Summer Reads—2017 Edition

It’s always a shock to my system when summer vacation ends and it’s time to head back to school. As a student and a teacher, I know how lucky I am to have summers off, so I’m always grateful for the time. Like so many of you, I read a lot during the summer, and this summer I read a variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction.

I realized in May that I was feeling stifled creatively. I wrote in this post about how I had been feeling disconnected from my writing self. I couldn’t settle my mind to any writing project. I was having trouble separating what I wanted to write from what I thought I should be writing, which led to a lot of creative dissatisfaction. I was drawn to rereading Natalie Goldberg, who always helps me find my writing center when I lose it, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I also reread The Artist’s Way, but instead of reading it cover to cover as I did the first time I’m going through the 12 weeks of lessons. Here are the books I read that helped me to get excited about writing again:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another nonfiction book I read was The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. I had seen the author, Charles Eisenstein, on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and I had a feeling I would enjoy the book. If you’re having trouble accepting the state of the world today, then you might get a lot out of this book, as I did. I love Anne Lamott’s books (see Bird by Bird above)—I love her humor, her insights, and her observations—and Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy was also an important book for me.

 

 

 

 

I read a lot of nonfiction, but the historical fiction I read was outstanding. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is simply great literary historical fiction. It’s a retelling of the story of Achilles from The Iliad, but it adds a twist, and Miller’s prose is simply gorgeous.

Finally, finally I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I wrote about my experience reading that book here. Now I could kick myself for waiting so long to read it. I had said that since I don’t get Starz I wouldn’t be able to watch, but then a few days later I discovered that Starz was having a free preview week so I got to watch Seasons 1 and 2, which were fantastic. I know Season 3 is coming up soon, but I’ll have to wait for the next free preview week to see that one. It’s okay. It will give me time to read more of the books. So far I’ve read Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber. I love what I’ve read in the Outlander books so far. Gabaldon is a great writer, which adds so much depth to the stories.

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been reading about the Salem Witch Trials as I’ve been writing Down Salem Way. The Marilynne K. Roach books are rereads for me since I used them as sources for Her Dear & Loving Husband, but The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey is a new find for me. I’m reading it now and I’m enjoying the way Starkey weaves together the events of the witch hunts into a narrative, so much so that it reads like a novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s how I kept busy this summer. Not one stinker in the bunch, which is a pretty neat trick when you’ve read a lot of books.

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Outlander—Who Knew?

Only millions of fans around the world, that’s who.

Outlander is one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for years—I mean really, years. My interest was renewed since there has been so much hoopla over the Starz series, but since I don’t get Starz I haven’t been able to watch yet. I finally bought an ebook version for my Kindle two summers ago, but still it sat. It was one of those covers I kept looking at, but I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and Outlander was a next time…next time…book for me.

I finally finished reading Outlander two days ago, and now I could kick myself for waiting so long to read it. I already have book number two downloaded onto my Kindle. The funny thing about Outlander is that so many of my Loving Husband Trilogy readers have asked if I’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s books, and a few asked if the Outlander series served as an inspiration for my own James and his beloved Sarah. Obviously, no, Outlander wasn’t an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy since I’ve only just read the first in Gabaldon’s engrossing series.

There’s no need for a detailed synopsis of Outlander here since there are so many around. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, 20th century inhabitant Claire Randall time travels to 18th century Scotland where she meets mighty hunky Jamie Fraser. The two certainly have their fair share of obstacles as they fall in love. Claire is torn as she has to decide between her life (and her husband) from the 20th century and Jamie. Don’t let this short description fool you. It’s a lengthy story with plenty of plot twists.

