Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – May 2019

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It’s been an up-and-down month for my reading. One of my books hit it out of the park and will likely be one of my best of the year, while some of the others were just okay.

I’ve mentioned before that this time of year is exceptionally busy, and it’s been hard to find time and focus for reading–an unusual thing for me.

This has been especially true when reading books that haven’t hooked me from the start. I’m hopeful that some of my May reads will pull me out of this mini reading slump and prove to be winners.

I am definitely in the market for some lighter, beachy reads and am looking forward to summer reading guides to point me in the right direction.

Both Sarah’s Book Shelves and Modern Mrs. Darcy put out excellent summer reading guides each year, and both are coming soon.

And, if you missed it, I joined Sarah on her podcast last week to talk about reading and blogging as moms, and of course, books. Go listen!

May 2019 Book Reviews

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do: A Novel

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do: A Novel

Author: Pete Fromm
Source: Publisher (Counterpoint) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: May 7, 2019

Taz and Marnie are just starting their lives together, working on their fixer-upper in Montana and anticipating the birth of their first child. When Marnie dies in childbirth, Taz is consumed by grief–and left to raise his newborn daughter without her mother. Taz struggles to navigate a world he no longer recognizes, controlled by the needs of the baby, floating through a fog of exhaustion, love, and hopelessness.

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do follows Taz’s first two years with his daughter, supported by a small cast of characters who support, push, back away, and push again in a uniquely stoic, Montana way.

Fromm’s writing is emotionally resonant; expansive when it needs to be, but sometimes staccato and sharp. Reading it feels like grieving, while fighting debilitating exhaustion. This small story brought me to tears more than once–something that doesn’t happen often. This is a “gut-punch,” five-star book; I haven’t heard much buzz about it, but I hope other readers will discover it and love it as much as I did.

More info →

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Related: 11 Poignant Books About Grief and Loss

The Farm: A Novel

The Farm: A Novel

Author: Joanne Ramos
Source: Publisher (Random House Publishing Group) via Netgalley
Publish Date: May 7, 2019

I’ve seen The Farm billed as a dystopian novel, but everything about it seemed entirely plausible. The women at Golden Oaks are treated to the best of everything–comfort, relaxation, health care–and they are also monitored carefully, and not allowed to leave for the duration of their pregnancies. The richest of the rich have paid for them to be surrogates, and those clients now control them.

Jane decided to be a surrogate to give her young daughter a chance at a better life. She is one of many immigrant women at The Farm, and she soon finds that the administrators use access to her daughter as a means to control her. She grows increasingly desperate to regain control and ownership over her own life and body.

The premise of this book was intriguing, and I found the story and characters engaging. Something, however, seemed to be missing that might have tipped this from “good” to “great.” The stakes often didn’t feel quite high enough for this to be as scary-speculative as it was intended. Nonetheless, while this lacked the unputdownable factor I’d hoped for, the unique setting managed to encapsulate timely issues including immigration, women’s agency over their own bodies, and the power of the uber-rich.

More info →

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Where the Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Exile, Loss, and Return

Where the Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Exile, Loss, and Return

Author: Margaret McMullan
Source: Author agent
Publish Date: May 1, 2019

On a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Margaret McMullan learns of a relative who was killed during the Holocaust. Little record of him exists, and the archivist presses her: “You are responsible now. You must remember him to honor him.” And thus begins McMullan’s mission to unearth Richard’s story, to complete his record at the museum.

She and her family travel to Hungary on a Fulbright, and there she researches the Engel de Janosi family, her relatives who were prosperous prior to World War II. She also uncovers Hungary’s shameful role in the Holocaust, and in the deaths of Richard and so many others.

As with any family history, I found it a little difficult to track the many names and relations of the people McMullan found in her research. My interest returned each time she refocused on Richard.

The question she was asked and that will be one for many readers–why Richard? why was he special?–was one of the reasons I admired her tenacity in pursuing him. He seemed quiet, unassuming, unremarkable, but he lived. And he was killed. In her research, she learned more about the man he may have been and that he wasn’t as unremarkable as he may have seemed.

Millions of individuals were killed during the Holocaust, and many of their stories were lost. But one man’s story was not.

