107. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin - My first fictional work by James Baldwin is a heartbreaker. Fonny and Tish have been together forever, first as friends and then gradually they fell in love. Fonny is in jail and Tish has brought him the news that they're expecting a baby, that her family is working hard to get him out of jail for a crime he didn't commit. Then, the storyline goes back to the beginning of their friendship and you get to know Fonny and Tish's characters and friendship, the unique quirks of their family members (for better or worse), how their relationship developed, and how Fonny came to be accused of a crime he didn't commit. A distressingly realistic tale of poverty and the consequences that can come of being Black, even when one has done everything right. This story will definitely stick with me for a long time. Incredible writing and character development for a book of just under 200 pages. Published in 1974.
108. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons - My first creepy read for Readers Imbibing Peril, Colquitt and Walter live in a quiet, upscale Georgia subdivision. Next door, there is a forested lot that they've been told is not suitable for building. So, they're surprised when it's sold and a modern house slowly takes shape. They become friends with the architect but weird things begin happening during the building. After a quick succession of families occupy and leave the house, all under tragic circumstances, the architect decides the house is evil. When Col and Walter decide he's right, is it too late to keep the evil from spreading? Published in 1978, I feel like I've just taken a trip from the poor side of the 70s to the upscale and wow, what a contrast. In the James Baldwin, the era inserted itself mostly through language; clothing certainly wasn't a priority. In The House Next Door, it was architecture and fashion that asserted themselves as icons of the time period. Humorously, as I'm writing this, I'm reading another book published in 1978. Back to the book, I thought it was a bit overlong and heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it and I'm glad I stuck it out because the ending was perfect.
109. Breaking Away (aka, French Leave) by Anna Gavalda - I was well into Breaking Away when I looked up a particular detail, apparently fictionalized, and found out that this book was also published under the name French Leave. I hadn't heard of Breaking Away, but I knew I'd heard of French Leave. 3 siblings ditch the rest of their family at a wedding so that they can go visit the brother who didn't show up. A very shallow read in which nothing much happens . . . about family, growing up, hope for the future, nostalgia for the past, and knowing a special day will never come around again. Breaking Away is sweet, puerile but also uppity in a very French way, as in "If you have an extra 5 pounds on you we're laughing about how fat you are and heavens, boxed wine is so lower class." It's kind of cringe-inducing. But, it was also a refreshing change of pace for me. As it turns out, I read the Europa version under the title French Leave, 10 years ago. I didn't remember that till I saw the cover and checked the blog to make certain I'd read it. I did not love it, the first time. I didn't love it this time, either, but I enjoyed it and related in some oblique way that I didn't before. Timing is everything.
110. The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis - A story told in three acts, like a play, The Chelsea Girls is about Hazel and Maxine. In the first act, they become friends and work together both in the USO and writing a radio show during the last months of WWII in Italy. They go their separate ways and the next act takes place during the Red Scare, when they're both caught up in the House Un-American Committee's hunt for Communists and one of them, we find, has a secret. The two women are then separated for a long time and the final act takes place in 1967. Throughout the second act, the Chelsea Hotel has become a bit of a character in and of itself as you get to know the history of the hotel as a haven for artists of all sorts and how they often traded their art for rent. In the third act, one of the women is still living in the hotel and the other has become famous. What will happen when they're forced to reunite? Loved this story for the history. I do find the relationships and writing a bit on the stylistically fluffy side but Davis does a deep dive into her subject matter and it shows. I loved the history lessons I got from reading The Chelsea Girls.
111. The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser - In 1978 in Boulder, Colorado, Shay is preparing to marry, while in 1900 her grandmother, Brandy, is doing the same. Both are given a family heirloom, a hideous old mirror, although neither is aware that it's cursed and has already killed many people. It doesn't kill Shay and Brandy, but it does switch them into each other's bodies. Shay is shocked to find that, as Brandy, she's being forced into marriage when in 1978 marriage is by choice. Life becomes even more unexpected when she's taken to her new husband's home in Nederland, Colorado and she finds it's no more than a shack and because she talks confidently about the future she's considered crazy. In 1978, Brandy is mortified by the way people dress and behave, as well as the missing sense of community. Everything smells like nothing and tastes bland. Like Shay, Brandy is considered crazy. Will Shay and Brandy ever be able to return to their own time periods? I guess that's a spoiler so I won't answer it but I can tell you that the mirror continues to assert itself (mostly by killing people) throughout the novel and the historical parts are utterly fascinating. I was absolutely mesmerized by The Mirror. This was a great choice for fall reading.
112. The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook by Shaun Tan - This book is a peek into Shaun Tan's process, how he gets inspiration by putting pen to paper and seeing where it takes him: "taking a line for a walk" as Paul Klee says in a quote Tan put in the book. Well worth the money to just sit and stare at his sketches, marveling at Tan's imagination but it's also a nice peek into how he got some of the ideas for books he's written (and films, he says, although I haven't seen any of those).
©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 firstname.lastname@example.org for written permission to reproduce text or photos.