The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

This book is going to draw a lot of comparisons to The Giver of Stars-both are set in Appalachian Kentucky and are about a woman who is a pack horse librarian, both show racism and sexism and poverty and the positive impact of this program. While I ultimately liked Giver of Stars more, I did enjoy this very much.
The titular Book Woman is named Cussy Mary and while she is not one of the most remote, poor, hill people, she is not a townsperson either. Her pa is a coal miner and there is plenty of good historical detail in here about the Company and really what an awful system it was and how they willy nilly endangered lives, tricked and murdered people, and were generally terrible and oppressive. But what was most fascinating about Cussy Mary is that she was also called Bluet because her skin was blue! And this is a historically accurate detail! I had to read the end note about the actual blue skinned people in Kentucky as soon as I started the book because I had never heard of them.  So Mary is blue and poor but she’s quite literate and loves being a librarian and helping the super poor and remote patrons on her route.
This was not a cheerful light story. In fact, a lot of it was just so grim and depressing: horrible racism, children starving to death, cruel behaviors, rape, having no autonomy as a woman.
Probably one of the most interesting things (and that I kept saying “Listen to this!”) was the juxtaposition between this remote and poverty stricken world and everything else you might suddenly remember also existed at this time. You’d be reading about someone putting groundhog brains on their baby’s gums to help with teething and suddenly realize “Downton Abbey took place years before this and people there wore fancy clothes and jewelry and dined and drove motor cars.” Or you might be taking in the house someone lives in and then someone talks about reading that great new book Brave New World. What?! First of all, I had no idea Brave New World was that old. Second, it was wild to have that (and Steinbeck and Picasso) mentioned by people who seemed illiterate. And also, you find yourself thinking that the hill people were hundreds and hundreds of years in the past and it’s jarring to realize what else is happening in that time period.
I really did love the historical detail in this story and of course it was a joy to see all the positive impact of books and the things the book women did to help out their patrons (I was especially interested in the scrapbooks.)

Love, Unscripted by Owen Nicholls

I didn’t love this, but was very keen to find out what happened. To use an analogy suitable to the story, it felt like a movie that was just a little too long. The story is set up like a movie, with intermissions and flashbacks and I could see it in my mind like movie.  Although it’s been a long time since I have read the book or watched the film, this reminded me of High Fidelity. The main character, Nick, is crazy for films and works as a projectionist. He’s always comparing things to movies and they mean a lot to him.

Nick (can I pretend, then, that is homage to Nick Hornby?) and Ellie’s romance is either fated to be a great love story or fated to be doomed. Their amazing first night together (plenty of Before Sunrise references) is spliced into the story in different sections. It’s effective–it makes you wonder how they end up on the rocks while at the same time also helping you see Nick’s flaws right from the get go. Honestly, I found Nick a bit of an unlikable character (which he would say about himself, too.) But I still rooted for him and Ellie.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

This book is totally Chocolat + Maeve Binchy + Sarah Addison Allen.  I loved this. Three sisters who escaped Iran during the revolution escaped to London. After 7 years there they moved to a tiny village in Ireland to open a cafe. The village is populated with stock characters-a huge bully who dominates the whole town, a drunk with a fascinating past, mischievous bordering on criminal boys, a nosy gossip, etc. The sisters are scandalously foreign and the bully immediately wants to get rid of them. The racism is completely awful, but as I read I was confident that this story would end happily and he would get his.

Marjan, the oldest, has a gift for cooking and recipes are sprinkled throughout. And there is a thread of magical realism, which I loved. Her recipes have a special effect on people. Another sister’s intoxicating scent affects people. And the sweet Italian widow, Estelle, sweats sugar. For real.

I just loved this. For all the sweet magical recipe stuff and comically outlandish bully, there are serious flashbacks to the girls’ life in Iran before they escaped. It was truly awful and traumatic.
I just found out there’s a sequel, so I can’t wait to read it!

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

When this came out as a mini-series last summer we watched the whole thing as a family and we all loved it. I had never read the book but I knew I liked Neil Gaiman and I like Terry Pratchett in theory (the truth is, I’ve only ever read one of his books-Nation-and I did love it but somehow haven’t read anything else. Not even those Tiffany books that were the darling of the YA world. Paul is a huge fan and owns every single book he ever wrote including various editions of things. ) I really liked the show a lot and tucked away the idea of reading it in the back of mind. While doing some recent basement clean up/basement library browsing I came across it and thought “maybe now.” And indeed, this was perfect for right now. It was such a quick read and it was so funny and fun. Comparing the show and the book: one part of the show I didn’t love wasn’t originally in the book, so that was nice, although one thing I loved in the show isn’t originally in the book. Other than that, I thought it was a faithful rendition and even more now feel like the casting was absolutely spot on perfect.

Highly recommended.

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley (reread)

I read this just three years ago, but it’s one of those books my attention was drawn to during my bookcase reorganization. I didn’t remember many details about it-in fact, I wasn’t even sure if I’d read it yet!-but looked up my previous reviewand saw that I had. Interestingly, I would say the same things all over again. I was curious that I had said “This would get 4 1/2 stars from me. The one thing that didn’t ring true for me was in the epilogue.” (and after that was a spoiler alert so I didn’t keep reading the review) I wondered what on earth happened in the book (and honestly had no memory of ANY of the plot details, nor did they seem familiar as I reread) to make me say that. Guess what? I thought the same thing all over again!

