2024 books read

So far in 2024, I’ve read 30 books:

Row 1: The Last Negroes at Harvard | The Best Strangers in the World | Crossing to Safety | V is for Vengeance | Bedfordshire Clanger Calamity | Stilton Slaughter 
Row 2: Bakewell Tart Bludgeoning | Pork Pie Pandemonium | Matilda | Ethan Frome | The Age of Innocence | X 
Row 3: A Roaring Murder | Gift from the Sea | Obit | The Floating Feldmans | I'm Glad My Mom Died | My Name is Barbra 
Row 4: In the Land of Long Fingernails | When We Were Enemies | The Spy Coast | Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives | The Bob Book | A Gentleman in Moscow
Row 5: Saving Time | The Promise | The Widow's Retreat | Jane Eyre | The Sense of an Ending | Great Circle

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 definitely 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 2024—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.

Number Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
30 The Last Negroes at Harvard Kent Garret, Jeanne Ellsworth 320 05/17/24 – 05/20/24 (4 days) ★★★★☆ nonfiction, memoir, race, history, education, social issues
29 The Best Strangers in the World Ari Shapiro 256 05/12/24 – 05/15/24 (4 days) ★★★☆☆ nonfiction, memoir, LGBT, Journalism, Travel
28 Crossing to Safety Wallace Stegner 327 05/02/24 – 05/11/24 (10 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, classics, literary fiction, historical fiction
27 V is for Vengeance Sue Grafton 448 04/28/24 – 05/01/24 (4 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery, crime, detective
26 Bedfordshire Clanger Calamity Steve Higgs 213 04/23/24 – 04/24/24 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
25 Stilton Slaughter Steve Higgs 225 04/21/24 – 04/22/24 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
24 Bakewell Tart Bludgeoning Steve Higgs 202 04/19/24 – 04/20/24 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
23 Pork Pie Pandemonium Steve Higgs 223 04/17/24 – 04/18/24 (2 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
22 Matilda Roald Dahl 192 04/16/24 – 04/16/24 (1 day) ★★★★★ fiction, childrens, classics, fantasy, middle grade, young adult
21 Ethan Frome Edith Wharton 99 04/12/24 – 04/13/24 (2 days) ★★★★★ fiction, classics, literature, romance
20 The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton 330 04/04/24 – 04/09/24 (6 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, classics, romance, literature
19 X Sue Grafton 403 03/29/24 – 03/31/24 (3 days) ★★☆☆☆ fiction, mystery, crime, detective
18 A Roaring Murder Ava Ness 258 03/21/24 – 03/27/24 (7 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, cozy mystery, historical fiction
17 Gift from the Sea Anne Morrow Lindbergh 130 03/20/24 – 03/21/24 (2 days) ★★☆☆☆ nonfiction, memoir, classics, essays, self help
16 Obit Victoria Chang 113 03/18/24 – 03/18/24 (1 day) ★★★★☆ nonfiction, poetry, death, memoir, Asian literature
15 The Floating Feldmans Elyssa Friedland 346 03/06/24 – 03/17/24 (12 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, humor, family, chick lit
14 I’m Glad My Mom Died Jennette McCurdy 320 03/03/24 – 03/05/24 (3 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, mental health
13 My Name is Barbra Barbra Streisand 1040 02/20/24 – 02/29/24 (10 days) ★★★★☆ nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, music, acting
12 In the Land of Long Fingernails Charles Wilkins 220 02/15/24 – 02/19/24 (5 days) ★★☆☆☆ nonfiction, memoir, death, Canada
11 When We Were Enemies Emily Bleeker 345 02/07/24 – 02/13/24 (7 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, romance, war, WWII, family, fame
10 The Spy Coast Tess Gerritsen 341 02/04/24 – 02/07/24 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, suspense, spy, espionage
9 Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives Jim Sheeler 242 02/02/24 – 02/03/24 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ nonfiction, biographies, essays, death
8 The Bob Book David Rensin 174 02/01/24 – 02/01/24 (1 day) ★★★☆☆ fiction, humor, names
7 A Gentleman in Moscow Amor Towles 462 01/28/24 – 01/31/24 (4 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, Russia, chosen family
6 Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock Jenny Odell 400 01/22/24 – 01/24/24 (3 days) ★★☆☆☆ nonfiction, self-help, philosophy, psychology
5 The Promise Damon Galgut 293 01/18/24 – 01/21/24 (4 days) ★★★★☆ historical fiction, South Africa, family, race
4 The Widow’s Retreat A.J. Carter 334 01/17/24 – 01/18/24 (2 days) ★☆☆☆☆ fiction, thriller, holiday
3 Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë 532 01/13/24 – 01/16/24 (4 days) ★★★★★ historical fiction, classics, literature, gothic
2 The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes 162 01/12/24 – 01/12/24 (1 day) ★★★★★ literary fiction, British literature, book club
1 Great Circle Maggie Shipstead 651 01/04/24 – 01/11/24 (8 days) ★★★★★ historical fiction, literary fiction, adventure, travel, flight

The books I’ve read so far in 2024—details

Book #29
The Last Negroes at Harvard book cover
Book: The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever Author: Kent Garrett, Jeanne Ellsworth
Pages: 320 Duration: 05/17/24 – 05/20/24 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, race, history, education, social issues
📕10-word summary: Parts memoir, portrait, and narrative history—18 fascinating men’s stories.
🖌6-word review: Interesting, educational; good ending with portraits.
Description:* In the fall of 1959, Harvard recruited an unprecedented eighteen “Negro” boys as an early form of affirmative action. Four years later they would graduate as African Americans. Some fifty years later, one of these trailblazing Harvard grads, Kent Garrett, would begin to reconnect with his classmates and explore their vastly different backgrounds, lives, and what their time at Harvard meant. Garrett and his partner Jeanne Ellsworth recount how these eighteen youths broke new ground, with ramifications that extended far past the iconic Yard. By the time they were seniors, they would have demonstrated against national injustice and grappled with the racism of academia, had dinner with Malcolm X and fought alongside their African national classmates for the right to form a Black students’ organization.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I like the parts about the actual men—what it was like for them arriving, and then their day-to-day experiences, and eventually progressing through their years. I was less interested in chapter 4, which contained a lot of citations about a report that one of the men had written. And later in the book, when they talked about a lot civil rights movement incidents and what prompted them and why they were important, I found that less interesting. It’s not to say that citations and civil rights history aren’t important, but I’d rather read that kind of stuff in an academic paper or in a history book, respectively. I thought the retort to Harvard administration’s claim that the men wanting to start an all-Black club was reverse racism was well handled. My favorite part was the ending when the authors highlighted each of the men and gave us an update with the latest information about them.

