Thursday, September 01, 2022

Everything I read in August (in brief)

Everything I read in August (in brief) 

88. In Five Years by Rebecca Searle - I was expecting a fluffy romance with a touch of time travel, judging from the reviews I read (which must have been more vague than I realized). In Five Days is not fluffy at all. Instead, it's the story of a woman who has a very tight life plan from which she cannot bear to vary. She knows the age she wants to be proposed to, marry, move to her chosen part of New York, have children, and become a partner in her law firm. Everything is going to plan but on the night she gets engaged she wakes up 5 years in the future with another man and a different engagement ring on her finger. She is absolutely certain the experience was real, but what does it mean and why isn't she married to the man she just became engaged to, 5 years from now? Content warning for cancer patient. I struggled to get through this as one of the characters is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the same cancer my mother dealt with. A good story and sometimes quite fun but also heartbreaking and not at all what I expected. I liked the ending. 

89. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin - Probably my favorite of the month, this slim book contains two essays, one of which was a letter to Baldwin's nephew. In it, you learn about how Baldwin originally planned to become a minister and started preaching while still  young but then became disillusioned. You hear about his visit with one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam and how he was, again, at first enthusiastic but then zoned in on the flaws of their philosophy. I had never thought to look up why Malcolm X used the X in his name but Baldwin describes it as a way to separate from the names acquired from owners during the years of slavery. Fascinating. He talks about racial injustice and how what appears on its surface to be the demeaning of a particular class of humans based on their skin color in reality demeans us all. I think part of the reason I loved this book is the fact that much of what he says in it I've said myself, of course less eloquently. I love Baldwin's writing and ordered a couple more of his books so watch this space for future reads by him. 

90. Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs - In the third and final entry in the Moon Base Alpha middle grade series, Dashiell is asked to help solve the latest possible crime when Lars Sjoberg's lutefisk is poisoned with cyanide while disaster is unfolding at the base. It is difficult to narrow down the possible murderers when absolutely everyone dislikes the victim, but Dashiell's skill at deduction is better than average. As I was reading Waste of Space, I realized that there's only so far the author could have taken the series and that this was, in fact, a good stopping point (much as I'll miss the series). Because I've bought most of my Stuart Gibbs books from Book Outlet, I missed a couple from the Spy School series and to help fill in my craving for middle grade books, I went ahead and bought the two I had skipped over. I have become a huge fan of Stuart Gibbs. His books are adventurous and funny. I've loved every single one I've read. 

91. Space Cat by Ruthven Todd and Paul Galdone - I know I'm way behind on this but I finally downloaded the Hoopla app after my friend Brittanie (A Book Lover, no longer an active blogger) read this book and recommended it. A children's book published in 1952, it tells the tale of a cat who becomes the friend of a pilot and astronaut, who names the cat Flyball. Flyball is an adventurous cat so he doesn't even mind the squashed feeling he gets when he's taken for a ride in his friend Captain Stone's plane and he has a great time when he sneaks into a rocket ship for a test flight. Why not take him to the moon? Captain Stone has a special space suit made for Flyball and takes him along to the moon, where he learns to deal with low gravity, discovers life, and saves the captain from disaster. A fun children's book, of course outdated but who cares? E-book, so not pictured above. 

92. Heard It in a Love Song by Tracy Garvis Graves - I loved The Girl He Used to Know (read it in a single day, which seldom happens) and liked On the Island so I picked up Heard It in a Love Song off a free ARC cart at my library when I saw the author's name. Josh is waiting for his wife Kimmy to produce the papers that will finalize their divorce. He and Kimmy have worked out how to split everything, including the custody of their daughter. But, she seems to be dragging her feet. Layla has been divorced from Liam for 6 months and is still feeling stung but enjoying the time singing and playing guitar in her home studio when she's not teaching music at elementary school. Josh's daughter Sasha is one of Layla's students. And, when they find that they're both in need of some space but occasionally lonely, they start spending time together — and Layla occasionally watches Josh's dog, Norton. Are they both too wounded to give love another try? An average read, in my humble opinion.

93. The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami - The Nakano Thrift Shop doesn't have the best ratings at Goodreads and when my friend Brittanie handed it to me, she said it was "OK," which implied nothing special. Still, I like the quirkiness of Japanese lit, even if sometimes the plotting can be so everyday as to fit the word "dull". It was the ending of The Nakano Thrift Shop that made the book for me, in spite of the rest plodding a bit. Mr. Nakano owns the thrift shop. His sister is an artist who frequently drops by, and Takeo and Hitomi are the employees. Not much happens in the thrift shop but Takeo and Hitomi are equally awkward and develop a relationship outside their employment. But, they can't seem to figure out how to  be a couple. The ending is similar to an Epilogue, in that it takes place years after the thrift shop has closed and the characters have gone their separate ways but first you follow Hitomi in her new employment, then everyone gathers together as Mr. Nakano opens a new store. That final chapter made the book feel complete and meaningful, to me. 

94. The Life and Times of Elizabeth I by Massimo Rossaro - Quick note, the "I" after Elizabeth is not in the title. I added that for clarity. The Life and Times of Elizabeth is a picture book from a series, published in 1966. I bought my copy at the recent library sale because it has some gorgeous paintings that I'm hoping to use in collage but I had to read it first, of course. There's very little about Elizabeth I's childhood in The Life and Times of Elizabeth, although the author does mention that he thinks the fact that two people important to Elizabeth were beheaded by the time she was 8 years of age (the first being her mother, Anne Boleyn) traumatized her and possibly convinced her that marriage was dangerous. A childhood friend said she had never wavered from her decision to stay single, first declared as an 8-year-old. The rest is mostly about her time as queen, till her death at the age of 70. I've read little about Elizabeth and found the book very informative. At only 65 pages and with tons of illustrations, it's not an in-depth analysis but more of an overview, and yet the author did a good job of digging into the Queen's emotions, her cleverness and knowledge, her use of marriage propositions to build alliances, and her skill for economics. A fun afternoon's reading. 

95. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker is a book I bought because I'd read so many gushy reviews of it. Duchess is 13 and cares for her little brother, Robin, as if she were his mother because mom Star is a broken woman. Sheriff Walk keeps an eye on them and helps whenever he can. Now, the man who tore their family apart by accidentally killing Star's sister Sissy, Vincent King, is getting out of jail after 30 years. When Star turns up dead, King is the only suspect. But, there's another man in the picture and he's out to get Duchess. Even traveling 1,000 miles to stay with her grandfather may not stop Dickie Darke from taking his revenge on Duchess. I don't want to give too much away so the bottom line is that I found the writing style miserably choppy and sometimes even didn't understand a sentence or two so I'd have to reread them. But, what made this book stand out was the characterization. Whitaker tears at your heartstrings with his characters, so real in their pain that you can practically touch them. Duchess Day Radley, Outlaw, is what Duchess calls herself. She is one tough cookie, and she needs to be because her world is harsh and it just keeps getting worse. Fortunately, there's light at the end of the tunnel. The ending is bittersweet but I closed the book a bit relieved that the author ended on a note of hope. 

96. Trumpocalypse by David Frum - My biking read for part of the month, the follow-up to Trumpocracy (link leads to my review), which was about the first year of Trump's presidency. Trumpocalypse was, I believe he said, a book about "What do we do now?" in which Frum looked back at some of the many changes made by The Former Guy (most of which he considered destructive), ahead to the post-Trump years, and made suggestions for how we should recover our integrity and leadership role in the world. Frum is a staunch conservative so I don't always agree with what he has to say but I pretty much found myself agreeing with a good 90% or more of what he said in this book. And, the last 10 pages or so, in which he predicted that The Former Guy would lose the election and described why he thought that turned out to be prescient. I thought his suggestions were excellent. He mourned the loss of the old Republican Party and its principles and described how very, very important it was to make sure TFG didn't get a second term. One of the most interesting conclusions he came to was that the so-called "Deep State" is merely the rule of law. That makes total sense. 

97. Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs - I've already mentioned that I decided to order the Spy School books I skipped over because I didn't own them (I bought two). Well, naturally, I had to dive into one. In Spy Camp, Ben Ripley receives a warning note from the evil group Spyder saying that if he doesn't join them within a stated deadline, they'll kill him. To force his hand, they kidnap some of his fellow spies and friends. But, why is Spyder so determined to make him a part of their team? Something seems fishy and Ben is determined to unravel the evil plot. As always, massively entertaining. I don't think I've ever given one of Gibbs' books less than 5 stars because they're so well-plotted and gripping but also funny with a main character who has no interest whatsoever in being one of the bad guys, though they keep trying to tempt him away. 

98. A Warning by Anonymous (Miles Taylor) - As most of the books I've read about The Former Guy have been, A Warning is outdated, published in 2019 to warn people of the 45th president's dangerous lack of judgment or even interest in the job, his carelessness with national secrets (hoo, boy, are we learning more about that or what?), his frequent rages, his insistence on loyalty and the shrinking number of people who were staying in the administration to provide guard rails against him but believed in conservative policies. Like David Frum, Taylor said there was no such thing as the Deep State, although he's partisan enough to slip in comments about the media attacking TFG (as if he didn't deserve it . . . come on). Instead, he calls those who tried to stop TFG from doing harm the "Steady State" and laments the times that they weren't able to stop him or help him control his worst instincts. Interesting but not as good as Trumpocalypse. I think I may be done reading about TFG, although when I said that on Twitter I was besieged with recommendations and at least one is very tempting. 

99. I for Isobel by Amy Witting - Isobel has an abusive mother and a father who usually just ignores her venom. Growing up with a mother who believes she can do nothing right, Isobel believes that the things she loves and desires to accomplish are bad because she is bad. When Isobel experiences a moment of grace in church and becomes good temporarily, she realizes that her mother feeds off strong reactions. But, it isn't till both parents are dead and she has to work for a living that she begins to rediscover the possibilities lost to her in childhood. Kind of a difficult read because it's a bit jumpy and the cruelty is exhausting but the ending, when Isobel meets someone from her past and an incident is reframed as something positive rather than negative, is absolutely beautiful and moving. Really enjoyed this and hope to read the follow-up, soon. 

I don't have a working color printer so the printout of the Space Cat cover, at upper left, should have been blue but you work with what you've got. 

©2022 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I skimmed your review of We Begin at the End since I'm planning to read it this month. Sorry the writing isn't better, but it still sounds worthwhile. Right? On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate it?

    1. I gave it 4 stars. Yes, the writing is choppy but it's a good story and it doesn't take long to get to the point that you are so devoted to the characters that you absolutely must follow through and find out what happens to them. I think you'll like it, Les.

    2. Thanks, Nancy. I'm looking forward to reading it. My book group is discussing it in November.

      Happy Birthday, my friend!

  2. It should be a great book for discussion! I'll look forward to reading your thoughts. And, thank you! :)

  3. I read The Nakano Thrift Shop and just finished it this week. Totally agree with your review. I loved the ending. Also agree with In Five Years. It was better than I expected. You had a great reading month! Here's to a great September in books!

    1. I remember you were reading Nakano. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too! The ending was worth sticking out the duller parts, for sure. Glad you liked In Five Years, too. Thanks! Hope you have a great reading month! I'm off to a decent start. :)


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