April 2021–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet (Length: 272 pages).   This is a book of essays written by an author (known as “Capi”), who, as a widow with 5 children, spent every summer exploring the coast of British Columbia via the family’s 25-foot boat. This was in the 1920s and 30s, pre-technology, and is utterly fascinating, and very well-written. Capi’s stories are so interesting and detailed, full of the sea journeys, wildlife (both shore and oceanic). I love her essays about the various Indian villages as well as the harrowing storms and sea passages the family enountered. This isn’t widely available (it was gifted to me by my friend who grew up in BC) but it’s worth a read if you are ever lucky enough to come upon a copy.

Book #2:

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (Length: 305 pages). This is a delightful “crime” novel set in Mumbai, featuring a newly-retired police inspector who continues to investigate a murder that occurred on the last days of his job. Concurrently he comes into the possession of a baby elephant, and the elephant ends up assisting him with his investigation in very cute ways. The characters in the novel are very likeable (I love his wife!) and the murder mystery is simple, but fun to follow. I’m always a fan of novels set in India, and there is a wonderful sense of place here, which is a bonus. This is the first of at least five books in the series, and I will absolutely be reading more.

Book #3

Think Again by Adam Grant (Length: 319 pages).  This book came onto my radar thanks to Instagram (if you don’t follow @SharonSaysSo, you’re missing out!), and I’m glad I read it. This reads like a Malcolm Gladwell book, with lots of relevant anecdotes to illustrate the author’s arguments. His main argument here is that we should all rethink our assumptions, as doing so will force us to consider any gaps in our knowledge. This book is full of practical tips, which I love. For example, when debating someone about a firmly-held idea, instead of focusing on WHY they believe in something, focus on HOW such an idea would work in practice. This forces both sides to figure out what is missing in their assumptions. Also, in a heated argument or negotiation that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, ask “What evidence would change your mind?” If the answer is “Nothing”, there is no point in continuing. (This also has the added benefit of underscoring that evidence may not be the basis for that person’s convictions). While I’m not sure I’ll remember much of this book six months from now, I did get a lot out of reading it, and would absolutely recommend it.

Book #4:

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (Length: 465 pages).  Who knew I was a fan of mermaid horror? I LOVED this book, and literally couldn’t put it down once I hit the 20% point. This is not the best writing, technically speaking, and the character development isn’t very detailed, but the sense of place AND the plot are where this fun novel really sing. There are fantastic science-based details throughout which lend a sense of legitimacy (real or not) to the idea that there are killer mermaids residing in the Mariana Trench in the middle of the ocean. I really enjoyed the novel once the characters arrived onto the luxury research/cruise ship and were anchored above the trench . . . this is when the novel grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. The horror here is more of the gore/suspense type, and not the type that will give you nightmares (unless you happen to be in that area of the ocean of course!). I hope this is a movie someday. If you love the ocean and/or marine life, and if you love being entertained, read this book!

March 2021–Part Three

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Evidence of the Affair by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Length: 86 pages).   I am a Taylor Jenkins Reid fan, so when this free Prime book popped up on my Kindle, I was excited to check it out. I didn’t realize it was a short story, but it’s absolutely still worth the read. This is an epistolary novel (in the form of letters) written between a man and a woman who discover their spouses are having an affair with each other. This is set in 1977-78, so the letters are all via snail mail (with some Xerox copies of letters sent as evidence). I do enjoy Reid’s writing and her writing style, so I enjoyed this quite a bit. I loved the reference to Daisy Jones’ music (a made-up musician featured in Reid’s novel Daisy Jones and the Six). The plot (what there is of it) is predictably thin, but I was impressed by the character development Reid was able to achieve in a short 86 page span. Worth a library or (free) Kindle read.