Book #29
The Best Strangers in the World book cover
Book: The Best Strangers in the World Author: Ari Shapiro
Pages: 256 Duration: 05/12/24 – 05/15/24 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, LGBT, Journalism, Travel
📕10-word summary: Stories about being gay, Jewish, a journalist, and a musician.
🖌6-word review: I liked from chapter 13 on.
Description:* In his first book, broadcaster Ari Shapiro takes us around the globe to reveal the stories behind narratives that are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, but always poignant. He details his time traveling on Air Force One with President Obama, or following the path of Syrian refugees fleeing war, or learning from those fighting for social justice both at home and abroad. As the self-reinforcing bubbles we live in become more impenetrable, Ari Shapiro keeps seeking ways to help people listen to one another; to find connection and commonality with those who may seem different; to remind us that, before religion, or nationality, or politics, we are all human.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I was drawn to it after hearing Terry Gross interview Ari on an Episode of Fresh Air. As a broad generalization, I’d say the first third of the book was about being gay and Jewish, the second third of the book was about his experiences as a journalist, and the final third was what I was interested in, which is to say how it is hosting All Things Considered on NPR and about his “side gig” as a musician singing with Pink Martini. I dislike reading about anything war-related and human oppression and abuse, and most of the stories he writes about covering—in the part about his experiences as a journalist—are stories of that ilk. If you’re the type of person who likes, or at least doesn’t mind that, you’ll probably love this book. Unsurprisingly, Ari is a good communicator and the book is well written. It just wasn’t for me.

Book #28
Crossing to Safety book cover
Book: Crossing to Safety Author: Wallace Stegner
Pages: 327 Duration: 05/02/24 – 05/11/24 (10 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, classics, literary fiction, historical fiction
📕10-word summary: The ebb and flow of two couples’ relationships throughout life.
🖌6-word review: Fantastic characterization. Final chapter hits hard.
Description:* Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I can’t remember how this got on my “want to read” list, but it’s been there for a while. Fortuitously, a fellow Mostly Social Book Club member put it forth for our next book as it was recommended to her by long-time family friends of hers. There were a lot of flashbacks in this book, and at times I was lost for a bit at the beginning of a chapter until I got situated in its time. I also had to look up two character’s names during the book to be reminded of who they were. I don’t like that. The story, however, was compelling. Two things stay with me from the book: 1) In a twist to the old “I want to die at home” trope, a character who wants to be taken to the hospital at the end of their life says, “I don’t want to die where I’ve live so much.” and 2) In a “meta moment,” the narrator in this story is a writer and another character tells him he ought to write a book about his wife and their two friends, and the narrator/writer says, “How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?” which is exactly what the author of this book has done. And unequivocally, part 3 in general, and the last chapter in particular, was brilliant enough to have upped my rating to 4.5 if I had half-ratings. I definitely can see why this book is considered a classic.

Book #27
V is for Vengeance book cover
Book: V is for Vengeance Author: Sue Grafton
Pages: 448 Duration: 04/28/24 – 05/01/24 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, crime, detective
📕10-word summary: Detective Kinsey Millhone digs herself deep—and eventually back out.
🖌6-word review: Followable complex plot. Heavily descriptive narrative.
Description:* Private detective Kinsey Millhone feels a bit out of place in any department store’s lingerie section, but she’s entirely in her element when she puts a stop to a brazen shoplifting spree. For her trouble she nearly gets run over in the parking lot by one of the fleeing thieves—and later learns that the one who didn’t get away has been found dead in an apparent suicide. But Audrey Vance’s grieving fiancé suspects murder and hires Kinsey to investigate a case that will reveal a big story behind a small crime and lead her into a web that connects a shadowy “private banker,” an angry trophy wife, a spoiled kid with a spiraling addiction, and a brutal killer without a conscience…*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This joins my reading of previous Sue Grafton books in The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, C is for Corpse (October 1992), T is for Trespass (July 2023), and X (March 2024). I very much disliked the last one, X, for the excruciating amount of detail of things nonessential to the plot. It was less so in this novel, but I still skimmed over paragraphs and paragraphs of what I call “Who cares?” detail. The plot was pretty complex in this one, but I think she did a good job helping the reader follow it. At the beginning, I did have to Google V is for Vengeance character list to remind me of who a couple of characters were when the reappeared after not hearing from them for a while. Overall, I’m glad I read this, but sadly, it’s going to be my last novel in the series. Thanks to my sister for passing it along to me.

Book #26
Bedfordshire Clanger Calamity book cover
Book: Bedfordshire Clanger Calamity Author: Steve Higgs
Pages: 213 Duration: 04/23/24 – 04/24/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
📕10-word summary: The protagonist with dog immediately gets saddled with another dog.
🖌6-word review: Dogs talk to each other. No.
Description:* In the small Bedfordshire town of Biggleswade, retired detective Albert, and former police dog, Rex, are enjoying a peaceful break from the murder and mayhem of the last week. Until the waitress serving him is arrested for murder … and he discovers she killed the café’s owner three days ago. But Albert saw her eyes when the police came for her–she is innocent! In no time at all Albert becomes a target and this time it will take more than Rex to keep him safe. Is there a master criminal working behind the scenes? What possible motive could he have? One thing is for sure … this is no underdog tale!*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was a free download from BookBub and it’s book #4 in a 10-book Albert Smith’s Culinary Capers series. I got all 10 of them for $.99 and used a credit I had for delayed delivery of Amazon packages, which made them free. This 4th stop on Albert’s culinary tour doesn’t start with a murder or incident happening immediately upon his arrival, but it isn’t long after that that a murder takes place. You can read my thoughts on the previous 3 books in this series below, but my biggest beef with it is that the protagonist has a dog that talks, which doesn’t work for me. This book sent me over the edge when a second dog is introduced into the story and the two dogs can talk to each other—in complete sentences in English. And they spent a good deal of time doing so. No. I’m aborting the series at this point.

