Tuesday, March 22, 2022

March 2022 Book Haul

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Guess what? I got new books in the last few months! The good news is that I've already read some of them. Nicely done, me. I'll share reviews for the ones I've finished.

March Book Haul

Murder In The Dark: Short Fictions And Prose Poems by Margaret Atwood

Adult Literary Short Stories & Poetry

These short fictions and prose poems are beautifully bizarre: bread can no longer be thought of as wholesome comforting loaves; a pretentious chef is taken down a peg; a poisonous brew is concocted by cynical five year olds; and knowing when to stop is of deadly importance in a game of Murder in the Dark.

Why I'm excited to read it: I'm slowly working my way through all of Margaret Atwood's older books. (I don't like her newer stuff.) This one came out in the early 1980s. Atwood is a creative poet and short story writer. I'm always impressed by how much meaning, emotion, and humor she can pack into a few sentences.

Buy it on Amazon

The Animals At Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Adult Historical Fiction

In August 1939, thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright arrives at Lockwood Manor to oversee a natural history museum collection, whose contents have been taken out of London for safekeeping. She is unprepared for the scale of protecting her charges from party guests, wild animals, the elements, the tyrannical Major Lockwood and Luftwaffe bombs. Most of all, she is unprepared for the beautiful and haunted Lucy Lockwood.

For Lucy, who has spent much of her life cloistered at Lockwood suffering from bad nerves, the arrival of the museum brings with it new freedoms. But it also resurfaces memories of her late mother, and nightmares in which Lucy roams Lockwood hunting for something she has lost.

When the animals appear to move of their own accord, and exhibits go missing, they begin to wonder what exactly it is that they might need protection from. And as the disasters mount up, it is not only Hetty’s future employment that is in danger, but her own sanity too. There’s something, or someone, in the house. Someone stalking her through its darkened corridors . . .

My review: If you love gothic books or Victorian sensation novels, then you need to read this book! It's got the vibes of a classic, but it's written in modern times and set during WWII. It follows two women. One works for a museum and is in charge of protecting and repairing taxidermy animals. The other is the sheltered heiress of Lockwood Manor. Their paths cross when the museum collection is moved to Lockwood Manor to protect it from German bombs.

This novel has everything you'd expect from a Victorian sensation classic: unexpected deaths, madness, forbidden romance, plot twists, untrustworthy servants, arrogant men, ghosts, bad weather, a creepy atmosphere, slow pacing. This book is like a museum for other books. As you wander through it, you see bits of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Woman In White, etc. If you're familiar with those classics, then the plot twists in Lockwood Manor are predictable, but I had enough fun spotting the similarities that I didn't care.

I did care that the author switches between two first-person perspectives. The voices of the two characters are so similar that I sometimes forgot whose point-of-view I was reading. This isn't a book you can put down in the middle of a chapter. You won't remember whose head you're in when you pick it up again.

That's my only complaint. I really like this one! It's atmospheric and creative.

Buy it on Amazon

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Adult Literary Fiction

The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London's funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley's former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole's mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter's lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.

Why I'm excited to read it: Um . . . I don't know what this book is about. Does it have a plot? Who knows? It interests me because of the award buzz. Award committees are obsessed with this novel. I want to know what the hype is about.

Buy it on Amazon

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Adult Historical Fiction

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

My review: This is a chunky book. I loved it! Highly recommend. It's adult historical fiction about a group of young men who have just been released from a work farm. They're trying to figure out what to do with their new freedom. It reminds me of the adventure stories I read as a young teen. The characters are gallivanting around the US and making bad choices. It's fun and full of plot twists.

The characters are awesome. There are too many of them, and the book would have been tighter with fewer points-of-view, but I didn't mind very much. They have memorable personalities. If you like your characters morally gray and fatally flawed, you need to read this novel.

I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. I understand why the author did it. He plays with myths and tropes throughout the story, and the ending fits the themes. However, I could see the author's hand controlling the characters. I'm not totally convinced that the decisions they made fit with their personalities.

That's my only complaint. I will definitely check out Amor Towles's other books. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The Deal Of A Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

Adult Literary Novella

A father and a son are seeing each other for the first time in years. The father has a story to share before it’s too late. He tells his son about a courageous little girl lying in a hospital bed a few miles away. She’s a smart kid—smart enough to know that she won’t beat cancer by drawing with crayons all day, but it seems to make the adults happy, so she keeps doing it.

As he talks about this plucky little girl, the father also reveals more about himself: his triumphs in business, his failures as a parent, his past regrets, his hopes for the future.

Now, on a cold winter’s night, the father has been given an unexpected chance to do something remarkable that could change the destiny of a little girl he hardly knows. But before he can make the deal of a lifetime, he must find out what his own life has actually been worth, and only his son can reveal that answer.

Why I'm excited to read it: I will read anything Fredrik Backman writes. He's one of my favorite authors. His books are hilarious. And sad. But mostly hilarious. He's excellent at writing quirky characters who you'll love forever.

Buy it on Amazon

And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer by Fredrik Backman

Adult Literary Novella

An exquisitely moving portrait of an elderly man’s struggle to hold on to his most precious memories, and his family’s efforts to care for him even as they must find a way to let go.

