You can tell that it's mold season in Virginia and I'm spending most of my time indoors. I listened to a possible record 14 books this month! There's a lot of love and hate in the list this month. My favorite fiction books were Ask Again, Yes and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. My favorite non-fiction books were Midnight in Chernobyl and The emperor of All Maladies. The Chernobyl book is so good that it reads like a novel.
There are a few books on the list this month that I flat out hated. That's not a big surprise because I take more risks now that I get free books from the library. If I had to pay for it, for example, I would have never bought In Pieces and probably also Where The Crawdad Sings. I've got some pretty mean reviews this month. Please don't take offense if you disagree. We all have opinions and I'm no book editor. I just know what I like. You are very welcome to offer your different view in the comments! I'm also always happy to get your recommendations.
The Splendor Before the Dark
By Ruth Downie, Narrated By Steve West, Katherine McEwan and Susan Denaker
July started off much better than June ended with this novel.
Margaret George writes incredibly well researched historical fiction. This one is the second in her Nero series. I read the first, Confession of a Young Nero, a year ago. This one picks up 10 years into his reign with the great fire of Rome and follows through the end of his life. Most of the written history about Nero was written 100 years or more after his death. George has included more modern research and findings into this possible history of the last of the Caesars.
By Sally Field
This book is a heavy read. It's not the typical celebrity lighthearted book about what it was like to work on certain films or to work with certain people. This book is Sally Field's personal therapy session rehashing all the troubled times in her life - and she had plenty of them. For me it was way too much information and I didn't particularly enjoy it.
Ask Again, Yes
By Mary Beth Keane, Narrated By Molly Pope
This book was a lovely surprise. I didn't expect to like it and instead I couldn't put it down.
It's about 2 families (the Stanhopes and Gleesons) living next door to each other. The men were rookie cops together in NYC. Their children, Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope were best friends from a young age and fell in love as teens. Then tragedy struck that tore both families apart. The story is about Kate and Peter's love story and the complexities brought into it from the past.
But it's more than a love story. It's about how we change, how we deal with tragedy, how we forgive and what happens if we don't forgive, don't accept and don't move forward.
Midnight in Chernobyl
By Adam Higginbotham, Narrated By Jacques Roy
This book has gotten a lot of press lately so if you follow book reviews you have probably heard about it already. I generally am wary of effusive reviews but, in this case, all of the positive reviews are well deserved.
I can't imagine the hours and hours of time that Higgnebotham invested over the 10 years that he spent researching this book but it's clear that this was his personal life's work for that time. I can't imagine any aspect of the Chernobyl disaster that he did not investigate and follow.
The book is not at all political or putting forth an opinion about nuclear energy. It's simply an honest look at what happened, how it happened, how it was handled and the long term impacts. But you can't help but draw from it an observation about the inherent risks when the state controls both the production and regulation of industry.
I couldn't put it down. If you watched the HBO special on Chernobyl you should really read this book. That "documentary" had a lot of false information for the sake of ratings and viewership. It's a very unfair and inaccurate representation of the events and consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
By Jamie Ford, Narrated by Feodor Chin
This book was first published 10 years ago but it's only been lately that I've heard about it. Several people recommended it to me and I'm so glad that they did. It's a lovely book.
The story starts in 1986 and Henry Lee is standing outside the abandoned Panama Hotel that marked the entrance to Seattle's Japantown. The hotel is being remodeled and the owner has found boxes of property belonging to Japanese residents who were sent to internment camps in WWII. Henry ( of Chinese descent) met Keiko Okabe (of Japanese descent) in the 1940's when they both attended a white school as scholarship children. They bonded over Jazz music.
Henry's father objected to Henry having any relationship with Keiko. The story flips back and forth between the 40's and 80's and reveals the sacrifices that Henry has made for his family throughout his life. It's a really lovely story about friendships, family and life choices. I can't wait to listen to another of Jamie Ford's books. The narration was perfect.
City of Girls
By Elizabeth Gilbert, Narrated by Blair Brown
Did you read and enjoy The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant? If so then this book is for you!