Book #25
Stilton Slaughter book cover
Book: Stilton Slaughter Author: Steve Higgs
Pages: 225 Duration: 04/21/24 – 04/22/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
📕10-word summary: Murders continue to follow a retired detective on culinary tour.
🖌6-word review: Interesting-enough story. Dog continues to annoy.
Description:* When retired cop, Albert, arrives in Stilton for a festival, he has cheese on his mind, but that’s not what he gets …… arriving the morning after the factory and warehouse have been raided, all the stilton is gone, and the security guard, Dave, who bravely fought to stop the thieves, needs someone’s help to save the day. With sidekick Rex Harrison, the failed police dog, at his side, our aging but sprightly hero will put his ear to the ground and his mind to work as he unravels the clues to this mystery. Rex and Albert will be tested like never before in this quiet English town as they catch the first glimpse of a criminal mastermind at work. Can they find the cheese in time to save the festival? Will Rex be able to smell the answer with all the stinky cheese around? It’s a race against time to solve this crime but is there something bigger going on? Can this really just be about some mouldy cheese?*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was a free download from BookBub and it’s book #3 in a 10-book Albert Smith’s Culinary Capers series. I got all 10 of them for $.99 and used a credit I had for delayed delivery of Amazon packages, which made them free. On this 3rd stop of Albert’s “Culinary tour,” conveniently for retired Detective Albert Smith, but inconveniently for the victim, murder (and—possibly related—grand theft) has happened just as he is arriving in the English village of Stilton. I’m not going to belabor the point, as I expect that I’ll have similar thoughts about all of the books in this series, so I’ll leave it at interesting enough to read, but not riveting. And for the record, you’d never, in a million years, catch me eating Stilton cheese.

Book #24
Bakewell Tart Bludgeoning book cover
Book: Bakewell Tart Bludgeoning Author: Steve Higgs
Pages: 202 Duration: 04/19/24 – 04/20/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
📕10-word summary: Retired detective helps solve murder including getting his children involved.
🖌6-word review: Pleasant detective story. Annoying “speaking” dog.
Description:* On a culinary tour of the British Isles, retired Detective Superintendent Albert Smith and snarky former police dog Rex Harrison find something quite unexpected waiting for them at their B&B … it’s the almost-dead body of their landlady. Refusing to believe in coincidence, Albert and Rex set out to discover why her “accident” is the second terrible event there in two days. Something is stirring in Bakewell and it’s not the ingredients for a famous tart.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was a free download from BookBub and it’s book #2 in a 10-book Albert Smith’s Culinary Capers series. I got all 10 of them for $.99 and used a credit I had for delayed delivery of Amazon packages, which made them free. On this 2nd stop of Albert’s “Culinary tour,” he lands in the middle of an attempted murder, which followed a successful murder the night before. In spite of being 20 pages shorter, this story’s a lot more involved with regards to the number of nefarious characters comprising the “criminal element.” Unfortunately the thinking/talking dog is in this one, too, and it’s obvious it’ll be with Albert throughout the entire 10-book series, so I’ll stop harping on it. You’re a good boy, Rex. Oh, also, there’s a recipe at the end of each chapter of the food item in the title of the book (e.g., a recipe in this book for the Bakewell Tart). I am completely uninterested in them, albeit I’m grateful for them, as they let me finish the book 10-15 pages sooner than expected.

Book #23
Pork Pie Pandemonium book cover
Book: Pork Pie Pandemonium Author: Steve Higgs
Pages: 223 Duration: 04/17/24 – 04/18/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, cozy mystery, crime, dogs, British
📕10-word summary: Retired detective helps solve murder attached to a severed thumb.
🖌6-word review: Pleasant detective story. Annoying “speaking” dog.
Description:* When a retired detective superintendent chooses to take a culinary tour of the British Isles, he hopes to find tasty treats and delicious bakes … what he finds is a clue to a crime in the ingredients for his pork pie. His dog, Rex Harrison, an ex-police dog fired for having a bad attitude, cannot understand why the humans are struggling to solve the mystery. He can already smell the answer—it’s right before their noses. He’ll pitch in to help his human and the shop owner’s teenage daughter as the trio set out to save the shop from closure. Is the rival pork pie shop across the street to blame? Or is there something far more sinister going on?*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was a free download from BookBub and it’s book #1 in a 10-book Albert Smith’s Culinary Capers series. I got all 10 of them for $.99 and used a credit I had for delayed delivery of Amazon packages, which made them free. I’m not sure I’ll read all 10 of them, but I’m going to commit to 5. It’s your classic “cozy mystery,” which I recently learned means it contains no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex, an example of which in this book was when just as one of the characters was let down into a meat grinder, another character hit the emergency stop button to preclude any blood and guts. Also, the severed thumb, which was virtually a main character in the story, made its debut on top of a pork pie—already severed. There’s a German Shepherd “assistance dog” in the story that shares his thoughts as if he’s speaking, which was pretty distracting if not annoying. All in all, it was a fine read, but nothing earth shattering.

Book #22
Matilda book cover
Book: Matilda Author: Roald Dahl
Pages: 192 Duration: 04/16/24 – 04/16/24 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, childrens, classics, fantasy, middle grade, young adult
📕10-word summary: An exceptional little girl finds love in her beloved teacher.
🖌6-word review: A never-read classic. Fulfills its hype.
Description:* Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she’s just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a menacing, kid-hating headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It’ll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Last month I attended a local, high school production of the Broadway play, Matilda the Musical, which I don’t remember being on Broadway from April 2013 to January 2017. It’s not the kind of play that would grab my attention, since it’s based on a children’s book, which I also had never heard of. I went to the play because one of my dearest friend’s daughter starred in it as Matilda, and that’s when I learned about Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel and decided to read it one day. It was a short—I read it in 4 hours—delightful story, which did not include the entire subplot about “The Acrobat and the Escapologist” that’s in the play. I was fine with that, but I also thought the subplot was a nice addition to the play. I can see how it would be a successful children’s book, and I’m glad I read it.

Book #21
Ethan Frome book cover
Book: Ethan Frome Author: Edith Wharton
Pages: 99 Duration: 04/12/24 – 04/13/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, classics, literature, romance
📕10-word summary: Tormented threesome traipses turbulently through time toward their tragic terminus.
🖌6-word review: Darkness, deplorability, depravity, deviousness—deliciously done.
Description:* Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a hired girl, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Since I had just read Wharton and had discussed literature read in high school, I wanted to revisit this one. I love a dark story without a happy ending, and this story not only qualifies for that, it may be over-qualified. That assertion—that I love a dark story—makes me think of a collection of 16 short, dark stories that I read in December of 2023, called Here in the Dark. In Ethan Frome, I was completely confused by the last chapter, which not only switches to first person (the rest of the book is in third person), but also jumps ahead 20 years, without cluing in the reader to that until halfway through the chapter. With the plethora of search results to questions like, “Who is speaking in the last chapter of Ethan Frome?” and “Who is the ‘I’ in the last chapter of Ethan Frome?” and “Explain the last chapter of Ethan Frome,” I’m not the only one who was confused. All-in all, if you like dark stories comprising characters with down-trodden lives, and a confusing—but definitely sad—ending, this is your book. And mine.

