Have you read anything good lately? I’ve been reading quite a bit (you can always find a book in my hand or stashed in my purse for moments of quiet); it keeps me sane! So, I’m sharing five quick book reviews to answer the perennial “what should I read next? question. (Well, that’s a perennial question in my mind.) These are all books I’ve read in the last few weeks, moving me closer to my goal of reading 65 books this year.
1) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – I loved this book; I can’t recommend it enough. Homegoing is the story of a family, torn apart by slavery. One branch of the family aids in the slave trade in Ghana, later becoming involved in conflict with the British, and finally finding their way to America. The other side of the family is sold into slavery and generations later experience an America of incarceration, poverty, and drug abuse.
Despite its challenging subject matter, Homegoing is captivating, an extraordinary story about hope, connection, and loss. I couldn’t put it down, and when it did end, I was disappointed — I wanted more. That’s the sign of an extraordinary book!
Gyasi vividly creates her characters, providing a snapshot of their lives at critical moments to show the burden of slavery on the generations that follow. She shows her readers what happens when we are removed from our histories and ancestors; we pass on a sense of rootlessness to our children, a pain that may never be assuaged.
Gyasi’s writing is evocative and memorable:
Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that evil in the world began as the evil in your own home… When someone does wrong, whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the white man, it is like the fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.”
=>Recommendation: Everyone should read this book. Homegoing is an unfliching look at the impact of slavery, though it is infused with hope and love, and reminds us how much we need one another.
=>Rating: 5/5 stars
2) In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
This is another excellent book I really enjoyed. I had not read anything by Faludi before, though she is a well-known journalist and feminist writer. In the Darkroom is part history, part memoir. Faludi starts with a provocative premise: her 70-something-year-old father, with whom she is estranged, reaches out to her to announce he has transitioned to a woman. Faludi is surprised by this news, as it doesn’t comport with the hyper-masculine father she recalls from her childhood. So begins a journey to discover who her father is. Along the way, Faludi considers the very idea of identity, examined through her father’s many reinventions: Jew, Hungarian, survivor, immigrant, father, husband, photographer, woman. She also weaves in a modern-day history of Hungary, with specific focus on Hungary’s anti-Semitic policies and practices, including its cooperation with the Nazis during World War II and its current day right-wing hate toward the small Jewish community remaining in the country.
In the Darkroom is a fascinating study on the events and experiences of our lives that create the boundaries of our existence and how we can—or cannot—move beyond them:
Most of the time our collaboration resembled a game of cat and mouse, a game that mouse generally won. My father, like that other Hungarian, Houdini, was a master of the breakout. For my part, I kept up the chase. I had cast myself as a posse of one, tracking my father’s many selves to their secret recesses.”
=>Recommendation: Faludi’s writing is so skilled and thoughtful that I found my reading pace slowing down as I became immersed in this book. I didn’t want to miss any of In the Darkroom. This book is a successful marriage of history—of a person, family, culture, and country—and the interpersonal—navigating life as a transgender person, reconnecting with long-lost family. Faludi is an inspired writer and treats her father’s story with care, a gift for everyone who reads this book.
=>Rating: 5/5 stars
3) White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters by Mary Pflum Peterson
White Dresses has been on Kindle for a long time; I like memoirs, especially stories about people finding their way in life. Pflum Peterson, a news reporter and producer, wrote this book about several generations of her family and about growing up in the Midwest, using white dresses as the theme that binds the story together. There’s her grandmother’s wedding dress, the outfit her mother wore when she took her vows to become a nun, Pflum Peterson’s wedding dress, and her daughter’s Christening gown, among others. The dresses each reflect hope and possibility, some of which came true, though hardship almost always followed the women in Pflum Peterson’s family. The white dress technique is clever, though feels forced at some points.
As the book continues, the author delves more into her mother’s descent into hoarding, a terrible obsession that prevents her from connecting fully with family and friends and negatively impacts her health. Pflum Peterson tries valiantly to help her mother, and her inability to do so is a stark reminder that mental illness cannot always be “fixed.”
=>Recommendation: Pflum Peterson is an accessible writer and can successfully craft a story. I was drawn to the sections about her mother’s life as a nun, her decision to leave the church, and the challenge she faced re-entering regular life, and I appreciated the ways the author depicted the different marriages in her family, some happy, others not. This is a good read for those intrigued by mother-daughter relationships.
=>Rating: 3.5/5 stars
4) “I Give You My Body . . .”: How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon
I am a big fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, so when she released a book about her approach to writing sex scenes, I was on board. If you’ve read any of the Outlander books, you know that Gabaldon has considerable skill in the writing creative sex scenes. Exciting sex scenes. I-need-to-go-take-a-break sex scenes.
This is a super short book filled with practical tips on everything you’d think about sex scenes. From “how do you make sex scenes compelling” to “what are these scenes really about,” Gabaldon’s book serves as a handbook for aspiring writers. Sex scenes are so much more than sex, Gabaldon explains; they are emotion and connection, and they work when are driven by all five of the senses. Additionally, they should have meaning and purpose (beyond scintillating the reader!); they should drive the story forward.
=>Recommendation: Are you a writer looking to write a hot sex scene? Or, just a Gabaldon fan who wants to understand how her mind works (and maybe needs something to read why we’re all waiting for the ninth Outlander book)? This is for you!
=>Rating: 3/5 stars
5) In Praise of the Bees by Kristin Gleeson
I think I found this novel on Book Bub (Don’t know about Book Bub? It’s a free service that alerts you to e-books on sale for $1.99, $2.99 and sometimes they are free. Be careful; it can be addictive.). In Praise of the Bees is about women in medieval Ireland, specifically a woman of prominence who is beaten and abandoned, left without memory or understanding of who she is. Taken in by a community of nuns, she heals, makes friends, and tries to find her family.
The story is compelling, as is Gleeson’s recreation of life for women in the sixth century. I was disappointed in the plot, however; in several cases, there would be a big build-up to an event, but then it would be resolved in a paragraph or two, never allowing for the reader to fully engage in what had happened. That being said, if you are interested in the time period and the early days of Christianity in Ireland, this would be the book for you.
=> Recommendation: In Praise of the Bees is a book for fans of Ireland and the medieval period.
=> Rating: 2.5/5 stars
If you have a book to recommend, please share it in the comments! Happy reading!
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