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For the Love of Reading: March 2024

It’s the beginning of the month, time to take a look back at the books I read in March.

The Women by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m rather conflicted on reviewing this book. The story itself is great, particularly the segment set in Vietnam. That part is vividly written and utterly compelling, I could see and hear and feel all of the horror of a field hospital set on the edge of a combat zone. Where it falls apart, for me, is when the main character (Frankie) comes back to the United States after her tour. Her experiences are frustrating and sad but it becomes repetitive and the story drags. It sounds weird to say that I would have preferred a book that was 90% Vietnam and only 10% the impact of assimilating back into the real world but here we are. The writing itself is, frankly, not great. It’s overstated and sentimental and creates an the feeling of reading a soap opera . . . which is not helped by the fact that many of the secondary characters are pretty one dimensional and every storyline ends in tragic circumstances. In the end, I truly appreciate that Kristin Hannah wrote a story about women’s experiences in Vietnam and the struggles they had when returning to the USA. Nonetheless, I think it would have been much better had the subplots been less corny and the overall focus more historic.

None of This Is True by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The premise has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel . . . a popular podcaster starts a new podcast series about a woman she meets are a restaurant because they share the same birthday. It’s engrossing at first but I quickly become less interested in the story and characters as it all felt rather cliché. Sure, there’s a twist or two that I didn’t see coming but I was honestly waiting for something far more earth shattering that just never manifested. There are also some weird plot holes and there’s some victim blaming that left me annoyed. I won’t say more because spoilers but the ending was not.good.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back.
This is, quite frankly, one of the best books I’ve ever read. And that’s really saying something since I hated it when I first read it 20+ years ago. (I’ve grown a lot as a reader.) This book hits all the sweet spots: a compelling story, richly drawn characters, a realistic setting, and gorgeous language. There is plenty of sarcasm and dry humor to balance out the heaps of heartbreak and tragedy. The history of the Belgian Congo and colonialism is, sadly, as relevant today as it was when it was published and my hatred of Nathan Price knows no bounds. If you’re looking for a book that will touch you to your core and break your heart in all of the best possible ways, look no further than The Poisonwood Bible.

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have been at home.
I devoured this richly drawn historical novel about midwife Martha Ballard and events that transpired in Hallowell, Maine during the winter of 1790. Lawhon does a wonderful job describing daily life and struggles in Colonial Times, with rich details about homes and taverns, clothing and accoutrements, illnesses and childbirth. I will say, as minor criticisms, there are a lot of characters to keep track of and I sometimes had a difficult time remembering who was who . . . and there is a LOT (a lot a lot) of sex before marriage resulting in babies. Like, was everyone in the town getting it on? Because it definitely felt that way to me. The author’s note at the end sheds light on the historical facts she changed and it’s not to be missed. Recommended for those who enjoy reading about Colonial America.

Erasure by Percival Everett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m about to say something I rarely (if ever) say: the book was not better. I really loved the movie American Fiction and was eager to read this book to gain more insight into the characters and, truth be told, the ending. However, all of the sharp things that make the movie great . . . the biting satire, the fawning over bad writing in the name of political correctness, the misunderstood but likeable main character . . . become lost in the novel. Two thing stand out to make it worth reading for me . . . the mockery of literary intellectualism and the inclusion of of Monk’s sellout novel in all it’s satirical glory.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A typical thriller/mystery that had some intriguing plot points but not enough suspense to make it compelling. Maybe I’m getting jaded by these types of books but I find myself trying to figure out whatever twist is coming as I read and then I’m ultimately disappointed because it’s either banal or implausible to the point of being completely ridiculous. I didn’t buy into the development of the relationship between the two main characters, their initial disconnect with each other felt stereotypical and the change that brought them closer felt trite. I won’t go so far as to say I’m sorry I read it but I will say that I don’t understand the hype and I thought the writing itself was mediocre.

The Many Lives of Mama Love: A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing by Lara Love Hardin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The truth is I’ve only ever had one addiction. The white whale of addictions: escape. From as far back as I can remember there has always been a better place than wherever I am. A better me than whoever I was.
This is a moving and ultimately hopeful story of addiction, recovery, and redemption. Lara Love Hardin writes from the heart about the mistakes she made, her fierce love for her children, the tragedy of addiction, and the horrific nature of prison, and the impossible navigation of the probation system in our society. She shares honestly about the shame and stigma of incarceration and the extremely high occurrence of relapse and recidivism due to the lack of support. It’s vulnerable and raw and highly readable.

You know what I always say . . . I hope these reviews will help you to find something you want to read.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Thanks as always for your reviews Carole. I almost always find something to add to my TBR list and this time it is “The Frozen River” – I am now in the (LONG) queue at my library for it. I think I’ll skip the others though!!

  2. What a fantastic reading month, Carole! (and I love when we have read the same books!) I took your advice and watched American Fiction (I loved it!) before reading Erasure (I am still on the waitlist and still planning on reading!)

  3. As always, thanks for sharing your great reviews, Carole! I love it when folks not only read books, but write (and share!) their reviews. Years ago, I read Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín and I loved it. THEN . . . I saw the movie. The movie was better! I don’t know that I have ever thought that about any book/movie combination before. So now I will WATCH American Fiction . . . and skip the book. 🙂

  4. I was anxious to listen to The Women and excitedly downloaded it from Audible, but it turned out to be one of my rare returns. Poor writing and making the war into a soap opera angered me; those serving in Vietnam deserved better. But I have joined the long line of holds for Mama Love. Thank you!

  5. I’ve seen some particularly scathing reviews of The Women on Goodreads, and now with yours, I can definitely cross it off my list.

    I haven’t yet watched American Fiction, but I read Erasure because I wanted to read the book first. I really thought it was a sad book, especially all the parts about his family. The interludes with famous authors and philosophers (?) were really confusing to me on audio. I think I will enjoy the movie more!

  6. Home before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam / Lynda Van Devanter is a much better book about this topic. For one thing, it is true. Smokey recommended it to me. It may be out of print, but you are as good a book sleuth as ever walked into a library, so I know you can find a copy.

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