She Come by it Natural by Sarah Smarsh was a good, quick read. Amazon says: “Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities—and strengths—of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes, ‘country music was foremost a language among women. It’s how we talked to each other in a place where feelings aren’t discussed.’ And no one provided that language better than Dolly Parton. Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book, Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for The Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to social progress by such women—including those averse to the term ‘feminism’—as exemplified by Dolly Parton’s life and art. Far beyond the recently resurrected ‘Jolene’ or quintessential ‘9 to 5,’ Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as ‘trailer trash.’ Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from ‘girl singer’ managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture. Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.” It’s a good read, nothing amazing, but enjoyable.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig was described by the Washington Post as “A feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits.” Sounds like just what everyone needs right now. “Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.” (Amazon) This was thoroughly enjoyable, though a little fluffy.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam was a scary and un-put-down-able read. I read it in two hours and felt tense and unsettled the whole time. I have read that you either love this one or hate it. And I loved it. There were definite issues with it, but overall, the author was so successful at making you feel tense and want to keep reading that I fell into the camp of love. “Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe. Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?” (Amazon) I can certainly see how you could hate this read and the ending annoyed me, but it was great couple hours of reading.
I haven’t read an Erik Larson book until now, but I have heard so many good things about them. In particular, The Splendid and the Vile has garnered a great deal of positive praise. It started slowly for me and I thought, hmmmm, I don’t know about this one. But, about 50 pages in, I understood what all the hype was about. And, it was hard to put down. “In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments. The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.” (Amazon). It’s long, but worth it. Grab it!
Don’t Look for Me by Wendy Walker is a classic race-to-the-finish thriller. I didn’t figure out the ending until pretty close to the conclusion and it was a great keep-you-guessing-and-on-the-edge-of-your-seat (is that a thing) story. Amazon says, “They called it a “walk away.” The car abandoned miles from home. The note found at a nearby hotel. The shattered family. It happens all the time. Women disappear, desperate to start over. But what really happened to Molly Clarke? The night Molly disappeared began with a storm, running out of gas, and a man offering her a ride to safety. But when the doors lock shut, Molly begins to suspect she has made a terrible mistake. A new lead brings Molly’s daughter, Nicole, back to the small, desolate town where her mother was last seen to renew the desperate search. The locals are sympathetic and eager to help. The innkeeper. The bartender. Even the police. Until secrets begin to reveal themselves and Nicole comes closer to the truth about that night—and the danger surrounding her.” I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if thrillers are your thing.
I keep reading about Girl, Women, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo. And, it won the Booker Prize in 2019. However, I struggled to get through the beginning. For one, there were no periods to end or caps to begin sentences. So, the editor in me hated that. And, just as each story got going, it ended and a new character who had been featured earlier, was introduced. While I sometimes like that in stories, in this one, it made the book feel disjointed. Whenever I look frequently at the % I have read, I know I don’t love a book. However, there were parts and sections I really liked. “The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.” (Amazon) Overall, while I ended up liking parts of this book and I really liked the ending and epilogue, as a whole, I didn’t love it.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner has been on my list for a while. And, as is true of so many of the books I read, it became available as a Kindle library book. “Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable. One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.” (Amazon) This was a nice story and a fast read – one that I really enjoyed. I didn’t adore it, but it was a good book.
I LOVED The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. There you have it. It was so so good. While magical realism is not my top choice, it was such a delightful and interesting read. “France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.” Grab this one if you can. It’s terrific.
I waited a long time for Real Life by Brandon Taylor to come from the library and was so excited to read it. It won the 2020 Booker Prize. But, to me, it was a disappointment. “Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.” (Amazon) Overall, I just didn’t enjoy the characters very much and I felt like it tried too hard.
Eat a Peach by David Chang, founder of Momofuku, was a wonderful memoir. I really enjoyed reading about the ins and outs of the restaurant business and Chang’s critical role in the world food scene. “In 2004, Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in a tiny, stark space in Manhattan’s East Village. Its young chef-owner, David Chang, worked the line, serving ramen and pork buns to a mix of fellow restaurant cooks and confused diners whose idea of ramen was instant noodles in Styrofoam cups. It would have been impossible to know it at the time—and certainly Chang would have bet against himself—but he, who had failed at almost every endeavor in his life, was about to become one of the most influential chefs of his generation, driven by the question, ‘What if the underground could become the mainstream?'” (Amazon). It’s about so much more, though. I didn’t know Chang had grown up in the DC area. He also suffers from manic depression. It’s a really great read and I highly recommend it.