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Oooh, I’m excited to share my book reviews for February with you. And what a varied group they are. I didn’t plan it. Often my books are simply devoured in the order they become available at the Fayetteville Public Library. (I have a long wait list of books at the library. Doesn’t everybody?)
Three of these books were recommended by friends. Yay for recommendations!
From Mexico to Paris, dusty Oklahoma to a lush forest in Pennsylvania, I was awed, angered, amazed, and thoroughly entertained by these reads.
I hope you will find your next read in this group of stories.
The Wild Girl:
The Notebooks of Ned Giles 1932
by Jim Fergus
(Historical Fiction / Western)
La Nina Bronca, the wild Apache girl and namesake of this story, is an interesting character, but this book is primarily the story of young Ned Giles. Ned is a wannabe photojournalist who bluffs his way onto The Great Apache Expedition of 1932. As the expedition heads into Mexico to rescue a boy kidnapped by the Apaches, adventure abounds.
Think All the Pretty Horses meets Lonesome Dove.
In The Wild Girl, Jim Fergus (author of One Thousand White Women) has created an entertaining cast of characters, including kind-hearted and idealistic Ned, riotous Tolley, and Big Wade who was perhaps one of the saltiest characters I’ve come to know as of late. The reader quickly becomes part of the adventure; the setting such a beautiful, brutal landscape. Of course, there is violence typical of the time period and the cultures involved, but it fits the story and is not applied with a heavy hand.
I listened to the Audible version of this book and found the narration to be excellent, the story thoroughly enjoyable.
Favorite quote: Yet only the atrocities of the conquered are referred to as criminal acts; those of the conqueror are justified as necessary, heroic, and even worse, as the fulfillment of God’s will.
by Jon Cohen
Oh my heart. This fairy-tale for adults includes a quirky old librarian, the coolest treehouse in all the land, and a group of small-town characters who have suffered loss, carry guilt, and want to move on. Yes, there is a forest of trees. Tell me—what’s not to love???
In an acorn shell: Harry is bereft after his wife dies in a freak accident. His job with the Forestry Service is sucking the ever-loving life from his soul. Meanwhile, across the state, Amanda and her 10-year-old daughter, Oriana, are also in mourning.
Paths cross in the woods.
Harry’s Trees is a beautifully written, wonderful escape. It was just what I needed during a few cold days in February.
Now, I really, really want a treehouse.
Favorite quote: Because that’s how the world is saved. Piece by piece, every day. Somebody like you has to step up. Somebody like you has to be wonderful.
by James Baldwin
How am I just now reading Giovanni’s Room? I will tell you right off, there is no way I will find words to do this James Baldwin book justice. But this is me, trying.
The reader learns right off that Giovanni has been sentenced to death by execution. This jolt of knowledge looms throughout the story, which is told in flashback by David, the narrator.
David is a young American alone in Paris in the 1950s. His girlfriend, Hella, is solo-traveling in Spain while thinking over David’s proposal of marriage. One night, David meets a young bartender named Giovanni. David, who is almost out of money and must vacate his hotel, agrees to stay with Giovanni for a while, in his small room.
The attraction is undeniable. For a blink, David tries to ignore it. (I mean, David just proposed to his girlfriend.)
Giovanni is passionate, willing to give himself completely. David is oh-so-conflicted and consumed with guilt. Giovanni’s tiny room is much like a maid’s quarters, cramped and cluttered, nearly suffocating; the room becomes a character, a metaphor for their tumultuous relationship.
Giovanni’s Room has made many best book lists for gay literature, but pigeonholing it as a homosexual story is too limiting. The story is about love and choices and guilt and tragedy and isolation and youth and despair and lust and home and identity and the roles we play in society. James Baldwin is truly a storytelling genius. Giovanni’s Room is proof of that.
Favorite Quote: People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.
A Cup of Dust:
A Novel of the Dust Bowl
by: Susie Finkbeiner
(Christian Historical Fiction
Set in Red River, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, our protagonist, Pearl, is a spunky ten-year-old who loves her family. And they love her right back—her adoring parents, Meemaw, and her older sister, Beanie Jean, whose “brain doesn’t quite work right”. Pearl’s imagination (like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables) keeps her mighty busy in a town choking beneath a thick layer of never-ending dust. In addition to church-going and school-attending, there are things for Pearl to ponder—like the woman who lives in a “cat house” and the mysterious drifter who shows up in town, somehow knowing Pearl’s name.
