SEVEN Mini Reviews for March - what a variety of books!
As is our custom, we're sharing some of the books we read this month that we want you to know about - each with just a quick review so you can dip your toes in to see if there's something you'd like to read. Have you read something different, something intriguing, something you wish you could talk to someone about? We'd love to have the conversation. Let's Talk Books!
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Genre: SciFi, Classic
Published 1958, 311 pages
Somehow I never read this in high school but it's been on my bookshelves for years, waiting. Thanks to this year's #ModernMrsDarcychallenge I finally read it for the "book published decade I was born". It still holds up after all this time. Apparently this book is usually shelved as sci-fi but I wouldn't - it does involve a radically experimental surgery, but to me that's not the otherworldly component I expect with sci-fi. Whatever the genre, I enjoyed this book - I thought the first person journal format was a really effective way to "show not tell" about Charlie's life as he grew more intelligent following an experimental surgery. The entries went from horribly misspelled words and simplistic ideas to perfectly constructed, sophisticated sentences. His emotional road was the most interesting development and seeing how 'growing up' is compressed into a few months was fascinating. A very good exploration of the connections between perceptions and reality, friendship, self awareness, and intellectual vs emotional growth.
"Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis. And I say that the mind absorbed in and involved in itself as a self-centered end, to the exclusion of human relationships, can only lead to violence and pain."
I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2019, 192 pages
Cosmo is a 13-year-old golden retriever and best friend of 12-year-old Max. For readers out there like me who don’t like sad stories about animals, don’t worry, Cosmo doesn’t die. We learn early that Cosmo means “of the universe.”
“It made me feel important, like I was part of something bigger than myself. I have intense sympathy for dogs named “Muffin” or “Scooby” or “Biscuit.” How can they hold their tails up?”
The story is told from Cosmo’s view and it’s heartwarming and humorous. When Max’s mom and dad start fighting and tension fills their home, Max decides to join a dog dance competition. The winners get a role in a movie and Max believes this will make his parents so proud of him that they will be happy again. With the help of his kind uncle, Max and Cosmo practice routines every day. Cosmo loves Max and wants to please him so tries his hardest to learn the jumps, and turns, and foot movements.
Cosmo shares how he feels about many things, including not liking having his stuffed toys washed because it takes away all the good dog smells. And about Halloween he says: “Mom bought me a cat costume once, and I have yet to recover from the trauma.” As for little dogs:
“Behind the glass front door, a Maltese named Cricket yaps itself hoarse. My patience for small breeds is limited. According to the Discovery Channel, which I watch frequently, all dogs are descendants of wolves. But looking at Cricket, who barely makes it to my knees, I question the truth of that research.”
There are many such observations sprinkled throughout which made me smile. This book is intended for teens but I also enjoyed it. However, it is pretty “cutesy” so I think it would appeal most to dedicated dog lovers.
Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Published 2014, 243 pages
The format of this book is outstanding.....modeled after a furniture store catalog (think IKEA). Each chapter starts with the image and description of a Swedish sounding piece of furniture, each getting progressively more gruesome. Since the story takes place in this massive big-box store, there are constant references to the "bright and shining path" winding through the store and LOTS of references to those (American made) Swedish furniture pieces. It also has a great first couple of sentences:
"It was dawn, and the zombies were stumbling through the parking lot, streaming toward the massive beige box at the far end. Later they'd be resurrected by megadoses of Starbucks, but for now they were the barely living dead. Their causes of death differed: hangovers, nightmares, strung out from epic online gaming sessions, broken hearts, unpaid bills......"
After a series of weird overnight occurrences, the store manager requests help from a couple of employees to stay overnight in the store with him and figure out what's going on. After the lights go off in the store automatically, all horror hell breaks loose! Creepy, scary, smelly, nasty creatures take over and the night goes from terrible to worse. While I didn't find it particularly scary, it was definitely creepy and has a high gross-out factor. A super quick read with only a handful of characters and an easy to follow plot. An interesting book.
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Published 2019, 309 pages
I read this book via audio during my 2 hr/day in the car. The audio was well done EXCEPT....there was one very weird occurrence. It's narrated by a woman (since the main character, Hen, is a woman) and her voice deepens a bit when a guy is speaking. And then, all of a sudden, for only a couple minutes a male voice speaks up - a new character! I thought the radio had taken over the audio or something. And the male voice is only heard twice for a couple minutes each time. It was SO jarring and weird.
Hen (Henrietta) and Lloyd buy a house in the suburbs of Boston and when they have dinner with their new neighbors, Hen noticed something out of the ordinary that makes her suspect the husband might be a killer. That suspicion doesn't leave her but instead compels her to try to confirm it. She and Mathew (the neighbor) end up in an unusual and tense give and take, made more complex because she is bipolar and her husband and the cops have a hard time believing her. Suspense builds steadily to a realistic and satisfying end.
This was a very good thriller and I didn't figure out the twist until pretty late in the story but it's a good one. Fast paced, good characters with Hen being a strong female protagonist.
The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Reese Witherspoon book club
Published 2018, 294 pages
After reading a couple of intense magic-focused books, I needed a 'palate cleanser' of something entirely different. This Reese book club selection was certainly that!
A psychological thriller from the beginning, it uses first person narrative to follow the relationship of a 20-something woman as she meets the man of her dreams, falls in love and starts to make plans for their future. Then she meets "the other woman", his mom. And what a piece of work she is. My goodness - a pretty twisted and manipulative lady! As the relationship between the couple goes through it's ups and downs I vacillated between liking the guy and thinking she was unreasonable, to disliking the guy and wondering why she didn't boot him out! See, a good psychological mess of feelings.
You might guess the twist at the end but it in no way diminishes the story. A fast-paced dysfunctional family read with some truly unlikable characters, a plot with some twists and turns, this book would make a great beach read or one to curl up with now while we're all trying to stay inside to avoid Covid-19. Stay healthy (and read a good book!)
Bibliostyle by Nina Freudenberger
Published 2019, 272 pages
Subtitled 'How We Live At Home With Books', this gorgeous coffee table book is a delight to the eye and brain. Filled with gorgeous photos of home libraries and book stacks as well as entertaining text describing the myriad ways that people catalog and use their personal libraries, this is a book to savor. It's the first coffee table book I've purchased in years (I saw someone rave about it on Instagram), and I've loved every minute spent perusing the inspiring pages.
"Having a comfortable chair, good light - these things do put you into a state of mind to better absorb ideas." - Jonathan Safran Foer, author
I shared some ideas on how you might accomplish creating a reading corner (or even room!) that's perfectly suited to you in this article. Interspersed between the features of home collections are charming, unusual, so-cool little bookstores that make me want to go visiting. The features are organized by the type of book person: Sentimentalists, Intuitives, Arrangers, Professionals, and Collectors. A lovely book worth having and which I'll treasure.
Where the Desert Meets the Sea by Werner Sonne
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published 2019, 259 pages
"But we are Jews, and we do intend to finally have our own homeland. Where we don’t have to keep apologizing for merely existing. Where we won’t be exiled or exterminated. If the Arabs can understand that, there’s enough room for all of us." This book is set in Palestine in the months after WWII and the formation of Israel. It's mainly the story of two women: Hana, an Arab nurse who falls in love with a Jewish doctor, and Judith, a Jewish woman who survived Dachau and is looking for "home". The story works fairly well as a historical reference point of that time and uses the stories of the two women to show/contrast the conflicting perspectives. “We Jews in Europe, we just learned firsthand what violence means,” Judith blurted. “We were victims. Must we now be perpetrators? Shouldn’t we be the very ones who are most committed to finding a peaceful solution?”
However, it suffers from too many characters that aren't really developed and something missing that I can't quite define - I had difficulty staying engaged and it was almost a DNF for me. Maybe it was something about the pacing or the constant war/battles/skirmishes? I'm not sure. I don't know the history of that era at all, so I found it interesting from that standpoint, but I'm afraid that wasn't enough.