I had high hopes for Chorus by Rebecca Kaufman as it was well-reviewed by my favorite book blogger. But, I didn’t love it. Amazon describes: “The seven Shaw siblings have long been haunted by two early and profoundly consequential events. Told in turns from the early twentieth century through the 1950s, each sibling relays their own version of the memories that surround both their mother’s mysterious death and the circumstances of one sister’s scandalous teenage pregnancy. As they move into adulthood, the siblings assume new roles: caretaker to their aging father, addict, enabler, academic, decorated veteran, widow, and mothers and fathers to the next generation. Entangled in a family knot, the Shaw siblings face divorce, drama, and death while haunted by a mother who was never truly there. Through this lens, they all seek not only to understand how her death shaped their family, but also to illuminate the insoluble nature of the many familial experiences we all encounter—the concept of home, the tenacity that is a family’s love, and the unexpected ways through which healing can occur.” I don’t know if it was when I read it or what, but the characters were cold and distant to this reader, and I didn’t love the story. Can’t win them all…
The last book on the bookshelf was State of Terror by Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny. Someone had left it in our little free library. “After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in, and to everyone’s surprise the president chooses a political enemy for the vital position of secretary of state. There is no love lost between the president of the United States and Ellen Adams, his new secretary of state. But it’s a canny move on the part of the president. With this appointment, he silences one of his harshest critics, since taking the job means Adams must step down as head of her multinational media conglomerate. As the new president addresses Congress for the first time, with Secretary Adams in attendance, Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source. Too late, she realizes the message was a hastily coded warning. What begins as a series of apparent terrorist attacks is revealed to be the beginning of an international chess game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena. As the horrifying scale of the threat becomes clear, Secretary Adams and her team realize it has been carefully planned to take advantage of four years of an American government out of touch with international affairs, out of practice with diplomacy, and out of power in the places where it counts the most. To defeat such an intricate, carefully constructed conspiracy, it will take the skills of a unique team: a passionate young FSO; a dedicated journalist; and a smart, determined, but as yet untested new secretary of state.” (Amazon) I enjoyed this book, even though international thrillers are not my usual cup of tea. I would have made it shorter, personally, but you needed some of the depth of detail to truly understand the interweavings of international politics. I liked the honest feeling that came from Hillary Clinton co-authoring it.
Along with the crowdsourcing I did last week, I was fortunate to land a bunch of the titles from the library. Win-win. I do like Liane Moriarty, so Apples Never Fall was a good next choice. Amazon: “The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable? The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon. One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted. Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.” I wanted to like this book and I did finish it so I could find out what happened. The development of the story and the ending were quite good. But, I remain annoyed with Moriarty and her books and I think I won’t read anymore. This one was WAY too long and slow for my liking. I’d give it a skip.
In an attempt to change up and bolster my reading existence which has felt a little stale these past few months, I crowdsourced book recommendations on FB. One of those recommendations (from two people no less) was Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller of NPR fame. It’s a fascinating biography/memoir of a person I had never heard of, David Starr Jordan. Amazon describes: “David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. But the more of the hidden blueprint of life he uncovered, the harder the universe seemed to try to thwart him. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—which sent more than a thousand discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered. Many might have given up, given in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish that he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection. And this time, he introduced one clever innovation that he believed would at last protect his work against the chaos of the world. When NPR reporter Lulu Miller first heard this anecdote in passing, she took Jordan for a fool—a cautionary tale in hubris, or denial. But as her own life slowly unraveled, she began to wonder about him. Perhaps instead he was a model for how to go on when all seemed lost. What she would unearth about his life would transform her understanding of history, morality, and the world beneath her feet. Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a wondrous fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.” I devoured this book in two days. And, while it narrowly wasn’t five-star for me (too many longer descriptions sometimes), it was pretty close. Highly recommend (and the cover is beautiful – I wish I had had a hard copy as I imagine the scales of the fish were embossed, so it would have felt as satisfying as it looks).
The Maid by Nita Prose was a fun diversion and NOT a memoir. “Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by. Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection. But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?” (Amazon) I enjoyed this quick read, readying me to take on the LAST book on my bookshelf, State of Terror.
Rise by Cara Brookins was the second-to-last book on my bookshelf. It was an advance copy from my favorite bookstore Island Bookstore. It was the third memoir I read in a row and a really tough one. “After escaping an abusive marriage, Cara Brookins had four children to provide for and no one to turn to but herself. In desperate need of a home but without the means to buy one, she did something incredible. Equipped only with YouTube instructional videos, a small bank loan and a mile-wide stubborn streak, Cara built her own house from the foundation up with a work crew made up of her four children. It would be the hardest thing she had ever done. With no experience nailing together anything bigger than a bookshelf, she and her kids poured concrete, framed the walls and laid bricks for their two story, five bedroom house. She had convinced herself that if they could build a house, they could rebuild their broken family. This must-read memoir traces one family’s rise from battered victims to stronger, better versions of themselves, all through one extraordinary do-it-yourself project.” (Amazon). While this was a good story, it was somewhat cliche. The last third was good, though, and, overall, I liked it.
I read a bunch of memoirs in a row. Stray by Stephanie Danler was a tough one. Amazon: “After selling her first novel–a dream she’d worked long and hard for–Stephanie Danler knew she should be happy. Instead, she found herself driven to face the difficult past she’d left behind a decade ago: a mother disabled by years of alcoholism, further handicapped by a tragic brain aneurysm; a father who abandoned the family when she was three, now a meth addict in and out of recovery. After years in New York City she’s pulled home to Southern California by forces she doesn’t totally understand, haunted by questions of legacy and trauma. Here, she works toward answers, uncovering hard truths about her parents and herself as she explores whether it’s possible to change the course of her history.” I enjoyed reading this story, but didn’t love it.
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander is a memoir in poetry. It is the beautiful story of a marriage and a death. “In The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband’s death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss. The Light of the World is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the priceless gift of human companionship. For those who have loved and lost, or for anyone who cares what matters most, The Light of the World is required reading.” (Amazon) Grab it – short, sweet, and beautiful.
Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover was not a favorite. While I have liked her others (and they are certainly beach reads: November 9, It Ends with Us, Verity), this one was only good at the end. Otherwise, I would give it a pass. “When Tate Collins meets airline pilot Miles Archer, she doesn’t think it’s love at first sight. They wouldn’t even go so far as to consider themselves friends. The only thing Tate and Miles have in common is an undeniable mutual attraction. Once their desires are out in the open, they realize they have the perfect set-up. He doesn’t want love, she doesn’t have time for love, so that just leaves the sex. Their arrangement could be surprisingly seamless, as long as Tate can stick to the only two rules Miles has for her: never ask about the past, don’t expect a future. They think they can handle it, but realize almost immediately they can’t handle it at all.” (Amazon)
I only have six books left in the “Great Bookshelf Purge.” To be fair, I have not read a huge portion of those that have sat around on my shelf for however many years. I read about 10 pages of many of them and said, “nope – not interested.” Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell, however, I did stick with. Like most of Jewell’s books, this one kept you on the edge of your seat until the very (surprising) end. “Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. Beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers, and half of a teenaged golden couple. Ellie was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her. And then she was gone. Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away. Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?” (Amazon) If you like a thriller, this is a decent one.