Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor
Taylor tells her story of coming to faith, deciding to go to seminary, becoming ordained as an Episcopal priest, and, eventually, leaving full-time ministry. She writes with honesty and grace about the difficulty of giving up something you’ve worked hard to attain, and wondering if leaving church means leaving God (it doesn’t always). Her attention to small moments, and her descriptions of the countryside in Georgia, are lovely.
The House in Norham Gardens, Penelope Lively
When I saw the title I thought, “Not Norham Gardens Road – in North Oxford – three blocks from where I used to live?” This odd, charming story about 14-year-old Clare and her elderly aunts is indeed set in my old neighborhood, in a house that backs up to my beloved University Parks. Clare is an appealing character, thoughtful and sensitive, and she cycles and walks around so many streets and places I’ve been. There are some strange dream sequences involving New Guinea, but mostly I loved watching Clare live in my Oxford.
And Both Were Young, Madeleine L’Engle
I found a sweet (if battered and slightly foxed) edition of this book on our trip to Vermont a few weeks ago, and enjoyed the story of Philippa “Flip” Hunter, gradually coming out of her shell at a Swiss boarding school. L’Engle specializes in these gawky, sensitive, intelligent protagonists who discover their deep inner reserves of strength with the help of true friends. from Meg Murry to Vicky Austin to L’Engle herself. And I love them.
The Writing Life, Annie Dillard
I admire Dillard’s work, and I appreciate her no-nonsense, often ironic approach to the craft of writing. But this book, like her others, is sometimes opaque to me. There are some gems, but between them she wanders into long, irrelevant anecdotes (particularly toward the end). Not my favorite book on writing, but worthwhile.
A Bitter Truth, Charles Todd
This third Bess Crawford mystery captivated my attention as utterly as the first two. Bess is again drawn into a web of family secrets and a murder case she wasn’t looking for. But she navigates the situation with her usual combination of nursing skill, intelligence and blunt honesty, with a dose of daring (e.g. driving to Dover in the middle of the night). I like Bess, though I wonder when she’ll come to appreciate that best friend who’s always getting her out of scrapes.
Miss Clare Remembers, Miss Read
This is the life story of Miss Read’s dear friend, Miss Clare (link is to a two-in-one edition that includes this book). She sees so much change during her long life – two world wars, which help bring about many changes in the education system and the landscape of her small village world. She also suffers great loss, but she faces everything with calm and cheer. I love Miss Clare and so enjoyed learning all about her life.
Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier
This is the first in a YA fantasy trilogy, set in London. Gwyneth comes from a time-traveling family but doesn’t believe she has inherited the gene. No one else does either, till she starts inadvertently leaping back and forth in time. She learns a lot about a secret circle of alchemists and time-travelers, codes and symbols, and a handsome, time-traveling boy – but clearly the story has just begun. These novels are written in German, so I have to wait a while for the second one to be published in English! Good fun.
The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R., Carole DeSanti
A whirlwind, lushly detailed story of Napoleon’s Paris – decadence and poverty living side by side. DeSanti’s prose is rich (occasionally purple) and her cast of characters quite colorful (many of them are artists, prostitutes or revolutionaries). The historical details and atmosphere are fascinating, but the plot stumbled toward the end, and the conclusion felt a bit unsatisfying. Still, a vivid portrait of a Paris we don’t often see.
Part 3 to come tomorrow – I’ve been reading even more than usual lately (and many of the books are short). What are you reading these days?