It’s book review time! There are some real treasures in these March 2022 Book Reviews. A couple of these novels were published several years ago. Others are fairly new to the world. Two were written by Irish authors (McCann and Grissom)—appropriate for March, I think.
I didn’t read as much as I expected because I had several false starts at the beginning of the month. And by false starts I mean I began three different books that I gave up on midway through. I’ve learned it’s perfectly okay to quit a book I’m not enjoying. And just because others think it’s the best thing since banana pudding doesn’t mean I will.
by: Colum McCann
Publication Date: 2013
I have no idea what I was doing in 2013 that kept me from reading this masterpiece, but I’m joining the fan club now.
In TransAtlantic, three iconic crossings decades apart are connected by the common thread of strong women, the places they visited and lived. This epic story is told in sections with different characters leapfrogging back and forth through time. And it is beautifully crafted.
McCann can certainly turn a phrase. And his writing style is unique. Lots of sentence fragments. Short. Lyrical. Full of emotion. (See what I did there?)
TransAtlantic is quiet and thought-provoking. This story has moved into my mind and will likely remain there.
Favorite Quote: The world does not turn without moments of grace. Who cares how small.
by: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Publication Date: 2021
Jacob Finch Bonner is a down-on-his-luck writer teaching at a third-rate MFA program when he comes across the perfect story as described by a narcissistic, rude student. Later, when the student dies without ever having written his book, Jacob writes the story with the unique plot. By God, it’s a story that deserves to be told! And writers don’t “own” ideas anyway.
Jacob becomes a best-selling author. He is riding the wave of fame and fortune when he receives a short and to the point email. You are a thief.
Thus begins Jacob’s obsession with trying to determine who knows the truth about the plot. Who is behind the emails he continues to receive? And what will happen if his publisher discovers the basis of his best-seller came from someone else?
This story is highly engaging with lots of twists and turns along the way. I have to admit I was a little letdown to discover what the actual stolen plot was (it wasn’t that incredible), but I enjoyed the way this author took the idea of artistic inspiration and the issues of plagiarism and wrote a book within a book. The ending? Well, read it and let’s discuss…
Favorite Quote: But there was one thing he actually did believe in that bordered on the magical, or at least the beyond-pedestrian, and that was the duty a writer owed to a story.
The Kitchen House
by: Kathleen Grissom
Publication Date: 2010
From the book summary: Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.
The Kitchen House is told in the alternating POVs of Lavinia and Belle. Each character has a distinctive voice and nuanced personality. Their mutual support and love for one another made this story a winner for me.
Author Grissom did a detailed job of describing life on a tobacco plantation in the late 1700s/early 1800s. Once again, the reader is reminded of the terrible tragedies of the antebellum south. The characters in The Kitchen House are not without hope and triumphs though.
Grissom provided great insight into what it might have felt like to have been orphaned at an early age and to have no control over anything.
Favorite quote: You look at those birds. Some of them be brown, some of them be white and black. Do you think when they little chicks, those mamas and papas care about that?
by: Charmaine Wilkerson
Publication Date: 2022
I think this story is too big for its own good. While the writing is good, there are many, many storylines to follow, lots of characters to keep straight, jumps in time and POV, and several social issues that seemed to have been thrown in simply to check a box.
The beginning is strong. Estranged siblings Benny and Byron gather to hear a recording left by their deceased mother, Eleanor. As the recording is played, we begin to learn of their mother’s past and family history rooted in an unnamed Caribbean Island.
But there is so much to unpack with Black Cake.
I listened to the audible version, and the narration was excellent. Still, I found by the end of the 400-page story I didn’t care all that much about any of the characters; I simply wanted the book to be over. Tighter editing would have made all the difference in what could have been a fabulous book.
Favorite quote: Question yourself, yes, but don’t doubt yourself. There’s a difference.
by: Robert Olen Butler
Publication Date: 2021
Sam Cunningham was raised by a racist father in the Jim Crow south. He came of age down in the trenches during WWI (lying about his young age in order to enlist). After the war, Sam worked as a Chicago newsman, reporting on the likes of Al Capone and other historical figures. He married, had a son, and outlived them both.
Now, at age 115, Sam is dying in a nursing home. And his deathbed visitor is none other than God.
At God’s urging, Sam revisits the pivotal moments and important relationships in his life. In other words, Late City is the last edition of Sam Cunningham’s story (the book title a reference to the name of the late evening newspaper edition).
As Sam relives the moments that shaped him, the reader is deftly provided a snapshot of history and society through the years. Much has changed in the span of one man’s lifetime, while many things have not.
The book reflects on what it means to be a man, and the measure of masculinity.
Sam realizes that even after such a long life, many of his most important relationships were riddled with misunderstanding. Even at age 115, he can still learn a few things about himself.
Late City is the intimate and mesmerizing account of one man’s reckoning. And although the story is gut-wrenching, Butler’s light hand makes the story fluid and elegant. An absolutely lovely read from one of my favorite authors.
Favorite Quote: Just know that sometimes a bad thing can be shared by the multitudes. While for a good thing, there might be only a few of you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my March book reviews.
What book did you read in March that you can’t get out of your mind? Drop your recommendations in the comments!
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.