A (big) week in my reading life.

It’s Sunday again already! At least for another hour…

I’ve had a big week for reading. I see that I was so busy reading I didn’t blog. At all. Whoops again. Someday I will get more consistent with this!

What I read this week:

The Blackhouse by Peter May Goodreads

Have you ever heard of ‘tartan noir?’ I hadn’t, until I needed a book to fit that description for a challenge. A little research brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did, as I probably never would have read it on my own. I loved it. The murder is gruesome (ickiest postmortem I’ve read for years), the detective character is very well developed, the backstory is rich, the mystery and secrets are perfectly laid out, the descriptions of the Scottish Isle of Lewis are vivid—the writing overall is fantastic. It’s dark, brutal and lovely, and I will read the others in the series. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang Goodreads

It’s hard to read about war atrocities, and even more difficult to look at images like those in this book, but it’s important to know. In 1937, over a period of 6 weeks, Imperial Japanese forces systematically tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilian men, women, and children. Anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 people were brutally raped. Horrifying subject matter; well-researched and written book. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo Goodreads

Lots of people are reading this book lately, and I think that is wonderful. I can’t say it better than Oluo: ‘How many lives have been ground up by racial prejudice and hate? How many opportunities have we already lost? Act and talk and learn and fuck up and learn some more and act again and do better. We have to do this all at once. We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society.’ Everyone needs to read this book, or, like me, listen to the audiobook, read by the fabulous Bahni Turpin. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Trial by Franz Kafka Goodreads

I read this book for a couple of reasons: it’s on the #1001Books list that I’m still slowly working through, and I needed a book related to the Czech Republic for a reading Europe challenge. I get what the book is about, and I understand what the point of it is. Kafka was clearly an excellent writer. I just didn’t like this story much… I didn’t like Josef or any of the other characters, and I really didn’t care what happened by the end. The book seemed to start very strong, but just sort of fizzled out and then ended abruptly. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak Goodreads

This was a quick, fun read that made me laugh out loud more than once. It’s 1987, and 14-year-old Billy and his two friends are determined to get their hands on the new Playboy with Vanna White. Ridiculous caper, computer geeking, some petty crime, teenage romance, and a multitude of 80s pop culture references ensue. In some ways this book was predictable, but it still managed to surprise me near the end. The teenage kids are a bunch of jerks, but that sort of makes it more realistic. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

The Dry by Jane Harper Goodreads

I read this series backwards… I actually had an ARC of Force of Nature from BOTM Readers Committee back in the day and loved it. This first book in the Aaron Falk series has been on my tbr ever since, and I loved it just as much. Falk is a great police detective hero: flawed but brilliant, not ridiculously Rambo, but still tough. Jane Harper is a fantastic mystery writer, and this is a thrilling book. I listened to the audiobook in one day, so there’s that. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman Goodreads

This was such an amazing reading experience for me. First, the book is fantastic and has quickly become one of my favorites of the year. Heartbreaking, funny, beautiful, and weird. Hoffman’s writing is so good. I cried and I laughed and I didn’t want it to end. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Second, this book came to me as part of a postal book club, and the sender enhanced my reading by carefully preparing and numbering a bunch of perfectly themed gifts for me to open as I went through the book. I read about flies in Florida and opened a flyswatter, I read about oranges and opened some orange tea… so much fun!

All of my fun book-themed goodies!

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz Goodreads

If you need more toxic internet drama in your life, pop over to Goodreads for the nasty reviews of this book by people who never read it, but are self-appointed defenders of the canon and Alcott’s intentions. I’m in the minority: I didn’t like the way things shook out in Little Women, and I read it as an adult. This book is well-written and feels very much like reading Alcott, to the point that I was annoyed by some of the same stuff as when I read LW. It lagged a bit in the middle, and I wanted to shake Jo and Laurie at times, just like in the original. The difference? This sweet retelling has the ending I wanted, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

So that was my week in living bookishly. Not too shabby!

Sunday Sum-Up: extra long 2 weeks in my reading life

…because I failed to post last Sunday, this will be like one of those special double issues of EW magazine. Only not really. I almost didn’t get this posted this week, either. Who goes prom dress shopping at the end of June? Apparently, my daughter and I do. I’m still not comfortable with this prom happening at all (hello, we are still having a pandemic?) but… ugh.

But I came here to talk books and stuff!

