I was so excited to receive Memorial by Bryan Washington from our book fair. And, as a surprise, it was a signed copy. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t love it. Amazon says: “Benson and Mike live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher, and they’ve been together for a few years—good years—but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates. Without Mike’s immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it. Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they’ve ever known. And just maybe they’ll all be okay in the end.” I liked the characters and the story development, but ultimately, it just didn’t win for me.
Monogamy by Sue Miller started slowly, but picked up pace, and became a somewhat enjoyable read. On the whole, however, I didn’t love it. It’s a slow story overall about a marriage and the individuals who surround the main married couple. If you love Sue Miller, I would pick this one up. Otherwise, I would skip it.
The Switch by Beth O’Leary is a delightful quick read about a grandmother and granddaughter who temporarily switch living arrangements to find themselves. Each has suffered loss and the switch became the circumstance they needed to figure things out. This was not deep, nor particularly thought-provoking, but it was a sweet story, nonetheless, and an enjoyable diversionary read.
I had mixed feelings about The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. On the one hand, I liked the story. It was sad, but interesting. On the other hand, it dragged for me for a long while and I really struggled to finish. Amazon describes it as: “One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships….But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.” This book got very positive reviews and I think you will need to decide for yourself if it’s up your alley. Overall, it didn’t work for me.
In many ways, I enjoyed The End of October by Lawrence Wright, but it took FOREVER for me to get through it. It isn’t especially long and the plot keeps it moving at a good clip, but it still took me much longer than usual to work through this one. Without spoiling the story, it’s basically about a pandemic much like the one we are experiencing now. So, if you aren’t game for what might have felt like crazy last year, but is normal now, don’t pick this one up. If you can handle it, though, this is a pretty good read.
Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel was a nice change of pace. And, while overall, I liked this one, it dragged a bit in the middle. Still worth a read, however. Amazon says, “Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.” It’s a romance and fun, and also available at the library.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was recommended to me by a Grade 8 student! If the title doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will. And, what a delightful romp it was. Amazon says: “Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her. Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s deliciously deadly debut is as fun as it is frightening.” It was a quick read and fun, though I didn’t feel that the ending was entirely resolved for me. However, I would recommend it.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige is an absolute delight. I kept thinking it was a memoir, because it felt so real, but it was a wonderful novel. On the surface, it is about a family who abandons their suburban life to spent a year at sea. But, it’s so much more than that. Jennifer Egan writes, “Sea Wife is a gripping tale of survival at sea—but that’s just the beginning. Amity Gaige also manages, before she’s done, to probe the underpinnings of romantic love, marriage, literary ambition, political inclinations in the Trump age, parenthood, and finally, the nature of survival itself in our broken world. Gaige is thrillingly talented, and her novel enchants.” I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed this story and I highly recommend it.
The Last Flight by Julie Clark was a recommendation of Gayle Weiswasser (Everyday I Write the Book). It’s a thriller about two women who need to find new lives. They switch places right before they are supposed to board planes to different destinations. In alternating chapters we learn about both the present experience and the days leading up to the plane trips. It was a heart-pounding ride. Nothing deep here, but a good read.
I loved The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson and was eager to read her summer release, Caste. She ropes you in during the introduction by talking about that famous Nazi shot where one guy (August Landmesser – I never knew his name) stands alone, not saluting Hitler. She urges us all to be that guy. While the topic is challenging, and the reading difficult, Wilkerson weaves stories together to tell the history of race in this country in a way that is fascinating, heartbreaking, and ultimately, like reading a novel. She has a true gift. The thoughtful and guided way she compares castes in India, the Nazi regime, and race/class issues in America made so much sense. Even so, I didn’t love this as much as I loved The Warmth of Other Suns (which would have been hard to top), but it is well worth a read. The back half picked up steam and was more interesting to me than the first.