July 2017 Reads (finally!)

I read a lot in July. My oldest was detasseling so I was going to bed at 8 PM and getting up at 4 AM which meant lots of early morning reading. July is also our quietest month for activities, in contrast to August, September and October which are by far the busiest.

I’m going to start with the light reads and progressively work toward the more scholarly stuff.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver sounded like a great summer read. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorites. In contrast, I so wanted to love Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but ended up quitting it after about 20% – I loved the memoir part but detested the condescending preaching. Since this book was written earlier, I was hoping it would be more like the former and less like the latter. It was in the middle. There were fabulous scenes from the Appalachians which I loved, but the plot line was composed of three different environmentalists and their difficulties getting others to accept their obtuse beliefs. Two of them were pushing the idea that getting rid of “bad” things – be it wolves or spraying crops for insects and weeds – actually makes them more prolific. If that notion were true, extinction would be a non-issue. The scenery and other aspects of the plot were good enough for me to finish the book, but just barely. 1 star (ouch!)

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson was the last of the five Modern Mrs. Darcy book club picks for the summer and featured an author interview at the discussion. If you like lots of plot, this book is for you. I think lots of plot easily goes over the top and this book was not immune to that tendency. There was enough plot fodder in this book for at least six books which means lots of things happened but nothing was really given more than cursory treatment. The author interview was great, though. 3 stars

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles has gotten lots of acclaim and is a previous Modern Mrs. Darcy book club flight pick. I listened to the audio version on Overdrive. It reminded me a lot of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven where you have young adults wandering aimlessly as they to find their place in this world. I think The Great Gatsby or Rebecca do a much better job at this type of story. 3 stars.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a gripping story about a neglected child who finally receives attention to some of her basic needs (think groceries, someone paying attention to how she is doing in school) from one of her father’s employees. Their relationship evolves as she grows up and then tragedy strikes. Very engrossing story that will challenge many notions behind laws purported to protect children. 5 stars

Truth and Beauty by Anne Patchett is the memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy whose face was disfigured due to cancer. Anne is sort of the dull steady person in the friendship while Lucy is very colorful. Having been that dull, steady person in friendships myself, I really enjoyed watching how the story unfolded from Anne’s perspective. 5 stars

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty was another fascinating non-fiction read. Caitlin works in a crematorium and gives a behind-the-scenes look and history of the funeral industry and how we deal with human remains in our society. The both is both interesting for its detail as well as its thoughtful reflection on the issues she brings up. 4 stars

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris definitely lives up to its title (which I think rather clever). She starts out with the theory of cognitive dissonance (nothing new there) but takes it and applies it to many settings that make you think twice about the stories people tell – from stories told by therapists and social workers regarding abuse to police officers confidence that they have the right guy, and, of course, politicians. After reading this book, you will never see conflict in the same way again. 5 stars

Moonglow by Michael Chabon was one of three selections for One Book One Lincoln. The other two selections are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (which I own but haven’t yet read) and A Gentleman in Moscow (a previous Modern Mrs. Darcy book club selection which I intend to read). I reserved this right after they announced the titles and my turn came up in the library queue rather quickly (I suspect others thought it sounded the least interesting of the three as I did). It ended up being the only one of the three I managed to read, but I enjoyed it immensely. The memoir-style novel tells the story of his grandfather’s life as his grandfather talks in his last days while under the influence of drugs which make him spill details he had never shared. The plot line meanders as it would when the story came out in bits and pieces like that, but it is fascinating just the same. I voted it my favorite of the three – the winner is to be announced Labor Day weekend. 5 stars

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough was a selection of one of the book groups I’m a member of on Facebook. I’d heard of it and wanted to read it but just never had. I so loved this book! It is an epic saga of a family in Australia mainly during the first half of the 20th century. If I had to describe my ideal plot line, it would be a book like this where you get to know several characters in a family as events unfold over their lifespan. Heavy on character development but not without a good plot line, I can’t believe I didn’t discover this one earlier. 5 stars

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge is set in colonial Australia and tells the story of an imperfect marriage. William meets Marianne and Marguerite in England during their youth and then leaves to serve in the navy. He ends up in Australia and writes home to ask for the hand of one of the girls. The problem? He names the wrong girl. He marries her and they make the best of it, though she really is a tough woman to love. A very insightful look at the hard parts of marriage. This was a Well Read Mom summer selection. 5 stars

I finished The Two Towers, the second in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien and another Well Read Mom selection. This is a re-read for me. I just detest that Gollam creature and his raspy “my precious” so I kind of dragged my feet on this one. I kept bracing myself for that, but there was a lot less of it than I remembered (or, I’m really in for it in the last book of the trilogy). More to come…

I began pre-reading Ambleside Online Year 9 with A History of the American People by Paul Johnson. Granted, I only read the first chapter which applies to the term I’m currently reading. None the less, it was a fascinating read. Between my own schooling and homeschooling my kids, I’ve studied enough American history over the years to notice subtle variations in how events are presented. This version is very readable but definitely made me do a double-take several times. I’m looking forward to reading it over the next several years.

Longitude by David Sobel is a geography selection in year 9 of Ambleside Online. Sailors could use the stars to determine how far north and south they were, but when it came to east and west, they could easily be off by 50 or 60 miles which could mean missing their destination or crashing on a reef. This book tells the story of the various attempts to solve this problem and how they came to be accepted (it wasn’t straightforward as you might think). 5 stars

Are You a Liberal? Conservative? Or Confused? by Richard Maybury is the third book by this author included in the Ambleside Online curriculum. Easy to read and entertaining, it is also very thought provoking regardless of whether you agree with his views. Recommended reading for everyone. 5 stars

Days with Sir Roger de Coverley by Richard Steele was one of several literature selections for the first term of Ambleside Online Year 9 that I read this month. The narrator goes to visit Sir Roger de Coverley and accompanies him for several weeks and then writes about various aspects of his life, giving an intimate glimpse of life during the late 17th and early 18th century in England. Very short at only 27 pages but a treasure. 5 stars

Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift is one of three books by this author studied during this term. This short piece is a rather comical view of the classics vs more current books. The same could be said today of books written in the last 20 years vs ones that have proven themselves over time. Very entertaining, more so depending on your familiarity with the great classics. 5 stars

While I see the relevance of Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift, I did not enjoy reading it. Prior to the invention of the press, only the very best was tediously copied and made into books, but once the press came along, it seemed anything was worth printing, be it good or bad. Swift poked fun at this by writing a book that is basically complete nonsense. Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy reading it. Usually I just do Ambleside Online as written, but I am actually on the fence as to whether to require my children to read this one. I about choked on it myself. 1 star (and yet at the same 5 stars for making a very good point – not a book I will soon forget)

The God Who Is There by Francis Shaeffer is a devotional for year 9 of Ambleside online. This work is a very intellectual take on 20th century thought and how it has affected Christianity and the challenges of evangelism in today’s intellectual climate. Not a light read but very insightful. Lots of fodder for thought. 5 stars