Book #2:

The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman (Length: 305 pages). The blurb on the back of this book (which I picked up at our library’s used book sale) states this novel showcases “smooth writing and unabashed sentimentality” which I agree with. This is a cheesy story about three generations of women who live/are visiting a lakeside cabin in Michigan. The writing is decent, and the character development is sufficient to make the reader care about the characters enough to keep reading. The charm bracelet artifice is a bit clunky (with each chapter centered around the significance of each charm given by the grandmother) but overall, this works. I will say that this book (and author) are surprisingly (to me) quite beloved, given the reviews of this novel on Amazon. I also didn’t realize this is the first novel in a trilogy (the Heirloom Novels), so if you’re in the mood for a cheesy, sweet novel (and aren’t we all, once in a while?) this may be a good one for you to check out.

Book #3

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Length: 416 pages).  I ADORE this book! So much that I pressed it into a very good friend’s hand with the proviso that if she doesn’t love it as much as I do, that I will question our friendship. This is a book about books, first and foremost, so how can that be a bad thing? This is a contemporary Gothic novel set in England, and is very much BOTH character and plot driven (my favorite) and centers around generations of a single family (also my favorite). The protagonist/narrator is a young woman who grew up in a bookstore, and is requested to write the biography of England’s most famous (and most prolific) author, Vida Winters. Margaret subsequently learns about Vida’s family, including her twin sister, and the deadly fire that destroyed their familial home. The central mystery here is very well-constructed, with lots of twists and turns. I LOVE this book! (There apparently was a movie made in 2013 and broadcast by the BBC).

Book #4:

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight (Length: 398 pages).  Again, I’m very particular about thrillers, particularly legal thrillers, given my professional background. This one is a very good (and accurate) thriller set in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Most of the drama revolves around families of students at a ritzy Country Day School, with all of their attendant dramas. The plot is excellent, with lots of twists and turns. A reader who is reading carefully and closely should figure out the central mystery pretty easily, but I’d suggest just going along for the ride and enjoy being surprised. I would absolutely recommend this book! Now that vacations and travel are starting to happen again, this would be an excellent beach/travel book.

March 2021–Part Two

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Length: 401 pages).   This is a really enjoyable read. It’s the first in a series (with 3 total released so far), and is set in India, in 1917 through 1921. This is a fictionalized account of the first female lawyer in Bombay, and the focus of the novel is about the lawyer (Perveen Mistry) settling the estate of three widows, with a subsequent murder. This is a bit slow to begin, but the writing is very strong and the author weaves various threads together very skillfully. The central mystery is well-constructed, and I really enjoyed seeing how Perveen evolves into a female detective of sorts. I will say that I think a print version of this novel would be easier to read as the glossary of the various Indian terms used is at the very end of the Kindle version and is not very accessible while reading. I do plan to keep reading in the series as I’m now invested in Perveen’s evolution as a lawyer/detective.

Book #2:

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (Length: 349 pages). I am a HUGE Backman fan, and this latest novel just affirmed my love for him and his style of writing. I adore how Backman assembles a seemingly disparate group of characters, with them all coming together in the end in a truly magical way. (I just imagine Backman planning his novels with an enormous whiteboard, mapping out all of these relationships). This novel is about a group of “hostages” after a bank robbery gone wrong. I will warn you that you will HATE most of these characters in the first few chapters of this book, but this is on purpose because by the end your opinions will be turned on their heads and you’ll be enjoying their interactions and their development as characters. I found this novel to be laugh out loud funny in places, the writing quality is fantastic and you will be recommending this to everyone you know (as I am doing here).

Book #3:

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier (Length: 297 pages).  This book has been on my TBR for ages, and I can’t remember who recommended this one. It wasn’t my favorite read this month, but I am glad I stuck with it. It’s a very well-written historical fiction novel based (loosely) on Johnny Appleseed (or John Chapman) and William Lobb (a plant/tree seeker) in the early 19th century. The book is divided into five sections, and the first section is a bit difficult to read (emotionally) so I almost DNF. (I actually jumped over to read the reviews on Amazon to see if I should even bother continuing, and I’m glad I did). The first section covers a mother and father (Sadie and James Goodenough) who settle in the Black Swamp in Ohio in the 1830s and 40s with their 10 children. It’s a hard, difficult life, and ultimately 5 of their children die, which isn’t helped by Sadie being a raging alcoholic with a weird crush on Johnny Appleseed and James being obsessed (to the detriment of his entire family) with planting apple trees. Where the book redeemed itself, in my opinion, is in the subsequent sections which follow the son, Robert, who ends up working with Lobb amongst the giant redwoods and Sequoias in California during the Gold Rush. Those sections were fascinating, and I’m glad I stuck with it.