Eighty-nine year old, Vivian received a letter from Angela. Angela knows that Vivian and her father had a relationship and now that both of her parents are dead she is ready to ask Vivian to tell her about the relationship with her father. That's the frame for the telling of Vivian's life story. That part of the story felt really contrived and forced element to the story because what followed was every single detail of Vivian's life. That doesn't mean it's a bad book but it's an awkward frame.
Vivian's tale starts in the 1040's when she's kicked out of Vassar and is sent to NYC to live with her Aunt Peg and Peg's girlfriend, Olive. Peg runs the small neighborhood theater, Lily Playhouse, and Vivian, with her exceptional sewing skills, becomes the costume designer. Vivian also leaps into a free-wheeling city party scene. One of the funniest scenes in the book is when Vivian loses her virginity. Vivian soon discovers that she loves living a promiscuous life. But that promiscuity catches up with her with a mistake that ruins her life in the city. She returns home to her WASP parent's home and tries to forge a more "expected" life.
The start of WWII give her an opportunity to live the life she wants to live. She makes a very happy life unapologetic life in NYC until someone from her past reappears. Olive helps guide her through the anger and hurt with my second favorite passage that I'm calling the "Field of Honor speech". A whole lot of people need these days need a dose of the Field of Honor speech.
Blair Brown did an excellent job narrating this book but if I ever asked someone a question and received 15 detail of that person's life I would not be so pleased. The story was well told and I consider this a great beach read but aside from her sewing career, I wouldn't consider Vivian a particularly interesting person to hang out with. I'd be more interested in knowing her to learn her costuming skills.
By Clive Cussler, Narrated by Scott Brick
I read the fist book in the Sam and Remi Fargo series last month and you might remember my lukewarm review. Now that I get books from the library (free) I'm more willing to take risks and try books out. The library had this book, the second in the series, so I put it on hold. I got it faster than I expected and finished it as quickly as I could.
I knew from the beginning that I wasn't going to lover it and that the criticisms that I had from the first one were legitimate. This one is the EXACT same plot as the first one. Sam and Remi are on a trip and happen upon some relic that and evil rich person has been trying to find for years. I would swear that some of the dialogue is truly identical in the 2 books. The characters are all very cliche, the conversations between Sam and Remi are all to clever, especially when they are in one of the many near-death situations.
Biggest eye-roll moment came when they arrive in Atlanta on one of their MANY carbon spewing trips all over the world Sam rents an SUV. Remy is about to scold him when he reveals that it's a hybrid. Oh well, then, we're all OK and can continue our daily plan rides while we illegally dig up artifacts. But it's all in the name of saving history.
It's the romance novel of the suspense genre and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you just need an easy read that doesn't require too much analysis. On those days Cussler is your author.
The Emperor of All Maladies
By Siddhartha Mukerjee, Narrated By Stephen Hoye
So far this month all of my books have come from the library and I read them in the order that I receive them. I rarely find a book that doesn't already have a wait list. This book was published in 2010 and I had to wait several weeks to get my copy. That's about all you need to know to assess whether it's a good book.
The Emperor of all maladies is cancer and this book is a very thorough and understandable of our research and treatment of cancer. I think reading this book will give you a deep appreciation of the complexities of the disease, empathy for the doctors and researchers who dedicate their lives to the disease and an understanding of the limitations of treatment.
Two years ago I read The Gene by this same author and it's still one of my all-time favorite books. This book was written first and, now that I've read this one, I can see why he needed to write The Gene after he finished this. Gene research and therapy is really the future of all medicine. The last few chapters of this book are all about the advances in cancer gene research and therapy so The Gene was a perfect follow up.
This book will give you a great perspective on the history of cancer and The Gene will take you into the future but with history of gene research. Thanks to Kristen (I think) for recommending this one to me.
Dark Tide Rising
By Anne Perry, Narrated By David Colachi
This is the 24th book in the William Monk series. These books are set in Victorian England and Monk is Commander of the Thames River Police. This one opens with Monk being asked to accompany someone to pay a ransom. Of course it ends in murder and sets Monk off on a new investigation.
