2020 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2019, I read 29 books. In 2020, I read 75:


Row 1: Girls Like Us | We The Animals | Have You Seen Luis Velez | The Strange Museum | In Five Years | The Winkler Case
Row 2: Oona Out of Order | Hercule Poirot's Christmas | Christmas Cake Murder | The Family Upstairs | Penance | The Nickel Boys
Row 3: All Adults Here | Olive, Again | Olive Kitteridge | The Trolley Car Family | A Higher Loyalty | Normal People
Row 4: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children | Jackie | Educated | Happy and You Know It | Lady Susan | Come to the Edge
Row 5: The Traveler's Wife | A Visit from the Good Squad | This is Where I Leave You | All You Can Ever Know | The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry | The Snowy Day
Row 6: Bad Blood | The Black Flamingo | Maybe You Should Talk to Someone | Brunch at Ruby's | Bel Canto | What Belongs to You
Row 7: A Little Life | The Family Gathering | A Dangerous Age | How To Be Good | The Great Believers | White Fragility
Row 8: Valentine | A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You | Days of Distraction | Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage | Days of Awe | A Doubter's Almanac
Row 9: Interpreter of Maladies | A Girl's Guide to Moving On | The Sense of an Ending | Love Lettering | Me | I Owe You One
Row 10: Ask Again, Yes | The Identicals | The Husband's Secret | The Obituary Society | Be Frank With Me | Postcards from a Stranger
Row 11: Everything My Mother Taught Me | The Last Thing She Ever Did | Talking to Strangers | Break in Case of Emergency | Property: Stories Between Two Novellas | The Road Home
Row 12: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | The Bookshop of Yesterdays | The Elegance of the Hedgehog | The Underground Railroad | The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers | After the Funeral
Row 13: My Year of Rest and Relaxation | What Alice Forgot | How Will You Measure Your Life?

Ratings legend:

★★★★★ Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. and/or More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening). Would highly recommend.
★★★★☆ Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would defintely recommend.
★★★☆☆ Average. An entertaining read but probably forgettable. Might or might not recommend.
★★☆☆☆ Finished, but did not like. Would not recommend.
★☆☆☆☆ Abandoned before finishing, usually because it was poorly written or just uninteresting to me.

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—summary
Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry further down on the page, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
Girls Like us Cristina Alger 290 12/22/20 – 12/24/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, thriller
We The Animals Justin Torres 156 12/20/20 – 12/20/20 (1 day) ★★★☆☆ fiction, LGBT, coming of age
Have You Seen Luis Velez Catherine Ryan Hyde 315 12/18/20 – 12/19/20 (2 days) ★★★★★ fiction, young adult, coming of age, Latinx culture
The Strange Museum: 50-Word Stories David Greene 128 12/17/20 – 12/17/20 (1 day) ★★★★☆ fiction, constrained writing
In Five Years Rebecca Serle 266 12/16/20 – 12/17/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, magical realism, romance
The Winkler Case David Greene 280 12/13/20 – 12/15/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, noir, LGBT
Oona Out of Order Margarita Montimore 339 12/11/20 – 12/13/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, magical realism, time travel
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas Agatha Christie 272 12/08/20 – 12/10/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, holiday
Christmas Cake Murder Joanne Fluke 225 12/06/20 – 12/07/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery, holiday
The Family Upstairs Lisa Jewell 340 11/30/20 – 12/03/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, crime, mystery
Penance Edward Daniel Hunt 270 11/26/20 – 11/27/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, crime, mystery
The Nickel Boys Colson Whitehead 210 11/22/20 – 11/25/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, race, African-American culture
All Adults Here Emma Straub 366 11/02/20 – 11/21/20 (20 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, family LGBT
Olive, Again Elizabeth Strout 304 10/29/20 – 11/01/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ literary fiction, short stories
Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout 280 10/25/20 – 10/28/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ literary fiction, short stories
The Trolley Car Family Eleanor Clymer 216 10/23/20 – 10/24/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, children, humor
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership James Comey 290 10/16/20 – 10/24/20 (9 days) ★★☆☆☆ nonfiction, memoir, politics, leadership
Normal People Sally Rooney 268 10/10/20 – 10/11/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, romance, Irish culture
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Ransom Riggs 352 10/05/20 – 10/07/20 (3 days) ★★☆☆☆ fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, time travel
Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O. Paul Brandus 240 09/26/20 – 10/02/20 (7 days) ★★★★☆ nonfiction, biography
Educated Tara Westover 336 09/22/20 – 09/25/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, education, religion
Happy and You Know It Laura Hankin 383 09/20/20 – 09/21/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ womens literary fiction, contemporary
Lady Susan Jane Austen 82 09/14/20 – 09/16/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ fiction, classics, romance, 19th century literature
Come to the Edge Christina Haag 271 09/08/20 – 09/12/20 (5 days) ★★★★☆ nonfiction, memoir, romance
The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger 540 09/03/20 – 09/07/20 (5 days) ★★★★★ fiction, romance, magical realism
A Visit from the Goon Squad Jennifer Egan 337 08/28/20 – 08/31/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ literary fiction, music
This is Where I Leave You Jonathan Tropper 388 08/23/20 – 08/26/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, humor, family, Jewish culture
All You Can Ever Know Nicole Chung 240 08/19/20 – 08/20/20 (2 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, adoption, race, Korean culture
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin 290 08/17/20 – 08/17/20 (1 day) ★★★★☆ fiction, books about books, romance
The Snowy Day Ezra Jack Keats 40 08/16/20 – 08/16/20 (1 day) ★★★★★ fiction, children, picture, classic, African-American culture
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup John Carreyrou 353 08/12/20 – 08/15/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, business, true crime, science, technology
The Black Flamingo Dean Atta 416 08/11/20 – 08/12/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, LGBT, verse
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone Lori Gottlieb 413 08/06/20 – 08/10/20 (5 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, psychology, health
Brunch at Ruby’s D. L. White 373 08/01/20 – 08/04/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ womens fiction, romance, African-American culture
Bel Canto Ann Patchett 318 07/26/20 – 08/01/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ literary fiction, music
What Belongs to You Garth Greenwell 195 07/24/20 – 07/25/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ literary fiction, LGBT
A Little Life Hanya Yanagihara 736 07/15/20 – 07/22/20 (8 days) ★★★★★ literary fiction, LGBT
The Family Gathering Robyn Carr 352 07/08/20 – 07/12/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, romance
A Dangerous Age Ellen Gilchrist 245 07/05/20 – 07/06/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ literary fiction, American south
How to Be Good Nick Hornby 305 07/04/20 – 07/05/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, humor
The Great Believers Rebecca Makkai 421 06/27/20 – 07/03/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ literary fiction, historical fiction, LGBT
White Fragility Robin DiAngelo 187 06/12/20 – 06/26/20 (15 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, race, anti-racist, social movements, social justice, politics, psychology
Valentine Elizabeth Wetmore 320 06/08/20 – 06/20/20 (13 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, literary fiction
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You Amy Bloom 163 06/06/20 – 06/07/20 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, short stories
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories Alice Munro 323 05/16/29 – 06/06/20 (22 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, short stories, Canadian culture
Days of Distraction Alexandra Chang 320 05/25/29 – 05/30/20 (6 days) ★★★★☆ literary fiction, Asian culture
The Little Friend (Abandoned) Donna Tartt 642 05/16/29 – 05/25/20 (10 days) ★☆☆☆☆ literary fiction, mystery
Days of Awe Lauren Fox 274 05/10/29 – 05/15/20 (6 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, literary fiction
A Doubter’s Almanac Ethan Canin 577 05/03/29 – 05/08/20 (6 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction
Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri 209 04/30/20 – 05/02/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, short stories, Indian culture
A Girl’s Guide to Moving On Debbie Macomber 162 04/26/20 – 04/29/20 (4 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, romance
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes 162 04/25/20 – 04/25/20 (1 day) ★★★★★ fiction, literary fiction
Love Lettering Kate Clayborn 320 04/19/20 – 04/23/20 (5 days) ★★☆☆☆ fiction, romance, contemporary
Me Elton John 376 04/13/20 – 04/17/20 (5 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, autobiography, celebrity, music
I Owe You One Sophie Kinsella 432 04/11/20 – 04/13/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, romance
Ask Again, Yes Mary Beth Keane 400 04/09/20 – 04/10/20 (2 days) ★★★★★ fiction, psychology
The Identicals Elin Hilderbrand 433 04/04/20 – 04/07/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, romance
The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty 498 03/31/20 – 04/04/20 (5 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, psychology
The Obituary Society Jessica L. Randall 216 03/28/20 – 03/30/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery, romance
Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne Johnson 309 03/24/20 – 03/27/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, humor
Postcards from a Stranger Imogen Clark 348 03/21/20 – 03/23/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery
Everything My Mother Taught Me Alice Hoffman 24 03/21/20 – 03/21/20 (1 day) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical fiction, short stories
The Last Thing She Ever Did Gregg Olsen 372 03/17/20 – 03/19/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, thriller
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know Malcolm Gladwell 388 03/15/20 – 03/16/20 (2 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, psychology, sociology
Break in Case of Emergency Jessica Winter 269 03/08/20 – 03/12/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, women, humor
Property: Stories Between Two Novellas Lionel Shriver 317 02/29/20 – 03/06/20 (7 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, short stories
The Road Home Kathleen Shoop 503 02/25/20 – 02/28/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical fiction
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou 317 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, classics
The Bookshop of Yesterdays Amy Meyerson 364 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, books about books, mystery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery 325 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, philosophy, French culture
The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead 336 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, historical fiction
The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Terri-Lynne DeFino 336 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
After the Funeral Agatha Christie Audio 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Ottessa Moshfegh 304 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary
The Once and Future King (Abandoned) T.H. White 647 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days) ★☆☆☆☆ fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
What Alice Forgot Liane Moriarty 476 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary, romance, Australian culture, mystery
How Will You Measure Your Life Clayton M. Christensen 240 12/31/19 – 01/02/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ business, leadership, management, personal development, philosophy, productivity, psychology, self-help


The books I’ve read so far in 2020—details

Girls Like Us book cover Book: Girls Like Us Author: Cristina Alger
Pages: 290 Duration: 12/22/20 – 12/24/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: Fiction, mystery, thriller
🔖10-word summary: FBI agent investigating a murder starts suspecting her own father.
🖌6-word review: Crime mystery with intriguing plot turns.
Description:* FBI Agent Nell Flynn hasn’t been home in 10 years. Nell and her father, Homicide Detective Martin Flynn, have never had much of a relationship. And Suffolk County will always be awash in memories of her mother, who was brutally murdered when Nell was just seven. When Martin Flynn dies in a motorcycle accident, Nell returns to the house she grew up in so that she can spread her father’s ashes and close his estate. At the behest of her father’s partner, Detective Lee Davis, Nell becomes involved in an investigation into the murders of two young Latina women in Suffolk County. The further Nell digs, the more likely it seems to her that her father should be the prime suspect—and that his friends on the police force are covering his tracks. Or are they? *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this as a final book of the year. It was light reading, but with a good story and it took enough turns in the plot to keep me curious as to how it was all going to turn out. I also liked that the protagonist FBI agent was a woman.

We The Animals book cover Book: We The Animals Author: Justin Torres
Pages: 156 Duration: 12/20/20 – 12/20/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: Fiction, LGBT, coming of age
🔖10-word summary: A dreamlike telling of three brothers navigating their chaotic childhood.
🖌6-word review: Much “magical language” lost on me.
Description:* Three brothers tear their way through childhood—smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn—he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times. Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak, and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Although this book has been described as “written in magical language with unforgettable images,” I spent a lot of time wondering what was going on in this book. I much prefer a straight-forward, prose narrative to lyrical writing, and that was no exception with this book. I also kept getting the feeling that I’d read this book before, and one line in it, in particular, “I was standing there, watching you dance and twirl and move like that, and I was thinking to myself, “Goddamn, I got me a pretty one.” However I checked in all the places in which I’ve tracked my reading over the years—2020 books read, 2019 books read, Mostly Social Book Club, The Nematomes, GLBT Bookclub, Goodreads—to no avail.

Have You Seen Luis Velez? book cover Book: Have You Seen Luis Velez? Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Pages: 315 Duration: 12/18/20 – 12/19/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: Fiction, young adult, coming of age, Latinx culture
🔖10-word summary: An elderly woman’s weekly visitor inexplicably stops coming. What happened?
🖌6-word review: Loved this story and its telling.
Description:* Raymond Jaffe feels like he doesn’t belong. Not with his mother’s new family. Not as a weekend guest with his father and his father’s wife. Not at school, where he’s an outcast. After his best friend moves away, Raymond has only two real connections: to the feral cat he’s tamed and to a blind ninety-two-year-old woman in his building who’s introduced herself with a curious question: Have you seen Luis Velez? Mildred Gutermann, a German Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, has been alone since her caretaker disappeared. She turns to Raymond for help, and as he tries to track Luis down, a deep and unexpected friendship blossoms between the two. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: First thing about this book is that I don’t know why one of its genres is listed as “young adult,” because that thought never crossed my mind reading this book. So, if that’s a turnoff for you, don’t let it stop you from reading it. Also, honestly, I’ve read a lot of books about The Holocaust, and I’m kind of avoiding more right now (for emotional health), but though it’s mentioned in some synopses of this book, it’s not a huge part of the story and it’s only brought up toward the end, so don’t let that stop you from reading it, either. As for what I loved about this book:—of which there’s a lot—and some of which include: the wisdom of “Mrs. G” (the female protagonist) the soul-searching and inherent goodness of Raymond (the male protagonist), and the many themes touched on. They include: our humanity, our connectedness, belonging, sexual orientation, beauty, prejudice, the U.S. justice system, and Latinx culture. I highly recommend this book.

