It’s been a while since I’ve done an update. I know that one week was Father’s Day and one week I was raging and wanted to burn it all down. I think there was another week in there that I missed, but I can’t remember why. Anyhow, I’m back and my reading wrap up will be long this time.
So, what’s going on in our world? Well, we decided to put off our road trip for another year. Obviously, this isn’t the best year for a road trip, but that was really a minor consideration in our decision. Because Pat is so overdue for his sabbatical (thanks, Covid!), he realized that he can split this sabbatical and his next sabbatical, which he gets next year, in half and he can take 4 weeks off in the summer 4 years in a row–which means we can do our road trip next year and maybe finally take the Alaska trip I’ve been wanting to go on the year after that. This year, though, we’re going to do a staycation (mostly–we will be spending about 5 days where we will be at the beach) and do things around the house.
And Independence Day is tomorrow! For obvious reasons (or reasons that SHOULD be obvious), I’m not really feeling it this year. But we’re still going to celebrate. I think we’re going to watch the local parade, followed by a cookout, at the home of someone from our Church in the morning. Then, we’ll do ribs for dinner (we’ve been eating a lot of ribs lately. I found a good sugar free barbecue sauce so that my husband can enjoy them) and then Pat and the kids will blow stuff up while I try to keep Alice from having a panic attack.
Other than that, we’re in summer mode. Chris is having a surprisingly busy summer–he took an online Dungeons and Dragons class the week before last, a Minecraft-themed day camp last week, and will start a weekly online Wings of Fire Dungeons and Dragons game. Of course, this throws screen time limits out the window, but oh well! Lillie, who is usually busy in the summer, is having a low-key summer. She usually attends a Day Camp in July, but we were planning to be out of town (and it was not a great experience last year), so she’s just hanging out and reading Manga until Girl Scout Camp in August. I’m trying to find some online stuff she might like, but so far nothing has caught her eye.
Now, onto the books! As I said, this will be a long one–but I’ve got some good books going on here…
Since my last update, I’ve read:
This Nowhere Place by Natasha Bell
Date finished: June 13, 2022
Star rating: 3 stars
The thing about thrillers is it all hangs on the end.
I knew next to nothing about this book when I came across it, except that it wasn’t available in the US. Who knows, that might have been the forbidden fruit for me to pick it up! It was also a rare chance for me to read a book that came to me with absolutely no hype.
There are things I liked about this book. I think the relationships are well-developed and believable. The atmosphere was top notch and I will never look at pictures of the White Cliffs of Dover the same way again. The writing itself was strong and readable and Bell creates a strong picture of 2016 Britain and the challenges it was facing.
As for the ending, I never “figured it out,” which is usually a big plus and I won’t say it is a negative here. The ending, when it came, does not fall into the deus ex machina trap. However, it was just sort of a let-down to me. I don’t know if I wished that the ending was different or if it was just written differently, but I finished this book feeling very unsatisfied.
While I liked parts of this story and there was enough good stuff for me to pick up another Natasha Bell book, this one ended up being just…fine, I guess.
Vermilion Drift (Cork O’Connor #10) by William Kent Krueger
Date finished: June 15, 2022
Star rating: 4.5 stars
I think this may be my favorite of the series (so far).
After the previous book, I felt like there was a shift in this series. I felt that the books would pivot from being more plot and action-driven to more introspective and character-driven and this book proves that out. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a strong plot and it is as propulsive as the previous book, but we also get deeper into Cork himself and we finish the book knowing even more about him.
I was a little worried at the beginning of this book for two reasons. The initial setup–a conflict about a mine–was not at all interesting for me and Cork’s family seemed to be absent from this book. Well, the book isn’t about a mining conflict and Cork’s family actually plays a very important and surprising role.
This book is about generational trauma and Krueger handles it beautifully. I actually feel like I should go back and read the prequel to the series, Lightning Strike, as this book touches on the time period just before that book. As with many of the previous books, Henry Meloux, one of the most intriguing characters of the series, plays a pivotal role. And there is a new character introduced that I’m sure we will see much more of.
I had so much trouble putting this book down for things like sleep and parenting my children, but it was worth it. This entire series is a winner and it just keeps getting better.
Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour
Date finished: June 16, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars
This is a book that was nearly a DNF for me. The first part is very rough–not in quality, but in the subject matter. I was so close to putting this book down but decided to continue based on the positive reviews from readers I trust.
I’m glad that I continued. The worst of the rough stuff is at the beginning and what follows is an exquisite character study of two women trying to overcome their pasts. The real gem of this book is the character development of the two women at the center–Sara and Emilie. I enjoyed getting to know both of them and felt that LaCour was incredibly honest in her treatment of them.