After I finished this book I started thinking about the difference between Anne Perry, John Sandford and Vince Flynn novels (that I like) and the Clive Cussler series that I wrote about above. I think it all comes down to character development. Throughout the 24 books in the Monk series the characters grow and develop. We know their weaknesses and their strengths. They gain and lose friends and family. Life moves forward. In the Cussler books Remy and Sam are not very deep characters. Every sticky situation draws on some nearly-magical skill from some past experience. Bad (or illegal) actions don't have consequences because it's all for a "greater good". In each book they escape dozens of life-threatening events and it all wraps up in a nice little vignette back at home. There's no depth and no change for the characters.
In the Monk novels I look forward to seeing what Hester and Scuff are up to and if Monk might remember something from his past. Every character changes and grows throughout the series. I think it's more difficult to write like that but it makes all the difference in the quality of the book.
Food: A Cultural Culinary History
The Great Courses
By Ken Albala
This is a mostly interesting and in-depth of food development and consumption from the ancient times to current days. It started off great and I enjoyed all of the early lectures that covered the Stone Age through the Middle Ages. But once he got into the Colombian Exchange, the Industrial Revolution and modern tastes he climbed higher and higher on his soapbox. He had an agenda and he didn't deviate. His lecture on GMO food was full of factual errors. He rails against "so called labor saving devices" of the post-war era like canned and frozen food. His vision for the future of food is laughable. It's clear that he has a dream of going back to the "good ole days" of subsistence farming and living off a few basic food items.
It wasn't my favorite of The Great Course. That still remains The Addictive Brain.
Keep Her Safe
By K. A. Tucker, multiple narrators
I'm guessing that I picked this one us as one of the Audible Deal of the Day books.
Noah Marshall is the son of the Chief of Police of Austin, TX and one night while Noah is taking a shower she kills herself. Two days later his mother's attorney gives Noah a letter with instructions to deliver something to her former partner's daughter, Gracie Richards. Gracie's father was killed in an apparent drug bust gone bad.
Now Noah and Gracie are determined to figure out the truth.
The plot of this is actually very interesting and could have been developed into a pretty solid mystery but apparently Tucker writes romance/suspense so it's a little of both genres and probably not enough of either.
There were 4 narrators for the 4 main characters and I didn't think that worked so well. The narrator for Gracie was the least effective. She pronounced words like and English professor not in a conversational way that people really talk.
By Nate Blakeslee, Narrated By Mark Bramhall
This is the story of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. The author tries to present a balanced narrative of pro- and anti-wolf points of view but the book is completely pro-wolf. After reading this book you would believe that the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone (and therefore the entire Northwest) has been nothing but beneficial for the area. There absolutely are many benefits but I don't think he fairly presents the effect on the landowners and ranchers outside of the park and is certainly doesn't even whisper a mention of what a devastation it has been on the moose population (down from 1000 to 200). In fact, Yellowstone uses the current politically correct position that the moose population decline is due to climate change, which is completely ridiculous. Just a minimal amount of research on the web will produce a number of charts showing that where moose and wolves co-exist moose population suffer as wolf populations grow. The same has happened with the elk population. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not. You aren't going to find out with this book.
Where this book succeeds is by anthropomorphizing specific wolves in the Yellowstone population so that when one of the "celebrities" is legally killed outside the Park, it becomes an international incident. The people profiled in this book are obsessed in the level of Jane Goodall and, honestly, I think they all should take a break every now and then and see how the real world operates. They are in such an echo chamber of information that they inevitably make the entire situation with the wolves polarizing.
I don't know enough about the whole situation to have a strong opinion and I didn't feel like the information that I got in this book was balanced enough for me to make a truly educated judgement. This book is all about protecting the wolves at all costs, including reneging on agreements made to the surrounding states to get them to allow the reintroduction of the wolf in the first place. It cleverly uses emotional attachment to specific wolves to get the reader emotionally attached to the cause. As for books on animal behavior, I liked How To Tame A Fox (and Make A Dog) much better.
The Deep, Deep Snow
By Brian Freeman, Narrated by January Lavoy
This book is on my reading list because it was an Audible Daily Deal. It is apparently an "Audible original" so this is the only place you can get it.
The publisher's summary opens with this:
“The first thing you should know about me is that I believe in signs. Omens. Premonitions. I grew up believing that things happen for a reason. That’s the only way to explain why I’m alive.”