Book #20
The Age of Innocence book cover
Book: The Age of Innocence Author: Edith Wharton
Pages: 330 Duration: 04/04/24 – 04/09/24 (6 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, classics, romance, literature
📕10-word summary: Dramatic love-triangle plays out in high-society 1870s New York City.
🖌6-word review: Flawed, relatable characters; loved the ending.
Description:* This is Newland Archer’s world as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. But when the mysterious Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after a disastrous marriage, Archer falls deeply in love with her. Torn between duty and passion, Archer struggles to make a decision that will either courageously define his life—or mercilessly destroy it.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I read this book in anticipation of making it my next choice for our Mostly Social Book Club. Last year, we read The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club, and this book, The Age of Innocence, is one of several books mentioned in the Radcliffe book, a few of which we agreed to read in our own book club this year. It’s a classic that I’d never read—not unlike Jane Eyre, which I read back in January. While I liked Jane Eyre much more, I didn’t dislike this book. Typical of these period pieces, I found the characters flawed, which is to say believable and relatable, and to Wharton’s credit, very sharply drawn. I love when a book “fast forwards” 20 or 30 years at some point, which this book did and I appreciated. And I loved the ending of the book.

Book #19
X book cover
Book: X Author: Sue Grafton
Pages: 403 Duration: 03/29/24 – 03/31/24 (3 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, crime, detective
📕10-word summary: Female detective working on 3 crimes in author’s penultimate book.
🖌6-word review: Excruciating details ruined it for me.
Description:* The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss… Perhaps Sue Grafton’s darkest and most chilling novel, X features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this deadly sociopath. The test is whether private investigator Kinsey Millhone can prove her case against him—before she becomes his next victim.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: You won’t know it by this review, but I am a fan of The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton. Just not this one. She died from cancer of the appendix before she could write the final, “Z” book, making this one her penultimate one. I read one reviewer of this book who generously suggested that it was the chemotherapy that affected the quality of this particular novel. All I know is that the details included in this book were excruciating. For example, in chapter 3, after the first 8 minutes (I listened to the audiobook) of the chapter, there was exactly one paragraph that advanced the plot, and the remaining 11 minutes, like the first 8, all comprised descriptions of what rooms looked like when she walked in, how they were decorated (e.g., wallpaper; how many windows, and where they were in the room; the furniture, down to the fabric types and prints); and if there were people in the room, what they looked like (e.g., height, face, hair, clothes). Who cares??? At another point, she said, “It was your typical office… [SHOULD HAVE BEEN FULL STOP RIGHT THERE, BUT NO, SHE WENT ON], “it had a desk; two chairs, one a rolling desk chair, the other a guest chair, with a floral print that contained greens and blues; a filing cabinet, with 3 drawers; and a serving table with a coffee pot and water for guests.” I think we all can imagine what’s in a “typical office.” Last example, lest I start sounding like her with too many detailed examples. At another point, she wrote: “I pulled the carpet aside, dialed the combination to the safe, and opened it. I retrieved the mailing pouch, and then went through the reverse of the operation, closing the safe again and rolling the carpet into place.” Two things: 1) I think we can all figure out what the “reverse of the operation” was that you just provided every single step of, and 2) Here’s my edit: “I got the mailing pouch out of the safe.” So, that’s where my 2-star rating came from. With all that said, I have read C is for Corpse and T is for Trespass, neither of which I remember this problem in, and both of which I remember liking.

Book #18
A Roaring Murder book cover
Book: A Roaring Murder (Lady Marigold #1) Author: Ava Ness
Pages: 258 Duration: 03/21/24 – 03/27/24 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, cozy mystery, historical fiction
📕10-word summary: Amateur lady detective inserts herself into a train murder mystery.
🖌6-word review: Classic cozy mystery. Agatha-Christie-like story entertains.
Description:* Lady Marigold Grey—former British spy and daring adventuress—sets out for England on a luxury train, but where Marigold goes, trouble follows. When the director of the train is murdered—and false evidence linking her to his death emerges—Marigold suddenly finds herself on the fast-track to becoming a prime suspect. With the help of her fashion-loving German assistant, overly protective English butler and troublemaking fluffy white terrier, Marigold resolves to clear her name and stop the killer in their tracks.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a free e-book download from BookBub that I got back in July 2023. It read a lot like an Agatha Christie book, and was even about a murder on a train. Though it took me 7 days to read, it was a fairly short book and easy to read. I just had a lot going on over the past week so didn’t read as much as I normally do. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is that, after it “ends,” a reporter “interviews” the main characters of the book, with 3 basic questions: “What was the experience like being on a train with a murder on it?” “Some passengers thought Lady Marigold was too involved in the situation, do you agree?” and “Has this experience changed your perspective in any way?” Oh yeah, there was an annoying little dog in this book, and the reporter interviewed “Pepper” last, and it was stupid.

Book #17
Gift from the Sea book cover
Book: Gift from the Sea Author: Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Pages: 130 Duration: 03/20/24 – 03/21/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, classics, essays, self help
📕10-word summary: A “graceful, lucid, and lyrical” meditation on youth and age.
🖌6-word review: Mercifully short. Didn’t “speak” to me.
Description:* In this inimitable, beloved classic—graceful, lucid and lyrical—Anne Morrow Lindbergh shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea. Drawing inspiration from the shells on the shore, Lindbergh’s musings on the shape of a woman’s life bring new understanding to both men and women at any stage of life. A mother of five, an acclaimed writer and a pioneering aviator, Lindbergh casts an unsentimental eye on the trappings of modernity that threaten to overwhelm us: the time-saving gadgets that complicate rather than simplify, the multiple commitments that take us from our families. And by recording her thoughts during a brief escape from everyday demands, she helps readers find a space for contemplation and creativity within their own lives.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Last year, our Mostly Social Book Club read The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club, and this book, Gift from the Sea, is one of several books mentioned in the Radcliffe book, a few of which we agreed to read in our book club this year. It’s one I’ve never heard of. I wish I still could say that I’ve never heard of it. The elaborate sea shells metaphor for living and aging didn’t work for me. I really don’t find any “wonder” in sea shells. In essence, this is a self-help book and a lot of it works on the assumption that people don’t like—or know how to be—alone. I’m very comfortable being alone. First published in 1955, the reviews I read of this book call it “timeless,” “still rings true today,” etc. I respectfully disagree—or as “they” say these days, “It hasn’t aged well.” I found too many “all women (do/say/think)…” type statements, too many gender role stereotypes, and definitely some classist-type statements. I didn’t relate to most of it, even as “a gay man who is in touch with his feminine side.” If this wasn’t one of our book club books, I definitely would have abandoned it.

