August Book Reviews

calpurnia

The Best of August–Not to Be Missed

I really enjoyed the Evolution of Calpurnia Tate a few years ago, but the sequel! Oh the sequel! What a delight!! It’s rare to find historical fiction–especially for young people–that is believable and speaks with an authentic voice. Jacqueline Kelly is one author in a zillion for achieving both with her lively series about an Edwardian era Texas girl struggling to stay true to her own desires even as her parents are, with the best intentions, dragging her slowly toward sedate, proper young womanhood. Calpurnia, the only daughter and special favorite of the Grandfather, is a budding naturalist. She endures piano practice and dreads knitting, but thrives in the outdoor world where she is usually joined by her brother, Travis.When a new veterinarian comes to town Calpurnia has a fabulous new avenue for learning and self-discovery even while still studying under her scientist-naturalist Grandfather. Her feminine self, too, is clearly articulated in the caring she exhibits to the sensitive pet-hunting Travis and in her dislike of upsetting her parents, even when she feels she must. I love that this girl is not trying to be a boy, she is simply being herself. So much more realistic than those “disguised as  a boy” novels. I get the feeling that, hopefully in a later book, after working her way thru college,  Cal will find an outdoorsy guy and raise a passel of outdoorsy, bug collecting, frog-dissecting kids all while being a professional naturalist or some such. She has that kind of spunk and determination. This one, even if you didn’t read the first one, is not to be missed.

That said, there is one big missed opportunity: Why is every librarian portrayed in novels made in the worst stereotypical way?? Why couldn’t the “old bat” librarian have been an encourager? As a librarian I get tired of the old lady with a bun in her hair hating to let a book out of her sight and shushing everyone. Small stuff — don’t let it keep you from a tremendous read. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. It should win a few big awards. JUST READ IT!

soulsnightI love it when a month brings multiple books of outstanding “readability.” (Well, in this case “listen-ability,” since I enjoyed the audio version). Our Souls at Night introduced me to an author I know I’ll keep reading–Kent Haruf. A marriage, even a mediocre one, provides a type of connect that cannot truly be replicated. But widow Addie Moore decides to try. Her long-time neighbor, Louis, seems to be a “good man.” That’s all the teaser you get! To say more would be to ruin it all for you. This gracious, deceptively short, novel-novella is a “mature” romance in the truest meaning of the word “mature.” There are no June Allison Depends jokes and no 50 Shades of Anything or anything like that. This is a novel that celebrates love, connection, and caring. But to do only that would be precious. We are not alone in this life. There are other players who impact us and they often are folks we also love and care about and to whom we are also intimately connected. But this book restored my faith in what is left to come in my life and I hope it will do the same for you.   Not to be missed. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.

howI saw the tagline for this book “How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time” and grabbed it. Long ago I started to read success literature in order to, as Dave Ramsey says, “Change My Family Tree.” That’s not to say I come from a backward family–a grandfather with a Ph.d. in electrical engineering is not a backward family. I just knew I had a lot to learn. I decided to “play along” while reading this and log my own time. With about 20 years in law firms under my belt the concept was certainly not foreign to me–I sed to bill my time in 6 minute increments. This version only requires 30 minute time slots and there’s room for personalization. The results though are very enlightening! You do not need to have children or even be married/partnered to make use of this book.

For me though it was validation–and epiphany on parts of my parenting years done right and at a very timely moment. My nest is rapidly emptying. One in college, on moving out. I’m a solo empty-nester. It was nice to see that no matter what others thought, I wasn’t crazy to, for example, take my Middle School-aged son to school even though the bus was “right there.” It gave us one-on-one time at an age when ANY child needs massive amounts of parental attention. So too is my use of Sunday afternoon to prep meals–I used to do the whole week (well, thru Thursday evening). Nor was I insane to use lunch hours, texts, emails and any other means to take care of what could be days off for errands or even worse (to me) after-work errands.