Having read the book, now I can see why readers have asked if Outlander was an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy. I can see why both series would appeal to the same readers. Both are stories about a love that spans centuries. Both feature a James (yes, in the Loving Husband Trilogy Sarah calls him Jamie). My James’ last name is Wentworth, the prison in Outlander—a silly point but one I thought I’d make anyway. Both are historical fiction, though the Loving Husband books go back and forth between present day Salem, Massachusetts and their historical periods—the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, and the Japanese-American internments, respectively. Outlander is an actual time travel novel, as in Claire travels from the 20th century back to the 18th century. Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t really a time travel novel, although Sarah certainly experiences time travel-like elements. Fans know what I mean. There’s the psychic reading in both stories–Claire has her tea leaves read, which gives her some glimpse of her future, and Sarah has her palm read by Olivia Phillips, everyone’s favorite motherly witch, which gives Sarah a glimpse of her future. Claire suffers at the hands of those who will brand her a witch, as does Sarah, or should I say Elizabeth. There certainly are differences. My James is more an intellectual than a warrior, though he has his moments, and if he’s not exactly human, well, no one’s perfect. I do think my James would look pretty damn good in a kilt, but I digress… If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that I had read Outlander before writing Her Dear & Loving Husband.

I remember when I was a kid and I would get totally lost in the many books I read. I lived on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I sat on that farm alongside Wilbur and Charlotte. The older I’ve grown, the more difficult it has become to become totally lost in a book in that way. Outlander is the first book in years where I felt as though I was totally escaping my real world while reading. Simply as an historical novel it’s worth five stars for the way it sweeps you into 18th century Scotland. Gabaldon weaves Claire and Jamie’s story through twists and turns like a master writer. If you love historical fiction, you will love Outlander, and, I’m sure, the subsequent books. If you love a good love story thrown in, all the better.

Book One in the Outlander series down, seven more to go!

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My Summer Reading List

There’s always something special about summer reading. Of course I read during the school year, but with everything I have to do for my teaching and coursework there isn’t as much time to read for pleasure as I’d like.

Normally, I read a lot of fiction, mainly historical fiction (surprised, right?), but this summer I was bitten by the Hamilton: An American Musical bug like so many of you. Not only have I listened to the soundtrack more times than I can count (I’m pretty sure at this point I could perform all the roles in the show), but more than loving the rhythmic music and the eloquent lyrics, listening to Hamilton reminds me of the days when I taught U.S. History. I remember glossing over Alexander Hamilton in the American Revolution lessons saying, “Oh yeah, that’s the guy who was shot and killed by Aaron Burr” and not thinking much more of him than that. Man, was I wrong about Hamilton. He was one interesting dude. My interest in Hamilton the musical reignited my interest in early American history, so most of my reading this summer has been biography driven.

Here’s my reading list this summer so far:

Alexander HamiltonIn keeping with my American Revolution theme, I’ve read the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow as well as Chernow’s biography Washington: A Life. Here’s the interesting thing: George Washington, the first president, the father of his country, was not the most endearing person in the world, at least not to me. He was a great man, Washington, and the fact that we even have a United States is due in large part to Washington’s leadership. Still, Alexander Hamilton, even with his fiery temperament (or because of his fiery temperament) is the more interesting man. But I’m still glad I read the Washington biography. Chernow made me rethink George Washingtoneverything I thought I knew about George Washington, which is a good thing. Too often we just accept the stories we hear about our leaders without taking the time to read for ourselves and form our own judgments.

Another biography I’ve read this summer is Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. I have to say I’m kind of digging on Benjamin Franklin right now. He wasn’t perfect—no one is—but I have to say he’s my favorite Benjamin Franklinfounding father. If all he ever did was make his discoveries about electricity, that alone would be enough for us to know his name. He was stubborn, determined, gregarious, but most of all he was damn funny, which scores points with me every time.

Never whereI haven’t been reading much fiction this summer, which is unusual for me, but the one novel I have read is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I had read Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane last year and really enjoyed the story’s magical realism, and I’m so glad I tried Neverwhere. You can call Neverwhere a Harry Potter for adults with the invisible underground stations and parallel lives in different dimensions, but that would be too simplistic to explain this quirky dark fairy tale. I already have Gaiman’s American Gods downloaded onto my Kindle.
I’ve also read Goddesses Goddesses Never AgeNever Age by Dr. Christiane Northrup. The book is a positive look at aging as it talks about staying active, being healthy, and not believing that your body has to break down just because you pass a certain birthday. The older I get, the more I appreciate that message.

I still have a few more weeks of summer so I can fit in a few more books!

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