1. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
My classic for July. I guess I get in the mood for Thomas Hardy in the summer. I liked The Mayor of Casterbridge more than Far from the Madding Crowd, though. The main character, Bathsheba Everdeen was not my favorite girl. First she is proposed to by shepherd, Gabriel Oak. She turns him down, but runs after him to tell him she doesn't have a lot of boyfriends, she's just saying no to him. Um, thanks for clarifying that? Bathsheba inherits a large farm and becomes its mistress as a young single woman. She takes charge and is willing to work, which you'd think would be endearing, but she still came across as bratty in the book. Anyway.
The next man to propose to her is William Boldwood, a prominent farmer in town. Why would he be interested in Bathsheba? He's never been interested in anyone before. Well, he ignored Bathsheba, see, and she decided it would be "funny" to send him an anonymous valentine that said "Marry Me" on it. Hilarious! Except that Boldwood didn't take it as a joke and he becomes obsessed with Bathsheba and wants her to be his wife and has a dress maker make up some fancy dresses for her, not the kind she'd be able to work in. So yeah, Bathsheba made a huge mistake with the valentine. Lesson learned?
No. She then leads on a playboy soldier, Sergeant Troy. Troy was left at the alter by accident, but he moves on to take liberties, LIBERTIES, with Miss Everdeen. He's so handsome! So charming! So daring! Oh, also he drinks and gambles and tells lies and he got his old fiance pregnant. Nevermind, Bathsheba marries this loser out of the three men who proposed to her.
I didn't mention that Gabriel Oak loses everything and ends up working for Bathsheba. He's the obvious choice for her from day one. In the book Gabriel looks like a fool to keep carrying a torch for such a spoiled, fickle girl as Bathsheba. This might be the only time I've enjoyed the movie much more than the book. Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba and she does an excellent job making me like her even when she's doing it wrong. And where has Matthias Schoenaerts been all this time? He plays Gabriel Oak. I think maybe the Audible reader for this one made Gabriel sound old and a little stupid, but Schoenaerts is neither of those things. Sigh. The movie is terribly romantic and beautiful. So, skip the book!
2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Normally I steer clear of this genre - Young Adult Fantasy. There are so many people who loved this book on Amazon and Goodreads, I thought I'd give it a chance. I really didn't like it. Really. Gaiman was supposedly channeling mythology with his goddess characters, but I couldn't get into it.
The book starts with a man visiting his childhood home in Sussex, England. He thinks he remembers a crazy experience he had there, but the memory is hazy and so odd that it can't have been real. The rest of the book is a flashback to the few days when he was seven years old and fighting a demon that came from another world because she hid in his foot as a worm. He pulls the worm out with tweezers and the next day the demon appears in his house as a beautiful woman and proceeds to ruin all the lives.
The demon enchants the poor boy's father and sister to the point where the father tries to drown the kid in a tub for saying he doesn't like her. Why even put that in there? What am I supposed to feel reading that? Why do people like this book?
After the demon is taken care of (super convoluted, in my opinion), we come back to the present and the now-grown man with his memories. One of the goddesses is still there, she hasn't aged. By the time the man leaves, he's forgotten the story again. Whatever.
3. Locomotive by Brian Floca
This is my new favorite children's book ever. Now I want to get every book Brian Floca has done. The illustrations are insane and the story (about the transcontinental railroad) is interesting for any age group. I bought this after we went to the Golden Spike National Monument. I read it to Emil and Colin and they were riveted. It's a long book, but they listened to every word and wanted to point out all the things they recognized on the trains.
Locomotive follows a mother and two children on their journey from Omaha, Nebraska to San Francisco, California in the 1870s. We see how the trains operate, where the passengers sat and how they slept, where they got their food. It was a pleasure to read it out loud to the boys and it was a pleasure to read it to myself. Gold! Go get it.