Monday, July 4, 2022

Books Read in June


June was a spectacular reading month. All of these books were good, but Invisible Child, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Wholehearted Faith were books I absolutely lived in. They were troubling, enlightening, left me trembling sometimes, and always made me think and offered new perspectives. The other three were just good reads.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliot. Journalist and author Elliot followed Dasani and her family for 8 years, from the time Dasani was 11 years old until she became the first person in her entire family to graduate from high school. Dasani is the oldest of 8 children in a close-knit but poverty-stricken family. From her earliest years, her parents told the kids to always stay together; unfortunately, the broken system doesn’t work that way. Throughout the eight years, they go from shelter to shelter and into and out of foster care, while parents Chanel and Supreme, who battle drug addiction and despair, fight to maintain/regain custody. Dasani is accepted into a boarding school for low-income kids, and she then faces being torn between two worlds. This is such a heartbreaking story. Much like Evicted, it’s a story of inequality, poverty, and racism in America. Highly recommended.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. This is an astonishing novel in its breadth and depth. It's a story across multiple generations of a family that includes enslaved people, free Blacks, white enslavers, all part of Ailey Pearl Garfield's ancestral line. Woven throughout are snippets from W.E.B du Bois's reflections on Black American live in the South, including several from "The Lives of Black Folk." This is not an easy read. It unflinchingly explores class, race, sexual assault, addiction, ancestry, and education in a very big way, and I was mesmerized at every moment. I can hardly believe this is Jeffers' debut novel. Highly recommended.
Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu. I love Rachel Held Evans and every single word she ever wrote. We've been reading through and discussing this is a book club for several months, and at the end, we all wept, knowing that these were her last words before she died tragically in 2019. I finished this book feeling hopeful, seen, and reassured. Here's a great review at the Washington Post.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I'm late coming to this one; it seems to have been on everyone's list last year. I love this kind of story—a bit “It’s a Wonderful Life” and a bit “The Road Not Taken.” The question is one we all ask ourselves at some point: what if I’d made a different decision, even a small one? How would my life had changed? Great for book club discussion.
Mary Jane by Jessica Blau. I love a good coming-of-age story, and I could really relate to the 14-year-old girl in this one. It’s 1975, and Mary Jane’s summer job is as a nanny to a little girl whose parents are much different than her own conservative, country-club ones. Joining them for the summer are a famous rock star, who is being treated for addiction, and his wife, a movie star. Needless to say, it’s an eye-opening summer for Mary Jane. I loved Mary Jane’s discovery that she is a whole person separate from her parents, that there is magic and freedom in finding out how other people see her.
The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth. A fun, fast read. Hepworth is great for when you need something in-between hefty books.

I love months like this when every book is fantastic! Those first three, though... phew! Those will definitely be on my Top 10 list for 2022.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Books Read in May


Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney. 

This was a fun psychological thriller. Lots of secrets and some fun plot twists with plenty of eye-rolling moments. Not a masterpiece but a good in-between read.


The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore. 

Subtitled "One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear," this is the nonfiction story of a mother of six in the mid-1800s whose husband, a Presbyterian minister, decided she had way too many opinions. And so, because he could, he committed her to the asylum. After all, she had the audacity to challenge his religious and political beliefs; thus, she was clearly insane. The author uses the letters and journals of Elizabeth Packard in telling her incredible story of fighting not only for her freedom, but for justice for women incarcerated by their husbands across the U.S. This was an amazing story, both frustrating and inspiring, and the short afterword reminds us that “difficult” women continue to be silenced.  Highly recommended!




The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams. 

This will definitely be a contender for my favorite book of the year. A series of people in a community find a list: “In case you need this” with a series of book titles. The titles draw them to the library, where they all interact at some point, and as they read, they find healing and connection. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to curate my own reading list and stuff it in mailboxes, slide it into library books, and pin in on bulletin boards. 


What would be on my reading list? What would be on yours? Great fodder for a book club discussion!

Friday, May 6, 2022

Books Read in March and April

 March Reads

Beach Read by Emily Henry: I think this might be classified as a romance novel and I don’t even care! I loved it. It was so sappy and sweet and sad and happy, and it was exactly what I needed. ON top of that, I have to say the writing was excellent. The characters will wonderfully rich, and the dialogue was amazing. I’m not sure why I don’t read this genre ALL THE TIME because it just made me happy and hopeful.

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth: Loved this family drama about a neighborhood where everything looks perfect but most certainly is not. Each family has its secrets and suspicions, and things intensify when Isabelle, a single woman, moves into this neighborhood of families. 

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: This is a familiar story in the mode of The Odyssey and Huck Finn: a boy and his friends, all outcasts, journey down the river in a canoe. It’s the Great Depression, and they are all orphans on the run from an abusive orphanage for Native American children. (I did find it problematic that the hero of the story has to be one of only two white children in the orphanage, but anyway.) The first half of the novel was engaging and well told; however, the second half leaned more and more toward too many coincidences, narrow escapes, and, well, too much going on. I think the author was trying to fit everything in and wrap everything up perfectly, and it just got out of hand. So, it was a pretty good read but nowhere near the caliber of Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, which was one of my favorites.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. Hannah doesn’t even know Owen is missing yet when she gets a note scribbled on notebook paper that says simply “Protect her.” The obvious “her” is Bailey, Owen’s 16-year-old daughter. When a US Marshal and then the FBI show up looking for Owen, Hannah and Bailey realize they have to find out for themselves why Owen has disappeared. The novel swings back and forth from “before” times to the present, as Hannah and Bailey uncover Owen’s real past and figure out how they can best survive the future. This mystery was fast paced with plot twists revealed at just the right moments. I definitely recommend it.