The Strange Museum: 50-Word Stories book cover Book: The Strange Museum: 50-Word Stories Author: Ran Walker
Pages: 128 Duration: 12/17/20 – 12/17/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Fiction, constrained writing
🔖10-word summary: 100 “microstories” of constrained writing on a variety of topics.
🖌6-word review: African-American writer, diverse, delightful, extra-short stories.
Description:* Each of these 100 stories contains exactly fifty words, save the title, and seeks to explore an entire narrative universe within its small space. The stories range from humorous to insightful to dark, and, yes, to strange! *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was recommended to me by a high-school friend who lives in Maine, and who visited us during our recent one-month stay on Cape Cod. I really enjoyed these (very) short stories, and I read all of them in about an hour, hour-and-a-half. I’ll give an example of what they’re like and reveal my favorite one at the same time: “Most Likely to Succeed There was hardly any debate among the recent graduates that Gregory had acted in porn movies. Where they remained divided, however, was whether or not the word ‘star'” should be attached to him, since the most voracious connoisseurs of pron among them had never spotted him in anything of note.” I highly recommend this short, fun read.

In Five Years book cover Book: In Five Years Author: Rebecca Serle
Pages: 266 Duration: 12/16/20 – 12/17/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Fiction, magical realism, romance
🔖10-word summary: Woman sees herself for 1 hour 5 years from now.
🖌6-word review: Life choices, self-discovery—magical realism backdrop.
Description:* When lawyer Dannie Kohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan. But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future, where she stays for one hour. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This is my third time-travel book of 2020, but the time travel part in this one only lasts an hour. One of the things that struck me the most about this book was the frenetic pace of high-powered NYC lawyers and the extreme to which people will go to “succeed.” When it was all said and done, I was glad it pretty much skipped over the 4.5 years between when she had her “premonition” and when what happened in the dream would (or wouldn not) play out. I wasn’t blown away by this book, but it was intriguing enough to keep me interested in seeing how it would end.

The Winkler Case book cover Book: The Winkler Case Author: David Greene
Pages: 280 Duration: 12/13/20 – 12/15/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: Fiction, mystery, noir, LGBT
🔖10-word summary: Art imitates art in this non-heteronormative pastiche of Double Indemnity.
🖌6-word review: A welcome re-imagining of a classic.
Description:* The Winkler Case is a gay reimagining of the classic noir novel, Double Indemnity. When insurance salesman Elliot Blake meets a handsome boxer at the home of promoter Walt Winkler, he begins to learn the truth about the boxer’s bargain with the promoter, and about his own desires. The Winkler Case explores the predicaments of two gay men in Chicago in 1948, and the hidden desires that lead to murder. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Double Indemnity is one of my husband’s favorite film noirs, which I’ve watched with him in the past. A couple of years ago he mentioned this book, so I bought it for him as a gift, and he read it while we were in Key West on vacation. The book follows the noir genre with plot twists (“sucker punches,” to use a pugilist term) and typical traits and qualities of noir characters. It also gives you a good sense of the mentality of the closeted 50s. One reviewer said, “If you like the noir convention, Chicago, and/or gay mystery, you’ll like this.”

Oona Out of Order book cover Book: Oona Out of Order Author: Margarita Montimore
Pages: 339 Duration: 12/11/20 – 12/13/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: Fiction, magical realism, time travel
🔖10-word summary: Oona “leaps”—out of order—through life’s heartbreak and joy.
🖌6-word review: Inventive, magical, heart-wrenching treatment of time.
Description:* Just because life may be out of order, doesn’t mean it’s broken. It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she’ll turn 19, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens 32 years in her 51-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she’ll leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order—hopping through decades, pop culture fads, and much-needed stock tips. Oona is still a young woman on the inside but ever changing on the outside. Who will she be next year? Philanthropist? Club Kid? World traveler? Wife to a man she’s never met? *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I requested this book from the library back in September when I was interested in a time travel book. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife then, since it was readily available at the time, and I had to get on quite an extensive waitlist for this one. Back at that time, several people at work lauded this book as a very favorite, and several of the reviews I glanced through on Goodreads had a comment to the effect of, “I cried through the last 130 pages of this book.” I much prefer books/movies with sad/tragic endings than happy ones, which is another reason I put this one on my list. I didn’t remember the comments about the ending until I got to the penultimate chapter when it all came crashing back to me. I spend a lot of time in books like this checking that there are “consistent rules” about how this particular time travel scenario works and then making sure the author adheres to them. I’m happy to report that I was both satisfied that that was the case and, bonus, I actually approved of the particular rules set forth in this one. 🙂

Hercule Poirot's Christmas book cover Book: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 272 Duration: 12/08/20 – 12/10/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: Fiction, mystery, holiday
🔖10-word summary: There is  no shortage of motives to kill Simeon Lee.
🖌6-word review: Holiday whodunit—classic Christie, classic Poirot.
Description:* The holidays are anything but merry when a family reunion is marred by murder—and the notoriously fastidious investigator is quickly on the case. The wealthy Simeon Lee has demanded that all four of his sons—one faithful, one prodigal, one impecunious, one sensitive—and their wives return home for Christmas. But a heartwarming family holiday is not exactly what he has in mind. He bedevils each of his sons with barbed insults and finally announces that he is cutting off their allowances and changing his will. Poirot is called in the aftermath of Simeon Lee’s announcement. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This is classic Agatha Christie, in which by now, I’ve learned that you’re not going to guess the “whodunit,” because there’s always at least one surprise thing that you’re not privy to as the reader that plays into what happened. At one time, I read a lot of Agatha Christie, and Hercule Poirot—one of Christie’s most famous and long-running characters, appearing in 33 novels, 2 plays (Black Coffee and Alibi), and more than 50 short stories published between 1920 and 1975—has always been my favorite character, probably because of his oft-ejaculated French phrases. I purposely chose this Hercule Poirot Agatha Christie book because of the season.

Christmas Cake Murder book cover Book: Christmas Cake Murder Author: Joanne Fluke
Pages: 225 Duration: 12/06/20 – 12/07/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: Fiction, mystery, holiday
🔖10-word summary: A murder that’s inside a story that’s inside a story.
🖌6-word review: Actual recipes between chapters sound delicious.
Description:* With her dream of opening The Cookie Jar taking shape, Hannah’s life matches the hectic December hustle and bustle in Lake Eden—especially when she agrees to help recreate a spectacular Christmas Ball from the past in honor of Essie Granger, an elderly local in hospice care. But instead of poring over decadent dessert recipes for the merry festivities, she instantly becomes enthralled by Essie’s old notebooks and the tale of a woman escaping danger on the streets of New York. As Hannah prepares to run a bakery and move out of her mother’s house, it’ll be a true miracle if she can prevent another Yuletide disaster by solving a mystery as dense as a Christmas fruitcake. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This is the first book out of 67 for which I really wish I’d had ½ stars to choose from in my rating system. I was really torn between a 3-star vs. a 4-star rating for this one. I felt that the writing was at a 3½-star level and the story was at a 4½-star level, and since I’m a writer at heart, I went with the 3-star rating. It’s not that the writing was bad, per se, it was just very, very basic. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: Instead of saying only what we really need to know, which in this case would be, “I’m going to buy a freezer and keep it in the garage,” she writes, “I’ll be glad to buy a large chest freezer,” Delores said quickly. “It’s a double garage and there are several electrical outlets. Since I’m using only one space for my car, we could put the chest freezer on the other side of the garage. Let’s all go out to look at the garage right now.” Another example, which I’ll just paraphrase (admittedly with hyperbole), instead of just saying, “They sat down for dinner,” she’d write, “We pulled our chairs out, sat down, picked up our forks, and started eating.” And not to beat a dead horse, but instead of just writing, “Use a fork to do this,” she writes, “Use a fork from your silverware drawer to do this.” We just don’t need all that.

As I mentioned in my 6-word review, there were recipes at the end of chapters where the main character made a dish, which were mostly desserts, and most of them sounded very good. These are the names of them: Cocoa-Crunch Cookies, Honey Apple Crisp, Anytime Peach Pie, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pork Roast, Ultimate Lemon Bundt Cake, Cool Whip Lemon Frosting, Bacon and Sausage Breakfast Burritos, Cashew Butter Blossom Cookies, Chocolate Hazelnut Bon-Bons (my “mémère” used this word a lot), Ultimate Butterscotch Bundt Cake, Cool Whip Butterscotch Frosting, Ultimate Christmas Bundt Cake, Cool Whip White Chocolate Frosting, and Minty Dream Cookies.

The Family Upstairs book cover Book: The Family Upstairs Author: Lisa Jewell
Pages: 340 Duration: 11/30/20 – 12/03/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Fiction, crime, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Libby works through entangled birth-family history to claim her inheritance.
🖌6-word review: Satisfying tidbits revealed in interest-sustaining way.
Description:* Soon after her 25th birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am. She learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames, worth millions. She can’t possibly know that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them. 25 years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy 10-month-old cooing in her crib. Downstairs lay 3 dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the 4 other children of the house were gone. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I got this as a free download from BookBub, and although it was part of a series (as almost all of the free downloads are), it was the first in the series, and I was satisfied enough with it as a standalone read, but if the next in the series became available free (or to borrow from the library), I’d be interested in checking it out. I did have a little trouble keeping the four children’s name and relationship straight—I got that there was a brother and sister in each family, I just had trouble remembering which brother went with which sister and which family each went with. There were a couple of things I’d call a “whammy,” a surprise, or a twist, which is always fun.

Penance book cover Book: Penance Author: Edward Daniel Hunt
Pages: 270 Duration: 11/26/20 – 11/27/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: Fiction, crime, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Trouble is imminent as Lori is a sought-after, 10-years-after-the-fact witness
🖌6-word review: Interesting enough, a few editing errors
Description:* The first book in a series of crime novels featuring retired Boston homicide detective John Gilfillan. This story is about the race to find Lori Doyle. Ten years ago, Lori, as a teenager, witnessed a killing. Today, she has established a new life for herself and her daughter in Maine under an alias. Unbeknownst to her, all that’s about to change, as some are seeking her out to do her harm and some to do her good. *From amazon.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I got this book as a free download from BookBub, and as my experience with books they make available for free, it was one of a series (in this case the first in the series) and there were several “editing misses” in it. The storyline kept me interested enough to keep reading and to see “who done it.”

The Nickel Boys book cover Book: The Nickel Boys Author: Colson Whitehead
Pages: 210 Duration: 11/22/20 – 11/25/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Historical fiction, race, African-American culture
🔖10-word summary: Racist hatred scarring children for life—both physically and emotionally
🖌6-word review: Based on an actual reform school
Description:* As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.” *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Colson Whitehead’s winner of the 2020 Pulizer Prize for Fiction was my second book of his, having read The Underground Railroad earlier this year. These stories about racism and abuse are hard to read even when fictionalized. And to add to the horror of it all, although it’s fiction, this story is based on the real-life The Florida School for Boys—a “reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children.” Archaeologists Finally Know What Happened at This Brutal Reform School from the Smithsonian Magazine talks about the real-life place. All good stories are based on conflict, and the overaching conflict in this one was between the ideals of Elwood and the skepticism of his friend Turner, and the repercussions of the decisions they made and the things they endured while at the Nickel Acadamey.

All Adults Here book cover Book: All Adults Here Author: Emma Straub
Pages: 366 Duration: 11/02/20 – 11/21/20 (20 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Fiction, family LGBT
🔖10-word summary: Parents as parents, children, and siblings—all self-doubting at times
🖌6-word review: A fun, warm-hearted, and insightful read
Description:* When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence? Astrid’s youngest son is drifting and unfocused, making parenting mistakes of his own. Her daughter is pregnant yet struggling to give up her own adolescence. And her eldest seems to measure his adult life according to standards no one else shares. But who gets to decide, so many years later, which long-ago lapses were the ones that mattered? Who decides which apologies really count? It might be that only Astrid’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her new friend really understand the courage it takes to tell the truth to the people you love the most. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: For some reason, it took me a long time to get through this book. I had to renew it at only 30% finished after its 2-week library loan expired, but was able to immediately re-borrow it. Once back into it, I finished it quickly, though. It’s a nice, light read with a gay character and a trans character, which surpisingly didn’t make me like it any more than I might otherwise have. As one might expect, a lot of family dysfunction is exposed as we look at the life cycle of kids becoming parents, grandchildren becoming teenagers, and the matriarch of the family looking back at mistakes she made raising her kids and trying to assess the impact of those mistakes on them. One thing that really resonated with me was when one family member shared a secret that they’d been perseverating over for many, many years. The secret revolved around an incident with another family member—a family member with whom, when she finally got the courage to discuss it with, didn’t even remember the incident! I had this same experience once in my life, and I loved the way the author described the scene in this book.

Olive, Again book cover Book: Olive, Again Author: Elizabeth Strout
Pages: 304 Duration: 10/29/20 – 11/01/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Literary fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Olive ages gaining some self-awareness and experiencing some personal growth
🖌6-word review: Mostly enough Olive amidst many characters
Description:* Olive, Again will pick up where Olive Kitteridge left off, following the next decade of Olive’s life – through a second marriage, an evolving relationship with her son, and encounters with a cast of memorable characters in the seaside town of Crosby, Maine. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I enjoyed this telling of the next decase of Olive Kitteridge’s life. Like its prequel, it’s told in short stories, a couple of which hardly mention Olive at all, which I went back and forth on liking and disliking. I find that in the stories that contained very little of her, I had a hard time keeping track of some of the characters in them (espeically the ones with more than 3 or 4 characters in them), because I wasn’t invested in them, and knew they would mostly be fleeting with regards to the rest of the book. Now that I’ve finished both books, I’d be interesting in watching the HBO miniseries about them, but only if or when it becomes available for free.

Olive Kitteridge book cover Book: Olive Kitteridge Author: Elizabeth Strout
Pages: 280 Duration: 10/25/20 – 10/28/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Literary fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Olive is one tough cookie, although even she sometimes crumbles
🖌6-word review: Great portrait of our flawed humanity
Description:* At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.

