Weekly Reads – March 19, 2023

Well, it has been a while. Things have just been busy on the weekends lately and I haven’t been organized enough to actually to write up this post early!

The biggest time suck right now is Girl Scout Cookie season. Fortunately, that is almost over, at least for our troop. Our scouts have decided not to do booths, so we just need to finish up a few remaining orders and then I AM DONE (for the year!). There have been a number of supply issues with the cookies this year, but our troop has been able to avoid most of them, thankfully!

We’ve also been busy with school things–Lillie is getting ready to register for high school! I can hardly believe it! We went to a forecasting night where we were able to learn more about the curriculum and the various paths offered. Lillie will be doing the International Baccalaureate program which mean she can enter college (depending on the university she chooses to attend) as a sophomore. Her ultimate career goal is medicine, so she has plenty of school ahead of her! I think Chris will have to start thinking about what Middle School classes he is going to take after Spring Break. I know that he’s interested in the technology and there are a number of tech classes he can take, we just don’t know exactly what they are.

While I know it has been a few weeks since I did an update, it will also be a few weeks before I do another one. We’re heading down to Arizona to see my dad and I’m not bringing my laptop. So, expect another big update in 3-4 weeks!

And now, 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.

Since my last update, I finished reading:

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (narrated by the authors)
Date finished: February 27. 2023
Rating: A ⭐⭐⭐⭐

So, do you want some comedy about racism? Or, should I say, do you want to be completely unsettled? Because this book is both.

Amber Ruffin writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers and has her own show on the Peacock service, so she is well-known in the comedy world. Less known is her older sister, who lives in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. While Ruffin, who now lives in New York, doesn’t face the same kind of racism that she did in her hometown, Lamar is still in the thick of it. This book is a collection of the racist incidents Lamar faces daily, which become the stories she tells her sister during their phone calls.

I listened to the audiobook, which I believe is the way to go. However, there are many references to pictures in the book, so I would recommend getting a print copy (libraries are great for this!) so that you can see pictures of the creepy baby doll Lacey is gifted, as well as all her hairstyles and what they’ve been called.

Ruffin does most of the narration, with Lamar chiming in at key moments to keep her sister on the straight and narrow. This works incredibly well; as a professional comedian and comic writer, Ruffin can deliver on these stories. I found myself simultaneously laughing out loud and being completely shocked by what I was hearing. It is horrifying that things depicted in these stories are happening in our present day, but Ruffin and Lamar point out how absurd the racists are.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it, especially if you can access both the print and audio versions.

Mink River by Brian Doyle
Date finished: February 28, 2023

If you had asked me before this morning what my all-time favorite book would be, I’d probably spout out a number of titles. It would be a combination of tried and true classics and contemporary phenomenons. But that was then. Now, my answer would be this one. This is now my all-time favorite book.

I’m not even sure I can describe this book. I mean, what genre is it? Well, there are a fair number of magical realism elements, so maybe fantasy? However, I would also argue that this takes place in at a very specific time in Oregon, so historical fiction? The language is so gorgeous you could also call it poetic prose. Yes to all of these.

We follow a fictional, but very realistic town, on the Oregon Coast (I pictured Nehalem, Oregon in my mind while reading). Given various text clues, I believe that this takes place in the early 80s, which was a time when the traditional coastal industries of logging and fishing were on the downturn, but tourism was still limited to just a few larger communities. We meet various townsfolk and follow them through a summer and fall while they all face their own challenges.

This is not a plot-driven book. Instead, we join this community and experience life through the characters. Oh, and what characters we have! We meet a fair number of people (and a crow) and follow them all as their lives intersect, but this never feels like we are overburdened with points of view. Every character is a voice, and this book is a perfectly tuned choir.

The prose is the most perfect I’ve ever read. Each word has a purpose, and the pace of the book ebbs and flows (and I hate to admit that it took me as long as it did to realize that the prose is paced LIKE A RIVER!). In the midst of the fantasy of beauty, Doyle accents it all with humor and a dash of shade toward the University of Oregon. I should add here that this book is published by Oregon State University Press.

This novel should be required for everyone who lives, has lived, or has even visited the state of Oregon. And, if you don’t follow into any of those categories, you will once you’ve finished this masterpiece.

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
Date finished: February 28, 2023
Rating: A ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Grade: A

I never really know what to expect when I start one of Agatha Christie’s standalone novels. I’m not sure why I’m so nervous about it–what I consider her best novel (And Then There Were None) falls into this group. That being said, I really knew nothing about this novel before I picked it up.

This one was a treat. The mystery is strong–there are a lot of red herrings and secrets designed to lead the reader down paths that don’t lead to the murderer. I almost gasped when the culprit was revealed as it was not a character I had suspected.

The shining star of this book is the young heroine Emily Trefusis. She’s cunning and determined and clearly the smartest person of the bunch. She also does not think twice about using people to get to what she needs. This is not to say that she’s a negative character; she is actually quite kind. But she won’t let anything stand in her way.

