Thursday, April 1, 2021

March 2021 in Books

Hi all!  Somewhat of a mixed back this month.  I got a ton of library holds in, so I don't have that perfect balance of adult/kids books this month.  Favorites this month were The Witch's Heart, Hamnet, and The Kitchen Front.  Here's the full rundown:

Before the Ever After - Jacqueline Woodson - juvenile fiction - five stars - Ellie and I both read and loved this one.  As with Woodson's other kids books this is written in prose.  It's about ZJ whose dad is an NFL player who retires after too many concussions.  It's told from ZJ's point of view and he talks about how his dad was before, and then after, as well as all the appointments trying to figure out what the problemis and how to treat it.  Woodson does such a good job dealing with kids' issues and giving voice to their concerns and fears.  A great read.

Transcendent Kingdom - Yaa Gyasi - fiction - three stars - I was really disappointed by this one.  I had so enjoyed Gyasi's previous book Homegoing, and this one really didn't measure up.  It's about Gifty, a first generation Ghanian who grew up in Alabama. She's now studying neuroscience at Stanford, and her mom has come to live with her because she's experienced a mental breakdown.  This isn't the first time it's happened, and as she deals with her mom and her present life, the story flashes back to her childhood and the different traumas the occurred then, describing how her relationship with her mother came about and how they ended up this way.  I enjoyed the backstory/flashbacks, but I really didn't enjoy the present day portion of the story, there was a lot of internal soul searching, thinking about religion, science, etc., that part was just kind of boring train of thought.  Just meh for me.  

The Stationery Shop - Marjan Kamali - historical fiction - four stars - The love story or Roya and Bahman, whose relationship centers around Mr. Fakhiri's stationary shop in Tehran in 1953.  This is a period of great unrest in Iran with numerous political factions working to seize control.  In the wake of the coup which ousted the democraticaly elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh, their relationship/engagement is broken.  Because of the continuing unrest, Roya and her sister are sent to the U.S. to go to school, and end up staying.  Years later, she and Bahman reconnect and the full story of the events of 1953 come to light.  I enjoyed this one, it was a great way to learn more about this period of time in Iran.

The Witch's Heart - Genevieve Gornichec - fiction - five stars - This was a great book.  It reminded me a lot of Circe in that it's a retelling of mythology, in this case Norse mythology.  It's the story of Angrboda.  She is hiding out in Ironwood after some negative encounters with Odin and Thor.  There she is befriended by Loki, who becomes her husband.  They have three children:  Fenrir, Jormungand, and Hel who are integral to Ragnarok, and the death/fall of Odin and the rest of the gods.  I really enjoyed this one.  While Angrboda and her children are seen as villains in many retellings, this gives them a voice, shows how they came to be who/what they are.  Excellent book.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House - Cherie Jones - fiction - four stars - This one was only OK.  If there were half stars, I would have given it a 3 1/2, but I rounded up to four.  Lala, and abused wife who is pregnant goes looking for her husband Adan, who is 'working' late when she begins to feel pain.  She finds him at a home that he is burglarizing, a burglary which has gone horribly wrong in that he shoots and kills the husband in the home.  Meanwhile, Adan and Lala head to the hospital where she has the baby.  When they are able to go home, Adan is in and out of the house as he tries to stay under the radar.  The narrative hops from Lala to Tone, a former boyfriend of Lala's and friend of Adan's, to Mira, the wife of the man who was killed, to Wilma, Lala's grandmother.  As the story progresses you learn about the backstory of each of the characters.  It really speaks to the difficult lives of those in Barbados, the stratification of society there, the generational violence against women.  In some ways this reminded me of Daughters of Erietown.  Where this fell down for me was that I just didn't like any of the characters.  Those who weren't unlikeable were frustrating.  Also not a huge fan of how the story ended.  Just okay.