Thoughts: I didn’t realize when I started this book that it’s “not quite a novel and not quite a collection of short stories, but more like a series of vignettes.” Before I figured out what was going on, whenever a new chapter started with characters I didn’t recognize, I’d spend a little too much time wondering, “Now who are these people again?” when they weren’t “again” at all. Beyond that, I really enjoyed this book, and I can see why it was made into an HBO miniseries, and I can totally imagine Frances McDormand nailing the part of Olive. My favorite part of the book (not a spoiler) was when Olive overhears her daughter-in-law talking about her and that moment when someone realizes, “Oh my god; I’m not at all the person I think I am.” I liked this book enough to not only read its sequel, but to read it immediately after finishing this one. Most times I don’t read sequels at all.

The Trolley Car Family book cover Book: The Trolley Car Family Author: Eleanor Clymer
Pages: 216 Duration: 10/23/20 – 10/24/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Fiction, children, humor
🔖10-word summary: Ma, pa, kids live stereotypically, and it works out beautifully
🖌6-word review: Little trolley car on the prarie
Description:* Something is wrong. Cranky Mr. Jefferson is sure of it. Those noisy Parker children next door are much too quiet. Something is wrong at the Parker home. Pa Parker has just lost his job. Pa has been driving a trolley car for years. Now the trolley car company is changing to busses. Drive a new-fangled bus? Not Pa Parker! No wonder all the Parkers are worried.

But if Pa doesn’t have a job, he does have a trolley car. And what could be more sensible than living in a trolley ’til Pa gets another job. So off they go–Ma and Pa Parker, Sally, Bill, George and Little Peter—and of all people, cranky Mr. Jefferson too. Bouncing and bumping on the trolley tracks, they park their new home at the last stop. It’s the end of the line for the trolley car, but it’s a beginning of fun and adventure for the trolley car family. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.

Thoughts: Bob read this book as a child and remembered really liking it, and several months ago he came across it on a used book website and bought it. He thought being up here would be good opportunity to read it, which he did, and I picked it up when he was done.

This is definite a “period piece”—set in a time when stereotypes abounded about women doing indoor/housework and men doing the outdoor/yardwork. It’s very “Little House on the Prairie” with the ma and pa references and the kids being pretty much the perfect kids—I mean they even stopped recreational activities like playing baseball to enthusiastically do all the things that needed to be done to keep their household running. Hardly anything bad happens to this family, and when it does, it all happens in one day, and it’s nothing catastrophic. It’s a very benign story, and reads easily. Can it be that it was so simple then, or has time re-written every line?

A Higher Loyalty book cover Book: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership Author: James Comey
Pages: 290 Duration: 10/16/20 – 10/24/20 (9 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: Nonfiction, memoir, politics, leadership
🔖10-word summary: Former FBI director highlights the mafia, Martha Stewart, and 45.
🖌6-word review: Book club book I didn’t love
Description:* Former FBI Director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I debated a lot about whether I should count this book, because I skimmed through a lot of it. I’m really not interested in reading about politics, especially during this time leading up to the 2020 elections, but this was a book club book, and one of the reasons I’m in a book club is to read books I might not normally read. A lot of the first half of the book was about Comey’s time prosecuting the mafia (in which I have zero interest), and then a section about prosecuting Martha Stewart (in whom I have zero interest). I spent a lot of time anxious for him to get to his “present-day situation,” which led up to his firing. I gave this book a 2-star rating for those reasons, but if you’re into politics, you might really like it. One of our book club members, who is a mid-level manager in her job, liked several of the ideas he shared on leadership.

Normal People book cover Book: Normal People Author: Sally Rooney
Pages: 268 Duration: 10/10/20 – 10/11/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Fiction, romance, Irish culture
🔖10-word summary: A tale of an at-times strange, wonderful, and confounding relationship
🖌6-word review: Impressive writing about complex psychological relationship
Description:* Connell Waldron is one of the most popular boys in his small-town high school—he is a star of the football team, an excellent student, and never wanting for attention from girls. What he doesn’t have is money. Marianne Sheridan, a classmate, has the opposite problem. She is plain-looking, odd, and stubborn, and while her family is quite well off, she has no friends to speak of. There is, however, a deep and undeniable connection between the two teenagers, one that develops into a secret relationship. Everything changes when they’re both accepted to Trinity College. Suddenly Marianne is well liked and elegant, holding court with her intellectual friends, while Connell hangs at the sidelines, not quite as fluent in the language of the elite. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle each other, falling in and out of romance but never straying far from where they started. And as Marianne experiments with an increasingly dangerous string of boyfriends, Connell must decide how far he is willing to go to save his oldest friend. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I liked this book as much as I did, but it’s something to do with how the author was able to sustain the unconventional way the protagonist couple responded to each other. It was also written in a way that I kept alternating between pulling for them and wanting them to (permanently) call it quits. There is a lot going on in this story with regards to themes explored, which included first love, class difference, family dynamics and dysfunction, sexual deviation, and mental health to name several. I did wish both of these characters would have considered therapy—individually and/or as a couple. Well, Connell did do a short stint of therapy; but Marianne, who arguably could have benefited more from it, never did. I’m a little ambivalent about the ending, but if I had to make a binary decision, it would be thumbs up over thumbs down.

Jackie: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children book cover Book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Author: Ransom Riggs
Pages: 352 Duration: 10/05/20 – 10/07/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: Fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, time travel
🔖10-word summary: Searching for answers about his grandpa, Jacob finds more-than-peculiar children.
🖌6-word review: Lost interest just past halfway through
Description:* A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. A horrific family tragedy sets 16-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow-impossible though it seems-they may still be alive. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I will start my review by saying that I’m not a fan of the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genres, and that I’m not sure why I thought this book might fall more in the “magical realism” genre, but I was wrong. I also thought that since I’d recently read a time-travel book that I really enjoyed, I’d give this one a try. With regards to time travel, one of the things I liked about it in The Time Traveler’s Wife was that it wasn’t complicated. In this book, there were a lot of “rules and conditions” around it, which really distracts me, because I spend a lot of time thinking about whether a certain incident is or isn’t violating them. I also hate learning new words that are only going to last for one book (e.g., peculiars, wights, hollows, & ymbrynes), and my mind just doesn’t do well with suspending disbelief long enough until I get a good understanding of them. This is a big reason I don’t like sci-fi & fantasy. I do get that these are all my own neuroses, and I’m not making any judgment about people who do like those genres. With regards to horror, I lost interest shortly after the halfway mark when it became clear that the “monsters” they were referring to were “real” monsters as opposed to “figurative demons” that I was holding thinking of them as.

With all that said, I did think the origin of the book was great. From the author: “A few years ago, I started collecting vintage snapshots—the kind you can find in loose piles at most flea markets for 50 cents or a buck apiece. It was just a casual hobby, nothing serious, but I noticed that among the photos I found, the strangest and most intriguing ones were always of children. I began to wonder who some of these strange-looking children had been—what their stories were—but the photos were old and anonymous and there was no way to know. So I thought: If I can’t know their real stories, I’ll make them up.”

Although my 2-star rating includes: “Would not recommend,” I’ve heard from enough people that like sci-fi, fantasy, & horror who loved it that I would recommend it with that caveat.

Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O. book cover Book: Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O. Author: Paul Brandus
Pages: 240 Duration: 09/26/20 – 10/02/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: Nonfiction, biography
🔖10-word summary: Jackie slowly and painfully transforms from grieving widow to jet-setter.
🖌6-word review: Missed errors by editor were distracting.
Description:* The five years between her marriages to JFK and Onassis are often overlooked. But it was an incredible period of growth and change for Jackie. How did the world’s most famous woman remain so enigmatic? What was she really like? This book reveals the real Jackie, the one that hid behind her trademark large sunglasses. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I should preface this with the fact that, being from Massachusetts, I’m a huge Kennedy fan. I enjoyed reading this somewhat darker, but understandable, side of Jackie and her grieving process. I was surprised to learn that she was such a control freak with regards to the national and lasting narrative that she wanted about JFK’s life and legacy. I also had no idea that she was abusing alcohol so much and was suicidal at times, especially in the first two years after JFK’s assassination. But, while I loved the story, which is why I gave it 4 stars instead of 3, I was tempted to give it 3 simply due to the number of errors missed by the editor(s). I noticed 8 total, and I’m sure I missed a couple. The ones I saw included: a missing word in a couple of places, using the wrong verb tense, one instance of transposed words, a missing hyphen, using the plural instead of the singular (i.e., “…Jackie, for the fifth year in a row, was ranked as the most admired women in the world.”), and a mixed metaphor. The problem with editing errors, is that—at least for me, as an editor by profession—once you see one or two, then you’re on the lookout for them the whole time. And that was distracting to me. With that said, if you like the Kennedys, or just Jackie, and you’re not distracted by editing errors, then I would recommend this book. I’m also appreciative that it was loaned to me by a friend. Thanks, Sam!

Educated book cover Book: Educated Author: Tara Westover
Pages: 336 Duration: 09/22/20 – 09/25/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: Nonfiction, memoir, education, religion
🔖10-word summary: Education amidst the intersection of religious fanaticism and mental illness
🖌6-word review: Sometimes fascinating. Sometimes infuriating. Always compelling.
Description:* Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected. She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist. As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At 16, Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home. *Adapted from goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: There was a lot to like about this book, although it wasn’t easy to read at times. I experienced an emotional roller coaster while reading it—from fascinated to frustrated to incredulous, and from booing her to cheering her to aching for her. I thought she did a good job portraying the absolute psychological chaos at the intersection of religious fanaticism and mental illness. At times, in addition to what this woman and the rest of this family was experiencing, I thought about gay people—in terms of some religions’ incredibly harmful effects on people, their psyches, and sometimes their entire lives (up to and including ending it). I’m glad she finally excised herself from her family (for the most part), but for her sake in life, I wish she’d’ve been able to do it sooner.

Happy and You Know It book cover Book: Happy and You Know It Author: Laura Hankin
Pages: 383 Duration: 09/20/20 – 09/21/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: womens literary fiction, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Musician takes job singing for a playgroup of overprivileged babies
🖌6-word review: Top-of-mind adjective describing book is “fluff”
Description:* After her former band shot to superstardom without her, Claire reluctantly agrees to a gig as a playgroup musician for wealthy infants on New York’s Park Avenue. Claire is surprised to discover that she is smitten with her new employers, a welcoming clique of wellness addicts with impossibly shiny hair, who whirl from juice cleanse to overpriced miracle vitamins to spin class with limitless energy. There is perfect hostess Whitney who is on the brink of social-media stardom and just needs to find a way to keep her flawless life from falling apart. Caustically funny, recent stay-at-home mom Amara who is struggling to embrace her new identity. And old money, veteran mom Gwen who never misses an opportunity to dole out parenting advice. But as Claire grows closer to the stylish women who pay her bills, she uncovers secrets and betrayals that no amount of activated charcoal can fix. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I downloaded this book, because it was available for immediate download on Libby, and I needed a replacement for yet another library book I borrowed whose font was smaller than was comfortable reading, so I’d kept putting it off. The first word that comes to mind about this book is “fluff.” It reminded me a little bit of Brunch at Ruby’s at times (the complex relationships among the women part), and of Nine Perfect Strangers at times (the “TrueMommy” part), the former of which I read earlier this year and the latter of which I read in February 2019. The “contemporary” genre type assigned to this book was due to its heavy inclusion of Instagram in the storyline. It wasn’t a bad book, but it’s not one I would recommend unless someone was specifically looking for something fairly mindless to read. (Not that there’s anything wrong with reading mindless work.)

Lady Susan book cover Book: Lady Susan Author: Jane Austen
Pages: 82 Duration: 09/14/20 – 09/16/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, classics, romance, 19th century literature
🔖10-word summary: Scheming siren seeks suitable spouse for herself and her heir
🖌6-word review: An impressive, classic, Austen epistolary novel
Description:* Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I was made aware of this epistolary novel after watching a movie, Love & Friendship, which is based on it. I found the character of Lady Susan wickedly snarky, and then I found out Jane Austen’s book was named after that character, and then I found out that Jane Austen wrote this book when she was 14 years old. To be quite honest, that’s the main reason I gave the book 5 stars. It’s unfathomable to me that a 14-year-old could not only know many of the vocabulary words used in the book, but have a maturity level at 14 to so convincingly write about adult interactions and situations with such impressive nuance and innuendo. All that, and I laughed out loud several times while reading it.

Come to the Edge book cover Book: Come to the Edge Author: Christina Haag
Pages: 271 Duration: 09/08/20 – 09/12/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, romance
🔖10-word summary: Christina shares—without exploitation—her bittersweet relationship with JFK Jr.
🖌6-word review: Evocative assessment of love and life
Description:* When Christina Haag was growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was just one of the boys in her circle of prep school friends, a skinny kid who lived with his mother and sister on Fifth Avenue and who happened to have a Secret Service detail following him at a discreet distance at all times. A decade later, after they had both graduated from Brown University and were living in New York City, Christina and John were cast in an off-Broadway play together. It was then that John confessed his long-standing crush on her, and they embarked on a five-year love affair. Glamorous and often in the public eye, but also passionate and deeply intimate, their relationship was transformative for both of them. With exquisite prose, Haag paints a portrait of a young man with an enormous capacity for love, and an adventurous spirit that drove him to live life to its fullest. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I’ll admit right off that my initial realization reading this book was that what I really wanted to read was JFK Jr.’s memoirs. It took Christina a while to get to the point where John was in the picture to the level that I was satisfied with, and I was impatient waiting for it to get there. In her defense, however, this was her memoir, so starting off sharing about her childhood and how she came to know and be with John was certainly legit. And to her credit, it was well written—as is the entire book. In the end, I thought it was a kind, generous, and painfully honest at times look at what seemed like “real” love. And by that I mean, love in all of it’s complicated facets, messy incidents, tough decisions, and the balance between self and couple. I also liked that she didn’t trash any of the other many women that John pursued—some just dalliances, some more substantial than that. After I finished the book—with the duration and intensity of Christina and John’s relationship laid bare—I was stunned to read how she was incorporated into John’s Wikipedia entry, which basically highlights his relationships with famous women in a way that intimates they were the most significant. About his relationship with Christina, it simply says, “Also during this time, Kennedy dated Christina Haag. They had known each other as children, and she also attended Brown University.” It comes across as a mere, “Oh yeah, by the way…,” which so misses the mark.