It might seem like it’s a forgettable book since it’s only been 3 years and I didn’t remember very much, but honestly it was a very enjoyable book. I found so much of Jubilee and Eric’s stories deeply moving–thoughts on grief, human connection, and motherhood, in particular.

Curiously, this did have one small aspect that is exactly what I complained about in Goldfish Boy! (*if a child is acting in a strange way, you should assume they believe they are to blame for something they clearly didn’t.)

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

I absolutely loved this. An Indian widow leaves Kolkata, the only city she’s ever known, to go on a cross country tour of America, with the end destination being where her son lived. She hasn’t seen her son in years as her domineering husband decreed he was dead to them. There is also the possibility that her son is actually dead. Her companions on this trip are Satya and Rebecca. The latter is an American struggling actress and the former is a boy from Bangladesh hoping to make it in the U.S.  They are an unlikely trio, each with their own backstory and motivation. We also read the backstories of the tour company operator and the Mrs. Sengupta’s son’s lover.
I really liked how this story was comprised of so many stories-for example, finding out all about Ronnie, the tour company owner.

This was a pretty touching story, particularly when it came to grief and isolation. I relished the last few chapters especially. It was also a fascinating story in terms of cultural differences and India-Bangladesh history. Mrs. Sengupta is not a character filled with self pity, but I felt so much pity for her and anger on her behalf at the life she had lived under her terrible husband.

 

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

Finally! I broke out of my quarantine reading malaise for real! I knew I just needed to return to a feel good book I’ve read before. Miss You had been catching my eye on my newly rearranged bookshelf and I thought it would be just the thing as I didn’t remember too much about it except that I loved it and it was about two people who kept missing each other but were meant to be together.

Well. I truly enjoyed this all over again. So heartwarming. And it’s really two parallel stories of the couple before they are a couple. For a long time! I really couldn’t stand most of the parents in this story and felt like the main characters should have been more outraged about them, but it seemed like it was just “that’s what British/Irish people are like”?!
It’s funny that I think of this as such a warm heartwarming book because there was an awful lot of it that I found deeply sorrowful, especially with regard to Tess who basically gives up her life to raise a difficult child and no one acknowledges it. I have to assume that long after the book has ended she is living a wonderful happily ever after until the day she dies!

Original review from when I read it 4 years ago. Hmm…apparently I never wrote a full review before! Just mentioned it in my top ten of 2016.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

I started this sooooooo long ago. Started, stopped, quarantine began, etc. However, when I finally picked this up again this week my interest was fully captured and for the first time in a long time I found myself really reading, eager to get to the end.
The premise is that 12  year old Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash. His mother, father, and brother were also on the plane as they were en route from NY to LA to move. The story is told alternating between Edward’s life post crash and the flight. The flight chapters introduce other passengers, tell a bit of their stories, and I found those to have their own sadness because you knew they were all doomed. I was also so curious to find out exactly why the plane crashed and how that ending would be written that I really couldn’t put it down at the end.
Edward lives with his aunt and uncle (his mother’s sister), who were unable to have a baby of their own. Edward immediately clings to a neighbor girl the same age as him and they become best friends.  I thought the story would really be in the immediate aftermath of the crash, but it actually covers years. I really liked seeing Edward heal, especially with his relationship to Shay.

Sad, well written, I really enjoyed this.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

The quarantine cleanup/reorganization of my bookshelves means that I unearthed this prepub from a few years ago that I never got around to reading.  Given my reading doldrums I’m pleased to report that my interest was finally captured and sustained by an adult novel.
I love time travel and this was a very interesting story because the author flouts an awful lot of time travel conventions. I went back and forth between thinking “well time travel is not real so of course she is free to play with it and that’s what makes this an interesting story” and “that would never happen because that’s not the way time travel works.”  For example, in this story your future (“Silver”) and younger (“green”) selves can visit you and hang out with you. There might be several of you visiting you on an important occasions, like a birth, death, or wedding.
One of the things I found my fascinating was that in the farthest future (300 years) society and the legal system have returned to Fate being a determiner of guilt and judicial verdicts are made based on Salem Witch Trial era tests. It was a grim picture of society devolving, while being technologically incredibly advanced.
So that’s the time travel/future aspects of it. As for the story, it focuses on the four women who invented it in the 1960s and what happens to them. One rises to become the powerful head of the corporation that controls all time travel and frankly, she is cruel and not nice.  Two more work within the corporation, but one famously had a mental breakdown and was ousted from the group. Although those dynamics drive the story (and add in a granddaughter and another young woman who discovers a dead body), I think I would have preferred them to be successful scientists who remained pals all the rest of their lives.  But then we wouldn’t have this interesting story and the mystery. The mystery is hard to unravel, in part because of some kooky time travel stuff.

Overall, I liked it and thought it was an interesting story with a new look at time travel.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

I feel like this took foreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever to read. And it’s no fault of Kate Atkinson’s because this book is just as good as all the other Jackson Brodie books. (Though I will say, this is #2, and I recently read the very newest, and reading these two together they seem to have an awful lot in common. Russians, call girls, money laundering, bad guys, etc.)
Something that I think is very interesting about all the Jackson Brodie books is that you think of them as being all about him-he’s the main character, it’s his story, how will he solve it, etc. But! An awful lot of the chapters don’t even have him in it and you do get these wonderful back stories about the other characters who get wrapped up in these extremely complicated webs.

My quarantine reading is really not happening the way I had ever imagined it. I’m prescribing for myself a dose of Rosamund Pilcher, or possibly Outlander. Though they are big books they are comforting and familiar and engrossing.