Thursday, November 03, 2022

Everything I Read in October (in brief)

Click on images to enlarge. 


111. The All of It by Jeannette Haien - A book I've owned forever, probably bought at the salvage store in the 90s (yikes), The All of It is a short novel about a priest, a woman, and a dying man. Enda and Kevin have a secret and he's about to confess to the local priest. But, he dies before he gets the chance. So, Enda offers to share their story, but not in a confession booth and only on her terms. The priest listens and as he patiently hears her out, he admires her beauty. It seems the priest has had a crush on Enda for years. But, the secret is shocking. Or, is it? As the story is revealed, the priest makes an irrational assumption about the couple that may ruin the day. Interspersed with this story are chapters in which the priest is fishing at a local castle in the rain, reflecting on the story that Enda has shared and angry. But, is he angry with Enda or himself? Well, it's worth reading to find out. The ending is absolutely lovely and this book is a little gem, in my humble opinion. 

112. The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas - Another book I've had a long time, I'm assuming this one came from the bargain section of Barnes & Noble, bought back in my shopaholic days. It's pristine and looks like the typical bargain fare. The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment was published in 1972 and it's the work of a writer who attempted to reach enlightenment using psychedelic drugs (so . . . not an easy option, now, unless you like breaking laws). Basically, hippie mumbo jumbo about getting happy vibes but the undercurrent is about love and acceptance and there are a few sage bits of advice if you can put up with all the babble about energy. 

113. Many Different Kinds of Love by Michael Rosen - The story of wildly popular British children's author Rosen's experience with a dangerous case of Covid in March of 2020. Beginning with the story of how his wife got a doctor friend to bring a pulse oximeter to their house and told them to go straight to the emergency room, the book describes his 47 days in a coma via the notes written in an Intensive Care Diary kept by the nurses who cared for him (so he'd have a record of the time he was unaware of what was happening to him), notes from his wife to friends and relatives, and the tale of his recovery in verse by the author. An emotional read. Having been in a coma for weeks, Rosen is still occasionally told that Covid is a hoax, that he must have had some other illness, etc. Those comments and the fact that the government considered older folks (he was 72) expendable naturally upset him. And, he was left with some long-term damage. But, he is an upbeat guy and Many Different Kinds of Love is a really beautiful, inspiring read, in the end. 

114. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy - Much beloved by a couple friends of mine, this book seems to have mostly high ratings but some sharp polarization amongst those who consider it trite. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can't imagine a child asking the type of questions that are posed but it's about love and acceptance (including of one's self) so, yeah, it is a bit heavy on platitudes. But, the illustrations are fabulous so I liked it. I particularly liked the way the animals care for each other, although some are wary of each other in the beginning. 

115. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon - My first creepy read of the fall season, The Winter People begins with someone seeing a "creeper" in the woods, a dead person returned to life, and describes the disappearance of a little girl in 1908, alternating with the story of a missing woman in the present day. Both lived in the same farmhouse in Vermont near a formation called The Devil's Hand. What's become of Alice? Her two daughters are determined to find out. In their search, they find some surprising hidden clues and a relative they didn't know existed. Who or what is lingering in the closet and does it have an appetite for humans?

116. The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson - A tiny book with three short stories, just 55 pages long. "The Missing Girl" is about a girl at summer camp who says she's going out and doesn't return. Days later, her roommate finally reports her missing and nobody seems to know much about her. "Journey with a Lady" is about a boy who goes alone on a train trip to his grandparents' and is surprised when a lady pretends he's her son until he realizes the police are after her. "Nightmare" . . . I just read all three, this morning, and I've forgotten the final story. Not the best of Jackson but I love her writing, even if the stories didn't amount to much. 

117. Bunnicula: The Graphic Novel by Howe, Dorkin, and Gilpin - Friend Jenn posted a photo of the new Bunnicula graphic novel and I jumped right on it and bought a copy. My kids and I laughed till we had tears streaming when we read the Bunnicula series during their childhood. So, I thought it would be fun reading the new graphic novel. While I didn't laugh the way I did when I read the series, I was thoroughly entertained and loved the addition of the visuals, which were beautifully done. Highly recommended, whether or not you've read the original stories. 

118. New Kid by Jerry Craft - A banned book (a graphic novel) that I bought during Banned Books Week but didn't receive till after it was over, New Kid is about a black boy who goes to a fancy school with mostly rich kids. There's a little diversity but being black and on financial aid both set him apart. I have heard this book is accused of containing Critical Race Theory, which would mean the history of the structural racism that exists in our country. Nope, none of that. Slavery is mentioned maybe once, and obviously race/prejudice comes up but naturally, through characterization. New Kid is really a book about being new, finding friends, kindness, discomfort with being a fish out of water, etc. I literally laughed out loud several times. It's sweet, funny book by a guy who clearly gets interaction in middle school and just the everyday challenges of being a kid. I loved it and would eagerly hand it to any child without qualms. It doesn't deserve to be on any banned list. 

119. Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman - Told in three parts, Skylight Confessions begins with Arlyn, who decides she'll marry the next man who comes along and speaks to her. John is lost when he asks her for directions. The first part is about their marriage, their son Sam, daughter Blanca, and a death. The second part involves a haunting, a new wife, a nanny, and Sam's growing drug use. The third part pulls it all together with Blanca now grown and returning home for a funeral. If I'd known there was a death from breast cancer in this book, I'd have put it in the donation box. But, I continued to read and I'm glad I did. It's a very rare book that leaves you with such a deep impression of the characters that you can rattle off the names of every single one of them. I really loved this story and found it had characteristics similar to Sarah Addison Allen's in its magical touches, both real and imagined. 

120. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - The second in the time travel series that began with Doomsday Book stars Ned Henry, who has been tasked with repeatedly traveling to Coventry, England before and after the night of the bombing during WWII to search the Coventry Cathedral and various jumble sales in order to find a single item. Unable to locate it and suffering from exhaustion due to too many time jumps, he's sent to Victorian England to rest. Instead, he gets caught up in the saga of a missing cat, ends up on a boat with an Oxford don, a young man in love, and a bulldog, and himself falls for a beautiful time traveler who may have thrown an incongruity in the timeline. Can Ned and Kindle (aka Verity) right the wrongs caused by the incongruity or will they get stuck in Victorian England forever? Loads of fun, sometimes leaning slapstick, and makes me want to go back and read the first book. There are two more books that carry on the time travel and refer back to the Oxford Time Travel books, although they're labeled as a separate duology. Interesting side note: I read Doomsday Book in 2010 and I still remember the vivid description of Medieval stench, although I didn't recall much else. This series does need to be read in order. 

121. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson (e-book) - After I closed To Say Nothing of the Dog, I felt drained and couldn't think of anything at all that I wanted to read so I flipped through my e-book library and found this graphic novel that's been sitting in my iPad for years. Kamala Khan is a Muslim teenager living in Jersey City, NJ. She's nerdy, loves Avengers fan fiction, and dreams of being Captain Marvel. She has two best friends but is mostly an outsider. One night Kamala — trying to be a joiner by attending a party — gets caught in a strange fog and suddenly develops the power to shape shift. She can make herself larger or smaller or grow a single oversized fist. She's able to save someone from drowning on her first night as a superhero. But, it turns out that having superpowers is not all it's cracked up to be and having a secretive second life just gets you grounded repeatedly. Told in 5 parts. I absolutely loved this story. Kamala is sweet and vulnerable but summons her inner strength. 

122. The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart - Ravani is a lonely only child with no friends and a persistent bully making his life miserable. When he sees 7 children show up at the empty house across the street in the middle of the night, he's curious. And, when he gets to know Virginia after he leaves her a couple of surprising gifts, he feels like he's finally found out what friendship is all about. But, Virginia and her 6 siblings have a secret and there is a man hunting them. Will Ravani's friendship disappear, only to leave him back where he was? Set in a town called Slaughterville, the story has some unsettling descriptions of the local slaughterhouse, which might upset some children (it would have given me nightmares) but if middle graders can handle the gruesome bits, the story is a beautiful tale of friendship, found family, and finding your inner courage. 

123. You Wait Till I'm Older Than You! by Michael Rosen - After reading Rosen's Covid memoir, I wanted to see what his children's books were like so I ordered one, along with a second memoir about his search for the relatives who were never heard from after WWII. You Wait Till I'm Older Than You! is classified as poetry and some of it does seem like it's written in verse. But, it felt more like a book of anecdotes to me. Many were from his childhood but others, including one of my favorites, were stories from his adulthood. My favorite was Rosen's tale about the stupidest thing he's ever done, which took place in France and involved a car, a child, a ditch, and a couple of French Farmers. It's very similar to an anecdote my husband tells. A fun read. The author was such a typical boy, getting himself into trouble in creative ways. 

124. The Missing: The True Story of My Family in WWII by Michael Rosen - We were sitting in an ER when I read The Missing (all is well, no worries). I brought 5 books in a tote but the chair was hard and there was a lot of chatter so I chose the lightest read (easiest read not lightest subject, obviously) I could find. The Missing tells about how Rosen heard about his Polish relatives who had disappeared, from his childhood on, and always wondered what had become of them. As an adult, he decided that he needed to find out what had become of his family members so that they could be remembered. What follows is the unfolding mystery as Rosen dug into various records, read books (some in French, as two of the families had gone to live in France), and eventually found the answers. It's a children's book, again, and absolutely one of the best tales of finding missing Jewish relatives who disappeared during the Holocaust that I've read. I particularly loved the way the author explained things to children without condescending. Highly, highly recommended. 

125. Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop's Battle for America's Soul by Michael Fanone and John Shiffman - Made famous by two photographs showing him fighting for his life on January 6 as he was dragged into the furious crowd, Michael Fanone relates his history as a police officer, describes his experience on January 6 in detail, and tells about the aftermath. What an interesting man. I've seen Fanone on TV and he's so well-spoken and intelligent that I never would have suspected he was a drop-out who later got his GED for the sake of getting into the police academy. Similar to Michael Rosen's Covid coma experience, Fanone has faced a lot of pushback with people telling him his body camera footage was faked, that the Insurrection didn't happen or was done by people from Antifa dressed as Trump supporters, etc. The fact that they tased him repeatedly (to the point that he had a mild heart attack) and tried to take his gun to shoot him tells a different story. Highly recommended, a really engrossing read. 

126. The Nesting by C. J. Cooke - Lexi's boyfriend has asked her to move out after her suicide attempt has caused the loss of her job and medication has given her hallucinations. With nowhere to go, she rides the Tube and happens to overhear talk of a nannying job in Norway. She applies and goes off to take care of two little girls whose mother recently committed suicide. Their father Tom is an architect who is determined to finish the summer home he originally began building for his wife, Aurelia. When Lexi finds hoof prints in her bedroom and hears a voice calling her from the basement, she thinks she's still having hallucinations. But, then she hears about the Norwegian version of Mother Nature and how it takes vengeance on people who alter the land, something Tom has done. Did Aurelia really commit suicide or was she chased by an evil spirit? This book was so genuinely frightening that I had to stop reading it at night. Fortunately, Dewey's Readathon conveniently gave me an excuse to finish the book in the daylight. 

127. Spy School Goes South by Stuart Gibbs (Spy School #6) - Former Spy School student Murray Hill has been held in the school's jail because the evil group SPYDER keeps springing him from juvenile detention. Now, he says he knows where SPYDER's leaders are hiding and he's willing to take student Ben Ripley there, but not anyone from the CIA. Ben and his constant companion Erica head to Mexico but things go wrong immediately. Will Ben and Erica be able to thwart SPYDER's latest efforts? From the always plot-intense, exciting, adventurous middle grade series, another edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. This is my all-time favorite middle grade series. I think I'm totally out of Spy School books, now, so I may have to order another. 

128. Recursion by Blake Crouch - A scientist and a wealthy man discover a way to copy memories and implant them into a brain. The original intent of the scientist's invention, a "memory chair," is to help Alzheimer's patients. But when the wealthy man decides to use the chair for his own purposes and discovers a way to relive time, he begins a cascading set of actions that will lead to the utter destruction of the world unless the scientist and the man she loves can figure out a way to prevent everyone from remembering past timelines. A wild ride and another great one from Blake Crouch. I have not yet found a book by this author that I didn't love. 

129. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico - Two novellas in one book. In Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Harris, a widowed London charwoman, sees two beautiful Dior dresses and decides she must scrimp and save then travel to Paris to buy a Dior dress of her own. When she gets to Paris, she charms nearly everyone she meets with her down-to-earth honesty and warmth. In Mrs. Harris Goes to New York, Mrs. Harris and her friend Mrs. Butterfield accompany one of Mrs. Harris's clients to New York and get themselves into a tangle when they try to do a kindness without thinking it through. Again, Mrs. Harris charms everyone. Such a pleasant couple of reads! 

130. A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz - The "kid" of the title is a baby goat, not a human child. Joe's mother works in a millinery and during the daytime Joe stays with Mr. Kandinsky and his assistant. Mr. Kandinsky is a kind man and a bit of a storyteller. Since Joe's father is working in Africa, Mr. Kandinsky studies up on African animals and tells Joe all about them. But, his stories can be a little bit on the fantastical side. When he tells Joe about unicorns and how valuable their horns were (allegedly the reason they can no longer be found), Joe decides he wants a unicorn. In the market, he finds a unicorn — really, a sickly goat that appears to have a single, stubby horn. Joe and his friends take care of the goat but it never becomes healthy. Meanwhile, Mr. Kandinsky's assistant is building himself up in order to try to earn money wrestling so that he can give his fiancĂ©e a diamond ring. Not much happens in this quaint story but it has a unique atmosphere and very interesting characters so I enjoyed it. 

It would be almost impossible to choose favorites, this month, because it was just that good. I liked or loved everything I read and I was clearly in a reading mood all month, apart from one day when I had a high fever (that sucked). Several of these are graphic novels, two are memoirs (and the Guide to Enlightenment has some bits of autobiography), two included time travel, at least three were creepy, and then there were my usual upbeat and adventurous middle grade reads. Just a fantastic, all-around reading month for me. Feel free to ask me questions about anything. I think that would be easier than trying to choose favorites. 

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