Book #16
Obit book cover
Book: Obit Author: Victoria Chang
Pages: 113 Duration: 03/18/24 – 03/18/24 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: nonfiction, poetry, death, memoir, Asian literature
📕10-word summary: An author’s outlet to process and grieve her mother’s death.
🖌6-word review: Creative prose poetry. Esoteric at times.
Description:* After her mother died, poet Victoria Chang refused to write elegies. Rather, she distilled her grief during a feverish two weeks by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. In Obit, Chang writes of “the way memory gets up after someone has died and starts walking.” These poems reinvent the form of newspaper obituary to both name what has died (“civility,” “language,” “the future,” “Mother’s blue dress”) and the cultural impact of death on the living. Whereas elegy attempts to immortalize the dead, an obituary expresses loss, and the love for the dead becomes a conduit for self-expression. In this unflinching and lyrical book, Chang meets her grief and creates a powerful testament for the living.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I recently had my 50-word stories collection critiqued by one published author and three literary agents, and the net of the feedback and discussions was that my stories have the best chance of being published as prose poetry, probably by a literary press or a university press. (We also considered the flash fiction and literary fiction genres.) As someone who’s not fond of poetry (mostly because a lot of times I just don’t get it), I initially balked at the idea, and one of the agents suggested I read this book to see how “contemporary” poets are treating poetry, which is how we’ve arrived here. Though I enjoyed this book overall, there were definitely (as expected) times when I thought, “What the hell is she talking about?” With all that said, I have 30 pages of a book started comprising mostly my 50-word stories, but also other creative literary writing I’ve done over the years.

Book #15
The Floating Feldmans book cover
Book: The Floating Feldmans Author: Elyssa Friedland
Pages: 346 Duration: 03/06/24 – 03/17/24 (12 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, humor, family, chick lit
📕10-word summary: Family dysfunction takes to the high seas where it crests.
🖌6-word review: Not riveting. Good enough. Tidy ending.
Description:* Between the troublesome family secrets, old sibling rivalries, and her two teenage grandkids, Annette’s birthday vacation is looking more and more like the perfect storm. Adrift together on the open seas, the Feldmans will each face the truths they’ve been ignoring–and learn that the people they once thought most likely to sink them are actually the ones who help them stay afloat.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a Mostly Social Book Club book, and as you can tell by how long it took me to read it, I had a hard time “staying with it” for any period of time. Many times over the course of the 12 days, I read maybe one chapter before I put it down to do something else. It was a good enough story, and I was interested in seeing how the family would react to the big secrets we were let in as the story progressed. There was one cruise-related thing that aggravated me to no end throughout the book, and that was referring to the “boat” instead of the “ship.” Anyone who’s actually been on a cruise knows you’ll get corrected if you call it a boat. I clutched my pearls when even the gay Cruise Director of the ship referred to it as a boat.

Book #14
I'm Glad My Mom Died book cover
Book: I’m Glad My Mom Died Author: Jennette McCurdy
Pages: 320 Duration: 03/03/24 – 03/05/24 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, mental health
📕10-word summary: Nickelodeon child actor bares all in ultimately surviving over-bearing mom.
🖌6-word review: A fast-paced, deeply personal, honest accounting.
Description:* Jennette McCurdy was 6 years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself 5 times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income. In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book to read because it was the #1 checked-out book at the New York Public Library in 2023. I’ve never watched Nickelodeon nor had I ever heard of this actor, so neither of those was a factor in choosing, or enjoying, this book. The only complaint I have about the book is that it was obvious early on in the story that Jennette needed to seek therapy, but it wasn’t until 75% of the way into the book that she finally sought it. It’s an interesting glimpse into how one doesn’t realize something isn’t “normal” until many years later and seeing what was happening to you through another lens.

Book #13
My Name is Barbra book cover
Book: My Name is Barbra Author: Barbra Streisand
Pages: 1040 Duration: 02/20/24 – 02/29/24 (10 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, music, acting
📕10-word summary: The ultimate-“hyphenate,” Barbra Streisand, details her music and acting career.
🖌6-word review: Not a stone is left unturned.
Description:* Barbra Streisand is by any account a living legend, a woman who in a career spanning six decades has excelled in every area of entertainment. She is among the handful of EGOT winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) and has one of the greatest and most recognizable voices in popular music. She has been nominated for a Grammy 46 times, and with Yentl she became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major motion picture. In My Name Is Barbra, she tells her own story about her life and extraordinary career, from growing up in Brooklyn to her first star-making appearances in New York nightclubs to her breakout performance in Funny Girl (musical and film) to the long string of successes in every medium in the years that followed. The book is, like Barbra herself, frank, funny, opinionated, and charming. She recounts her early struggles to become an actress, eventually turning to singing to earn a living; the recording of some of her acclaimed albums; the years of effort involved in making Yentl; her direction of The Prince of Tides; her friendships with figures ranging from Marlon Brando to Madeleine Albright; her political advocacy; and the fulfillment she’s found in her marriage to James Brolin.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I wanted to listen to the audiobook version of this book since Barbra narrated it herself. I started off at about #250 on my library’s waitlist for it, and then a friend bought it for me as a very generous gift. Thanks, Patrick! Like the stereotype, I am a gay man who loves Barbra, so it was a no-brainer that I’d be reading this book. As is her way, this audio version was a production in which she added audio clips from both her records and her movies (including some scenes from some movies) as she discussed them. As a singer-actor-director-producer (a multi-hyphenate) and an EGOT winner, there’s a lot of ground to cover and she covers it beyond detail. I don’t mind long books, and I love Barbra, but even I found it just a tad too long. As someone who is not interested in decorating and fashion, I have to agree with one reviewer: “Does anyone really want to know about each furnishing in every room she ever walked into, or how each costume or dress she wore was made and how it looked?” That aside, I loved learning about the process she goes through to sing, act, direct, and produce; about all the people she worked with; and all the battles she had to fight to sometimes do something a man would never have to fight for.

