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Yes, there’s still a week to go in November, but with Thanksgiving only a few days away, and special end-of-year posts filling December, it seems like the perfect day to share the book reviews I’ve yet to share this month. I may finish another book or two before the end of the month, but who knows. (I just started listening to Barak Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land and at 29+ hours, I KNOW I won’t finish it this month.) Most of my November reading time has been spent with books I missed earlier in the year. I’m happy to be sharing some very brief thoughts on those today. Of the six books I’m covering, three I can highly recommend, one I thoroughly disliked and the last two were good enough to entertain.
One bit of exciting news! Be sure to download Sarah’s Book Shelves Live! Podcast on Wednesday where I’ll be her guest for a 2020 Year-End Special episode. We’ll be talking all things 2020 books, including those we loved, a few we didn’t, and some fun superlative categories. And finally, may everyone have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving, even if it’s like none you’ve ever had.
Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: November 17, 2020
Length: 288 pages
My Thoughts: Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan is a book that I’m still struggling to figure out how I really feel about three weeks after finishing it. This is the story of an affair and the woman who can’t seem to let go even after her lover has died. Ana is an estate attorney and also happens to be the executor of her dead lover’s will, putting her in contact with his wife and children. Throughout the book Ana looks back on their turbulent relationship, as she also tries to make inroads with his wife, who knows nothing.
While I liked hearing about an affair from the inside, with its struggles, secrets and shame, the story itself was very disjointed. It jumped around a lot and sometimes I’d need to do a double take to figure out where we were in time. I think this was a combination of the writing and awkward formatting on the ARC. Both took a bit away from the story, but I liked that it moved fast and I think what Crossan was trying to do in presenting a “widow” who wasn’t the widow was both thought provoking and sad. I’m glad I read it! Grade: B-
Note: I received a copy of this book from Little, Brown and Company (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Blacktop Wasteland by C.A. Cosby
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Length: 304 pages
My Thoughts: So many of my book loving friends loved Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby that I just knew I would, too. I didn’t. At all. For me, this story of a “nice guy,” who just can’t catch a break, so turns to crime to solve his money flow problems just didn’t work. It was like when it’s your husband’s turn to pick the movie and you end up spending two hours watching a bunch of guys making bad, unreasonable decisions, and then chasing each other around in cars the rest of time. You know how that is? You just want to take a little nap and hope the movie is over when you wake up. That was Blacktop Wasteland for me. Enough said! Grade: C-
Note: I received a copy of this book from Flatiron Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Length: 288 pages
My Thoughts: This whole year has been insane, but the spring just might have been the worst in terms of being just a little lost. So, somehow in the midst of trying to keep my head from exploding, I missed Sea Wife by Amity Gaige. Happily, I rectified that error this month as I flew through this story of a depressed mother, stormy marriage, an adventure at sea. Juliet has struggled for years to complete her PhD, to find her footing as an adult, to feel sustained joy in her children, and know if she still loves her husband. At the same time, her husband Michael feels a longing for escape and proposes he leave his job, they buy a sailboat and take a year off from their lives to sail the waters off of South America. With reluctance, Juliet agrees.
I loved how this story unfolded between Michael’s Captain’s Log and Juliet’s backward look at their life-changing journey. Within Juliet’s narration hints were dropped, propelling the story and raising my desire to discover just what happened at sea. Sea Wife was so much more than I expected in all the best possible ways. My one caveat would be the very last part of the book, which to me was unnecessary and left me a bit baffled. Still, it ranks as a favorite this year. Grade: B+
“Can you talk your love away? Because I love her & I think somewhere she still loves me. The truth is, we just can’t get the timing right. We can’t seem to love each other in the same way at the same time.”
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London (debut)
Publisher: The Dial Press
Release Date: July 7, 2020
Length: 417 pages
My Thoughts: I can’t lie. I’m a fan of reality TV, including The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. One to Watch by debut author Kate Stayman-London follows Bea, a plus-size influencer, as she embarks on breaking new ground as the first woman above a size 4 on such a show. Bea reluctantly agrees to star on Main Squeeze, baring her soul and body in the process. On the one hand she wants to set a good example and empower the many women built like her, but on the other hand she’s terrified, knowing just how cruel the public can be to fat women. She agrees to do it, not for love, but for the exposure that will help to build her brand.
I thoroughly enjoyed One to Watch, flying through its 400+ pages in only a few days. It was fun to get an inside look at just how staged these shows really are, and at the same time be led to truly consider the issue of fat-shaming that is all to prevalent in our country. I though Stayman-London found a perfect balance of the two, and also threw in some hot men, travel, drama, fun and even a little love, just like real reality TV! Grade: A-
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
Narrators: Greta Jung and Glenn Davis
Publisher: Ecco (HarperAudio)
Release Date: October 15, 2019 (9 hrs. 50 min.)
Length: 320 pages
My Thoughts: Set in Los Angeles, Your House Will Pay tells the story of two shootings, one in 1991 (taking place just weeks after the Rodney King police beating), and the other in 2019. The shootings bind together two families, one Korean the other Black. The years between bring many things: births, deaths, prosperity, prison terms, love, fear, shame, hate, forgiveness.
“But they were serious kids, kids with short childhoods, the privilege of innocence behind them. They spoke the language of life and death, and they acted like that made them unafraid.”
Loosely based on the shooting of a 15-year old Black girl by a convenience store worker, Steph Cha took that sad story and placed it in a larger context. She imagined what might happen to the two families involved, the victim’s and the shooter’s, as time moved forward. Hers a story that could happen anywhere, but at the same time is so uniquely Los Angeles that those of us who know that city, feel how real this story is. I’m not sure how I missed Your House Will Pay last fall, but am so glad I listened this year. Told in dual timelines, alternately narrated by Greta Jung and Glenn Davis (both amazing!), this is an audiobook I’m delighted to recommend. Grade: A-
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Narrator: Ell Potter
Publisher: Knopf (Random House Audio)
Release Date: July 21, 2020 (12 hrs. 42 min.)
Length: 320 pages
My Thoughts: Recently, I finished listening to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, a 2020 book I originally had little interest in. O’Farrell is a favorite of mine, but Shakespeare generally is not, making this an easy book for me to pass on. Then, I started seeing more and more glowing reviews and my interest was piqued. By the time my Libby hold finally came through I was eager to listen.
O’Farrell’s fascination with the story behind Shakespeare’s Hamlet led her to tell this story of his family and the loss of his son, Hamnet. Though Shakespeare, appears in the story, it’s truly about his wife, Agnes, and his twins, Hamnet and Judith. From the beginning the reader knows Hamnet will not survive, but the story dives into much more than that. It’s about the make up of his family, the determination of his wife and the way grief can ravage a family. All that said, for me the story was just okay. I think it might have worked better in print, but on audio, I had a hard time feeling very invested in their lives. It felt long and drawn out with the same sort of themes (particularly around Agnes) repeated too often. Still, I admire O’Farrell’s breadth of works and look forward to whatever she does next. Grade: B-
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