Book Review: Misty of Chincoteague & My Thoughts on Re-reading Books

I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve re-read in my life. Up until this year, there was only one: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ll be honest…I never saw the point of re-reading a book (please don’t judge me!). With a never-ending and constantly growing TBR list, it seemed like a waste to go back to what I’d already been through once. This year, though, that changed. Let me explain why.

MY THOUGHTS ON RE-READING BOOKS

My resolution to rent more books from the library than I buy this year has had benefits beyond the obvious one I imagined when I made that goal (financial savings). It has encouraged me to…

  • diversify – not every book I want to read at the moment I finish a book will be available, so I’ve discovered some other great books that weren’t at the top of my list or even on it simply because they were available when I needed a new book.
  • slow down – in years past, my reading resolution has always been “read more books than last year.” More seemed better, but it added some pressure and took away some pleasure. This year’s resolution re-oriented my thoughts toward reading and it has been so refreshing to slow down and savor books.
  • and also, as of late, re-read old favorites – this ties into the above two points. Not every book I want to read is available when I want to read it, AND I’m not as concerned about plowing through new books all the time. After a lull in library books, I discovered the Harry Potter series was free through Amazon Prime, and the rest is history. I rediscovered my love of the series and found a whole new appreciation for re-reading old favorites.

I’ve re-read a few of the Harry Potter books in between library books now, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself this year. The sense of comfort and magic from when I first experienced that series has only been amplified by the nostalgia I now experience when I read them too. Having picked up our entire lives and moved to a brand new city this summer, being able to read something that feels like “home” for my imagination was so enriching for me. Not to mention, you notice so many more things in a book your second (or third, or fourth…) time through, especially when you read it during a totally different phase of life.

The Harry Potter books helped me change my stance on re-reading old books, and that’s a big reason why Misty of Chincoteague was back on my reading list this summer.

BOOK REVIEW: MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE

Misty of Chincoteague is the first book I can remember renting from my elementary school library that wasn’t a simple picture book. I was OBSESSED with horses as a kid (ask my parents, who had the genius idea to sign me up for horseback riding lessons for a year to show me how much work they actually were…also, one year for Halloween I dressed as a horse – not a cowgirl, a horse). This book has always stood out to me as one of the gateways to my love for reading. Misty was magical, and when I picked up that book, I could almost pretend I owned a horse too. The thought of wild horses living on an island seemed like heaven to my 8-year-old mind.

This book tells the story of Misty and her mom, Phantom, two of the many wild horses on Assateague Island who are rounded up in the annual pony penning to be swum over to neighboring island, Chincoteague. Paul and Maureen are two kids who live with their grandparents and work to raise money to buy the horses and then get up early every day for a year to tame them. The plot follows Paul and Maureen as they set their hearts on Phantom and Misty, gentle them, race them, and…well, I won’t give away the ending 🙂 It is a wholesome, simple, but enchanting story with a few pictures thrown in for good measure.

Reading this for the second time was a ton of fun for me, in large part because…WE’RE GOING TO CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND SOON! (Were all caps necessary? You betcha.) Chincoteague Island, which seemed like a fairy tale to me as a kid, is a real place. And it’s in Virginia, and we’re in Virginia now, and Nathan’s vacation week is coming up. Need I say more? We booked our trip there for later this month after I explained to Nathan my fascination with it from when I was a kid. We’ll stay in a hotel near the one Marguerite Henry stayed at while writing the book, and we’ll get to see the wild horses who still live on Assateague. From what I’ve been told by locals, it is a really nice getaway for a trip regardless of whether or not you’re a Misty of Chincoteague fan – less touristy than VA Beach or OBX, which are also close by and we were originally considering for our trip. You can count on some blog posts about it once we’re back! Now I just need to convince Nathan to read Misty of Chincoteague before we go 🙂

