What I’ve Been Reading This Month

I’ve consumed heaps of books this last month. A lot of stuff that’s more “fun” than “thoughtful,” if I’m gonna be honest, but hey, better than scrolling through Instagram, right?

Here’s a blurry picture of all of them lined up on my vanity:

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1. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

I thought I had read Sense and Sensibility, but in reality I’d just watched multiple movie versions. Haha. Time to read it for real.

Current Status: Halfway through

Verdict: Delightful. Not, however, one of Austen’s best. We don’t burrow as neatly into the character’s heads as we do in some of her other books. Elinor falls in love, but the audience is informed of this from the perspective of a watchful outsider, instead of from the perspective of the inside of her head. We don’t know how she’s feeling, really.

Because of this, Sense and Sensibility is, along with Mansfield Park, at the bottom of my list of favorite Austen novels. (Emma is at the top for me, with Pride and Prejudice a close second.) Which is interesting, as it’s the second-most-popular Austen book when it comes to movies and plays. I think that’s because it really is a good story. My issue, of not being able to see into the characters’ heads, really isn’t an issue in movies and plays where you never get to see into any character’s head.

2. Hopeless Savages, by Jen Van Meter

I picked this up at the library because I do enjoy a good graphic novel every now and then. A family of punk rock stars? That looked like a fun, interesting read.

Current Status: Read two chapters.

Verdict: Boring. Will not finish.

3. The Girl from Paris, by Joan Aiken

I did this fun thing where I went to the first shelf of the fiction section of the library and read every book title until I found something that looked interesting.

This one looked interesting.

Current Status: Read the whole thing.

Verdict: This was a story about a young woman who went to be a governess for a strange family in Paris, and then later went home to England to take care of her own younger half-sister.

I found it rather interesting, although there were some odd parts, like a really rushed romance, and the abrupt location change mid-book. About 2/3’ds of the way through I realized it must be the second or third book in a series.

I looked it up online later, and yes, it was third in a series. LOL. Reviewers on goodreads were very annoyed at it for not living up to the standard of the first two books. While I agreed with all their criticisms, the truth is I still found the book rather fun.

After all, it contained two random things that I happen to love in books.

  1. A sensible main character
  2. Close, and perhaps rather strange, male-female relationships that are not quite romance.

As far as #2 goes, I’m not sure why I enjoy this so much in fiction when it often turns out disastrous in real life, LOL.

4. Spoiled, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Way back in the day, the teen YouTubers were all reading this book. When I saw it on the library shelf, I flipped to the back cover and saw that it was about a girl who finds out that her dad is actually a famous movie star. Hee hee. Who could resist a plot like that?

Status: Finished

Verdict: If you’re into fluffy YA that’s pretty clean you’ll enjoy it, but probably will never re-read it, haha. It does have an interesting subtext about family relationships, both father-daughter and sister-sister.

But what’s really delightful, for me, are the masses of 2011 pop culture references. I was actually really into pop culture in 2011, so it feels nostalgic.

5. Drowned Ammet (not pictured) and The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones

These are books 2 and 3 in a series. I read the first book in Tennessee, and was delighted to see that the library here carried the rest of the series.

Current Status: Finished

Verdict: I love it, but then again, I love everything Diana Wynne Jones writes, so there’s that. It’s middle grade fantasy with a sense of humor, as all her books are. This particular series, The Dalemark Quartet, has the best world-building I’ve ever seen from her. It’s a bit darker than some, with war as a central theme.

I don’t know what else to say. I really feel like my readers probably won’t like this book, so there’s probably no sense in recommending it, haha.

Here’s what I’l say: If you’re thinking of getting into Diana Wynne Jones, start with Howl’s Moving Castle. If you happen to love it, then branch out into some of her other books. Maybe the Chrestomanci series. And if you love those too, maybe then give The Dalemark Quartet a try.

6. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Esta thought I would like this book, and then mailed it to me. Aww! #bestfriendoftheyearaward

Status: Finished

Verdict: Absolutely delightful. I’d say this is the most universally appealing book on this whole pile. Just a happy, satisfying book in the vein of The Blue Castle, or The Enchanted April.

However, I should note that it does have a few problematic moments. Particularly when the main character makes this derogatory, passing comment about how it’s best for an English person to marry someone who’s fully their own race, and that it might not be the best to marry someone with Jewish blood.

Also, the main character, in “living for a day,” rubs shoulders with people who have somewhat loose morals.

7. Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnum

This book also came from Esta. I wanted to read it because it’s by the same lady who wrote The Enchanted April. And while the charm did not live up to The Enchanted April, it was, in fact, quite charming.

It’s actually more of a memoir of Von Arnum herself, and her absolute delight in her garden. It’s just a happy little book about the joys of gardening, and about her three babies called “April Baby” and “June Baby” and “May Baby” according to the months in which they were born.

I liked that she had a sense of humor, but at times I thought she was a bit unfair in the way she made fun of her guests. And her husband went on the oddest rants about how women are inferior to men. I think he was meant to be laughed at by the reader, but I’m not quite sure.

But anyway. It was charming and delightful, nonetheless.

8. The Way of a Bride with her Groom, by Earnest Witmer

I picked this book up because I know/know of the author. I’d heard that it was the story of himself and his wife, Rachel, who was killed in a car crash six or seven years ago.

