Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benin is another in a string of books I have read lately that have garnered “best of 2019” status. This is another of the NYTimes’ 50 best fiction books of 2019. It was also one of Nicole’s favorites this year on The Readerly Report. I really, really enjoyed this read about a woman who leaves her daughter in Jamaica to both seek her fortune and reunite with her love and best friend in NYC. There’s a lot to this story and it’s a tough read in many ways, but it’s really interesting and thought-provoking. Highly recommend!
If I had sat down to write this blog post 50% in to City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, I would have said it was a disappointment. However, the last third of the book made me understand why it has made so many “best of” lists this year. Too much time in this LONG novel was spend on Vivian’s early years in New York, shortly after dropping out of Vassar and moving in with her theater-owning Aunt Peg. However, Gilbert more than redeems the story in the last part of the story. I really enjoyed this one in the end, and it’s worth reading the too-long beginning to reach the meatier and more interesting last third.
I read The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger both because it’s been on a bunch of lists this year and also because a readerly friend recommended it. I liked it, but, as he had said as well, I didn’t LOVE it. It struck true – the lengths parents will go to prove that their children are gifted – and also felt a little like Big Little Lies again. It’s like that formula is being used by multiple authors after it’s success. The story is just as the title would suggest, the founding of a “gifted” public school that will accept only the cream of the crop and a group of differently talented kids to make up the first cohort. Overall, I’d say it’s good and worth a read, but it’s not great.
Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais was an excellent book about life in the 1970s in South Africa. The book is equally divided between Robin’s perspective and Beauty’s. Robin is a white girl whose parents are killed in Johannesburg. Beauty lives in a rural village but goes to Johannesburg to find her missing daughter. Their two lives intersect when Beauty is hired to take care of Robin. While set in the Apartheid era and very much centered on race relations, it’s ultimately the story of Robin and Beauty’s relationship and family. While heavy overall, there were comedic moments and beautiful writing. This was a real winner. I can’t wait to read her more recent work, If You Want To Make God Laugh.
I’m not sure how pretty guilty women by Gina LaManna ended up on my list, but the title and cover certainly didn’t make me feel very intellectual. However, I decided to read it anyway – everyone can use some light reading sometimes, right?!. This one reads a lot like Big Little Lies, but it’s not as good. Four college friends reunite to attend one of their group’s lavish wedding and someone is murdered. Chapters alternate between telling the story from the point of view of the characters and interviews by the detectives investigating the murder. There’s not much to this story – I’d give it a pass unless you are looking for beach brain-candy reading.
I picked up The Real Michael Swann because of the Everyday I Write the Book book club. Other books kept rising to the top of my library list either because they were newer or on short-term loan. So, I had this book for three check-out cycles and it was finally time to pick it up! The story is told from the point of view of Michael Swann’s wife and alternatively of Michael Swann. The wife gets a call from her husband that he is going to be delayed on his train trip home. This call is dropped and she fears the worst, only to find out that Penn Station, from where he made the call, has been bombed. Alternating chapters tell the story of wounded Michael Swann trying to figure out what has happened and find his way home. I read it in two hours – it was that thrilling. I had suspicions along the way of the conclusion, but I was wrong. I like a good thriller and this one didn’t disappoint. Definitely worth picking up.
I have liked the Richard Russo novels I have read, particularly Empire Falls. Chances Are was a good and quick read about three college friends who get together in Martha’s Vineyard to reconnect before one of the friends sells the Vineyard family vacation home. There is a mystery imbedded in the story: a fourth friend went missing after a post-college Vineyard trip when the group was in their 30-s. The story moved along for me more because of the mystery than anything else. I could see others believing that the tale was too quiet overall. I enjoyed this read, but didn’t LOVE it.
The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali (free with Kindle Unlimited) was a delightful story from start to finish. Roya and Bahman meet at a stationary story in Iran and fall in love through political upheaval and the disapproval of Bahman’s mother. When they are to meet and elope, a cout d’etat prevents their meeting and ends their story. It isn’t until the end of the book and the end of their lives that we and they learn what happened on that day. I enjoyed almost everything about this story. My only two complaints were that the first third was slower than I would have liked and that there were a few unnecessary trails and unresolved issues that still are niggling for me. Otherwise, though, this is a sad and wonderful tale that’s easy to pick up from the library or for free for your Kindle.
The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames had a slow start. Just as I was about to give up for lack of interest, it picked up and I did end up enjoying it and being glad I stuck with it. It’s the story of four friends who share a suite in college. Too much of this book was stuck in this phase of their lives, but once they outgrew college, the story got more interesting. Overall, I’d say it’s worth picking up.
I have mixed feelings about Ann Patchett. I loved Bel Canto, but I haven’t enjoyed her other books as much (though to be fair, I have not read her entire canon). I didn’t like Commonwealth at all (review here). And, frankly, I can’t remember State of Wonder to know if I liked it or not (my reading of it preceded my blog). The Dutch House was good, but not amazing. While it is sort of the story of the house where the main characters grow up, it’s really the story of Danny and his relationships. Danny’s father came into money through smart real estate investments and purchased a famous home, The Dutch House, with all the original owners’ belongings in the house. He did this without consulting his wife. Shortly thereafter, she left him and their children. Danny and his sister’s story really picks up there. While, overall, the story was engaging, it lacked depth and left me a bit cold.