Books I finished:

The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes by Suzanne Collins Goodreads

I went in to this knowing full well that it was a villain origin story (of sorts) for evil President Snow. As such, I did not expect to like the main character. I didn’t have the problems with pacing that I’ve seen mentioned in other reviews, but then again, I listened to the audiobook at 2x speed. 😂The writing is good. I loved seeing the origins of the games and the songs and the generations that came before. You know how Snow was an irredeemable sociopath in The Hunger Games? Turns out, he was always an irredeemable sociopath. I suspect some readers may have come to this book hoping for something in his origins to make him a sympathetic character… those people would be disappointed. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver Goodreads

A couple of years ago, this book came to me in a postal book club at apparently the wrong time: I started it and pretty much immediately closed it. Since then, I’ve read 4 Kingsolver novels and became a major fan, so this was my choice for a book about food for #ReadingWomen challenge. I loved it. Yes, it’s a bit pretentious at times, and for a lot of us, the steps that this family took to be locavores don’t seem very realistic at first. BUT, for someone like me who grew up on an Iowa farm, helped harvest chickens as a kid, and still benefits from a large scale garden every summer, yet doesn’t make too much of a conscious effort to eat locally outside of that garden, the book was inspiring. There are a LOT more things I could do to make sure our food is more locally and responsibly farmed. I love the authors narration and, as always, her style. I’m getting a paper copy to reference! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I absolutely loved this book, and highly recommend the audio read by Mr. Richard Armitage. My full review was here on the blog. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts

From the ‘why-did-I-leave-this-book-sit-so-long’ files… this historical fiction about a girl born and raised in the asylum where her mentally ill mother was locked up is now one of the best books I’ve read this year. I’ve read a lot of books this year. Full review is here on the blog. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Torture Letters by Laurence Ralph Goodreads

This is a powerful, stark piece that goes beyond the police violence that we see on all of those horrifying cell phone videos to the illegal torture of countless human beings by the Chicago police, which was an open secret for years. It’s tragic, hard to read, and infuriating, but this is something everyone should learn about. It’s certainly not isolated to Chicago. The militarization of the police should be terrifying and appalling to all of us. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Once More Unto the Breach by Meghan Holloway

After reading a lot of WWII historical fiction a few years ago, I took a break. This book was a great one to come back to the genre. So, so good! Full review is here on the blog. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby Goodreads

Perfection. Hornby’s writing is very Austenesque, so reading this fictionalized tale about Jane’s beloved sister, Cassandra, late in her life working to shape Jane’s legacy feels a lot like reading an Austen novel. It’s witty, charming, and beautiful. I loved the jumps (via letters) back Cassandra and Jane’s earlier days, and was moved to tears more than once. Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio, and she’s one of the very best. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix Goodreads

Another Hendrix book I loved. This book is funny, campy, a little bit scary, and very dark. 90s southern housewives go from ridiculously irritating to pretty badass, and I’m here for it. The novel touches on sexism and racism as well, which was unexpected but handled well. Hendrix takes fairly goofy plot lines, adds lots of 80s/90s references, and rounds it all out with great characters. Audio read by the great Bahni Turpin is awesome! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen Goodreads

Both of my lovelies

It felt weird to put these two gorgeous editions back on the shelf on Friday, after 50 days reading with the #PemberLittens group on Litsy. I enjoyed this reread, and really think that taking it slow with a group reading just one chapter per day helped me catch a lot of things I missed the first time. While this is still not my favorite Austen, I do so love her wit and fantastic writing, and the way she gets right to the heart of the human character. Still relatable, 200 years later. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Princess by Jean Sasson Goodreads

I honestly had to keep checking to make sure I was reading the same book that is so highly rated on GR and Litsy. The writing is just… bad. Apparently the true story of a Saudi princess, but all names are changed. Not an autobiography as the story was told to/written (badly) by Sasson. Sultana seems unreal and out of touch to me. There are much better sources if you want to learn about the atrocities faced by women in Saudi Arabia. I’m not sure if I believe this is true or not, and I had a hard time feeling much for Sultana. Yes, she’s a woman in Saudi Arabia with all of the horrors that entails, but she’s also a very privileged, very rich woman who does a lot of questionable stuff throughout this book. I don’t dislike the book because of the underlying subject matter (that’s why I picked it), and have read extensively on women in the Middle East. It’s just… not good. ⭐️⭐️

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge Goodreads

A cute, slightly typical contemporary romance that I bet would be enjoyed by any fan of the genre. The added bonus for me was that it’s a modern-day retelling of Sense & Sensibility, and it’s actually really well done! I didn’t think this Austen story would translate easily to our time, but the author has pulled it off quite nicely. Bonus: recipes! ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

I think that catches me up. On to another week of reading… the good thing about having spent a ridiculous sum on a prom dress today is that I won’t be tempted to buy more books this week. Bright side!