jane is the daughter of a Korean mother and white American father. Born in Korea, she is sent to New York after her parents die and is raised by her maternal uncle and his family. While the plot has a few surprises along the way, for me the high point was the characters and their heartfelt journeys to create a life that feels whole and satisfying.
Harry Mount’s Odyssey: Ancient Greece in the Footsteps of Odysseus by Harry Mount (e-book)
And speaking of journeys, this book is about an epic (geddit?) trip: from Troy to Ithaca, tracing Odysseys’ long and winding journey home following the Trojan War. I loved this witty, humble blend of memoir, travel, history, and literature.
A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson (e-book) *
I found this memoir through a Nook book sale and purchased it because of the word “sea” in the title (true story). With her children out of the house and her husband offered a new job in a new city, Anderson decides to take a time-out from her life. She moves, alone, to her family’s cottage on Cape Cod and spends a year there figuring out what she wants from the rest of her life. The chapters move through time chronologically, describing the challenges and gifts of each season. Over the year, she learns to let go of the need to control outcomes and people. I wasn’t sure what to make of the way she describes people. In some ways, her epiphanies about life reflect in tonal changes: As the book progresses, her representations become more generous, less judgmental. Other times, I wondered if this was intentional. My favorite parts were her descriptions of the natural world, which were often quite lyrical.
Winnie the Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh Book 1) by A. A. Milne (e-book) *
Here is a gem to challenge the idea that children’s literature is *just* for children. Honey-loving Winnie-the-Pooh, anxious Piglet, maudlin Eeyore, fussy Owl, know-it-all Rabbit – each chapter is a little vignette illuminating their characters and community. It’s philosophy, with stuffed animals.
When I want a book that will suck me into its world, I pick up one of Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth murder mysteries. I love traveling to the Scottish Highlands with Hamish. I love his un-ambitious but principled approach to life. I love the telling verbs and adverbs Beaton uses with her speech indicators, for example said gloomily, said primly, howled. They exemplify Beaton’s economy of words. The novels are quite short, but they’re rich with transporting descriptions of place, well-drawn characters that offer a (mostly) complex view of people, and (my favorite) loads of wit. As soon as I finish one, I want to dive into another. But I must pace myself!
BOOKS I’M STILL READING:
The Odyssey by Homer (e-book and paperback) *
This epic poem about Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War will be on my list for a while since I’m reading a book (i.e. chapter) or two per day. I’m also alternating between two translations: Robert Fagles on my Nook and Robert Fitzgerald in paperback. At this point, I’m finding Fagles’ translation more accessible and engaging. But the jury is still out.
BOOKS I BOUGHT:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling (hardcover)
I couldn’t resist. 🙂
When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning (e-book)
I was excited to find this nonfiction book in the Nook bookstore’s $2.99 and under section. It combines two of my reading interests: books about books and books about World War II.
Death of a Chimney Sweep by M. C. Beaton (e-book)
This is a later book in the Hamish Macbeth series (#26). I’m reading then in order and just finished #9 (see above). Since this was offered at $1.99, it’ll be waiting for me when I get there.
Death of a Kingfisher by M. C. Beaton (e-book)
This one is #27, scooped up during the same sale.
What were your favorite reads in August?