I know that so many of you have been dealing with excessive heat and we’ve mostly escaped it. However, our time is running out on that front! We’re supposed to get a heat wave this week, so I’m guessing there will be only minimal forays from our air conditioned house coming up. It’s kind of a bummer because the county fair is going on now (our county fair is just a slightly smaller…and free!…version of our state fair) and I was hoping to go this year. However, heat AND crowds are probably more than I want to deal with, honestly.
This past week was pretty pleasant. We did have a chance to celebrate a friend’s birthday with an evening party in her yard. She lives out on a blueberry farm, so we put the kids to work picking blueberries. They did quite a good job, but the fruits of their labor (ha!) only lasted about 24 hours as Lillie really, really loves to eat blueberries. I was hoping that our blueberry bushes would produce a bumper crop this year. Last year, we had a heat wave that hit at just the wrong time and fried all the berries. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the bushes are quite mature enough for large outputs yet.
Anyway, that was our week. I don’t expect next week to be very busy, so…more reading time!
And now, onto the books!
As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn and her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop.
Last week, I finished reading:
We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange
Date finished: July 18, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars
It’s rare to find a book where every single character is wholly developed and utterly unique. This is one of those books.
I enjoy family sagas, but I was a bit skeptical about this one–how can a family saga be less than 300 pages? Let me tell you, every single word here is crucial to the story, and yes, you can tell a quality family saga in 271 pages.
The family at the center is the Brennans. They are an Irish-American family on Long Island. The only daughter, Sunday, had escaped to LA but returns to her family home after her life in California falls apart. But it seems that everyone’s life is falling apart, and the family must come together to survive.
I adore how Lange created all these characters. While I didn’t love every character (although I did love most of them, I appreciated how even the unlikeable characters were drawn with such humanity. I may not have liked them, but I understood them. That being said, I did love most of the characters, including all of the Brennans. The family was realistic in both its function and dysfunction.
I had just two minor quibbles about this book. First of all, Sunday. I don’t like that name. Every time it appeared on the page, I had to remind myself we were talking about a person, not a day. Secondly, I felt it ended at a strange point in the story. I felt like I wanted a bit more of a resolution, yet I also see why Lange ended where she did.
All in all, this was a wonderful reading experience, and I can’t wait to see what Tracey Lange brings us next.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot, narrated by Arina Li)
Date finished: July 19, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars
I try to read diversely, but I’ve always had trouble with modern Japanese literature. It’s not the subject matter but the writing style and the point of view. A friend suggested I try this book as it was a more accessible entry into Japanese literature.
On that point, I would agree that this book was a much easier one to read for someone who is not familiar or comfortable with Japanese literature. However, it still took me a while to settle into this one. I’m glad I chose “ear read” this one instead of “eye read,” as that made it even more accessible.
It did take me at least a quarter of the book before I could settle into it. Once I got to that point, however, it was much smoother sailing. I enjoyed hearing about the experiences of those who chose to travel through time and the effects of that decision. I felt that Kawaguchi created a unique world inside the nondescript cafe, and, goshdarnit, I wanted to drink some coffee (although I doubt I would time travel).
While it took me a while to get into this one, I was glad I read it. I’m not sure that I’m ready to take on all Japanese literature, but I’d be open to reading the sequel.
The It Girl by Ruth Ware
Date finished: July 21, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars
This is only my second Ruth Ware outing, which I feel I should say because my first outing (The Lying Game) was unsuccessful for me. To answer the big question out of the box, this book was a much better fit for me.
The world created by Ware in this book felt much more rooted in reality than in the previous book I read. I felt I was in Oxford or Edinburgh with this group of friends. I also found each of the friends to be unique and interesting, which is a feat with such a group.
The mystery/thriller (yes, this book is a blend of both) is well-plotted here, and Ware leads the reader right where she wants us to be when she wants us there. I felt that the road she took through this book was surprisingly effective, and it kept me reading.
I do, however, have two issues with this book. The first is that I felt that the book’s final act was too long. It would have been more effective if Ware had tightened up the book’s last 15% or so.
The other issue was a bigger annoyance for me. I understand that Hannah would have been traumatized by April’s murder and would have been devastated if she believed that her evidence convicted an innocent man. However, Ware tries to tell us that Hannah had a deep emotional connection with April that endured a decade later, and that just doesn’t make sense in the narrative. Also, April was just a horrible person, and it makes no sense why Hannah would be so emotionally connected to her. Unfortunately, that is the basis of the story, which puts this house on very shifty sand.
This was not a perfect read, but it was enjoyable enough that I am glad I would read it, and I would recommend it as a beach read or vacation book. This might be a good option if you are looking for a fun popcorn thriller to pass the time.
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
Date finished: July 22, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars
I’m not even sure how to begin with this book. On one hand, this is a harrowing story of crimes against not just children but an entire culture. On the other, it is a beautiful story about the resilience of the human spirit.
We follow 5 young people held at an Indian school in British Columbia and trying to find their way in the world once they escape or are ejected from the Indian School. Nothing good happens at an Indian school, and there are trigger warnings for child sexual abuse–it’s never explicitly on the page, but it is very clear that is what happened.
The characters all struggle in their own way after their experiences at the Indian School, which is the novel’s heart. But, amid these struggles, there are also triumphs. Despite its subject matter, this book still holds a sense of optimism. Relationships are made, and families are found. This is not to minimize the horrors of the Indian School but to show the strength of those who survived it.
My only issue with this book was structural. The narrative is non-linear, but that isn’t clear until well into the book. I don’t have a problem with non-chronological storytelling, but this was told in a way that I was never sure where in time I was, and I found myself continually going back to try to put all the pieces together.
I think had the timeline of the storyline been more clearly shown, this would be a near-perfect book for me. Yet, I still found this an incredibly powerful novel that I will be thinking about long after I read the last page.
The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
Date finished: July 23, 2022
Star rating: 3 stars
I am probably not the person who should be reading this book. It is nothing to do with the subject matter or anything like that, I’m just not a fan of allegorical novellas like this. However, this came to me through a book club, and I decided to try it.
This story is about the time we are given, with Father Time being a character. My first issue is that I felt this should either have been condensed into a short story or expanded into a full novel. At its current size, it seems both anemic and overblown. Albom gave enough of each character to interest the reader but never fulfilled the potential.
The gist of the story is interesting, although it smacks a bit of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I wish that Albom had taken a more unique approach at that point. I did, however, like the mythological part of Father Time’s backstory.
I enjoyed this probably as much as I could for a book that is so far out of my wheelhouse and there are others who may really love it.
Last week, I started:
- Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
- The Drowning Sea by Sarah Stewart Taylor
- The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (narrated by Saskia Maarleveld)