I’ve never been a hand-wringing type who can’t say “no.” I wanted to lead scouts for my daughter so I did. Period. I do not work in the church nursery. I said no to that and never looked back. The time log and some of the personal stories will be great help to folks who can’t say no to such tings. The best thing about it all is it CAN show just how much time you really ARE spending with your loved ones or on your passions. It can help you sort out the real time involved so you can make intelligent decisions on family life and career both as well as find “me” or “us” time. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam.Highly recommended.

worstIf books like this were used in high school history classes more kids might take an interest in our history. What Ken Burns is to historical documentaries, Tim Egan is to historical nonfiction. A fast-paced book so readable I found myself still awake at 2 am enjoying every word. Best of all? I wasn’t even tired the next morning. That’s the test of a great book.The dust bowl–those images we all have of the woman with her baby or the man and his sons in the wind–was a man-made eco-catastrophe. But the story is so much more. It’s the endurance, the fortitude, the perseverance of the people living in that area that make the story so haunting. Once you’ve read the book watch Ken Burns’ “Dust Bowl” documentary–both together are unbeatable. Better than any blockbuster novel and its film counterpart. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.

Other Great Reads This Month

french kitchen

Once again my propensity for reading in “two’s” has come to the fore. This time it’s “Two in France.” I enjoy Susan Loomis’ friendly style of writing. Her life in her small town in Paris sounds so lovely without being another “don’t you wish your life was perfect like mine” treatise. She seems so…well…normal! I so enjoyed her last book, On Rue Tartin, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one! The breezy style sets the tone for a good visit to old friends to talk food and discuss cooking. You can imagine yourself sitting at that pine table or drinking that wine–I read far into the night, too far most times, and went to work groggy but happy from my reading. The food sounds super and thanks to Jungle Jim’s I can try most of it if and when I choose. I believe I’d fit right in with those French women–well except for needing to hit the gym and buy some more contemporary clothing of course! I love to cook fresh, local, enjoyable food. I don’t yet garden (long story) but grew up with garden-fresh vegetables, real “gourmet” cheese and no soup casseroles so I do understand good food. (Not knocking an occasional soup casserole–just not a steady diet of them). If you long for cooking friends, for community, or even for small town French life, this is your book. In a French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis.

villaHad the editor nixed both the dog story and the unrelated name-dropping chapter with Mrs. Pat Campbell and the Duchess of Rutland it would have been a much better book. Had the often stilted dialogue been reworked AND those chapters cut, it would have been a FABULOUS book (And could she just have said “lesbian” instead of tiresome versions of “Sappho….?”). As it is, it’s a darned good read–well worth the short time it takes to read it. Or, longer, if like me you want to re-read all of Fitzgerald now…..  I LIKED Sarah and Gerald and Owen so much. The others….not so much. I loved so much of Ms Klaussmann’s prose. This is a far, far better book than Tigers in Red Weather that it’s hard to believe its the same author. I can’t wait for her next book.Villa America by Liza Klaussman

paris bookshopLike a few other reviewers I had so hoped to love and adore this book, but I didn’t. I liked it, I just didn’t love it. I loved the premise–a “literary apothecary” who healed people by giving them the right book to read. But then there was the “road” trip on the river, which also sounded promising, but became confusing. A lot of times I had to stop and say “what?”. I think though that this is simply because the book was meant to be read and I was listening to it. Some books just don’t “work” in audio. [The reverse is also true. Some books are meant to be listened to.] So while I didn’t love it I still recommend it–but read it. There IS so much to savor, but being able to flip back and remind yourself of a time period or character might be useful.I DO look forward to more from this author, but I’ll read them. The Little Parish Bookshop by Nina George.

Heaven4 A Fun Time Phone Fanny” [Sorry folks in Aus]. Fannie Flagg and her loveable characters never fail to delight. Elner Shimfissle of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, falls from a ladder while picking figgs and the fun begins. Her niece Norma and Norma’s hubby Macky, Sunny the cat and a whole boatload of other good citizens of Elmwood Springs, will show what caring CAN, (but often doesn’t) occure in Small Town, USA.  Such a fun read. Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg.

What have you been reading this month? Leave me a comment–I love comments. FYI–I do not make a dime if you click on a link. They are just there for your convenience.

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One thought on “August Book Reviews

  1. sjbraun

    I love your reviews, and am always amazed at the amount you get read (or listened to) each month. I enjoyed Calpurnia #1, I should probably read #2. “Our Souls” makes me curious, and the book about How She Does It sounds motivational! I, too, just loved the Dust Bowl book. I agree; schools should be using books like this instead of dry (no pun intended) textbooks to teach topics like this.

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