Month Count: 5 texts, 2 audiobook, 7 total
Year to Date: 23 texts, 7 audiobooks, 30 total
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The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue was recommended by Carrieann, whom we met at a local farm brewery. It happened to be on sale as I was browsing Amazon Kindle deals for my trip to Houston so I snagged it and dug in. It was so beautifully written and completely captured me.
It’s about a maternity-fever ward nurse during the influenza pandemic of 1918 in Dublin, Ireland. At the time, it was also an era of civil war in Ireland and World War I. The novel takes place over just three days, but seems like a lifetime and unfortunately coincidental timing with the current pandemic (she started writing it in 2018 and happened to turn in her final draft to her publishers in March, 2020… her publishers fast tracked it and of course it gripped anyone who read it). I read a review from NPR that aptly described her novel as pushing the fourth wall of literature for readers, as “The pandemic spreads out beyond the pages of Donoghue’s novel into whatever rooms we are quarantined in” (Corrigan, 2020).
Like many of the Goodreads reviews mention, there aren’t quotations when there is dialogue and it threw me a little at first; however, I got used to it very quickly and actually kind of preferred it after a while. I would recommend this, whole heartedly. It was beautiful and unfortunately far too relatable after the last year of quarantine. I wonder if it would have hit as hard without the release timing?
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover. Oh CoHo. I impulse-purchased four books of hers I haven’t read but find around every IG corner. I’m not sure why I started with this one. It wasn’t the most impressive, but I didn’t hate it. As the mother of a 14-year old, and someone who has had mental health struggles since my uncle took his own life when I was in high school (or longer!), it hit differently than it might for many.
Merit doesn’t fit in with her family, and there’s a lot of disfunction in that family. The mom, the dad, the new wife, the older brother, the twin sister… There’s a lot of disconnection, but with any CoHo book, it doesn’t get confusing. I followed Merit’s train of thought, sometimes unfortunately, and appreciated the help she got and how they worked through some of the challenges. It definitely reads young, so as a 37 year old, again – it probably felt more relatable or even readable to me because of my history with mental health and with having a teenager who will be entering high school soon.
The Stillwater Girls, by Minka Kent was a sale pick up somewhere along the way in Amazon Kindle deals. It may have even been free… I can’t remember. I’m not sure what made me stop on this one when I was browsing my “unread” filter on the Kindle, but it caught my eye and I dug in.
Although it catches your attention pretty quickly in the beginning, it really goes downhill quickly. There are two storylines that you’re following, and you can tell pretty quickly how they’re going to be related… At least, partially. They’re vastly different lifestyles, which made it annoyingly obvious. I began skipping whole paragraphs just to get to the point faster.
Then I got to the twist and… what? Wait, what??? Eye roll. Annoying. Disappointing. Stupid, even. They take a decent, 3-4 star book and flush it down the toilet. Enough said.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was my very first Libby audiobook rental from my library!!! Why did I wait so long to, A) get a library card and B) set up Libby?!? This version is narrated by Zach Appelman.
Description: All the Light We Cannot See is a historical fiction novel set in World War II. There are multiple plot lines mostly following Marie-Laure, a young, blind French girl during the Nazi occupation, and Werner Pfennig, an orphan recruited to the Nazi armies for his expertise in radio and instruments. Additionally, there are subplots namely following Werner’s sister, Jutta, back in the orphanage he is recruited from, and Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumple who is tasked with obtaining specific items of value for Hitler in France.
Discussion: Doerr’s writing is lovely and poetic. I felt a lot of the emotion conveyed in different chapters, and the descriptors of how Marie-Laure sensed things without her sight was so beautiful. I felt Werner’s confliction in my bones throughout the entire novel. His wanting to please and not make waves, to questioning the brainwashing of such a young, empathetic, genius mind to a powerful and terrifying Nazi regime.
I was not content with the ending. The resolution of the stone. The final chapters didn’t wrap up some of the questions I had, and felt disjointed. It’s not that I was looking for a perfect ending, but it felt like the author wasn’t quite sure how to reconcile everything and threw out this 2014 update that didn’t work.
