Thursday, May 23, 2024

Spring Reads

 Sitting in the hospital with Mom for hours at a time gives me the opportunity to finally post book reviews for the past couple of months. II can probably trace my headspace by the books I’m reading and how long it takes me to read them. I’ve been escaping in books a lot the past couple of months as caregiving difficulties escalate. Psychological thrillers are strangely comforting. Analyze that if you wish.

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry. Story of
two sisters evacuated from London in 1940 during the Blitz. Tragedy happens in the countryside, and the little sister vanishes. The novel alternatives between the older sister, 20 years later, and the events as they happen in 1940. This was a pretty good story, although the plot was rather contrived and unbelievable, and the characters lacked depth.

Circe by Madeline Miller. Best known for her role as a captivating, swine-turning witch in Odysseus’ journey, Circe gets a whole book to herself here. This is her story, from birth to her endless life, exiled to a lonely island. It is a beautifully written, intricately- detailed, captivating story. If you love Greek mythology and The Odyssey, you’ll love it. If that’s not your thing, you may not love this quite as much—I think you’ll still love it. You don’t have to know all the ins and outs of gods and goddesses to appreciate the writing, mystery, adventure, and sheer drama of this novel.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. This was an emotionally tough read but so worth it. August returns to Brooklyn for her father’s funeral as an adult and runs into one of her best childhood friends. She remembers then what it was like to be a young Black girl in Brooklyn in the 1970s—how she and her girlfriends played as children and then grew into teenagers together, navigating family dilemmas, keeping dangerous secrets, and trying to keep their heads above water in a world full of loss, danger, and bits of joy. Beautiful writing of a snapshot of life in a particular time and place.
Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward. 4 stars. Beautifully written and so heavy and sad. This is the story of three generations in one family: JoJo, the 13-year-old boy who tries to hold the family together; Leonie, his often absent mother who wants to be a good parent but is tormented by drug addiction; and Pop, the grandfather who tries to save his grandchildren, knowing he’s lost their mother, his daughter. Parchman, the state penitentiary, looms as another dark character with stories to tell that wind throughout the family. Highly recommended—when you are in a good place for a heavy but redemptive book.
Where We Belong by Emily Giffin. I need more books like this in my life. It was a sweet story about a daughter who finds her birth mother and each of their own stories. Some complexity but mostly just an easy, satisfying, feel-good read.
Something in the Water, The Perfect Mother, The Lies You Wrote, and Lights Out: Four thrillers I read while traveling on airplanes or waiting in airports to fly on those airplanes! None were particularly memorable but all were fast reads and a good way to pass that hours. Of the three, The Perfect Mother was the best.

***I listen to audiobooks while I walk, and I take a lot of walks, or at least I did pre-hospital. Here are the audiobooks:
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: I read this last year and it was my Book of the Year. I needed to re-read it for book club this year, so I chose the audio version. It was just as good the second time around. I tell everyone this, but watch Dopesick for another level of understanding about the novel! Anyway, the audio version was excellent except the reader’s “accent” was extremely distracting for me personally. He definitely did not sound like he was from Lee County, VA. Anyway, that has nothing to do with Kingsolver’s outstanding novel and probably doesn't bother a lot of people but I'm weird about accents.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Fantastic historical fiction about the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, early abolitionists and supporters of women’s rights from Charleston, who left behind Charleston society and their slaveholding family to fight for equal rights. Kidd’s author’s note at the end is also fascinating, as she relates how the book came to be and the sources she consulted.
The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. Reader Dominic Hoffman made this book come alive for me! This is a winding epic about the community of Chicken Hill, a neighborhood where Jewish immigrants and African Americans lived and worked together—outside the white establishment. It’s a beautiful novel, and although I got lost sometimes and ultimately forgot that the whole book was telling the story of a mysterious skeleton, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Finding Dorothy: 5 stars. LOVED this historical fiction novel based on the story of Maud Baum, wife of l. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I loved hearing all the bits and pieces of their life together that ended up in the book, from Maud’s fear of scarecrows as a little girl to a fake emerald ring that inspired the Emerald City.
My Side of the River by Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez. This is Gutierrez’s memoir of growing up, caught between two worlds, as the U.S.-born daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents are determined that their children will be educated in the States, but when their tourist visas expire and the family must go back to Mexico, they all have to make difficult decisions. I loved hearing this is the author’s own voice, and I think this is a valuable look into the trauma of family separation resulting from broken immigration laws.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley. What a delightful book! The author read this sweet and funny story of Patrick, or GUP (gay uncle Patrick), former TV star, brother to Greg, best friend to Sarah, and uncle to their children, Maisie and Grant. When Sarah passes away, Greg begs Patrick to take the kids for the summer. Patrick reluctantly agrees, and the summer is full of the three of them learning about each other, the world, themselves—and how to grieve.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

February Reads

 February reading/listening was mostly mediocre with a couple of standouts.

