First off, I need to apologize that I wasn’t able to get back to all my book blog buddies last week. It just ended up being a crazy time and I wasn’t able log on as much.
I won’t bore you with football talk this week…because there is no football. Well, the ProBowl was on, but that was also a joke, so I didn’t watch more than a minute or so of it. Next week, I may do this post on Friday. Saturday is Depot Day for Girl Scout cookies and I think that it will end up being an all-day thing. Then, Sunday is Lillie’s birthday AND the Superbowl, so I may not even turn on the computer.
This week, however, has been usual business. The kids are back in the swing of school and activities are starting up. Lillie is auditioning for the Spring play this coming week and Chris starts back at swimming. This may end up being a very busy Spring for us!
On my end, I have been working out our summer vacation. True to my style, I have a spreadsheet of what we’re doing and, at this point, I’m just waiting for Pat’s okay before I start making actual reservations and plans. Our next trip is to Arizona at Spring Break to see my dad, and everyone is really looking forward to it. I was able to take a long weekend to go down and see him in June, during the 3 weeks when Covid looked to be over, but that was just me. This will be the whole family and the kids are looking forward to seeing Gramps again.
As that is pretty much it in our corner of the world, I will move onto the books. As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn at Book Date and her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop.
Last week, I finished:
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Date finished: February 2, 2022
Star rating; 5 STARS!
I am ashamed that this book sat so long on my shelf.
I’m a sucker for a good narrative history and this is probably the best that I’ve read. I of course knew of the death of the 20th President of the United States and the very disturbed man who shot him (and the fact that it wasn’t the assassin but the doctors that ultimately killed him). But this book is so utterly fascinating that I felt like I was learning everything for the first time.
James Garfield is the President we didn’t deserve to have–many historians believe that, had he lived, he would be considered our greatest President. However, this was a different time and he was a victim of that time as much as he was of a bullet and sepsis. Today, his assassin’s mental illness would have been immediately detected, the President would have been guarded by Secret Service, and the doctors would have WASHED THEIR HANDS. If there is anything modern readers can apply from this book it is this: never trust someone who doesn’t believe in science.
There were things about this story I didn’t know. For example, Alexander Graham Bell’s involvement was both enlightening and heartbreaking. Also, it took me a while to realize how modern the 25th Amendment is. For all of the 79 days that Garfield lingered while his body was being ravaged, he was still the acting president. This is a good thing because his VP, Chester Arthur, was very busy locking himself in darkened rooms and sobbing.
Readers should be aware there are some expected trigger warnings here, mostly discussion of mental illness and general medical ickiness. There is much discussion of pus in this book. It is a necessary discussion, but it is also pus. Consider yourselves warned.
This went from languishing on my TBR shelf to catapulting to my keeper shelf as my first 5-star read of the year. Highly recommended!
The Stranger Diaries (Harbinder Kaur #1) by Elly Griffiths
Date finished: February 2, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars
Oh, this one was fun!
This is the kind of mystery that would work for anyone. If you like cozies, this might fit the bill. While I wouldn’t consider it cozy, there is a lightness about it. If you like darker ones, this one also fits. If you like gothic novels, this is gothic in spades.
Personally, I appreciated the skill Griffiths put into this one, all the way to the point of creating a fictional work of Victorian fiction. There are a lot of moving pieces in this book, but they all work together. While I did guess the culprit fairly early on, I wasn’t sure I was right until it was revealed and I certainly enjoyed the journey getting there.
The characters here are wonderful. We have Claire, a divorced single mother who teaches English and whose life isn’t going quite as she would like. We have her daughter, Georgie, who is a typical teenager–she’s essentially a good kid, but she’s also fifteen. Then we have Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, who is prickly and unlikeable to the point that she is completely lovable.
This mystery is unique, entertaining, at times humorous, and completely propulsive. If you are looking for a fun dive into this genre, this would be a great option.
56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard
Date finished: February 3, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars
This is a solid 3.5 stars for me. It has a lot good about it, but there is also a pretty big frustrating (at least for me) aspect to it.
First off, this is a pandemic novel. It isn’t just that the pandemic goes on in the background. No, the pandemic is front and center and in, some ways, is a plot tool. I say this because I realize not everyone is quite ready for this. And that’s fine. At times I was even wondering if I should wait a year or two to read this. So, keep that in mind and measure it against your own tolerance for this subject matter.
Okay, the good. This is a strong and unique mystery with many, many twists and turns. The characters are also strongly drawn in a way that fits into the story. I think with some thrillers, this being one of them, the character development is tied in with, if not constrained by, the plot. Howard handles this very well and uses it to the book’s benefit.
So, here was my problem with this book. There is a lot of jumping back and forth in time, which I found a little confusing. But, beyond that, Howard also spends a fair amount of time going back over things that were already presented in the book but from a different viewpoint. Either of these on their own is fine, but I found myself frustrated with both of these narrative techniques. It may be that I was already a bit off-kilter by the subject matter, but I did find myself sometimes confused and sometimes frustrated by it.
Would I recommend this? I think so, but with caveats. Be sure you are okay with reading about the pandemic. Also, be sure you are okay with some of the narrative techniques. If all that sits well with you, give it a try.
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park and Maryanne Vollers (audiobook narrated by Eji Kim
Date finished: February 6, 2022
Star rating: 3 stars
I’m torn on this one and, honestly, I’m not sure if my thoughts on it are fair, but here we go.
Yeonmi Park had a harrowing childhood and adolescence in North Korea. She then escaped to China and then South Korea. She tells her story with harrowing detail, some details will never leave me. She did have my attention from the start.
I have this little feeling that I might not believe her, at least not completely. It’s not that anything she said was too hard to believe, but I kept getting caught in little inconsistencies in the story. These were little things about her family’s abject poverty at the same time her father was supposedly a successful black marketer. Honestly, this on its own would have been a completely non-issue.
There comes a part in this book where things went really awry for me. Without going into spoiler detail, it seems like Park is–how should I put this?–very convinced of her own power. It seems like everyone falls in love with her, that she is the savior of every situation, that she is–literally–everyone’s lucky charm. At this point, I really started to question this book.
I struggled with this through the end of the book–where she says something that made me questions everything again. (Sorry, you’ll have to read or listen to the book to know what it is).
I wish that I had confidence in this story and in Park, and I can’t deny that her story is astounding. I’m just not sure how accurate it is.
Last week, I started:
- My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (audio-reread for a book club discussion)
- The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood