Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Books of 2014 - August

We lived through a busy month in August, but I managed to finish the following books despite our busy days:

1. Teaching the Trivium. Nonfiction by Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn. This is a massive book. If you're already sold on the idea of classical education, you might find yourself skimming parts. If you're not, it might overwhelm you. Several of the appendices were helpful, even if I skipped most of the Hebrew & Greek notes.

2. Wounded. Nonfiction by Emily Mayhew. Well researched. The personal stories are poignant, the medical history never too difficult to understand. Deals with serious issues but would probably be acceptable for a high-school student to read without too many disclaimers.

WW1 changed the game of war and many modern medical advances began here. This is a fascinating book.
(I was reading this while preparing my Books of World War 1 post.)

3. A Spy Among Friends. Nonfiction by Ben Macintrye. Read for review.

4. The Fortune Hunter. Fiction by Daisy Goodwin. OK, confession time: I ordered this one from the library based on the cover alone. I know, I know, don't judge a book...but look at that cover! It's gorgeous. (Possibly reminiscent of Mary Crawford of Downton Abbey in her riding habit?)

This is historical fiction: it takes liberties with the characters and timelines. It puts words in the mouths of characters based on real people when they may never had said such things. It sets up a love triangle that never quite rings true.

And yet, it is quite well done. Despite dealing with an adulterous liaison, it never quite descends into romance novel territory (although it heads that direction more than once, which is unfortunate). The characters are well drawn, complex yet believable.

My least favorite parts? Anything dealing with Queen Victoria. She's such an easy target for provoking mirth and it's not necessary. She is the least well crafted character in this story.

So, is this what really happened with Middleton, The Empress of Austria, and the people they knew? No.

But it's a well written story and Goodwin manages to evoke her time period without clumsy info dropping on every page.

5. Secret Adversary. Fiction by Agatha Christie. Kind of like what I'd imagine a mystery comic book might be like. Tommy and Tuppence are likeable enough, but the story is quite light weight and farcical.

Also available Free for Kindle: Secret Adversary

6. Dead Heading. Fiction by Catherine Aird. Series mystery, but I don't think I've read any other Sloan & Crosby mysteries. I don't usually recommend jumping in mid-series, but it doesn't seem to have hurt me much here. This is just like a favorite Brit mystery on PBS or something: the practical, decent detective and his earnest, but less talented sidekick.

Fine choice for a cozy(-ish) read on a rainy day. Or if you've run out of Midsomer Murdersepisodes.

7. Black Out. Fiction by John Lawton. I wanted so much to like this: I love the setting (London), the period (World War 2), and the genre (mystery / suspense). Unfortunately, this one just didn't quite measure up. The period details are good. The geography is almost as if the author wrote the book looking at a map (which is good, to a certain extent, but by the time you read 'he went up such and such and then down such and such and then took the Jubilee line to the...' for the fifth time, it's tiresome).

Three main complaints that keep me from recommending this book:
1. It's graphic. And not just the violence. There are a couple of scenes (and vocabulary) that made me want to wash my eyes with soap.

2. Troy never becomes likeable or believable. He does what the author wants, and that's not always consistent. He's an insufferable know-it-all, and yet he's constantly being beaten up. (You do almost end up feeling sorry for the guy.) This would be forgivable if the other characters were better, but they're mostly cardboard cutouts of types. (There are a few exceptions, but these don't get enough page time.)

3. It doesn't make sense. The pieces don't come together. The ending is never in suspense, even though it goes on for far too long. Troy knows "whodunnit" the entire time, except he doesn't exactly, except... It just doesn't work.

So, not a homerun. I kept reading, because I wanted to see if Lawton could pull it off. He didn't, but I can definitely see some talent under all the rough edges.

8. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Nonfiction by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Challenging, on many levels. Butterfield's story is electrifying (and polarizing). This is one that is not easily forgotten.

I do not agree with all the conclusions of the author, and at times I found myself wishing to argue a point with the author. (For instance: the warnings against treating people who are different from ourselves as stereotypes is a well-taken warning. But then the author - more than once - paints 'conservatives,' whatever that might mean, with a broad, unflattering brush.)

Despite my doctrinal differences with the author, I wish I could give a copy of this book to every Christian I know. At the very least, it might inspire some conversations that need to happen.

I found the first sections of the book much stronger than the end. Butterfield is raw and honest about her life pre-conversion and her conversion and its aftermath. One senses the later chapters have a bit more gloss on them. This is the danger of writing a truthful, often painful memoir: you want to protect your loved ones. Butterfield surely attempts to protect her children and husband as best she can, but the tone suffers for it. This is a minor fault, more a style issue than anything and it did not lower the value of the book in my estimation.

Recommended for: all Christian adults. For the first sections alone, it's a must-read.

9. The Mockingbird Next Door. Nonfiction by Marja Mills. Marja Mills lived (or claims to have lived) a fantasy many people have probably wished to experience: get to know a beloved, reclusive author on her own territory, becoming friends in the process.

"Mockingbird" is a truly great novel. This memoir survives on that fact alone, because Mills, though earnest, is not a great writer. Her memoir doesn't rise to lofty heights and will not stand as a classic on its own.

This book is not without controversy, with Nelle Harper Lee now insisting that it was not written with her cooperation. The evidence suggests that, whatever she might say now, at the very least her sister Alice did cooperate and befriend Ms. Mills. I do not think Mills transgresses any sensitive ground. She backs away from stirring up any scandals or salacious details.

All in all, it's not really a book I would read again. To Kill a Mockingbird, on the other hand...it may be time to give that another re-read.

Totals for August: 9
Fiction: 4

What did you read in August?

As always, if you'd like to see more about what I'm reading or planning to read, you can find me on Goodreads.

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Gina Fensterer said...

Impressive list! I didn't finish any books in August, but I did start a few.

Question: where do you get your book cover images? I would like to do something like that on my bookish posts.

Karen said...

The book covers are from Amazon (they are affiliate links).

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