January Books

By the Book (Amanda Sellet)

Synopsis: A teenager raised in a large, literary family finds herself thrust into the deep end when she’s unexpectedly sent for the first time to the big public school in town. She leans on the nineteenth century novels she loves to understand her new world, but mistakes ensue. (YA)

Lots of fun quipping, a bit like Love Walked In. As an adult I enjoyed this for likable, smart young characters, but the group I’d recommend it to skewed a little older than I expected.

Takeaway passage: “There was something highly literary in the idea of succumbing to a fateful solitary misery, like working myself to death making hats.”

The Little Duke (Charlotte Yonge)

A read-aloud for Pippin’s school about a little boy who becomes duke when his father is unexpectedly murdered in medieval Normandy. Good balance of compelling action and thoughtful practice of Christian virtues in this medieval middle grade novel — Pip enjoyed it and I didn’t find it gratingly moralistic or at all tedious.

The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)

Can you tell we finished term two for Pippin’s second grade? This is at least my third time through WW and I still love it so incredibly much. This podcast was a delightful romp in that world.

Takeaway passage: “No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.”

The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)

What can I say about this? It was a massive audiobook, close to a day long, and kept me fascinated even as I got more and more uneasy about the direction of the plot. This is the first book I’ve read by Mitchell (and admittedly may be the last) but what kept me going was the depth and nuance of the characterization. Most of the narrators are at least somewhat and sometimes appallingly morally reprehensible, but very deep and real-feeling. Still, I was left hating quite a lot:

  • While the opening section with Holly’s narration tiptoed through the delightfully unworldly, creepy area covered by Graham Joyce in Some Kind of Fairy Tale, later in the novel a LOT of explication goes into the true mechanics of the universe and they are stupid.
  • There’s a narrator near the end who is very deus ex machina and the sort of omniscient hero who drives me crazy in later Harry Potter (Dumbledore), the last Traveling Pants (Tibby), when Sherlock suddenly has martial arts skills, basically any superhero movie…
  • The very last narrator or two are very angry with religious people, especially Catholics, and the whole thing feels like the long, beautiful set-up of the His Dark Materials series, just to trash God.
  • I have tried to avoid post-apocalyptic stuff during our latter-day plague and I was not counting on this book veering that direction, so be warned.

Takeaway passage: “People talk about the Endarkenment like our ancestors talked about the Black Death, as if it’s an act of God. But we summoned it, with every tank of oil we burned our way through. My generation were diners stuffing ourselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing—while denying—that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren a tab that can never be paid.”

and also: “Civilization’s like the economy or Tinkerbell: If people stop believing it’s real, it dies.”

Even As We Breathe (Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle)

Nineteen-year-old Cowney Sequoia is desperate to escape from his small town, and relieved to snag a job as a groundskeeper at an Asheville hotel serving as an internment camp for Axis diplomats in World War II. But it’s not easy to enter the white world as a Cherokee, and new discoveries about his past shake him further.

I heard about this one on an NPR piece and immediately bought copies for myself, my mom and my sister, because the little town of Cherokee, NC, lies near the mountains where my mom spent all her childhood summers. The book is touted as the first published novel of a registered Cherokee, and as introduction to a time and people of which I’m ignorant it was valuable, but I found Clapsaddle’s writing too snarly and fever dreamlike, moving between past and present, imagination and reality, without firmly established transitions. Cowney’s first person narration is often delivered in a lyrical style that doesn’t fit his spoken speech or interests and…I just didn’t like it very much.

Green Dolphin Street (Elizabeth Goudge)

Synopsis: Two sisters, Marianne and Marguerite, fall in love with the same boy. When he sends a letter from the New Zealand frontier years later, he accidentally requests the wrong sister, but the bonds the three share will grow and endure from childhood to old age and across oceans.

While this was beautiful, I found it difficult to make myself read — the pace, the sometimes disappointing behavior of the protagonists. Still the story, if occasionally a bit dated (holy moly Maoris), was so rewarding — one of the most thoughtful and inspiring explorations of prayer I’ve ever come across. Worth struggling through on and off for over a year.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

My first re-read since I had my own Scout, and so warm and welcome. A whole year gone without a trip through the Deep South, and I miss those landscapes and cadences. Certainly Mockingbird isn’t meant to be a comforting book, or at least not mostly a comforting book, and our WRM discussion fell during our chaotic January, but still, the book made me laugh at an unsettling time.

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