I really liked the first Jane Harper book I read, The Dry, but I didn’t love the second one of hers I read, Force of Nature. The Survivors was OK, but not great. It was suspenseful, but parts were dull and the characters weren’t developed particularly well. Amazon’s synopsis: “Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home. Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…” So, was this worth a read? There are better books out there, but this one wasn’t terrible.
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel was a brutal read. Incest, rape, depression, and family disfunction are all front and center. I almost gave up multiple times while reading because it was a lot. But, I stuck with it to find out whether there was any hope to be found in the story. Amazon reports: “‘A girl comes of age against the knife.’ So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a white mother and a Cherokee father, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit in the rural town of Breathed, Ohio, is one of poverty and violence–both from outside the family and, devastatingly, from within. The lush landscape, rich with birdsong, wild fruit, and blazing stars, becomes a kind of refuge for Betty, but when her family’s darkest secrets are brought to light, she has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters. Despite the hardships she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father’s brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all to which she bears witness, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write. She recounts the horrors of her family’s past and present with pen and paper and buries them deep in the dirt–moments that have stung her so deeply she could not share them, until now. Inspired by generations of her family, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by delivering this heartbreaking yet magical story–a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the most important voices in American fiction.” (Amazon) There was certainly beauty in the writing, but the harsh reality of this story is one you should be prepared for before you take it on.
Looking for an escape? Katherine Center is usually a good choice. What You Wish For, Things You Save in a Fire, and How to Walk Away all received four and a half stars from me. Pretty solid. While Happiness for Beginners was another good escape, I didn’t like it as much as the prior novels I enjoyed. “Helen Carpenter can’t quite seem to bounce back. Newly divorced at thirty-two, her life has fallen apart beyond her ability to put it together again. So when her annoying younger brother, Duncan, convinces her to sign up for a hardcore wilderness survival course in the backwoods of Wyoming—she hopes it’ll be exactly what she needs. Instead, it’s a disaster. It’s nothing like she wants, or expects, or anticipates. She doesn’t anticipate the surprise summer blizzard, for example—or the blisters, or the rutting elk, or the mean pack of sorority girls. And she especially doesn’t anticipate that her annoying brother’s even-more-annoying best friend, Jake, will show up for the exact same course—and distract her, derail her, and . . . kiss her. But it turns out sometimes disaster can teach you exactly the things you need to learn. Like how to keep going, even when you think you can’t. How being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes getting really, really lost is your only hope of getting found.” (Amazon) So, if you have a chance, this is an OK one, but the other three (reviews are linked above) are better options.
I generally like Kristin Hannah and The Nightingale is one of my favorites (if you haven’t read it, read it immediately). The Four Winds is a story about the Dust Bowl. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Amazon describes: “Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows. By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive. In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.” (Amazon). If you are a fan of Kristin Hannah (and was I the last to know that “Firefly Lane” on Netflix was based on a series of hers?), I would read this one, but, to me, it wasn’t her best.
Save yourself some time and don’t read Black Widows by Cate Quinn. It had a great start and seemed like there was potential, but it was all downhill for the second two thirds. “Polygamist Blake Nelson built a homestead on a hidden stretch of land—a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah—where he lived with his three wives: Rachel, the first wife, obedient and doting to a fault, with a past she’d prefer to keep quiet. Tina, the rebel wife, everything Rachel isn’t, straight from rehab and the Vegas strip. And Emily, the young wife, naïve and scared, estranged from her Catholic family. The only thing that they had in common was Blake. Until all three are accused of his murder. When Blake is found dead under the desert sun, all three wives become suspect—not only to the police, but to each other. As the investigation draws them closer, each wife must decide who can be trusted. With stories surfacing of a notorious cult tucked away in the hills, whispers flying about a fourth wife, and evidence that can’t quite explain what had been keeping Blake busy, the three widows face a reckoning that might shatter all they know to be true.” (Amazon) Sadly, not worth the hype.
I am not sure how This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear got on my reading list, but I am glad it did. I have never read a book by Winspear, but this memoir was wonderful. “After 16 novels, Jacqueline Winspear has taken the bold step of turning to memoir, revealing the hardships and joys of her family history. Both shockingly frank and deftly restrained, her story tackles the difficult, poignant, and fascinating family accounts of her paternal grandfather’s shell shock; her mother’s evacuation from London during the Blitz; her soft-spoken animal-loving father’s torturous assignment to an explosives team during WWII; her parents’ years living with Romany gypsies; and Winspear’s own childhood picking hops and fruit on farms in rural Kent, capturing her ties to the land and her dream of being a writer at its very inception. An eye-opening and heartfelt portrayal of a postwar England we rarely see, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing chronicles a childhood in the English countryside, of working class indomitability and family secrets, of artistic inspiration and the price of memory.” (Audible) A great memoir.
I have a thing for chef memoirs. Blood, Bones, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton was a good one. “Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.” (Amazon) I really enjoyed this read, though as with all chef memoirs, it made me hungry!
The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John was recommended to me and then appeared in my Little Free Library. It’s a sweet story about four women who work in an Australian Department Store in the 1950s. Amazon: “The women in black, so named for the black frocks they wear while working at Goode’s department store, are busy selling ladies’ dresses during the holiday rush. But they somehow find time to pursue other goals…Patty, in her mid-thirties, has been working at Goode’s for years. Her husband, Frank, eats a steak for dinner every night, watches a few minutes of TV, and then turns in. Patty yearns for a baby, but Frank is always too tired for that kind of thing. Sweet, unlucky Fay wants to settle down with a nice man, but somehow nice men don’t see her as marriage material. Glamorous Magda runs the high-end gowns department. A Slovenian émigré, Magda is cultured and continental and hopes to open her own boutique one day. Lisa, a clever and shy teenager, takes a job at Goode’s during her school break. Lisa wants to go to university and dreams of becoming a poet, but her father objects to both notions. By the time the last marked-down dress is sold, all of their lives will be forever changed.” It’s a sweet story and a good read. I recommend!
I didn’t much like White Ivy by Susie Yang. I couldn’t sympathize with Ivy’s choices and it just left me frustrated and sad. Amazon says, “Raised outside of Boston, Ivy’s immigrant grandmother relies on Ivy’s mild appearance for cover as she teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, and her dream instantly evaporates. Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when Ivy bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate. Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners, and weekend getaways to the cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.” The ending was too easy and overall, I just was left feeling cold and unsettled by this one. I’d give it a skip, if I were you.
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn was just as you would think it would be – saccharine sweet, but a nice respite from the world right now. And, it was free for Kindle. So, all in all, not a bad quick binge read. “Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for her New York City clientele. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his polished fiancée was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid. A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore a deepening connection between them. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late…” No amazing book of the year here, but a good diversion.