June Reads, 2022 — A long post!!!
63. The Autumn of the Ace by Louis de Bernières - The third and final book in the Daniel Pitt trilogy describes the latter part, or the "autumn" of the former ace pilot's life, from middle age to his death. Daniel takes a lengthy detour to Canada, becomes determined to repair the fractured relationship with his eldest son, and lives to a grand old age. A very satisfying ending to the series.
64. Spy x Family #5 by Tatsuya Endo - I don't remember a thing about this particular entry except that I enjoyed it every bit as much as the others and the focus was on the brother of the spy's assassin wife and young Anya's continuing attempt to get close to the weathy son of the man who is at the heart of the spy family's mission. I only have two more books till I'm out of entries in this series but another one will be released in the fall.
65. The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock - In the 14th century, a man sees a boy climbing a tree and asks him to accompany him on a journey to retrieve a series of relics. Boy, who is otherwise nameless, has a hump on his back and has been bullied and ostracized all his life. But, during the journey in a land recently ravaged by plague, Boy discovers that the man, Secundus, and even Boy himself hold surprising secrets. OK, this is one I want to babble about. I had only read a few pages when I realized this book was going to be special. When I set it down, I saw the Newbery medal I'd overlooked upon picking it up to read. Well . . . I agree with whoever chooses the Newbery winners. I particularly enjoyed the historical setting. An author's note at the end of my copy gives a little extra perspective to the time period in which Boy is set.
66. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier - The story of a friendship between two women, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpott. Mary is destitute but helps keep her family afloat by collecting fossils from the beach near her English home. Elizabeth and her sisters are spinsters who have been set up in an inexpensive home after their brother marries and decides London is too expensive a place for them to remain. Mary and Elizabeth have dramatically different backgrounds but both have an interest in fossils. They become fast friends as Mary makes the stunning discoveries that will change the way people view history. Based on real-life characters. I don't how much of this story is true but I read it specifically because I'd heard of Mary Anning and wanted to learn more about her discoveries.
67. You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh - I was doomscrolling about a week after the horrible massacre at Uvalde and upset about the fact that likely nothing would change when I saw someone on Twitter ask what others were doing to deal with the stress. One woman posted a photo of You Are Here and said, "I'm reading Thich Nhat Hanh." I've read two books by Hanh and thought, "Oh, perfect. That's just what I need," then immediately ordered a copy. Even knowing how much I've been comforted by past reads, I was somewhat shocked at the quick transformation from ball of stress to calm and happy that readings about being mindful and present caused. I'm reading a 365-day book of very short excerpts of Hanh's work, now, because I wanted to keep that positivity going in my life.
68. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel - I loved Station Eleven and so did Carrie of Care's Books and Pie, so we decided to buddy read Sea of Tranquility to keep the joy going. What a fascinating book! As in Mandel's other books, you jump from one set of characters to another in different time periods. But, one person keeps showing up in all of them. It turns out he's a time traveler who has gotten the job specifically because of a strange occurrence that he's discovered. I wouldn't have thought of the word "meta" but ***possible spoiler -- highlight to read*** there's an author character who is clearly Emily experiencing a pandemic after having written about one and writing sci-fi to entertain herself. I absolutely loved every minute of this book.
69. The Nine Lives of Montezuma by Michael Morpurgo - A middle grade story about a boy who discovers that his family's farm cat has given birth to four kittens. One is already dead and, instead of getting the cat fixed, which was more than doable when this book was published in 1980, the father regularly drowns any kittens who appear. Sure enough, he goes to drown them. But, he misses one and Montezuma, "Monty" for short, becomes the boy's beloved pet. Because Monty's an indoor-outdoor cat (made to go out at night), he experiences many dangers and often comes close to death. If anything, this book is a testament to why cats should be neutered and kept indoors. It eventually becomes more tolerable and the ending is sweet but the father is never kind to poor Monty, making for uncomfortable reading, if unfortunately too true to life. I still have at least one more book by Michael Morpurgo, maybe two, and I will read them. But, while I enjoyed this story for its heartwarming pet love aspect, it was a bit too harsh up front for me and it would have turned me into a sobbing puddle as a kid. I love cats and can't imagine I would have tolerated reading about kitten drownings.
70. Autumn by Ali Smith - The first book I bought by Ali Smith was Spring and, at the time, I didn't realize it was the third in a series but it stands alone, so no biggie. And, I loved it so I ordered the first two books, Autumn and Winter. Autumn is the story of an unusual friendship between an elderly man and a young girl. He tells her stories, quizzes her, and encourages her to read. She's already a very smart girl but he encourages her reasoning skills and she finds herself loving him in a way she can love nobody else. While the friendship is at the heart of this story, it's also about Brexit and cruelty to immigrants. But, Smith tackles the heavier topics in a roundabout way and with such brilliant writing that, again, I couldn't put the book down. I'm afraid I'm turning into an Ali Smith fangirl.
71. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs - Space Case is about a group of people living on the first moon base, the first in the Moon Base Alpha (MBA) middle grade trilogy. Most are scientists of some kind, some are single, some have their families with them. Dash and his sister Violet are among the handful of children on MBA. When Dash overhears the base physician, Dr. Holtz, talking enthusiastically about an important discovery that he'll reveal the next day, then Dr. Holtz is found dead outside the main airlock, Dash is convinced that he was murdered. But, the base director wants to hush up his death to prevent damage to the MBA program. Can Dash find evidence that Dr. Holtz was murdered and figure out what his exciting discovery was? Ugh, I love every book by this author. I ordered the second in the series and will read it soon then probably pass them all on to my eldest granddaughter, who I'm happy to report is an avid reader!
72. The Cat Man of Aleppo by Latham, Shamsi-Basha, and Shimizu - This picture book is the true story of a Mohammed Alaa Aljaleel, who lived in Aleppo during the lengthy years of bombing while his family members escaped to other countries. After deciding to stay and continue his job in EMS, Alaa realized there was something else he could do. He began to feed the cats that had been left behind and were living in the rubble, often starving. As time went on, more cats showed up and the job became too much for his budget, so he sought out donations that enabled him not only to house and feed cats, but also to build a playground and pay for other improvements to the lives of remaining locals. A lovely, heartwarming story that will give you hope.
73. The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris - After the Civil War, a man who has been living off the occasional sale of parcels of his land finds two freedmen on his property. His offer to pay them to help him farm his land is rebuffed at first, but then the brothers change their mind and a friendly work relationship develops. But, in the Deep South, paying Black men to work when soldiers home from fighting the war are having difficulty finding jobs turns the town against him and his family. There's a lot more to the story that I'm leaving out due to spoilers but I thought this was an excellent debut, although I predicted a few plot points before they occurred and that kind of wrecked bits of it, for me.
74. Blue Horses by Mary Oliver - Another comfort read. I love Mary Oliver's sense of humor and her adoration of nature. Blue Horses was balm to the spirit after a week of terrible news. At a mere 79 pages (many of which are blank) it's a quick read, although not one I intended to whip through — but, I needed it, so that's fine. I think I'll keep this one by the bed and reread a poem per day.
75. Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer - Barrister Frank Amberley is visiting his wealthy aunt, uncle, and cousin when he comes across a recent murder scene. The dead man is the butler for a man named Boris Fountain and his half sister, Joan. Fountain inherited his uncle's estate a few years prior and kept on the staff. But, why would someone want to kill his butler? The first clue is at the scene, a woman standing by the car. It's clear she isn't the murderer so Amberley keeps her presence to himself and, as he begins investigation and more dead bodies turn up, the plot becomes more twisted. Not the best mystery and a lot of the characters were surly but I enjoyed it for the English setting and manners.
76. The Magic World by E. Nesbit - I chose The Magic World as my most recent Stationary Bike Read and it turned out to be a pretty perfect choice for several reasons. It was a beat-up book (probably from a library sale) so breaking the spine to make it easier to prop open wasn't a problem; it had already happened. It's a book of short stories. Some were longer than others so I might only end up reading half a story but some I could read in a single biking session. And, it was wildly imaginative so it kept me entertained. I'll probably pass this on to my granddaughters, as it's a wholesome and magical book that I think they'll enjoy. The Magic World was originally published in 1910.
77. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams - Queenie is a 3rd generation Jamaican-British Londoner who dates only White men, and that can be a problem. White men who date Black women have a tendency to fetishize them. When Queenie's boyfriend Tom says he wants to take a break (insisting that she must move out, since only he can afford the rent), she's devastated but figures they'll get back together after the 3-month break ends. But, Tom won't respond to her calls or texts at all and her response to the loneliness and unsettled feeling is to sleep with a series of men who are abusive or simply users, leading to a breakdown and the loss of her job. Her Jamaican family is against the concept of therapy but her friends encourage her to get help. Will Queenie get back on her feet again? I absolutely loved this story of dealing with a mental health challenge and facing your fears with the help of a loving circle of friends and relatives. It's also about life as a minority woman and its challenges. There's much to talk about in Queenie.
OK, so, wow. Quite a surprisingly good month. The constant dumpster fire of horrible news in America got me down, on occasion, so there were quite a few comfort reads in this batch. Middle grade reads are always comfort reads for me. They're so adventurous! All of these books were in the "liked or loved" category and the only two that made me squirm for one reason or another were The Nine Lives of Montezuma because of the cruelty to animals without any mention that animal reproduction is the responsibility of pet owners and The Sweetness of Water because I got a little tired of it and predicted a few too many plot points. But, I expect big things from the author of The Sweetness of Water. That was some fantastic writing for a debut novel. And, I thought The Nine Lives of Montezuma improved a bit, as it went on, although it could never be a favorite. I should add that it's beautifully illustrated.
Absolute favorites were The Book of Boy, Sea of Tranquility, You Are Here, Space Case, and Blue Horses. But, wow, I had such a fun month! I wouldn't tell you not to read a single thing I read. I did have one DNF after less than two dozen pages: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. I disliked both the writing style and where the story was clearly headed. Only a few pages in, I remember thinking, "I'm not enjoying this at all." I stuck it out for a while longer and disliked it so much that it went straight into the box of books I'm saving to exchange (if we ever make it to the secondhand store in Nashville) or donate.