06 May 2021

What I Read in April, Part 2

Welcome back! As I said on Tuesday, I finished 16 books last month. I shared my thoughts about the first 8 books in that post; today I talk about the rest. I present them here in the order that I finished them.

Note that the following thoughts are also available on Goodreads. Thanks to the publishers and to Libro.fm for the print, digital, and audiobook review copies. "AFM" means you can find my thoughts about the audiobook production over on the AudioFile Magazine website.

Review of Empire of Ants by Susanne Foitzik and Olaf FritscheEmpire of Ants: The Hidden World and Extraordinary Lives of Earth's Tiny Conquerors by Susanne Foitzik (The Exmperiment, April): This is a very accessible and fascinating look at everything ants. Foitzik and Fritsche take us around the world and into the lab to tell us about that pesky bug that invades our homes and gets into our picnic food.

The book is full of interesting and eye-opening facts about ant behavior and biology and ants' interaction with the world around us. The tone is conversational and sometimes funny. If you're interested in the natural world, you should give this book a shot.

As I often do with nonfiction, I both read and listened to the book. The audiobook was really well performed by Cat Gould, who did a super job conveying the authors' tone. If you listen instead of read, you'll miss the fabulous photographs in the digital/print edition.

Review of Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny HostinSummer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin (William Morrow, May 4): Bring on the summer reads! I really liked the concept behind this beach book set on Martha's Vineyard. The story revolves around Ama Vaux Tanner, her late husband, and their three god-daughters, who are are now in their twenties.

What makes this book a little different from other beach reads is that uber-wealthy Ama is Black, as are her daughters. The book includes themes of systemic racism and colorism along with the expected plot lines concerning family drama, romance, life on the island, past secrets, and finding one's way in the world. The plot could have been a bit tighter, but overall an enjoyable read. I'll likely look for the next book in the series. (AFM)

Review of Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie JouhanneauKisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau (Delacorte, April): Because I danced in my youth, I always like a good ballet story. Mia, an American teen, has had only one dream since she was a very young child: to be a professional dancer. Fortunately, she has the talent and focus to make that dream come true. Her summer internship in Paris is a crucial step in her career. Female friendships and frenemies, lots of ballet, and a complicated summer crush add to the story. Yes, mostly predictable and a few plot tangents, but still a fun rom-com for escape reading.

The audiobook was delightfully read by Imani Jade Powers, who captured the ups and downs of Mia's summer in Paris.

Review of The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahonThe Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon (Gallery, April): I like McMahon's ability to layer on the creep factors, and this Gothic story about a Vermont resort turned private estate doesn't disappoint in that regard. Set in two time periods, 1929 and modern times, the story focuses on a spring that is fabled to cure ailments and grant wishes. Of course, nothing is given for free or without consequences.

In the past, Ethel Monroe and her doctor husband visit the springs during its inaugural year as a luxury resort. While there Ethel caves to the rumors and asks the waters to cure her infertility. After the resort burns to the ground at the start of the Depression, the couple buys the property, builds a home, and turns the springs into a kind of natural swimming pool. In modern times, two sisters who spent their summers at the house with their grandmother have their own interactions with the waters.

I loved the creepy atmosphere of this book and the complex, fragile characters. McMahon did a good job weaving local tales about the spring's miracles with the personal interactions of the characters, whether they swam in or drank the water. The two time periods worked well and most of the surprises hit the mark.

The audiobook was read alternately by Joy Osmanski and Imani Jade Powers, who added to the Gothic elements and brought the characters (and the spring) alive.

Review of Gut Feelings by Alessio FasanoGut Feelings: The Microbiome and Our Health by Alessio Fasano (MIT Press, March): A well-researched and well-presented summary of current research on the human microbiome and its relationship to many aspects of our overall health and well-being.

Fasano's account is non-prescriptive and straightforward. We learn about the microbiome throughout human evolution, in traditional cultures, and in today's world. If you don't have a basic understanding of human (or mammalian) physiology, this could be hard going. For those of us with a solid background in biology, this presents a nice overview and good starting point for further investigation through the medical literature.

Review of Golden Girl by Elin HilderbrandGolden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown, June 1): I'm a Hiderbrand fan and look forward to her Nantucket novels every summer. Her latest doesn't disappoint.

When 50-something Nantucket novelist Vivian Howe is hit by a car when out for her daily morning run, her death and the search for the hit-and-run driver sets off a far-reaching chain of events. We hear from Vivian in heaven limbo and from those she left behind. There are fun literary references, not only to Hilderbrand's own books but also to other writers and the book world in general. The drama, the food, the relationships, the satisfactory ending -- put this on your summer reading list.

Audiobook fans will be relieved that Erin Bennett was available to narrate. She and Hilderbrand make a perfect audiobook marriage.

Review of Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson HarveyUnder the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey (Gallery, April): I picked this up because of the cover; I've been in beach-reading kind of mood. In her latest, Harvey tackles cancer, love, loss, infertility, infidelity, friendship, families, and second chances. Despite the tougher issues at the core of this book, it was only okay for me, probably because the ultimate outcome was so clear from the start and I wasn't invested in the characters enough to be all caught up in how they got to the last page. Note however, that I'm not much of a romance reader, so your mileage may vary.

The audiobook was alternately read by Cassandra Campbell, Michael Crouch, Rebekkah Ross, and Karissa Vacker. They all put in a good performance, blending well.

Review of Mirrorland by Carole JohnstoneMirrorland by Carole Johnstone (Scribner, April): I have a weakness for stories about twins. When Cat's identical twin, El, is lost at sea in a presumed sailing accident, she leaves her apartment in California to return to her native Scotland to help her brother-in-law deal with the aftermath.

This novel is complex and engrossing, taking us along on several well-developed threads. First is the investigation of El's accident: staged escape? murder? unfortunate accident? Through this, we gain insight into the nature of El's marriage and her husband's personality. El had been living in the girls' childhood home, and being back releases Cat's memories. She remembers her mother reading to them and especially the many hours they spent in "Mirrorland," their make-believe world, in which they pretended to be Caribbean pirates, for example, or characters in a movie, especially Shawshank Redemption.

As the investigation of the accident continues, we learn more and more about the twins, their upbringing, and their lifelong relationship to Ross, El's husband. The tension builds incrementally until we are totally immersed in Cat's world, trying to figure out which of her Mirrorland memories were real and which were those of a child trying to make sense of the really bad things about her childhood.The truth changes as Cat forces herself to brush aside her strong, deep self-defenses.

I was completely captured by Johnstone's debut, with its difficult themes, good plotting, and growing suspense. What is real in Cat's world? Highly recommended.


Daryl 5/6/21, 10:58 AM  

oooh some good reccos here ... i dont watch watch the view but is sunny hostin the same sunny as the one on the view or do i have her name wrong?

Vicki 5/6/21, 12:36 PM  

Lots of good reading in April! I'm looking forward to seeing what you read in May.

Amanda 5/6/21, 10:00 PM  

I'm sooooo glad to hear that Gut Feelings isn't a weight-loss-book-in-disguise! This is on my TBR and I'm really interested in learning the biology, but I'm so sick of books that sneakily turn into "how to sell a specific diet" (which the last book on the microbiome I read did turn into!). Thank you!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 5/10/21, 9:30 AM  

I hope to listen to Golden Girl and Mirrorland this summer.

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