Book Blog: March 2022 Favorites
It’s safe to say that spring is finally springing in Seattle, even though locals know this is Fake Spring and Second Winter will show up to trick us all.
It doesn’t matter the season — y’all know I’ll be reading! My health is getting a little better but I still don’t have the green-light to travel yet, so I’m enjoying more great books from the comfort of home — 17 of them this month!
March is also Women’s History Month, so I made sure to include some books by fantastic female authors!
Let’s get to it…
Beautiful Little Fools (Jillian Cantor): I can’t entirely put it into words, but I absolutely loved this book. I’m already a big fan of Cantor’s and how she takes known stories and tells them from different perspectives. In this case, she explores the major female characters of the Great Gatsby — Daisy, Jordan, Myrtle, and Myrtle’s sister Catherine — and their experiences in the well-known plot. It’s hard to fit a book like this into the universe without going too far afield or having it be a snooze-fest, but Cantor captures the set and scene beautifully and creates much more multifaceted female characters here. I’ll not get into some of the interesting takes on the story in case you haven’t read the original (if not, WHAT are you waiting for?) but suffice it to say that this engrossing, engaging book was a lovely journey back into Gatsby’s world.
And as a reminder, now that The Great Gatsby is out of copyright expect to see more spinoffs! I tried Nick — a very buzzy book at present — but it was pretty terrible (think Hemmingway but unreadable).
A Good Neighborhood (Therese Anne Fowler): I thought Fowler’s historical fiction was fantastic… but her contemporary fiction is EVEN BETTER. A Good Neighborhood is told from the perspective of the collective neighbors who witness the drama between two families with adjoining backyards — longtime residents Valerie Alston-Holt and son Xavier and new arrivals, the Whitmans, who razed an existing house to build a monstrosity, damaging Valerie’s beloved oak tree in the process. But this is no ordinary “neighbor drama” story — instead it’s about young love, race, dysfunctional families, and the decisions we make when we’re cornered. I didn’t se the ending coming until I did, and I’m still heartbroken about the whole thing.
A Line to Kill (Anthony Horowitz): The third in his genre-bending series, A Line to Kill follows the author (as himself) and Daniel Hawthorne, a retired detective, to a book festival on the island of Alderney, where they are promoting the first book in the series (and, as it will turn out, writing the third). This small island is welcoming a group of lesser-known authors to a festival, and as Horowitz and Hawthorne attend talks they notice tensions between locals and authors. Like a good Agatha Christie novel, the island is a closed system, so when a gruesome murder occurs the suspect list is already short. Horowitz writes really good mysteries — enough that one feels like one has a chance, but never predictable. You will certainly get a better feel for the characters if you start with the first two books (The Word is Murder is the first), but you’ll still be able to follow if you start here.
The Lost Apothecary (Sarah Penner): This book was a very engaging story told from three perspectives — Eliza and Nella in 1791 and Caroline in present day, all in London. Nella is an apothecary devoted to women, namely helping women poison the terrible men around them, and she meets 12-year-old Eliza who is sent to pick up one such poison. Meanwhile, present-day Caroline is on he 10-year-anniversary trip alone because her husband James is (was?) having an affair with a colleague, and this history buff is sucked into this story when she finds an empty apothecary jar on the banks of the Thames. Penner does a really nice job of blending history and character, and the language is super accessible and easy to read.
Appointment With Death: [Note: I sort of wanted to give it five stars for the character named Sarah, but I contained myself.]
Hercule Poirot is pulled into yet another murder investigation on a visit to the Holy Land, poor man. This story follows a pair of psychologists and an odd American family comprised of a mother and her adult children and stepchildren. Sarah King notices this odd family in Jerusalem and has compassion for how the hideous and bossy Mrs. Boynton bosses around her children. Unfortunately she encounters them again at Petra, but this time something wonderful happens — Mrs. Boynton is found dead. Everyone swears she was alive when they last talked to her, but Sarah knows the body temperature is consistent with an earlier time of death.
Tastes Like War (Grace M Cho): I heard Ms. Cho speak about her book in an NPR interview and was stuck by how she described the complex, beautiful, and challenging woman that was her mother, so I decided to read this book to learn more. I also was drawn to Koonja’s story because my grandmother’s husband was stationed in Korea for years and married first a Japanese and then a Korean wife, both much younger than he. I never had the opportunity to meet either of these women I had hoped to better understand my aunts, uncles, and cousins and what their experience could have been (like this family, they grew up in rural Washington State). I also enjoyed learning about Ms. Cho’s father as a man caught a many crossroads — given the arc of time when he lived, I can imagine he also experienced a lot of change. I also think it’s critical to read stories of people who are managing with or struggling with mental illness — to see them as whole people, not just as a diagnosis. I imagine that Grace’s mom was a pretty cool lady.
Let me add another note to this review, which is a first for me — the author’s brother, sister-in-law, and niece have all stated that this book is greatly exaggerated, falsified, and that it makes a mockery of their beloved mom and grandma. They are so upset about this that they negatively comment and sometimes harass 4- and 5-star reviewers on Goodreads (I proactively blocked them — because who needs that in their life?).
How does this change my read of the book? I’m not sure it does. I thought the people were all complicated individuals and I didn’t walk away with negative feelings about them. As in all families, especially where siblings were born many years apart, it’s likely that they experience different versions of their parents and their place of residence. Furthermore, I’m not sure how it is helped by yelling at random internet readers.
The publisher has released a statement that is supportive of the author.
Jane Austen at Home (Lucy Worsley): Now for something not at all controversial — Jane Austen — too long deceased to have very upset relatives.
“There’s a good explanation for why the Georgian age’s greatest novelist spends so much time in her letter discussing tea and sugar, and the finer details of the trimming of clothes. These were the things in their lives over which Jane and [her sister] Cassandra had control. Where the sisters should live was not their choice . . . . No wonder the letters devote so much attention to these matters.”
Worsely’s biography of Jane Austen was lovely, a wonderful blend of historical accounts, both Jane’s and those of her friends and family, as well as placing her experiences in context. Centered in teh different abodes that Jane occupied, we see much more than her writing, which was often done out of the gaze of others, but see her as a devoted daughter, sister, friend, and aunt. Any Janeite should read this book for a much deeper history of the author we love.
Sisters in Hate (Seyward Darby): This book was eye-opening in all of the worst ways. Darby does an incredible job surfacing the insidious nature of white nationalist women in the US, a group that is often overlooked when examining the impact of these movements on society. This book follows three white women, one who has left the movement and two who are still prominent and involved advocates for anti-PC, race-pride, tradwife life. It’s pretty shocking how disgusting the thoughts of these women are and how they use sweetness and sugar to put a pretty finish on reprehensible ideology.
The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America (Matt Kracht): This book was just the springtime levity that I needed as the birds are returning to our bird feeders in the front yard. Kracht, who seems to be a down-to-earth birder, humorously re-names common American birds (some of them quite NSFW), makes fun of birders, and generally gives you a chuckle.
So that is all, my friends. Don’t yell at other people on the internet — if you feel that urge, it’s time to step away from the keyboard and read a book, perhaps one of these.