2020 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2019, I read 29 books. So far this year, I’ve read these 19 books:

Ratings legend:

★★★★★ Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. and/or More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening). Definitely recommend.
★★★★☆ Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would highly recommend.
★★★☆☆ Average. An entertaining read but probably forgettable. Might or might not recommend.
★★☆☆☆ Finished, but did not like. Would not recommend.
★☆☆☆☆ Abandoned before finishing, usually because it was poorly written or just uninteresting to me.

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—summary
Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry further down on the page, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty 498 03/31/20 – 04/04/20 (5 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, psychology
The Obituary Society Jessica L. Randall 216 03/28/20 – 03/30/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery, romance
Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne Johnson 309 03/24/20 – 03/27/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, humor
Postcards from a Stranger Imogen Clark 348 03/21/20 – 03/23/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery
Everything My Mother Taught Me Alice Hoffman 24 03/21/20 – 03/21/20 (1 day) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical, short stories
The Last Thing She Ever Did Gregg Olsen 372 03/17/20 – 03/19/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, thriller
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know Malcolm Gladwell 388 03/15/20 – 03/16/20 (2 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, psychology, sociology
Break in Case of Emergency Jessica Winter 269 03/08/20 – 03/12/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, women, humor
Property: Stories Between Two Novellas Lionel Shriver 317 02/29/20 – 03/06/20 (7 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, short stories
The Road Home Kathleen Shoop 503 02/25/20 – 02/28/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou 317 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, classics
The Bookshop of Yesterdays Amy Meyerson 364 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, books about books, mystery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery 325 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, philosophy, French culture
The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead 336 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, historical
The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Terri-Lynne DeFino 336 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
After the Funeral Agatha Christie Audio 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Ottessa Moshfegh 304 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary
The Once and Future King (Abandoned) T.H. White 647 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days) ★☆☆☆☆ fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
What Alice Forgot Liane Moriarty 476 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary, romance, Australian culture, mystery
How Will You Measure Your Life Clayton M. Christensen 240 12/31/19 – 01/02/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ business, leadership, management, personal development, philosophy, productivity, psychology, self-help

 

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—details

Book cover Book: The Husband’s Secret Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 498 Duration: 03/31/20 – 04/04/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, psychology
🔖10-word summary: A man’s posthumous-intended, found letter shatters the lives around him
🖌6-word review: Gripping, thought-provoking, and best epilogue ever
Description: Your husband’s letter to be opened after his death contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Then imagine stumbling across it while he’s still very much alive. Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter has earth-shattering repercussions that’s about to change everything, and not just for her.
Thoughts: I loved this book—hence the 5-star rating. This is my second Liane Moriarty book this year, and I gave What Alice Forgot a 5-star rating, too. I guess you could say I like this author. I did have a little trouble keeping the characters (or should I say families) straight for the first couple of chapters and when their interconnections first became apparent. But once into the groove, I was interested in each family’s own little sub-drama and even more so in how intertwined they eventually all became. The epilogue is probably the best ending to a book I’ve ever read. I found it analogous to the final scene (which I loved) of the final episode of the final season of Six Feet Under if you ever watched that HBO series. But I loved this book’s epilogue 100 times more than I loved that final scene.




Book cover Book: The Obituary Society Author: Jessica L. Randall
Pages: 216 Duration: 03/28/20 – 03/30/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, romance
🔖10-word summary: A granddaughter’s inherited house houses incriminating and dangerous family secrets
🖌6-word review: Finished, one notch above didn’t like
Description: Lila Moore inherits her grandfather’s house in a small Midwestern town. She’s charmed by the people of Auburn, from the blue-eyed lawyer with the southern drawl to the little old lady who unceasingly tries to set Lila up with her grandson. But when strange things begin to happen, Lila realizes some of her new friends are guarding a secret like it’s a precious family heirloom. It’s a dangerous secret, and it has come back to haunt them.
Thoughts: I found this book just good enough to finish, but neither loving it nor likely to recommend it. I was having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why it didn’t grab me, but when I was creating this entry for it and saw that one of the genres that Goodreads classified this book as was “romance,” a light bulb went off. I’m not a big fan of romance novels. Also, one of the main draws of this book was the word “obituary” in the title, but there was very little information about the The Obituary Society’s actual meetings, which is what I wanted to know about. I didn’t find out that this book was the first in a 3-book series until I was well into it, and presumably they talk more about the meetings in the subsequent books, but I wasn’t intrigued enough in this one to read on.




