What I Read in April

Apr 30, 2018

Technically, April isn't quite over, but it's close enough that I know I'm not going to finish any more books before midnight tonight. So here's what I read this month:

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I decided I wanted to read this book to my kids (even though Aaron had already read it himself) since the movie was coming out. But then, everything I've heard about the movie has been incredibly lame, so we have not rushed out to see it, but I'm still glad we read the book.

I know I read this book when I was a child, but I only remembered two things from it: Charles Wallace fixing his mom and Meg a midnight snack and all of the children bouncing their balls in synchronization with each other. Now that I've read it again, I can't believe I had no recollection of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, or Mrs. Which; or zapping through time and space; or Charles Wallace being hypnotized and turning into a shell; or a living brain pulsing on a pedestal. It's funny what the mind latches onto and remembers.

This book might have been a little too scary for Max and Bradley. I don't think it gave either of them nightmares, but at one point, Max shrieked at me to stop reading, and that's usually a pretty good indication that it has crossed the line into the "too intense" category. But we asked Aaron to spoil the ending for us, and then he allowed me to continue.

I know this book won a Newbery, helped establish a genre, and is beloved by many, but it just isn't my favorite. I have nothing against the book itself; I just can't ever seem to fully invest in science fiction.

Even though we haven't seen the movie yet, my hold for the graphic novel adaptation came in literally the day after we finished this book, and my boys devoured it one, two, three, as soon as I brought it home. I didn't get a chance to read it before it had to go back to the library, but they said it stayed pretty true to the original.

2. Brideshead Revisited: the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh
April was classics month for my book club, and this was the selected read. It had actually been on my to-read list for awhile, so I was grateful for the incentive to finally read it.

And I needed it. The knowledge that I would have someone to discuss it with when I was done was maybe the only thing that helped me get through the first couple of hours of listening. It was rough: it begins with Charles Ryder in the army in World War II. When he finds out his division is going to be staying at a large manor called Brideshead, his mind flashes back to twenty years before when he spent a great deal of time there with the Marchmain family. But first, you have to get through his first year at Oxford, during which part I spent the whole time wondering what was real and what was only perceived because they were all too drunk to see straight.

It picked up, or at least became more interesting to me, after he started spending more time with the whole Marchmain family, and not just Sebastian. But I can't say I ever liked the story. Each character was complex and incredibly flawed, and I had more sympathy for some (Julia) than for others (Charles). It reminded me a lot of Rules of Civility, probably because of the time period (the two novels are about fifteen years apart, but still felt similar) but also because all of the characters make such stupid choices. However, I adored the writing in Rules of Civility, and I found it a little tedious and at times cryptic in Brideshead Revisited.

But I think the main reason for my distaste is that I despised, absolutely despised, Charles Ryder. And it's hard to like a book when you dislike the main character so much. I know most people at my book club didn't agree with me, but I found his selfishness to be quite sickening.

Speaking of book club though, if I had read this book on my own, I probably would have hated it. Chances are, I might have even abandoned it partway through. But getting the chance to discuss it with other readers who felt just as baffled and confused as I did at times (what was the deal with Sebastian's teddy bear anyway?) made all the painful moments worth it. In fact, the discussion was so good that I would be quick to recommend this as an excellent choice for others looking for good book club material (although, fair warning, I feel like you'd need a group of fairly serious readers to tackle this one).

Mature content: infidelity (off-stage) and lots of drinking

3. Pie by Sarah Weeks
I checked out this book from the library because I thought it would make the perfect readaloud for March since we like to go all out for Pi(e) Day. But then, other books pushed their way ahead, and we didn't get to it. As it turned out, we didn't get to Pie Day either because of the cold, snowy weather in March, which meant that both the book and the party got pushed back to April. Coincidence? I think not.

This book was a happy surprise. We chose it because of its subject matter, and while there are certainly many tantalizing descriptions of pies, we ended up loving it for its story. When Aunt Polly, world-famous pie maker, dies unexpectedly, she leaves her beloved pie shop to Reverend Flowers, her grumpy cat, Lardo, to Alice, and her top secret pie crust recipe to . . . Lardo. That's right. She leaves her recipe to a cat, and a most unlikeable cat at that. Many people are desperate for that recipe, and after Aunt Polly's apartment is found ransacked, Alice knows this is serious and she has to get to the bottom of it.

I feel a little guilty for liking this book so much because last month I talked about a book called Zinnia and the Bees, and one of the main things that bugged me about it was that Zinnia's mother has a complete personality shift at the end. Well, the same thing happened in this book. Alice's mother is selfish and bratty, and then, all of a sudden, she's not. It's ridiculously convenient, and yet, it didn't bother me in this story the way it did with Zinnia. Maybe it was because I was reading it to my kids, and my ability to suspend my disbelief is naturally extended when I'm with them. But really, I think it was just because we were having so much fun with this story, so I was willing to overlook little pet peeves. Plus, I really loved Sarah Weeks' writing style, especially the way she so easily and naturally filled in the back story. You didn't even realize a flashback was happening until it was over.

And of course, this book fulfilled its main purpose, which was to get all of us hyped up and excited for forty-four pies and one hundred and eighty friends and neighbors at our annual pie party.

P.S. Deal alert: the paperback is less than $3 on Amazon right now, so you might want to snag one if it sounds good.

4. And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle
Yes. YES. YESSSSSSS. My search for a clean, well-written, interesting young adult novel was finally rewarded. I would feel comfortable recommending this to any teenager (and plenty of adults as well).

