Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads: July 2018
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It’s been a slow reading month for me–you might call it a reading slump. I’ve had a couple of books that I didn’t finish, at least one that I put aside for later, and others that have just taken a while to get through.
Some of it is the busyness of summer, but I think I also haven’t chosen very good “summer reading” books that better fit into this busy season.
I backed off on the number of books I added to my July reading list, which is helping. If I stay in this rut, I’ll probably load up my August reading list with some lighter reads. Suggestions welcome!
Here’s what I have been reading lately:
Educated: A Memoir
As a young child, Tara Westover's upbringing seemed almost charming and old fashioned. Living on a mountain in Idaho, the family strived for self-sufficiency based in faith and closeness to one another. As Tara grew up, however, she realized that their lives were driven by paranoid survivalism, religious extremism, abuse, and possibly mental illness.
Tara's memoir traces the path from her cloistered upbringing--during which she never set foot in school--to her eventual education at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard.
But more important than her formal educational path is her move toward awareness and a sense of self that wasn't allowed in her mountaintop life. Educated explores her attempts to reconcile this new sense of self and the boundaries she learns to set with the love and longing she feels for her family.
An incredible read both for the excellent writing and the author's thoughtful, unblinking, nuanced look at herself and her own life.More info →
This Pulitzer-Prize winning novel brings imagines the life of Little Women father Mr. March, absent for most of that famous novel to serve as a Union chaplain in the Civil War. As a childhood fan of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, I gave little thought to their father and had only a dim understanding of the transcendentalist beliefs driving March and Marmee's ways of being and raising their family. I certainly never imagined him to be in much danger during his service (why, I'm not sure).
Brooks' imagining of March is based on the life of Alcott's own father, Bronson Alcott, heavily documented in his letters and journals (though dramatized and fictionalized by Brooks).
The tie to the Little Women provides points of familiarity, but it isn't the focus and fans hoping for a new perspective on the girls will be disappointed (though the new view of an outspoken and impulsive Marmee is refreshing). Instead, the novel provides insight into one man's experience of the Civil War, life as an abolitionist, and his human fears, failings, and moral quandaries when faced with the violence of war and the horror of slavery.
Lately, I'm appreciating darker, more realistic takes on my childhood favorites, and March puts Little Women more clearly into historical context. This was a slow read, at times, but worth it for fans of both Little Women and historical fiction.More info →
Six-year-old Zach squeezed into a closet with his classmates on the day a shooter showed up at his school. He survived. His ten-year-old brother, Andy, did not. In the aftermath, Zach is faced with his parents' deep grief and his own complicated feelings about losing a difficult and sometimes cruel brother. Told entirely in Zach's voice, Only Child offers the perspective of the youngest of victims of the mass shooting epidemic.
The book is a reminder of the need to turn away from rage toward compassion and revenge toward forgiveness as we consider the dialogue and our next steps when these horrific tragedies occur. Nonetheless, it suffered a bit from being solely told by Zach and might have benefited from an alternating adult narrator.More info →
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Teen romance is not my usual fare, but I felt the need for something very light. A lot of people love this series, so I grabbed it on Libby. As I read, the story felt vaguely familiar--I'm pretty sure I've read it before. That, or it's just that predictable. Which it is.
But it's also charming and sweet. The characters are almost all likeable, and Lara Jean, the main character is endearingly innocent and well-meaning. Her quiet life gets turned upside down when the five secret letters she wrote to the boys she's loved over the years actually get sent to them. Including the one to her sister's recent ex-boyfriend.
In an attempt to get things back to normal, Lara Jean fakes a relationship with one of the boys--Peter--who wants to make his ex-girlfriend jealous.
This was total brain candy, but it struck a nice balance with high school characters who aren't living in a fantasy-land, but they also aren't plumbing the depths of teenage depravity either. I'll probably read the two that follow this for more light summer reading.More info →
I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.
What have you been reading lately?
Hey, we’re reading the series of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before at the same time (and for the same reasons)! I find that my postpartum, rather-sleep-deprived brain is desperate for some less literary, less “deep” reads lately, so those definitely fit the bill (though I’m making myself not start the second one until I’ve finished two others that are due back at the library first–I Was Anastasia and West With the Night).
Also, I don’t know how I went so long without hearing about March, especially since it was a Pulitzer winner or finalist or whatever, but now that I have, I’m definitely adding it to my TBR list!
Yes, those are perfect for light reading! Totally understandable that you need that right now. I’m amazed that you’re posting at all–I felt like my brain was wrecked for weeks after having babies.
You might want to save March for when you aren’t as sleep-deprived. I liked it, but there are parts that were really slow. It’s not very long, but it took me longer than I expected to get through it.
You covered a lot of heavy ground so far this month! I thought Educated was stunning. I can’t wait to see what Westover does next- hoping it’s fiction because her writing is stellar.
I see what you mean about the child’s perspective in Only Child, but it was what made me love the book. I feel as if all we get in the real world is grown-ups talk talking about these things so to hear from Zach meant something to me.
I just finished an intense modern day retelling of Beowolf, called The Mere Wife and it was…I can’t verbalize it yet! So, I’m switching to light with Jo Piazza’s Charlotte Walsh Loves to Win. I loved her book The Knock Off- hoping this will be the same kind of quick, witty reading.
I agree about Westover. Her writing was amazing and her ability to examine her own life and the beliefs she was raised with was impressive.
I definitely appreciated Zach’s perspective in Only Child. I think it was more the 6-year-old stream of consciousness that at times grew tedious (this is from someone who lives with a very sweet, but very talkative 6-year-old 🙂 ). Just some brief breaks in the writing style would have helped–maybe from the perspective of the shooter’s father.
Charlotte Walsh Loves to Win looks great–looking forward to your review!
Both Educated and March are on my TBR. I am a little nervous to read both for different reasons. Educated because it sounds a lot like The Glass Castle and that was a hard read. And March because I am always timid to read different takes on my beloved favorite classics. I was pleasantly surprised recently by Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker, so I want to be more open to different sides to the story, and March sounds like it doesn’t have dramatic shifts from the overall feel of Little Women but brings a depth to it from the context of the Civil War.
(My June reads are linked)