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.

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