Thursday, June 01, 2023

Everything I read in May, 2023 (in Brief)



59. Wished by Lissa Evans - A middle grade story about 3 children who discover magic candles in the home of an older woman who is watching them temporarily. Each candle will allow someone a wish but only so long as the candle is burning. When the older woman (can't remember her name but she's a fun character) finds out about the candles, she sets out to fulfill a list of adventurous wishes written in her childhood and the children are swept along. Loads of fun. Lissa Evans can't write a bad book, in my humble opinion.

60. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner - (e-book/Hoopla) The Lost Apothecary was recommended to me by the librarian who runs my Zoom book group, but when I say "recommended," I mean that I was intrigued in spite of what she had to say about it. What was most interesting to me was that there was a storyline that included mudlarking, something I've been interested in for years. However, she did say it was badly written and I agree. It was flawed in many ways and there were historical anachronisms. But, I still managed to enjoy it enough to finish and that same librarian said Penner's next book is better so I'm probably going to give her another shot. 

61. On the Horizon by Lois Lowry - A short book in verse that tells of the author's childhood in Hawaii and then Tokyo. It's about WWII, the USS Arizona, and Hiroshima, the horrible loss of life, and a surprising friendship made many years after the war. It's a tearjerker. I loved it. 

62. The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton - The first in a series of 8, I bought this boxed set after years of hearing British friends gush about how much Enid Blyton's books meant to them as children.The Island of Adventure is about 4 children who meet during the school holidays at the house of a master (teacher) who is helping them work on their weaknesses. After cramming, Phillip invites Jack, his parrot Kiki, and his sister Lucy-Ann to Craggy Tops, the half-ruined home on a cliff where he lives with his aunt, uncle, and sister Dinah. The children have fun playing on the shore and in caves but they want to visit the Isle of Gloom, an island that's only sometimes visible off shore. After learning how to sail, they sneak off to the island using the handyman's sailboat and there they make a surprising discovery that will put them in terrible danger. Another great middle grade adventure . . . and now I get the appeal of Enid Blyton. 

63. The United States of McSweeney's: Ten Years of Lucky Mistakes and Accidental Classics, ed. by Nick Hornby and Eli Horowitz - A 10-year "best hits" type of book, and one that is heavily panned by those who are regular McSweeney's readers for repeated best-of stories rather than the use of newer ones. They were all new to me so no biggie. As usual with McSweeney's, there were stories I loved and some I didn't care for. One just lost me completely. My absolute favorite story was "The Ceiling" by Kevin Brockmeier, a story about a strange darkening in the sky that slowly lowers itself to earth. The ending made me wish I had a friend who'd read it with me so I could discuss. Coming in a close second was a story called "I Understand" by Roddy Doyle. No surprise. I love everything Doyle writes. 

64. An Astronomer in Love by Antoine Laurain - In the 18th century, Guillaume Le Gentil has embarked on a journey from his home in France to Pondicherry in India to view and make calculations based upon the Transit of Venus, an event that will occur twice in his lifetime and then not for over 100 years. In modern-day Paris, a real estate agent named Xavier has been asked to remove a chest from an apartment he sold when the previous owners ignore the new owner's request. In it, he finds a copper telescope, which he sets up on his balcony. Le Gentil is met with all sorts of disaster while Xavier is just trying to find happiness and keep his young son Olivier occupied on the weekends when he has custody. But, are both Guillaume and Xavier destined to find love? The title kind of gives you a hint. Once again, Laurain has knocked it out of the park. I loved both the historical storyline (based on the life of Le Gentil, who was real and equally unlucky) and the modern one. This is quite unusual. I tend to like either one or the other in novels with two storylines that are interconnected. (ARC - My thanks to Meryl Zegarek for the review copy)

65. A Man and His Cat #4 by Umi Sakurai - The 4th in the manga series has Mr. Kanda run into an old rival who has inherited a cat from his flighty mother. Mr. Kanda offers to help him learn how to care for a cat as the man has never owned a cat, before. When Mr. Kanda sees the cat, an exotic like Fukumaru, he suspects it is one of Fukumaru's siblings and asks if the cats can get together to see if they recognize one another. This is a manga series with surprising depth as it isn't just all goofy cat antics and a gushy cat owner (although there's plenty of that). Each entry delves deeper into both Mr. Kanda's story and Fukumaru's kittenhood.

66. Exquisite by Suzanne Slade and Cozbi A. Cabrera - A children's picture book about the life and poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks that focuses on her passion and determination, which led to a Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry book. Wonderful story about hard work and focus leading to a wonderful outcome with gorgeous illustrations. My only complaint is that there's a single poem by Brooks and I would have preferred it if the book had 3 or 4 more.

67. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell - Iris owns a small vintage clothing store in Edinburgh and is seeing a married man. Her life is tolerable if unexciting until the day she gets an unexpected phone call. Esme Lennox is being released from Cauldstone Hospital, a mental facility in which she's been locked up for 61 years. Iris has never heard of her, the sister to her grandmother Kitty, who said she was an only child. Esme has nowhere to go because the hospital is closing for good, so Iris ends up taking her on till she can find a home for her. But, in the short time she's with Esme, she can sense no mental illness and she does notice a resemblance to her own father. I won't share any spoilers but the ending is both vague and explosive. I had to look up other opinions of what had happened. Not my favorite by O'Farrell but it's excellent. It does require a bit of concentration to figure out what's going on, at times.  

68. Maizy Chen's Last Chance by Lisa Yee - I read a positive review of Maizy Chen when I was thinking about Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander month and wondering what I should read that fit the bill. It's middle grade (which I love) so I bought it on impulse. Good decision. Maizy and her mother have traveled from Los Angeles to Last Chance, Minnesota due to her grandfather's declining health. There, she makes new friends, learns about her family's restaurant and history, and experiences racism. The story of how an ancestor named Lucky came to the US from China and eventually opened the family's restaurant is a story within the story told by Maizy's grandfather and it's handled so beautifully that I can see why the book has won so many awards. It did take me a good 25 pages to get into the story, but then it just kept getting better. I laughed, I cried. I loved this book. 

69. Aliens in Underpants Save the World by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort - This children's picture book was an impulse purchase from Book Outlet when I went looking for a specific book. I have a thing for aliens in children's books because they're just so dang cute. In this rhyming tale, aliens wearing underpants discover that a dangerous meteor is headed toward Earth. What can they do to save the day? Spoiler: they stitch a bunch of underpants together and use them to alter the meteor's path. Super cute illustrations are marred a bit by awkward rhyming and I got the impression that there's a previous alien book that describes how they got their underpants in the first place so it felt like something was missing but I still really enjoyed the book. I like silliness and would have loved to read this to my kids if it had been around when they were little. 

70. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole - (Audio) I've wanted to read this book for years, mostly out of curiosity. I knew it was a true story so it always baffled me that it was so frequently banned. What motivated me was reading banned book lists from Florida counties in which Tango came up several times. I was hoping my library would have the ebook but all they had was the audio. So, a controversial kids' book has just become my first Hoopla audio borrow (it's a whopping 8 minutes long). It's so sweet! There is nothing sexual whatsoever in this story. Two male penguins are affectionate (nothing beyond that) and they desire to hatch an egg like the other couples. It's a penguin couple who can't seem to deal with more than one chick that ends up having an extra egg taken from them for the male couple to hatch. So, it could be argued that Tango wouldn't have survived without their care. What a lovely story. 

71. What About Will by Ellen Hopkins - A middle grade novel written in verse about two brothers. 17-year-old Will has had a Traumatic Brain Injury that damaged his facial nerves and has changed his personality. Now, he's angry and sullen. To complicate matters, Will and his 12-year-old brother Trace are both frustrated that their mother has left the family to go on the road with her rock band and their father works long hours. Will is supposed to drive Trace to school (they attend the same school, in spite of their age difference) and ball practice. But, Will is unreliable and sometimes out of it, even when he does show up. Trace suspects his brother is buying drugs but neither of his parents are listening and Trace is careful about what he says because he wants to protect Will. But, then things spiral out of control. I liked this book but I kept aging Trace up mentally, in spite of the fact that he's in Little League. I don't know why I did that but it just felt more like YA to me. My first by Hopkins and I want to read more. I don't think this title has been banned but at least one county in Florida has banned nothing but books by Hopkins. So, now I want to read them out of curiosity.  

72. Spy x Family #9 by Tatsuya Endo - This 9th volume of the manga series finishes the story told in #8 with Yor defending a couple and their child on a cruise ship and Anya helping to save the day when it turns out the bad guys are trying to blow up the ship with numerous bombs having been planted. Back at home, Anya's friend Becky visits and swoons over Anya's "father". There are a number of other stories — too many to go into — but suffice it to say, this entry made me smile a lot. Still loving the series and I'm looking forward to #10 coming out in the fall. I've already pre-ordered it. 

73. Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - Four interconnected stories about time travelers and the people who work in the cafe from the author of the original Before the Coffee Gets Cold, which I absolutely loved. This book of tales is every bit as heart-tugging as the first book but because there are several stories and they intersect, you have a lot of characters to keep track of. I had to occasionally sit for a minute and think, "OK, who is this person that was just mentioned?" Part of the reason for that is the prevalence of characters whose names begin with the letter K. It's easy to get all of those K names tangled up in your brain. At any rate, I enjoyed the book and absolutely loved the ending. 

©2023 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.

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