The truth is that Deputy Shelby Lake (and the FBI) seem to wait for omens and clues to jump right in front of them. Nothing else would explain the slog you are taken through a maudlin and cliche-filled story. The "omens" add up to periodic sightings of snowy owls. Oh look, there's a snowy owl, time to have an epiphany! Oh look, a snowy owl, time to find a clue! The story moves ahead on jumps of time from months to years as if every so often they open a file drawer and think "maybe we should look at the case again". Deputy Lake is one of the most lethargic and emotionless main characters that I've seen in a long time. She certainly doesn't have a reputation for ambition or ability to solve crimes but once in the 10 years span she has a major epiphany and every mystery for the past 10 years is solved.
I'm kind of annoyed at myself that I bothered finishing it. Had I actually looked at my book rating spreadsheet I would have seen that I read another book by this author 2 years ago and hated it and I could have saved myself the bother!
Just as I was typing this I got notice that Where the Crawdad Sings has become available on Libbie so I'm hoping for better reading ahead!
Where The Crawdad Sings
By Delia Owens, Narrated By Cassandra Campbell
Well, ignore the last sentence of the previous review. I know this book has a HUGE fan base and I do understand why but I despised this book.
There's some lovely poetic writing and the premise of the book is interesting so I can see the general interest in the book. But I have no patience for poor research and gross stereotyping even in fiction and I am fed up with stupid hick stereotypes of Southern people. Let me give you some examples.
First, this book is set in the 1950's and 1960's but if there wasn't a date mentioned at the beginning of each chapter you would swear that it's post-depression era. Apparently Southern folks don't change their dress, behaviors, music or fashion with the times. But they name their children with names that weren't in use until the late '70's at the earliest. No one named their sons Chase and Tate in the late 40's and early 50's. You can find charts online to prove that and a decent editor would have caught it.
The author has apparently never visited North Carolina or even looked at a map of that wonderful state. She's from Georgia and lives in Idaho. The fictional town has to be located on the coast between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington. Now if you lived there and was sent to buy inventory supplies for your Dad's business where would you go? Maybe Fayetteville, Charlotte, Raleigh or even Charleston but you would NOT travel to Asheville! Asheville has never been a commerce center. It is, and always has been, a vacation and artisan center. Did this book even have an editor?
The main characters are in their late teens and early 20's in the 1960's, a time of a complete renaissance in music and yet Chase plays old gospel type music for Kya. Chase was the most popular boy in town (the quarterback) and was a great womanizer. That type of boy doesn't chase a swamp recluse and serenade her with old time music. He would have been listening to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison.
Actually, the whole premise is complete fantasy. A 6 year old girl winds up abandoned and raises herself selling mussels to a local marina operator/fish monger/store operator. EVERYONE in town knows that she's on her own and they do absolutely nothing about it. There isn't a 6 year old that could survive this. If nothing else she would be severely malnourished and not grow up to be the mystical beauty that she became. The school truant officer makes a few attempts to get her but eventually gives up. The marina operator, a kind black man, and his wife help her out by buying her mussels and with free clothes and other things but at some point did these people once consider taking this child in? NO. The reader is left with the impression that she lives in such a remote place that it's impossible to find her. The only way to visit her is by boat and that's how she gets around. Miraculously the other popular boy in school befriends her and teaches her to read and write. Surprise, she's a brilliant science researcher, artist and writer! Around this time we discover that her home is actually right off a road and she even has a mailbox. Suddenly people can easily visit by car. Then miraculously, one of her siblings shows up when she's in her 20's to check on her. Where was he when he was 18 and she was still only 13? Maybe some of these things would have happened in the 20's or 30's, but NOT in the 60's! I grew up in the 60's in the South and the premise of this book offends me.
Add to all that the narration that is so stereotyped that you leave the book thinking that ever Southern person, including the sheriff, lawyers, store owners is a backwoods idiot. Kya sounds mentally challenged, not like some sort of scientific genius.
I could go on for 10 more paragraph talking about the problems that I have with this book. I hope I don't offend the many people who loved this book. You loved it for different reasons than I hated it. It certainly dishes out a giant dose of hope and that's always good. If you loved this, that's great. I'm sure you have hated books that I love. That's the beauty of opinions, we all have them and they are all different! In this case I accept that I'm in the minority on this book.
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I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.