Life takes a turn.
Pearl learns things aren’t always as they seem.
The story is charming, suspenseful, filled with both hope and despair, hatred and forgiveness. The largest twists are a bit predictable, but if you enjoy coming-of-age / historical fiction, you will enjoy this first in a three-part series. Fans of The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, the similarities are uncanny at times.
Favorite Quote: Green was the color of enough.
Writers & Lovers
by: Lily King
Thirty-one-year-old Casey works as a waitress, pays the minimum on her weighty student loan debt, and is trying to write a novel in the wee hours of morning. Nearly drowning in grief from the recent death of her mother, Casey keeps treading water and doing what she can to survive.
She faces a couple of worrisome medical issues. She dates a couple of different guys.
While the bills pile up, she continues clinging to the elusive idea of leading a creative life.
Witty and real, the story (set in the 1990s) will be relatable to those struggling to start a career while fending off bill collectors. (Those of us trying to write a novel in the wee hours of the morning will relate too.) Yes, on the glittery surface, this novel is about writing a novel. Dig deeper and its about survival and connection and trying to breath with a lump in your throat.
Favorite Quote: You don’t realize how much effort you’ve put into covering things up until you try to dig them out.
An American Memoir
by Kiese Laymon
This book is HEAVY.
Heavy in subject matter.
Heavy in heart and soul.
Heavy is the physical description of protagonist, Kiese Laymon, who struggles to live under the weight of addiction and trauma and secrets. To cope, he literally eats his feelings.
Through the pages of this harrowing memoir, we follow Laymon from his boyhood in Jackson, Mississippi to his teaching position at Vassar College. Written in rhythmic, essay-like prose, I listened to the Audible version, and, at times, passages of the narration (read by the author) resonated like a poetic rap.
When have you read an entire book written in second person? I’m not sure I ever have. But Laymon’s brilliant use of second person POV makes the story even more raw, even more intimate, even more uncomfortable for the reader. You is his mother, the most important person in his life.
Heavy sits like a stone in my breadbasket even weeks later.
Favorite Quote: I didn’t understand hell, partially because I didn’t believe any place could be hotter than Mississippi in August.
The Midnight Library
by: Matt Haig
Do you ever wonder about paths not taken? Spur-of-the-moment decisions? Dates you didn’t take? Trips cancelled? Passing acquaintances?
Oh, the almighty what-if?
When depressed Nora Seed wakes between life and death in the Midnight Library, she is offered a sort of do-over. The shelves in the library go on and on forever, and each book available to “check out” provides a chance to live other lives that might have been.
Just imagine the infinite possibilities— infinite because we make hundreds of decisions every day. (Paper or plastic? Fried or grilled? Mask or no-mask?) Even ‘nothing’ decisions can result in great change.
In The Midnight Library, parallel universes are real. Space-time is flat. One thing’s for sure: I know nothing about quantum physics, but I was all in, imagining and enjoying the prospects.
Is the grass always greener on the other side of wherever?
Is there no place like home?
The Midnight Library is a charming, inventive read for those who enjoy a pour of whimsey with their morning coffee. Look at your life through the lens of The Midnight Library and ponder your own immeasurable number of yes and no decisions.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven takes a ride on Harry’s Potter’s Knight Bus.
Hang on tight!
Favorite Quote: You see, doing one thing differently is very often the same as doing everything differently.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my February 2021 book reviews. Cold, winter weather sure makes for good reading. And my stack of library books was a real godsend.
Every book is not for every person, of course. The book I starting reading in February but promptly returned to the library without finishing was Deacon King Kong. There were soooooooo many characters introduced within the first few pages (and all with crazy names), I couldn’t keep up, nor did I want to. I’m curious if you’ve read it, and if I need to try it again. It has a bazillion great reviews. Oh well…
Now, on to March reads!
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life
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