Rating: 3/5 stars
Stats: 177 pages
Recommended for: Children who can focus for more than a picture book but still enjoy simple stories, and adults who are still children at heart.
Up next: Whatever comes up at the library next, or perhaps the third Harry Potter while I wait…

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the first of Neil Gaiman’s books that I’ve read, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last. I don’t think I would’ve picked it up on my own (it’s not typically my favorite genre), but the book club I joined chose it for their July book, and I’m so glad it nudged me in this direction. This was also the first book I checked out from our library here once we got our cards, too. Resolution still going strong 😉 It made it feel official!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of a grown man returning to his childhood home and visiting his neighbor’s house, where he remembers an extraordinary friend, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother from when he was a little boy. Almost as if by magic, when he steps across the threshold of their property, memories come flooding back to him that he had otherwise forgotten.  The rest of the book tells what happened when the boy was seven years old and something was afoot at the ocean at the end of the lane.

This was a relatively quick read (it took me ~2 days) and because of that, it makes for a great summer book. I think if you had an afternoon at the pool, you could finish this in one sitting. The story pulls you into another world that is somehow connected to this world, and days later, I’m still looking at everything around me in a new way. There are some lessons to be learned from this book, and it was a great one for a group discussion about some of the underlying themes/messages. I also like hearing how different people interpreted different parts of this story.

This incredibly imaginative story is completely new while somehow seeming to have existed in society’s collective conscious for all of time, like a familiar fairy tale I’m just now reading for the first time. Definitely check it out if you have the chance. I’ll be on the lookout for some of Gaiman’s other works – there are plenty to choose from and I’m glad I’m no longer a stranger to at least one of them!

Rating: 3/5 stars
Stats: 180 pages
Recommended for: Middle schoolers and up; anyone with a penchant for a magic twist to seemingly ordinary surroundings.
Up next: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Book Review: The Half-life of Happiness

The Half-life of Happiness was a fun book for me to read this summer because it takes place in Charlottesville! I always enjoy getting “lost” in books that take me to new places but it’s also a treat to be “found” in books that happen in familiar places (I have a penchant for English settings for this very reason – takes me back to my study abroad days!). It was fun to recognize more and more of Charlottesville throughout the book as we become better acquainted with our new city.

With that said, on the surface, this plot is not lighthearted. It tells the story of attorney Mike and filmmaker Joss, a married couple at the mid-life crisis of their marriage who are soon sent reeling from major personal revelations. Their two daughters, Edith and Nora, are often caught in the crossfire, and as the story is told, readers hear from grown-up Edith about her hindsight perspective on this time in their lives.

As I said, *on the surface* this plot is not lighthearted, but the banter and situational comedies involving different characters throughout make this book feel lighthearted many times. The dialogue is quick and witty, with many highbrow allusions strewn for good measure. As any good small-town story should include, the cast is lovably imperfect and quirky in each of their own rights. Main characters Mike and Joss face their struggles, seemingly shoot themselves in the foot (feet?), and try to rally over and over again for family. I found them endearing and relatable, even when I know I could never fully grasp the magnitude of their circumstances without having experienced it myself.

In the end, I felt more fully human, more perfectly OK being fully human, and also better able to see the beauty in others’ humanity through all of life’s stages. The best book is one that can give you a glimpse into a mile (or a lifetime) in someone else’s shoes, and this book did just that. This story is a great reminder that no one is perfect, especially ourselves but even early life idols like our parents, and it explores what happens as you grow up and try to reconcile that.

I experienced Charlottesville in a new way from reading this book, and I can’t help but think as I walk down the mall, “I wonder if Joss was here before…” Certainly makes you wonder where the inspiration comes from when you read a book that takes place locally and is written by a local author. Of course it’s fiction, but you know what they say…”real life is stranger than fiction.” 🙂

Rating: 4/5 stars
Stats: 528 pages
Recommended for: A summer read you can sink your teeth into, this book has plenty of family drama and marital troubles, yet with an overarching plot to keep you invested in the big-picture story. I kept turning the pages many late nights while also feeling completely comfortable taking my time (I love books that just let you enjoy them without rushing you along!). Perfect for a week-long getaway to a cabin in the woods…or, perhaps, to Charlottesville 😉
Up next: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I recently joined a book club here and this is the first book on the docket. I rented it from the local library (resolution still going strong!) and will report back on both the book and the club’s discussion in my next review.

Book Review: Song of the Shank

Song of the Shank by Jeffrey Renard Allen tells the story of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a musical genius who performed as Blind Tom throughout the 19th century. As an African American, Tom’s life is anything but simple despite the Emancipation (which we learn isn’t all it’s cracked up to be at first glance). The cast of characters throughout the whole book weave a complex story about the racial injustices and hardships of the time that even artists like Tom are not immune to and perhaps are even more vulnerable to because of his talent.

The novel spans several years and places, from Georgia to New York and beyond. We learn about Tom’s mother, the Bethune family who owned them as slaves, and Tom’s various performances. The writing was dense and it often took me twice as long to read a page (and understand it) than normal. If you take the time to grasp Allen’s writing though, you will be rewarded. There are overarching messages in this book that are particularly poignant today as we continue to explore and uncover race-based issues that are deeply rooted in our country’s history.

As a fan of historical fiction, I would recommend this book for history buffs and people ready to sink their teeth into a substantial novel. While this book was quite a departure from some of my historical fiction favorites (those focused on early-20th century figures), I am still glad I read it and took the time to understand more about a different time in our country’s past – one that still holds many lessons for us today.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Stats: 608 pages
Recommended for: Those interested in the Civil War era and aspects of that history we don’t normally have much insight into.
Up next: The Love Artist by Jane Alison

Book Review: Spartina

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to make a living as a fisherman? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to build your own boat? Or man a ship – by yourself – in a storm? Or catch lobsters and crabs and – sometimes – cocaine-filled quahogs? Spartina by John D. Casey is your first row look at all of it!

Spartina tells the story of Dick Pierce, a commercial fisherman in Rhode Island, and the other people who live there. Dick has spent his entire adult life on the sea on other people’s boats. Now, with a wife and two nearly grown sons, he is anxious to finish building his own boat, the Spartina-May.

There is a whole cast of characters that make completion of this boat and earning a living while he’s doing it more complicated. The Narragansett Bay has a Gatsby feel as the rich begin to move in, building condominiums on formerly empty land that Dick has grown up with his whole life. As he watches the local area transform, he runs out of money for building his boat and gets tangled in a tricky web himself.

This book tells the account of life as a fisherman, and I found myself Googling many of the terms Casey uses to refer to parts of the boat, different sea animals, and other expressions. The way he’s written this book sweeps you up in the culture and livelihood of the whole area, and even though it’s one I’ve never even visited before, I could picture it clearly in my mind. I found myself wondering if Casey had lived in Rhode Island while he wrote this book or grew up there himself because it seemed so authentic. I’m not the only one who’s impressed, by the way – this book won the 1989 National Book Award.

Even though it’s primarily an adventure story, there’s a little romance to go along with it. Take this quote for example:

“She was better than him. It wasn’t alarming to hear this news, it was deeply, thickly soothing. She was lightened of a dangerous disabling weight. She wasn’t him. She’d become separate from him, and yet she was staying with him.”

Of course, that’s Dick talking about the Spartina-May, but when your life depends on your boat, you can understand why he falls in love 🙂

Stats: 385 pages
Rating: 
4/5 stars
Recommended for: Anyone up for an adventure and a peek inside Rhode Island/fisherman life. I think this would be a great epic summer read that will sweep you up and make you think. (It’s definitely not a ‘beach’ read in terms of levity, but still a fun one to get into.)
Up next: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (It’s summertime so you know what that means…my book selections will be bent toward the classics for the next few months. Kicking things off by finally getting to a childhood favorite!)