The Time Traveler's Wife book cover Book: The Time Traveler’s Wife Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Pages: 540 Duration: 09/03/20 – 09/07/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, romance, magical realism
🔖10-word summary: “Time is doing” Henry, while wife Clare is “doing time”
🖌6-word review: Time-travel story absent a time machine
Description:* Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, have known each other since Clare was 6 and Henry was 36 and were married when Clare was 23 and Henry 31. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing. The story depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals—steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable. *From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I’m not a science fiction fan at all, but I became aware of this book by way of a friend’s Facebook timeline post that asked, “What’s your favorite time travel story and why?” Several people responded about this book with comments such as “So complicated and so many tears,” “sobbed the last 100 pages,” and “It so beautifully captured love that I included a quote from it in my wedding vows.” Then when I posted on my own timeline that I had picked it up from the library, I got comments like, “Loved that book,” “That’s a beautiful book,” and “One of my all-time favorite books.” Although this book is not without its negative reviews on goodreads.com, count me as a fan. I liked that there was no complicated “time machine” (no time machine at all) involved in this story. I also liked how each travel incident was time-stamped, including the age of the traveler at the time to help keep track of what was happening when. Although this book is categorized in both the “science fiction” and “magical realism” genres, I experienced it more as magical realism. Although, one could argue that the introduction of the “chrono-displacement disorder,” and the storyline around that, make it science fiction. In any case, I really enjoyed it, and since I really love stories without happy endings, that was an extra bonus, although I expected it with that one comment about sobbing through the last 100 pages.

A Visit from the Goon Squad book cover Book: A Visit from the Goon Squad Author: Jennifer Egan
Pages: 337 Duration: 08/28/20 – 08/31/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: literary fiction, music
🔖10-word summary: People’s lives contextualized by time, relationships, and even PowerPoint slides
🖌6-word review: Purportedly important; takes a disciplined reading
Description:* Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an ageing former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa. *From amazon.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I came by this book by way of the Nicholas Carr on deep reading and digital thinking episode of The Ezra Klein Show podcast in which they discuss “how speaking, reading, and now the internet have each changed our brains in different ways, why ‘paying attention’ doesn’t come naturally to us, why we’re still reading Marshall McLuhan, how human memory actually works, why having your phone in sight makes you less creative, what separates ‘deep reading’ from simply reading, why deep reading is getting harder, why building connections is more important than absorbing information, the benefits to collapsing the world into a connected digital community, and much more.”

Carr recommends 3 books in that podcast of which this is one. I rarely re-read books, but this is one that I’d like to re-read one day, and I know sooner would be better than later, but I also know that’s probably not going to happen. There are a lot of characters, and they appear in the book in different places in their lives, but not always in the chronological order of their lives. I do like when an author stops for a second and tells you something about a character that’s going to happen to them in their future, which happened with a few characters in this book. I’m not sure I would have picked up on the “deep meaning” of this book, or understand why it was a Pulitzer Prize winner, probably because it’s pretty much completely by metaphor, and I was expending a lot of energy on trying to remember all of the characters. That’s the reason I’d like to read it again. Also, distracting me throughout was the fact that I knew one of the chapters was presented as a PowerPoint slide presentation, and I kept anticipating it being next. FWIW (possible spoiler alert—if knowing when the PowerPoint slide is going to appear in a novel is a trigger for you), it’s not until chapter 12, so relax.

This is Where I Leave You book cover Book: This is Where I Leave You Author: Jonathan Tropper
Pages: 388 Duration: 08/23/20 – 08/26/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, humor, family, Jewish culture
🔖10-word summary: Family dysfunction on display for seven days of Shiva sitting
🖌6-word review: I literally laughed out loud often
Description:* Judd Foxman’s father has died and it’s the first time in a decade that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister have been together in the same house for an extended period. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose 14-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. The typical Foxman family gathering ends with car doors slamming and tires screeching as various factions scatter to nurse their resentments in private. But this time around, the Foxmans reluctantly submit to their father’s dying request: to spend the 7 days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a real family. For Judd it’s a week-long opportunity to come to terms with his father’s death, his failed marriage, and to explain the mess his life has become to a never-ending parade of people he thought he might never see again. Which would be bad enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: The reviews of this book are mixed—it’s one that people seem to either love or hate. I’m in the former camp. I laughed out loud many times while reading this book. It might be that it’s “just my kind of humor,” but one of the things about humorous books that really turns me off is when it comes across like the author thinks they’re funnier than I think they are. That definitely did not happen for me in this one. While reading this, I learned that this was a 2014 movie with Jane Fonda starring as the mother, and right after that, I got to the part in the book where they compare the mother to Jane Fonda, which triggered some vague memory about that being in the news when that movie came out. With all that said, I looked at the trailer for the movie, and I have to say that if I hadn’t read the book, I probably wouldn’t be interested in watching it. But I did, and I am.

All You Can Ever Know book cover Book: All You Can Ever Know Author: Nicole Chung
Pages: 240 Duration: 08/19/20 – 08/20/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, adoption, race, Korean culture
🔖10-word summary: Korean Nikki’s lifelong processing of adoption by a white family
🖌6-word review: An enlightening consideration of transracial adoption
Description:* Nicole Chung’s All you Can Ever Know is a beautiful memoir that explores her experience of growing up adopted in a white family and then, in her 20s, connecting with her Korean birth family while she is pregnant with her first child. The book offers a thoughtful meditation on racial identity, sisterhood, parenting and learning who you really are, both separate from and because of where you come from. Chung has no easy answers on multiracial adoption or family dynamics, but her nuanced take on her upbringing and the different kinds of families in her life is what makes this memoir such a deeply satisfying read. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, because it was well written and so honest. I would highly recommend it for anyone who is considering adopting a child who is not of the same race as your family. There were also things in this book that resonated for me in terms of being the only person like you in your own family—having grown up as a gay person in a family of heterosexuals. (Not that there’s anything wrong with heterosexuals; I know they were born that way.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry book cover Book: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 290 Duration: 08/17/20 – 08/17/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, books about books, romance
🔖10-word summary: Fikry gets a chance to turn his deteriorating life around
🖌6-word review: Great characters, literary allusions, and story
Description:* A. J. Fikry’s wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a quick, easy read for me. Books, a bookstore, and book clubs are an integral part of the story, which appealed to me greatly. This book alludes to a lot of stories, books, plays, and authors (see a list of them), and when I searched goodreads.com for one of the books mentioned early on in this story, The Late Bloomer by Leon Friedman, to see what it was about, I was surprised to find an entry there that said it wasn’t a real book. I love that someone took the time to create that entry, and it made me wonder how many times people search for books that don’t really exist when seeing them mentioned in another book, and what percentage of those have entries like this one for them. One of the “real” books mentioned in this book was Bel Canto, which I just read last month and had never heard of until I read it—and here it is. Funny how that happens.

The Snowy Day book cover Book: The Snowy Day Author: Ezra Jack Keats
Pages: 40 Duration: 08/16/20 – 08/16/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, children, picture, classic,
African-American culture
🔖10-word summary: Witness Peter exploring his neighborhood after the season’s first snowfall
🖌6-word review: First child African-American protagonist picture book
Description:* The Snowy Day is a 1962 children’s picture book by American author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats. It features Peter, an African-American boy, who explores his neighborhood after the season’s first snowfall. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: While educating myself about race, I came across this children’s picture book, which I’d never heard of in spite of it being an award-winning children’s book that was written 58 years ago (in 1962) and has been translated into at least 10 languages. The artwork is beautiful and the story delightfully captures the wonder of a child’s first snowfall. Read it to your children or grand-children if you have any and haven’t already done so.

Bad Blood book cover Book: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup Author: John Carreyrou
Pages: 353 Duration: 08/12/20 – 08/15/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, business, true crime, science, technology
🔖10-word summary: A female Silicon Valley startup CEO’s spectacular rise and fall
🖌6-word review: Compelling investigative reporting, now a documentary
Description:* In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I was turned on to this book by my doctor at my annual physical, at whose end we talked about what each of us was reading. I vaguely remember this “going down” when the story broke in the Wall Street Journal, but I didn’t pay much attention to the particulars. I found this book’s telling of it a riveting account of Elizabeth Holmes’ meteoric rise, including details on her thought processes, how she treated employees, and how she hoodwinked so many high-profile and smart people for so long. She is currently awaiting trail, charged with 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 9 counts of wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison. (Her trial keeps getting postponed; see the lasted on it.) HBO made a documentary about this story called The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which I plan to watch. ABC Audio also did a 7-episode podcast about it called The Dropout (Elizabeth was a Stanford dropout), which I may or may not listen to in the future. I will probably follow at least some of the trial whenever it finally happens.

The Black Flamingo book cover Book: The Black Flamingo Author: Dean Atta
Pages: 416 Duration: 08/11/20 – 08/12/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, LGBT, verse
🔖10-word summary: Mixed-race Michael explores his identity and the power of drag
🖌6-word review: A verse novel and easy read
Description:* Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough. As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I checked out this book (figuratively and literally) after it was mentioned in our Red Hat Pride chatroom. This is my second verse novel. The first one was The Golden Gate, which I read in November of 2018, and which “was composed of 590 sonnets (Onegin stanzas written in iambic tetrameter, with the rhyme scheme following the AbAbCCddEffEgg pattern of Eugene Onegin).” The Black Flamingo was far easier to read than that one, and I flew through it. I read it on my Kindle, and I’m still finding it hard to believe it was 416 pages. I’m not a huge poetry fan, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying this book. I loved, loved, loved, the open-mic poem that Michael (a mixed-race, gay teen who grew up in London and is part Greek-Cypriot and part Jamaican, but has never quite felt Greek or Black enough) performs: I Come From, whose first 2 (of 8) stanzas were:

I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday
roast, jerk chicken and stuffed grape leaves.
I come from traveling through taste buds
but loving where I live. I come from
a home that some would call broken.
I come from DIY that never got done.
I come from waiting by the phone
for him to call. I come from waving
the white flag to loneliness. I come from
the rainbow flag and the Union Jack.

Brunch at Ruby's book cover Book: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone Author: Lori Gottlieb
Pages: 413 Duration: 08/06/20 – 08/10/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, psychology, health
🔖10-word summary: Therapist talks about her patients, and herself as a patient
🖌6-word review: Vulnerable nonfiction at its very best
Description:* One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but. As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives—a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys—she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book. The author is actually a professional therapist, so this is nonfiction and a memoir. I thought she did an exceptional job of several things:

  1. The way she shared the stories of the 4 patients she chose to highlight throughout the book.
  2. How she changed the details of those patients’ stories so as to protect their identities in a way that didn’t at all detract from the telling about the issues they were facing and her assessment of them.
  3. The way she wove in her personal issues and the therapy she decided to enter in the midst of a crisis in her own life, especially about the second guessing she was doing about her therapist at the beginning of their sessions.
  4. How she sprinkled in psychological concepts and therapist nomenclature with both definitions and examples easily understood by lay-people.
  5. Opening herself up to personal and professional scrutiny by potentially millions of readers.

This is definitely in my top 3, if not the top, books of the 43 I’ve read so far this year.

Brunch at Ruby's book cover Book: Brunch at Ruby’s Author: D.L. White
Pages: 373 Duration: 08/01/20 – 08/04/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: womens fiction, romance, African-American culture
🔖10-word summary: Three, lifelong, female friends brunch monthly to share life’s journeys
🖌6-word review: Written from three points of view
Description:* Ruby’s Soul Food Cafe has been the neighborhood hot spot their whole lives, so it’s only fitting that Ruby’s is where Debra, Maxine and Renee meet monthly to do what girlfriends do– eat, drink and offer unsolicited advice on life and love. Debra Macklin has it all: a successful career, a long marriage and a happy 12 year old daughter. But she’s hiding a secret that could not only shatter her perfect image, but destroy her marriage and career. When her secret is spilled, Debra is poised to lose everything she holds dear. Maxine Donovan is a self made woman but despite all she earns and owns, she’s on a constant quest for Mr. Right. Handsome, aloof Malcolm Brooks might just be The One, but when Malcolm’s attention turns toward her friend instead, Maxine is ready to risk a strong bond to fight for him. Renee Gladwell left a lucrative job and a handsome boyfriend to nurse her father and Gladwell Books back to health. A temporary stay has turned into four years of struggling with Alzheimer’s and a family owned bookstore that is in no shape to sell. Renee is in limbo, caring for a man who is slowly forgetting his past—including her. When she meets Malcolm Brooks, her life brightens, but is love worth risking a friendship? *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I got this book as a free download from BookBub, and it was a nice, light read in comparison with a lot of “heavy” books I’ve been reading recently. It was also nice to read on a Kindle again, as I’ve read 2 or 3 printed books lately with too-small of font than I prefer. (Thank goodness I got new glasses recently.) I could have sworn that I read somewhere that this was a self-published book, but I can’t corroborate it anywhere now. Thinking that, I was hyper-aware of editing issues, but I was delighted to not find many. There were 3 instances of a missing word in a sentence, but not consistent grammatical errors or typos, etc. Enough of all that. I thought all 3 of the main characters were well-developed, and I liked having insight into both good and bad qualities of each. I thought the ups and downs of their 30-year relationship were realistic and one review characterized it as one that “bends, but never breaks.” Reading this book, I thought on and off about the Mostly Social Book Club that I’ve been a member of for 28 years and meets monthly—not at “Ruby’s,” but at (rotating locations of) Panera Bread (when we could meet in person).