Hollywood Park - Mikel Jollett - memoir - four stars - Mikel was born at Synanon, a cult in California.  This is a fascinating look at his family's escape from that life and how they recovered/moved on.  His life is greatly shaped by his mother, who has depression and a narcissitic personality which prevents her from giving Mikel or his brother the guidance and love they need.  It is really all about her.  Watching his life unfold with this dysfunctional parent is painful.  That first part of the book is the most interesting to me.  The latter part of the book focusing on his going to school, finding himself, etc. didn't have the impact for me as the first part.  I would have been OK with it ending after he left for college.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue - Fiona Davis - historical fiction - three stars - About the Lyons family that lives at the New York Public Library because the father is the library superintendent.  I had heard about these family apartments that were built into the public libraries in New York before, and was excited to read about this.  The wife, Laura Lyons aspires to be a reporter, and has been accepted to the Columbia Journalism School.  This is 1913, so while she has been accepted, she and the other female enrollees receive very different assignments from the professor.  While the male students head off to City Hall to interview politicians and write on policy, the female students are sent to places like restaurants or hotels, to report on things like the decision to not use butter.  Laura takes these assignments and works on the fringes of them to tackle policy and societal issues.  Fast forward to present day when Laura's granddaughter is working as a researcher at the New York Public Library.  She is dealing with the theft of library materials and her investigation leads her back to her grandparent's time at the library.  I loved the premise of this book, but was really disappointed.  I really liked the part about living at the library and how Laura tackled her work and became a great investigative reporter.  I was less enthusiastic about the theft storyline.  It just felt weak to me.  

Harvey Holds His Own - Colleen Nelson - juvenile fiction - five stars - This the sequel to the book Carina and I read last month and both loved.  A lot of times I am disappointed by sequels, but this one is just as good as the first.  It's a year later and Maggie needs to fulfill some volunteer hours for her school.  She decides to work at Brayside, and of course brings Harvey with her.  I thought that the dynamic/friendship between Maggie and Austin was really well done, there were hurt/sensitive feelings between the two and they were able to become allies.  As in the last book, there's a special resident featured.  This time it is Mrs. Fradette who takes Maggie under her wing.  I loved reading Mrs. Fradette's story, and I thought the author did a great job of handling how friends change over time, interests change, etc.  Highly recommend.

Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrell - historical fiction - five stars - Loved this book.  It's a fictionalized account of Hamnet, Shakespeare's son who died of the plague.  The story focuses on his family, how he met his wife Agnes, their courtship and early family life, and how he came to live in London while they remained in Stratford.  Much of the book focuses on Agnes, who in the story has a gift that allows her to see the future and the heart of a person when she holds their hand.  She is also a healer.  The story of their love and friendship is interleaved with the story of Hamnet and how he falls ill and dies.  It then traces the affect of his death on the family, how they move on, and how the play Hamlet comes into being.  A must read.

The Kitchen Front - Jennifer Ryan - historical fiction - five stars - This was another fantastic read that I loved.  It's about four women whose lives are somewhat intertwined and become more so when they take part in a cooking competition during WWII.  The winner of the competition will become a presenter on the Kitchen Front radio program, which shares recipes and tricks for housewives dealing with rationing. The competitors must create delicious dishes that make creative and economical use of those items available during the war.   While during the competition, the women are at odds with one another, each of them has a great backstory, and you are rooting for all of them to win.  Although the ending might be too perfect for some, I was happy with how things turned out.  Another must read.

A Particular Kind of Black Man - Tope Folarin - fiction - four stars - I feel like the theme of a great beginning to a book and then a muffed ending was kind of a theme this month.  That's holds true for this book.  It's the story of Tunde Akinola, a first generation Nigerian.  In many ways this felt like Transcendent Kingdom.  His. mother has mental issues and abandons the family, going home to Nigeria (much as Gifty's father abandoned her family in Transcendent Kingdom).  His father ekes out a living for them, but he never seems content with his life and is constantly changing jobs and moving the family around.  The story about his upbringing was really interesting, until you got to the last third or so where you learned that the story might not all be true and he experienced different versions of reality.  The story then talks about his time in college which was generally kind of annoying, and then his quest to reunite with his mother.  Again, first part great, second part weird/confusing/frustrating.  This was another where I rounded up to four.

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City (Charlie Thorne #2) - Stuart Gibbs - juvenile fiction - five stars - Our family is a big fan of all Stuart Gibbs' books, and we've been looking forward to this second book in the Charlie Thorne series.  There was a great deal of debate of who would get to read this first.  In this installment, Charlie is. hiding out in the Galapagos when she is pulled into a mystery involving Darwin and his discovery of the greatest treasure known to man. Unfortunately there are a lot of people looking for Charlie as well as the treasure, including Russians, and the CIA, in particular her half-brother Dante.  We love the character of Charlie and how smart and resourceful she is.  Loved it.

Scat - Carl Hiaasen - juvenile fiction - four stars - Another of Hiaasen's books, this one was quite enjoyable.  It's the story of Nick and his friend Marta whose science teacher has disappeared while on a class field trip to a swamp.  Nick and Marta believe she's in danger and seta bout proving it.  This gets them pulled into an effort to stop an illegal scheme to drill in the swamp.  As always Hiaasen creates likable, funny characters and focuses on dangers to the environment and wildlife.  Worth the read.

Mexican Gothic - Silvia Moreno-Garcia - fiction - three stars - So honestly, I knew this one was highly rated and involved a mystery about a girl's (Noemi) cousin (Catalina) who has sent a weird and desperate letter seeking help.  Maybe I didn't read about it enough, but it was not at all what I expected, and this combination of genres, not even sure what you would call it sci-fi, thriller, suspense, is not really my thing.  Noemi is dispatched to determine Catalina's state and to provide help.  When she gets there, and there is a very remote home where the people basically never leave, she tries to figure out what is going on, but she also begins to suffer from some of the same issues her cousin is experiencing.  This had a slow start and once you figured out what was going on, it was just weird.  Honestly my reaction to this is the same as if you found out that the cousin's in-laws were a family of vampires or living dead.  Just not my thing.

Golden Gate (City Spies, #2) - James Ponti - juvenile fiction - five stars - This is another book that all three of us read.  We loved the first book in this series and were really excited to read this next one which focuses on Sydney as well as the City Spies efforts to track down a mole nicknamed Magpie at MI6 as well as Mother's missing children.  The characters are all so likable and it's a fun and fast moving story.  I also love how the team really does work together as a team.  Definitely read this series.  The good news is that there will be at least three more books in the series as Ponti has stated that there will be a book focusing on each of the kids.

Unplugged - Gordon Korman - juvenile fiction - five stars - Yet another book that both girls read.  I wasn't sure I would have time for this one, but both of them really loved it, so I figured I should read it too.  Korman is becoming another favorite author of ours.  He creates some really fun quirky characters.  This book tells the story of Jett Baranov who father is a super billionaire founder of a company called Fuego that is like a mix of Apple and Amazon.  Jett is your typical spoiled rich kid who gets into trouble at every turn.  His father decides he needs to change things and has Jett, and his minder Matt, enrolled in am wellness camp called the Oasis in the middle of Alabama.  This is not where Jett wants to be, all his electronics are confiscated (hence the title of the book), it's a vegetarian camp, there is in his opinion nothing to do there.  Jett rebels and continues to get into trouble, but then starts to make friends when they adopt a pet lizard (pets are not allowed at the Oasis) and they have to find meat to feed it (the lizard is a carnivore).  In the midst of all this Jett manages to solve a mystery and so something for the Oasis itself.  Very fun read.

Right now I'm reading another juvenile fiction book called Red Stars, next up is Fast Girls and The Four Winds.  Would love to hear what you have been reading!

1 comment:

  1. I love that Gordon Korman is still writing! I was obsessed with his books when I was a kid (always got his books from Scholastic) and was also obsessed with the fact that he got his first book published when he was about 15 years old. So cool. :)