Wednesday, January 1, 2020

December 2019 in Books

Happy New Year!  I've got my final book recap for 2019 to share today.  It's a bit of a smaller list this month as we had a lot going on with some work around the house (some doors put in in the sunroom, and new siding on the outside of the house) and Christmas in general, but some really good books this month as well as a couple real duds.  It's actually really hard to pick a favorite this month as most of the non-duds were all really excellent.  Here's what I read:

Nothing More Dangerous - Allen Eskens - fiction - five stars - I am a huge Eskens fan.  His books are all tangentially related, but aren't part of an overlying story arc.  This book is the story of Boady Sanden, who later becomes the professor of Joe Talbert in Eskens's first novel The Life We Bury.  Boady is in high school and struggling, his whole goal is to save enough money so he can leave town.  Then a new family moves in next door which changes his life, giving both him and his mother friends that they desperately need, while changing the dynamic of the small town.  Throw in the mysterious disappearance of Lida Poe, who worked at the local factory and might have embezzled money from the company, and you get a trademark Eskens book.  Just as good as the rest of his books, if you've never read any of these you need to.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive - Stephanie Land - memoir - five stars - This was a very readable and eye-opening book about a woman's struggle to provide for herself and her daughter.  Land comes from a family that also struggled to stay afloat, and seemed to have been on track to break out of that cycle and go to college when she became pregnant.  She decided to keep the child, but with little support from the abusive father, left with basically no resources.  From a shelter where she escaped to, she had to learn the system, figuring out how to obtain services and also find jobs and housing.  It was an education on how one has to function in order to get, and keep, government assistance.  Land's story is one of perseverance, hard work, and some luck.  It gives you an understanding of how very little margin there is for those who are on the margin, how just a couple unexpected bills can put you in a tailspin that will require years to recover from.  A must read.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light
 - Petina Gappah - historical fiction - two stars - This one was a slog for me.  I thought it would be really interesting, and was very disappointed.  It's about David Livingstone, kind of.  Livingstone was a Scottish explorer/missionary who was obsessed with finding the source of the Nile.  He traveled extensively in Africa searching for it and trying to convert those he came into contact with.  By all accounts he was not great at either of those things.  This book tells the story of his African companions who, after his death, carried his body and papers back to the coast so they could be sent back to England.  It's told from the perspective of two in the party and is really just so meandering.  You don't come away particularly caring for any of the characters in the books.  There were some interesting parts, but they just didn't outweigh the good.  Skip it.

Ellie and the Harpmaker - Hazel Prior - fiction - two stars - I thought his would be a fun, quick, light palette cleanser.  It was a quick read, but it was a throwaway book.  I didn't find any of the characters likable.  Ellie, the main character is just such a doormat and the whole premise of the book the scenarios, etc. were ridiculous.  There was a 'happy ending', but even that seemed contrived and forced.  Not a fan. 

The Dutch House - Ann Patchett - fiction - five stars - This one was so good!  Danny and Maeve grow up in an amazing house that defines their childhood.  Their mother leaves when Danny is just a child, so Maeve ends up doing much of his raising.  Their father eventually remarries a woman named Andrea who brings with her two small girls.  This blended family never quite clicks, and when Danny and Maeve's father suddenly dies, they find themselves banned from the home, and with nothing as the home and his father's very successful business were both put in Andrea and her father's names.  As Danny and Maeve grow, get jobs and families, the house remains this almost mythical element in their lives drawing them back over and over.  I loved this story, how the characters were developed, and how she tied the story up in the end.  So good.

The Giver of Stars
 - Jojo Moyes - historical fiction - five stars - I really loved this one.  It's the story of a group of women who form a branch of the Packhorse Library in Kentucky.  The Packhorse Library was an effort championed by Eleanor Roosevelt to bring books/reading to rural areas.  When the library is pitched to the citizens of Baileyville, they are not particularly interested and enthusiastic, but a few brave women sign up to be part of the library.  It's a wonderful story about the library itself, but even more about the women who volunteered to be part of it, and the friendships they developed as a result, especially during a time when society was very much male dominated.  Loved this one!

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation - Stuart Gibbs - juvenile fiction - five stars - Ellie and I are big Stuart Gibbs fans, so we were excited to see him coming out with a new series.  Charlie Thorne is a twelve year old genius who is currently coasting through college.  The CIA recruits her to help them locate a secret equation that Einstein developed which they have been searching for since his death.  They're not quite sure what this equation is for, except that it could mean either the salvation or destruction of the world.  Fast paced and clever, I really enjoyed the characters of Charlie and her half brother Dante (who is the one who recommended her to the CIA).  If you're a Gibbs fan you'll definitely enjoy this, and it's a good introduction to Gibbs for those who aren't.  We're excited that the second book in the series will be out this year!

I'm currently reading The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls as well as a biography on Wallis Simpson (which is something I've been kind of slogging through on the side for several weeks).  Next up are This Tender Land and The Confession Club both of which I am very excited to read.  Would love to hear what you guys have been reading!


  1. thank you for posting this. I look forward to it every month. I'm reading the latest John Grishom novel The Guardians, about a small group who fight to get innocent people out of prison. It's fiction. I'm up to page 100 and could edit out 50 of those pages. I think the story may pick up soon at least I hope so! Have a great 2020

  2. Thanks for your monthly book posts as well as the crafty goodness. I just finished some good reads: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter, Dominicana by Angie Cruz, Heaven My Home by Attica Locke (read her first excellent book of this series Bluebird, Bluebird too) and Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.