Books finished in June:
- The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
- I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
- A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan
- Into the Heart of the Country by Pauline Holdstock
- Angus and Sadie by Cynthia Voigt
Books given up on in disgust half-way through:
- Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Thoughts and reviews:
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
When this book came out it sparked a bidding war among publishers. The author made enough money on her FIRST novel (before it was even published, no less!) to quit her job and take up writing full-time. It was the most highly anticipated debut novel of 2014. And yet … it was just an OK book. Ostensibly, it is the story of two generations of fathers and daughters (and a slave girl and her son) in post-revolutionary America. In reality, I don’t know. There didn’t seem to be much point to any of it. The writing style was poetic at times, but sparse and often vague. The chopped up structure of the novel (it was divided into three different parts) didn’t make a lot of sense, or serve to drive the plot forward in any way. The characters had the potential to be complex and interesting, but the author stopped just short, and the result was that I didn’t care about any of them. Actually, that sums up how I felt about the whole book.
Luckily, the next two books I read were amazing, even if they didn’t have the top 10 publishing companies in the nation vying for the honor to print them.
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Wow. I studied American Civil War history in college, and almost minored in it, but I don’t remember any professors really teaching about the role of women who FOUGHT in the war disguised as men. The sacrifices they made at home, in hospitals as nurses, and as other support players – yes, of course we talked about that in depth. But if women soldiers were mentioned at all, it was just in passing as sort of a weird fact. As I understand it, there are not a lot of primary sources or first hand accounts of the practice. But it did happen, in more than 200 documented cases, and that is the basis of this book. It was very well-written, with relevant flashbacks that helped to add depth to the already engaging characters and their backstory. The writing was eloquent and moving. It was the sort of enjoyable book that stays in your head for weeks after you’re done reading it. It’s also the kind of book that makes you cry and curse the universe because why can’t things just ever turn out the way you want them to?!
A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan
I checked this book out from my local library on impulse and I am so glad I did. This was another great read which kept me captivated to the last word, even though I knew how it would end (thanks for the spoilers, history!) It is a rich and complex portrait of a young Abraham Lincoln – before his presidency, before the Civil War, before his death and subsequent sainthood. Even though it’s a work of fiction, this book was really able to clarify the fact that Lincoln was a human and not just a legend; he was a regular, fallible, humorous young man with extraordinary ambition and unfortunate tendencies toward despair. It also painted an interesting picture of a young Mary Todd and her own shrewdness and ambition. This was an absorbing and well-written book, that I cannot recommend enough.
And then … there was this next one.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Well … I wanted to like it. I love science fiction. I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels. I’ve been reading a lot of novels set in the 19th century and wanted something different. But this was just … bad. Bad writing, tired premise, hollow characters. There was just nothing here I could find redeeming or interesting, and I gave it 155 pages before I threw in the towel and returned it to the library in disgust. It’s about a 16-year-old in the lowest caste of a dystopian society rising up and revolting because his people have to work all the time and they can’t sing a certain song or do a certain dance on pain of death and he’s tired of the injustice of it all. Only the plot twist here is that he becomes a member of the ruling class (via extreme plastic surgery that is completely unbelievable even for a sci-fi book) so that he can take them down from the inside! He joins an elite school where the students have to kill each other to graduate, and all with the consent and encouragement of the adults. Yawn. Why is this such a thing? When I first saw Battle Royale in 2003, I thought it was weird, but I was also kind of fascinated by it. Then came The Hunger Games, Mazerunner, Divergent, etc. It’s boring and stupid and it’s been done to death (ha!). Let’s all just promise to move on to something else now, shall we?
Into the Heart of the Country by Pauline Holdstock
This was just another OK book. I liked it more than The Story of Land and Sea, but not as much as the other two books I finished. It was very hard to get into this book, set in an English military fort in 18th century Canada, in part because it starts at the end of the main character’s life, and then the next 1/3 of the book is backstory to the actual story. This was a very beautifully written but heavy read, and it was mostly tragic. I liked it, but I also couldn’t wait to be done with it.
Angus and Sadie by Cynthia Voight
A few months ago I checked out the audio book Young Fredle by Cynthia Voight from the local library, so the girls could listen to it in the car while we drove. We ALL loved the book and it’s cast of characters immensely, especially Sadie the dog. I decided we had to buy the book for our collection, and while I was looking it up I found Angus and Sadie, a companion book in the Davis Farm series. I had to buy it to read to the girls because Young Fredle was so amazing, and also because Voight was one of my favorite authors as a young reader. Angus and Sadie are two border collie pups living on the old Davis Farm. Angus is the older brother and better at obeying, braver and smarter (he thinks) than Sadie. Sadie is a sweet loving soul, and the story is about her finding her place and role on the farm, and also about Angus discovering that it’s OK if Sadie is better at other things than he is. It’s really a very sweet, entertaining book, and Voight is an amazing writer who manages to make this book interesting and substantial for children and adults alike.
So there you have it – my take on the books I read in June! I’ve got another full line-up for July, so stay tuned for that one. In the meantime, grab a book of your own and get out to the garden and read!