Book #4:

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard (Length: 261 pages).  I am VERY picky about thrillers (perhaps as a former criminal prosecutor?) and find many of them to be unbelievable or too easy to solve. This novel here is amazing! The premise is a 12 year old girl in Ireland hears her entire family murdered by a serial killer while she is locked in a hallway bathroom, and the killer is never apprehended. Years later as an adult she decides to write a book about her experience (as well as the other victims of the killer) with the singular aim of drawing him out. The alternating chapters are written from the perspective of the killer, so you as a reader know who he is the entire novel. This is a fictionalized account but it’s so well done that I actually Googled it TWICE in disbelief that this wasn’t an actual memoir. Apparently the author was inspired to write this book after reading Michele McNamara’s stellar I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (which I reviewed here previously) and I absolutely can see similarities here. This is SUCH a good read–perfect for the beach!

March 2021–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper (Length: 513 pages).   I bought into the hype (which I am now not remembering where I first heard about this pick), and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this book. This is a first person account of a layperson’s investigation of the unsolved murder of a Harvard doctoral student of archaeology in 1969. This book is exhaustive in scope . . . essentially summarizing ten years of her investigation into this murder which is comprised of dozens of interviews of everyone the victim, Jane Britton, ever knew or worked with, and thousands of hours of detailed research. There are multiple potential suspects so the book is quite lengthy. I will say this felt like quite a slog through the minutiae that ends up not even being relevant (ie, this book could have used a lot of editing), but the actual writing is very solid. The murderer is revealed at the end of the book, so there’s that. But if you’d like to save yourself the trouble of the journey to that end, just Google it. I wish I would have.

Book #2:

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (Length: 359 pages). This book is just as delightful as the first in the series (which I reviewed last month). I will say, however, that I wish the protagonist (Polly) stood up for herself a bit more, but the plot is light and fun (the biggest source of drama is that Polly quits the bakery once it’s taken over by new owner’s asshole son, and has to find a new way to make a living). The puffin, Neil, still plays a bit part, and I love those scenes. This series is sure to put a smile on your face, with its skillful writing, well-rounded characters, and funny dialogue.

Book #3:

Lessons From the Light by George Anderson and Andrew Barone (Length: 332 pages).  After reading one of this author’s more recent books (reviewed in February 2021), I was excited to pick this one up, to learn more about what the departed souls have to say about the afterlife. If you have an open mind, you will get a lot out of this book as well! I was fascinated the entire time I read this book, as well as heartened to learn that all we need to do on this Earth to ensure a peaceful afterlife is to live our lives with kindness and love. (And rescue and love animals–the souls treasure animals because they are so pure and have only unconditional love). I tabbed several thoughts/ideas in the book (which I will keep as part of my personal library), some of which include: There is no “hell” or eternal life of punishment in the afterlife, according to these souls, but instead there are different “levels” of enlightenment, and those souls who caused pain in others on the earth begin to understand their actions from the point of view of the people whose pain they caused. . . . These lower levels . . . are farther from the Light. The souls who place themselves at these levels understand completely that they must go down a long road of understanding and forgiveness in order to progress closer to the Light, and they do so willingly.” Also, “A person who has been taught prejudices and narrow religious or political beliefs from childhood and could not recognize that they were not acting in the better interest of others will also experience the impact of their deeds from the perspective of the person they tormented or oppressed.” This book is really fascinating, and absolutely worth a read!

