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For the Love of Reading: January 2024

It’s a new month and that means it’s time for me to share the reviews of the books I read last month. There were 8, which feels like a lot but I guess that’s what happens when it’s cold and gray outside!

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I adored this family saga and have decided that Penelope Keeling may be one of my most favorite characters ever. She is strong and practical, resilient and determined and kind, and on top of all that she is an avid gardener who thinks a home isn’t complete without flowers. This book is heartwarming and heartbreaking, full of wonderful settings from the English countryside to London and more. There are gatherings for beautiful lunches and Sunday roasts, nights of wine in intimate restaurants and drinks in boisterous pubs. In essence, it’s everything I want in a book when I need something to make me feel cozy and comforted and alive. Highly recommended.

The Only One Left by Riley Sager
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was completely engrossed by this story from page one and really enjoyed the creepy house on the coast of Maine with the equally creepy inhabitants. Did I figure out some of the key plot twists in advance? I sure did. But there were some that I didn’t see coming (partly because they were pretty far fetched) but they still provided a good degree of entertainment and I’m not sorry I read this on a dreary weekend in January.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
American history is rife with shameful and deplorable actions and this book details the atrocities committed against the members of Osage Nation in the 1920s as they are serially murdered by white settlers in order to obtain their oil rights. The investigative journalism is top notch and the highly readable prose makes for a compelling story that will leave you outraged and dismayed at the lengths which people will go to for money and power. The accompanying photographs enhance the story nicely, putting faces to the names of these real life people. This is narrative nonfiction at it’s best and I highly recommend it.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“This is Indian country, isn’t it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”
I loved the Little House books as a child and I wanted to see if I felt the same way as an adult. I was also curious about the depictions of Native Americans. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved these books for the same reason I did years ago – because Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her world in a way that made me feel like I was right there with her. As for the Native Americans, she wrote about people who were frightened of them, people who were clearly racist about them, and people who were accepting of them but still wanted to move onto their land. Given the time of publication, this was probably as neutral as it was going to get. I’m happy that this book has stood the test of time for me.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a moving, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful account of one young woman’s battle with acute myeloid leukemia. The author is refreshingly vulnerable about her own shortcomings and failures, both with resenting the physical realities of her treatment as well as with the damage her illness inflicts on her relationships with those who love her, due in large part to her own attitude. Her body is ravaged by this disease and it clearly takes a toll on her emotional wellbeing but I also think she’s extremely privileged in having ample resources (family, money, excellent health insurance, multiple places to live without paying for it) to fight her illness. something she perhaps could have acknowledged in the book. Still, highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand how it feels to battle and then come back from a life altering prognosis.

Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
All the Indian children who were ever Indian children never stopped being Indian children, and went on to have . . . Indian children, whose Indian children went on to have Indian children, whose Indian children became American Indians, whose American Indian children became Native Americans, whose Native American children would call themselves Natives, or Indigenous, or NDNS, or the names of their sovereign nations, or the names of their tribes, and all too often would be told they weren’t the right kind of Indians to be considered real ones by too many Americans taught in schools their whole lives that the only real kind of Indians were those long-gone Thanksgiving Indians who loved the pilgrims as if to death.
As much as I loved Tommy Orange’s debut, There There, I loved Wandering Stars even more. It’s a beautifully written account of Native American oppression over several generations of the same family. Starting with the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, moving to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which attempted to strip every Indian of their culture, and into present day Oakland, Orange creates a cast of characters that will both break your heart and inspire your soul. Highly recommended.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC in return for an honest review. This book will be published February 27, 2024.

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a terrific fictionalized account of the murder of far too many women at the hands of Ted Bundy, who is only referred to as The Defendant throughout the novel. I truly appreciated how Knoll told this story to debunk the myth that this terrible man was somehow charming and smart and that he used his appeal to convince women to help him. The dual timelines build suspension, the portrayal of completely believable misogyny and police incompetence is infuriating, and there is far more depth to the story than is typical of this genre. Definitely recommended.

The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had high hopes for this book based on the description and the gorgeous cover. And I did like it, I just didn’t love it like I hoped I would. The setting is an ethereal and wild swamp but, despite the many descriptions, I still had a difficult time truly picturing it. The characters felt one dimensional and stereotypical and the difficulties in their relationships with each other were alluded to but not studied in depth, which I consider a missed opportunity. I had to keep reminding myself that it was set in present time because it felt sort of timeless and I, while I think that was the point, setting up the tension between the old and the new, the traditional and modern, I struggled with it. It was often repetitive and just sort of meandered, not really defining itself . . . is it a dark fairytale? magical realism? a character study? I was never really sure and that felt like a barrier that prevented me from really immersing myself in the writing.

As always, I hope you find something on this list that you want to read.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. I, likewise, loved – loved – loved Wandering Stars! I am adding Bright Young Women to my TBR list!

  2. I’ve had Between Two Kingdoms on my list for quite a while, but I’m almost afraid to read it. The survival rate for AML is abysmal (depending on the subtype) but there aren’t many books that I’m aware of that talk about what it’s like to survive a terrible illness. You have saved me from reading The Waters!

  3. If only The Waters was a good as its cover! (Because that is one gorgeous cover. . . ) And I’m so glad you liked Shell Seekers. XO

  4. I enjoyed The Shell Seekers and I downloaded Winter solstice by Pilcher on Audible. Can you believe that I never read ANY of the Little House on the Prairie books? I doubt I will read one now…I don’t think it would work for me, but I’m glad you enjoyed your re-reading. the Waters sure has a gorgeous cover, but…never mind!

  5. I reread the whole Little House series with my daughter a number of years ago for the first time since I read them as a kid — and let’s just say that while Little House on the Prairie isn’t too bad as far as racism, it does get pretty bad later in the series. I am going to put The Shell Seekers on my TBR list for when I need a delightful comfort read!

  6. I gave up on The Waters about half way through!
    The Shell Seekers is one of my very favorite books and is one I can return to over and over again!

  7. I’ve read 3 of your titles but quite a while ago so may have to find them and reread! Riley Sager is another author I like, so I will have to check out that title. Right now I am almost done reading a series of 4 books by Steph Broadribb and then have to get busy and read Dirt by Bill Buford before our next book club meeting.

  8. !!! Wandering Stars!!! I have tickets for a zoom event with Tommy Orange next month … I just finished writing about There There in my journal today and am so excited to see how he follows it up!

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