Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – April 2020
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Like many readers, I’ve had some trouble focusing on books this past month, though there are a few winners among my April book reviews. While I’ve read plenty, many of the books I’ve had on my list just haven’t quite felt like the right books for this time.
I do plan to try all of the books on my April reading list, but if they aren’t working, my plan is to put them aside early and come back later.
I want to give all the new books on my list their due–and I definitely want to support the authors releasing books right now–but I can’t do that if the heavier books that I usually favor are too much right now.
My taste right now is veering toward light, cozy, and hopeful. I’m loving this audiobook, and I would love to read others with similar lighthearted, quirky tones. Let me know what’s working for you! (On a side note: my TV tastes at the moment are similar, so share your favorite viewing recommendations as well!).
April 2020 Book Reviews
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Source: St. Martin’s Press via Edelweiss
Publish Date: 03/10/20
When an affluent family moves into an established neighborhood and tears down the existing house to build a McMansion, the neighbors are suspicious. When their actions destroy Valerie Alston-Holt’s beloved old tree, that’s the last straw. Tensions rise and are complicated by the budding romance between Valerie’s son and the new neighbors’ daughter. But just how high can the two families raise the stakes until they reach their tipping point?
A Good Neighborhood is a compelling story that examines issues of race, class, and how people with different values can live alongside one another. My one small complaint was that a few of the characters didn’t feel fully fleshed out, and veered toward stereotypes. But as the events cascaded, I couldn’t put this down.
Author: Stephanie Wrobel
Source: Berkley via Edelweiss
Publish Date: 03/17/20
After five years in prison, Patty Watts has been released. Her crime? Causing her daughter’s lifelong illnesses (and duping the community in the process).
But Rose Gold has agreed to take Patty in–even after she testified to put Patty in prison. Now they are each playing a game with their own ends in mind.
Darling Rose Gold is one of those dark, complicated books that’s hard to like–the characters are almost impossible to like. Wrobel inserts reasons for sympathy, including the effects of Patty’s Munchausen’s by proxy on Rose Gold, and potential reasons for Patty’s behavior. I think the story could have benefited from therapists for both of them, adding some insight. As is, it’s an uncomfortable read that left me feeling a little icky–but it definitely kept me reading.
The lives of three very different young women intersect at an elite southern university, after one of them accuses a rich fraternity member and legacy student of sexual assault.
Annie is a bit of a loner but is excited when charming Tyler Brand asks her out–until things turn in a very confusing way. The resulting he-said, she-said brings Bea into the mix, a biracial justice scholar assigned as Tyler’s student advocate. Bea is torn about her role and begins to question the university’s sense of “justice.”
Stayja, meanwhile, is a campus employee at the coffee shop, and has grown close to Tyler. She is in the bubble each day, and yet outside of it, and she is convinced of his innocence.
This is a good fictional followup to Chanel Miller’s sensational memoir Know My Name. Universities often play by their own rules when it comes to sexual assault cases, and Privilege is a deft examination of the fallout of the self-preservationist policies of the institutions.
Author: Ada Calhoun
Publish Date: 01/07/20
Ada Calhoun interviewed thousands of Generation-X women across the United States to understand one thing: why are we all struggling so much? What is with this exhaustion, depression, and endless feeling of being stretched too thin?
The answers are complicated and varied, as are the backgrounds and life experiences of the women interviewed. So many of the struggles stem from the same place: the notion that we can “have it all.”
Calhoun’s book is reassuring in the sense that she provides reasons why so many women feel this way, as well as assurance that we aren’t alone. While she does end on a high note, most of her book does not offer advice for improving Gen-X women’s bleak outlook. And during this time of COVID quarantine, I only felt my anxiety rising. Read it for the solidarity–but maybe wait until the global crisis has passed.
The premise of this book was interesting: a women–one of Seth’s three wives, though she doesn’t have contact with the other two–finds something that leads her to them. Once she starts digging, she can’t stop until she knows the whole truth.
The first half of this book had me hooked, but it quickly unraveled in the second half. The author created an easy out that discounted much of what had previously happened. There were enough questions along the way to keep me reading, but the resolution was unsatisfying.
Author: TaraShea Nesbit
Source: Bloomsbury Publishing via Edelweiss
Publish Date: 03/17/20
Ten years after the Mayflower landed, Plymouth colony is not the utopian mecca of religious freedom that the Puritans dreamed of. Beheld centers on a murder–one that really happened–and women of the colony are given voices to describe the state of things. Their voices provide new perspectives, and they aren’t just those of the Puritans we so often think of, but of the indentured servants who journeyed with them as well.
The book goes back and forth in time, from the beginning of the Mayflower’s journey to the present time in Plymouth. This format is a bit disorienting and the flashbacks–though interesting–don’t always seem relevant to the story in Plymouth. I considered putting this down a few times because I wasn’t gripped by the story, but I’m ultimately glad I read it for the fresh look at history.
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1982, and at midnight, Oona will turn 19 years old. But after midnight, she wakes up 32 years in the future, in a 51-year-old body–and she learns that this is now her life, leaping back and forth in time at the turn of each year. She never knows where in her timeline she’ll land or what her previous year’s choices will have wrought.
This is a fun time travel premise that isn’t too deeply examined–there’s no science-fiction explanation here. Instead, focus on her Oona and her relationships with her friends and family, and the ways she learns and grows in her non-linear life. A good choice in audio.
Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were spinsters living a quiet life in a watch shop with their elderly father until the Nazis invaded Holland. They soon became involved in the underground resistance, hiding Jews in a secret room above their shop. Ultimately, they were discovered and sent to prison and concentration camps. In The Hiding Place, Corrie tells their story.
While much of their story is grounded in their deep religious faith, non-religious readers will still appreciate the resilience, courage, and unending positivity they demonstrated in even the most dire circumstances.
I’m especially excited to learn about Privilege. That sounds like it’s right up my alley. Thanks for the recommendation.
I’ve been wanting to read Oona Out of Order, but it looks like it’s been falling flat for a lot of readers. It’s still on my audiobook TBR.
I’m glad to see your positive review of A Good Neighborhood. It’s a recent Book of the Month pick that I haven’t read yet. I hope to do so soon!
I’ve always loved The Hiding Place! I feel like that would be a good one to read now. And my library agreed to purchase Oona Out of Order for me, and I’m waiting for my hold to come in any day! I think many readers are in the same boat right now—nothing too heavy, nothing that requires too much concentration. I’ve been revisiting some old lighter reads I liked (liked The Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg) and trying out some new (to me) YA titles like Tell Me Three Things.
I’m always so thankful for books, but especially so now—what a gift to be able to escape, even if for ten minutes, into a different world.
I’m not sure if I would have loved Oona in print, but it was just right for me to listen to. Sometimes darker books work (I did listen to The Hiding Place), but usually they are lighter, not too complex, and have a small cast of characters. Tell Me Three Things was one that worked pretty well for me on audio.
Yes, thank goodness for books! My daughter has become obsessed with Percy Jackson since we’ve been off school and I’m definitely not complaining that she’s spent hours buried in a book 🙂
I had some similar thoughts on Why We Can’t Sleep. It was a little bleak in spots for me. I have A Good Neighborhood in my stack waiting. I’ve seen some pretty polarizing thoughts on this one so I’m definitely intrigued.
I hope A Good Neighborhood is a winner for you! I liked it, but I know it wasn’t for everyone.
The Hiding Place is one of my favorite books! You’re right: it’s heartbreaking but hopeful as well! My March books are linked in my name, if interested!
The ways that Corrie and Betsy found positivity and gratitude in such dire circumstances were definitely inspiring–especially right now.