I also admired the creation of the world in this book. The bulk of the story takes place in Los Angeles, but not the glittery LA we usually see. This is the real Los Angeles with real people. We see it from starter apartments to restaurants and bars to the surrounding neighborhoods.
While I thought the writing was beautiful, it didn’t always click with me. LaCour goes back and forth in time a bit–not so much that I would call it a dual timeline, but enough that I sometimes felt like I wasn’t quite following what was going on. I also wished that LaCour was at times telling two parallel stories and never quite tied the two narratives together.
So, not a perfect read, but still one that I enjoyed and am glad that I read.
The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #1) by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Date finished: June 22, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars
My bookish best friend has been bugging me to read this for years and I finally felt it was time. I think what pushed me to finally pick it up was hearing that this was good for Louise Penny fans.
First off, I need to argue that point. I mean, Louise Penny is wonderful and this is a good book–but really the only overlapping area in the Venn Diagram between the two is the fact that these are both Canadian. I’m not saying that if you like one, you won’t like the other, but I did feel that thinking that the two are similar sets up unrealistic expectations for this one.
So, while this book isn’t Penny-esque, it is very much Christie-inspired! It’s done in a way that you don’t see how inspired it is until the pieces all fall together in a very successful Christie way. As a Christie fan myself, I found this incredibly satisfying.
The plot of this book centers around the Bosnian genocide, something which I am horribly embarrassed that I know so little about. I mean, this happened in my lifetime! I greatly appreciated all I learned about it while reading this and I’ll be looking for more books on it. The way Khan uses this historical abomination to form a mystery is masterful–and the mystery is good! The last half of this book is some of the best that I’ve read.
Now, the bad. There was one thing–and, it doesn’t even impact the plot that much–that just bugged me to no end. Most of the female characters in the present-day timeline, other than Rachel Getty, are portrayed as sexpots that men just can’t resist. When it showed it up in the first character, I just thought it was lazy character development. By the time it shows up the 3rd time, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. I ended up knocking off a star just for this issue.
Other than that, I really enjoyed this book and it is a shame that that one thing kept me from enjoying it to its fullest. I do plan to read on in this series, but I pray that Khan learns to create more complex female characters.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Date finished: June 22, 2022
Star rating: 4.5 stars
I had heard this book was fantastic and I couldn’t wait to read it in my sort-of chronological trip through Christie’s books. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to watch an Agatha Christie documentary (the one hosted by David Suchet) where they completely spoiled this!
So, I went into this knowing whodunnit…which changed the way I read the book. I was no longer trying to find clues to figure out who the murderer was, but rather trying to see how the clues worked towards the end I already knew was coming.
While this book was still incredibly enjoyable to read knowing the end, I really wish I had been able to go in blind. This is, far and away, my favorite Poirot so far. I’ve read the Poirot’s previous to this one and this felt like a huge step up. I’ve also already read one later Poirot–Death on the Nile–and this one still stood above. I was not only entertained by Poirot, but interested in the secondary characters who serve as suspects.
And Then There Were None was my 5-star Agatha Christie read and I tend to measure her books against that one. Honestly, if I hadn’t been spoiled, I might also give this one 5-stars…but I just don’t know. So, I settled on 4.5 here and continue to wish that I hadn’t let David Suchet spoil me!
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci, narrated by Stanley Tucci
Date finished: June 23, 2022
Star rating: 4.5 stars
I love food memoirs and I enjoy celebrity memoirs (usually), so a celebrity food memoir? Yes, please! To be fair, this is probably 80/20 food memoir/celebrity memoir. Or 75/25. 60/20 is probably right. But, honestly, that’s okay…I’m here for the food. There is a fair amount of celebrity name-dropping, but it isn’t done in a way that I found annoying. Plus, there is an amusing unfortunate incident involving Meryl Streep and a sausage.
Tucci knows his food and he writes in a way that his own voice shines through. I did this on audiobook–which, I do and do not recommend. Tucci’s performance is delightful, but there are a fair number of recipes in this book. While Tucci actually makes listening to the recipes entertaining (I distinctly remember a direction being, “squeeze the sh!t out of the tomatoes until your hands look like Macbeth at the end of the play”), I still WANT THE RECIPES! I’m hoping to add the print book to my collection in the future.
One additional note on the audiobook: my preferred speed is 1.2, which is generally just right. However, there are a few points when Tucci is reenacting a scene from his life where he starts speaking quite quickly, which becomes EVEN faster at an accelerated speed. As long as you are nearby to slow the playback down for those parts, you’ll be fine.
I don’t know what else I can say about this book…it was delightful!
