One odd thing about 2020 (among the many), is that my desire to put up with crappy books has dropped. Considerably. Where I used to slog through a book just to see how it ended, I will now happily either shut it or flip to the end to see how it works out. And then I will move on with my life. It’s bonkers. Maybe that’s a good thing, though? Maybe it means I know myself better or am more confident in my tastes. Or not. Either way, it’s given me a great way to divide up this blog post. Were these books worth my time? Do I think they’d be worth yours? Yay or nay? Let’s find out in this season’s round of AWG book reviews…
Yay Book Reviews – Books that were worth my time
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
This might just be my favorite book I read all fall. What was really strange, though, was how far out of my comfort zone it took me. If you’ve read my reviews for any length of time, you know I am an historical fiction girl. And this book was, in essence, historical fiction. But it was also mystery and fantasy, too. Alix E. Harrow wrote an absolutely beautiful book about time and space, race and relationships, power and weakness, good and evil. It was intriguing and captivating. I can’t recommend it enough.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
Following Ten Thousand Doors at a close second is Beneath a Scarlet Sky. Based on the true story of a young man who reminded me (almost too much) of my oldest son, this book is set in Italy during World War II. Pino Lella is a forgotten hero who saved the lives of many Jews as he led them over the mountains from Italy into Switzerland. But as time went on, it became necessary for Pino to hide his deeds in plain sight. The book questions our perceptions of what good and evil look like and gives a glimpse into life in northern Italy during the war which, in my opinion, not enough has been written about. If you want some history, some suspense, some bravery, and (naturally) some love, I highly recommend this book.
It’s All About the Small Things by Melanie Shankle
I’m not sure there was ever a more appropriate time to read this collection of memoir-esque stories from author, blogger, and podcaster Melanie Shankle. I’ve followed her for ages and love her podcast The Big Boo Cast that she puts out with Sophie Hudson. This book, though, was a delightful surprise for me as I struggled through some pretty downcast feelings this fall. Her emphasis on the small things in life and that they are the things that really matter hit home in a major way for me. Not to mention that girlfriend is downright laugh-out-loud funny!
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
The first of Kate Morton’s books that I attempted to read was The Clockmaker’s Daughter. That was a bad choice. What I have found about Morton is that she has a particular style that you need to get used to before you can fully enjoy her books. That said, having read The House at Riverton earlier this year, I was ready to read more of her material. The Forgotten Garden spans the globe from Australia to Wales and spans time from the Edwardian era to present day. Themes of love and family and home play out beautifully and wrap up in just the way you’d hope. In fact, maybe now, I’ll be willing to give The Clockmaker’s Daughter another go.
Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
This sweet book is a finalist in the Best Historical Fiction Debut Novel category from Goodreads. And that’s just exactly what it is: sweet historical fiction. If you, like me, have read any Jane Austen or enjoy the movie adaptations (the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice and Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility are must-sees), then you’ll enjoy this book. Set in post-WWII Chawton, England (the final home of Jane Austen), the story follows a rather eclectic group of Austen enthusiasts as they strive to keep her legacy alive and do a little falling in love in the process.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Ok. In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t finish this book. So why, then, am I including it in the list of books that are worth my time? Well, because I want to finish it someday, that’s why. This story of race and America, of the tension between faith and intellect, was simply too deep and too powerful for my brain space right now. Honestly, it felt too important for me to not devote more than the little bit of time and energy I had to it. I am promising myself, though, that when life calms down a bit and I can really settle in to a challenging, beautiful book? This will be the first one I reach for.
Nay Book Reviews– Books that were not worth my time
Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
Looking for a little political intrigue with your first century Roman romance? Have I got a book for you! Here’s the thing. This mostly-closed-door romance was a total brain break for me. It was a quick and mostly enjoyable read. The characters you were supposed to love were easy to love and the ones you were supposed to hate were easy to hate. Was it challenging? No. Was it a really good book? Also no. But, will I probably go ahead and pick up the sequel at the library should I run across it when it comes out? Most likely.
I can’t exactly say this book wasn’t worth my time. But it’s not one that, knowing then what I know now, I would choose to spend time reading. I’m sure that’s clear as mud. You’re welcome.
One Day in December by Josie Silver
How can I best describe this book…? It was a rom-com movie in book format that I wish I would’ve given only two hours of my life to and not however many it took to read it. First, it was way too long. The plot took place stretched out over 10 years and almost 400 pages. If it had been cut down to 5 years and 300 pages, it probably would’ve been better. Second, how many times can one person say, “Oh, for the love!” at the book she’s reading? Lastly, the whole idea of meeting your soulmate just by seeing them through the window of a passing doubledecker bus on the streets of London? Maybe it’s my slightly cynical mental state right now, but it was pretty unbelievable even for my anglophile self.
Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
I really wanted to like this book. Like, I really really wanted to like it. I was a huge fan of Kelly’s Lilac Girls from a few years back. This book, however, didn’t live up to the excellence of the first. Lost Roses is based on the real life story of Caroline Ferriday (the mother of the main character in Lilac Girls) and takes place in the time before and during WWI and follows the same themes of war, friendship, and rescue. Honestly? The book was fine. I shouldn’t disparage it. The reason I’m putting it in the Nay category, though, isn’t a reflection on the quality of the book so much as the disappointment I felt when compared to my expectations of it.
Radium Girls by Kate Moore
Once again, I feel like this book needs a disclaimer. As a 2017 Goodreads Choice award winner and with a 4.14 rating, it’s obviously a book a lot of people really like. Here’s the thing. While it is historical and the subject of working women in the first half of the 20th century is usually one I enjoy, this book was not easy to read. It seemed to attempt to straddle both the nonfiction and narrative genres and didn’t do a great job at either one. I am someone who really likes her memoirs and nonfiction to be told in a very story-driven, narrative way and that just wasn’t the case here. There were too many characters introduced too quickly and in too much detail. In my humble opinion, the book would’ve been much more appealing had it been told from one character’s point of view.
What are You Reading?
So, now that you’ve seen what’s been sitting on my bookshelf the past few months, I’m interested to hear what you have to say! What have you loved or been disappointed in? Do you have any recommendations for me in the upcoming winter months? Think you’ll pick up any of the titles I mentioned today or do you have a different opinion than the ones I expressed? Let me know!
Until next time, happy reading, y’all!