Book #12
In the Land of Long Fingernails book cover
Book: In the Land of Long Fingernails Author: Charles Wilkins
Pages: 220 Duration: 02/15/24 – 02/19/24 (5 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, death, Canada
📕10-word summary: Young man details his summer job in a Canadian graveyard.
🖌6-word review: Some interesting anecdotes, but disappointing overall.
Description:* During the hazy summer of 1969, Charles Wilkins, then a student at the University of Toronto, took a job as a gravedigger. The bizarre-but-true events of that time, including a midsummer gravediggers’ strike, the unearthing of a victim of an unsolved murder, and a little illegal boneshifting, play out amongst a Barnumesque parade of mavericks and misfits in this macabre and hilarious memoir of mortality, materialism, and the gradual coming-of-age of an impressionable young man.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This was a free e-book download from BookBub, and it’s now the second death and dying—a topic to which I’m inexplicably drawn—book that ended up a disappointment to me. I’m glad it was free. I couldn’t remember which character was which—all throughout—and I’m not sure if it was because they were never strongly drawn or because I just didn’t care about them. By far, the most interesting chapter to me was chapter 11: The Remains of the Day, when the body of a woman buried in their cemetery, who had been electrocuted by a radio in her bathtub, had to be exhumed as potential evidence in the trail of the woman’s husband who was now suspected of pushing the radio into the tub, or drowning her and then dumping the radio in the tub, to mislead police. In terms of the writing, the word “goddamn” was spelled “gawdam” throughout, which annoyed me, and it was used a lot. And, overall, it felt to me like the author was trying too hard to use big words and flowery phrases. I think doing sparingly throughout a book is effective, but doing it all the time, it wears thin. Just one example: “While the depredations of the afternoon continue to go unspoken, there is for both of us a fairly obvious need to throw off the memory of Gus Bowness,” could instead easily have been: “We don’t talk about what happened this afternoon, as we both need to forget about Gus Bowness.” I’m also turned off when the jacket says things like “it’s a hilarious memoir,” as I didn’t find it anywhere near that. The most I would give it is “funny at times.” Color me cranky.

Book #11
When We Were Enemies book cover
Book: When We Were Enemies Author: Emily Bleeker
Pages: 345 Duration: 02/07/24 – 02/13/24 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, romance, war, WWII, family, fame
📕10-word summary: Daughter’s and grandmother’s similar-element life stories unravel in alternating chapters.
🖌6-word review: Slow start slowed down my reading.
Description:* Camera-shy Elise Branson is different from the other women in her matriline. Her mother is an award-winning actress. Her late grandmother, Vivian Snow, is a beloved Hollywood icon. But when Elise’s upcoming wedding coincides with a documentary being made about Vivian, Elise can’t escape the camera’s gaze. And even in death, neither can her grandmother. It’s 1943 when Vivian, a small-town Indiana girl, lends her home front support to the war effort. As a translator in the nearby Italian POW camp, she’s invaluable. As a celebrated singer for the USO, she lifts men’s spirits and falls in love with a soldier. But behind this all-American love story is a shocking secret—one vital to keep buried if Vivian is to achieve the fame and fortune she covets. For Elise and Vivian, what’s hidden—and what’s exposed—threatens to unravel their lives. The heart-wrenching choices they must make will change them both forever.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book as my November (2023) First Reads Offering, which provides free early access to an editors’ pick from Amazon Prime. I like multi-generational stories, which is why I chose this one of the 8 books offered. Although 3 generations (daughter, mother, and grandmother) were part of the story, the alternating chapters bounced back and forth between the daughter’s (present day) story and her grandmother’s (1943 time frame) story. There were some similarities to the trajectory of both of their lives—one being their attraction/involvement with a priest. I was not enthralled in the story at the beginning, so I kept reading one or two chapters, then picking up my phone to be distracted for a couple of hours or sometimes the rest of the night. I would say the pace really didn’t get to where I wanted it until about 70% into the book. Like the last book I read, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it.

Book #10
The Spy Coast book cover
Book: The Spy Coast Author: Tess Gerritsen
Pages: 341 Duration: 02/04/24 – 02/07/24 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, suspense, spy, espionage
📕10-word summary: 4 retired CIA operatives get dragged back into as case.
🖌6-word review: Good story as spy genre goes.
Description:* Former spy Maggie Bird came to the seaside village of Purity, Maine, eager to put the past behind her after a mission went tragically wrong. These days, she’s living quietly on her chicken farm, still wary of blowback from the events that forced her early retirement. But when a body turns up in Maggie’s driveway, she knows it’s a message from former foes who haven’t forgotten her. Maggie turns to her local circle of old friends—all retirees from the CIA—to help uncover the truth about who is trying to kill her, and why. This “Martini Club” of former spies may be retired, but they still have a few useful skills that they’re eager to use again, if only to spice up their rather sedate new lives. Maggie’s hunt for answers will force her to revisit a clandestine career that spanned the globe, from Bangkok to Istanbul, from London to Malta. The ghosts of her past have returned, but with the help of her friends—and the reluctant local police chief, Jo Thibodeau—Maggie might just be able to save the life she’s built.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I chose this book as my October (2023) First Reads Offering, which provides free early access to an editors’ pick from Amazon Prime. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a true spy novel like this one. I liked that 4 ex-CIA retirees all ended up in the same place, “out in the woods,” in retirement. I also liked that two were men and two were woman, with the lead one being female. I don’t really have much more to say about it. It was a typical (classic) international spy story, and I liked it a lot, but wouldn’t go so far as saying I loved it.

Book #9
Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives book cover
Book: Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives Author: Jim Sheeler
Pages: 242 Duration: 02/02/24 – 02/03/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, biographies, essays, death
📕10-word summary: 42 short essays about the life and times of folks.
🖌6-word review: Arguably not obits; I’d say eulogies.
Description:* Obit is a wise and deeply moving book that illuminates the human condition. For ten years, Jim Sheeler has scoured Colorado looking for subjects whose stories he will tell for the last time. Most are unknowns, but that doesn’t mean they’re nobodies. Their obituaries are sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and chock full of life lessons as taught by the people we all pass on the street every day. And thanks to Sheeler’s brilliant and compassionate prose, it’s not too late to meet them.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: My husband saw this book in a neighborhood free-book kiosk, and knowing my love of obituaries, he brought it home for my reading consideration. The topic and the relatively short page count sucked me in. First of all, I would argue that this is more a collection of eulogies than it is obituaries. Not to be a pedant but simply to establish my ethos on the subject, I did write a grad school paper called, The Obituary—A Genre Analysis, on which, I might add, I got an A+. (I know, “La-ti-fucking-da.”) I gave the book 3-stars mostly because it didn’t meet my expectations in terms of being obituaries, but also because of the subjectivity of its sub-title. While I agree with the stories being about “ordinary people,” I would argue that the “inspiring” and “extraordinary” adjectives are debatable. My edited title might be: Eulogies: Mostly Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People, Some of Whom Led Extraordinary Lives.