More info →

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Rules for Visiting: A Novel

Rules for Visiting: A Novel

Author: Jessica Francis Kane
Source: Publisher (Penguin Press) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: May 14, 2019

When introverted May, a gardener at the local university, is granted some extra time off, she decides to reconnect with some old friends–in person. She makes plans to visit them, and hopes to rekindle their closeness and her own dedication to the friendships.

May is a relatable character, especially for introverts, and I wonder if I would have liked this better if I’d read it at a different time–many reviewers on Goodreads seemed to love it. The beginning was slow and meandering, and I almost gave up.

May does come into sharper focus when she finally makes her visiting plans, and I enjoyed those parts of the book–she is a nice, quietly quirky houseguest. Sadly, most of the other characters blended together. While I’m always looking for good books about friendship, this one just didn’t deliver for me.

More info →

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Audiobooks

The Garden of Small Beginnings

The Garden of Small Beginnings

Author: Abbi Waxman
Genre: Fiction
Tag: Audiobooks

Lilian Girvan is still grieving her husband, who died in a car accident three years ago. Her life is full with her two young daughters, her job as an illustrator, and her sister, who helps keep everything on track.

When her job requires her to take a gardening class to illustrate a book, she thinks it will be a fun activity for all of them. She doesn’t count on a class full of quirky people who become unlikely friends–and an intriguing instructor who makes her wonder if she might be ready to date again.

This audiobook hit my sweet spot for audio fiction–light, easy to listen to, a little funny, and a fast-moving story. I’ll definitely seek out more Abbi Waxman on audio.

More info →

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The Opposite of Everyone

The Opposite of Everyone

Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Genre: Fiction
Tag: Audiobooks

On the surface, Paula Vauss appears to have it all together. She is a successful divorce attorney and tough as nails. What no one knows is her history as a foster kid–and that she put herself there and continues to pay the debt to her flighty mother Kai for landing her in jail.

When the check comes back one day, and soon after a young man shows up claiming to be her brother, Paula goes on a search for her mother with the help of her favorite private investigator.

Joshilyn Jackson usually strikes just the right tone for me on audiobooks and her narration is fantastic. I enjoyed most of this story, but it didn’t quite live up to others of Jackson’s that I’ve enjoyed. The only parts that didn’t work for me were Kai’s Hindu stories that she told Paula throughout her childhood–I completely tuned them out and likely missed some connections to the whole. Nonetheless, I will continue to return to Jackson as both narrator and author when I’m looking for great audiobooks.

More info →

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DNFs

America Was Hard to Find: A Novel

America Was Hard to Find: A Novel

Author: Kathleen Alcott
Source: Publisher (Ecco) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: May 14, 2019

I’ve seen some positive reviews of this book an astronaut and an activist who have a brief affair during the volatile 60s, but I just could not get into it. I didn’t care about the characters or their history together. Right now especially, I’m wondering if this was the wrong book at the wrong time; I’ll be curious to see reviews if others read it.

More info →

Buy from Amazon

What books have you read and loved lately?

New 2019 Books - May Reviews, including The Farm, A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do, Rules for Visiting, and Where the Angels Lived.

Books to Read - May 2019 Reviews. Books include A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do, The Farm, Where the Angels Lived, Rules for Visiting, The Garden of Small Beginnings, and The Opposite of Everyone.

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4 Comments

  1. The Farm sounds just like a book I read last year called A House for Happy Mothers, except the surrogate house is in India and the mother is in America. It was a little bit lacking for me too. I listened to the podcast episode you were on. It was so cool to put a voice with the words you write. I always pictured you sounding different! A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do sounds really good. I’ll have to check it out!

    1. That’s so funny–now I’m curious how you imagined I’d sound! I’ve had the same reaction with other bloggers. Their voices sound different in my head when I’m reading their writing!
      And listening to myself is weird, too. My daughter heard herself on a video the other day and the first things she did was look at me, totally confused, and ask why she sounded so different 🙂

  2. Oh my gosh, we are on the exact same page about Rules for Visiting! I was so looking forward to it, but it went nowhere! And I se all the stars on Goodreads and I don’t get so I was wondering if it was me as well. Do you think our moves are messing with our ability to read slower fiction right now? Because I have zero patience!

    1. Yes! I think it is getting to me for sure. But even if I had more patience, I still have trouble understanding the high ratings. It wasn’t bad–there were things I liked about it–but the first 30-40% could have been cut with no loss to the main story.

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