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.
The “Clear the Bookshelf” project is on haitus due to a bumpercrop of library books coming to my inbox. The first of these is Dear Child by German author Romy Hausmann. You can’t help but fall right into this thriller. “A windowless shack in the woods. A dash to safety. But when a woman finally escapes her captor, the end of the story is only the beginning of her nightmare. She says her name is Lena. Lena, who disappeared without a trace 14 years prior. She fits the profile. She has the distinctive scar. But her family swears that she isn’t their Lena. The little girl who escaped the woods with her knows things she isn’t sharing, and Lena’s devastated father is trying to piece together details that don’t quite fit. Lena is desperate to begin again, but something tells her that her tormentor still wants to get back what belongs to him…and that she may not be able to truly escape until the whole truth about what happened in the woods finally emerges. Twisty, suspenseful, and psychologically clever, Romy Hausmann’s Dear Child is a captivating thriller with all the ingredients of a breakout hit.” (Amazon) I liked this book a lot. There were a few holes and I would have liked a little more information on a few things, but overall, it was a nailbiter in the best way.
I am not usually a mystery reader, but every now and again, I get really into one. Of Books and Bagpipes by Paige Shelton was a gift last Christmas (thanks, Pat) and had been in my TBR stack. As I have mentioned here before, that stack was growing larger and larger due to the library having so many books available during the pandemic. So, as those library books become scarcer in our new world, I have begun the “clear the shelf” project. Of Books and Bagpipes was fun because it takes place in Scotland, a place I love and long to return to, and because it’s centered around a bookshop. “Delaney Nichols has settled so comfortably into her new life in Edinburgh that she truly feels it’s become more home than her once beloved Kansas. Her job at the Cracked Spine, a bookshop that specializes in rare manuscripts as well as other sundry valuable historical objects, is everything she had dreamed, with her new boss, Edwin MacAlister, entrusting her more and more with bigger jobs. Her latest task includes a trip to Castle Doune, a castle not far out of Edinburgh, to retrieve a hard-to-find edition of an old Scottish comic, an “Oor Wullie,” in a cloak and dagger transaction that Edwin has orchestrated. While taking in the sights of the distant Highlands from the castle’s ramparts, Delaney is startled when she spots a sandal-clad foot at the other end of the roof. Unfortunately, the foot’s owner is very much dead and, based on the William Wallace costume he’s wearing, perfectly matches the description of the man who was supposed to bring the Oor Wullie. As Delaney rushes to call off some approaching tourists and find the police, she comes across the Oor Wullie, its pages torn and fluttering around a side wall of the castle. Instinct tells her to take the pages and hide them under her jacket. It’s not until she returns to the Cracked Spine that she realizes just how complicated this story is and endeavors to untangle the tricky plot of why someone wanted this man dead, all before getting herself booked for murder.” (Amazon) This was a good read, though not a favorite, but fun nonetheless. I really enjoyed the Scottish Gaelic thrown in.