1) You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith. A gorgeous memoir by the amazing poet. The title comes from the last line of her most well known poem, "Good Bones."

Anyway, this is her memoir of her unexpected, crushing divorce—the before, during, and after—told in snapshots in her lyrical voice. I loved it.
2) What Happened to Ruthie Ramirez? by Claire Jimenez. (audio) Thirteen-year-old Ruthie disappeared without a trace after school one day, and a decade later, her sisters think they see her on a reality TV show. I loved listening to this story of this family’s loss and trauma, told through multiple voices of the Ramirez women: mother Dolores and her three daughters: Jessica, Nina, and Ruthie. This book is raw, sometimes funny, and both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Author Jiménez reads the audio version of this, and she was incredible.
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng was a re-read for me. This time I listened to it, and it was just as good the second time around. If you haven't read it, well, please do! It's a dystopian novel but it sure gets uncomfortably close to reality sometimes.
The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan and Westering Women by Sandra Dallas were both good historical fiction. Sullivan tells the amazing true story of a Ukrainian family in World War II who escaped the Soviets. Westering Women traces a group of 40 single women who ventured on the Overland Trail from Chicago to California in the 1850s in search of husbands amongst the gold miners. (*domestic abuse and SA warnings*)
Everything else was a solid 3 out of 5 stars, which is my "pretty good but not really memorable" rating, except for Pineapple Street, which I wasted about 10 hours of my life listening to, and yet I kept listening because I truly believed that *something* would happen. In the end, the entire book was actually just an excruciating look into the lives of the extremely wealthy and privileged.


Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Pineapple Street

Pineapple StreetPineapple Street by Jenny Jackson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the most inane books I’ve ever encountered. I kept waiting for something to happen, wondering if anything was ever going to happen or if the entire book is just an excruciating look into the lives of the extremely wealthy and privileged. I listened to the entire book… and wow. It actually was just an excruciating look into the lives of the extremely wealthy and privileged. It’s an entire novel with zero plot. It’s not even a character-driven novel, as the characters were boring, whiny, and completely unrelatable unless, perhaps, you belong to the world’s wealthiest 1%.

I have this two stars rather than one because Jackson is a good writer. She has great dialogue and description… but this whole pointless novel felt like a chance for her to relate every witty conversation and anecdote she’s ever heard at the country club. If you move in her circles, you might get a kick out the stories, but for the rest of us peasants, it's just silliness.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez?

What Happened to Ruthy RamirezWhat Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jiménez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic debut novel (audio version)—I did not want to do anything except listen to the story of this family’s loss and trauma, told through multiple voices of the Ramirez women: mother Dolores and her three daughters: Jessica, Nina, and Ruthy. Thirteen-year-old Ruthy disappeared without a trace after school one day, and a decade later, her sisters think they see her on a reality TV show. The chapters alternate between the women as they filter through their memories of Ruthy, the losses the family suffered, and their individual stories. This book is raw, sometimes funny, and both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Author Jiménez reads the audio version of this, and she was incredible.

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Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Dead Romantics

The Dead RomanticsThe Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unapologetically sweet and sappy love story. I didn’t know this was a romance novel when I started (duh—the title might have alerted me), but I don’t regret reading it. I needed something corny, charming, and predictable in a good way.

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Friday, February 9, 2024

When No One Is Watching

When No One Is WatchingWhen No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This thriller has definite Get Out vibes. Sydney Green’s Brooklyn neighborhood is “revitalizing” at an alarming rate—and Black neighbors are disappearing one by one, their homes’ new "owners" all white. Something’s going on, and Sydney’s determined to figure it out—with her only ally, a new white neighbor, Theo. Can she trust him or his part of the problem? As is common with thrillers, the ending was rushed and the last dramatic scene a little too dramatic, but overall I I enjoyed the audio version of this novel. Definitely thought provoking.

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Monday, February 5, 2024

Westering Women

Westering WomenWestering Women by Sandra Dallas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Sandra Dallas for years. Her historical fiction novels are fairly light, with good character development and facts smoothly woven in with the stories. In this one, a group of 40 single women venture Overland Trail from Chicago to California in the 1850s in search of husbands — and/or new lives— amongst the gold miners. Sounds weird, I know, but I enjoyed this glimpse into a unique westward journey. *domestic abuse and SA warnings* The reader was great on this audio version.

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