Book #4:

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Length: 383 pages).  I’ve had this on my bookshelf for a while and I finally picked it up. I adore the cover, and have enjoyed looking at it. When I finally started it, I was not very impressed as it seemed to be disjointed in terms of various characters with minimal overlap, and the action was slow (after the initial shooting which is mentioned on the first page). However, I kept at it, and WOW was I glad that I did. All of the disparate characters and subplots finally begin to wind together around the half way mark, and it’s magical. I did enjoy the writing style (but it’s not for everyone) as it’s so lyrical that it’s almost poetic, and has a touch of stream of consciousness, with one sentence taking up half a page. This writer is obviously incredibly talented (and a National Book Award winner), and if the subject matter doesn’t scare you away too much (a bit of violence/drug use as it’s set in the projects in South Brooklyn in 1979, you will likely be SO happy you gave this book a chance. It’s amazing!

February 2021–Part Three

Thank you for joining me here!   I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi (Length: 291 pages).   What a fun book to read! The construct is that an old anthology of mystery stories is being re-published, so an assistant with the publishing house meets with the author to review each mystery so she can write the foreword and figure out marketing. As they review each mystery, you the reader read them along with the author and the assistant, and you also learn the various mathematical possibilities for the solution to each mystery (based on author’s theories). If you’ve read any mysteries at all, you’ll recognize many of the tropes, which is a lot of fun, but the narrative arc between the assistant and the author is interesting as well. This is worth a read!

Book #2:

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (Length: 465 pages). I adored this book! I learned of this series via the Well-Read podcast (which is EXCELLENT!). This novel is delightful which I didn’t expect from a “romance”. The characters are all well-developed and likeable, and the dialogue is laugh-out-loud clever and funny. The setting is adorable–a small island in Cornwall called Mount Polbearne, connected to the mainland via a causeway. The protagonist, Polly, ends up opening up a very small bread bakery and you follow along for the ride. The best part about this little novel, however, are the various characters Polly interacts with (including a puffin!). This is absolutely worth the read if you’re in the mood for a fun, sweet escape!

Book #3:

The Push by Ashley Audrain (Length: 317 pages).  This meets the hype! I read this book has been described as the motherhood version of Gone Girl. I can see that (due to the unreliable narrator)–I also see that it’s similar to Defending Jacob and We Need to Talk About Kevin. I found this to be well-written and the plot is very well constructed as well as propulsive (you’ll need a long stretch of uninterrupted time to read this one). The narrative format is interesting here–it’s in the form of a letter written to the narrator’s ex-husband, filled with observations about their possibly sociopathic daughter. All of my good friends are reading it right now, which is perfect as I absolutely want to discuss it with them. (I’m also making them all watch “Behind Her Eyes” on Netflix so we can all discuss.) This one is absolutely worth a read!

Book #4:

After Her by Joyce Maynard (Length: 491 pages).  I’ve had this on my bookshelf for a few years and picked it up on a whim, not expecting much. But wow, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a slow start but builds to a first crescendo that is interesting, and then years later ends with another. The narrative centers around a homicide detective in Marin County in the late 1970s, with two young daughters, who is tracking a serial killer in the mountains behind their suburban home. The novel is written from the POV of the elder of his two daughters, Rachel, who is eleven when we first meet her. The character development is excellent here, while the plot drags a bit in the middle of the book. While the serial killer aspect is exciting, I really enjoyed the relationship between the two sisters, as well as Rachel’s navigation into teenagerdom. I really enjoyed this book, and will be thinking of it for quite a while, which is a great sign of a worthy read.

Book #5:

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Length: 306 pages).  I’ve had this chef memoir on my TBR list for years so when it popped up as a Kindle deal I snapped it up, and I’m so glad I did. I love reading about food, and what it takes to open (and operate) a successful restaurant, and this memoir absolutely covers those topics. (Hamilton is the owner of the uber-successful Prune restaurant in NYC). However, thanks to the author’s MFA in writing, her actual writing is phenomenal here. Writing is her true love, but being a chef pays the bills. The author covers her interesting, eclectic childhood, raised by her French mom and set-builder artist dad, her personal life (a lesbian, she marries an Italian heterosexual man) and of course her career as a chef in a very male-dominated profession. There are three main sections of the book (one for each of the words in the title) but the memoir is not chronological, per se. My favorite parts are when she writes about their summer vacations in Italy, where her husband grew up. This is one to put on your list if you’re into chef memoirs as I am.