Status: Read the story parts, skimmed/skipped the marriage advice parts. (To be honest, I almost never read nonfiction books. I do enjoy a good memoir and the occasional writing advice book. Other than that, I’m a nonfiction article reader, but for books I stick to fiction.)

Verdict: I found the story parts very interesting, but I feel I’m somewhat biased because I know the author somewhat. And also biased because I take great delight in hearing people’s romantic stories, heehee.

I think my favorite scene was this one where Earnest asked Rachel out, and she turned him down, but he still felt honored, and like it wasn’t shameful or embarrassing that he’d asked. Personally, I wish I’d received more training on how to turn a guy down in an honoring way. I have this hypothesis that if girls were better at turning guys down, guys wouldn’t be so nervous to keep asking girls out even if they’d gotten a lot of rejections, and so everyone would have better odds at finding a life partner.

Of course, that hypothesis remains untested. Feel free to pull it apart as much as you desire.

9. Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? By Ally Carter

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This book was displayed in the teen section during the same library run in which I picked up Spoiled. I snatched it up because I often ask that very question. How do I write a book?

Status: 1/3 of the way through.

Verdict: Fantastic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know how to write a novel. Here are the things I’ve loved so far about this particular book, as opposed to other books on writing I’ve read (or skimmed.)

  1. The book has a concise, narrow focus. It is about how to write a novel, and does not veer off into general musings on writing.
  2. The book is aimed at teens, but doesn’t talk down to teens, which I really appreciate as a former teenage writer of books.
  3. Also, maybe because of teenage focus, Carter writes in a very interesting, engaging, concise way.
  4. She also answers all the random questions I’ve always worried about, but never got good advice about. Like, “how many words should my novel be?”
  5. Also, she gives specific answers to even the most squishy questions. Most authors, when giving advice on something like word count, will say something like “that depends on the book.”
    Carter says, “that depends on the book,” but then she provides a full page spread of authors listing the word count of their shortest book, and the word count of their longest book.

10. Lady in Waiting, by Debby Jones and Jackie Kendall

I was writing a play on the book of Ruth, and was amused by the way that Ruth asked Boaz to marry her. This prompted me to write on Facebook, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Christian dating advice book based on the story of Ruth? Ladies, find a rich guy, sneak up to him while he’s sleeping, and ask him to marry you.”

Well, I was quickly informed that there was a dating advice book called Lady in Waiting which was based on Ruth. Then my roommate told me she owned a copy.

Status: Skimmed.

Verdict: Um….let’s just say, Lady in Waiting draws some very strange conclusions from the book of Ruth. How do you get “Don’t chase boys! Wait for the right man to come along and sweep you off your feet!” from a Bible story in which the woman asks the man to marry her?

In fact, I was so irritated that I wrote a whole bonus blog post titled “Five Actual Romantic Lessons from the Life of Ruth.” It’s available now on my Patreon page, for those who subscribe for $1 or more per month.

So those are the books I’ve been into for the last month. What have you been reading lately?

8 responses to “What I’ve Been Reading This Month

  1. I’m not usually a nonfiction reader either, but I’ve got two to recommend. 🙂 I just finished “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” for my anthropology class and it was so good…it’s about a Hmong refugee family whose daughter had epilepsy, and all of the cross-cultural issues that came up with her medical care. Some of it goes into the history of the Hmong and the war in Laos and things like that and are a little more dry, but overall I highly recommend it. Also currently reading Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor, which is the story of the author’s parents but it reads like a novel. It follows them as kids in Mexico and then coming to the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always enjoy your posts on books.

    I have only recently started reading non-fiction. There were a few great books, and a few I abandoned within a couple chapters.

    Secretly, I still love children’s books. I read, laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed the outrageous “Nanny Piggins” book last week.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you’re onto something with the respectful turn-downs. Carolyn McCulley made a similar suggestion a number of years ago, and it has stuck with me since! https://www.boundless.org/relationships/how-to-respond-to-a-mans-pursuit/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Emily, for mentioning the Carter book. It sounds like one I need to read, thinking in particular of your third point about it: “Also, maybe because of teenage focus, Carter writes in a very interesting, engaging, concise way.”

    I want to learn to write in an engaging-to-teens way. I better see if I can learn anything from how Carter wrote this particular book.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. cabincreeklogging

    Please help me understand why a Christian young lady would even want to read fiction about a family of punk rock singers .
    Mary Yoder

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Sara Smucker

      Good question! The idea appealed to me for several reasons. First, I think musicians, in general, make interesting characters. Maybe I’m drawn to the vulnerability of expressing deep, personal emotion through song.
      Second, I was drawn to the family angle. Punk rock was kind of a counter-culture movement, and that’s the sort of thing you tend to see young people drawn to more than families.
      So, from glancing at the cover and reading the back, it seemed like this interesting story of parents who were punk rockers, and then grew up and had a family. What happens to idealist counter-culture people when they grow up and have families? I hoped the book would be about that question, and explore the family learning to make music together. That seemed like a super interesting premise to me.
      Unfortunately it was just this weird, silly kidnapping plot that wasn’t very interesting. So I only ended up reading two chapters.

      Like

  6. Pingback: Thoughts on Having a “Day Job.” | The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots

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