Category Archives: book report

October Books

After reading NOTHING in September (who AM I?) it felt good to get back into my reading groove again, especially since October means scary stories and Halloween reads.

The Crown Derby Plate by Marjorie Bowen

It’s so hard to talk about short stories because, well, they’re short and giving away a little sometimes gives away it all. But this one is about a china collector (I can relate!) who revisits a home where (30 years before) she bought an entire collection of Crown Derby china. She returns to recover the one missing plate for her collection. She encounters the woman of the home and admires the woman’s china displayed lovingly in the home…and things happen. I’d say this is a 6/10 on the creepy scale but it was a fun read nonetheless. I’d like to read more of Bowen’s work!

“The Diary of Mr. Poynter” by M.R. James

This one was weird. It was basically about…haunted curtains. Yes, haunted curtains. There was a scary moment, but that’s about it. I give it a 3/10 on the creepy scale.

“The Signalman” by Charles Dickens

This one stayed with me for a bit. It was about a train signalman who kept seeing signs of danger while he was stationed at work. Anything else would ruin the ending so, I’ll just say, it was haunting. 7/10 on the creepy scale.

“The One Who Saw” by A.M. Burrage

The buildup was better than the payoff but maybe that is the point. It’s about a man staying at a hotel in Paris and his encounters with a mysterious woman in the courtyard. I think it’s a 5/10 on the creepy scale.

Inner Witch by Gabriela Herstik

A friend and I were talking about witches and herbs and the moon one day and we decided to start a little group for all things witchy. There were about ten of us who met at a local bar to chat about Inner Witch. It was a good introduction because it provides a nice overview of witchiness and it does a good job covering the connections to the seasons (which is the thing I’m most interested in.) In some cases, the author kind of glosses over the cultural appropriation involved in witchery, and in others (ahem, smudging,) she doesn’t even acknowledge it. So, read at your own risk…

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes

We read this for book group and I loved it. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a black boy growing up in Kansas with his mom and his grandma, and also two aunts. The first chapter opens with a tornado scene that is just spectacular and some of this other descriptions (of a dance, of his first day at an integrated school, of Chicago) are amazing as well. I’ve read a few coming-of-age books this year and it was nice to read one from another perspective. It got equally good ratings from almost everyone else in book group.

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Someone mentioned this on Instagram and I’d remembered reading it so I thought it would be fun to revisit it. It holds up after all these years but I’m clearly not as easily spooked as I was back in grade school.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

I’m still making my way through this one. I kept putting it down for book club and short stories so maybe it’s a sign I should give up? I love the premise and I always find Shirley Jackson slow in an intentional way but for some reason this isn’t grabbing me like all of her other books have…I’ll report back next month if I continue on!

Are you reading anything good lately? I have one hundred pages to go in my book club book for tomorrow so today after work, I’ll be hunkering down with The Girl of the Limberlost and a cup of tea. Have a good weekend!

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August Books

August was a slowwww reading month. I didn’t pick up a book until I had to start reading for book club and I filled the rest of the month with short stories and an art book.

The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway 

This was our book club read for August. It was well-received by the group. It’s a memoir of a woman who had spinal tuberculosis and spent ten years as a child flat on her back. The treatment was supposed to minimize the curvature of her spine. Sadly, her spine was still affected and she lived the rest of her life hunched over, her head lower than her shoulders. Somehow, she ends up living a mostly “normal” life, not really feeling like an outcast and working her way through college and buying a house on her own. The story is heartbreaking, and fascinating, and inspiring, especially because at the end you learn that she has two love affairs with Japanese men and gets married to another man (which isn’t a spoiler because she does have two last names.) There is a collection of her journals and letters which I’m perusing now. I thought her childhood/early adult memoir was interesting, but I’m more interested in her adult life, which she spends among artists in New York and Paris.

The Heavenly Tenants by William Maxwell

This is a children’s book that Maxwell wrote in 1946. It’s a fantasy about a farming family who enjoys stargazing and the zodiac comes to life. It was the runner-up for the Newberry Medal and the illustrations are fantastic. It was a little weird but as usual, he handles the human connections so perfectly.

Gelli Plate Printing by Joan Bess

Obviously this was more for research than enjoyment but I wanted to learn a little bit more about the different stencils and layering techniques involved with gel plate printing. I found this to be a good resource, but I have another book coming so maybe next month I can compare the two.

“Bliss” & “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield

“Bliss” has it all: a dinner party hosted by a happy wife, major symbolism, a lovely tree that has multiple meanings, adultery… It asks the question, is it better to live with the truth or in ignorant bliss? (I think I’m a bitter truth person, how about you?)

