Fiction Read in June/July:
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Read for a book club. It’s a fast and somewhat entertaining read but overall a little too predictable and formulaic for my tastes.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Also read for book club, this one was my suggestion. I enjoyed this story of memory loss the second time through almost as much as the first despite all the “And just what did Alice forget?” jokes I heard while reading by the pool. More complete review here.
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Imagine the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist as a seventeen year old real-life hero. In this funny mix of fantasy and historical fiction, Dodger is a tosher: someone who scavenges in the sewers of Victorian London. His life changes abruptly one night when he saves an unknown girl from a beating from some thugs. Pratchett weaves real and fictional characters into this tale: Charlie Dickens, Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sweeney Todd to name a few. It’s a fun, well-plotted, fast-moving story.
Nine Days by Fred Hiatt
I first heard of this book when listening to a NPR interview of the author and theChinese-American girl whose real-life story it is partially based on. The book follows Ethan, a teenager living in Washington DC, and his friend Ti-Anna as they travel to Hong Kong in search of Ti-Anna’s father, a political dissident who has disappeared on a recent trip. In many ways the book is unbelievable but it’s like a good action movie: once you just accept that you need to suspend disbelief for awhile and go along for the ride you have a really good time.
And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman (Audiobook)
I have read other books by Lippman and enjoy her intelligent suspense novels. They are also fun to read as she typically uses Baltimore or the DC suburbs as a setting and I always feel like her characters could easily be people I know. In this book, Heloise is a typical single working mother living in an upper-middle class suburb between DC and Baltimore. Typical except for the fact that she works as a madam. The book goes back and forth between flashbacks that tell how Heloise (born Helen) ended up where she is and the present time where her fragile existence is being threatened by exposure of her secret life. Or possibly her life itself is being threatened. The story is well-plotted and the characters are fully drawn. I have to respect Lippman for choosing to write a novel with a main character who it’s hard not to feel conflicted about. I didn’t love the book but I did appreciate what Lippman does. The most interesting thing to me was an interview at the end where she talks about how she came up with the character of Heloise. Part of the story was that she was asked to write a story about love for an anthology and chose to write about the love of a mother and child and to what lengths a mother will go to protect and provide for a child. That mother became Heloise. In the end, the center of the book is Heloise’s love for her son Scott.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
As I already said, I loved this book. I’m planning on making it the first assigned book for John to read this fall and the jumping off point for a study of evolution and the origins of life.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie King (Audiobook)
A Letter of Mary by Laurie King
I’m listening to these stories of Sherlock Holmes and his wife Mary Russell during my time in the car in the mornings. My library didn’t have A Letter of Mary on audiobook for some reason but I wanted to read it so that I could go through them all in order. I can be a little obsessive about things like that.
Non Fiction Read in June/July:
Eats, Shoots and Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Guide to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
I realized this spring that a gap in John’s education is in punctuation. I then realized that it’s also a gap in my own education. I had been wanting to read this book for awhile but was spurred on by a desire to self-educate before this coming school year. I had heard good things about the book so was expecting to enjoy it, but I didn’t anticipate how funny it is. I found myself laughing out loud. At a book on punctuation. That’s probably enough of an endorsement right there but I will add that although Truss doesn’t provide a systematic approach to punctuation, she does provide very clear explanations for how to (and how not to) use apostrophes, commas, semi-colons, and colons. And she’s funny.
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
This biography of Charles Darwin looks at his life primarily through the lens of his relationship and marriage with his wife Emma. Heiligman focuses on the religious differences between the two: Emma was a Christian and Charles was either an agnostic or an atheist (depending on how you interpret his writings). I liked the portrayal of the Darwins’ marriage. Heiligman doesn’t gloss over the fact that the difference in religion wasn’t always easy, especially for Emma; but she also manages to portray a couple that deeply loved and respected each other. Heiligman also humanizes Darwin. I won’t be able to hear of Darwinism again without thinking of Darwin’s daughter who loved to play with his hair or of how he and Emma chose furniture that could withstand the wear-and-tear of their seven children.