Every month I do quick reviews of the books I’ve read: Because I love to share good things and because the only thing I like better than reading books is TALKING about books.
This was a GREAT reading month, partially because of good books, and partially because my poor kids had influenza, so I was stuck at home for over a week.
We have a wonderful non-fiction book I think you all should read, an excellent book club read, a sweet story from an author I’ve loved in the past, another book from an author whose works I make myself wait to read until I really need happiness, and the latest in two fun mystery series (one of which I actually read in January and somehow missed in last month’s post.
February Quick Book Reviews
I read this mid-January, don’t know how it didn’t make my January list.
This is the third of Amy Stewart’s The Kopp Sisters novels. This series is great fun, part historical fiction, part cozy mystery (though WAY better written than most cozies, and 100 times less repetitive).
Constance Kopp is based on a real life early 20th century female deputy sheriff (one of the first women to hold that job). The book titles and many story details are taken from actual newspaper stories about Miss Kopp.
Like the first two in the series, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions is a great story, well written, with likable and believable characters. I find it so interesting to imagine the women who first began to show the world that there could be life and meaningful work for them outside of home making (not that I have anything against homemaking, marriage or motherhood, but I am thankful to live in a world where those are not a woman’s only hope for meaning and purpose.) This book deals delicately with issues that are still a struggle a century later, and it’s interesting to see how things have changed in women’s roles & choices, poverty, working conditions, parenting, and sexism (to name a few).
I really really enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant, but this was a completely different story than I was expecting based on the cover copy and reviews. I thought I was reading a story about a charming and quirky heroine, potentially on the spectrum. Eleanor is all those things, but also with deeply rooted mental health issues. This book is telling a much more complicated story than “quirky heroine learns to cope in the world”. I’m not criticizing – I loved it – but think you should know the book you are reading.
I loved what this book says about loneliness and connection and healing and friendship, and I LOVED the characters. This would be a great book club book – I’m guessing most readers would love it, but there is a LOT to discuss.
If I have one small nit to pick, it is the sensational elements to Eleanor’s back story. I love the way they were revealed, little by little through the whole book. But I feel weird about needing a sensational backstory to explain Eleanor’s personality. I don’t know how to explain this without giving plot details away… but plenty of people have quirks and mental health issues without having anything traumatic in their past, and they deserve friendship and acceptance, even without that underlying reason. It isn’t fair to criticize a story for being what it is/not being what you want it to be, so feel free to disregard this. But I worry that the take away for some might be “be nice to your weird co-worker, you don’t know what she’s been through.” Just be nice to people who are different from you, no matter what, you know? That’s probably just my own junk being surfaced, I loved this book.
I loved this story of a quirky North Carolina BBQ town, a tale of lost people being found, and old hurts being laid to rest. Romantic, sweet, thoughtful and kind, just as I would expect from Sarah Addison Allen. She says she wants to write stories that will be enjoyable and linger with her readers like a good chocolate, and that exactly describes this book for me.
Sarah Addison Allen books are perfect self care for me: escapist, easy and quick to read, with delightful characters you wish you knew in real life. I have The Sugar Queen ready to go, but I’m making myself wait until I really need something happy-making. If you’re looking for a light, romantic, feel-good read that has bigger things to say about life and acceptance and forgiveness, this is the book for you.
This is a sweet and gentle book, just what I would expect from the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye. The Record Shop is in a shabby section of 1980s London, and its owner is determined to hold on to vinyl and not get with the CD times. Frank also has a gift for listening to people and knowing just what song they need to hear, and despite his fear of love or connection, Frank manages to gather a community of people who love him. His life is entirely manageable, until a stranger wanders into his shop and turns his life upside down.
The story uses a plot device that’s common in romances that I find irritating (a conversation at a key moment could clear up all misunderstanding and finish the story there, but that moment is missed). But in this book I think it is necessary to the larger story the author is telling. And this really isn’t a romance, it’s a book about relationships (and music). If you like gentle, slow stories with delightful and quirky characters, you will like this book.
I love good narrative nonfiction, and this is FANTASTIC narrative nonfiction. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of the most famous woman you’ve never heard of… Henrietta Lacks was a black woman in 1950s Baltimore who died of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins. A sample of her cancer cells was taken without her consent, labeled HeLa, and was the first to grow and thrive in culture, and led to countless medical advancements.
This book tells Henrietta’s story, but it is also the story of her children, who grew up in poverty and had no idea that their mother’s cells were revolutionizing medicine. And it is the story of a friendship, between the woman who became obsessed with learning about the woman behind HeLa, and Henrietta’s youngest daughter Deborah. Deborah is the hero of this story, I found myself falling in love with her as a character and wishing I could have known her as a person.
I loved this book, and learned a lot of history and science: Experimentation on blacks and poor people in the US, cell culture and the process of medical advancement, the development of laws around consent and tissues, medical ethics. It also gave me a window into racial and socioeconomic circumstances I will never experience. Fascinating and yet 100% readable. I read this in book form, but think it would be a great listen.
I read the first two books in this series about a distant cousin to the Windsors in 1930s London (Her Royal Spyness, LOL) several years ago when they were first being published.
I committed this year to reading books I own before buying or checking anything else out… and I am breaking that rule more than keeping it. I was in the library with my youngest waiting for my middle son to finish a thing at school, and found myself in the cozy mystery section. I could not resist grabbing a couple books to see where Georgie Rannoch’s story was taking her now that there are so many books in the series.
I couldn’t remember if I’d read the first two or three books in the series originally, and even having just finished the third I am not sure if I have read it before or not… They are pretty similar, and the mysteries are light and kind of easy to solve (or so random the solution comes from left field.) But I love the characters, and these books are light, easy reads. Perfect for a cold, icy day.
I would have one more on this list, because I’m 3/4 of the way through a great non-fiction audiobook. But then I got sucked into a couple of podcasts and my library loan expired. I’m next on the list to get it again, so I’ll be listening to this book I’ve been waiting on FOREVER in the meantime.
I’m halfway through this book set during an influenza epidemic in early 20th century Philadelphia (which I waited to read until we were flu-free around here!), which is my first Book of the Month read (got a 3 month subscription for Christmas, yay!) Next up I’m excited to dig into a book I’ve heard nothing but good things about.
And if you’re looking to get distracted from your reading by some really great history podcasts, check out Slow Burn (8 episodes of a deep dive into Watergate and President Nixon’s impeachment), and The Memory Palace (a blend between spoken word poetry and little known history, around 10 minutes each, fascinating, and amazingly well written.)