Lots of reading going on here! 4 quick reads this month and 4 with some substance. Here are my reviews.
Atomic Ranch: Midcentury Interiors – Michelle Gringeri-Brown & Jim Brown
Gorgeous photo book on restored American ranch homes of the 50s and 60s. This one was satisfying because it focused on just a few houses, but included the floor plans, and every room of the house, unlike deco magazines which will often show you just a couple of featured rooms. I also loved the promotional photos of the homes when they were new, compared to the recent restoration photos. Most of the homeowners collect period furniture. There is one jarring example where eccentric post-modern art is overlaid on an iconic “atomic era” home.
Foiled – Jane Yolen (graphic novel)
Master fantasy writer attempts first graphic novel; doesn’t nail it. Jane Yolen is one of my idols, so I give her props for trying. However, there is a sequel, so others must have liked it.
Verdict: Not recommended
10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget – Wise Bread
Blog format, not much new, but nice emphasis on kindness: giving, donating and volunteering.
Verdict: Not recommended; revisit The Tightwad Gazette instead
A Homemade Life – Molly Wizenberg
The author, a food blogger, published this series of well-developed short tales about her life and memories of her father, accompanied by decadent recipes. She has another book on the way. Meanwhile, you can find out what happened next in her life at Orangette!
Verdict: Recommended, but not light reading because the author was writing through her grief at the loss of her father. Hang in there until you get to the love story ❤
A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness (YA)
“There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story.” (NYT) This young adult novel just won both the Carnegie and Greenaway medals, an unprecedented feat. A powerful, tragic, creepy, and suspenseful novel containing great truths about humanity. On the surface, it’s a fantasy novel about a “Green Man” monster. I was blown away by this book!
Verdict: Highly recommended
The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
A counterpoint to A Monster Calls with the same theme. This is a horror novel for adults in the form of a Freudian fairy tale. David’s mother calls to him from beyond the grave, and he follows her voice down a “rabbit hole” in the hopes of bringing her back to life. The worst villains in the book are all murderous females, showing us that David feels smothered by the influence of his new stepmother and perhaps by his feelings for his mother. He is befriended by a series of male protectors who seem to lead him out of the childish world of women, and into manly adventures. As in A Monster Calls, the book points to many life lessons (and should certainly make step-parents note how intentional and caring they must be).
Verdict: Recommended; but excessive gore
The Reinvention of Love – Helen Humphreys
I admire authors who use real historical figures as the characters in their fiction. This book is about Charles Saint-Beuve, a contemporary of Victor Hugo, whose greatest love is Hugo’s wife. It is fascinating to explore the extreme freedom and the extreme constraints of a society woman of her time. It contains a strong message about harm caused by inaction, but not a cautionary message, because she couldn’t have chosen otherwise. But we can. The book leaves us with a point to ponder: is it more important to have had the experience of love, or to make sacrifices to sustain it? And what are the effects if you don’t make sacrifices?
Cinderella Ate My Daughter – Peggy Orenstein
Does dressing as a princess limit your daughter’s fantasy play to being rescued? Do you buy two tricycles for your boy and your girl: one pink and one blue, thereby feeding into the schemes of toy marketers? Do you love or loathe Toddlers in Tiaras? Right up my alley, this book explains how “princess” consumer culture has become the norm for little girls. Since I read a lot about gender issues and marketing, nothing here was new to me, but it’s great to have a summary of the issues in one book. I especially liked the author’s chats with her friends about how they have dealt with gender stereotypes in real life. In one example, a mom became aware that she always praised her daughter for being pretty and her son for being smart.
Verdict: Recommended; a good primer and a quick read
Note: Three books I read this month had a plot focusing on grief after a parent died of cancer. In August, I think I’m going to read the latest Wendy Holden!
I have two books in progress that I will report on at the end of August, along with a blast of Ms. Wendy’s chick-lit!