Death in a Strange Country (Commissario Brunneti #2) by Donna Leon
Date finished: June 28, 2022
Star rating: 3 stars
I know I’m only 2 books into this series, but one thing I really like about it is that the books are fairly evergreen. Normally, if I read a mystery written in 1994, I spend half the book thinking, “They could have solved this by now if they just had a cell phone!” However, this one feels as fresh today as it probably did 28 years ago.
An interesting feature of this book is that Leon uses the crime at the center of this to compare Italy and Venice to the United States. Leon is pretty honest about the issues with both countries and does a good job of giving credit where credit is due. Spoiler: both countries have their problems and they are more alike than one might think.
I found the central mystery interesting…at first. I was interested in it and it kept me going, but I ultimately am not completely sure what is going on. I also felt like the book stopped instead of ending. It could be that it picks up again in the next book, but it still left me feeling that things were unfinished.
So, there was good, there was bad. Fortunately, though, there was enough good to keep me going with the series.
The Wives by Tarryn Fisher, narrated by Lauren Fontgang
Date finished: June 30, 2022
Star rating: 1.5 stars
When I review a book I didn’t like, I do try to attribute it to a book being “not for me.” But, with this one, I just can’t. This book is terrible!
I didn’t know much about it, but from the synopsis, I thought it would be like Sister Wives meets the Netflix show The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. In some ways, that’s what it was…if you took the worst part of the former and took the latter far too seriously. But, mostly, this book was just a mess.
I always felt like I was one step ahead of what was going to happen, which is a no-no when it comes to thrillers. I also found the writing to just be sloppy. There were details that were either dropped or thrown in for no reason or…something. This was incredibly frustrating. A good chunk of this book takes place in Portland and I don’t know if Fisher is just terrible at creating a setting or if she has never set foot in the Rose City because it was clearly not Portland (Seattle didn’t seem very realistic either).
I don’t expect much from my thrillers–honestly, I just want something propulsive enough to keep me going while I’m walking. This is the first thriller that I’ve listened to where I was greatly tempted to just skip ahead in the story because there were parts that just went nowhere.
I’m giving this 1.5 stars, instead of 1 star (or maybe instead of 0.5 stars) because the narration was actually pretty strong on this one. I think, without Lauren Fortgang’s performance, this would have been a DNF for me. But even that had its issues–the narration was great, but the sound editing was uneven. There were parts–and I mean a sentence here and there–that were clearly recorded at another time and spliced in. It was just one more frustration.
So, this was a big, big NO for me!
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Date finished: June 30, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars
I’ll admit that I picked up this book because I wanted to read some feminist rage and, yes, that is found in spades here. But this book is also just plain fun. Think of it like Captain America: Civil War except Baron Zemo is a woman with mad data skills and, instead of the Avengers, you have the Boys.
As with any Superhero movie, this Supervillain book is packed with action. I normally don’t read such action-packed books, but I expected this book to be so and I enjoyed it. I am impressed that Walshots was able to keep the book flowing between action scenes without letting the pace sink. I quite liked Anna as a character. We can see how her confidence grows throughout the story without her losing her vulnerability. And the heroes/villains–while there isn’t room to develop the characters of more than a few, all are incredibly colorful.
My only issue with the book is that there are so many characters that I frequently had trouble keeping some of the secondary folks. However, I completely admit that this is not the sort of book I normally read so it may have been due more to my lack of familiarity with the genre than any fault of the writing.
All in all, this was a fun read and the perfect book for right now. Highly recommended!
The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman
Date finished: July 1, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars
Other than audiobooks in the car for my kids, I don’t read a lot of Middle-Grade books. However, this one was selected for one of my book clubs, so I thought I would give it a try. And it might just be the book that gets me to read more Middle-Grade.
Oksana and Valentina are not friends. In fact, they have a rather antagonistic relationship. However, when there is an emergency at the nearby Nuclear Plant (you may have heard of it–Chernobyl), their lives are thrown together in ways they could never imagine.
There are a lot of great historical details here about the Chernobyl disaster and life in the Soviet Union. As this is something that took place in my lifetime, but at a point in my life when I was generally aware of current events but not really following them, I found all this fascinating and I felt like Blankman shed quite a bit of light on that time.
But, really, this book is about the enemies to best friends relationship between Valentina and Oksana. Blankman treats this with great care and lets us into the heads of both girls in a way that we can see their changing relationship as organic and believable.
I enjoyed this more than I thought I would and now I’m thinking I need to add some more Middle-Grade into my reading.
Since my last update, I started:
- When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
- Northwest Angle (Cork O’Connor #11) by William Kent Krueger
- The Tenant (Korner & Werner #1) by Katrine Engberg