Showing posts from 2020

Reading Roundup: November 2020

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart I thought I would love this book more than I did, since it's both a mystery and historical fiction (and features two female characters as the protagonists). The plot was well-paced and I was surprised at the end, but the book was still slow-going and a little boring. The ending seemed to set up a sequel, or perhaps the start of a series, with the same characters. If that does happen, I will probably read it, but I won't be waiting anxiously for it to arrive. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center This was a nice little romance for a quiet Saturday afternoon. I don't know much about the world of firefighting and I learned a lot about it, plus I felt like both the leads were realistically drawn and fit together well. My main quibble with the book is that it uses unresolved major trauma as the underlying base for the main character's 'quirks', and that trauma is easily resolved by falling in love with the right pe

Reading Roundup: October 2020

After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America by Jessica Goudeau If you are looking for a book that will change your heart and mind, this is a good one to try. The author intersperses a history of refugee policy in the United States with the personal stories of two refugee families. The families came from very different circumstances, and those as well as the timing of their arrival in the US affected how they were received and how they have been able to adjust to life in a new country. I learned so much about the intricacies of refugee assistance, as well as the enormous difficulties faced by refugees around the world. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade I had high hopes for this book based on the number of positive reviews I had read about it. However, reading it was a bit of a let-down. First of all, I've never really read any fan fiction and don't know much about that world, so I felt like the interspersed fan fiction interludes detracted from my enjoyme

Reading Roundup: September 2020

The Last Flight by Julie Clark This is one of the few thrillers I've read that isn't about murder and gore. It also focuses on two women, both of whom are smart and capable. The suspense in the book comes from watching them figure out how to save themselves, and I spent the whole book not knowing what happened next. If you want an exciting mystery that won't creep you out too much, this is a good one. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond This book will make you both sad and angry--which is what it should do. I was vaguely aware of the problem of affordable, stable housing, but until I read this book I didn't know the great difficulties that some people face when trying to find (and keep) a decent place to live. I also learned a lot about the intersection between stability in housing and poverty, and admit that I am privileged enough to be shocked and the relatively small amounts of money that impact people's ability to successfully m

Reading Roundup: August 2020

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson It's a little weird to read a book about a time of national crisis in which the outcome was very uncertain during another time in which the future is still quite murky. Although I've read a lot about World War II, I haven't read much about Churchill and didn't know a lot about him. I also didn't know a lot about the political intrigues and complicated maneuverings that took place during the early part of the war in Britain. Larson's writing is easy to read and this book ended up being much harder to put down than I had anticipated. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson Although I've heard praise for her writing for years, I'd never gotten around to reading anything by Woodson. This book is fairly short and the writing is spare, but she packs in a lot of meaty content to each chapter and somehow creates a compelling multi-generational saga in only two-hu

Reading Roundup: July 2020

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker I will admit that there were times I found myself judging the women depicted in this book because of their life choices. However, that is exactly why Kolker wrote the book, because crime victims get judged just as much as, and perhaps in some ways even more than, criminals. This book is a good counterpoint to many other crime narratives, both fiction and nonfiction, that want to create neat, linear narratives with obvious 'good' and 'bad' participants. Real life is messy, complicated, and doesn't always offer us the neat solutions we would like. Another major lesson from the book, which resonates with several other books I read earlier this year, is that violent crime affects much more than just the victim, and for much longer than anyone anticipates. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik This book was a bit slow to get started, especially since it includes a number of different characters and storylines. Also, in

Reading Roundup: June 2020

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson I learned a number of new things about the early history of forensics from this book. It was also an interesting way to reflect on the role the media and celebrity play in our culture; although the media we have now adds new complications, many of the issues were already present a century a year ago. Sometimes the writing in this book was a little dry and there were a few repetitive parts, but in general I enjoyed it. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel This is not a book to read quickly. It moves back and forth between characters and time periods throughout the book, sometimes revisiting events multiple times, each with a slightly different focus. I love reading books where all the pieces come together slowly and the author is so obviously skilled. This is quite different from St. John Mandel's previous book ( Station Eleven ), but I loved it just as much.  The Secrets We Kept by Lar

Reading Roundup: May 2020

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar This book alternates between two timelines, and suffers from the fact that one story is much more interesting than the other.  The author tries to make up for that fact by having the protagonist of the contemporary story start investigating events from the older one, but she never firmly establishes why there is a mystery or why it needs investigating. I thought this might have been a better book if it had only focused on one story and told it as more straightforward literary fiction instead of trying to manufacture unnecessary suspense. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall I'm not sure how to feel about this book. On the one hand, Wall is wonderful writer and the first half of the book builds up beautiful portraits of four different people. In some places it reminded me of Wallace Stegner and his attention to relationships. On the other hand, however, the plot wasn't formed around a particularly compelling conflict and last third of the book dragged

Reading Roundup: April 2020

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver This is a big, sprawling book that covers a lot of different characters and two different time periods. In some ways this works and in others it doesn't; some aspects of the book, especially the historical parts, felt underdeveloped. It took a while to really get into it, but by the end of the book I was absorbed in the story and had a hard time letting go of the characters. Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha This book seems like it should have gotten more buzz than it did last year. It's a complicated story about race, violence, and family legacies. The author alternates focus between two families who are intertwined as victims and perpetrators in different ways throughout the book. There aren't easy answers to any of the questions raised by the book, and I thought Cha did an excellent job leaving things realistically open in the end. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter I knew this book was going to be terrible, but I wanted to read