My book reviews for July span the sparse kitchens in WWII Britain to the streets of current day East Oakland. These books are written by women, about women. (This wasn’t intentional on my part, but subconsciously, maybe it was.) From family abuse to dating drama, each story touches the heart in a different way.
I hope you find a story that speaks to you.
Book Reviews July 2022:
by: Anne Tyler
(Family Saga Fiction)
Publication Date: 2022
Anne Tyler is a master at capturing the dysfunctional yet lovable life of family. Her latest involves the Garrett family from Baltimore beginning in 1959 to the present day pandemic. Parents, Mercy (mom) and Robin (dad), are opposites when it comes to personalties and interests. Their three children, Alice, Lily, and David, are very different as well. We first meet the Garretts as they spend time together at a lake during their one and only family vacation. The story follows slices of their lives through the years, highlights how random events intersect and how family ties can constrict, how small moments turn out to be large.
I was hooked from the beginning.
French Braid is unassuming without high drama. While this may sound dull, it proved quite the opposite for me. The story felt real and human, and I connected with the characters right away. Classic Anne Tyler, in my opinion, low-key and achingly authentic. 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Favorite quote: Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to spoil the picture of how things were supposed to be!
by: Kaye Gibbons
(Classic American Literature)
Publication Date: 1987
Oh my heart. Ellen is a young, scrappy girl trying to survive after her mother dies and her despicable father neglects her. The story, told in a stream of consciousness style without much punctuation, is gritty southern literature served up as a very quick read at only 144 pages. The protagonist’s dry humor and in-your-face observations charmed me. And what a humdinger of a first sentence (my favorite quote below).
I was excited to learn about the book’s sequel, but sadly, I couldn’t get into it; I returned it to the library unfinished. Don’t let that keep you from sinking into Ellen Foster. 🌟🌟🌟🌟💫
Favorite Quote: When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.
by: Leila Mottley
Publication Date: 2022)
Keira, and her older brother, Marcus, live in extreme poverty in East Oakland. Both are high school drop-outs. Their mother has moved away; their father is in prison. Keira has taken on the responsibility of caring for her nine-year-old neighbor, Trevor—i.e. feeding him, getting him to school, etc.—because his addict mother disappears for days on end. When their rent increases and an eviction notice is posted on their apartment door, Keira is frantic to earn money. But she can’t find a steady job anywhere. And Marcus? He’s too busy following his dream of trying to be a rap musician to work.
Keira turns to prostitution. Her regular customers are members of the Oakland police department.
Mercy. This book exhausted me. And because of that, it’s a hard one to review. No doubt, the author, Leila Mottley, is a young talent with an incredibly successful writing career ahead of her (she began writing Nightcrawling at age 17 and is 20 now). Her writing is gorgeous and poetic. But here’s the thing—when every single sentence is loaded with deep metaphors and life trauma, well, it becomes so so burdensome.
Nightcrawling isn’t a light beach read. It isn’t a quick book to escape into on a hot summer day. Instead, it will squeeze your heart, wring you out like a dishtowel, and leave your soul crushed at the end. And the end? Spoiler alert—there’s not much of a resolution, much less any sort of happy conclusion.
But still, the writing, for the most part, is on another level. Sadly, Nightcrawling is based in truth. 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Favorite Quote: Streets always find you in the daylight, when you least expect them to. Night crawling up to me when the sun’s out.
The Kitchen Front
by: Jennifer Ryan
Publication Date: 2022
Four women in rural England compete to win a coveted spot on The Kitchen Front, a BBC radio show focused on teaching women how to better cook during WWII when food was rationed. The book started slow for me, and in the end I found it to be a tad bit predictable, but sometimes predictable can be a soothing break.
I enjoyed getting to know the four women—each had her own reason for competing.
The Kitchen Front crosses over into several genres. Fans of WWII ‘homefront’ historical fiction, romance, and cooking stories will find a connection. The interesting recipes included and tips on stretching food rations reminded me that I should do better in my efforts to minimize food waste. Mad props to the women who kept the home fires burning during war time!
Something that drove me nuts—I can’t imagine the phrase “bump” (i.e. baby bump) would have been used in the 1940s to describe pregnancy. Still, I believe this feel-good story would make a popular PBS series. 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Favorite Quote: Sometimes you shouldn’t wait for things to be perfect. You need to enjoy the small things, every little moment that makes you smile.
by: Rachel Cusk
Publication Date: 2021
M is middle-aged. She is married to Tony, and they live a life of solitude somewhere near the sea. When M meets a fairly well-known artist, referred to as L., she becomes obsessed, inviting him to come and stay in their ‘second place’ (a guest house on the property). M imagines L will paint the landscape as she sees it, and possibly include her as the subject of one of his future works.
Eventually, L does come to stay. (Although the timing is never clear, I believe this happens during the pandemic, as M’s daughter and son-in-law have also come to stay after having both lost their jobs.)
My oh my, this is an odd, pretentious story. The author creates a lovely sense of place in the marsh, but the protagonist, M, is unlikeable and possibly narcissistic. And the artist character, L, is extremely impolite.
If the book had been longer, I likely wouldn’t have finished it. But at 192 pages, I gave it a second chance.
I appreciate the meaning behind the book’s title. Second place refers not only to the idea of a second home or guest house, but it also hints to M’s inferiority complex. She never measures up in her mind. And her mind is something else.
According to who’s who of book reviews, Second Place was one of the most anticipated books in 2021. It has received many award nominations and 5-star reviews, but it wasn’t a good fit for me. Perhaps I just didn’t get it. 🌟🌟💫
Favorite Quote: I’m not the kind of woman who intuitively understands or sympathises with other women, probably because I don’t understand or sympathise all that much with myself.
Nina Dean, at thirty-two, is a food editor living in London. Her dad is slipping away into dementia, while her mom, who recently changed her name to Mandy, is trying to reinvent herself. Nina has good friends, Lola and Katherine, a very annoying neighbor, Angelo, and although she hasn’t been involved in a serious relationship in some time, she’s mostly okay with that.
On a whim, she tries out the on-line dating app, Linx.
Her first match is Max. They hit it off instantly. For several months, all is going soothingly, but then suddenly Max ghosts her, disappears without a word, just as things are moving to the serious I-love-you level.
Dating today must be awful!
Ghosts is a contemporary story about family and relationships and single life. I became a bit bogged down in the middle (the section about the hen-do, which is the equivalent of a bachelorette weekend in the U.S., was wayyyyy too long in my opinion), but overall Ghosts was an entertaining read. Bridget Jones’ Diary meets Emily in Paris? Yes, but with the sad thread of dementia woven through.
And, I was quite surprised by the Angelo twist at the end!
Favorite Quote: The contents of supermarket baskets are surely evidence that none of us are coping with adulthood all that well.
That’s it for my July reads.
Now tell me—have you read any of these books? Will you?
And, what are you reading now?
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.