book reviews · Reading

March 2022: Recent Reads

Photo by Abby Chung on Pexels.com

We’re at the end of March, and it is pollen season here in Georgia. This is my first spring in Georgia, as I remarked to my second graders yesterday. One of them was surprised, because she’s had “seven springs” in Georgia. I think it was a new thought for her that an adult might have spent less time than she has in her home state.

All I know is that there is pollen EVERYWHERE.

I was warned about it. I was told my car would turn yellow from pollen (it has) and that my allergies would be terrible (I’m not sure yet).

What I was most surprised about was seeing pollen on my dark phone screen just from walking outside – and then seeing it stuck to the doorknob of my home.

What does that have to do with reading? Not one thing.

I’m just sharing this new-to-me phenomenon because I find it strange and surprising.

Anyway.

I’ve had a mixed results reading month, but it feels at least subjectively better than February. I think I did read more, and I’ve started to research my reads again, which feels like I’m coming back to myself. I’ve continued the random library pick thing, too, but I end up batting pretty low percentages for worthwhile reads; hence starting to research again.

Plus, I am proud that all the books I did finish this month were on my TBR list. It feels good to cross some of those off!

Looks like I’ve pretty much only finished fiction books this month, though I have a couple of nonfiction books I’m working through. Se la vie.

Fiction

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This short gem has been on my list for quite some time. At the outset, I was confused by the switches in time, wondering what a young girl in the 2000s had to do with a young boy in the 1990s, but eventually, I figured it out.

A Long Walk to Water is based on a true story about one of the “lost boys” of Sudan who walked miles and miles and miles to find refuge and escape the war there. This story is both heart-wrenching and hopeful. And for this reader, who was growing up when this story started becoming history, this book helped me understand a bit more about a conflict in a far-away place by giving it names and personal stories. Most of the people reading this review probably cannot imagine having to drink muddy water and dig for it every day. Or crafting your own raft to get across the Nile River (which took two days to paddle across!).

The fortitude, perseverance, and ultimately hopeful attitude of Salva astounds and inspires me. I recommend this book! (Including in audio form. I listened to it in about one day of driving around doing errands and chores.)

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

I finally read it. I DNF’d this some time ago – must have been the wrong time. But my housemate-reading buddy told me it was worth it, though it was not as hopeful as some other WWII fiction we’ve both read.

For me, reading about sisters Vianne and Isabelle was worth it. It shows the tension of having to choose between safety and resisting evil. It shows how people can choose differently than they did at the outset. How we can misunderstand motives and that causes hurt and pain, even as we’re trying to protect the ones we love. It highlights the utter destruction, heartbreak, and grief of WWII. It paints a picture of a family trying to pick up the pieces after the war.

Trigger warnings: violence, rape, death, grief

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

OH, am I glad I read this one. It has a bit more in it than I am usually comfortable with (language, sexy stuff, etc) but it seemed to be the right book for this moment in time. And the way that iffier content is presented makes sense and is done in a literarily tasteful way. (Yes, I think I just turned an adjective into an adverb there.)

What I mean is, this is a coming of age story. And when someone is coming of age without a mom, and with a dad who seems at a loss for how to parent his daughter, there are bound to be mistakes made – some that can’t be undone.

It does have a couple of half-open door scenes, and there is definitely language that is considered vulgar to polite society – but it’s not all throughout the book. It’s during a specific season of her life where she’s trying to figure things out and is exploring the world.

Esme is a girl who loves words, sees people at the margins, and, in her own way, seeks to give them a voice when they have none (through words!). All throughout her wanderings and grief, of which there is much, she still has so many people who love her and care for her.

I identified with her in her love of language, her ability to be blunt about what she doesn’t know about the world, and her desire to understand the people around her. I also identified with how she was always surrounded by people who loved her even as she experienced loss and heartache.

I thought this book was worth the iffier parts, because it ultimately shows the loyalty of family and friends, redemption, and loving the marginalized.

What Could be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Okay, right from the get-go, I’ll admit: after finishing this book, I wished I had DNF’d it.

Unlike The Dictionary of Lost Words, this book did not have redemptive tones. It was more of a “what happened, happened. At least we have some answers now.”

I’m getting ahead of myself. This book flips back and forth between the 1970s and present day. A young American brother/son simply disappears one day in Bangkok and isn’t seen or heard from since. Most believe him to be dead, though the family never has a funeral for him.

There are secrets galore and what kept me reading was wanting to know what happened. While it sometimes felt like the author added too much detail and could she please just skip over all this, she did an excellent job at putting all the pieces together little by little and then having it all come into focus at the very end. Turns out, much of the detail was necessary for painting a full picture.

As much as I hated the *spoiler and triggers * adultery, and human trafficking, all the secrets that coulda shoulda not been kept, and the worldview reflected in the characters, what stuck with me as I chewed on this was how very many adults ended up making poor choices over time and how they all culminated on that specific day and time to result in the brother disappearing.

So…if you’re in the mood for a not very redemptive book that is masterfully written, and you’re okay with some sex scenes, adultery, and lots of secrets, but you like a good mystery-esque book, then this book may just hit the spot for you. {insert rueful smile emoji here}

DNF’d

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta

The Lost Dreamer was one I almost finished. Again, I wanted to see how all the pieces fit together. There are prophecies and visions, and it is set in Mesoamerica with a religion that involves all sorts of “spirits” and a society that is approaching a climactic struggle. One girl finds herself at the center of everything as it all crescendos to…whatever the ending was. I found the world-building a little too vague for me. Since it was so different from my perspective/worldview it was hard to grasp.

Ultimately, I ended up DNF’ing this book because there was just too much weird sexuality in it, as well as all the spirits and things that got a little creepy. There were people having relations with…not exactly people…and a few other things that bothered me. I’m not really a paranormal type girl, so this was not the book for me.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I loved Fortunately, the Milk, which is a kids book by Neil Gaiman. So when I saw Neverwhere recommended as an audiobook and saw his name as the author, plus I saw an intriguing premise, I was excited to give it a try.

Nope. Nope nope nope. There are really, really gruesome characters, way too much talk of liking blood (any is too much for me), and a few too many cuss words. No thanks, I’ll pass. And I guess I’ll stick to his kids books.

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi

I found this one just scrolling through the Libby app looking for audiobooks. I wanted to like it. I think this is one that I would have liked better in print. On audio, it sounded like it might have been switching between her thoughts and conversations, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. I think seeing it in print would have worked better.

I loved the BIPOC voice, and I mostly liked the quirkiness of Ebony-Grace Starfleet. The writing was from her twelve year-old perspective, which, like any child, doesn’t see the bigger picture like adults do, and this was clear from the way it was written. Definitely points for a convincing young narrator voice.

It was just a little…too quirky, maybe, for me?

Again, I wanted to like it, but just couldn’t quite get into it.


That’s it for me!

What have you been reading lately?

Leave me some book recs in the comments!

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