Another month of reading is past and it's time for a little summary of the 13 books I finished this month. March was really a mixed bag. I did not select all winners this month. You will find several disappointing choices but mixed in are a few genuine gems. My favorites of the month are Miracle in the Andes, Do You Feel Like I Do? and This Tender Land. The first 2 are non-fiction but just as riveting as a good novel. The last one, I believe, will become an American classic in the vein of Huckleberry Finn.
What ahve you read this month that you would recommend?
The Myth of Perpetual Summer
By Susan Crandall, Read By Amy Rubinate
This book exhausted me a bit.
The story revolves around the James family from Mississippi. The family is knows for a line of college professors and a long history in the area. By the time we meet them in the 1970's they aren't wealthy anymore and survive on the reputation of the family history. You know, the stereotypical Southern genteel family with lots of hidden baggage.
The story is told by Talulah James. Her mother is completely irresponsible to the family because she's more interested in traveling the US protesting various causes. Her father is a history professor who lives with undiagnosed bipolar disease. Talulah and her brother, Grif, keep things together with the help of their Grandmother.
I've got mixed feelings about this one. It was a really slow start. It took 7 or 8 chapters to decide that I was going to stick with it. But the author got me to like the characters and what to see what would happen. I suppose that I'd say that if you like Forrest Gump or Prince of Tides, you will like this one.
Everything I never Told You
By Celeste Ng, Read By Cassandra Campbell
Boy, I started this month on kind of a down note. Like the last book, this one is about another dysfunctional family.
The book is touted as a novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970's Ohio. OK, technically, yes, it is a mixed race family so, since we are into anything racial right now that's the hook. But the book is about a family, who happens to be Asian-American, and SOME of the issues they deal with might be about race. But the root of the problem is that the parents have projected their own desires/regrets on their oldest daughter and basically ignored the other 2 children.
The book opens with the death of the oldest daughter and we are told what led up to it and then how it affected the family. It's an OK book. I didn't particularly like either of the parents so it was hard to like the book and the ending was a little forced. The narration is slow. If you are listening it will help to speed it up a bit.
By Anna Lee Huber, Read by Heather Wilds
This is the second book in the Lady Darby series. I liked the first one better than this one.
In the first book we learn that Kiera Darby is the widow of an anatomist and that she was forced to do his drawings. It was scandalous and now that she's a widow, she a social pariah. While solving a mystery in book 1 she meets Sebastian Gage and a weird love/attraction begins. Weird, because "something" keeps them apart.
In book 2 she's with her sister and BIL and they are traveling to Edinburgh. At a friend's estate she reconnects with childhood friends, William and Michael Dalmay. William is about to be married but Michael is the heir and is discovered to be mentally damaged. Today we would call it severe PTSD that was made worse by a stay in an asylum. Young local girl disappears, yadda, yadda, Michael blamed, yadda yadda, Kiera investigates with the help of Gage.
I'd call book 2 more of a romance novel than a mystery. It was clear from the beginning what was going on and it was really just background for the coming together and separating of Kiera and Gage. Why their relationship can't be a real relationship is never really explained and I expect it's dragged through future books which I will not likely listen to. It's a fine book for what it is, it's just not my thing.
As Bright As Heaven
By Susan Meissner, Read by a cast
This book gets rave reviews but it fell a little flat for me.
The story is set during the Spanish Flu pandemic in Philadelphia, one of the worst hit cities. The Bright family has moved from Quakertown so that the father can work at and eventually take over his uncle's mortuary. They recently lost a baby boy and the mother, Pauline, is still in despair. They move to Philadelphia for the hope of a better life for their 3 daughters, Evelyn, Maggie and Willa. Not long after arriving the Flu also arrives.
While delivering food and supplies to flu victims in South Philly, Maggie discovers a baby boy with his dead mother and sister. They bring the boy home to raise as their own.
