I thoroughly enjoyed The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie. This book discusses the many benefits of reading to children, from the tiniest of age when it seems they’re not paying attention to even after they can read for themselves. It delves into the cognitive development and academic achievement reading aloud can lead to, and how read-alouds can instill a lifelong love in your children for reading. What I found most compelling was her explanation of how reading with your children builds a unique family culture and can spark meaningful discussions about a wide spectrum of issues as children grow. She also gives detailed recommendations according to age which look very helpful. Some suggestions sounded so intriguing I’ve added several to my To-Be-Read list. Mackenzie’s website has more information on reading aloud to children and booklists.
How did I miss this book growing up? I remember watching the movie, but somehow I never read Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White until I was thirty-one; my husband thinks it’s a crime. I am glad to have finally read it, and reading it as an adult doesn’t take away any of the beauty and wonder of this book. The story of Charlotte the spider saving Wilbur the pig is so beautiful, and full of grand themes of sacrificial friendship, wonder in the ordinary, treating others well, and how seemingly insignificant people can accomplish important things. White is a masterful writer and I look forward to reading more by him – Ben has also shamed me because I have not read Stuart Little.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan was not quite what I expected. The novel is about Clay, an out-of-work guy in San Fransisco who ends up landing a job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. He works the late shift and the very few customers that come in are odd. They don’t buy new books, but check out giant, odd tomes from the back shelves. Clay begins to investigate further and discovers a mystery within Mr. Penumbra’s store. The writing is not great and the characters are rather flat, but the mystery did keep me reading until the end.
My library request for My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout came in right after I finished The Burgess Boys. It was interesting reading the same author back-to-back; her writing has a certain intense tone and subdued atmosphere to it. This short novel is another examination of family and our complex bonds within it. Lucy Barton reflects back on her life – focusing on a long stay she had in the hospital, her childhood, her children, her later years in life – but all jumbled together, not in any chronological order. And it’s not a narrator recounting what actually happened, it’s Lucy recounting what she remembers. It’s very lifelike, as if you’re having a conversation with her and she talks about what comes to mind as the conversation goes, and circles back to different stories later on. She’s a woman scarred by her past who’s just looking for simple, pure human connection. Lucy struggles through this assortment of painful memories, trying to sort out who she is, how these experiences have shaped her. In the end, she grasps – or at least is closer to grasping – what it means to be Lucy Barton. Certainly not fast-paced, but beautifully introspective and well-written.
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout is a beautifully written novel about the Burgess family. Bob has lived in the shadow of his older brother, Jim, his entire life. They both became lawyers and both escaped the small town in Maine where they grew up for New York City. But one day their sister Susan calls them back home to help get her son Zachary out of trouble. This crisis brings the siblings face-to-face with their true selves they’ve been running from all these years. Wonderfully written, Strout delves into how regret affects us, where home is truly found, and how people are capable of change. Her characters are incredibly complex and lifelike, and by the end of the novel you empathize with their struggles. I look forward to reading another novel by Strout I picked up at the library.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss might be the nerdiest book I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed it. It is what it sounds like: Truss discusses various punctuation, though in a witty, British way, looking at its utility, importance, and change over time. She also throws in many examples of humorous errors and shows how punctuation is so important to meaning and clarity. It was a fun little book, though you’d have to have specific taste to enjoy it. (Also, the first book I’ve read on a Kindle in a while. I so love tangible books, but I got sucked into Kindle deals; when a book on my wish list is only a dollar for the Kindle version, it’s hard to resist.)
This book has been on my shelf for years. For some reason, I finally picked it up. Howards End by E. M. Forster is a novel that reminded me a lot of Jane Austen; though set about a century later than her novels, it’s still during the time in England when there were strict social classes accompanied by their own mores – and, of course, there’s a woman being courted and wed. The novel is about three families of different social classes whose lives become intertwined: the Schlegel sisters and brother; the Wilcox family; and the Bast couple. The Schlegels lives off of their inheritance, while the Wilcoxes, the father and his two grown sons, have found wealth through business. The Basts are poor, struggling to get by even on a clerk’s wage. As the interactions between these families grow, their worldviews collide, causing friction and strife. It wasn’t a fast-paced novel by any means, and tended to get philosophical at times. However, it did keep me interested and wondering how the story would play out, and the characters were expertly drawn.
I enjoyed Kate Milford’s other novel so much I decided to try another. Thankfully my library had her first novel, The Boneshaker. This middle-grade novel is about Natalie, a thirteen-year-old that lives in Arcane, Missouri in the early twentieth century. One day a traveling medicine show rolls into town and sets up shop. Natalie can tell from the beginning there’s something suspicious about the man, Dr. Limberleg, that runs the show, so she begins to investigate the fair and the strange men that work it. Eventually, she begins to realize there is something sinister and much larger than their little town going on with Limberleg and his associates. The Boneshaker is an intriguing mystery though it does get a little weird and maybe too scary for young kids. It reminded me a lot of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes about another child confronting an evil circus. It was a fun read overall; I enjoy Milford’s skillful writing, wonderful world-building, and engaging plots.
I started this book at the end of 2017 – it took me six months to get through it, but I finally did. I began it during my winter slump, and it just wasn’t til June that it piqued my interest again. I’m glad I didn’t give up on it – some books just have to be at the right time. The Well of Lost Plots is book three in Jasper Fforde’s imaginative literature-based Thursday Next Series. This book takes place entirely inside the fictional world. Thursday has escaped to the Well of Lost Plots, where unpublished novels reside, for some respite. But things aren’t as quiet as she’d hoped, and she has to help Jurisfiction save the manufacturing and crafting of fiction. Full of literary allusions and wry wit, this one was a bit slower than the first two – probably one reason it took me a while to get interested in it. But in a series of seven books, there’s bound to be a low point or two. I look forward to reading the next in line.
Rules of Civility is Amor Towles’ first novel, and the second I’ve read. He is a wonderful writer, the likes of which is hard to find in contemporary fiction. The novel chronicles a particularly eventful year in the life of Katherine Kontent that set the direction of her future. Katey came from a working-class family in New York City and works in a secretarial pool for a law firm. While celebrating New Years Eve in 1937, Katey and her friend, Eve, have a chance encounter with Tinker Grey, a charming man from the upper echelons of New York, and through association with him they are brought into this life of high society. Katey lives the next year navigating the social circles of her own status and those she meets through Tinker, while figuring out what kind of woman she wants to be in this socially stratified city. The characters are so life-like, seen at their best and worst, that they’re not all loveable, though immensly relatable. It’s a sad story at times of the mistakes we make and the hard truths we learn throughout life, thought not without hope. It reminded me a lot of The Great Gatsby (a favorite) and Fitzgerald’s sharp commentary of the New York upper class. A really great read and I look forward to Towles writing more novels.