30 September 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Traveling the World through Books

Happy almost October. I am so ready for sweater weather and hearty dinners. Although the temperatures still say summer, the leaves are starting to change, and I feel the hints of fall.

I had an unexpectedly busy September, which has really eaten into my blogging time. I don't seem to have the energy to write reviews or spotlights after a long day. It's a dilemma because I have a ton of great books to talk about in October. I'm hoping to up my game either here or on Instagram or Litsy. We'll see how I do.

We haven't been watching too much on television. We're about halfway done with Ken Burns's series on country music. Even if you aren't a country music fan (I'm not either), it's a fascinating documentary of America and the music industry.

Here's what I've read and listened to in the last two weeks.

Review of Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini BajpaiMatch Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai (Little, Brown YR, Sept. 10): This is a fun, light contemporary novel about a first-generation Punjabi American teen who dreams of being an artist. Simi, however, is pressured to follow the path of generations of women in her family and become a professional matchmaker. With help from her older brother (who's a whiz at coding) and relying on the matchmaking wisdom she's learned from her mother, aunt, and grandmother, Simi decides to take the family business into the twenty-first century. She and her best friend, Noah, devise a dating app that's geared specifically to the kids in their high school. As Simi and Noah (who's gay) help others find their soulmates, their popularity increases, until the coolest girl in the class is upset that she wasn't matched with the coolest guy. When Amanda begins her defamation plan, Simi and Noah have a whole new set of problems, some of which test their long friendship. Great themes of staying true to oneself, being honest, friendship, family, young love, and finding balance between family traditions and the modern age. Simi and Noah's relationship is believable, as are the plot lines of young love. Simi's family life and the differences between the generations also rings true. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 7 hr, 2 min) was well read by Priya Ayyar, who smoothly transitioned between teen and adult voices and American and Indian accents. She picked up on the emotions and personalities of the characters, making it easy to root for Simi and Noah and boo the mean kids. (audio copy provided by the publisher)

Review of The Glass Woman by Caroline LeaThe Glass Woman by Caroline Lea (Harper, Sept. 3): Set in the late 17th century in Iceland, this haunting novel examines the choices a young woman makes after her father suddenly dies and her mother becomes sick. Facing a bleak future, Rosa agrees to marry Jon, a wealthy farmer and trader, who lives in a distant town near the sea. In return for leaving her beloved village and being obedient, Jon has agreed to provide for Rosa's mother, ensuring the older woman's survival. Rosa's marriage is haunted by the uncertain circumstances of Jon's first wife's death, her husband's distance and coldness, and her extreme loneliness. The story is infused with the Icelandic landscape and focuses on the edge of change or maybe the edge of changing states: Christianity and the old Norse gods, girlhood and womanhood, single and married, married and widowed, love and friendship, woman and mother, insider and outsider, life and death. Although primarily a character-driven novel, the book includes some drama as well as mystery. I really liked this and have continued to think about Rosa. The unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio;11 hr, 18 min) was read by HeiĆ°a Reed and Smari Gunn, who set the mood and pace of the story, and nicely avoided foreshadowing. I appreciated hearing the correct pronunciations of the Icelandic names and words. (print and audio copies provided by the publisher)

review of Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Dan BrownFever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Dan Brown (HMH Books YR, Sept. 3): A graphic nonfiction look at the spread, aftermath, and cause of the great flue pandemic of 1918. I don't know why I have a fascination with the Spanish flu -- maybe because it acted as a modern-day plague, killing many more people across the globe than the Great War. Brown (who also illustrated the comic), lays out the pandemic in three parts: In Act I the flu wasn't any more deadly than any other flu, but it spread quickly as troops returned home from war in Europe. No one really knows where it started or its origins, but it was likely from an animal source and may have first shown up in the eastern United States. In Act II, the flu came back with a vengeance, was more deadly than any other flu ever seen, and seemed to strike young adults most strongly (unlike usual flu, which is worse for the very young and very old).  Act III came later, when the Spanish flu reared its ugly head several more times in the following few years. The plot of Fever Year is a little disjointed, but the book serves as a good introduction to the pandemic. The artwork is in muted colors, befitting the event; the expressions on people's faces clearly convey emotions, and period details are evident. The book concludes with a short look at biological research into the Spanish flu and a good bibliography for readers who want to know to more. Recommended. (review copy provided by the publisher)

