02 April 2021

Late Winter Reading: Part I

Long time, no thoughts on books. Here's Part I of a quick run-down of what I read in February and March, in the order I read them. Part II will appear on Monday. The following thoughts are generally taken from what I posted on GoodReads. "AFM" means I reviewed the audiobook for AudioFile Magazine, and you can find my review of the audiobook production there.

All of the following books were provided by the publisher in one or more forms (digital, audio, print). Thanks too to Libro.fm.

Review of The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. (Putnam, Jan. 2021): This is a powerful look at life, love, family, brutality, hope, and hopelessness on an antebellum Mississippi plantation. The author imagines a place for gender equality and queerness in several traditional African cultures and interweaves that with the stories of the enslaved in America.

The book was strong overall, but the elements of magical realism sometimes detracted from the principal story lines. (AFM)

Before the RuinsBefore the Ruins by Victoria Gosling (Holt, Jan. 2021): Part coming of age, part mystery, this book contains elements of first love, sexuality, addiction, poverty, and friendship. When a young man goes missing, his mother contacts his childhood friend, asking her to try to find him. This sets off a chain of events that causes Andrea to recall her painful childhood and to contact the people from her past who were with her on the night of a murder.

Some of the elements of the mystery were easy to figure out, but there were still a few twists. (AFM).

Review of The Code Breaker by Walter IsaacsonThe Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, March 2021): Clear and easy to follow account of the career of Nobel Prize-winner Jennifer Doudna who, along with her team, figured out how to employ CRISPR technology to edit genes. Her discoveries had a direct impact on developing the new RNA vaccines, including those for COVID. Isaacson's work exposes the struggle of women in science, competition and cooperation in research, the intersection of research and industry/business, and the ethical and evolutionary implications of gene-editing technology.

The material in this book is accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of biology. (AFM)

Review of The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny LecoatThe Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat (Graydon House, Feb. 2021): The book itself is well written and focuses on a young Jewish woman who escaped Europe and was working in Jersey when the Nazi army occupied the British Channel Islands. The story of Hedy and how she managed to survive despite being Jewish was well told, though I had some issues with a few plot inconsistencies and historical points.

I lived in Jersey's sister island Guernsey while conducting my doctoral research (in the 1980s) and really wanted to love this book. (AFM)

Review of The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'DonnellThe House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell (Tin House, Jan. 2021): Set in the late 1800s in London, this Gothic mystery brings together a bicycle-riding woman journalist, a down-and-out orphaned Cambridge student, and a Scotland Yard inspector as they separately and then together become involved in an apparent suicide case and the mysterious disappearance of several young women.

The book works on a lot of levels: good period details, engaging mix of gothic and humor, and well-constructed plot. It was fun to see how our heroes ended up working together and figuring out what happened to the women. Here's hoping we'll hear more from Olivia, Gideon Bliss, and Inspector Cutter. (AFM)

Review of Girl A by Abigale DeanGirl A by Abigale Dean (Viking, Feb. 2021): Lex grew up under increasingly abusive circumstances, enforced mostly by her father but not stopped by her mother. When Lex finally escapes, she flags down a car, begging the driver to call for help and save her six siblings. By the time the police get there, her father has committed suicide, but her mother is sent to prison. Years later, after their mother dies still in prison, Lex wants to turn their childhood home into a community center, but first she needs permission from her siblings, whom she hasn't seen since their escape.

The book asks: Who really survives such abuse? Is is possible? What happens when Girl A is forced to confront things she's learned to suppress. It's a difficult read. The audiobook was read by Ell Potter, whose performance captured Lex's conflicted thoughts.

Review of Fire in the Straw by Nick LyonsFire in the Straw by Nick Lyons (Arcade, Oct. 2020): I've been a fan of Nick Lyons's writing since my husband introduced me to his short pieces on fly fishing decades ago. I remember being excited when I learned he was starting a publishing business. Despite knowing about him, I didn't know the trajectory of his life. In this collection of essays, Lyons writes about how fly fishing changed his life and about his dedication to getting an education. He talks about his writing, his loves, his losses, and his perspective on aging.

Whether you've been a fan for years or are just discovering Nick Lyons, this is a highly recommended read.

Review of A Pairing to Die for by Kate LansingA Pairing to Die for by Kate Lansing (Berkley, Jan. 2021): I really liked the first book in this cozy mystery series, which is set in Boulder and features a local wine maker and her boyfriend, who is a chef and restaurant owner. As with the first book, I liked the descriptions of Boulder, the wine, and the food, and I like the characters. This second outing didn't disappoint me, and I was happy to see the growth of the characters and to meet new people. The murder mystery was also well plotted.

If you're into wine, food, Colorado, and/or cozies, then give this series a try.

Review of The Princess Spy by Larry LoftisThe Princess Spy by Larry Loftis (Atria, Feb. 2021). American Aline Griffith was determined to help her country during World War II. Through a fortuitous introduction, Aline is accepted for training as a U.S. spy and is sent to Madrid, where she infiltrates society, dates a famous matador, and then marries a count, all while carrying out dangerous missions and helping the resistance.

I had never heard of Aline, but I'm glad I know her story. Kate Reading did an excellent job with the narration, including characterizations, accents, and pronunciations.

Review of This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-SmithThis Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith (Grand Central, Feb. 2021): When driving home one night, Tallie sees a young man who looks like he's about to jump off a bridge. She stops and talks him into going home with her. Over the course of a long Halloween weekend she and Emmett form a bond, even while hiding their secrets. Tallie's secret, which we learn almost immediately, is that she's a licensed therapist, which makes her dealings with Emmett reasonably believable. Themes of grief, friendship, and family and a down-to-earth ending.

The audiobook was narrated by Kamali Minter and Zeno Robinson, who brought out the emotions and personalities of their characters.


rhapsodyinbooks 4/2/21, 8:08 AM  

So much talent for writing succinct reviews that say it all in spite of short length. Wish I had that skill but glad to see it exercised so well!

Tina 4/2/21, 9:04 AM  

The House on Vesper Sands is going on my list. Too bad about the book set in Channel islands, I like the cover but everytime I've read a summary of the plot I hesitate. That's so lovely you were able to live in Guernsey for your doctoral research!

Les in Oregon 4/2/21, 2:43 PM  

Lots of good books! I'm envious that you lived in Guernsey!

Vicki 4/2/21, 4:10 PM  

I see a few that I'd probably enjoy but, so many books...

Martha Eskuchen 4/10/21, 12:42 AM  

So many interesting-looking books. For some reason, Fire in the Straw caught my eye. Now I'm off to see Part II.

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