Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child by Laura Cumming was a memoir with a fascinating premise – when she was three, Laura’s mother was kidnapped and then returned to her family. Her mother doesn’t remember this kidnapping, but discovers that she was adopted and that her name was changed from Grace to Betty at the same time. The book walks you through the mystery that was Betty’s life. While the book was certainly interesting and what a terrible thing to do to a child, ultimately, there was something cold and missing from the story. I wish I had noticed before I read it that it only had 3.5 stars on Amazon. It continues to bear true that whenever a book has less than 4 stars, I don’t like it either. Ah well. At least it was short.
Outlaw Ocean was written by a friend of mine, Ian Urbina. I have had the book in my possession (a signed copy, no less), but I will admit that I stalled a bit in picking it up. While it is a #1 best seller in “Fisheries and Aquaculture” (?), it’s not my usual cup of tea. Amazon describes: “There are few remaining frontiers on our planet. But perhaps the wildest, and least understood, are the world’s oceans: too big to police, and under no clear international authority, these immense regions of treacherous water play host to rampant criminality and exploitation.” I had been to Ian’s debut book talk at P&P in August and was lined up to see him again at the end of the month, so I figured I had better give it a go. And, I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN! This was a really gripping read, mostly because, Ian is a talented storyteller (just read some of his NYT work to see) and also because he is clearly CRAZY. The risks that he takes and the things he did to get this book written were amazing, awe-inspiring, and just plain insane. However, it certainly made for great reading. While you might, like me, not think this is the kind of piece for you, I assure you that’s it’s worth delving into. It’s terrific!!
I’m not sure where I learned about Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur, but any good memoir is usually right up my alley. This one dropped you right into the action and we learn about Brodeaur’s mother’s affair in the first chapter. Brodeur’s mother makes her, as a fourteen-year-old, complicit and even a confidant in this affair. It’s hard to look away and not want to know how this affects her life. It was an enjoyable read and I devoured it in one night, but there was something flat and distant about the narration, which left me a little cold. Nevertheless, the story was intriguing and devastating at the same time. It’s well worth a read.
I’ve enjoyed the other Rosie books by Graeme Simsion and I grabbed the Rosie Result off the shelf at the library even though I didn’t have it teed up as one I was going to read. I thought the story was well-told in the other two books and wasn’t gunning to read another. But, it’s been a while, and I really do enjoy the way Graeme Simsion writes the main character. It makes him seem so likable and real, that this one was enjoyable as well. If you, like me, are a fan of this family, I’d grab this one. It’s better to have read the other two, I think, but this one could stand alone.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson was a sardonic quick read that didn’t really do it for me. While the story was amusing – a woman whose high school friend (whose family betrayed her completely) hires her to take care of her new husband’s twins who spontaneously catch fire – I can’t say that I really enjoyed it overall. It was just flat. And the people would never have acted like they did in the book, even in this crazy scenario. While the story was well-told and I could see the appeal of the book, it wasn’t for me. Some might suggest that I should give it one or two stars, but I did read the whole thing and I didn’t hate it, so I stick with three as a more neutral approach.
It’s been a busy week and time of year for me, and I stalled out a little but with Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. This was an interesting thriller about a doctor who hits and kills a man and tries to hide his actions from his detective wife. All the makings of this thriller are ones I usually enjoy. However, the pace was slow and I never really got into the plot or the characters. I read to the end because I wanted to see how it wrapped up, but I didn’t love it.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was another great 2020 read. I LOVED it. Reese Witherspoon chose it as a Hello Sunshine read and I have seen it in my Instagram feed over and over for the past few weeks, so I BOUGHT it. Those who read this know I NEVER buy books. I am so glad I picked this one up. Amazon describes: “Emira Tucker is a 25 year-old living in Philadelphia with two part-time jobs (typist and babysitter) and no health insurance. One night the mother of the child for whom she babysits calls upon her in an emergency, and Emira—clad in her “going out” clothes—takes the toddler to a yuppie grocery store, only to be accused of kidnapping by a security guard and fellow shopper. You see, Emira’s employers are white, and she’s African American.” Other complications ensue. This is a real page-turner and the only reason I put it down was that it was a busy week and I fell asleep. I highly recommend this one. 2020 is starting off really well on the book front!
The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick was a delightful, quick, and enjoyable read reminiscent of A Man Called Ove and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (also by Patrick). In The Library of Lost and Found, Martha struggles with not always saying yes. Volunteering to help people all the time has meant lost love, overwhelming anxiety, and crippling stuff-collection. It takes a mysterious book showing up on her doorstep (well, really the stoop of the library where she volunteers) to shake her life up and, ultimately, bring her happiness. This is a sappier read, but I was about due for a simpler story. I’d recommend it as a good palate-cleanser or beach selection.
I’m not sure where I read about Mostly Dead Things by Kristin Arnett, but it’s been on a number of end-of-year lists. While, ostensibly a story about a taxidermy shop and a woman who has taken it over from her father who committed suicide, it is also a story of family, love, and loss. I fell into this story right away as it is unique and unusual, but the descriptions of blood and taxidermy-ing were a bit much and the main character careened around in life in a way that was challenging for me to understand. So, overall, this one wasn’t much to my liking.
If You Want to Make God Laugh was another winner for the start of 2020. I recently read Bianca Marais’ first book, Hum if You Don’t Know the Words, and really enjoyed it (five stars!). This was another story mired in apartheid, and about it in many ways, but also not focused on it. Three lives intersect in this one (and are related to those in Hum) – sisters, Ruth and Delilah, brought back together by circumstance in their older years, though they have been estranged, and Zodwa, who is pregnant and whose mother is dying. I love the way Marais weaves together the characters and thought this was another great one (though I liked Hum slightly better). I hope my reading in 2020 continues in this bang-up fashion!