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So many good reads! Update #2 February 2020

Two months into the year and I can happily say my reading is still going well, just as I wrote in my first update of the year back in mid-January.

I’m ahead of my usual reading pace. Not that I’m in a numbers race with myself, but I have noticed I’ve been reading more, or perhaps simply finishing more books. I think this is due to the fact that I am more willing than ever to put a book aside if it is not working for me.

There are, in fact, three books that I recently started and then put aside.

  • Blood Countess by Lana Popović. This one caught my eye at the library. Its book one in a new YA series called Lady Slayers. I read to page 50 and nothing was stirring my blood to keep reading so I returned it to the library.
  • River by Esther Kinsky. This novel is the first read for the Read More German Books in 2020 Challenge host by BookTubers Mel’s Bookland Adventures and Britta Böhler. I picked it up on three different days and just couldn’t get in to it, so when the due date rolled around I returned it to the library.
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I LOVED the first two books I read by Butler, Kindred and Fledgling, so was a bit surprised I couldn’t get into this one. The writing is excellent. I’m just not in the mood for a dystopian apocalyptic narrative with Biblical overtones. I own a copy and will try it again in the future.

Books I Read

Memoirs

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Audiobook. I wanted to start my year off with something encouraging going into my head, and instead of trying something new, I thought I’d revisit a trusty “old friend.” Becoming was just as good the second time around.

Michelle reads it and I find her voice calming and her positive, realistic attitude infectious. I highly recommend this memoir if you haven’t yet gotten to it.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb. Digital copy I purchased. I’m a big fan of therapy and this book is fascinating reading for those who have benefited from therapy OR a window into the process for those of you who have not (yet) had the experience.

I admired the way Gottlieb weaves her own story and struggles with those of her clients. She covers many of the painful issues that humans regularly experience and introduces related therapeutic traditions and techniques.

Too many humans endure their pain alone to the point where it gnarls their personality and deadens relationships. Gottleib shows that life doesn’t have to be that way. A good therapist can help people understand their pain and experiences, and help them embrace life in healthier more productive ways.

This is a well-written, highly engaging memoir. I hope Gottlieb writer another one.

Epic Solitude: A Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North by Katherine Keith. Digital review copy via NetGalley. Keith is originally from Minnesota and was bitten by the Arctic Circle bug as a girl after reading Arctic Daughter by Jean Aspen. This memoir is about her emotional struggles, life in Alaska, and sled dog races. I wrote a review that you can read here.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Audiobook, narrated by Jeff Harding. This book has been on my TBR List since it came out in 2012. I’m so glad I finally read it.

This is Schwalbe’s memoir of his mother’s battle with cancer, their relationship, and the books they read together. The book is a loving tribute to the amazing woman his mother was and the important work she did in the world.

My only criticism of the audio version is the narrator’s voicing of women, which come off as prissy and precious. However, this wasn’t a big enough turnoff to make me stop listening.

Schwalbe’s story of his mother’s strength and faith, and their shared love of books is a highly engaging listen.

The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists by Tracy Walder with Jessica Anya Blau. Digital review copy via NetGalley. I devoured this memoir in three sittings. Had I started it on a day off, I’m sure I would have read it in one.

Walder was a sorority girl at USC with plans to be a history teacher. She surprises everyone, herself included, when she ends up in the CIA. After 9/11 Walder becomes a chemical terrorism operative working in the field — which means spending months at a time in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe working with agents from other countries to keep tabs on Middle Eastern terrorists who are creating chemical weapons and hatching plans against the West.

The stakes are incredibly high so it is shocking to learn that some agencies in other parts of the world don’t work on Sundays, even if suspected terrorists are getting on a plane headed to their country.

Walder recounts her work as much as possible (whole pages have been redacted by the CIA), some of the training she received, and what it was like to be a woman working in these agencies. In the CIA, she felt like an equal to her male counterparts. It was a different story in the FBI.

This is a thrilling memoir filled with humor. Walder’s mission now is to ensure that girls and women have equal opportunities AND that their unique perspectives and intelligence are used by the government agencies charged with protecting Americans and the U.S.

I HIGHLY recommend this memoir which just came out on Tuesday (2/25/20) from St. Martin’s.

Novels

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Purchased paperback copy via Book Depository.

An old woman who lives in a rural area of Poland gets involved in the mysterious deaths of some of her neighbors.