Book cover Book: Be Frank With Me Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Pages: 309 Duration: 03/24/20 – 03/27/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, humor
🔖10-word summary: A brilliantly precocious boy’s life with his famous-author, dysfunctional mother
🖌6-word review: At times humorous, at times heartbreaking
Description: When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the 9-year-old son of Mimi, an eccentric author mother. He’s a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders. As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation, and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.
Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this tale—but not without frequently being confounded, infuriated, and exasperated by Frank’s mother, for which I’ll credit good character development by Julia Claiborne Johnson. This is the kind of book that I could easily see turned into a movie, although a child actor doesn’t come to mind who could pull off Frank. He was quite the character. I highly recommend this book.




Book cover Book: Postcards from a Stranger Author: Imogen Clark
Pages: 348 Duration: 03/21/20 – 03/23/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Old postcards in attic expose a lifetime of family lies
🖌6-word review: Entertaining investigative work by female protagonist
Description: When Cara stumbles across a stash of old postcards in the attic, their contents make her question everything she thought she knew. The story she pieces together is confusing and unsettling, and appears to have been patched over with lies. But who can tell her the truth? With her father sinking into Alzheimer’s and her brother reluctant to help, it seems Cara will never find the answers to her questions. One thing is clear, though: someone knows more than they’re letting on. The picture that begins to emerge is not at all the one she’d expected—because as she soon discovers, lies have a habit of multiplying.
Thoughts: This was a well-told story—a mystery that unfolded at a nice clip, never keeping me waiting very long for the next revelation to satisfy me and keep me wanting to know what would happen next.




Book cover Book: Everything My Mother Taught Me Author: Alive Hoffman
Pages: 24 Duration: 03/21/20 – 03/21/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Mute girl survives her father’s death and mother’s mean selfishness
🖌6-word review: An impressively succinct, well-written short story
Description: For fatefully observant Adeline, growing up carries an ominous warning from her adulterous mother: don’t say a word. Adeline vows to never speak again. But that’s not her only secret. After her mother takes a housekeeping job at a lighthouse off the tip of Cape Ann, a local woman vanishes. The key to the mystery lies with Adeline, the silent witness.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this short (24-page) story. A lot of themes were covered in a very short time—loyalty, betrayal, adultery, revenge, and love. The 4- as opposed to 5-star rating was due to “some minor flaws,” namely with questions about some plot points that I didn’t think about, but Bob pointed out when I described the story to him. I still would recommend the book, though, because they obviously didn’t bother me, since I didn’t even notice them.




Book cover Book: The Last Thing She Ever Did Author: Gregg Olsen
Pages: 372 Duration: 03/17/20 – 03/19/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, thriller
🔖10-word summary: A trio of neighbors involved in a little boy’s disappearance
🖌6-word review: A compelling, well-written, plot-driven, page-turning mystery
Description: The community along Oregon’s Deschutes River is one of successful careers and perfect families. For years, up-and-comers Liz and Owen have admired their good friends and neighbors, Carole and David. They appear to have it all–security, happiness, and a beautiful young son, Charlie. Then Charlie vanishes without a trace, and all that seemed safe is shattered by a tragedy that is incomprehensible—except to Liz. There’s another good neighbor who has his own secrets, his own pain, and his own reasons for watching Liz’s every move.
Thoughts: I flew through this book, because it was well-written and plot-driven, two very important factors in how much I like a book. I also found myself yelling at the characters, “How stupid can you be?” And, “No, no, no, don’t do that!” A couple of the things a couple of the characters did at times, seemed a little far-fetched, which is the only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. I do highly recommend it, though, if you like a quick-moving, plot-driven mystery.




Book cover Book: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Pages: 388 Duration: 03/15/20 – 03/16/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, psychology, sociology
🔖10-word summary: Complex human psychology that explains societal atrocities that confound us
🖌6-word review: Credible. Famous examples. Accessible psychological concepts.
Description: How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true? Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, and it answered a lot of questions I had about the Brock Turner, Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nasser, and Michael Brown incidents, which he uses as examples to explain how complex human psychology is at work in these situations. The most enlightening thing to me, perhaps, was the well-explained section on (alcohol) blackouts. Fascinating. And the thing that contributed the most to my 5-star rating is the part of the criteria that says, “More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening).” Note: I also loved Outliers and The Tipping Point, the only 2 of his other books that I’ve read, so I may just be a fan of his writing and/or sociology and psychology books.