Like Dandelion Wine, “The Garden Party” was a coming-of-age, discovering death story…it’s weird that the same themes are accidentally coming up in some of my reading this summer. The descriptions of the party preparations were delicious and were the perfect contrast to the more serious parts of the story.

I’m having a hard time getting into my next book. I think my mind is too distracted for reading right now, but that just means I really need to be reading! Have you read anything great lately?

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July Books

I had a very good reading month in July, which is great because I haven’t read anything since! Yikes!

“The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood

This short story was recommended as one of the scariest stories ever, and as you know, I love a scary book. I found “The Willows” to be really intense and a really great read. There is looming doom through the whole book. Definitely one to read in October if you have a chance. I am going to request this collection again this fall to see if I like any of his other “weird” short stories.

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

This is supposedly Forster’s “masterpiece” but…I didn’t love this. Maybe it was over-hyped? While I appreciate Forster’s writing and I liked the story, it wasn’t a book that I was eager to pick up every day. I appreciate the social commentary–a modern, bohemian woman married to the conservative older man, and refusing to adapt to his old ideas–but this book just didn’t grab me the way that A Room with a View did. I do wonder if I would like it better after a book club discussion. (Fun fact: most of our book club reviews get better after the discussions!)

Stationery Fever by John Komurki

I borrowed this for the eye candy and ended up reading it. It’s full of pictures of vintage and new stationery, divided by topic. At the end of each chapter, there are a few pages highlighting stationery shops around the world. It was a good overview of the history of the most useful stationery supplies, and delves into classic companies that make them. It left me wanting more…not in a bad way…in a I’ve had a taste, now I want more details kind of way. Also, now I want to travel the world seeing the best stationery shops.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett 

This was for book group. If you don’t know, Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man Series which were turned into some of my favorite old movies. In our group, the book got mixed reviews. It is about a detective hired to clean up a town that is out of control with corruption. The characters and alliances are very confusing…I actually made a character map to try to figure things out. As someone in book club said, once you give up trying to figure things out, it’s an enjoyable read. Hammett is a really sharp writer and there were so many quotes that I marked as perfect descriptions or things that made me laugh. I really love Film Noir and this book made me feel like I was reading an old movie. Supposedly The Glass Key is one of his best, so I’ve added that to my list for later this year.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 

I can’t remember ever reading Bradbury before. This one came up in a discussion as a great summer read and I love a seasonal book so… It was really lovely. I just notice the library stickered it as Science Fiction, but it wasn’t sci-fi at all. It was a coming-of-age story (How many of those have I read this year?) about a boy growing up in a small town in Illinois. Basically, he realizes his mortality this summer and learns to appreciate the moments of life, especially the making of dandelion wine with his grandfather. The wine will be enjoyed over the winter and remind them all of specific happenings on these summer days. Supposedly the book is semi-autobiographical. Dandelion Wine was just a beautiful summer reading experience.

Bright Center of Heaven by William Maxwell

Have I mentioned how much I love William Maxwell? This was his first novel, and it definitely wasn’t as developed as Time Will Darken It or Song of the Lark or The Folded Leaf, but Maxwell already had honed his perfect ways in describing relationships and feelings. The story revolves around artistic guests and the lonely owner of a boarding house in the early 1930s. It takes awhile to get to the “conflict” which is the tension between the black lecturer who was invited to stay at the boarding house and the other guests, but even though the conflict is imperfect, the rest of the story is engaging and beautifully written. (But I may be biased…) I have one more Maxwell to read and then I’ll be finished with his novels…it feels bittersweet. I might save it as a Christmas present to myself.

This Saturday is book club and we’re reading an autobiography…looking forward to finishing my first book for August!

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June Books

 

I squeezed in a short story on June 30th, but I’ll talk about that next month. I had to take my book stack picture early because No Surrender was due and I wanted to be a responsible library patron.

I was pretty pleased with my reading in June. Each book was really different, but let’s not get too crazy! They’re all old!

No Surrender by Constance Maud

This one came highly recommended by Persephone Book fans but I thought it read like a made-for-TV movie about the suffrage movement in England. It was good…but not great. I definitely felt like a learned a ton about what those women went through and what sacrifices were made for the right to vote, but I never really connected with the characters and it sort of slogged midway through. Still, I’m glad I read it, especially since I just happened to be reading it during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment passing here in the US.