This was such a fun yet serious novel. It has a deep sadness and lots of anger, but overall it is an entertaining and, at times, laugh-out-loud mystery.

It was the first Book Cougars readalong of 2020. Emily and I discussed it on Episode 96.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Library book. OMG, why did I wait so long to read this brilliant novel? It is short but packs such a wallop! It’s a deceptively simple story about a women in NYC recovering in the hospital from an infection she acquired after a routine surgery whose mother from rural Illinois comes to sit with her.

I finally read it because I was going to see Laura Linney on Broadway in the one-woman play adaptation of the novel. At first I decided I wouldn’t read it and would see the play as a standalone piece of art. But as the day drew nearer and I read about the play, I grew more curious about the novel. I thought perhaps I’d listen to the audio version. I looked it up and it is short, just over four hours. Well, I though, if its that short, perhaps I’ll read it.

On the Thursday before the Saturday I was to see the play, I was working in my local library. Since I then knew the novel was so short, I told myself that if the book was on the shelf, I’d check it out and read it. It was on the shelf and I checked it out . I read it and fell hard for it. Strout’s writing is so compact but it implies volumes. I now plan on reading all of her novels.

The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James. Digital review copy via NetGalley. I really enjoyed St. James’s last novel, The Broken Girls. When I saw her new novel was about a haunted motel, I had to read it.

This is a dual timeline novel set in the 1980s and current days. A young woman who worked the night shift at the motel goes missing in the 1980s. Thirty years later, the niece of the missing woman ends up in the same upstate NY town and takes a job working the night shift at the same motel.

That’s creepy enough. But the niece soon finds out there have also been three women murdered in this small town. Is there a connection to her aunt’s disappearance? What do the ghosts of the motel have to do with it all?

The dual storyline works well in this story but there was some repetition between both stories that I grew a bit impatient with. I saw St. James in conversation with Jennifer McMahon at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT the week the novel came out. McMahon mentioned that she liked what she called “the echo” between to the two story lines. Her way of looking at the repetition intrigued me and has caused me to think back on my reading in a new light.

This is not a hardcore horror novel. It is more of a mystery/thriller with ghosts, but it is creepy and scary enough for those who enjoy some ghost action.

Cover of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. Digital review copy via Edelweiss. Pubs on April 7, 2020. Hendrix writes in his author’s note that he wanted to pit his Mom against Dracula. This is the best premise for a novel that I’ve heard in a long time.

The novel starts out like a delightfully humorous Southern novel in the tradition of The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood or Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and then it gets dark. And then darker.

Hendrix uses gender and race to show how discrimination benefits not only certain humans, but vampires as well. Same with typical teenage behavior towards their parents.

Reader beware: this is some serious Southern fried horror. I loved it. A mysterious man moves into an exclusive historic neighborhood in Charleston, SC and . . . you’ll have to read it yourself to find out the rest.

Library Visits

I’ve also managed to write two library posts so far this year. My goal is to have at least one monthly library post.

In January I shared photos of the Cushman Library in Bernardston, MA. These were photos that I took in 2014 and never got around to posting. The Cushman is a public library was built in 1862.

Yesterday I posted about an unplanned visit to NYU’s Bobst Library in Manhattan. This academic library was built in 1973.

Although these two libraries were built over 100 years apart and for different purposes, I was struck by their similarities in appearance. They’re both imposing, red square-like structures. Both communicate the value of the books and knowledge they hold inside.


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6 replies

  1. Ooh! I need to check out Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. I just started going to therapy for the first time since I was in college. It’s wonderful! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed The Sundown Motel and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires! I need to go pick those two up the next time I make a trip to my local bookshop!

    • Good for you! Glad to hear it. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires comes out on April 7th. I forgot to add that and just updated the post. I look forward to hearing what you think about it.

  2. I agree with your comment on My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, its hidden depths kept my book club in discussion for hours.

  3. Wow, what a great reading month for you, Chris!

    I also read and loved Becoming (on audio) and, of course, Drive Your Plow …

    And Lucy Barton, You Should Talk to Someone, and End of Your Life Book Club are all high on my TBR list. I actually (finally) started End of Your Life Book Club on a plane in November (I had mistakenly packed the book I was reading), but once we landed and I had my book back, I set it aside – I really need to get back to it! Immersed in Booktopia reading for now!

    Hope the rest of your reading year is just as good! Can’t wait to see you and Emily at Booktopia!!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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