People often ask where they should start with Agatha Christie. There are many onramps to her works, but this is a book that is not often mentioned. That’s too bad because I think this would be an excellent introduction to the Queen of Crime.

The Ghost Fields (Ruth Galloway #7) by Elly Griffiths
Date finished: March 4, 2023
Rating: B+ ⭐⭐⭐½

Ruth Galloway is back, bringing her entourage of colorful characters with her. Ruth is called in this time when a WWII plane is found in a field with a pilot still in the cockpit. Ruth immediately realizes that this pilot did not die in a plane crash–and did not die in this plane–and everyone finds themselves in a murder mystery.

Central to this mystery is a strangely bizarre aristocratic family who has been in the area for a long time. Also central is DNA research. This book was published in 2015, which was when sites such as 23andMe and Ancestry were at their height, so it makes sense for Griffiths to enter this into Ruth’s world.

We also get the messiness of Ruth’s world. Ironically, Ruth seems to be the least messy of the bunch. Yes, there is a potential new love on the horizon, but there is also Nelson, who is still married to Michelle, who is…well, you need to read it. Cathbad is back in the story, although he does not play a central part in this one. Still, he belongs in Norfolk. Dave Clough, one of Nelson’s detectives, takes a more central role, and getting to know him better is a nice element.

I enjoyed this romp into the skeletons of the old guard. However, I felt at times that Griffiths got so wrapped up in all the interpersonal issues that she forgot to have the characters work on the mystery. The mystery itself is quite good, but I felt the solving of the mystery seems to happen quickly at the end after idling for most of the novel.

This is a crucial element in the Ruth Galloway series. However, it is more important in the development of the various characters’ series-long arcs than it is in terms of mystery. But, honestly, I’m okay with that.

Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Date finished: March 4, 2023
Rating: C+ ⭐⭐½

I may have come into this book with too much excitement. I can’t say that my expectations were too high because I had no reason to have especially high expectations. But I was excited to read a novel about the Partition, which I only knew the bare minimum about before watching Ms. Marvel (and I don’t think Marvel properties are the best historical sources).

There were things about it that I enjoyed. Divakaruni does an excellent job of creating the world of India on the verge of independence. There are so many sensory details here; the taste of the foods, the smell of the spices, and the thickness of the air. I felt as though I was in India with these sisters.

I also appreciated the realistic depiction of sister relationships. Yes, these sisters love each other. They also get angry with each and are jealous of each other. But, at the end of the day, they would do anything for each other.

Unfortunately, two issues negatively impacted my experience of this book. The writing style just seemed to lack nuance. I found this especially irritating in the book’s first part when Divakaruni relied far too much on telling and not enough on showing. Once the action picked up, the style was less irritating, but I never felt I could let the language take me away.

The second and larger issue was that I just didn’t feel that the parts of this book fit together especially well. Each of the three sisters has their own story. While I could see how Priya’s and Jamina’s stories could be told in tandem, Deepa’s story seemed completely separate from it. I can’t say I found much comfort in the Priya and Jamina storyline because love triangles set my teeth on edge.

I almost wish that this book had either been broken apart and only focused on one sister at a time (possibly as a trilogy) or that this had been a much longer book that went into a deeper dive and more closely tied Deepa in with her sisters. While the sisters’ stories converge in the third act, that event didn’t feel as if it even belonged in this sort of book.

I’m disappointed that this book wasn’t a hit for me, but I do appreciate that the Partition was addressed and I would be open to reading other novels set in this historical period.

Night Wherever We Go by Tracey Rose Peyton
Date finished: March 9. 2023
Rating: A ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Oh boy, I’m still recovering from this one. If you know the basics of this book–six women enslaved by an unsuccessful farmer in Texas in the 1850s and their own wants to “breed” them–you know it will be heavy. And it was. And it was worth it.

Peyton’s prose is hypnotic and will entice you into the story. She uses both the 2nd and 3rd person point of view, which may sound problematic but is very effective here. This technique allows the reader to see the women’s individual experiences clearly while also building compassion between the women and the reader.

The world of this novel is appropriately dry and stark. However, we also see how that world changes as time passes. One thing I really appreciated about this book is that this isn’t a story of people enslaved on the palatial plantation of the myth we are constantly fed. No, these women are enslaved on a hardscrabble farm run by an inept and amoral couple. Those who know the accurate history of this era know that this depiction is closer to the truth than the Tara-like plantations we see in movies.

I was devastated by this story, and I know it will stay with me for quite some time. The ending made me ache, and I simultaneously hated it and knew it was inevitable. I only have two quibbles about this book. There were times when some of the smaller details were not clear. While this didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story, it took me out of it occasionally. I also felt that maybe six women were one or two too many women. We get to know about 4 of the women very well, and the others are sort of just there.

Other than that, this was an excellent book. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, needs something for their book club, or thinks that Gone with the Wind is a realistic depiction of the Antebellum South.

