Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – August 2021

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August 2021 book reviews of new and backlist books for summer reading, including Rock the Boat, Sugar Birds, Happy Hour, The Lost Apothecary, Nothing to See Here, and The Light We Lost.

Reading this past month has been a mixed bag, with the couple of print books I read standing out as winners.

I tend to listen to more audiobooks in the summer as I spend time doing outdoor chores, and while I enjoyed listening to all of these, I also felt ambivalent about some of them.

This past month also marked my first real travel since the start of the pandemic, and the chance to see some family and friends I hadn’t seen in way too long.

I didn’t do much reading on the trip, but I definitely appreciated getting away. I don’t know about you, but I’ve taken very little time away from work over the past year and a half.

With not much else to do, so many of us have just… kept… working. I know I was happy to have a break.

Anyway, on to the books!

Print

Rock the Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein

Rock the Boat

Author: Beck Dorey-Stein
Source: The Dial Press via Netgalley
Publish Date: June 29, 2021

Three 30-somethings reunite in their New Jersey hometown on the beach after years apart. Kate’s boyfriend broke up with her and she wants him back, while Miles wants to prove to his mother that he can take over the family business. Ziggy never left, but he is in deep mourning for his father, who recently passed and left a hole in his life and the entire community. He is trying to keep their plumbing business afloat.

I enjoyed this beachy read with complicated, flawed, not always likable characters. This is Dorey-Stein’s fiction debut–she first made a splash with her memoir of her years as a stenographer in the Obama White House.

Dorey-Stein has a very metaphor-heavy style that slows the pace a bit (though many are GREAT metaphors), but she has a wonderfully irreverent voice and excels at building a sense of place–by the end, I felt like I knew this town inside out. I think she’s still finding her footing as a fiction writer, but I’ll continue to read what she puts out–I think there are great things to come. 4 stars

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Sugar Birds by Cheryl Grey Bostrom

Sugar Birds

Author: Cheryl Grey Bostrom
Source: She Writes Press via Netgalley
Publish Date: August 3, 2021

In Washington State in the 1980s, Aggie is a ten-year-old who loves birds. She climbs the highest trees to peek at the birds and their eggs. But after a fight with her mother about her climbing, she lights a fire that ends in tragedy–and she flees into the woods.

Celia, 16 and angry at being left with her grandmother for a few months, joins the search for Aggie. Her anger turns to intrigue as she gets to know Aggie’s autistic brother, Burnaby, and the charismatic Cabot, a local farm worker. She feels a kinship with Aggie and slowly gains her trust, just as her own relationship turns dangerous.

This was a fantastic eco-fiction novel with three unforgettable characters, each brilliant and sensitive in their own ways. I loved their bonds and their ties to the Washington landscape. 5 stars

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Audiobooks

Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados

Happy Hour

Author: Marlowe Granados
Source: ECW Press Audio via Netgalley
Publish Date: September 7, 2021

Happy Hour follows 21-year-olds Isa and Gala–as told by Isa–through their 2013 summer of socializing and surviving in New York City. Of questionable immigration status, they work under the table and wine and dine with New York’s upwardly mobile–always on the hunt for their next meal, opportunity, and contact.

The girls’ outwardly vapid pursuits sharply contrast with Isa’s occasional biting and thoughtful social commentary–added just often enough to prompt me to continue listening. Further complicating the contrast was the Valley girl lilt of the narrator. It all made Isa and the overall arc a little hard to pin down. This is clever, but I think it will be most appreciated by people familiar with NYC social climbers. 3 stars

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner
Source: Library
Publish Date: March 2, 2021

In present-day London, Caroline is visiting from the United States and finds an intriguing vial while “mudlarking” in the Thames. A history lover, she researches it and learns it may have belonged to an apothecary from centuries before–one who didn’t just heal.

In 1791, Nella helps women find freedom from men who ruin their lives–but she does it in the darkest of ways. When 12-year-old Eliza finds herself in Nella’s shop, she is intrigued by her work. Their collaboration could jeopardize not only themselves but also all of the women Nella has helped.

This was a fascinating premise and I enjoyed the path of the stories–especially the one in 1791. A few elements that seemed a little hastily done and didn’t quite ring true took me out of the story, which knocked this down a bit for me. 3 stars

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Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Nothing to See Here

Author: Kevin Wilson
Source: Library
Publish Date: October 29, 2019

Lillian feels like her life is going nowhere, so when Madison, her rich former school roommate, asks Lillian to take charge of her stepkids, she decides to give it a shot. There’s one catch: the 10-year-old twins catch fire when they get emotional.

Lillian is just looking for a change, but she’s surprised by the connection she feels with Bessie and Roland. The over-the-top premise cloaks an amusing and heartwarming story–excellent on audio. 4 stars

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The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

The Light We Lost

Author: Jill Santopolo
Source: Library
Publish Date: May 9, 2017

Lucy and Gabe meet in college, brought together in the chaos of 9/11. A year after this meeting, they come together again and fall in love. But what brought them together also separates them, when Gabe decides to go to the Middle East as a photojournalist. The two follow different paths that sometimes intersect over the years, even as Lucy gets married and has children. This novel is Lucy reflecting on their years together and apart before she makes one final decision.

This was an emotional listen–especially with the backdrop of 9/11 and all that came after. However, the characters were often so frustrating and unlikable that it took away from the emotional resonance of their story. Mixed feelings on this, but I did want to keep listening, so… 3.5 stars

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