Book #8
The Bob Book book cover
Book: The Bob Book Author: David Rensin
Pages: 174 Duration: 02/01/24 – 02/01/24 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, humor, names
📕10-word summary: Much musing about, and celebration of, “the ultimate okay guy.”
🖌6-word review: Playful. Dubious claims. Statistics not cited.
Description:* A tribute to the name Bob, this book looks at famous and not-so-famous namesakes in history, and takes a tongue-in-cheek look at hairstyles, aftershaves, clothing, and personality traits associated with the name.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Bob has owned this book forever. I saw it on our bookshelves and decided to reward myself with its mere 174 pages. It contains completely made up statistics and generalizations about people with the name Bob—but it’s fun nonetheless. Its 4 parts are delineated as: 1) The meaning of Bob (Why Bob, Who is Bob, Who isn’t Bob, “Bobness,” Bob in history, Bob as others see him, 2) The world according to Bob (The Bob survey, The handy Bob, Bob’s great weekend, What makes Bob squirm, Bob in hell, Bob’s dreams, “Bobstyle,” The romantic Bob, The paternal Bob, In Bob we trust, Bad bobs [the rarest of breeds], What Bob knows for sure), 3) The Celebrated Bob (famous Bobs take the survey: Barker, Buffalo Smith, Costas, Cummings, Denver, Dole, Dylan, Einstein, Elliot, Eubanks, Evans, Feller, Goen, Goulet, Guccione, Jr., Hope, Kane, Keeshan, Mackie, Martwick, McGrath, Miller, Newhart, Richards, Saget, Urich, Vila, Weatherwax, and Welch), and 4) The Bob Appendix (Afterward and acknowledgements, Credit where credit is due, & The Bob index). It gave me a chuckle here and there.

Book #7
A Gentleman in Moscow book cover
Book: A Gentleman in Moscow Author: Amor Towles
Pages: 462 Duration: 01/22/24 – 01/24/24 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, Russia, chosen family
📕10-word summary: A Russian count endeavors to better understand his life’s purpose.
🖌6-word review: Too history- and politics-heavy for me.
Description:* A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I absolutely loved this author’s Rules of Civility—from its very first chapter I found the writing phenomenal. So, I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. In its defense (I guess), I’m not interested in American history and politics, much less Russia’s history and politics, and there was a good bit of it covered in this book. I really enjoyed the characters of the count and his close-knit circle of friends—Nina, Sofia, Andrey, Emile, & Marina. If you do like Russian history and politics, you’re sure to love this book.

Book #6
Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock book cover
Book: Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock Author: Jenny Odell
Pages: 400 Duration: 01/22/24 – 01/24/24 (3 days)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Genres: nonfiction, self-help, philosophy, psychology
📕10-word summary: A look at time through a different, and complex, lens.
🖌6-word review: Much like a treatise or dissertation.
Description:* Odell took a deep dive into the fundamental structure of our society and found that the clock we live by was built for profit, not people. This is why our lives, even in leisure, have come to seem like a series of moments to be bought, sold, and processed ever more efficiently. Odell shows us how our painful relationship to time is inextricably connected not only to persisting social inequities but to the climate crisis, existential dread, and a lethal fatalism. This dazzling, subversive, and deeply hopeful book offers us different ways to experience time—inspired by pre-industrial cultures, ecological cues, and geological timescales—that can bring within reach a more humane, responsive way of living. As planet-bound animals, we live inside shortening and lengthening days alongside gardens growing, birds migrating, and cliffs eroding; the stretchy quality of waiting and desire; the way the present may suddenly feel marbled with childhood memory; the slow but sure procession of a pregnancy; the time it takes to heal from injuries. Odell urges us to become stewards of these different rhythms of life in which time is not reducible to standardized units and instead forms the very medium of possibility.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. During my years as an editor, I was asked to edit 2 dissertations, which I thought a lot about while reading this book. The most popular books have a readability score between the 4th – 7th Flesch-Kincaid (FK) grade level, and I’d estimate that this book is written between 14th – 16th FK grade level. It’s very “heady.” The author quotes many many authors, books, and theories—enough that I’m surprised there wasn’t a bibliography included. She would also mention somebody’s theory of something and then refer back to it only as “so-and-so’s theory” and by the 3rd or 4th one of those, I’m like, “Okay, what was that person’s theory again?” The thing I’ll probably remember the most from this book was a “mind-shattering” moment while she was talking about how there’s a discrete 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day, etc., but that’s just a “constructed time” that everyone agrees on and thinks of when we talk about time. But time doesn’t really pass like that, which is one of the reasons we moved away from the sundial to record time—because the sundial is affected by “solar variations” that are just “averaged out” with our 60-second clock. A lot of this book is about how our “painful relationship to time is inextricably connected not only to persisting social inequities but to the climate crisis, existential dread, and a lethal fatalism.” I kept waiting for something like, “With all that said, here’s a new way to think about time that might be more helpful in your life.” Yeah, that never came. The only practical “saving time” that came out of this book was that I listened to the 10.5-hour audiobook on 1.5x the speed, which at 7 hours, saved me 3.5 hours of reading time. Stick that in your sundial and smoke it.

Book #5
The Promise book cover
Book: The Promise Author: Damon Galgut
Pages: 293 Duration: 01/18/24 – 01/21/24 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: historical fiction, South Africa, family, race
📕10-word summary: “Hearsay” promise is at root of generational rift for decades.
🖌6-word review: Compelling story. Impedimental writing style detracts.
Description:* The Promise, winner of the 2021 Booker Prize, charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for—not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled. The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: My friend gave me this book back in 2022 (thank you, Susan!), and I finally got around to reading it. I really enjoyed this heart-wrenching-at-times story. It highlights a lot of family dysfunction, and big things happen to several of the characters. However, the writing style impeded my reading in a couple of ways: 1) this is another book that omits quotation marks around dialogue, which I find challenging, and 2) the point-of-view changed a lot, for example from third person to first person to third person omniscient—sometimes within the same paragraph! I found it very distracting, often thinking, “Huh? Who just said or thought this? Also, I googled, “Why are so many authors writing dialogue without quotation marks?” One response: “The reasons vary, but more writers are dropping speech marks to explore distances between readers and narrators and even to eliminate hierarchies.” That rhetorical purpose doesn’t resonate with me—the poor sucker bearing the brunt of it as the reader. IMHO, it takes an exceptional writer to pull off this style, especially if dialogue attribution (e.g., “he said”) is also omitted, a writer who provides enough context every time to make it clear who’s talking if it’s not marked or attributed. Overall, the end of the book is clear, but there was one little detail that remained ambiguous that I would have preferred to have had explicitly stated.

