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Book reviews of The Next Thing You Know by Jessica Strawser, Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby, French Braid by Anne Tyler, The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth, and The Treeline: The Last Forest and The Future of Life on Earth by Ben Rawlence.
So many great books this month! I finally moved on in my audiobook listening–as I mentioned last month, I was stuck on Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise.
My latest audiobook listen maybe wasn’t the best choice for a gripping follow-up to get back into it, but it WAS worth the listen.
My reading challenge is going well–books from my shelf are always a good choice, and I love making time for the Book of the Month selections that I know I want to read. This month’s was particularly good.
What have you been reading lately?
Nova is an end-of-life doula. As people face their deaths, she supports them in whatever ways they need–emotional, logistical, and even spiritual. She specializes in unusual or difficult cases, often with younger clients. As she begins work with Mason Shaylor, a musician whose affliction is a bit unclear and who has only said that his life is over, she feels a connection that is both uncomfortable and life-affirming–for them both.
Strawser takes on the subjects of life death head-on–how we face it, how we choose to live, and what makes a life worth living. The role of an end-of-life doula is fascinating–if ripe for controversy, as the novel reveals. As you might guess, there is a lot of sadness in this novel, but also a lot to think about.
Ike and Buddy Lee are two ex-cons with a mission: find who killed their sons and get revenge. They are an unlikely pair; Ike is a Black man on the straight-and-narrow for 15 years, while Buddy is a white redneck who is rarely sober for a full day. Their sons, Isiah and Derek, were married to one another, with a young daughter that Ike and his wife are now raising. Both fathers struggled to accept their sons, but both are grieving hard following their deaths.
The men are determined to make up for their failures in their sons’ lives, in the only ways they know. Their search for the killer leads them back into the violent world they left behind–and they slip back in comfortably. Cosby has created two unforgettable characters and a fantastic relationship between them, which is the real driver of this book. They could easily have been drawn as endearing men who simply made past mistakes, but the gruesome and cavalier violence in this book makes it clear: they are hardened criminals who did then, and will do now, whatever it takes to fulfill their end.
The story is gripping (though I guessed many of the reveals), the violence is gruesome (it truly bears repeating), but Ike and Buddy Lee’s relationship and journey will stay with you. Highly recommended.
To follow the rug metaphor on the lovely cover of this book, Anne Tyler excels at quietly unraveling the threads that bind families together–and finding the small tears that leave rips in the binding for decades. The Garrett family is somewhat unremarkable; Alice, Lily, and David are the children with little in common. Mercy is their distracted, artistic mother, and her husband, Robin, is blissfully unaware of most of the family’s deeply held desires.
From an early family vacation in the 1950s through the start of COVID, French Braid examines how families know–and don’t know–one another, and how they manage to create lives together and separately. There’s little action here, but it’s a good choice for a character-driven novel that’s a fast and easy read.
When Tully and Rachel’s father, Stephen, announces that he is engaged to Heather–a woman younger than both of them–they are perplexed. Stephen is still married to their mother, who suffers from dementia but is very much alive. They are suspicious of Heather, but willing to give her a chance to support their father.
As the wedding draws near, cracks begin to show that leave Tully, Rachel, and Heather questioning everything they think they know–about themselves, their pasts, and their futures. And the only person who can provide clarity often doesn’t remember who she is.
This was a riveting and sometimes disturbing read. The tension isn’t in the action, but in the manipulation and uncertainty that underly every interaction. It’s well done and all-too-realistic.
“The world is in the grip of unprecedented change. The planet you think you live on no longer exists.”
If you share my interest in the complex role of trees in the ecological community, as well as in climate change, I highly recommend Rawlence’s deep dive into the boreal forests of the north. In his investigative journey, he travels to the treelines of places such as Norway, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland to examine six hardy tree species and how the world is changing on the edges.
It’s a fascinating examination of the intricacies of nature, and what you think you know is often turned on its head. Expanding forests in the north may sound like a good thing–more trees!–but the shift in climate that wrought the change has devastating cascading effects at the treelines, through the forests, in the economy, and even in the oceans.
The amount of information here is truly overwhelming–and Rawlence weaves it all into a riveting narrative that combines science with local lore and tradition. The climate predictions across the board are dire, and while this book provides little in the way of solutions or even hope, the hope there is lies in the long-proven adaptability and ingenuity of the forests.