Book cover Book: Break in Case of Emergency Author: Jessica Winter
Pages: 269 Duration: 03/08/20 – 03/12/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, women, humor
🔖10-word summary: Friendship, fertility, and fighting for sanity in a toxic workplace
🖌6-word review: Karina was a strongly written character
Description: Jen has reached her early thirties and has all but abandoned a once-promising painting career when, spurred by the 2008 economic crisis, she takes a poorly defined job at a feminist nonprofit. The foundation’s ostensible aim is to empower women, but staffers spend all their time devising acronyms for imaginary programs, ruthlessly undermining one another, and stroking the ego of their boss, the larger-than-life celebrity philanthropist Leora Infinitas. Jen’s complicity in this passive-aggressive hellscape only intensifies her feelings of inferiority compared to her two best friends—one a wealthy attorney with a picture-perfect family, the other a passionately committed artist—and so does Jen’s apparent inability to have a baby, a source of existential panic that begins to affect her marriage and her already precarious status at the office. As Break in Case of Emergency unfolds, a fateful art exhibition, a surreal boondoggle adventure in Belize, and a devastating personal loss conspire to force Jen to reckon with some hard truths about herself and the people she loves most.
Thoughts: It wasn’t until about a third of the way into this book that I was sure I was going to stick with it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t compelling to me either. I’m aware that I’m less tolerant of humorous books these days, with the most recent example being Rue McClanahan’s book that I abandoned in my 2019 reading. Humor in writing is tenuous for me and requires a certain level of rapport with the reader to be effective. In the case of Rue’s book, I got the distinct impression that she thought she was funnier than I did, as the reader, and that didn’t work for me. That’s what I was working through during the first third of this book. Perhaps because this humor was satire, and I like good satire, I was able to hang. I mentioned “Karina” in my 6-word review, and her character really was the saving grace of this book for me. Don’t get me wrong, as a “person,” she was infuriating, but I like when an author can get me riled up about a fictional character. For all of my ambivalence about it, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this book, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.




Book cover Book: Property: Stories Between Two Novellas Author: Lionel Shriver
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/29/20 – 03/06/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Ten short stories sandwiched between two novellas each about property
🖌6-word review: Different meanings of property. Smart writing.
Description: Because this book consists of 12 stories, I’m just going to provide a 10-word summary and 6-word review of each of them instead of detailing what each is about:
Novella 1: The Standing Chandelier
Summary: An enormous personal art piece wedding gift becomes problematic property
Review: A tightly wound tale of love
Shorty story 1: The Self-Seeding Sycamore
Summary: A widow’s property-line tree imbues grief, anger, rebirth, and love
Review: Neighbors come to a surprising resolution
Short story 2: Domestic Terrorism
Summary: Live-in son won’t vacate his family’s property no matter what
Review: A tightly wound tale of love
Shorty story 3: The Royal Male
Summary: A postman plays God with other people’s property—their mail
Review: A deceitful meeting “frontfires”—ending smashingly
Shorty story 4: Exchange Rates
Summary: London property ownership dreams constrained by money, family, and time
Review: Dad comes. Dad goes. Goal achieved.
Short story 5: Kilifi Creek
Summary: Female protagonist runs out of luck on Manhattan property rooftop
Review: Close calls finally close in completely
Shorty story 6: Repossession
Summary: Helen buys possessed repossessed property—it’s all downhill from there
Review: Circuitous road to the repo man
Shorty story 7: The ChapStick
Summary: Unlikely personal property—a ChapStick tube—has not inconsequential consequences
Review: A deceitful meeting “frontfires”—ending smashingly
Shorty story 8: Negative Equity
Summary: A couple’s “underwater” property complicates their impending separate living arrangements
Review: A restaurateur and a hygienist resuscitate
Short story 9: Vermin
Summary: The “Little Dump” Brooklyn property becomes overrun with raucous raccoons
Review: An imperfect purchase and relationship deteriorates
Shorty story 10: Paradise to Perdition
Summary: Tainted property—embezzled money—can’t buy happiness or even enjoyment
Review: A modern-day Crime and Punishment story
Novella 2: The Subletter
Summary: Emer sublets Sara’s flat with an overlapping period of calamity
Review: Too politically heavy, but otherwise compelling
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a novella or a short story in a while, so it was a nice change of pace. I liked how the kind of “property” at the center of each story varied, nicely described in this New York Times review: “From one story to the next, the acquisition of things—land, money, empty nests—rarely leads to happiness and often stimulates character traits that might better be kept in check.” My favorite story was The Royal Male (one of the 10 short stories) and my least favorite story (although I loved the beginning and the end of it) was The Subletter (one of the novellas and the last story in the book, unfortunately).