Bel Canto book cover Book: Bel Canto Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 318 Duration: 07/26/20 – 08/01/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: literary fiction, music
🔖10-word summary: A kidnapping goes awry, and four-and-a-half months of complacency ensues
🖌6-word review: Virtuoso performance sprinkled with dry humor
Description:* Somewhere in South America at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening, until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage. But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I really loved this book, and I don’t think it’s because I like opera, but I’m pretty sure that added to my enjoyment. There were several striking—beautifully written—passages that I quoted on Facebook after reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s sprinkling of dry humor throughout, at several of which I “chuckled out loud.” And to be honest, the intermittent dry humor was my favorite part of this book. At one point, I checked the genres listed for it to see if “humor” was one of them. (It wasn’t.) From a psychological point of view, I also find the changes in the large group of people—both the captives and the captors—interesting to observe as their predicament aged four-and-a-half months. Don’t let the fact that his story is centered around an opera soprano diva deter you from reading it, and I thank my friend Jean Ells for loaning it to me

What Belongs to You book cover Book: What Belongs to You Author: Garth Greenwell
Pages: 195 Duration: 07/24/20 – 07/25/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: literary fiction, LGBT
🔖10-word summary: A men’s room trick becomes—more or less—an addiction
🖌6-word review: Lyrical prose, includes a 40-page paragraph
Description:* On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and disease. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: Although I’m not a huge fan of “lyrically written” novels—they’re okay in small doses—this book did have some beautifully written passages. Set in Bulgaria, there were Bulgarian words and phrases sprinkled throughout, almost always followed by a word or phrase set off by commas to translate them, which I appreciated. At one point while reading, I suddenly found myself sort of out of breath and looked down the rest of the page for the next paragraph break but didn’t see one. It was only then that I discovered I was 11 pages into a chapter that was one, long, 40-page paragraph! I’m guessing it was done for effect, but whatever the reason, I wasn’t a fan of it. The first section of this book, called “Mitko,” was first published as a standalone novella by that name, which I could see working. With its opening scene of tricking in a men’s room, one might be tempted to dismiss this book as gay fiction erotica, but it’s definitely not that—not filled with gratuitous sex. It’s more about weighty and universal ideas like differences in power, education, and prosperity; about societal perception and judgment of gay men and sex workers; and touches on the often-complicated relationships between gay men and their fathers. Its overarching theme, though, is about the many facets of desire and its consequences.

A Little Life book cover Book: A Little Life Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Pages: 736 Duration: 07/15/20 – 07/22/20 (8 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: literary fiction, LGBT
🔖10-word summary: Jude harbors unspeakable horrors that scar his body and mind
🖌6-word review: Takes a psychological toll on reader
Description:* When 4 classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I have to agree with several reviews of this book that said, “I loved this book, but I could never read it again.” It’s a great, great story about often excrutiating—both physical and emotional— pain, and it takes a psychological toll on the reader. At least it did on this one. I found Jude’s refusal to get therapy hugely selfish and increasingly infuriating as the book wore on. A criticism I have about the writing is that I felt that the narrative point-of-view was all over the map on it, and it would have been incredibly helpful to have more attribution tags (i.e., “, said Jude,” or “, she said.”) in the writing. It was mostly in 3rd person, with a couple of chapters thrown in with a 1st-person narrator—and it wasn’t the person I’d expect it to be, which just added to the confusion until I figured out who was talking. For that reason, at the beginning of more than one chapter, I was several pages into the chapter before I could figure out who the antecedents were for the “you,” “he,” “she,” or “we” in that chapter. That was a little frustrating, because of the “noise” in my head trying to figure that out instead of focusing on the story being told in those moments. With that said, once I figured it out, it was fine. And speaking of points of view, I found the writing about the male LGBT characters in this book extraordinary, especially considering that the author is a (presumably) straight, cis woman. For reasons I’m not too sure of, at times I found myself thinking of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (one of my favorite books) while reading this book. And more than once, I found myself thinking, “I wish I could write this well.” I highly recommend this book, but I would also recommend being in an emotionally healthy place, if at all possible, when you read it. It’s the kind of book that should probably come with a trigger warning.

The Family Gathering book cover Book: The Family Gathering Author: Robyn Carr
Pages: 352 Duration: 07/08/20 – 07/12/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, romance
🔖10-word summary: Dakota’s return to his quiet hometown to reconnect escalates quickly
🖌6-word review: Average, book 3 of a series
Description:* Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head and is immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life. But Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he’s on everyone’s radar. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he gets to know himself and what he truly wants. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I’d had this book on hold for a while at the library and initially chose it because it was available in large print and it was fairly highly rated. But, I didn’t realize 2 things about it until I’d started it—it’s book #3 in a 5-book series, and it’s a romance—two qualities in books I didn’t want to read any more of this year. So with that, I went into it with a bad attitude. The story was interesting enough, but the writing seemed a little juvenile to me, so much so that at one point, I checked to see if it was a “Young Adult” book. There were a lot of characters, and I had a hard time keeping up with them at times. I’m sure many of them were in the first 2 books of the series, which I hadn’t read. Overall, it was interesting enough to finish, but certainly not interesting enough to make me want to read any of the other 4 books in the series.

A Dangerous Age book cover Book: A Dangerous Age Author: Ellen Gilchrist
Pages: 245 Duration: 07/05/20 – 07/06/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: literary fiction, American south
🔖10-word summary: Strength abides in three female cousins of the Hand family
🖌6-word review: Clear, direct, no-nonsense look at life
Description:* The story of the women of the Hand family, three cousins in a Southern dynasty rich with history and tradition who are no strangers to either controversy or sadness. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, the novel is a celebration of the strength of these women, and of others like them. In her characteristically clear and direct prose, with its wry, no-nonsense approach to the world and the people who inhabit it, Gilchrist gives voice to women on a collision course with a distant war that, in truth, is never more than a breath away. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which was simply told, but about complicated life events and decisions. I had a little trouble keeping the 3 cousins (and their boyfriends/lovers/husbands) straight at times, but the cousin who became the central character, Olivia, was strongly portrayed. The job of Olivia’s husband, Bobby Tree, reminded me so much of the play Grounded, by George Brant, which I saw at Manbites Dog Theater in 2014. I definitely recommend this book, which was loaned to me by my friend Jean Ells, and which I found to be a quick, easy—but not trite—read.

How to be Good book cover Book: How to Be Good Author: Nick Hornby
Pages: 305 Duration: 07/04/20 – 07/05/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, humor
🔖10-word summary: A bad husband turns good, still exasperating to his wife
🖌6-word review: Male author impressively portrays female narrator
Description:* Katie Carr is certainly trying to be good. That’s why she became a GP. That’s why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It’s also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, having just slept with another man. What Katie doesn’t yet realize is that her fall from grace is just the first step on a spiritual journey more torturous than the interstate at rush hour. Because, prompted by his wife’s actions, David is about to stop being angry. He’s about to become good—not politically correct, organic-food-eating good, but good in the fashion of the Gospels. And that’s no easier in modern-day Holloway than it was in ancient Israel. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: Another book loaned to me by my friend Jean Ells, I loved this book, mostly for the way in which it seemed to just keep tightening the screws on the female protagonist and her mostly laugh-out-loud, on-time, and dead-pan sarcasm. And just as everything she hated about her husband “went away” to presumably allow her to climb out of the hole her life had become, she instead managed to keep digging it deeper. The book is also a fascinating, philosophical and psychological look at how tenuous “being good” compared to “being good as long as it remains convenient” really is. This is my first time reading this author, and I thought his female-narrator writing was excellent. I never once thought anything was unrealistic or “off” about her first-person narration.

The Great Believers book cover Book: The Great Believers Author: Rebecca Makkai
Pages: 421 Duration: 06/28/20 – 07/03/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: literary fiction, historical fiction, LGBT
🔖10-word summary: Fiona’s 30-year journey of loving, losing, and searching for happiness
🖌6-word review: Great story with believable, heartrending characters
Description:* In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. 30 years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book, which was recommended to me by my friend Jaleh. The story bounces back and forth, by chapter, between (mostly ) 1985 and 2015. When a book does this, I love when each story line is so good that you’re thrilled at the beginning of each chapter to be back to see what happens next in that story line. This is that kind of book. More than once during this book, I recalled Bob showing me old photo albums of him and his friends (way before I was in his life), and pointing to another picture, “He’s dead. He’s dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.” At times this book is a stark reminder of it all.

White Fragility book cover Book: White Fragility Author: Robin DiAngelo
Pages: 187 Duration: 06/12/20 – 06/26/20 (15 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, race, anti-racist, social movements, social justice, politics, psychology
🔖10-word summary: Learn how you’re racist even though you know you’re not
🖌6-word review: Requires intellect and openness to read
Description:* Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo first coined the term “white fragility” in 2011, and since then it’s been invoked by critics from Samantha Bee to Charles Blow. “White fragility” refers to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors including argumentation and silence. In this book, DiAngelo unpacks white fragility, explaining the underlying sociological phenomena. She’ll draw on examples from her work and scholarship, as well as from the culture at large, to address these fundamental questions: How does white fragility develop? What does it look like? How is it triggered? What can we do to move beyond white fragility and engage more constructively? *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: There is so much to learn about racism in this book if you’re willing to open your mind and learn why we (white people) become so defensive when talking about race. If you say, or believe, that any of these things mean you’re not racist, you need to educate yourself about what racism really is:
Color blind statements: I was taught to treat everyone the same. I don’t see color. I don’t care if you are pink, purple, or polka-dotted. Race doesn’t have any meaning to me. My parents were/weren’t racist, so that is why I am not racist. Everyone struggles, but if you work hard. So-and-so just happens to be black, but that has nothing to do with what I am about to tell you. Focusing on race is what divides us. If people are respectful to me, I am respectful to them, regardless of race. Children today are so much more open. I’m not racist; I’m from Canada. I was picked on because I was white/I grew up poor (so I don’t have race privilege).
Color celebrate statements: I work in a very diverse environment. I have people of color in my family/married a person of color/have children of color. I was in the military. I used to live in New York/Hawaii. We don’t like how white our neighborhood is, but we had to move here for the schools. I was in the Peace Corps. I marched in the 60s. We adopted a child from China. Our grandchildren are multiracial. I was on a mission in Africa. I went to a very diverse school/lived in a very diverse neighborhood. I lived in Japan and was a minority so I know what it is like to be a minority. I lived among the [fill-in-the-blank] people, so I am actually a person of color. My great grandmother was a Native American princess.Please give yourself, and humankind, the gift of reading this book and using the information in your daily lives from then on. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Be like Maya Angelou.

Valentine book cover Book: Valentine Author: Elizabeth Wetmore
Pages: 320 Duration: 06/08/20 – 06/20/20 (13 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction
🔖10-word summary: Mary Rose defies her family in her defense of Glory
🖌6-word review: Beautiful writing, strong women, compelling story
Description:* It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow. In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, 14-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I had a galley proof version of this book, another loan from my friend Jean Ells. Especially for a first novel, this is a beautifully written book. Each chapter focuses on one of the main characters, the first being Gloria (who quickly insists on being called Glory), and the second being Mary Rose and whose chapters are in first person. I usually read books serially, but I started another book while reading this one and with stepping away from it for a couple of days, and there being a fair member of characters in it, I did have to stop at about the halfway point and create a list of characters and how they related to each other, which helped me tremendously. With this book exploring the intersections of violence, race, class, and region was extra tough reading with the recent killing of George Floyd (May 25) and the extreme racial unrest in the U.S. right now. It was just one more thing that angered me a lot, especially when it got to the chapter about the trial of the boy who raped Glory. I would highly recommend this book, though.

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You book cover Book: A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You Author: Amy Bloom
Pages: 163 Duration: 06/06/20 – 06/07/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: “Characters confronted with tragedy, perplexed by emotions, challenged to endure”
🖌6-word review: Loved a story had a “sequel”
Description: Because this book consists of 7 stories (with one having 2 parts, which I’ve designated 3a and 3b), I’m just going to provide a 10-word summary and 6-word review of each of them instead of detailing what each is about:
1st short story: A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (collection’s namesake story)
Summary: Jane thoughtfully supports her daughter as she becomes her son
Review: The kind of support I’d want
2nd short story: Rowing to Eden
Summary: Ellie, Charlie, and Mai work through Mai’s breast cancer treatments
Review: Interesting permutations of only suggestive couplings
3a short story: Lionel and Julia: Night Vision
Summary: A black man and his white stepmother transgress one time
Review: A just-long-enough short story that continues
3b short story: Lionel and Julia: Light Into Dark
Summary: Six years later, man and stepmother superficially contemplate the incident
Review: “A consideration of consequences and healing”
4th short story: Stars at Elbow and Foot
Summary: A mother works through the grief of losing her baby
Review: A believable account of processing a death
5th short story: Hold Tight
Summary: Della’s year with a dying mother and a ghost-like father
Review: Short tale with a touching ending
6th short story: The Gates Are Closing
Summary: A mistress monitors her married lover’s decline with Parkinson’s disease
Review: The perspective of an unlikely narrator
7th short story: The Story
Summary: Author writes about a story an author’s trying to write
Review: Serious example of an unreliable narrator
Thoughts: This is another of the books loaned to me by my friend Jean Ells. I didn’t realized until I got to the end of the first story that this was yet another collection of short stories. This is my fourth book of short stories, which is plenty enough for one year. I’ll be checking to make sure I don’t read another one until 2021. This was my first book by Amy Bloom, and I really enjoyed her writing and won’t hesitate to read another book by her.