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen. Tabitha, a TV journalist in her early 30s,  discovers that her biological clock is about to run out. If she wants babies, she’d better figure out how to have them fast. She’s suddenly overwhelmed with her future. She’s a Black woman who is up for a major promotion, in a white male-centered business; she’s trying to navigate fertility options as a single woman; she has strong, supportive friends who are also dealing with major life issues; she’s in a confusing relationship with Marc; and she’s trying to figure out who she is and where she comes from.  A lot happened in this book, but also sometimes, there was just a lot of repetition. The dialogue was fantastic, but sometimes there was just too much of it. Like, it didn’t move the plot forward; it was just regular dialogue like “Do you like cream in your coffee?” I liked the characters OK.  I’d read the next one in this series just to see how things turn out, but I’m not dying to read it.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I was totally not expecting to enjoy this, especially when I read something that compared it to both Willy Wonka and The Matrix. Willy Wonka I adore; The Matrix I do not. But this was a book club book, and I always read our book club books!  I was shocked how much I loved this from the very first page. I mean, I was somehow immediately sucked in, and I wanted to read it every spare moment I had. The story takes place in 2044, mostly in OASIS, a virtual utopia. There’s a contest that’s been going on for 5 years. The creator of OASIS made a quest out of his inheritance. The gamer who finds the treasure wins his billions of dollars. I know basically nothing about gaming, and I think people who are true gamers hate this book. But I loved the author’s explanations, the quest itself, the revealing of the characters toward the end, and the 80s pop culture references. It was a fun twist on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I would probably like The Matrix if I could have understood it as well as I did this.


Beautiful World, Where Are You?  by Sally Rooney. Why do people love this so much? I found it extraordinarily tedious. All the characters were annoying. Simon was the only one I liked, but even he was annoying. Except for one, they were all exceedingly self-focused, whiney, pretentious, and bratty. The one who wasn’t completely self-centered and whiney (Simon) was almost likable, but he he suffered from too much inaction. I wanted to tell all of them to stop thinking about themselves so much and go out and actually DO something. Very unpleasant people. (And speaking of pretentious, I found Rooney’s stylistic choice to not use quotation marks in her dialogue terribly pretentious.) I couldn’t wait to finish this novel, but I was invested enough that I did finish it. II think mostly I kept thinking that surely it must get better! As one reviewer said, “when i was diagnosed with covid i thought that being isolated to my bedroom for two weeks was the most boring thing in the world - Sally Rooney has now proven me wrong.” I think that sums it up.

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena. A fast-paced but predictable thriller.

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash.  Really liked this story about a small town coastal sheriff, a mysterious plane crash, a dead man, and the sheriff's daughter. Wiley Cash is one of my favorite contemporary Southern authors; his writing is lyrical and lovely to read. Highly recommended; it's sad but also hopeful.

The People You Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry: Very cute. It’s just a happy book with snappy dialogue and lots of funny, sweet moments. Definitely another vacation read by the author of Beach Read!

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth. Another engaging mystery by Hepworth. I really like her writing and her explorations. Interesting and well developed characters.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Books Read in February

A Town called Solace by Mary Lawson: Absolutely wonderful novel! I devoured this in a day. I want to live in this town of Solace, where everyone watches out for each other, where healing takes place.  A lovely, uplifting book but with so much realism. Pain of loss, joy of redemption — this one is beautifully told. Highlight recommended.  

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth. I adored this story of twin sisters, told from each of their perspectives in alternating chapters. Their childhood, told in bits and pieces through Rose’s journal, was traumatic, and a single event haunts them both.  Rose seems to feel the weight of responsibility for Fern, who has a sensory processing disorder and lives a perfectly satisfying life as a librarian. Meanwhile, Rose’s life is falling apart —she desperately wants a baby but has fertility issues, and also she and her husband are separated. Fern gets a great idea: she’ll get pregnant and give the baby to Rose. And the story takes off from there. Highly recommended.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. Oh man, was this psychological thriller ever good! I just wanted to sit on the couch and read it all day. Libby inherits a mansion on her 25th birthday, bequeathed to her by her deceased biological parents. Thousands of miles away, Lucy’s phone reminds her that it’s “the baby’s birthday.” Chapter by chapter, Libby uncovers the story behind the mansion and the people who lived there.

Dragonfly by Leila Meacham: I overloaded on WWII fiction a few years ago (some of it badly written) and haven’t read much since, but this was a book club pick and so I had to. No regrets! This was a totally engaging, well-written story of five civilian Americans, all in their early 20s, who were recruited as spies and sent to German-occupied Paris. I loved each of their stories, and their characters were beautifully crafted. I had a hard time putting this one down.

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead. Another thriller, and a mesmerizing one at that, but in the end of gave it 3 out of 5 stars because too much happened. This is the story of a group of college friends who return for their 10-year reunion. Jessica vows to wow them all — and this part really bugged me. She was well liked in her group yet she was determined that she’d show them all how successful she’s become. That just didn’t fit with the rest of it. Anyway, one of their group was murdered during their senior year, and the murderer was never found. So, of course, the reunion serves as a device for hearing all their stories and revealing the murderer. There were just so many holes in this, but also too much going on. Some good scenes, some bad scenes. Meh.

The Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose: Gah. This thriller started well but it just got ridiculous. The dialogue was terrible, the plot predictable, and the characters wooden and annoying. Skip it.