What I Read This Summer

As promised, I am back to share/talk about the books I read this summer (mostly in July).  I pretty much took the entire month of August off from reading – though I started quite a few books – because I was pretty drained after Summit.  But, turns out, I read a ton of stuff in July, so let's get into it.
I didn't read too many books this summer that I absolutely adored (like last year), but there are a couple, and I'll just do a quick run-down on my thoughts on all of these.

The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood: This is book two in "The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place" series, a middle-grade series centered around three rambunctious children with mysterious origins and their stalwart young governess.  I thought this book was fun and my sister (11) enjoys this series, but for me it was pretty forgettable and just wasn't anything special.  I don't think I'll probably finish the series, but I would totally recommend it for the middle-grade age children.  The series is a perfectly good middle-grade series, but I just didn't love it.  3 out of 5 stars

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I reread this book this summer for probably the 5th or 6th time.  Little Women is just my most favorite book of all time.  I like to say that it's up in my "Book Canon" where it is untouchable and will forever be my most-loved book.  This reread, especially, I absolutely loved.  I basically started crying halfway through and didn't stop until the end, just because THE FEELS.  I think that because all the characters in Little Women have always been such a big part of my childhood, I feel more deeply connected to them each time I read it, and so I can more and more empathize with their situations, and this time, just ALL THE FEELINGS.  And for the record, I cried at the sad parts, the happy parts, and everything in between.  I have no explanation other than I was probably a little tired, too.  But, seriously, I freaking love. this. book.  There is no star rating that would adequately communicate my endless affection for it.  Okay, I'm done.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket: This is book one in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" middle-grade series, which has been majorly hyped everywhere and so I gave in and read it.  I was hoping to really like this series, but I was all like, "Um... I don't get it.  Bad stuff (like, awful stuff) happens to kids and it ends on a depressing note, and...?"  So, yeah, I didn't like it.  I mean, child marriage, are you kidding me?  Who wants to read/enjoys this stuff?  And thus, I am not continuing with the series.  2 out of 5 stars

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood:  At last, I read a book by the illustrious Margaret Atwood.  The Penelopiad is a retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope's (Odysseus's wife) perspective, with some treacherous maids and poetry thrown in for good measure.  I'm still not totally sure what I think of this.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't particularly enjoy it either.  Atwood paints a really bad picture of Odysseus in this book (which she can do, I mean, maybe he was a jerk) and I didn't really enjoy that.  Also, there's just some weird stuff that goes down, and weird people, and the whole subplot with the maids threw me off, so while I didn't hate it, it wasn't something I liked a whole lot either.  I did enjoy a different perspective on The Odyssey and I'll probably pick up some more Atwood in the future, as her writing style is really unique.

Third Girl by Agatha Christie: Last year, I got a couple Agatha Christie novels from my library's used book sale, and the first one, "A Death on the Nile," I really enjoyed.  I still enjoyed this one, but not as much.  I don't remember the plot too well (there are 3 girls... surprise!), and I didn't particularly like the plot or the other characters, but it is a Hercule Poirot mystery, and I always enjoy him.  It's the first Christie I haven't totally enjoyed, but it wasn't bad either, and I'm not saying you won't like it!  I just didn't love it as much as the others I've read by her.  3 out of 5 stars

Between You & Me by Mary Norris: This is a supposed book about language by the editor of The New Yorker magazine, Mary Norris.  The problem for me was that this didn't seem like a book on language as much as it seemed like a book about Norris's personal experience with language and where it has taken her.  When a book is blurbed as being comparable to Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, then it had better be comparable, because that book is my favorite book on grammar of all time.  And Between You & Me was nothing like Truss's book.  First of all, Norris's book is far more memoir than it is a book about grammar/language.  Not that I didn't find that interesting – her time at The New Yorker was super interesting to me and I really enjoyed those parts, but it had nothing to do with grammar and writing and such.  Second, she is no grammar Nazi.  She's one of those people who thinks grammar and standards of writing should evolve, that personal pronouns should be fluid and ignored grammar rules should well, er, continue being ignored.  I much prefer Lynne Truss's Nazism, thank you very much.  Anyway, I didn't hate this book, but I would have enjoyed it more if it had not been compared to Eats, Shoots, & Leaves.  They're nothing alike.  3 out of 5 stars

