Hey everyone! With the turn of the calendar page, I’ve wrapped up my July reading. Say it with me: “So little time, so many books.” Right? I thought I might read waaayyy more in July because broken bones kept me rather house bound, but pain meds kept me rather conked me out. So I managed 7 books which seems to be my max during any given month. (I also made it most of the way through a chunk of a biography, but scanned the last third (dry as a bone!) and won’t include it here as that’s against my book review rules.) But those I finished represent a wide variety. From 1830s England to present day Texas, my July Reads include an intriguing mystery, historical fiction, quick memoir, charming tale, insightful how-to, triumph of a middle school story, and a treasure of a novella. Something for you, I think.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
by Phaedra Patrick
Author Pepper is a sad widower who discovers a hidden charm bracelet while cleaning out his deceased wife’s closet. As he sets out to learn more about the bracelet, each charm leads him further and further into the curious story of his wife’s life before marriage. Soon, Arthur finds himself exploring the world outside his safe, hermit-like shell. And at the young age of seventy, he learns a few things about himself. Sweet without being syrupy, from first page to last, this heart-warming book includes all the feels. Patrick also wrote Rise & Shine Benedict Stone which I recommended last month. Both books provide fun, end-of-summer escapes which about right now, we all need.
This book made me: think about how easy it is to fall into a rut, and how the world is filled with charms. Also, I’m anxiously awaiting this author’s next curiously charming work of fiction. I hope she’s furiously writing.
My favorite line: He always felt embarrassed opening gifts in front of others, having to act out delight or surprise. He liked to peel off the paper slowly and consider the contents.
The Magnolia Story
by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino
Although I am an occasional watcher of Fixer Upper and a forever-and-always Baylor graduate, I didn’t know much about Chip and Jojo’s personal story. In that regard, I found The Magnolia Story engaging. It’s a quick read focusing primarily on the early days of their relationship, and how the show came to be. And in typical Fixer-Upper-style, Chip is funny and reckless and very much a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy. Jojo is the shiplap that keeps it all together. Together, they somehow strike an entertaining balance proving opposites do attract. The book is written as though Chip and Joanna sat in a booth at George’s Restaurant and told their story as someone (Mark Dagostino?) typed it verbatim. It reads authentically, and I loved the family pictures included. Here’s the deal: If you are a fan looking to learn more about their backstory, you’ll like it. If you want to know more behind-the-scenes information about the show and the people, you’ll have to wait for the sequel. Surely a sequel is in the works?
This book made me: think sometimes, for some people, the stars truly do align perfectly. Even in Waco.
My favorite line: If you can’t find happiness in the ugliness, you’re not going to find it in beauty, either.
A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles
After a Bolshevik tribunal convicts Count Alexander Rostov of being an unrepentant aristocrat, he is sentenced to serve out the remainder of his life under house arrest at the sophisticated Metropol Hotel in Moscow. And that’s where the book is set, from his tiny attic room to the kitchen, rooftop, and secret spaces into which he gains access with a special key. The premise of the story, I loved. The language and writing is undeniably beautiful. It’s a fairly long (almost 500 pages) novel, with a bit of fantasy and history woven in. BUT. I’m going to say something unpopular with folks I know who have read this book, as well as a slew of readers keeping this book high on the best-seller list. A Gentleman in Moscow started super slow for me. In fact, I stopped and started over from the beginning. Then, it picked up steam. There were parts I found to be entertaining and intriguing. But by the end, the Count wore me smooth out. I finished because after investing so much time, I was not going to give up. Bottom line—you should definitely read it because apparently I am the only person who feels it was wordy and convoluted.
This book made me: question myself and wonder what I was missing, especially since I adored Towles’ other novel, Rules of Civility.
My favorite line: “A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk.”
The Colour of Milk
by Nell Leyshon
I read this book early in July and still find myself thinking about it. It’s different and haunting, that’s for sure. Set in the 1830s in England, The Colour of Milk is the story of fifteen-year-old Mary, a dirt-poor farm girl. Her abusive father sends her to work and live on a nearby farm to help the vicar and his ill wife. This short novella (only 176 pages) is told from Mary’s point of view and written in her illiterate style without capital letters or proper punctuation. Her short nothing sentences say so much. I suspect some readers will be put off by this style (definitely not wordy a la Towles), but I found The Colour of Milk to be lyrical, heart-breaking, compelling, and oh so powerful. It reminded me a bit of The Girl with the Pearl Earring. This is a book I will keep and re-read.
This book made me: excited to read more of this British author’s work.
My favorite line: my name is mary. m.a.r.y. my hair is the colour of milk
The Silent Land
by Graham Joyce
I bought this book 100% on the recommendation of Lisa at Nightbird Books. (Yes, bookstore owners have tons of literary influence.) This book, classified on Amazon as mystery, thriller, and suspense is not the sort I typically read. But as I gathered books for the lake trip I never took, I couldn’t resist such high praise and an endorsement by none other than Stephen King. The story in a nutshell—while skiing in the Alps, Zoe and Jake are buried in a freak avalanche. They dig out only to discover the ski village, hotel, and entire mountain region has been evacuated. Mysterious things happen that make the reader (me) wonder what’s really going on. Are they the last two people on the planet? Are they dead? In purgatory? It kept me guessing and interested, and although I didn’t much care for the ending, I found it to be an absorbing read while recuperating on the couch.
This book made me: curious about Joyce’s other books. I’ve decided I should read more mysteries.
My favorite line: There are certain songs, and books, and films that are like points of high ground in the memory. Like they are even larger than your own experiences. They never go away.
Counting By 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This jewel of a middle school book has an important message. When twelve-year-old Willow Chance’s parents die in a car wreck, she learns valuable lessons about love and life and growing where you are planted. What an uplifting story about being different and fitting in, about families we choose. Counting By 7s would be an appropriate / helpful read for kids who feel labeled, foster families, those grieving, middle school libraries everywhere. And yes, I like to read young reader books.
This book made me: grateful and happy and want to plant sunflowers.
My favorite line: The ability to keep your mouth shut is usually a sign of intelligence.
The Art of Memoir
by Mary Karr
Give me the opportunity to peek into the brain of an author I admire, and I’m all in. That’s what The Art of Memoir is. Anyone interested in writing memoir should read this pronto. I don’t know why it took me so long. Reading this book is like taking a master writing class in memoir. And for the price of a paperback, that’s a pretty cool deal.
This book made me: want to re-read The Liar’s Club, one of the first memoirs I read and loved.
My favorite line: Everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.
On to August, friends! What’s everyone reading, doing, thinking, planning?
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
If you missed any of my previous book reviews catch up by clicking on the links below: