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Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – W&D was my classics read for the month – and what a large one it was! This text is over 800 pages … and you get to the end of find that Ms. Gaskell didn’t finish the book before her death at age 55 in 1865. So sad! I am definitely going to find the BBC miniseries so I can get the satisfaction of an ending, even though the editor does tell you what Gaskell intended to do with the end.
While Gaskell is wordy, descriptive, and did I mention wordy?, W&D paints fully realized characters, not some of the one-dimensional moral-tale types we see in 19th century lit. Molly, 17 at the start of the novel, lives quite happily with her father, a widowed doctor. She is doted on by neighbors, friends of her mother’s, and near the start takes a trip to a nearby estate to help care for a daughterless woman, Mrs. Hamley, and hears of the two Hamley brothers. The elder, Osborne, is thought to be brilliant, handsome, and sure to save their estate. The younger, Roger, is burly and masculine, not attractive, and not thought much of at all. Gaskell spins a gorgeous tale of these young men, Molly and her (surprise! Daddy got married!) stepsister Cynthia, Mr. and the new Mrs. Gibson, and the town of Hollingford. You can find sympathy for all the characters, whether they are disgustingly shallow like Mrs. Gibson, a little off like Cynthia, or even ugly like Roger. (To have an ugly hero! Gaskell has my heart.)
It’s not a fast read (although the last quarter read much more quickly for me), but to grow in love for the characters is well worth the long voyage through Wives and Daughters. (It’s free for Kindle, too, like many classics.)
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf – Many years ago, I listened to the audiobooks of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Eventide. Although the narrator of Eventide didn’t strike my fancy, I think Plainsong is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Haruf is a succinct writer with small-bit stories, interconnecting characters and events in what could seem to be a choppy way (like how I felt in Jan Karon’s latest book), but for him it works well.
Plainsong and Eventide have a larger circle of characters than Our Souls at Night; but still, you see the theme of unrelated people becoming family in their own way. Two older, widowed neighbors seek comfort in each other in a strange way. Slowly, they find themselves connected and then even more as the woman’s grandson comes to live with her for awhile. I don’t want to give much away about this concise read. I didn’t love it as much as Plainsong, but it still made me cry. Haruf was simply a soul-revealer. This is his final book, as he passed away in late 2014. It was written out of his sickness and knowledge of his own death. I found it well worth the short time it took to read.
After You by Jojo Moyes – I was set up to be disappointed by After You, the anticipated sequel to Me Before You. I’d seen nothing really positive about it at all. But I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a sweet story, showing Louisa finding her way after the rocky road she lived through in Me Before You. (Don’t want to spoil in case you haven’t read it!) An accident and an unexpected relationship forced Louisa to live in the present, come to terms with grief, and try to start again. After You is sweet, funny, a little heartbreaking, pretty much classic Moyes.
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry – If you’re expecting another The Giver or Number the Stars … well, this isn’t it. What this is, however, is a hilarious parody novel by Lowry, published in 2008. The Willoughby children – Tim, Barnaby A, Barnaby B, and Jane – try their very best to be classic children’s book characters, old-fashioned in every way. Their plot to be orphans is aided by the fact that their parents despise them. The parents go away on travel, leaving the children in the care of Nanny. A nanny. One who actually cooks and remembers their names, unlike their drab parents.
Featuring a baby on the doorstep, some really bad fake German, a chocolatier, and a Swiss city where mountain climbers are frozen into statues, Lowry had me cracking up the whole time. It’s perfect satire, right down to the glossary – don’t skip it. Totally the best part.
And don’t worry, everyone lives happily ever after. Except maybe those evil parents.
(We listened to this on audiobook, and the narrator was excellent, too.)
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – With an overweight teenage narrator who is OK with her body, a little romance between fast-food workers, and a beauty pageant, I was expecting to adore Dumplin’. And I did like it, but it just didn’t strike a home run for me. Willowdean is a self-proclaimed “fat girl,” but she’s fine with it. Until she strikes up a romance with her co-worker Bo. Her self-doubt and grief over the loss of her aunt propels Willowdean to enter the local beauty pageant that her mother runs (and won as a teen). It’s an interesting story through a few months of Willowdean’s crazy life.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – DiCamillo is a genius. I don’t know how the same person who wrote Because of Winn-Dixie wrote Flora & Ulysses and wrote this. All of her books that I have read are so different but phenomenal! Libbie’s school librarian recommended that I read this one aloud to her, so we did over the course of a couple months.
Edward Tulane is a sort-of updated Velveteen Rabbit. Edward is a beloved china rabbit doll in the possession of Abilene. When Abilene loses Edward while on a cruise, he sinks to the bottom of the ocean. From there, we follow Edward from owner to owner, year after year, as he discovers what it means to belong to someone and even to love them.
The gorgeous characters DiCamillo writes – from an old woman who dresses him up in frilly dresses, to a hobo, to a sick little girl – are all vibrant and memorable. Absolutely loved reading this. It will break your heart but be one you remember.
A Time to Kill by John Grisham – For the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading challenge, one of the categories was a book your mom loves. My mom wanted me to read a Grisham novel. I don’t think this is her favorite, but it was one she owned, so I grabbed it off her shelves at Christmas and dug in.
I don’t generally read crime/lawyer type novels. I had never read a Grisham novel before. And this didn’t really change anything for me. It was an interesting read, about race relations in the South in the 80s. But the lawyer-language loses me, I can’t keep track of all the different ranks of people involved (DA, lawyers, judges, police ranks, etc), and the character of Jake wasn’t super compelling to me.
I might give a newer Grisham novel a chance; this was his first. We shall see.
So that’s it for December! I’ve already read four books in January, so I should have a lot to talk about next month, too. What have you been reading lately?