The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.
I think I’ve finally flunked out of Goodreads, but I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of books I’ve read in 2022 in hopes that I won’t have to scroll through my Kindle at the end of every month to compile this list. In January I read 13 books. I’m only going to be sharing the ones that merit 4 or 5 stars (it’s a shame that only 6 of the 13 I read this month will make it onto this list). And you might get the Amazon synopsis, not mine.
Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading in January:
If I Were You by Lynn Austin. 4 stars. A stolen-identity story beginning in World War II-era England during the Blitz. There’s a sequel, but it wasn’t as good. Synopsis: 1950. In the wake of the war, Audrey Clarkson leaves her manor house in England for a fresh start in America with her young son. As a widowed war bride, Audrey needs the support of her American in-laws, whom she has never met. But she arrives to find that her longtime friend Eve Dawson has been impersonating her for the past four years. Unraveling this deception will force Audrey and Eve’s secrets—and the complicated history of their friendship—to the surface.
1940. Eve and Audrey have been as different as two friends can be since the day they met at Wellingford Hall, where Eve’s mother served as a lady’s maid for Audrey’s mother. As young women, those differences become a polarizing force . . . until a greater threat—Nazi invasion—reunites them. With London facing relentless bombardment, Audrey and Eve join the fight as ambulance drivers, battling constant danger together. An American stationed in England brings dreams of a brighter future for Audrey, and the collapse of the class system gives Eve hope for a future with Audrey’s brother. But in the wake of devastating loss, both women must make life-altering decisions that will set in motion a web of lies and push them both to the breaking point long after the last bomb has fallen.
Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera. 5 stars. I felt like I was right there watching this story happen. What a powerful debut novel! Synopsis: The Guerreros have lived in Nothar Park, a predominantly Dominican part of New York City, for twenty years. When demolition begins on a neighboring tenement, Eusebia, an elder of the community, takes matters into her own hands by devising an increasingly dangerous series of schemes to stop construction of the luxury condos. Meanwhile, Eusebia’s daughter, Luz, a rising associate at a top Manhattan law firm who strives to live the bougie lifestyle her parents worked hard to give her, becomes distracted by a sweltering romance with the handsome white developer at the company her mother so vehemently opposes. As Luz’s father, Vladimir, secretly designs their retirement home in the Dominican Republic, mother and daughter collide, ramping up tensions in Nothar Park, racing toward a near-fatal climax. (Netgalley)
The City Mother by Maya Sinha. 5 stars. Talk about a book hangover … this story, new from Chrism Press, stuck with me for a long time. This book takes on the idea of a city as a place to which young people gravitate because of its activity and opportunities, but which reveals its evil to a young mother seeking her own identity as she nurtures her little children. The lack of connection and community leaves Cara vulnerable to fall into postpartum depression and psychosis—but she doesn’t miss the reality right in front of her, a reality that no one else sees. Synopsis: Fresh out of college, small-town crime reporter Cara Nielsen sees disturbing things that suggest, for the first time in her life, that evil is real. But as the daughter of two secular academics, she pushes that notion aside. When her smart, ambitious boyfriend asks her to marry him and move to a faraway city, it’s a dream come true.
Four years later, confined to a city apartment with a toddler, Cara fears she is losing her mind. Sleeplessness, isolation, and postpartum hormones have altered her view of reality. Something is wrong in the lost, lonely world into which she’s brought a child. Visions hint at mysteries she can’t explain, and evil seems not only real—it’s creeping ever closer.
As her marriage falters and friends disappear, Cara seeks guidance from books, films, therapy, even the saints, when she’s not scrubbing the diaper pail. Meanwhile, someone is crying out for help that only she can give. Cara must confront big questions about reality and illusion, health and illness, good and evil—and just how far she is willing to go to protect those she loves.
A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan. 5 stars. First of all, it’s set in a library so it’s already off to a good start in my opinion! It hits some hot-button topics like bullying and PTSD, and is an excellent friendship story. I’d give this to readers 12 and up, in a heartbeat. Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year. A big one. And every kid in her middle school knows all about it. Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment. What a waste of a summer!
Or so she thinks.
An unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.
The Edge of In Between by Lorelei Savaryn. 5 stars. A beautifully told allegory on grief and the afterlife for middle-grade readers. Young readers need tools for processing difficult realities, and story can help provide them. Lorelei Savaryn’s tale explores the impact of grief on a preteen who feels helpless to do anything but follow the lead of the only adults around to care for her after the sudden death of her parents. The deeply intuitive Lottie recognizes that something is wrong when she’s asked to accept a life in In Between, the stage of the afterlife that precedes Ever After (heaven)—because as a living being, she does not belong there. But all she wants is to be reunited with her deceased parents. She discovers others in the same position, and ultimately is called upon to stand against what she knows is wrong and make a life-giving choice, even when that means she will have to defer her own desires.
While the author notes that the book is a nod to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I also saw some elements that reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” Coming April 19. (Netgalley)
The Lazy Genius Kitchen: Have What You Need, Use What You Have, and Enjoy It Like Never Before by Kendra Adachi. 5 stars. This book will be particularly useful to novice cooks or newly independent young adults, but anyone can benefit from the common-sense information in this book. The tone is casual and friendly, never condescending. And readers can take as deep a dive as they like into meal planning, setting up cooking and food storage zones, and the other topics covered in this book. The book’s design complements the information well, with colorful touches throughout, places to take notes as you go, cute graphics, and plenty of useful cross-referencing. It’s a home cook’s guide to working smarter, not harder. Highly recommended! Coming March 22. (Advance copy received from publisher)
On the TBR Pile
I’m either in the middle of these books or looking to get started on them ASAP.
Reclaiming Vatican II: What it (really) said, what it means, and how it calls us to renew the Church by Fr. Blake Britton. There’s so much online debate about the Council, and I want to know what it really is there to teach me. (Advance copy received from publisher)
Beginning Well: 7 Spiritual Practices for the First Year of Almost Anything by Joel Stepanek. I love any book that talks about doing a thing for a year, but this one is a new twist on it: this is the book that helps you navigate the transition to doing a new thing, getting through that first year. (Advance copy received from publisher)
Ex Libris: From the Writings of Edith Stein, compiled by Dianne M. Traflet. I haven’t read anything by St. Edith Stein, and this little book contains 29 brief readings to introduce this writer and philosopher to people like me! If I start this today and read one selection each day, I’ll finish it by Lent. (Advance copy received from publisher)
The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. Another classic spiritual writer whose work I haven’t read. This book contains meditations on the humanity of Mary, Mother of God. I think it will be a good Lenten read for me. (Advance copy received from publisher, and I bought it for Kindle as well, for a spiritual read on the go!)
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Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.
Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!
Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz