Another month come and gone and another nine books I had the pleasure of removing from my TBR. It seems, though, that my TBR stack only gets bigger instead of smaller... maybe we ought to ramp it up for May and make a big dent in that stack. Anyways, here are all the books I read (with reviews!) for April 2020.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
I knew I wanted to start my month with a read I was really looking forward to. I read 'One Day in December' in January of this year and absolutely loved it. Because I loved that book so much, I had really high expectations for Silver's second novel. As soon as it popped up as a BOTM pick, I knew it was going into my box. The story is about Lydia Bird losing her finacé in a car accident and the subsequent grief after. She has difficulty sleeping so her mother urges her to get some pills from the doctor to help. But these pills transport her to a dream world in which Freddie, her fiancé, is still alive and their life continues on like nothing happened. Lydia is caught between this dream world and her reality which is still falling apart. She knows she must finally confront her grief head-on and is able to do that with a little help from her fiancé's best friend Jonah. Silver's writing is still as beautiful as it was from her debut — you really feel for the main character on a deep level and become wholly invested in the story — but I felt that there were a lot of similarities in the endings of both books. It was relatively easy to predict what was going to happen. Either way, I still really liked this one and look forward to Silver's future novels.
The Paris Hours by Alex George
Here I am reading yet ANOTHER historical fiction because I just can't help myself. When one presents itself to me, I must read it. The Paris Hours is an early release from author Alex George, and it takes place over just one day in Paris. You follow four different characters through their day and see how they converge or almost converge during day-to-day activities. There are also appearances by real-life characters like Proust, Hemingway, Josephine Baker and more. George's writing was really transporting — though I was very confused by chapter 10 and Gertrude Stein since I thought she was a woman but then Guillaume thought she was a man and in the middle of the scene she turned back into a woman. It took me a couple of reads of that chapter and ultimately continuing on in the book to see her interact with other characters that helped clear my confusion. Other than that, I really liked this novel but I wouldn't say it was anything amazing. Just a good read.
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Okay, I have some thoughts about this one. Another historical fiction novel, but one very different from those I usually read. The story takes place in London in the late 1700s, and I will say that the author does an amazing job of transporting you there through both scene and language. If you aren't comfortable reading in that kind of style, the book may be hard to follow. I found at some points I had to read sentences a few times to try and figure out what was really going on. One of the main characters is Mr. Hancock, a sea merchant who comes to own a mermaid. He then goes on to exhibit it and meet Mrs. Chappell, an abbess (a.k.a. a 1700s madame). She rents his mermaid and tasks her shining star Mrs. Angelica Neal, a recent widow, to entertain Mr. Hancock at the party she intends to throw. Angelica is the other main character of the novel. From a prostitute to a married woman to a widow and back to a prostitute again, she is on the cusp of financial ruin throughout the majority of the novel. The buildup to the party takes about 175 pages. Yes, you read that right. 175 pages. I actually considered not finishing the book as I read through all of that. The pacing is absolutely glacial, though I did feel that it picked up a little after that as Mr. Hancock pursues Angelica and Mrs. Chappell tries to retain her hold on Angelica. The story does weave in other perspectives from various characters, but Mr. Hancock and Angelica are the dominating ones. Beware that the book doesn't give a whole lot in terms of wrap up. It kind of just ends and you're left wondering what happened to this character or that. I was able to push through but don't think I'd recommend this one to anyone unless they really, really liked those kinds of books.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Wow. I absolutely loved every page of this book. I was hooked from the very start. This story pulls from two true and historic tales about both the Pack Horse Librarians and the Blue People of Kentucky. Cussy Mary Carter happens to be both. And despite her being blue — like, literally blue — her patrons on her book routes love her and the words and stories she brings to them. But all of that may be coming to an end when her Pa arranges a marriage for her. Let's just say the marriage was short-lived (literally) and Cussy a.k.a. Bluet is able to return to her route. She faces other challenges throughout the book but fights to overcome every one and continue to do what she loves: deliver books. This was the April book club pick for one of my library's book clubs and they did a great job. Richardson writes so well that I could feel myself riding along Cussy in the Kentucky hills and see the joy on people's faces when she brought them books. I also thought it was great that she pulled from two true stories of history and wove them into this fiction novel. I felt like I had been in a little bit of a slump for a while with not really loving any books but this one really wowed me.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Another wow. I saw people raving about this online and this was definitely worth the read. Rooney's story follows Connell and Marianne from their last year of high school and throughout college as they begin a secret relationship and then grow up together. Both characters are really lost and trying to find themselves in relation to one another and the world around them as they navigate this formative time. I thought the writing was absolutely breathtaking and I was hooked from the first page to the last. I could not put this book down. I will say that I missed the quotation marks dearly in this book. It can become hard to follow at some points when you don't realize that people are speaking, but I felt like near the end I was getting into the flow of reading without them. Overall this book was a real win for me and probably one of my favorites so far of 2020. I'll definitely be picking up her other book, 'Conversations with Friends' when my TBR stack becomes a little more manageable.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
I was on a roll there for a second with some good reads. Now I'm not saying that this book was bad, but definitely felt like more of a chore than my previous April reads. I want to start by saying that the writing was amazing. I had never read anything by Emily St. John Mandel before and to be introduced to her writing was the best part of reading this book. I just thought it was completely mesmerizing. The reason for my 3.5-star review on this novel was the non-linear fashion it was written in. While sometimes it was easy to follow, for most of the book it was quite jarring. The book spans the years 1994 to 2029, though the scenes in both the earliest years and the latest are short and not the main focus. Most of the book seems to take place around 2008 and the aftermath, but there were some points while reading that I had no idea what year it was. The main premise of the book is the collapse of a Ponzi scheme at the end of 2008. Around that revolves the lives of a cast of characters. There was no main character in this book, I felt. Vincent seemed to be the most "main" one since the story begins and ends with her and her death. She "marries" Jonathan Alkaitis, the man running the Ponzi scheme. Her half-brother Paul is also in and out of the story at various points. Other characters include people directly affected by the collapse of the scheme. Overall, though, I found the writing to be beautiful, the story felt too disjointed to me to really get into it. I think if it had maybe been written more linear with flashbacks here and there, along with the removal of some scenes that don't really build the story (like Paul's situation in the beginning) this could've been a great story about the effects of a Ponzi scheme collapse.
I wanted to share a few quotes from this book that really stuck out to me. I don't usually make note of quotes in books but these really struck me while reading.
I can't help but notice that you're as alienated as I am, can we compare notes?
But does a person have to be either admirable or awful? Does life have to be so binary?
"Bro, it's prison. Everyone's depressed."
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Evelyn Hardcastle is going to die every night until Aiden Bishop can solve her murder, but he only has eight days and eight completely different hosts to do it. Bishop wakes up in Blackheath one morning to find himself in the woods screaming for a girl named Anna. He remembers nothing else. With the help of another, he finds his way back to the estate only to realize he's not him. He's Sebastian Bell, "doctor" and drug dealer to the guests also at Blackheath. And with just the memory of the name Anna, he has to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle who's being celebrated after her return from Paris. But what Bishop is also unaware of, he only has one full day in each host to solve her murder. Each guest he inhabits brings different skills — and limitations — and he must try to use them all to deliver the answer to the mysterious Plague Doctor before she's killed at 11 p.m. As with many of the novels I read, I don't read the summary before. I just dive right in so I can have as open of a mind as possible. And I was wowed by this book. It's a whodunnit with some thrill and the further I got into the book, the more I was sucked in. As Aiden moved through his hosts and put the pieces together, I found myself moving faster and faster, but that ending. WOW. I couldn't have predicted where it was going to go. That twist pushed me from liking this novel to loving it.
Some quotes I highlighted:
How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?
Anger’s solid; it has weight. You can beat your fists against it. Pity’s a fog to become lost within.