The book covers the early flu years through abut 1925 as the girls become young women. I can see why it's so popular. It's a good story and ends well but it fell a little flat for me. As I was listening I found it was hard to imagine the events actually taking place in the 1920's. The conversation seemed too modern and I kept picturing the setting as more 1950's. The freedom of the girls, including one to pursue becoming a doctor, just didn't ring true for me. The narration was done by a cast, which was fine, but as the youngest girl aged the narrator didn't change her voice. We listen to scenes in speakeasys with the voice of a 10 year old.
It's a good book for a light read with some sadness and trauma but with a happy ending.
By Isabella Maldonado, Read By Roxanne Hernandez
This is the first in a new series featuring FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera. She has recently joined the FBI after being a DC area cop for several years and she's the first Latin woman to reach some specific rank in the FBI. She, of course, has a past. She was literally thrown in the garbage as a baby and then spent many years in bad foster homes. At 16 she was abducted, raped and brutalized but managed to escape. At the opening of the book she is jogging and 2 college students think it will be funny to attack her, rape her and live stream it on the internet. Instead what's livestreamed is her beating the crap out of the attacker. It goes viral and her original abductor now knows who she (she had changed her name) is and where she lives. He abducts another young girl and leaves her discarded and dead as a message to Nina that he's back.
That sounds like a great storyline, doesn't it? The vast majority of reviewers would agree but I have come to believe that most of the reviews for this book are fake because this book is almost awful. It's not suspenseful because the plot and conclusion are so obvious from the beginning. The actions of the FBI, most of the time, are laughable and the dialogue is awkward. Maldonado is supposedly a former FBI agent so I'd like to think that she really does know how the FBI works. If they work like they do in this book then the organization is kind of a waste. It might explain why it took a group if amateur sleuths ("Scoobys", in the book) to solve the decades old Golden State Killer case and why so many people watch the ID channel and listen to podcasts like The Murder Squad.
As for the dialogue, she uses conversation in the book to explain FBI things too the reader. Often the conversations reminded me of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory when he would simplify things for his friends. Imagine that you and I are chatting about our quilting projects and during the conversation we explain to each other how to sew a quarter inch seam as part of our project discussion. It's just like that in the book. It made the characters flat and insipid.
After doing a little research I discovered that this book is being made into a movie for Jennifer Lopez and it's probably perfect for that. In fact, I could believe that it was written specifically for her. Screen writers will fix the dialogue and JLo will get to beat up on a few men. There's no way that this book got almost all 5-star reviews on all of the book platforms. It's a 3-star book max. I'm glad I got it in the Audible daily deal for $4.
Miracle in the Andes
By Nando Parrado and Vince Rause, Read By Arthur Morey
It was the summer of 1974, just before I turned 14, that I discovered the non-fiction genre in books. I loved my summers because I could totally indulge my love of reading and I loved visiting the Bassett library to find new books to read. That summer our librarian introduced me to Alive by Piers Paul Read. It's the story of the 1972 Uruguay airlines crash in the Andes in October. The plane was carrying 45 passengers, mostly young rugby players. A search for the plan was relatively quickly called off because it was assumed that no one could have survived and the white plane was impossible to see on the glaciers and snow.
I sprawled out on our avocado green toile sofa one day and barely moved for 3 days until I read the last page. 16 of the 45 passengers survived for 72 days until 2 of them could hike out and try to get help. Alive is the story of the facts of the events and how they survived in such a barren area for so long.
Nando Parrado is one of the 2 people who hiked for 10 days to try to get help. They hiked 37 miles in 10 days in an area where no human had ever passed before. The plane had settled at 11,700 feet and their hike took them to about 15,000 feet. They had no winter gear or hiking tools. They just had the will to live. They eventually saw a man on horseback and after tossing notes tied around rocks across a river, the man went for help.
This book is a perfect companion to Alive. This book tells much more of the personal side of the events and how the crash affected him as he resumed his life. Like Alive, I could not put it down. In the audio version you get to hear Parrado, in his own voice, in the prologue and epilogue. His perspective on death and on living is a wonderful lesson for all of us.