 

Book cover Book: The Road Home Author: Kathleen Shoop
Pages: 503 Duration: 02/25/20 – 02/28/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical
🔖10-word summary: The long road back from a dramatic, circumstantial family separation
🖌6-word review: 3-POV, well-told saga penned in flashbacks
Description:
1905—Tearful mourners at Katherine’s mother’s funeral force her to revisit a time in her life that both harmed and saved her in the most unexpected ways. Her also-grieving brother Tommy is thrust backward, compelled to rediscover the events in his life that shaped the man he’s become. They come to understand that forgiveness is the only way back to hope, the only way to find all that was good in the misfortune that transformed their lives forever.
1891—Living separately for 3 years, 14-year-old twins, Katherine and Tommy Arthur, have done their best to make each boarding house feel like home. But unrest grows as they are driven to questionable actions just to survive. Meanwhile their desperate mother is confronted with breaking yet another promise to her children. Hope rises on a cold, rainy night and changes everything. If their mother Jeanie could just get word to Katherine and Tommy, she knows she can set their lives right again. Agitators, angels, and dangerous “saviors” illuminate the Arthurs’ unmatched determination and smarts.
Thoughts: I found this a quick and easy read, told in flashbacks between two years—1905 and 1891—and across 3 points-of-view: Jeanie (mother, first-person narrator), Katherine (daughter/sister, third-person narrator), and Tommy (son/brother, third-person narrator). That’s also in the order of how much I liked each person’s story. In terms of present and flashback, I liked when the story returned to the present—1905—the most. I found this a well-told story about a very dramatic family break-up. Oddly enough, the beginning of it reminded me of the very first episode of Schitt’s Creek: When the wealthy family—video store magnate Johnny, his wife and former soap opera actress Moira, and their adult children David and Alexis lose their fortune after being defrauded by their business manager, the IRS enters their home to seize their assets. This story, at times, also reminded me of that song from Hee Haw: “Gloom despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

This is a book I downloaded for free from BookBub, and like several of the other books they’ve offered free, it turned out to be one book of a series. (Book 2 of 7, as it turns out.) I would never purposely start reading a book series without starting with the first book and without reading them in order, but this is now the third time I’ve done it, and it’s not bad. I do have interest in reading the first and third books in the series, but if history repeats itself, I won’t—especially if I can’t get the other books from the library. With all that said, as my 4-star review intimates, I’d highly recommend this book.




 

Book cover Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Author: Maya Angelou
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, classics
🔖10-word summary: Maya Angelou from three to seventeen—resisting racism in America.
🖌6-word review: On identity, racism, rape, and literacy.
Description: Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Thoughts: I’m happy to have finally read this book. In no surprise whatsoever, the writing was exquisite and the story compelling. In devising my 2020 reading list, I didn’t purposefully schedule two books with a racism theme during Black History Month, but I’m glad it worked out that way. I had no idea Maya was the first African American streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and I enjoyed her telling of how she made that happen. My favorite scene in this book was when Maya’s grandmother was out on the front porch of her house, standing still, singing continuously and without wavering as little white kids abased her, calling her names and making fun of her. Powerful.



 

Book cover Book: The Bookshop of Yesterdays Author: Amy Meryerson
Pages: 364 Duration: 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, books about books, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Girl inherits bookshop that holds clues to her family’s past.
🖌6-word review: Family secrets. Mostly believable. Implausible moments.
Description: Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric Uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear from him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy—and one final scavenger hunt.
Thoughts: This was a “refreshingly light read” after The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The scavenger hunt thing got old by the end, but I enjoyed it overall, just more so at the beginning. The “family secrets” part of this book reminded me of my favorite book of a 2019, The Secrets Mothers Keep. The female protagonist annoyed me at times—her character being portrayed, not the writing about her, which is a compliment to the author. I’m pretty sure there was one editing error (which I have little patience for) where one character was referred to with the wrong name.