Girl with the Flat Tire by Leon Loy
Anna just got out of a bad marriage. Her husband was having an affair and she walked out. Now she's headed to California from Mississippi. John Brookner is a drug dealer who just stole the drugs he was selling, and the money, and set off on some Texas highways to avoid his boss. Travis Anderson is just a homegrown Texas boy who happens to help Anna when her car gets a flat on the road. Anna knows from the start that she likes Travis — he's a gentleman in every sense of the word and directs her to Flat Mountain to stay for the night while he gets her car fixed up. The next morning, John Brookner rolls into town and sees Anna at the local diner. His sights are immediately set on her. What follows is a day of terror as Anna tries to escape the initially alluring Brookner and find her way back to Travis. This short thriller was definitely a page-turner and kept me engaged until the end. The writing I thought was well done and definitely put me in the scene of middle-of-nowhere Texas in a small, sleepy town. While I liked this book, I wouldn't say that I loved it. There was nothing in particular that grabbed me, but I was very intrigued where John and Anna's relationship was going to go following their first meeting. If you're looking for a quick, thrilling read with a small side of romance, this would be a good one to pick up. I was given access to this title for free via NetGalley and BookBaby for my honest review.
The Little Bookshop of Love Stories by Jaimie Admans
I'm not really one to read romances. I mean, yes, I love them. It's nice to fall into a love story every now and then when you are in need of an escape, but they're not my usual genre. Romance is just a side note in most books I read and enjoy. That being said, I really, really liked this book. Hallie (almost Halle, and they call her Hal in the book occasionally) is a clumsy, down-on-her-luck 30-something just waiting for the next thing to happen... and then she wins ownership of her favorite bookshop Once Upon a Page. A total dream come true, right? And then on her first day at the helm, Dimitri, an introverted illustrator, literally falls in the door of the shop. Their romance grows slowly and I felt myself mentally saying "ugh" every time they got close to their first kiss and then the moment was ruined. But what happens when Dimitri's secrets are revealed... and revealed in public? I will say that I totally saw every point in the plot coming. I was surprised by absolutely nothing. That wasn't my main rub with this book, though. What got me was the typos. As an editor, my eyes just hone in on that kind of thing as I'm reading. I can't help it. But I can understand a typo here or there in a book. This one, though, had a decent handful of them which was distracting to me as a reader. I don't think most people would notice such a thing, but I definitely do. I'll be honest and say that it's what kept me from loving the book. Overall, though, I think this is a great read if you're looking to pick up an easy romance. It's definitely a feel-good book and I felt for Hallie and Dimitri during the book. I was given an early copy of this book via NetGalley and HQ Digital for my honest review.
Some quotes I highlighted:
'I'm alone in the world, although I believe that anyone who loves books is never truly alone...'
'I think you take a part of every book with you when you've finished it, because for just a few hours, you've lived another life. You've experienced what the character has experienced, felt what they felt, and loved who they've loved. I think the best thing you can do after reading a book like that is to share it.'
The Library of Legends by Jamie Chang
After a fatal bombing in Nanking, it's clear that the students of Minghua University need to evacuate to the west and take the Library of Legends with them, a collection of tales about the Chinese gods who roam the heavens and earth. Hu Lian is one of the students in the group Minghua 123, the keepers of the Legends on the journey from Nanking to Chengtu. During the bombing of Nanking, she was protected by Liu Shaoming and Sparrow Chen, Shao's servant. Together, the three of them the along with the rest of Minghua 123 make their journey west, but when long-kept secrets begin to catch up with Lian, the trio must turn back and try to get to Shanghai and the international settlement where they will be safe from the war and those who wish them harm. And during all of this, Lian begins to develop feelings for Shao, feelings that can never be revealed because of the legend of the Willow Star and the Prince. This story about the Second-Sino Japanese War in China was much different than the historical fiction I usually read. It offered a different perspective of a pre-WWII period in history that I didn't know much about. The writing was beautiful and the story was captivating. I even had Nolan interested in reading it as I explained it to him. Ancient literature, gods on earth, a war raging on. It has a little bit of something for everyone. I really enjoyed this book, but wasn't head-over-heels in love with it, hence the reasoning for my 4.5-star rating.
Again, I'm still new to this book review thing. It's a different type of writing than what I've done before and I'm always looking to improve, so please leave feedback in the comments and also share what you read this month!
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