Alive will always remain one of my all-time favorite books along with Unbroken. These men are truly extraordinary and I don't think any group of people could have survived that trial without the "team" ethic that they formed playing rugby together. This book will make Covid seem really petty and inconsequential to you. It will also make you feel very grateful.
Daughter of Fortune
By Isabel Allende, Read By Blair Brown
I'm writing this immediately after finishing the book and the only thing I can think to say about it is that it's pointless. It's supposed to be about Eliza Sommers who was orphaned at birth but was raised in the British colony of Valparaíso, Chile, by the well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose. She falls in love with one of her uncle's employees, Joaquín Andieta. Joaquin leaves for California for the Gold Rush. Unknowingly, he left a pregnant Eliza behind. She decides to follow him by stowing away on her uncle's ship. The book follows her search for Joaquin for several years in California.
It's a fine premise but Allende seems to have trouble distinguishing secondary characters from primary characters. Everyone seems to get a chapter of full introduction and background. In fact the first 1/4 of the book seems to be nothing but background. She even introduces a new character in the last 20 minutes of the story and then it just ended. In the last 2 chapters there were a couple of storyline advances that seemed to propose some reunions or major turning points but they were left hanging. It's as if she got tired and decided to just end it with one specific event and ignore all the other hanging storylines.
The other annoying thing about this book is that it was written in 1999 before our recent obsession with rewriting history. The book now has a introduction by Allende proposing that she wrote the book to tell the history of California from the perspective of the women, Chinese, Mexicans and South Americans who were robbed of their due in the new state. It's a good marketing angle to get this book back on reading lists but that it not what it's about. Not even close.
By Walter Mosley, Read By Michael Boatman
I first discovered Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins series in 1996 with White Butterfly, which is actually 3rd in the series. If you've hears of the movie Devil In A Blue Dress, it was based on the first book in the series with Denzel Washington playing Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins. But Don Cheadle stole the show with his portrayal of my favorite character, Mouse.
Easy is a WWII veteran and the books are all set in the 1950's and 1960's . In Blood Grove it's 1969 in LA and Easy has a small detective agency. One day a Vietnam Vet walks in and asks for Easy's help in finding. He believes that he stabbed someone to death in an orange grove and want Easy to find out. He takes the case after he realizes how damaged the young man is by his war experience. He soon regrets that decision.
Meanwhile, his adopted daughter Feather, is a teenager and doing well in school so life at home is great. That is until Feather's white uncle shows up in town to meet her.
Mosely creates such rich characters that you feel like you could go to LA and find them....except that you'd also have to go back in time. I think the time period for these novels is genius. Having them take place in the 50's and 60's means that the characters have to work a little harder but that it's also easier to hide. There's no technology aside from the newspaper, library and telephones with wires.
I love the whole series and Blood Grove is a great addition. If you aren't into violence, though, you should skip these books.
By Kate Quinn, Read By Saskia Maarleveld
Nina Markova is one of the famous Soviet Night Witches, a squadron of female bomber pilots in WWII. After the war British War Correspondent Ian Graham has given up journalism for being a Nazi hunter. In post-war Boston Jordan McBride works welcomes a new step-mother and sister to her family. She longs to become a photographer but her father wants her to take over the family antiques business.
All of these people come together in the search for a The Huntress, a woman known for murdering several people as a Nazi.
I've read one other Quinn book, The Alice Network, and she does "WWII spy" really well. Great characters and a narration that jumps between during the war and post-war as everything unfolds. Great narration too.
I enjoyed learning about the Soviet female bomber pilots that were put into service after Germany invaded Russia. The Germans nicknamed them the "Night Witches" because the only sound they heard when the planes were coming was the faint sound of a sweeping broom. Nina is a great character for one of these courageous pilots.
Do You Feel Like I Do?
Peter Frampton, Read By Peter Frampton
I don't know a ton about music but, for some reason, I really enjoy music biographies, especially artists from the 50's to the 80's. Peter Frampton was definitely an artist of my time and I remember what a big deal the talk box was. It had been used in country music some but it was Frampton that took it and owned it.