 

Book cover Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog Author: Muriel Barbery
Pages: 325 Duration: 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, philosophy, French culture
🔖10-word summary: A 54-year-old and a 12-year-old contemplate the meaning of life.
🖌6-word review: Big words. Deep thoughts. Great ending.
Description: Paloma (a 12-year old resident) and Renée (the 54-year old concierge) both hide their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he can gain Paloma’s trust and see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Thoughts: Be prepared to look up a lot of words reading this book. It has to be written at a grade 16 (or higher) level. This is a typical example of the high level of writing: instead of just writing, “How crazy that yesterday no one cared about my place, but today everyone does,” she writes, “How extraordinary that this loge, which yesterday was of no interest to anyone, seems today to be the focus of global attention.” The large amount of philosophical discussion in the book reminded me of my philosophy (& logic) courses in college, which I really enjoyed. It was nice to revisit that kind of writing, but it’s definitely not “easy” reading for me—and one book like it this year will be plenty.

I didn’t like that the author used the r-word at least 4 times. I did like that Renée’s deceased husband’s name was Lucien, which was my paternal grandfather’s name. I enjoyed the parallel stories of the 54-year-old concierge and the 12-year-old child who were the two (alternating, for the most part) narrators. I particularly liked when it happened that you heard one side of a scene from one of them and the very next chapter revealed the same scene from the other one’s perspective. I also liked that the 12-year-old girl was planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. (Not a spoiler; it’s revealed early on in the book.) And finally, I liked the ending, and if you know me at all—with regards to the endings of books or movies—then you can guess what happens.




 

Book cover Book: The Underground Railroad Author: Colson Whitehead
Pages: 417 Duration: 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, historical
🔖10-word summary: Cora flees Georgia plantation for a life on the run.
🖌6-word review: Unspeakable acts of racist American history.
Description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned.
Thoughts: This was one of our Mostly Social Book Club books. I really struggled rating this book in my (admittedly, self-imposed) rating system, and if I’d’ve allowed myself half-stars, I easily would have given this one 3½ stars. In the end, I couldn’t go to my 4-star rating, because I couldn’t “highly” recommend this book, but in the 3-star rating, which says I “might or might not recommend” this book, I would recommend it in most cases—depending on how much I knew about the person asking about it.

I didn’t find this book too tedious to read, as a couple of my friends seem to have—according to some Facebook comments about it. I did find it difficult to read because of the graphic descriptions (as they should be) of the horrific things we did to slaves in this country. I’d never heard of the “underground railroad” before reading this book. I had a white history teacher who was a memorize-these-events-and-dates kind of teacher, so I never found it interesting, and I’d be very surprised if he ever even mentioned the underground railroad. If I hadn’t read the Wikipedia entry about it, this book would have led me to believe the myth that it was an actual, physical railroad. )Yes, I know the book is a novel, so I shouldn’t have assumed that, but I did.) And finally, I’m glad this was a book club book, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, and I’m very glad I did.



 

Book cover Book: The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Author: Terri-Lynne DeFino
Pages: 336 Duration: 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Authors living assisted in their twilight years. Book-within-a-book literary device.
🖌6-word review: The last small-font book I’ll read.
Description: A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them. As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible.
Thoughts: It took me a little while to get into the book within this book, which was being written collaboratively by the residents of the retirement home. I didn’t really like the characters in the book within the book in the beginning of their story, but they grew on me. I had a little trouble keeping track of who was related to whom in that story, too. I was definitely more interested in the characters outside of the inner book, or inside of the outer book. (Ugh!) With that said, at the end, I was interested to see what choice the main female character in the “inner book” was going to make. I would have enjoyed this book more, and read it in half the time I’m sure, if the font wasn’t so small. In fact, I have now vowed not to read any more books with font this small. Large-print books and e-books on Kindle are definitely the way to go for me here on out.