Hateship, Friendship_Courtship, Loveship, Marriage book cover Book: Hateship, Friendship_Courtship, Loveship, Marriage Author: Alice Munro
Pages: 323 Duration: 05/15/20 – 06/06/20 (22 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, short stories, Canadian culture
🔖10-word summary: “Narratives that loop and swerve like memory conjuring up characters”
🖌6-word review: “Tirelessly observant, deeply and gloriously humane”
Description: Because this book consists of 9 stories, I’m just going to provide a 10-word summary and 6-word review of each of them instead of detailing what each is about:
1st short story: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (collection’s namesake story)
Summary: Johanna Parry goes through all that in this short story
Review: Jam-packed and entertaining in fifty-seven pages
2nd short story: Floating Bridge
Summary: Older woman with cancer gets a new lease on life
Review: Could have been icky, but wasn’t
3rd short story: Family Furnishings
Summary: A young lady learns some lessons about being a writer
Review: Short story about a short story
4th short story: Comfort
Summary: Nina and Lewis have a plan for Lewis’ fatal illness
Review: “A gem among finely polished stones”
5th short story: Nettles
Summary: An unexpected, yet fortuitous, thunderstorm is par for the course
Review: An unanticipated secret saves this one
6th short story: Post and Beam
Summary: Lorna works through her strained relationship with her cousin Polly
Review: Confusing opening, innuendo-laden middle, unsatisfying ending
7th short story: What is remembered
Summary: Her husband’s friend’s funeral leads to an affair to remember
Review: A melodramatic imagining of what’s remembered
8th short story: Queenie
Summary: Chrissy keeps looking for her stepsister who keeps leaving unannounced
Review: A nice, compact, standalone sibling tale
9th short story: The Bear Came Over the Mountain
Summary: Complicated relationships among Grant and Fiona and Aubrey and Marian
Review: Wonderfully woven web of happenstance meetings
Thoughts: This collection of short stories was recommended by a friend, Jean Ells, and I loved it. I read the title story, which was the first short story in the collection in one day, downloaded on my Kindle on May 15. After reading my next book, Days of Distraction, I went back to this collection and read the other 8 short stories after borrowing the paperback version of the collection from the friend who recommended it. I really enjoy this writer, and I’m sure I’ll read more of her in the future. Thanks, Jean!

Days of Distraction book cover Book: Days of Distraction Author: Alexandra Chang
Pages: 320 Duration: 05/25/20 – 05/30/20 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: literary fiction, Asian culture
🔖10-word summary: Asian, female protagonist painstakingly works through her persistent existential angst
🖌6-word review: “Told in spare, but powerful prose”
Description:* The plan is to leave. As for how, when, to where, and even why—she doesn’t know yet. So begins a journey for the 24-year-old narrator. As a staff writer at a prestigious tech publication, she reports on the achievements of smug Silicon Valley billionaires and start-up bros while her own request for a raise gets bumped from manager to manager. And when her longtime boyfriend, J, decides to move to a quiet upstate New York town for grad school, she sees an excuse to cut and run. Moving is supposed to be a grand gesture of her commitment to J and a way to reshape her sense of self. But in the process, she finds herself facing misgivings about her role in an interracial relationship. Captivated by the stories of her ancestors and other Asian Americans in history, she must confront a question at the core of her identity: What does it mean to exist in a society that does not notice or understand you? *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: A fortuitous meeting of a retired librarian friend during (Jean Ells) a #CoronavirusDays neighborhood walk led me to this little gem. We began talking about books, and she said that she has a big collection at her house that I’m more than welcome to borrow from while the libraries are closed (and beyond, really). This book was one that she recommended. I really enjoyed it for a few reasons: 1) the protagonist was female, Asian, and a staff writer for a technology publication—I like reading books by non-white authors throughout the year, and her being a writer for a technology company appealed to me for obvious reasons, 2) its format included short, varied paragraphs—returning to alternating story lines or threads, and 3) the narrator was very honest even though it didn’t shed a positive light on her at times, and she seemed genuinely interested in personal growth in the context of the complex navigation of the world as a oft-time marginalized member of society.

The Little Friend book cover Book: The Little Friend (Abandoned) Author: Donna Tartt
Pages: 642 Duration: 05/16/20 – 05/25/20 (10 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: literary fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: A determined sister seeks the killer of her little brother
🖌6-word review: Unengaging characters, started skimming, then abandoned
Description:* The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson—sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. *From Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This book started off interesting to me, and I was even pulling for Harriett as she set out to uncover the mystery of her brother’s death. Then, a slew of characters were introduced that I found completely uninteresting and whom the author elaborated upon beyond tolerable to me. I found myself skimming a lot, but even when the storyline returned to Harriett, I found myself struggling to care. One of the reasons it took me so long to abandon it is that The Secret History, one of this author’s other books, is one of my all-time favorite books, and I also enjoyed—though to a lesser extent—her book, The Goldfinch. The final straw, though, was when Bob asked me if reading this book was bringing me joy, and without hesitation, I said, “No, it isn’t.”

Days of Awe book cover Book: Days of Awe Author: Lauren Fox
Pages: 274 Duration: 05/10/20 – 05/15/20 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, literary fiction
🔖10-word summary: Isabel’s tribulations with her husband, daughter, and beloved best friend
🖌6-word review: Not enough growth in the protagonist
Description:* Only a year ago Isabel Moore was married, the object of adoration of her ten-year-old daughter, and thought she knew everything about her wild, extravagant, beloved best friend, Josie. But in that one short year: her husband moved out and rented his own apartment; her daughter grew into a moody insomniac; and Josie—impulsive, funny, secretive Josie—was killed behind the wheel in a single-car accident. As Isabel tries to make sense of this shattering loss and unravel the months leading up to Josie’s death, she comes to understand the shifts, large and small, that can upend a friendship and an entire life. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I know that people grieve in their own way and at their own pace, but the protagonist in this story just took too long, and you’re really just left to imagine how it turned out once she finally did move into the acceptance stage of her grief. It was not a bad book, per se, but I’d be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone.

A Doubter's Almanac book cover Book: A Doubter’s Almanac Author: Ethan Canin
Pages: 577 Duration: 05/03/20 – 05/08/20 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction
🔖10-word summary: Tormented mathematical genius’s life unravels his family and his health
🖌6-word review: Intellectual and philosophical inquiry into genius
Description:* Milo Andret is born with an unusual mind. A lonely child growing up in the woods of northern Michigan in the 1950s, he gives little thought to his own talent. But with his acceptance at U.C. Berkeley he realizes the extent, and the risks, of his singular gifts. California in the seventies is a seduction, opening Milo’s eyes to the allure of both ambition and indulgence. The research he begins there will make him a legend; the woman he meets there—and the rival he meets alongside her—will haunt him for the rest of his life. For Milo’s brilliance is entwined with a dark need that soon grows to threaten his work, his family, even his existence. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I savored reading this book over the 6 days I spent with it. I do wonder if I liked it so much because my undergraduate degree was in mathematics, or just because it was so well written—with exceptional character development, particularly of the protagonist. Milo made me think of archetypal characters—not unlike Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, who is often cited as a classic example of the INTJ (The architect) Myers-Briggs type. In any case, I enjoyed the inquiry into “the nature of genius, rivalry, ambition, and love among multiple generations of a gifted family.” I thought the author did a good job describing enough of the mathematical problem that Milo ended up solving to not totally alienate the reader (at least not this one), and especially considering it wasn’t a real mathematical problem—hence the “fiction” part of its “historical fiction” genre designation.

Interpreter of Maladies book cover Book: Interpreter of Maladies Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Pages: 209 Duration: 04/30/20 – 05/02/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, short stories, Indian culture
🔖10-word summary: Short stories of nuanced depth resonating across cultures and generations
🖌6-word review: Pulitzer Prize winner for a reason
Description: Because this book consists of 9 stories, I’m just going to provide a 10-word summary and 6-word review of each of them instead of detailing what each is about:
1st short story: A Temporary Matter
Summary: Husband and wife confess carefully during scheduled temporary power outages
Review: Beautifully told story of unraveling love
2nd short story: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
Summary: From Boston, Mr. Pirzada worries about his family in Dacca
Review: Contemplations of assimilation, politics, and identity
3rd short story: Interpreter of Maladies (book’s namesake short story)
Summary: A profound secret is thrust upon a man for interpretation
Review: Delicious entrapment of protagonist and reader
4th short story: A Real Durwan
Summary: Boori Ma, a building caretaker, gets cast out by tenants
Review: Globalization’s ripple effect on personal economics
5th short story: Sexy
Summary: Sexy Miranda slowly devolves into the inevitable unfulfilled other woman
Review: Parallel stories of adultery interestingly juxtaposed
6th short story: Mrs. Sen’s
Summary: Mrs. Sen, an unhappy and lonely Calcutta immigrant, babysits Eliot
Review: Anticipated car accident the whole time
7th short story: This Blessed House
Summary: Sanjeev and Twinkle’s marriage tested by unearthed household Christian iconography
Review: Opposites attract in a strained way
8th short story: The Treatment of Bibi Haldar
Summary: Bibi has a mysterious illness that only marriage can cure
Review: An implausible, entertaining, and satisfying mystery
9th short story: The Third and Final Continent
Summary: A Calcutta man recounts his new job, wife, and country
Review: An engaging snapshot of a life
Thoughts: This is my second book of short stories this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s not surprising that its author won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for this work. It’s beautifully written and wildly succeeds in painting complex characters and exploring nuanced, yet universal, reactions and life experiences in the restrained genre of the short story. From the book jacket, with which I fully agree: “Traveling from India to New England and back again, the stories in this extraordinary debut collection unerringly chart the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations. Imbued with the sensual details of Indian culture, they also speak with universal eloquence to everyone who has ever felt like a foreigner.”

A Girl's Guide to Moving On book cover Book: A Girl’s Guide to Moving On Author: Debbie Macomber
Pages: 352 Duration: 04/26/20 – 04/29/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, romance
🔖10-word summary: Mother and daughter-in-law simultaneously divorce their husbands to move on
🖌6-word review: Neither a guide nor very compelling
Description:* A mother and her daughter-in-law bravely leave their troubled marriages and face the challenge of starting over. Leaning on each other, Nichole and Leanne discover that their inner strength and capacity for love are greater than they ever imagined. An inspiring novel of friendship, reinvention, and hope, this book affirms the ability of every woman to forge a new path, believe in love, and fearlessly find happiness. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I know I just said I wasn’t going to read any more books this year classified in the romance genre, but this one had been on request at the library for several months, and 1) it was an e-book, and 2) it became available just as I was finishing The Sense of an Ending. So, I went ahead and read it. It was only “okay” to me. There were several reviews on Goodreads saying the writing in this book was terrible. Although I found it very basic, I wouldn’t categorize it as terrible. I do think the “A Girl’s Guide to…” part of the title was used mostly as a device to lure a certain demographic, but to use a somewhat overused adjective these days, I’d call it “click bait.” The 5 (Or was it 6? Who cares? I certainly didn’t.) items in “the guide” were enumerated at the beginning (e.g., Don’t allow yourself to wallow in your pain. Cultivate new friendships. Let go in order to receive. Love yourself.) and referred to, or alluded to, maybe 2 or 3 more times, at the most, throughout the rest of the book. It really wasn’t about a guide at all, and that annoyed me. Granted I’m easily annoyed, and I didn’t want to be reading a romance novel anyway. Attitude check! So, YMMV, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend this book.

The Sense of an Ending book cover Book: The Sense of an Ending Author: Julian Barnes
Pages: 162 Duration: 04/25/20 – 04/25/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, literary fiction
🔖10-word summary: Tony Webster rethinks his life’s actions through a new lens
🖌6-word review: What, how, and when we remember
Description:* This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I ran through this book in about 4.5 hours. The Goodreads blurb says, “A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication,” which certainly was the case for me. Oh, and I’m glad I read this one on a Kindle, because there were some serious vocabulary words in it, these among the ones I looked up: exculpated, susurrus, riposte, lachrymosely, puerile, lieder, deliquescent, fossicking, and priapic.

Love Lettering book cover Book: Love Lettering Author: Kate Clayborn
Pages: 320 Duration: 04/19/20 – 04/23/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, romance, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Two people who love codes first clash then get together
🖌6-word review: Held surprisingly little of my interest
Description:* Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for her New York City clientele. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his polished fiancée was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid. A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore a deepening connection between them. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This book just didn’t work for me. I thought that because it was about “lettering,” which before reading the book I translated as about writing and words, that it’d be interesting to me. As it turned out, it was more about typography than writing and words. And it was actually mostly about a romance that develops between the two main characters, neither of whom drew me in. Before this book, if you’d’ve asked me if I read romance novels, my answer would have been, “Rarely.” However, while trying to assess what I didn’t really like about this book, I noticed that one of the genres it’s categorized in is “romance.” Then I looked at my reading list for this year, and lo and behold, this is the fifth book to date that has that as one of its genres. I particularly did not like the sex scenes described between these two characters. I’m going to make a concerted effort not to read any more romance novels this year. Unfortunately, one of the things that’s affecting my reading choices lately is this damn coronavirus situation, which has our libraries closed, so I’m having to find Kindle books online that are available for free downloads.