Hamlet by William Shakespeare: I had this brilliant plan to read like, four Shakespearean plays in July, but... I ended up only reading one.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Hamlet!  It had a dark humor that I really enjoyed, and the character of Hamlet was really fascinating.  I even came to enjoy Shakespeare's English.  I used the Barnes & Noble edition of this play, which was super helpful and explained all the language as it went along.  I highly recommend that edition.  I will definitely continue to read Shakespeare; Rome & Juliet is on my list next.  4 out of 5 stars

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling: I arrived pretty late to this book.  I thought it sounded fun, though, and the more I was learning about Mindy Kaling and hearing about her, the more I wanted to read her first memoir-ish book.  I listened to the audiobook, which Mindy narrates, and it was perfection.  She is so funny, self-deprecating, and just someone I want to be best friends with.  I love her.  This book is some memoir, some career, all funny, and a ton of fun.  4 out of 5 stars

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes: I picked this book up because I thought it would be a good summer read and also because I saw it recommended as an alternative to The Nightingale, which was a big historical fiction book this past year.  Also, I've always heard good things about Jojo Moyes, so I decided to give it a whirl while I was at the lake for a few days this summer.  This book is a split narrative between a woman set in France during WWII and a young woman in contemporary Britain.  These two women's stories are brought together around a painting.  There's some historical romance, not a whole lot of actual history, and quite a bit of Paris.  Now, I liked some things about this book.  For instance, I really loved the love story bits about Sophie (the French girl) and her husband Edouard set in Paris before the war.  Paris intrigues me, and so I enjoyed that part a lot.  I always enjoy split narratives as well, so I did like that aspect of this book, but unfortunately, the things I liked about this book were very outweighed by the things I didn't like.  I don't read a lot of romance (ie: any), but even I noticed so many annoying romance-y cliches that drove me crazy.  There was plenty of insta-love and angst, especially between Liv (contemporary British girl) and her husband and subsequent love interest.  Like, ugh.  She was the worst character.  She was whiny and selfish and utterly annoying.  She had this strange and unlikely obsession with a piece of art that she was willing to go to court and lose a fortune over, and I was so thoroughly annoyed with her the entire book that it set me off completely.  I did like the story line set in WWII, though, and those characters.  But the contemporary parts I totally disliked.  If you like historical romance/split narratives/annoying female characters, then this book might be for you, but it certainly wasn't for me.  2.5 out of 5 stars

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown: This book.  By far my favorite (new) thing I read this summer.  It was so great.  It's a novel about a pirate captain, Mad Hannah Mabbot, who captures gourmet chef, Owen Wedgewood, and forces him to cook her a fantastic meal on her ship every Sunday in order to stay alive as she gallivants across the ocean.  He is a pious, conservative man who has faithfully served his previous master for many years before being captured (his transformation is so awesome).  She is a ruthless pirate with a heart of gold underneath her tough exterior and fiery red hair.  Her crew is made up of a group of misfits, from the fearsome Mr. Apples, who knits, to a couple martial arts masters pledged to their captain.  She is in search of the notorious Brass Fox, a fellow marauder whose real identity remains hidden for much of the story.  Cinnamon and Gunpowder is an epic, swashbuckling adventure, a surprising love story, and an exotic foodie's diary.  And it was awesome.  This book totally surprised me by how much I loved it.  Mad Hannah is an absolutely brilliant character, and she is just the greatest pirate ever.  Pirates intrigue me, for some reason, and this book checked all my boxes.  The writing is just beautiful, the characters are full-bodied and so well-developed, the love story is understated and just right, and all the food bits were just. so. good.  I read this stretched out on a boat at the lake this summer, and I highly recommend you save this one for your next vacation, or wait until next summer.  I love, love, love, love this book, and you should totally read it.  5 out of 5 stars

Defying ISIS by Johnnie Moore: Switching gears from the ridiculous to the very real, Defying ISIS is a nonfiction book all about the killing machine that is ISIS now ravaging the Middle East and stretching out across the globe.  It is a very real, in-depth look at the havoc ISIS is wreaking both among Christians and Muslims, and how it's goal is to wipe out Christianity, not only in the Middle East, but in your own backyard.  Moore offers first-hand experiences of the terror ISIS has inflicted upon the people they target, horrifying stories of brutality and suffering, and unflinching details about what's behind the terrorist organization.  But he also looks at the incredible faith of the Christians, their hope, and what we can do for a situation that seems so far removed from our own.  If you want to know the real, gritty facts of the slaughter in the Middle East (and even if you don't) and need a wake-up call, read this book.  It is important.  4 out of 5 stars

And those are all the books I read this summer!  In my next post, I want to talk about where I am with all my reading challenges for this year, and talk about any changes I've made.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

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