Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019)
This novel gave new meaning to the phrase “it’s complicated.” Even having read the reviews I did not foresee how this story would turn out and how messy it would be. It’s about more than a young black woman’s experiences of different kinds of racism. It’s also about being 25 in today’s America, specifically in Philadelphia. We do live in a world with a huge gap between economic classes and races – one that many white people have the privilege of not seeing, but people of color experience every day. Reid makes her points by example without being too heavy-handed. Every reader can identify with some aspect of the story and its characters. Plus, you keep reading because you want to know how it turns out. Readers should not seek out paid employment with the Green Party, as the main character does – the real Green Party can’t afford to pay people. But we appreciate the shout-out.
I am adding a new feature to my blog: links to the independent bookstore site Bookshop.org. You can purchase this book from an independent bookstore (instead of always giving Amazon your money) by using this link. Or you can put it on hold at your local library, as I did.
The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt, 2020)
This is a novelization of a real historical event, when the two young daughters of the King of England are sent to Ireland for their protection during the Blitz in World War II. The older daughter later becomes Queen Elizabeth II. While the secret service does a fairly good job of keeping the secret of who those two girls in the Duke’s house really are, eventually it leaks out. I don’t know how much of the ensuing drama with the Irish Republican Army really occurred, but the English royalty in this novel should definitely have been more aware of how deeply many Irish people hate them, and chosen a safer hiding place. The girls were fine of course. An interesting story, well written by an Irish novelist.
I am the messenger by Markus Zusak (Random House, 2002)
I read this book because it was recommended by a Book Page editor as their favorite book. It was published back in 2002 in Australia so there is no Internet or cell service and December is the hottest month of the year. It’s the weird but endearing story of a young cab driver who feels worthless until he thwarts a robbery and starts getting mysterious instructions to deliver messages to other people in the city. Somehow with only an address to go on, he figures out what message is right for each person, including in the end, himself. You have to read it yourself, it’s impossible to explain.
Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams (HarperCollins, 2019).
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition, this novel follows a redheaded woman who loves a Coast Guard officer charged with fighting illegal alcohol shipping in the 1920s (and his brother). In parallel it follows a woman in 1998 who also has trouble deciding between two men, and whose great aunt knew the woman from 1924. I had some trouble following what was going on with the two alternating timelines, but it was an interesting pair of stories, especially the one from a century ago.
The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters (MIRA, 2019)
Happy New Year everyone. I did it again – accidentally checked out the second book of a series without having read the first book. The series takes place in fourteenth century England. The main characters are a peasant man and a widowed noble lady, both in their twenties, who have some moral problems with the social order they were born into. They are particularly offended (as we would be) by priests who condemn victims of the plague, claiming they must be sinful. They are intelligent, well-meaning, and brave enough to try to make the changes they believe are needed for survivors of the plague to thrive in the aftermath. Despite their obvious goodness, it was hard for me to root for characters who spend the whole book lying to everyone about who they are. I also felt that that their having correctly deduced how spread of the plague could be prevented was implausible for anyone in 1349. Still, it was a pretty engrossing book.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World/Random House, 2019)
Born into slavery in pre-Civil War Virginia and orphaned at a young age, Hiram inherited a magical power from his African ancestors but had no family to teach him how to use it. Consequently it takes most of this novel for him to learn to “water dance” and conduct people to freedom directly across water to far distant places. Along the way he has to cope with many evils and figure out that the people who can be trusted are not always who he expects. While the subject matter of this novel is very ugly, the language of the writer is the opposite. Throughout, Coates insists on calling slaves “the Tasked” and slaveowners “the Quality”, which makes the story read more like an other-world fantasy than a retelling of real life 150 years ago. This is an excellent book by an award-winning writer.
Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones (Dutton, 2019)
This is a fascinating and comprehensive biography of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, by an excellent writer and thorough researcher. Brian Jay Jones covers Ted Geisel’s whole life and career, from his childhood in Massachusetts through his early life as an illustrator for humor magazines and national advertising campaigns to his eventual fame and fortune writing children’s books like The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, The Lorax, and Green Eggs and Ham. Geisel even had some early experience with films and animation. This experience was useful when people started wanting to adapt books such as The Grinch that Stole Christmas for television. If you loved Dr. Seuss books as a child, or have fond memories of reading them to your own children, you will enjoy this biography.