This is one of Madeleine L'Engle's early, early novels. Published in 1949, it takes place right after WWII in a boarding school in the Swiss Alps. The setting is breathtaking (as you might imagine), and there is plenty of skiing to go around (this would be a perfect winter read). Philippa, or Flip as she is usually called, has been enrolled at the boarding school because her mother died and her father is an artist and must travel for work. She . . . does not have the best attitude about it. She feels like she doesn't relate to any of the other girls and consequently spends most of her free time seeking out places to be alone.

One day she is out exploring and comes upon a little chateau nestled among the trees. There is a dog that she immediately recognizes because she'd been pummeled over by him when she and her father had been staying at the beach right before they took the train to Switzerland. But more interesting than the dog is the dog's owner--a boy named Paul who is as nice as he is handsome. Flip starts sneaking out on Sunday afternoons to spend time with Paul, and having a real friend gives Flip the confidence to overcome some of her shyness at school.

There's more, too: a dark, troubling side of Paul, a creepy hobo who wanders the hills, secret ski lessons, and an art teacher who mentors Flip when she needs it most. And even though Flip and Paul spend all that time alone together, they never do more than hold hands. Madeleine L'Engle nailed the innocent, clean romance.

My one issue (observation? complaint?) was that as the story progressed, Paul seemed younger and younger to me. I'm sure this had to do with the fact that as you learn more about his past, he seems more vulnerable because of all that he's been through.

Although the book was published in 1949, it was revised and reissued in 1983. I originally started with the 1983 edition from the library, but when that copy had to go back, I switched to the 1949 edition on my kindle. It sounds like there are differences between the two, but for my part, I couldn't see what those were.

I can't tell you how good it felt to read a young adult novel that I actually enjoyed and would eagerly recommend to others. This book was a major win for me.

P.S. And right now, the kindle edition is only $4.

What books did you read this month? Anything worth recommending? Share in the comments!


  1. I was completely fascinated by A Wrinkle in Time as a kid. I know I read it multiple times, but the only thing I really remember is the cover illustration with a centaur on it. I even re-read the book just a few years ago and I STILL can't remember the storyline well. It's just a book that doesn't stick with me.

    I love Brideshead Revisited, and I think one of the reasons is that I'm fascinated by the way that the characters are tethered, and in some cases trapped by Catholicism. I don't think I fully understand that mindset, which makes me want to keep coming back to the book to better understand the characters and their motivations. I just finished re-reading The Chosen and I feel the same sense of fascination with that book. The cultures of Judaism and Hasidim are foreign to me, so the book feels as if it contains this depth that I need to plumb.

    Actually Brideshead Revisited and The Chosen would be the perfect pairing! Both feature friendships between two young men, both focus primarily on religion and the ways it can influence actions and motivations and the dissonance created when one wants to break from religious influence.

    This month I read Trevor Noah's memoir Born a Crime, which is just as good as everyone says it is. A also read and loved A Thousand Hills to Heaven, which I bookmarked after the WSIRN episode on travel memoirs and writing.

    1. I actually talked about you at my book club because I remembered that it took a second reading for you to really fall in love with Brideshead (is this right or did I make it up?!). I can definitely see how I would get way more out of it with a rereading. I think I'd especially pay more attention to the Catholic thread running through. The problem is, I don't know if I could muster up the motivation required to ever dive into it again.

      And oh my goodness, you are so right...I didn't even think about the similarities between this and The Chosen, but that would be so interesting to compare them side by side!

      And thanks, as always, for the book recs!

  2. I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time as an adult just a few years ago (because some of the students in my class were reading it for their mini book club group I'd helped set up), and I'll admit that it didn't really capture me either (though I probably would have liked it more as a kid). And like Melanie commented, I also can hardly remember anything about the plot!

    I've wanted to read Brideshead Revisited for years, so I'll have to see what I think of it when I'm done! (And maybe I'll try and convince someone to read it with me so we can discuss it!)

    1. Hmmmm, I guess I'm not alone in my poor memory of A Wrinkle in Time! I wonder what it is about the plot that is so forgettable?

      If you end up reading Brideshead Revisited, I think your experience would definitely be enhanced by having someone to discuss it with! Of course, I'd love to hear your opinion! :-)

  3. Huge Wrinkle in Time fan here (does that surprise you?)! But then again, I haven't re-read it in a long time, so no idea if I'd still love it. But I'm super interested in reading other L'Engle books (especially her nonfiction stuff), they just don't seem as widely available. I'll definitely have to look into And Both Were Young!

    1. Until this last year, I only ever associated Madeleine L'Engle with A Wrinkle in Time; now, it's like a whole new world has opened up, and I'm finding all sorts of books that are totally my types. She really was such a prolific author!

  4. It's been many years since I read Brideshead Revisted, it weaves a take tale of sin and grace, as a Catholic, a teen at the time of my reading, I found it an incredibly mesmerising book, I've never forgotten it. And yet like you I normally have to relate to or like the main characters to enjoy a book, there have been few books that I have remembered for so long after, but BR is one.

    1. You know, I think if I were to read it again, I would pay closer attention to the influence of the Catholic Church on each of the characters, and I think it could be quite fascinating. As it was, I got too caught up in my confusion of some of the events and my dislike of some of the characters.

  5. Oh, Brideshead! I read it a couple years ago and my husband just finished it for the second time. He loves it! Me? I told him all through my first reading how awful it was and how I should just put it down. But then, the last 30 pages redeemed it (even though I don't love it!). I think it helps if you are Catholic (which I am). The end, the church being what it should be... shows the real point! I have to re-read it though; I feel like a book club would be so good for this book!

    1. I totally agree with you! I admit though that the ending kind of went over my head until I went to book club...I didn't even realize at first that Charles had converted to Catholicism. I think I would understand so much more if I were to read it again.


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