My summer reading is in full swing and this month I tackled some big books! During the summer I usually have more time for reading so I follow some self imposed guidelines to make sure I read a variety of books. I like to read at least one nonfiction book or one memoir, one classic and one children’s literature book per month during the summer. I tend to go overboard on the historical fiction so this helps keep me balanced.
So let’s see what I read this month!
1. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This was a favorite of mine when I first read it in fourth grade. I haven’t revisited it in over 15 years so I was excited to see if it was as I remembered it. The story revolves around a young brother and sister who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. As a 9 year old that sounded like the coolest thing you could do! As an adult the premise was still fun and appealing. The story itself is not my favorite, as I tend to like my children’s literature to give me an emotional reaction. But, I would still recommend this to kids today because it will get them thinking about how much money is costs to buy the things people need in order to survive and it will remind them of all the things their parents provide them. And did I mention the characters get to live inside a museum? Pretty awesome. I was glad I reread this as it was a fun read that took me back to my childhood.
2. The Residence: Inside the Private World of White House by Kate Andersen Brower
This was my nonfiction pick this month. I am a lover of history and firmly believe that it is often the people behind the scenes that help make good stories great and the people that tell the story in this case do just that. This book highlights the stories of the people that keep the White House running and their view into our country’s history gives readers a glimpse into a world unknown by most Americans. Many of these chefs, butlers and maids have worked through multiple administrations and are privy to very private details of the most powerful family in the world. Their stories are funny, shocking, heart-wrenching and heart-warming. The amount of history these individuals have witnessed is astounding. At times it felt like I was reading the script for a prime-time political drama and getting to feel like an insider was exciting. I recommend this to anyone that enjoys learning about how the lives of normal, every day people collide with the powerful. Or pick it up if you think you might like getting the inside scoop on our former (and current) president. I enjoyed this book immensely.
3. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
This is the third book in the Paper Magician series I first came across as a free kindle download. The series follows a magician named Ceony as she learns to become a paper magician (she used paper for all of her spells). In this book Ceony is preparing to take the exam to become a certified magician. She is also dealing with some unfinished business from book 2. I have had this book downloaded on my kindle since it came out, but hadn’t brought myself to read it until now because I often don’t like the way a series ends. This book was entertaining and a very quick read, but was not as good as the first two books. It was lacking exciting adventures and was a little scattered for my taste. It felt more like a super fluffy happy ending to a unique and interesting story than a stand alone book. But, as I mentioned earlier, this is how I usually feel after reading the end of a series so I wasn’t surprised. I would still recommend this series to people who love stories with magic in them. Just don’t be surprised when the ending is not as great as the beginning.
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This book is a well known classic but has never been high on my to-read list. I really have no idea how that is possible since I have been a little obsessed with late 19th and early 20th century Russia since I was little. I decided to pick this up after a friend shared this book list. I have only read about 41 of the books on the list and hadn’t even heard of some of them! I have decided I will read a book from each letter of the alphabet until the list is read. I estimate it could take me 40 years to finish it haha. So for my “a” pick I chose Anna Karenina. For the most part this book was excellent. It was written about different people that run in the same circles. I did not like reading the parts that were written about Anna. When I had finished the book I felt like that was an ok way to feel about her. Her character is unsettling and she was obviously mentally ill. Tolstoy’s insight into the politics of the time are amazing and his intimate knowledge with things like childbirth and breast feeding were surprising. I wrote down so many quotes and felt like the conversations in the book were echoes of conversations I am having today, especially the conversations on education. In my opinion, this book is about living a fulfilled life, the intellectual struggles that should come along with that and how faith and belief play a huge part in your success in being fulfilled. It was a beautiful book.
5. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
People have been recommending this author to me for quite a while now. I decided to start with this book because I had heard the most positive feedback about it. This book is told in the present day and through flashbacks, and I am a sucker for books where past events inform the present happenings. In this story a woman realizes that her mother is dying and that she (the mother) has held a secret for her whole life. Before her mother passes away the main character wants to unravel the secrets of her family’s past. I must admit the main characters were not very likable at times, but the people around them were so endearing I wanted to keep reading. The events set in the past happen during WWII, which made the book feel a little glamorous. The ending was actually surprising to me and explained why I could not reconcile some things about one of the characters while reading about her past and present stories. This book was entertaining, but it will not stick with me.
6. Blowing on Dandelions by Miralee Ferrell
This book was one of the kindle first picks I get for free for being an Amazon Prime member. The reason I picked it was it was listed under historical fiction and it is set in Oregon. I would say this book it waaaaaaay more romance than it is historical fiction. It is set in a boarding house, which was the most interesting part. It makes it possible for very different and interesting personalities to be under one roof. I felt like this was not explored to its fullest potential and it left me wanting more. I liked the characters and there were some good lessons learned. I know this is the first book in a series, but I felt like the cliff-hangers were too big to make me feel satisfied when I finished reading. I like all of my books to stand alone, even if they are part of a series. I feel like the author has some great ideas, they just need to be more flushed out. I probably won’t read another book in the series unless further down the road the stories become more substantial and the writing improves. This is a pretty typical reaction for me with first novels. Writing, like most professions, often gets easier and better over time.
7. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Here is the winner of my favorite historical fiction book this month. This is the first book in the Follett “Century Trilogy” and the century it is referring to is my favorite, the twentieth century. This book starts with my favorite conflict of the twentieth century, WWI. It follows the stories of characters spread out across Russia, Germany, The British empire and the United States. The characters also span all ranges of the spectrum of wealth; from miners to the landed elite, Russian gangsters to presidential advisers and so on. They also have a wide range of political beliefs representative of the times. I listened to this on audible and highly recommend you do this. Not only is this book almost 1000 pages which makes for a great reason to get in on audible, the characters come from various parts of the world and the reader does amazing accents! Follett’s books are always well researched and the characters he uses that are real historical figures are always written in a very true way. The characters he creates are so interesting and realistic. Being able to get a look at WWI through the eyes of people from all different walks of life had me wanting to keep reading (listening) as often as I could. Reading it as a companion to Anna Karenina furthered my interest. Disclaimer: there is a lot of adult content in this book. If I had been reading a physical copy of this book I probably would have skipped over some of the racier scenes. But other than that, I would highly recommend this book. It is not as good as my favorite Follett book, Pillars of the Earth, but it is engaging, you can learn a lot and you find yourself endeared towards characters that you may never identify with in real life. I am so excited it is part of a trilogy. Bring on another 1000 pages!
I was very happy with the reading I got done during the month of July. I have some great books slated for August and I am going to try finish out my summer reading with more strong picks, but also a few lighter “beach reads.”
What have you been reading this summer? Do any of these strike your fancy? Have you read them before?
Until next time,
I love you more than Russian history and family mysteries,