VenCo by Cheri Dimaline
Date finished: March 11, 2023
Rating: A ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book was such an adventure! If you enjoyed the Practical Magic books by Alice Hoffman, this one would be right up your alley. However, this one has more inclusivity and a stronger feminist edge.

We meet Lucky, who doesn’t seem to live up to her name. She lives with her Grandmother and works a series of temp jobs to support them. She’s just learned that they are being evicted from their apartment. Then a woman appears with an offer that seems too good to be true, and all Lucky has to do is go to Salem, Massachusetts.

Yes, there are witches, and they are the best kind of witches. There is also a quest and a formidable foe. We also have a zany grandmother. All of these characters are expertly drawn, with Lucky in the middle. Lucky is that sort of character that any reader will relate to. Dimaline draws all these characters into an intriguing web that keeps you turning the pages.

I only had two small issues with this book, both of which fall under the “me problem” umbrella. First of all, this book uses the historically inaccurate idea that the Salem Witch Trials took place in what is now Salem, Massachusetts. (Look this up…the trials actually happened in what is now Danvers, Massachusetts). My inner historian heart shudders whenever this happens.

Secondly, while this book does not end on a cliffhanger, it does end on a precipice. To me, this story is just beginning, and if I don’t get a sequel to it, I’ll feel like I’ll be stuck in VenCo limbo-land!

I highly recommend this book and I pray that there is more to come!

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett
Date finished: March 14, 2023
Grade: A ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Janice Hallett will mess with your mind.

In her third novel, she once again gives us a twisty and intriguing mystery, but she also raises the bar. This novel will bury itself into your psyche without you even knowing it.

The premise is deceptively simple. A true-crime writer is commissioned to write about an 18-year-old cult-related crime, only to find that her former nemesis is covering the same case. Reluctantly, they realize they need to work together–to a point. But this crime is so much more than what meets the eye.

While this book is fiction, it definitely captures that true crime feel. Using her signature epistolary style, we feel like we are working alongside Amanda and Oliver as they try to figure out what happened that bloody night 18 years before and what happened to the baby at the center. I must admit that I felt quite smug about halfway through because I was sure I knew how this book would turn out. Spoiler: I was nowhere near the truth. Hallett has fooled me in all three of her novels, and I am confident that she will continue to do so in her future novels.

This book is unlike her previous novels in two ways. This book left me feeling very unsettled. Yes, it is about a cult, but it is also about the cruelty humans can inflict on each other and the great harm that can result from it. Hallett tells more than one story here, but both bring this point to light.

The second difference was probably the only drawback for me with this novel. Her first two novels were heavily puzzle-based. They were the most mixed-up Rubik’s Cube that Hallett systematically put back into order. While this book was twisty, there wasn’t really that same puzzle element. Even though I found this book incredibly enjoyable, I still found myself missing that one facet of her storytelling.

All in all, this was an excellent novel that kept me turning the pages and wrapped up in the crime.

The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan
Date finished: March 18, 2023
Rating: B+ ⭐⭐⭐½

Sometimes books come to you as happy coincidences. This was a book I had put on hold at the library ages ago, forgot about, and then was surprised when the notification came through. Even better, the stars aligned, so I read this up to and over St. Patrick’s Day. While it isn’t about St. Patrick leading the snakes out of Ireland, it is a very Irish book and one that fits the time perfectly for me.

This is a story of three women; we start with the birth of Saoirse, then we have Saoirse’s mother, Elaine, and her paternal grandmother, Mary. I enjoyed watching how these women’s relationships operated and grew through the years. While they spent their lives together, they were essentially without a central male relative (there were male relatives, but they seemed to be relegated to the edges of the narrative).

When I started this book, I thought it was historical fiction because it had that “feel.” However, while the book starts in approximately the early 80s, it goes to the modern day, so it clearly does not belong in that genre. This is a slice-of-life book; we start with Saoirse’s birth and follow these three women until Saoirse’s adulthood. If you love a very character-driven novel, this may be for you. However, if you need more, or even some, plot, you might find yourself frustrated here.

While I enjoy a character-driven novel, I wish there was more plot. I am not looking for an action-driven book, but I sometimes wondered why I was reading this. And even though the prose was lovely, there were a few points where I felt Ryan had gotten himself tangled up in his words, and I had to re-read a paragraph a few times to understand what he was trying to say.

I ultimately enjoyed this book, although I’m unsure how long it will stay with me. Yet, this hit the Irish spot for my St. Patrick’s Day reading.

What I’m currently reading:

And here’s my weekly reading update. I also include some of my vacation reading plans in this one…

5 thoughts on “Weekly Reads – March 19, 2023

  1. Enjoy Arizona, I hear its a beautiful place. Exciting times with new paths being forged by your two offspring. Looks like largely a great reading time.


  2. Have a great trip! I’ve missed your weekly posts but understand that sometimes life gets in the way. Minnesota has this thing that lets high school juniors and seniors attend college on the school’s dime which lets many of them get out of high school with two years of college done and paid for. It is great for kids mature enough to deal with the freedom of college at a young age. Come see my week here. Happy reading!


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About Melinda