Also, the jumping timelines was a little jarring for me. 1944.1934. 1941. 1944. 1942. 1944. 1945. 1974. 2014. I got a little dizzy a couple of times. Ultimately, it was only mildly distracting, and didn’t detract from my overall love for the book.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Would recommend.
Favorite quote: “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden was another Libby audiobook. It was narrated by Holter Graham. Curiously, I’ve wondered about this for a while; however, it has never been very high on my #tbrlist out of fear mostly that it would just be too far over my head. But especially since living in the same area where he grew up and worked, and just down the road from NSA, I’ve felt a strong draw to learn a little more about the mysterious man and events he was involved with.
I’m pleased to say Edward Snowden did a fantastic job writing what I’m sure was a very complicated account. There’s enough backstory to educate you on his life, and how he ended up in positions to be able to spy on anyone he “wanted” in the entire country (and beyond?) without those peoples’ knowledge… but there’s enough personality to keep you connected to the human behind the words.
It’s a subject I knew very little about, and only heard the fringes of in media during the leaks. I couldn’t have told you the basics, other than Edward Snowden was a whistleblower to some things in the government he probably didn’t agree with, and most likely not many of us would understand. What he actually did is much more complex, fascinating, terrifying, and incredibly brave than I ever expected. The narrator was great, and I couldn’t stop listening. Is there a part two???
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett has been on my TBR list for over a year, and has been on my library waiting list for a while as well – Almost to the point where I just gave in and bought the darn book. Well, I’m glad I didn’t because I didn’t love The Vanishing Half. Even before I finished it I was already thinking, ummm ya’ll gave *this* the 2020 Book of the Year?
Synopsis via Goodreads:
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
Now, I didn’t NOT like it… I just didn’t see the hype. There were way too many competing themes: racism (MULTIPLE levels), Alzheimer’s, LGBTQ+, parental acceptance (again, multiple levels). Like a friend said: jack of all trades, master of none.
Several times it felt like the author got part of the way into a new chapter, and then realized she forgot to explain something so would start writing it in and it didn’t work. More than once I went “wait, what did I miss here??” and had to skip back to reread-which didn’t help. Also, the pacing felt awkward. Sometimes taking MULTIPLE chapters to cover just a short period of time, and then having chapter after chapter cover years? And then it ended… and I mostly just felt like this: 😑
What did you love about this book?
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins was another library wait list haul that came up at the same time as The Vanishing Half. Here’s my official full review, which is also posted in my Goodreads profile:
Description: Jane is a young adult coming out of the foster system and trying to make a better life for herself. She’s landed a couple of dog-walking positions in a wealthy, upscale neighborhood where she runs into Eddie. Eddie is recovering from the loss of his wife when something sparks between he and Jane. Throughout their face-paced relationship, Jane picks up on some gossip and, what I will call “background noise” around the community that makes her think twice about her relationship with Eddie.
Discussion: Overall, this is considered a Thriller and and entertaining change of pace compared to some of my other books as of late. I liked Jane’s character, and the way you get glimpses into her perspective on the characters around town. I thought her background wasn’t presented in a cohesive way, it felt a little clunky, but there was enough that I basically understood a bit about where she was coming from. I did like her strength and wit throughout the novel, and was grateful that it didn’t fall into a completely predictable category of “woe was me/damsel in distress”. The twists at the end were entertaining and again, not completely predictable.
Rating: 3.75/5, would recommend.
Favorite Quote: Mouths were good at lying, but eyes usually told the truth.
So that wraps up April 2021, and I’m officially half way to my official goal of 60 books (if you count the audio versions). I recently made an effort to join NetGalley and have worked on a version of my official review format to better analyze the books I read and create more meaningful discussions. Lately, I’ve realized that I’m struggling with Bookstagram and firming up my aesthetic vision for my profile. I’ve also realized I don’t really resonate with the @beers_andbooks handle I initially created; however, I’m struggling to find something that does stick.
Anyway, I have a few books started in April that I just didn’t get around to finishing, and a solid list of Kindle books and Book of the Month stacks to work on for May. Speaking of, if you are interested in BOTM subscriptions, use my referral link here and you’ll get your first book for only $5!