Letters of Arthur George Heath

This one was for book club and is really different than the books we usually read, but it was universally loved by the group. It’s a non-fiction book of one soldier’s letters to home. Arthur George Heath’s family published his letters after he was killed early in World War I. The letters were both ordinary and moving. In some, he asks for mundane details about his family’s new home and he requests a new pipe, books, and pajamas. In others, he’s telling his mother that if he dies, she should still enjoy places that he loved at home and not let them cause her pain because he is gone. He’s also very funny, suggesting that his fellow soldiers shouldn’t start War & Peace because “if one makes ambitious plans like that, one certainly gets killed in the middle.” It was a pretty easy read, and of course I loved that it was letters. A book club member shared this article after our discussion and it was really great for filling in some of the historical gaps about war letter writing.

Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell

This is my third Maxwell book of the year and I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story about a couple, Austin and Martha King, who have visitors staying with them for an extended period of time during a summer. They are Austin’s relatives and his foster cousin, Nora, is in love with him and the other relatives take advantage of Austin’s community connections and make some bad business deals. These two things create the slow downfall of Austin’s relationships, both with his wife and with his small community. (Oh did I mention the story, like most of Maxwell’s books, happens in a small Illinois town?) While there is not a ton of action in most of the book, I just love the way Maxwell is able to explain the human experience. I loved every minute of it.

I think I’m going to try to read the other two Maxwell novels that I haven’t read yet. I just finished my first book for July and haven’t decided what’s next, but I think my plan to read back-to-back E.M. Forster may be a mistake…

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May Book Report

I’m back with another tiny book stack.  I’ve decided if I can read two books and a short story per month this summer, I’ll be doing pretty well!

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath

This one came out earlier this year, but was written by Plath when she was a college student in 1952. It felt very Shirley Jackson-ish, like a Twilight Zone episode. You know Mary is on a train trip to somewhere and it slowly becomes apparent that she is going to an ominous place. I loved it, but you know I love a good, dark short story.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I tried to love this book. I loved The Great Gatsby. I enjoy books about women with mental health issues who are being cared for by their doctor/husband. (Hello, “Yellow Wallpaper!”) I enjoy books about affairs and beach vacations and lots of drinking. This book had it all, but seriously…it was the worst. I really wanted something juicy to happen at the end (perhaps a drunk car crash off a cliff?) but sadly, that didn’t happen. (If you liked this book, I’d love to know why! I feel like my entire book club and I must be missing something! It was the lowest rated book in a long time!)

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

The book starts with married couple, Deborah and Graham in bed, Deborah promising fidelity while Graham is gone to war. Graham isn’t making any promises (because he’s a man, obviously…) I just knew I was going to love this wife and all of the trouble she gets into. Deborah has many, many, many escapades and she works the system and is able to create quite a rich life for herself while her husband is gone to war. Her standards get lower and lower as the book goes on, and her justifications get more wild. I had such a good time reading this book, which was written in 1946 and in some ways explores how different wartime expectations were for women compared to men. I love that Deborah is “bad.” She definitely made this book a different kind of wartime novel. The descriptions of the cocktails and the dinners and the gifts were also amazing and really just made this a great read! It was good to enjoy something after that book club book…

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April Book Report

My April book stack looks so puny! My reading has definitely slowed down now that spring is (supposedly) here.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden 

I feel like I need to own this book and read it slowly throughout the year. This book is just what it says, the 1906 diary of a woman from the country. It’s been on my list for awhile, and I’m glad I read it in the spring, but I would love to revisit it as she illustrates each season and has thoughts, poems, and sayings to complement each season. Holden’s illustrations are just beautiful. Everything is done by hand, including the words and it really encourages you to slow down and appreciate nature. I am going to be on the lookout for a copy of my own.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf 

Can you believe I haven’t read this? I loved it, though it felt like it took me forever to make it through. Woolf refutes the assumption that women aren’t good writers, explaining that unless they have the privilege of money, education, and a place to write, they will never be writers. Most women were too busy raising their children and taking care of the household and they didn’t have time to make observations about the world, let alone write them down. Women at that time were considered property, so even if they had the money, they were left at the mercy of the men to use the money for education or to advance their writing.

Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset 

This was our book club read for the month. It’s very similar to Passing by Nella Larson, which our group read back in 2002, so no one really remembered enough to do a good comparison. In general, it was a really good story about a woman who is able to pass and the choices she makes to get by as white in the world. But as a group, we were disappointed in the ending and sort of the lack of strength in the main character. Some of her choices were appalling, but they made for a good “what would you do?” discussion in book club.

My books for May have been really interesting so I’m looking forward to writing that post soon…I am having trouble making time for the blog lately and feeling like my writing is choppy and substandard…but I think the only way through it is to keep writing and keep posting and hopefully I’ll start feeling better about things soon…

 

 

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