What I enjoyed about this book was his singular focus on making music. Whether he's making millions or making nothing, he seems to be all about the music and he seems to not carry around anger, resentment or jealousy for bad things that happened or things that could have been. I really enjoyed his story, how it intertwined with other artists of the time and I actually enjoyed hearing him tell the story. It was also fun to go to YouTube and listen to the songs as read the book. Watching clips of the Sgt Peppers movie was hilarious.
The Mountains Wild
By Sarah Stewart Taylor, Read By Marissa Calin
There's one word that sums up the writing and narration of this book and that word is "sloppy". The writing is sloppy or the editor was lazy. There are too many inconsistencies throughout the story as if it was written quickly to get it out on the coattails of a previous successful book. I don't know if that's the case or not but that's how it feels.
The narration takes that weak base and makes it worse. Much of the book takes place in Ireland but the main character is from Long Island. She tries mightily to keep all the accents straight and consistent but fails miserably. Maggie D'acry (appropriate last name for a romance novel), our heroine, speaks about every 4th word with a Long Island accent. Or is it Brooklyn? Or Boston? Is she having cawfee today or coffee? She can't seem to remember. The accent is totally unnecessary and the book would have been better without it.
But the book does struggle on it's own. It wasn't so horrible that I couldn't finish it but it was a messy story. Maggie grew up with her cousin, Erin, on Long Island and honestly, they never got along well. After leaving high school, Erin decides to move to Ireland (the homeland she has never visited). One day they got a call that Erin had disappeared. Maggie drops everything (at the age of 18, 19, 20?) to go there and spend weeks "investigating" Erin's last moves. They never find Erin or what happened to her.
Twenty-three years later Maggie is a detective, divorced and mother of a 15 year old. They receive a call that Erin's scarf has been found. Maggie drops everything again to go to Ireland to help solve the crime because she's a famous detective now. I'm not buying it.
Once there she acts more like a lovelorn teenager than a detective. She actually spends time more or less stalking someone she had a fling with 23 years ago. She does eventually get her act together and, magically, solves the crime.
It might be much better read, instead of listening to the bad narration but I thought it was a pretty weak story.
This Tender Land
By William Kent Krueger, Read By Scott Brick
William Kent Krueger is the author of the Cork O'Connor mystery series that I like so much. He also wrote a beautiful stand alone novel called Ordinary Grace. This is the book he wrote to follow on Ordinary Grace.
Krueger is a masterful writer and I believe that this book will become a classic. It is set in 1932 at the Lincoln School in Minnesota, an orphan school for Native American children. Odie and Albert O'Banion are two white orphans that were also taken into the school. It's a horrid place and Odie is treated particularly bad. They eventually have to flee with their mute Native friend, Mose and a recently orphaned girl named Emmy. This is the story of their escape in a canoe heading toward the Mississippi. It's an epic story. Some parts are hard to listen to but the characters are fantastic and the landscapes are beautiful. This is a book that I would read again.
Scent of Evil
By Archer Mayor, Read By Tom Taylorson
This is the third in the Joe Gunter series. This is an older series and this particular book was published in 1992. Audible has this series included free with membership. I'm really enjoying reading these book set in a time where pagers were consider modern technology. So far they are all set in Vermont.
A local Brattleboro stock broker has been found dead and the obvious suspect is one of the local police officers. The officer's wife was having an affair with the stockbroker. But as he investigates, Gunther, finds more and more bizarre details. Whoever the killer is seems to always be a few steps ahead of him.
This was my least favorite of the three. I think there were too many characters to track and it was easy to figure out who did it. But I like the Gunther character and the series in general so I'll keep reading them.
3/31/2021 11:26:32 am
Love your book reviews...
I read Alive a long time ago and liked it and the The Alice Network so I will give both of these you mention a try. I hate getting books that are so bad you barely read past the first 3 chapters so always on the lookout for good ones. Have you read The Secret Keepers by Jane Healey
3/31/2021 12:28:32 pm
I read the book The Cipher because I got it as a free Prime First Read. I, too, thought it was awful.
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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.