Me book cover Book: Me Author: Elton John
Pages: 376 Duration: 04/13/20 – 04/17/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, autobiography, celebrity, music
🔖10-word summary: Elton John authentically recounts his larger-than-life character, experiences, and career
🖌6-word review: Brutally honest, often unflattering, always extraordinary
Description:* Christened Reginald Dwight, he was a shy boy with Buddy Holly glasses who grew up in the London suburb of Pinner and dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the age of 23, he was on his first tour of America, facing an astonished audience in his tight silver hotpants, bare legs and a T-shirt with ROCK AND ROLL emblazoned across it in sequins. Elton John had arrived and the music world would never be the same again. His life has been full of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to spinning out of control as a chart-topping superstar; from half-heartedly trying to drown himself in his LA swimming pool to disco-dancing with the Queen; from friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and George Michael to setting up his AIDS Foundation. All the while, Elton was hiding a drug addiction that would grip him for over a decade. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book for a lot of reasons. I loved how honest Elton was telling his story, even when a lot of times he came across as a bully, an asshole, or a cokehead. I loved his telling of how he and his close friends gave each other drag names: Elton was Sharon. Rod Stewart was Phyllis. Freddie Mercury was Melini. Michael Jackson was Mahalia. John Reid (Elton’s first boyfriend, and later his music manager) was Beryl, and Tony King (an art director) was Joy. I loved hearing his stories of meeting and working with other artists of all kinds. His mother was an absolutely horrible woman and the stories he does share of her highlight how ruthlessly viscous she was. I loved his story about (not) working with Tina Turner. And knowing what I know about him now, it’s extraordinary that he was able to perform and record like he did being the serious alcohol and drug addict that he was for a long time, and it’s even more amazing that he didn’t die along the way.

I Owe You One book cover Book: I Owe You One Author: Sophie Kinsella
Pages: 432 Duration: 04/11/20 – 04/13/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, romance
🔖10-word summary: It takes a while, but Fixie finally finds her backbone
🖌6-word review: Tightly characterized, at times exasperating, protagonist
Description:* Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” But since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will? It’s simply not in her nature to say no to people. So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, Fixie not only agrees—she ends up saving it from certain disaster. Turns out the computer’s owner is an investment manager. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, Sebastian scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. But Fixie laughs it off—she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she? Soon Fixie, “Ms. Fixit” for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants? *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I really liked this book despite reading a couple of bad reviews about it before I started, one of which noted that the author uses “ludicrously” a ludicrous number of times. So, of course I noticed it every time I saw it. However, I estimate that it was used 7 or 8 times, across a 432-page book and was contextually correct on each use. I’m positive I wouldn’t have even noticed it had I not read that review first. (There now you can be distracted by it, too, if you read the book. Sorry.) I love when an author can draw a character so vividly almost solely by what they say, how they react to things, and physical or emotional “tics.” One of the criticisms of this book was that the protagonist was infuriating. She was! But isn’t that good writing if the author can get you so riled up about a character? To each his or her own, of course, but I recommend this book.

Ask Again, Yes book cover Book: Ask Again, Yes Author: Mary Beth Keane
Pages: 400 Duration: 04/09/20 – 04/10/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, psychology
🔖10-word summary: Two families work 4 decades through a complex, tragic event
🖌6-word review: Human frailty exposed to its utmost
Description:* Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next 40 years. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This author grew up in Pearl River, NY, which made me think of my friend, Mary. From a New York Times interview with Mary Beth Keane: “She was particularly affected by her husband’s long estrangement from his parents and began to look for a way to explain that break to their children. ‘I wanted to help them understand that even people who are decent in their hearts might get lost, might fail to live up to the contract of parenthood or marriage. No one ever plans to become estranged. It happens day by day, year by year, until next thing—oops!—20 years have gone by. Is it possible for a parent and child to become true strangers to one another? Or is there always some connection? I began writing this book to figure out how I might answer that question.'” I think she did a good job of that.

The Identicals book cover Book: The Identicals Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Pages: 433 Duration: 04/04/20 – 04/07/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, romance
🔖10-word summary: Twins wreak havoc in each others lives just like mom
🖌6-word review: Story starring Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard
Description:* Nantucket is only 2.5 hours away from Martha’s Vineyard by ferry. But the two islands might as well be worlds apart for a set of identical twin sisters who have been at odds for years. When a family crisis forces them to band together—or at least appear to—the twins slowly come to realize that the special bond that they share is more important than the sibling rivalry that’s driven them apart for the better part of their lives. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a classic Elin Hilderbrand book, the kind that’s often referred to as a “quick, summer read.” Essentially, the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are each a character in this novel, and they hold a soft spot in my heart. Although I’m from from Fall River, MA, about 50-60 miles from those islands, I’d never been to either island until my 60th birthday. I went alone, and I spent 2.5 days on Nantucket, 2.5 days on Martha’s Vineyard, and a day in Hyannis Port. Being that I’m half Portuguese (there is a big Portuguese population in Fall River), I was tickled to death at this passage in the book: “Even hungover, Franklin installs the new kitchen cabinets the next day and sets in the porcelain farmhouse sink. There are two Portuguese guys from Fall River—both named Paulo—sanding down the floors in the living room and dining room.” All that aside, it’s typical Hilderbrand writing: intertwined lives played off and against each other, with strong characters and circumstances pushing everyone to the edge.

The Husband's Secret book cover Book: The Husband’s Secret Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 498 Duration: 03/31/20 – 04/04/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, psychology
🔖10-word summary: A man’s posthumous-intended, found letter shatters the lives around him
🖌6-word review: Gripping, thought-provoking, and best epilogue ever
Description:* Your husband’s letter to be opened after his death contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Then imagine stumbling across it while he’s still very much alive. Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter has earth-shattering repercussions that’s about to change everything, and not just for her. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book—hence the 5-star rating. This is my second Liane Moriarty book this year, and I gave What Alice Forgot a 5-star rating, too. I guess you could say I like this author. I did have a little trouble keeping the characters (or should I say families) straight for the first couple of chapters and when their interconnections first became apparent. But once into the groove, I was interested in each family’s own little sub-drama and even more so in how intertwined they eventually all became. The epilogue is probably the best ending to a book I’ve ever read. I found it analogous to the final scene (which I loved) of the final episode of the final season of Six Feet Under if you ever watched that HBO series. But I loved this book’s epilogue 100 times more than I loved that final scene.

The Obituary Society book cover Book: The Obituary Society Author: Jessica L. Randall
Pages: 216 Duration: 03/28/20 – 03/30/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, romance
🔖10-word summary: A granddaughter’s inherited house houses incriminating and dangerous family secrets
🖌6-word review: Finished, one notch above didn’t like
Description:* Lila Moore inherits her grandfather’s house in a small Midwestern town. She’s charmed by the people of Auburn, from the blue-eyed lawyer with the southern drawl to the little old lady who unceasingly tries to set Lila up with her grandson. But when strange things begin to happen, Lila realizes some of her new friends are guarding a secret like it’s a precious family heirloom. It’s a dangerous secret, and it has come back to haunt them. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I found this book just good enough to finish, but neither loving it nor likely to recommend it. I was having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why it didn’t grab me, but when I was creating this entry for it and saw that one of the genres that Goodreads classified this book as was “romance,” a light bulb went off. I’m not a big fan of romance novels. Also, one of the main draws of this book was the word “obituary” in the title, but there was very little information about the The Obituary Society’s actual meetings, which is what I wanted to know about. I didn’t find out that this book was the first in a 3-book series until I was well into it, and presumably they talk more about the meetings in the subsequent books, but I wasn’t intrigued enough in this one to read on.

Be Frank With Me book cover Book: Be Frank With Me Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Pages: 309 Duration: 03/24/20 – 03/27/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, humor
🔖10-word summary: A brilliantly precocious boy’s life with his famous-author, dysfunctional mother
🖌6-word review: At times humorous, at times heartbreaking
Description:* When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the 9-year-old son of Mimi, an eccentric author mother. He’s a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders. As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation, and whether Mimi will ever finish that book. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this tale—but not without frequently being confounded, infuriated, and exasperated by Frank’s mother, for which I’ll credit good character development by Julia Claiborne Johnson. This is the kind of book that I could easily see turned into a movie, although a child actor doesn’t come to mind who could pull off Frank. He was quite the character. I highly recommend this book.

Postcards from a Stranger book cover Book: Postcards from a Stranger Author: Imogen Clark
Pages: 348 Duration: 03/21/20 – 03/23/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Old postcards in attic expose a lifetime of family lies
🖌6-word review: Entertaining investigative work by female protagonist
Description:* When Cara stumbles across a stash of old postcards in the attic, their contents make her question everything she thought she knew. The story she pieces together is confusing and unsettling, and appears to have been patched over with lies. But who can tell her the truth? With her father sinking into Alzheimer’s and her brother reluctant to help, it seems Cara will never find the answers to her questions. One thing is clear, though: someone knows more than they’re letting on. The picture that begins to emerge is not at all the one she’d expected—because as she soon discovers, lies have a habit of multiplying. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a well-told story—a mystery that unfolded at a nice clip, never keeping me waiting very long for the next revelation to satisfy me and keep me wanting to know what would happen next.

Everything My Mother Taught Me book cover Book: Everything My Mother Taught Me Author: Alive Hoffman
Pages: 24 Duration: 03/21/20 – 03/21/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Mute girl survives her father’s death and mother’s mean selfishness
🖌6-word review: An impressively succinct, well-written short story
Description:* For fatefully observant Adeline, growing up carries an ominous warning from her adulterous mother: don’t say a word. Adeline vows to never speak again. But that’s not her only secret. After her mother takes a housekeeping job at a lighthouse off the tip of Cape Ann, a local woman vanishes. The key to the mystery lies with Adeline, the silent witness. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this short (24-page) story. A lot of themes were covered in a very short time—loyalty, betrayal, adultery, revenge, and love. The 4- as opposed to 5-star rating was due to “some minor flaws,” namely with questions about some plot points that I didn’t think about, but Bob pointed out when I described the story to him. I still would recommend the book, though, because they obviously didn’t bother me, since I didn’t even notice them.

The Last Thing She Ever Did book cover Book: The Last Thing She Ever Did Author: Gregg Olsen
Pages: 372 Duration: 03/17/20 – 03/19/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, thriller
🔖10-word summary: A trio of neighbors involved in a little boy’s disappearance
🖌6-word review: A compelling, well-written, plot-driven, page-turning mystery
Description:* The community along Oregon’s Deschutes River is one of successful careers and perfect families. For years, up-and-comers Liz and Owen have admired their good friends and neighbors, Carole and David. They appear to have it all–security, happiness, and a beautiful young son, Charlie. Then Charlie vanishes without a trace, and all that seemed safe is shattered by a tragedy that is incomprehensible—except to Liz. There’s another good neighbor who has his own secrets, his own pain, and his own reasons for watching Liz’s every move. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I flew through this book, because it was well-written and plot-driven, two very important factors in how much I like a book. I also found myself yelling at the characters, “How stupid can you be?” And, “No, no, no, don’t do that!” A couple of the things a couple of the characters did at times, seemed a little far-fetched, which is the only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. I do highly recommend it, though, if you like a quick-moving, plot-driven mystery.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know book cover Book: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Pages: 388 Duration: 03/15/20 – 03/16/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, psychology, sociology
🔖10-word summary: Complex human psychology that explains societal atrocities that confound us
🖌6-word review: Credible. Famous examples. Accessible psychological concepts.
Description:* How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true? Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, and it answered a lot of questions I had about the Brock Turner, Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nasser, and Michael Brown incidents, which he uses as examples to explain how complex human psychology is at work in these situations. The most enlightening thing to me, perhaps, was the well-explained section on (alcohol) blackouts. Fascinating. And the thing that contributed the most to my 5-star rating is the part of the criteria that says, “More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening).” Note: I also loved Outliers and The Tipping Point, the only 2 of his other books that I’ve read, so I may just be a fan of his writing and/or sociology and psychology books.

Break in Case of Emergency book cover Book: Break in Case of Emergency Author: Jessica Winter
Pages: 269 Duration: 03/08/20 – 03/12/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, women, humor
🔖10-word summary: Friendship, fertility, and fighting for sanity in a toxic workplace
🖌6-word review: Karina was a strongly written character
Description:* Jen has reached her early thirties and has all but abandoned a once-promising painting career when, spurred by the 2008 economic crisis, she takes a poorly defined job at a feminist nonprofit. The foundation’s ostensible aim is to empower women, but staffers spend all their time devising acronyms for imaginary programs, ruthlessly undermining one another, and stroking the ego of their boss, the larger-than-life celebrity philanthropist Leora Infinitas. Jen’s complicity in this passive-aggressive hellscape only intensifies her feelings of inferiority compared to her two best friends—one a wealthy attorney with a picture-perfect family, the other a passionately committed artist—and so does Jen’s apparent inability to have a baby, a source of existential panic that begins to affect her marriage and her already precarious status at the office. As Break in Case of Emergency unfolds, a fateful art exhibition, a surreal boondoggle adventure in Belize, and a devastating personal loss conspire to force Jen to reckon with some hard truths about herself and the people she loves most. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: It wasn’t until about a third of the way into this book that I was sure I was going to stick with it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t compelling to me either. I’m aware that I’m less tolerant of humorous books these days, with the most recent example being Rue McClanahan’s book that I abandoned in my 2019 reading. Humor in writing is tenuous for me and requires a certain level of rapport with the reader to be effective. In the case of Rue’s book, I got the distinct impression that she thought she was funnier than I did, as the reader, and that didn’t work for me. That’s what I was working through during the first third of this book. Perhaps because this humor was satire, and I like good satire, I was able to hang. I mentioned “Karina” in my 6-word review, and her character really was the saving grace of this book for me. Don’t get me wrong, as a “person,” she was infuriating, but I like when an author can get me riled up about a fictional character. For all of my ambivalence about it, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this book, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.

