I’m not sure how many times I’ll get away with saying it, but I’m going to try my luck one more time: summertime reading is the best! I’ve read a wonderful variety of books over the last week and can’t wait to chat about them with you. As always – I do my best to avoid spoilers, but I’m always up for a conversation via email!
Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
“Grief is not an event, my dear, but a passage, a pilgrimage along a path that allows us to reflect upon the past from points of remembrance held in the soul. At times the way is filled with stones underfoot and we feel pained by our memories, yet on other days the shadows reflect our longing and those happinesses shared.”
This is the fourth Maisie Dobbs mystery. Set in England between the wars, Maisie works as a private investigator and psychologist, along with her assistant Billy. She is ahead of her time in so many ways and I’ve enjoyed watching Maisie grow more confident as the series goes on.
This book focuses on inequality: Maisie is hired to investigate the suspicious death of a wealthy artist while trying to help Billy with his extremely ill daughter. There’s a stark contrast between wealthy people spending fortunes on a single piece of art while the Beal family cannot afford to take Lizzie to the doctor despite her severe illness. As usual, Maisie’s humanity shines through, she solves the tragic case of the fallen artist, and she holds her friends and family close.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
“I’ve had a lot of things to feel ashamed about and I’ve learned most of them are other people’s problems, not mine.”
This was an amazing book! Emoni is a teen mom in Philly living with her daughter and grandmother. She has a gift for cooking – she can look at a few ingredients in the fridge and start dreaming up a spice mix to make something unique and delicious. Emoni got pregnant her freshman year of high school but worked hard to stay caught up with her classmates and to graduate on time. Now it’s her senior year and she has a full school load, a toddler underfoot, a grandmother she constantly worries about, and a job at a fast food restaurant. She is feeling overloaded but an incredible elective is now being offered at her school: a cooking class that includes a trip to Spain.
Emoni is torn about even taking the class. Should she add the additional stress? Can she afford the trip to Spain? What about her grandmother and her baby — can she even leave them? And once in the class, she chafes at the rules and expectations set by the teacher. Why follow a recipe when she already knows how to make it better?
This was a beautiful coming of age story with a heroine we can all learn from. I love this author’s work – Emoni’s emotional tug of war leapt off the page and felt so real. I’m looking forward to more by Elizabeth Acevedo.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
I finally read Northanger Abbey! I picked it up because The Modern Mrs. Darcy book club is reading it this month (even though I’m not a member) and I wanted to join along. I love the cover of this edition — with Catherine digging through the mysterious chest!
It seemed like this book was written in two distinct halves: the first half finds us with Catherine Morland, a jovial 17 year old, visiting Bath with a friend. It’s full of the regency stuff you’d expect: dresses, balls, dancing, swooning. But I found this one much funnier, probably because I’ve learned more about Austen over the last few years. I enjoyed the second half much more – she visits the home of her love interest, Northanger Abbey. The Abbey is a gothic treasure: potentially haunted, strange doors and closets, a mysterious chest in her own suite. Catherine goes a little over the top at times, trying to uncover a mystery that’s simply not there.
I’ve seen it written that this is Austen’s ode to the novel. She’s almost sneering at the people who say that novels are a waste a time – which tickled me, an unabashed fiction lover. I’m hoping to return to more Jane Austen novels over the next few months.
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
“Time’s passage through the memory is like molten glass that can be opaque or crystallize at any given moment at will: a thousand days are melted into one conversation, one glance, one hurt, and one hurt can be shattered and sprinkled over a thousand days.”
I read this for an upcoming Novel Pairings episode and wow – it was much more powerful than I anticipated. It’s less than 200 pages but packed a punch. It’s a collection of interconnected short stories about black women living in the inner-city. Sometimes funny, sometimes devastating, always thought-provoking. I took so many notes and will be thinking about these women for a long time. Their lessons of generosity, kindness, and vulnerability are life giving.
The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan
“I think people deserve to have their secrets.”
This is a book about the complexity of families. It has two timelines: present day and the late 70s in Syria and Lebanon. The present day timeline is strewn throughout the world – California, Texas, New York, and Beirut – just like the family about which this story is told.
Alyan allows this journey to beautifully unfold. It took me a while to see where she was going and I considered abandoning the book, but she hooked me about halfway through and I had to travel with the Nasrs back to their family home in Beirut and learn all their painful secrets.
This family is funny. I laughed out loud at their antics and the way they communicated with each other – the writing made it feel so real. They’re also quite tragic, like most of us, and I was tearing up near the end. Our lives are complicated and almost never as they appear, aren’t they?
A fun coincidence with this book: it alludes to A Streetcar Named Desire quite often, which I recently read. The allusion crystalizes about halfway through and it would have totally gone over my head if I’d never read Streetcar. I love it when it feels like the author and I are sharing secrets – it makes for a rich reading experience.
And with this week’s update, I’ve matched the total number of books I read in 2020: 109! Yesterday I started two rich and broody novels (The Whispering House and Swimming Lessons) and I’m living my best reading life. How about you?