Book Reviews

I hit a wall with my fast pace of reading at the end of 2020 and have not made nearly as much time for reading this year. But while reading at a slower pace, I still enjoyed a number of books in the last eight months.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (2020, Fiction/Horror). I don’t like horror, but this book sucked me in and by the time it got gorey (spoiler alert: there’s quite a bit of gore), there was no turning back. Set in the 1950s in Mexico, it follows the story of Noemi Taboada to provide her cousin company at her gloomy, trapped-in-time home at High Place. This book gives off the writing style and feelings of Wuthering Heights. Noemi uses her charm and smarts to earn the trust of the family’s youngest son living at High Place in order to unravel the secrets of the home that holds its inhabitants captive.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. (2017, Non-Fiction/Essays). This long form essay was written shortly into the early years of the Trump Administration. It highlights things that informed citizens should be watchful of while reminding readers of the slow tread toward fascism in Nazi Germany in the early 20th Century. This was an interesting read right before the 2020 election and offers an historic outlook on our not so distant history and how we should be cautious of not repeating it.

True Colors by Kristin Hannah. (2009, Fiction/Chick Lit). My mother-in-law shared this book with me knowing that I had enjoyed The Great Alone as much as I had. This book is one of Hannah’s earlier works and was far more in the vein of chick lit. It followed the life of three sisters remaining in their hometown where they grew up, navigating the difficulties of marriage, dating and family dynamics with their strong willed father. The book was an easy, light read for the most part – but it did have some troubling elements of featuring an indigenous member of the community in a poor light. This character’s storyline really seemed to only serve the purpose of creating a hero arc for the main character, Winona.

Endless Bloom: Planting Emotional Intelligence for Positive Growth by Bill Marklein. (2020, Non-Fiction / Self Help). This book was actually written by a professional colleague I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a number of years in Northeast Wisconsin. Bill speaks to organizations and companies about building emotionally intelligent leaders and workplace cultures. His first book (he has now written two more) teaches lessons to students from the perspective of a kindly professor facing a terminal illness. It’s a short read, but impactful, and plants seeds of wisdom on how to live more intentionally and mindfully of those around us.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. (2007, Fiction / YA). This youth read was an absolute gem that ages well even if you first enjoy it as an adult reader. The Wednesday Wars follows Holling Hoodhood, an impressionable seventh grader who is convinced that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, is bent on ruining his life. He has to spend Wednesday afternoons in one-on-one sessions with her because he does not attend the Catholic religious education programs at that time like the rest of his classmates. Holling faces trouble with girls, a disgruntled older teenage sister and a father who is never happy nor pays enough attention to his son. Mrs. Baker slowly builds a relationship with Holling through reading Shakespeare. The storyline follows the hilarious adventures of the world through the eyes of a 13-year old boy (from baseball heroes to embarrassing onstage debuts in yellow tights). This was a charming read and one of my favorites from last year.

Things in Jars by Jess Kid. (2020, Historical Fiction / Mystery). This audio book was a perfect spooky listen for a long car ride (driving 5 hours each way from Nashville to my parents’ house in Kentucky, plus a plane ride to Nashville). It follows female detective Birdie Devine as she investigates the kidnapping of Christabel, a secret child of a wealthy estate owner, in Victorian England. The child allegedly has supernatural powers (hence the secrecy) and the father is willing to provide scarce details to Birdie to aide her in solving the mystery. Birdie has the ability to see and speak with a spirit and is accompanied by her 7′ housemaid (they are sort of an uncanny duo). Through Birdie’s innate ability to build trust in relationships and gain information from others, she gains insight into the possible kidnappers and whereabouts of Christabel. This book was dark, a bit spooky, and had excellent narration on the audio version.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. (2018, Fiction). I cannot wait to see the movie version of this book, the audio version was compelling enough! Nine complete strangers gather at an isolated health resort for a ten day health and wellness reset. They imagine this to be a spa-service filled treatment with health food, light exercise, meditation, relaxation and the like. After handing over their phones, the nine attendees learn that this is more of an experimental isolation treatment with extreme techniques such as prolonged fasting, vows of silence, etc. The strangers grow close through the ten days of deprivation and challenge and each find answers to the problems that drew them to the resort in the first place. Told from the nine different perspectives of the attendees and the perspectives of some of the health resort employees, you would think the story would be difficult to follow. This method of story telling actually builds a more compelling narrative and has you rooting for the various characters once you understand their complex emotions and motivations.

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