review of Death of a Gentle Lady by M. C. BeatonDeath of a Gentle Lady by M. C. Beaton (Blackstone Audio; 2008; 5 hr, 31 min): This is the 23rd entry in the Hamish Macbeth mystery series set in Scottish Highlands. As you know, I just love these cozy mysteries, in which village copper Hamish Macbeth solves murders, helps his neighbors, has bad luck in love, and avoids getting promoted to the city. There's quite a bit of action in this book, and the murder mystery was well set up, with a few believable red herrings. Hamish's personal life plays a large role and includes his ongoing dealings with his personal nemesis, big-city detective Blair, as well as some complications in his love life. Lots of fun, and I'm looking forward to the next installment. The audiobook is read by Graeme Malcolm, who captures the personalities of the townsfolk and keeps the story moving. These quick listens are perfect escape books. (borrowed from the library)

Review of The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-GoshenThe Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Little, Brown, Sept. 24): What happens when a lonely, insecure Israeli girl mistakenly cries wolf but is slow to tell the truth? Seventeen-year-old Nofar has had it with her summer job scooping ice cream, with being outshone by her perfect younger sister, and with feeling lonely since her childhood friend graduated to the cool kid group. After an altercation with a male customer, Nofar reaches her breaking point: she storms out of the store into the back alley; when the man follows her, she screams. Witnesses assume the worse, and Nofar, in shock and humiliation, fails to correct them. The man goes to jail to await trial on charges of sexually assaulting a minor. I really wanted to like this story of Nofar's struggles to balance her newfound fame and popularity with doing what's right to save her "assailant" from serving time. I, however, could not relate to how far she let things go. There are several other liars who cross paths with Nofar, and I didn't much care for them either. I had issues with the ending as well (I can't get into detail without spoiling the book), because the lesson almost seems to say, lying pays. I was not sold. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 8 hr, 14 min) was very well read by Ajjaz Awad. This was my first experience with her. Her performance was fine and her pronunciation of the names, Hebrew, and Yiddish seemed believable. On the other hand, her British accent seemed off in a book set in Israel. (audio copy provided by the publisher)


Kay 9/30/19, 7:06 AM  

I had been wondering about THE GLASS WOMAN and was glad to read your thoughts about it. I don't think fall is ever coming in our area - not ever. We've just had a very, very hot September (worst on record or so they say). I do remember that 2011 was an extremely hot summer and then we had lots and lots of moisture in late fall - too much. We'll see if that repeats.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 9/30/19, 7:52 AM  

You always read the best books. I’m very interested in the graphic novel of the flu. I have always been fascinated with disasters of the past that were spoken about by my elders when I was very young.

I hope you get your energy back, and that you are able to post more on all your social media spots about your good reads. No easy answers when you are running too hard, I think.

bermudaonion 9/30/19, 8:07 AM  

My mom's been watching that country music mini-series and really enjoying it. I have the book it's based on on audio.

Too bad about The Liar - the cover really appeals to me.

Susie | Novel Visits 9/30/19, 8:37 AM  

I read The Liar this month, too and also had some issues with it, though I think I liked it a little more than you. I wonder if this is a book that might have worked better in print because the characters sometimes don't feel quite as real there. Hope your work likfe slows down a little for you.

crackercrumblife 9/30/19, 9:22 AM  

I love Hamish Macbeth!!!! One of my favorite cozy series of all times. I have never listened to an audiobook of the series, but I think I want to now. :)

Have a great week!

Laurel-Rain Snow 9/30/19, 12:07 PM  

Interesting books. I am curious about The Liar. Enjoy them all and your October reading.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Kathy Martin 9/30/19, 2:17 PM  

Interesting variety of books. Unlike you, I really want to hold onto summer as long as I can. Minnesota's winters are too cold and snowy for me without getting a head start on winter. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Vicki 9/30/19, 5:08 PM  

The Lea and Brown books sound really good.

rhapsodyinbooks 9/30/19, 7:02 PM  

The Bajpai book sounds appealing to me. Thanks for the round-up! Or round up without a hyphen?

Greg 9/30/19, 7:41 PM  

That country music show does sound interesting. And it's hot again here too, we were in the 80's today after a couple weeks of cool off and rain. Last gasp of summer I suppose.

The Liar does sound challenging. Not sure how I'd feel about that either. I was expecting something different from the cover!

Have a great week.

Nise' 9/30/19, 8:53 PM  

I see a couple of books that definitely will be going on the TBR list. I am enjoying our extended summer as I know it won't be long and the snow/cold will arrive.

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