Property: Stories Between Two Novellas book cover Book: Property: Stories Between Two Novellas Author: Lionel Shriver
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/29/20 – 03/06/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Ten short stories sandwiched between two novellas each about property
🖌6-word review: Different meanings of property. Smart writing.
Description:* Because this book consists of 12 stories, I’m just going to provide a 10-word summary and 6-word review of each of them instead of detailing what each is about:
Novella 1: The Standing Chandelier
Summary: An enormous personal art piece wedding gift becomes problematic property
Review: A tightly wound tale of love
Shorty story 1: The Self-Seeding Sycamore
Summary: A widow’s property-line tree imbues grief, anger, rebirth, and love
Review: Neighbors come to a surprising resolution
Short story 2: Domestic Terrorism
Summary: Live-in son won’t vacate his family’s property no matter what
Review: A tightly wound tale of love
Shorty story 3: The Royal Male
Summary: A postman plays God with other people’s property—their mail
Review: A deceitful meeting “frontfires”—ending smashingly
Shorty story 4: Exchange Rates
Summary: London property ownership dreams constrained by money, family, and time
Review: Dad comes. Dad goes. Goal achieved.
Short story 5: Kilifi Creek
Summary: Female protagonist runs out of luck on Manhattan property rooftop
Review: Close calls finally close in completely
Shorty story 6: Repossession
Summary: Helen buys possessed repossessed property—it’s all downhill from there
Review: Circuitous road to the repo man
Shorty story 7: The ChapStick
Summary: Unlikely personal property—a ChapStick tube—has not inconsequential consequences
Review: A deceitful meeting “frontfires”—ending smashingly
Shorty story 8: Negative Equity
Summary: A couple’s “underwater” property complicates their impending separate living arrangements
Review: A restaurateur and a hygienist resuscitate
Short story 9: Vermin
Summary: The “Little Dump” Brooklyn property becomes overrun with raucous raccoons
Review: An imperfect purchase and relationship deteriorates
Shorty story 10: Paradise to Perdition
Summary: Tainted property—embezzled money—can’t buy happiness or even enjoyment
Review: A modern-day Crime and Punishment story
Novella 2: The Subletter
Summary: Emer sublets Sara’s flat with an overlapping period of calamity
Review: Too politically heavy, but otherwise compelling
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a novella or a short story in a while, so it was a nice change of pace. I liked how the kind of “property” at the center of each story varied, nicely described in this New York Times review: “From one story to the next, the acquisition of things—land, money, empty nests—rarely leads to happiness and often stimulates character traits that might better be kept in check.” My favorite story was The Royal Male (one of the 10 short stories) and my least favorite story (although I loved the beginning and the end of it) was The Subletter (one of the novellas and the last story in the book, unfortunately).

The Road Home book cover Book: The Road Home Author: Kathleen Shoop
Pages: 503 Duration: 02/25/20 – 02/28/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical fiction
🔖10-word summary: The long road back from a dramatic, circumstantial family separation
🖌6-word review: 3-POV, well-told saga penned in flashbacks
1905—Tearful mourners at Katherine’s mother’s funeral force her to revisit a time in her life that both harmed and saved her in the most unexpected ways. Her also-grieving brother Tommy is thrust backward, compelled to rediscover the events in his life that shaped the man he’s become. They come to understand that forgiveness is the only way back to hope, the only way to find all that was good in the misfortune that transformed their lives forever.
1891—Living separately for 3 years, 14-year-old twins, Katherine and Tommy Arthur, have done their best to make each boarding house feel like home. But unrest grows as they are driven to questionable actions just to survive. Meanwhile their desperate mother is confronted with breaking yet another promise to her children. Hope rises on a cold, rainy night and changes everything. If their mother Jeanie could just get word to Katherine and Tommy, she knows she can set their lives right again. Agitators, angels, and dangerous “saviors” illuminate the Arthurs’ unmatched determination and smarts. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I found this a quick and easy read, told in flashbacks between two years—1905 and 1891—and across 3 points-of-view: Jeanie (mother, first-person narrator), Katherine (daughter/sister, third-person narrator), and Tommy (son/brother, third-person narrator). That’s also in the order of how much I liked each person’s story. In terms of present and flashback, I liked when the story returned to the present—1905—the most. I found this a well-told story about a very dramatic family break-up. Oddly enough, the beginning of it reminded me of the very first episode of Schitt’s Creek: When the wealthy family—video store magnate Johnny, his wife and former soap opera actress Moira, and their adult children David and Alexis lose their fortune after being defrauded by their business manager, the IRS enters their home to seize their assets. This story, at times, also reminded me of that song from Hee Haw: “Gloom despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

This is a book I downloaded for free from BookBub, and like several of the other books they’ve offered free, it turned out to be one book of a series. (Book 2 of 7, as it turns out.) I would never purposely start reading a book series without starting with the first book and without reading them in order, but this is now the third time I’ve done it, and it’s not bad. I do have interest in reading the first and third books in the series, but if history repeats itself, I won’t—especially if I can’t get the other books from the library. With all that said, as my 4-star review intimates, I’d highly recommend this book.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book cover Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Author: Maya Angelou
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, classics
🔖10-word summary: Maya Angelou from three to seventeen—resisting racism in America.
🖌6-word review: On identity, racism, rape, and literacy.
Description:* Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I’m happy to have finally read this book. In no surprise whatsoever, the writing was exquisite and the story compelling. In devising my 2020 reading list, I didn’t purposefully schedule two books with a racism theme during Black History Month, but I’m glad it worked out that way. I had no idea Maya was the first African-American streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and I enjoyed her telling of how she made that happen. My favorite scene in this book was when Maya’s grandmother was out on the front porch of her house, standing still, singing continuously and without wavering as little white kids abased her, calling her names and making fun of her. Powerful.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays book cover Book: The Bookshop of Yesterdays Author: Amy Meryerson
Pages: 364 Duration: 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, books about books, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Girl inherits bookshop that holds clues to her family’s past.
🖌6-word review: Family secrets. Mostly believable. Implausible moments.
Description:* Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric Uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear from him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy—and one final scavenger hunt. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a “refreshingly light read” after The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The scavenger hunt thing got old by the end, but I enjoyed it overall, just more so at the beginning. The “family secrets” part of this book reminded me of my favorite book of a 2019, The Secrets Mothers Keep. The female protagonist annoyed me at times—her character being portrayed, not the writing about her, which is a compliment to the author. I’m pretty sure there was one editing error (which I have little patience for) where one character was referred to with the wrong name.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog book cover Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog Author: Muriel Barbery
Pages: 325 Duration: 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, philosophy, French culture
🔖10-word summary: A 54-year-old and a 12-year-old contemplate the meaning of life.
🖌6-word review: Big words. Deep thoughts. Great ending.
Description:* Paloma (a 12-year old resident) and Renée (the 54-year old concierge) both hide their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he can gain Paloma’s trust and see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: Be prepared to look up a lot of words reading this book. It has to be written at a grade 16 (or higher) level. This is a typical example of the high level of writing: instead of just writing, “How crazy that yesterday no one cared about my place, but today everyone does,” she writes, “How extraordinary that this loge, which yesterday was of no interest to anyone, seems today to be the focus of global attention.” The large amount of philosophical discussion in the book reminded me of my philosophy (& logic) courses in college, which I really enjoyed. It was nice to revisit that kind of writing, but it’s definitely not “easy” reading for me—and one book like it this year will be plenty.

I didn’t like that the author used the r-word at least 4 times. I did like that Renée’s deceased husband’s name was Lucien, which was my paternal grandfather’s name. I enjoyed the parallel stories of the 54-year-old concierge and the 12-year-old child who were the two (alternating, for the most part) narrators. I particularly liked when it happened that you heard one side of a scene from one of them and the very next chapter revealed the same scene from the other one’s perspective. I also liked that the 12-year-old girl was planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. (Not a spoiler; it’s revealed early on in the book.) And finally, I liked the ending, and if you know me at all—with regards to the endings of books or movies—then you can guess what happens.

The Underground Railroad book cover Book: The Underground Railroad Author: Colson Whitehead
Pages: 417 Duration: 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, historical fiction
🔖10-word summary: Cora flees Georgia plantation for a life on the run.
🖌6-word review: Unspeakable acts of racist American history.
Description:* Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This was one of our Mostly Social Book Club books. I really struggled rating this book in my (admittedly, self-imposed) rating system, and if I’d’ve allowed myself half-stars, I easily would have given this one 3½ stars. In the end, I couldn’t go to my 4-star rating, because I couldn’t “highly” recommend this book, but in the 3-star rating, which says I “might or might not recommend” this book, I would recommend it in most cases—depending on how much I knew about the person asking about it.

I didn’t find this book too tedious to read, as a couple of my friends seem to have—according to some Facebook comments about it. I did find it difficult to read because of the graphic descriptions (as they should be) of the horrific things we did to slaves in this country. I’d never heard of the “underground railroad” before reading this book. I had a white history teacher who was a memorize-these-events-and-dates kind of teacher, so I never found it interesting, and I’d be very surprised if he ever even mentioned the underground railroad. If I hadn’t read the Wikipedia entry about it, this book would have led me to believe the myth that it was an actual, physical railroad. (Yes, I know the book is a novel, so I shouldn’t have assumed that, but I did.) And finally, I’m glad this was a book club book, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, and I’m very glad I did.

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) book cover Book: The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Author: Terri-Lynne DeFino
Pages: 336 Duration: 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Authors living assisted in their twilight years. Book-within-a-book literary device.
🖌6-word review: The last small-font book I’ll read.
Description:* A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them. As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: It took me a little while to get into the book within this book, which was being written collaboratively by the residents of the retirement home. I didn’t really like the characters in the book within the book in the beginning of their story, but they grew on me. I had a little trouble keeping track of who was related to whom in that story, too. I was definitely more interested in the characters outside of the inner book, or inside of the outer book. (Ugh!) With that said, at the end, I was interested to see what choice the main female character in the “inner book” was going to make. I would have enjoyed this book more, and read it in half the time I’m sure, if the font wasn’t so small. In fact, I have now vowed not to read any more books with font this small. Large-print books and e-books on Kindle are definitely the way to go for me here on out.

After the Funeral book cover Book: After the Funeral Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: Audio Duration: 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Classic Agatha Christie who-done-it with murderer confessing at the end.
🖌6-word review: Amusing and mysterious. British and entertaining.
Description:* Hercule Poirot is called on to investigate the murder of a brother and sister in this classic from the Queen of Mystery. When Cora Lansquenet is savagely murdered, the odd remark she made the day before at her brother’s funeral becomes chillingly important: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it. But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Desperate to learn more about both deaths, the family solicitor turns to detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This is classic Agatha Christie, so if you like her stuff, you’ll like this. Her Hercule Poirot books are among my favorites, so I enjoyed this book.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation book cover Book: My Year of Rest and Relaxation Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Pages: 304 Duration: 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Woman drugs herself out for a year to supposedly heal.
🖌6-word review: Train wreck you can’t not watch.
Description:* Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: This story is an absolute train wreck in progress, and like the train wreck cliché, it was impossible to “look away.” Like this author’s book, Eileen, which I read last year, the storytelling was so compelling that I read large parts of it at a time and returned to it quickly for another dose. Also like Eileen, the story bordered on the bizarre. I wondered a lot about the sheer number—and combination—of drugs the unnamed narrator was taking (assuming they were all real, because most of them were, which made me assume the made up ones were just ones I’d never heard of). At least once I thought about the myriad of medication ingested by the elderly and the—at least 15—prescriptions my mother was on toward the end of her life. There were so many that she became unable to keep track of them herself, and we ended up paying the assisted living place $500 a month to manage them (and at times, and more often that we wanted to at that price, mismanage). In the end, after her year of “rest and relaxation,” the narrator claims that it accomplished her goal, but as the reader I thought, “That remains to be seen.”

The Once and Future King book cover Book: The Once and Future King (Abandoned) Author: T.H. White
Pages: 647 Duration: 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
🔖10-word summary: Arthurian characters with more complex and contradictory traits and motives.
🖌6-word review: Abandoned. Excessive description stalled plot interminably.
Description:* T.H White′s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. Here all five volumes that make up the story are published in one volume, as White himself always wished. Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur′s personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I was inspired to read this book after seeing the play, Camelot; hearing about how much other people enjoyed reading it at various times in their lives; and how it’s considered by many as a seminal work. For me, it had too much description, with not enough plot movement. I mean 3 super long paragraphs describing the outside of a castle in excruciating detail and then the next paragraph starting, “So much for the outer defences. Once you were inside the curtain wall, you found yourself in a kind of wide alley-way, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you,” followed by paragraph after paragraph describing that. Nope. That, together with my dislike of fantasy! Merlyn’s says “Wash up!” and “At this all the china and cutlery scrambled down off the table, the cloth emptied the crumbs out of the window, and the napkins folded themselves up.” Add to that, super small font with over 600 more pages to go. Just wasn’t willing to do it. I abandoned this book on page 35.

What Alice Forgot book cover Book: What Alice Forgot Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 476 Duration: 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, romance, Australian culture, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Woman tries to adjust to 10 lost years of memories.
🖌6-word review: Definite page turner. Realistic and thought-provoking.
Description:* Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: I loved this book. I thought it did a good job of capturing things you might not consider if you lost a 10-year period of your memory. I also liked how it made me think about how you might react to realizing you didn’t really like the person you’d become during the gap, and how you might resolve that. I read this author’s book Nine Perfect Strangers last year, which I only liked okay. I liked this one much, much better, and I’d highly recommend it. We eventually read this book for our Mostly Social Book Club—it was the fasted everyone in the group has ever read one of our books, and the other 3 members loved it, too.

How Will You Measure Your Life book cover Book: How Will You Measure Your Life? Author: Clayton M. Christensen
Pages: 240 Duration: 12/31/20 – 01/02/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: business, leadership, management, psychology, self-help
🔖10-word summary: Criteria to measure your life and propel yourself to happiness.
🖌6-word review: Unengaged by kids and religion chapters.
Description:* In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions. How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment. *Adapted from Goodreads’ synopsis.
Thoughts: Overall, this book didn’t resonate with me. I did get one important thing out of it, and that’s the notion of asking yourself what “job” something is doing for you. The example that stands out was his talking about what (different) “job” getting a milkshake in a fast-food restaurant is doing for both adult commuters in the morning and for kids after dinner in the evening. Several chapters were devoted to applying the theories in the book to raising children, which didn’t interest me much, and the ending was a lot about God, which didn’t interest me at all. I’d recommend this book for younger people—those still early in their careers or just starting a family.