June 2017 Reads

Another whirlwind month of reading.

Modern Mrs. Darcy has two reading challenges going on this year: Reading for Fun and Reading for Growth. Nevermind the specifics of the challenges – those two categories are a great way to represent the type of reading I do.

Let’s begin with reading for fun.

I read five selections from the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Summer Reading Guide in June, four of which are being discussed by her Book Club. The first was The Dry by Jane Harper which I listened to on audio. Set in Australia in a small town in the desert (hence the title), a man kills his family and then himself. Or so it appears. His best friend from childhood comes back for the funeral and gets wrapped up in re-investigating what happened alongside the local sheriff. Small town politics and history that is never forgotten but not really spoken of either shape this story into a fascinating tale. 5 stars

Beartown by Fredrick Backman is a great pairing with Missoula by Jon Krakauer which I read last month. The novel is a bit slow at the beginning as Backman develops the characters but the time is well spent. This particular plot revolves around a hockey team, but you need not be a hockey fan or even a sports fan to understand. Backman’s account really looks at the issue from all sides. Well done. Must-read. The audio version is excellent. 5 stars

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is rather short but very satisfying. It is a memoir that focuses more on reflection and less on plot. The audio is read by the author. One of those books that you just want to live in if you could. I loved it. 5 stars

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham is a YA novel about the 1921 riot/massacre in Tulsa, OK with a parallel contemporary storyline. It is very plot-driven and like many YA books, it tries to incorporate all the things. If you want an exciting book that can be read in an afternoon, this may do the trick. I would have preferred more depth and fewer plot lines. 2 stars

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout has generated lots complaining in the MMD Book Club (they just cannot get into the book…), but I loved it. It is a collection of loosely connected short stories. The vignettes give glimpses into life in the town where Lucy Barton (of My Name Is Lucy Barton by the same author) grew up. “Anything is possible” really sums it up. If you think your neighbors are “colorful,” this book will make them seem perhaps a bit more normal than you may have thought. 4 stars

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout was selected by the Waverly Community Library as the next book group read so I picked it up thinking I might get to know more people in my small town by joining the local book club. It is a Western and much lighter reading than I normally choose. It is also historical fiction, which isn’t my favorite. I told Steve that you can always tell when you’re reading historical fiction vs books written closer to the time in which they are set – historical fiction always has lots of bathroom talk while books written by people who lived in those times never even acknowledge the existence of an outhouse. But I digress. I hope I enjoy the discussion more than I enjoyed the book. 1 star

Now, the reading for growth side of my reading life.

The New World [Vol. III of History of the English Speaking Peoples] by Winston S. Churchill is the history spine for year 8 of the curriculum we use (Ambleside Online). I listened to the last two-thirds of the book this month. I love Churchill’s description of English history and the audio version on Audible is excellent. British history makes American history three-dimensional. You cannot really understand the New World unless you first get to know the Old. 5 stars

A King Condemned: The Trial and Execution of Charles I by C. V. Wedgewood takes a closer look at the weeks leading up to the execution of Charles I by Oliver Cromwell and company. If you’ve ever been part of an organization where there was a controversial change of leadership with lots of turmoil, this book will resonate. Meticulously researched yet very readable, this is a great leadership book, though you will not find it in the Business section of your local bookstore. This book is one of the history readings for year 8 of Ambleside Online. 5 stars

History of King Charles II of England by Jacob Abbott is a free read for year 8 of Ambleside Online. That means it isn’t assigned but is considered well worth your time. It is more about the personal history of King Charles rather than a history of the England at the time. It talks about where he was and what he did as his father, Charles I, was fighting the civil war in England which led to his execution. Charles II tried to take the throne after his father’s death but failed and continued to live in exile until after Cromwell’s death. Once he became king, we’ll just say he got along with Parliament better than his father and lived a fairly peaceful life. This is more along the lines of what I consider a good weekend read. 5 stars

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis was the Well Read Mom selection last spring that I bailed on. I had started it, then we had company for about a week, and I was unable to get back into it when I picked it back up. So I started it again and listened to one chapter a day during my morning reading time. It is said to be a reworking of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but it isn’t about the myth directly. The main character is Psyche’s sister who tells about Psyche as she grows up and then disappears, what happens after she is gone, and then how she learns about what really happened to her sister. If you like literature, this one is not to be missed. 5 stars

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is another Well Read Mom selection from last spring that I skimmed and wanted to revisit. So I listened to one letter per day during my morning reading time and once again enjoyed it immensely. 5 stars

The Holy War by John Bunyan is a tale about the imaginary city of Mansoul and how the evil Diabolus captures it and then loses it back to Emmanuel. Allegorical in the same way as Pilgrim’s Progress (written by the same author), it is interesting to see how little Christianity and human nature have changed over the centuries. Also, very interesting as a “book flight” selection to The Screwtape Letters. It is one of the literature selections for year 8 of Ambleside Online. 5 stars

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis is another free read from year 8 of our curriculum. I’m not a fan of sci-fi. Steve will occasionally watch sci-fi old enough to be in black-and-white on TV, and I will see part of it if I happen to pass through and stop for a minute to chat while it’s on. He often makes fun of it because it is so simple (sci-fi seems to become outdated very quickly). This book definitely fits in that category. Now that I’ve read it for the story, I’d love to go back and re-read it to see more of the symbolism. There are two more books in the series; I may read them first and then go back. For now, 4 stars.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. Oh, how I loved this book! If I were to plan my dream vacation, this would be it. Get in the car, stay off the interstate and get to know the country better. Stop to read the historic markers and eat in local cafes. A couple years ago when the kids and I were in Oklahoma for a family reunion, I took the scenic route back – literally driving all the roads between there and home that had those little dots that Randy McNally uses to indicate “scenic” highways. It was so fun to travel for the pleasure of traveling rather than being trapped in the car just so we could get somewhere. I’d love to do a similar trip through New England or along the Lewis and Clark Trail. 5 stars