Book #4
The Widow's Retreat book cover
Book: The Widow’s Retreat Author: A.J. Carter
Pages: 334 Duration: 01/17/24 – 01/18/24 (2 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, psychological thriller, holiday
📕10-word summary: Overly emoting, histrionic, melodramatic, over-the-top protagonist suffers vociferously and interminably.
🖌6-word review: I abandoned it at 20%.
Description:* Christmastime is torture for me. It’s a constant, brutal reminder of the day my husband was murdered. The decorations and merry cheers haunt me all through December, and there’s no escaping it. At least, not until I win a family trip to a secluded forest cottage. But as soon as we arrive, a mysterious note appears. It’s a threat from my husband’s killer, telling me he’s somewhere among the trees, watching, waiting for the perfect opportunity to come and finish the job. And there’s no way home–the forest’s terrain is completely unwalkable. We have to wait for our driver to pick us up. Only that’s days away, and the killer is coming closer than ever before, stepping foot inside our holiday home while we sleep. It’s only a matter of time before he gets me.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I abandoned this book at the 20%-read mark. I couldn’t stand hearing the protagonist lament, to the extent and depth to which she did, about kissing her fiancé’s best friend once after a little bit to drink the night before their wedding. I mean, good god, you’d’a thunk they’d carried on a long, torrid affair after the marriage. I also don’t care for psychological thrillers in which a soulless man is mindfucking (or gaslighting) a woman. At the 20% mark, I got on my life-is-too-short-to-read-bad-books high horse and reminded myself that this is why I have a one-star rating. Done with it.

Book #3
Jane Eyre book cover
Book: Jane Eyre Author: Charlotte Brontë
Pages: 532 Duration: 01/13/24 – 01/16/24 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: historical fiction, classics, literature, gothic
📕10-word summary: British, classic orphan-turned-governess, rise-in-status story with prodigious, melodramatic life turns.
🖌6-word review: Magnificently manipulated language. Surprisingly accessible, enjoyable.
Description:* Charlotte Brontë tells the story of orphaned Jane Eyre, who grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, enduring loneliness and cruelty. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane’s natural independence and spirit—which prove necessary when she finds employment as a governess to the young ward of Byronic, brooding Mr. Rochester. As her feelings for Rochester develop, Jane gradually uncovers Thornfield Hall’s terrible secret, forcing her to make a choice. Should she stay with Rochester and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions—even if it means leaving the man she loves?*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: Recently, our Mostly Social Book Club read The Radcliffe Ladies’ Reading Club, and in that book, the reading club members were assigned 7 books: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and Emma by Jane Austen. At our discussion about that book in our January 2024 meeting, we decided we wanted to read each of those assigned books throughout this year. Thankfully, we read Anna Karenina in 2009, so we don’t have to invest time in that tome again. We also read The Great Gatsby in 2013. Jane Eyre is our first one from the list. Surprisingly, I loved this story, especially the way language was used in it, which made me COL (chuckle out loud) enough times that my husband said, “I didn’t realize Jane Eyre was so funny.” One example that particularly tickled me was what Jane said when describing someone she found uninteresting: “She had no point to which interest could attach.” This was a classic epic story, which at times reminded me of one of my all-time favorite classics, Thomas Hardy‘s The Mayor of Casterbridge. I highly recommend the audiobook read by Nadia May, published by Blackstone Classics Audio Collection. Although it’s great at regular speed, I listened to it at 1.25x speed, which took it down from almost 19 hours to around 15 hours. (The book is 532 pages.) I usually listen to audiobooks at 1.5x speed, but I couldn’t understand a lot of it at that speed with this one, the reader having a British accent and with the way language was used at that time.

Book #2
The Sense of an Ending book cover
Book: The Sense of an Ending Author: Julian Barnes
Pages: 162 Duration: 01/12/24 – 01/12/24 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: literary fiction, British literature, book club
📕10-word summary: Contact from past makes a man rethink his entire being.
🖌6-word review: So compelling, easily a 5-hour read.
Description:* This intense 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.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: I first read this book (in 4.5 hours) in 2020, and I just reread it because I’m going to suggest it as my next book in our Mostly Social Book Club. I highly recommend reading this one on a Kindle or other eReader, because there were some serious vocabulary words in it, these among the ones I looked up the first time I read it: exculpated, susurrus, riposte, lachrymosely, puerile, lieder, deliquescent, fossicking, and priapic. I’ll echo the Goodreads blurb that calls it “a novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, it’s brilliant.” To interject an original thought, I’d add “philosophical” to “psychological and emotional.” Also, it has a rather shocking twist ending.

Book #1
Great Circle book cover
Book: Great Circle Author: Maggie Shipstead
Pages: 651 Duration: 01/04/24 – 01/11/24 (8 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: historical fiction, literary fiction, adventure, travel, flight
📕10-word summary: Two ambitious women’s stories connect across time, generations, and space.
🖌6-word review: Two well-told stories; one more compelling.
Description:* After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There—after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes—Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At 14 she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles. A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates—and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times—collide.*From goodreads.com’s synopsis.
Thoughts: This book was recommended to me by a friend at a New Year’s Eve party, and my first reaction was, “Do I really want to start my reading year off with a 651-page tome? Well, I did. And the first thing I did was request the large-print edition—which checked in at 944 pages—from the library. I loved this book and reflect on it with two major thoughts: 1) of the two story lines, I much preferred the one about Marian over the one about Hadley and I was grateful that most of the book was about Marian, and 2) about my admiration of the sheer determination and perseverance of the author to write such a long, involved story, including, carefully chosen, what on first glance seemed like tangents, but in the end were interesting and welcomed “asides.” More specifically, I’m talking about the decision to give more background on a particular character or situation when the story might otherwise have proceeded, without harm but perhaps not as a richly, without that background. I also loved a few of the epic turn of events that seemed to be just “dropped in,” like a detonated bomb. I would recommend this book without hesitation or qualification.

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