 

Book cover Book: After the Funeral Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: Audio Duration: 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Classic Agatha Christie who-done-it with murderer confessing at the end.
🖌6-word review: Amusing and mysterious. British and entertaining.
Description: Hercule Poirot is called on to investigate the murder of a brother and sister in this classic from the Queen of Mystery. When Cora Lansquenet is savagely murdered, the odd remark she made the day before at her brother’s funeral becomes chillingly important: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it. But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Desperate to learn more about both deaths, the family solicitor turns to detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.
Thoughts: This is classic Agatha Christie, so if you like her stuff, you’ll like this. Her Hercule Poirot books are among my favorites, so I enjoyed this book.



 

Book cover Book: My Year of Rest and Relaxation Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Pages: 304 Duration: 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Woman drugs herself out for a year to supposedly heal.
🖌6-word review: Train wreck you can’t not watch.
Description: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be.
Thoughts: This story is an absolute train wreck in progress, and like the train wreck cliché, it was impossible to “look away.” Like this author’s book, Eileen, which I read last year, the storytelling was so compelling that I read large parts of it at a time and returned to it quickly for another dose. Also like Eileen, the story bordered on the bizarre. I wondered a lot about the sheer number—and combination—of drugs the unnamed narrator was taking (assuming they were all real, because most of them were, which made me assume the made up ones were just ones I’d never heard of). At least once I thought about the myriad of medication ingested by the elderly and the—at least 15—prescriptions my mother was on toward the end of her life. There were so many that she became unable to keep track of them herself, and we ended up paying the assisted living place $500 a month to manage them (and at times, and more often that we wanted to at that price, mismanage). In the end, after her year of “rest and relaxation,” the narrator claims that it accomplished her goal, but as the reader I thought, “That remains to be seen.”



 

Book cover Book: The Once and Future King (Abandoned) Author: T.H. White
Pages: 647 Duration: 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
🔖10-word summary: Arthurian characters with more complex and contradictory traits and motives.
🖌6-word review: Abandoned. Excessive description stalled plot interminably.
Description: T.H White′s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. Here all five volumes that make up the story are published in one volume, as White himself always wished. Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur′s personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.
Thoughts: I was inspired to read this book after seeing the play, Camelot; hearing about how much other people enjoyed reading it at various times in their lives; and how it’s considered by many as a seminal work. For me, it had too much description, with not enough plot movement. I mean 3 super long paragraphs describing the outside of a castle in excruciating detail and then the next paragraph starting, “So much for the outer defences. Once you were inside the curtain wall, you found yourself in a kind of wide alley-way, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you,” followed by paragraph after paragraph describing that. Nope. That, together with my dislike of fantasy! Merlyn’s says “Wash up!” and “At this all the china and cutlery scrambled down off the table, the cloth emptied the crumbs out of the window, and the napkins folded themselves up.” Add to that, super small font with over 600 more pages to go. Just wasn’t willing to do it. I abandoned this book on page 35.



 

Book cover Book: What Alice Forgot Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 476 Duration: 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, romance, Australian culture, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Woman tries to adjust to 10 lost years of memories.
🖌6-word review: Definite page turner. Realistic and thought-provoking.
Description: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a good job of capturing things you might not consider if you lost a 10-year period of your memory. I also liked how it made me think about how you might react to realizing you didn’t really like the person you’d become during the gap, and how you might resolve that. I read this author’s book Nine Perfect Strangers last year, which I only liked okay. I liked this one much, much better, and I’d highly recommend it.



 

Book cover Book: How Will You Measure Your Life? Author: Clayton M. Christensen
Pages: 240 Duration: 12/31/20 – 01/02/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: business, leadership, management, psychology, self-help
🔖10-word summary: Criteria to measure your life and propel yourself to happiness.
🖌6-word review: Unengaged by kids and religion chapters.
Description: In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions. How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.
Thoughts: Overall, this book didn’t resonate with me. I did get one important thing out of it, and that’s the notion of asking yourself what “job” something is doing for you. The example that stands out was his talking about what (different) “job” getting a milkshake in a fast-food restaurant is doing for both adult commuters in the morning and for kids after dinner in the evening. Several chapters were devoted to applying the theories in the book to raising children, which didn’t interest me much, and the ending was a lot about God, which didn’t interest me at all. I’d recommend this book for younger people—those still early in their careers or just starting a family.


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