The Book Pile: Summer Vacation edition


Well, Mr. Darcy, I’ve been doing a lot of extensive reading these days.  Summer vacation means that the time usually earmarked for grading gets repurposed for other, more enjoyable pursuits, such as cracking open a good book.  Here are a few of the ones I’ve enjoyed lately.


The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

This one started off at a very leisurely pace, sort of like a summer afternoon …. so leisurely that at first, I wondered where the book’s sense of urgency was. But I kept going, and before long, the story and characters had me hooked.  Read this to immerse yourself into life in a small  English town at the time of WWI.


East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood

Sometimes you just want to dive into a thick Victorian saga.  When I’m in that sort of mood, I usually go for something by Wilkie Collins (try The Woman in White if you’ve never read him before).  This time I tried East Lynne, which has all the expected components: English country houses, unsolved crimes, hidden identities, unprincipled rakes, women in a swoon.  Great fun.


The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West

What makes a saint?  What is the definition of “holy”?  This was a very different sort of novel, about a dying priest who is sent to a small remote Italian village to investigate the life of a dead man who is being called a saint by many.  Each of the people in the village has his/her own memories of the deceased, as well as his/her own motivation for wanting the investigation to proceed in a certain way.  It raised good ethical questions, and provided a lot of food for thought.  If you liked Graham Greene, you  might enjoy this one.


Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden was an Englishwoman who spent a lot of her early life in India, and this novel is apparently heavily drawn from her own experiences.  It’s the story of a well-meaning English widow with two children who decides to go live in a remote village in Kashmir, seeing it as a sort of Eden in the mountains.  Her optimistic naivete and her inability to honor (or even to perceive) the cultural differences between her family and the villagers leads to conflict and, ultimately, a near-tragedy.  I’d call it required reading for anyone going to live in a different culture, whichever culture it is, because it’s a case study of how even a well-meaning person can really mess it up.  And Godden’s prose is, as always, breathtaking.  This was my favorite of the summer so far.


Why Bother Praying? by Richard Leonard, S.J.

I heard Fr. Leonard speak at LA Congress last year, and he was wonderful.  I happened to pick this up at a retreat center a while back, and it’s a very engaging book about the many effects of prayer.  There’s wonderful wisdom in here, along with a bunch of memorable personal anecdotes (some of them hilarious) that really ground the book and make it speak not just to the head, but to the heart.


Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

This was the perfect book to take a long cross-country flight.  The effortless narrative voice and the engaging plot (it’s about a young woman at a professional dead-end who takes a job as a companion to a quadriplegic) all made for a very fast six hours.  That said, I’d have given the book a different ending — if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean — but still, it was an excellent summer read and I can safely say that Moyes has a new fan (and, as my younger son pointed out, only one letter separates her last name from mine.  I love how kids notice these things.)

What are you reading now?  Do tell!


5 responses to “The Book Pile: Summer Vacation edition

  1. Lucia Dugliss

    3 Gates of the Dead, by Jonathan Ryan

  2. Linda Larish

    I remember reading Devil’s Advocate over 40 years ago and loving it. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about it but do remember that it touched me. I just finished Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow. It had two strong female protagonists and I miss them already. It is historical fiction taking place in San Francisco from 1848 (pre-gold rush) to 1851. It was a beautiful snapshot of SF during it’s early days.

  3. Lucia, I have heard great things about that book! Thanks.

    Linda, Gwen Bristow has long been on my “check it out” list. And I’d love to read something about local history. Glad to have the rec!

  4. Chris Lowenstein

    I just finished The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. Fun read, especially for literary types or English teachers. Ditto for The Last Bookaneer, by Matthew Pearl. Finally, I’ve also got a few more to be read before school starts up again: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman; The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, by Joshua Hammer; and The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by William Anderson. I’m going to check out your recommendations, too. Hope your summer is going well!

  5. I just wrote a post about what I’ve been reading lately and we appear to have the same book listed first! I don’t think I’ve read a novel of that size that fast since the Harry Potter books. I’ll have to add some of the others to my reading list. 🙂