Why I'm excited to read it: This is another Backman book, so can I just say "Ditto"? I want to read this book for all the same reasons that I want to read the previous book. I want to read it because it's probably awesome.

Buy it on Amazon

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Young Adult Historical Fiction

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.

Why I'm excited to read it: Honestly, the cover. I can't resist a fancy hat, and that hat is very fancy! I love historical fiction. Several of my book blogger friends have read this one and called it funny and relevant.

Buy it on Amazon

How To Order The Universe by María José Ferrada

Adult Historical Fiction

For seven-year-old M, the world is guided by a firm set of principles, based on her father D’s life as a traveling salesman. Enchanted by her father’s trade, M convinces him to take her along on his routes, selling hardware supplies against the backdrop of Pinochet-era Chile. As father and daughter trek from town to town in their old Renault, M’s memories and thoughts become tied to a language of rural commerce, philosophy, the cosmos, hardware products, and ghosts. M, in her innocence, barely notices the rising tensions and precarious nature of their work until she and her father connect with an enigmatic photographer, E, whose presence threatens to upend the unusual life they’ve created.

My review: This is a weird little story. It starts off cute and quirky and then becomes depressingly relatable. It's adult historical fiction about a child in 1970s Chile who drops out of school to travel the country with her hardware salesman father. The child's whole life is wrapped up in being a traveling saleswoman (saleschild?). She looks at the world through a lens of sales and hardware because that's all she knows. It's hard to explain, but it's fascinating to read.

Then, things change. There's an incident that separates her from her father for years. When they're reunited, Chile is different, and traveling hardware salesmen aren't really a thing anymore. That's where the book becomes depressingly relatable. What happens when your life changes so drastically that you don't understand it anymore? What do you do when your plans for the future collapse? How do you re-order your universe?

I don't think I "got" everything in this book because the writing style is disjointed, and I don't know anything about Chile in the 1970s, but it gave me a lot to think about.

The Bright Ages: A New History Of Medieval Europe by Matthew Gabriele & David Perry

Adult History Nonfiction

The word “medieval” conjures images of the “Dark Ages”—centuries of ignorance, superstition, stasis, savagery, and poor hygiene. But the myth of darkness obscures the truth; this was a remarkable period in human history. The Bright Ages recasts the European Middle Ages for what it was, capturing this 1,000-year era in all its complexity and fundamental humanity, bringing to light both its beauty and its horrors. 

The Bright Ages takes us through ten centuries and crisscrosses Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa, revisiting familiar people and events with new light cast upon them. We look with fresh eyes on the Fall of Rome, Charlemagne, the Vikings, the Crusades, and the Black Death, but also to the multi-religious experience of Iberia, the rise of Byzantium, and the genius of Hildegard and the power of queens. We begin under a blanket of golden stars constructed by an empress with Germanic, Roman, Spanish, Byzantine, and Christian bloodlines and end nearly 1,000 years later with the poet Dante—inspired by that same twinkling celestial canopy—writing an epic saga of heaven and hell that endures as a masterpiece of literature today.  

My review: It's the history of medieval Europe (obviously), but it goes beyond medieval stereotypes. Yes, medieval Europe was a violent and superstitious place, but humans were still making advancements. This book talks about the "Bright" spots in the "Dark" ages.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It's an okay history book. The information interested me, but the writing style is pretty lifeless. It's a textbook. Lots of names, dates, and places. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with who's who and what's what. Most of the book is surface-level because it races through hundreds of years in 300 pages.

I did learn things! Did you know that bubonic plague was endemic on 3 continents for 500 to 600 years? Every few years, it would pop up, kill thousands, and die down again. That's why we should be grateful for vaccines.

I also like the parts about democracy in medieval cities and the parts about trade routes. The plague spread to multiple continents because people and stuff were constantly moving between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The white supremist fantasy of an isolated, Christian medieval Europe is not true. There was a lot of racial and religious mingling, especially in cities.

So . . . I'm not sure what to think about this book. If you want to learn about medieval Europe, then it's worth reading, but it'll bring back memories of boring high school history lectures.

Buy it on Amazon

Let's Talk About Hard Things by Anna Sale

Adult Self-Help Nonfiction

Anna Sale wants you to have that conversation. You know the one. The one that you’ve been avoiding or putting off, maybe for years. The one that you’ve thought “they’ll never understand” or “do I really want to bring that up?” or “it’s not going to go well, so why even try?”

Sale is the founder and host of WNYC’s popular, award-winning podcast Death, Sex, & Money or as the New York Times dubbed her “a therapist at happy hour.” She and her guests have direct and thought-provoking conversations, discussing topics that most of us are too squeamish, polite, or nervous to bring up. But Sale argues that we all experience these hard things, and by not talking to one another, we cut ourselves off, leading us to feel isolated and disconnected from people who can help us most.

In Let’s Talk About Hard Things, Sale uses the best of what she’s learned from her podcast to reveal that when we dare to talk about hard things, we learn about ourselves, others, and the world that we make together. Diving into five of the most fraught conversation topics—death, sex, money, family, and identity—she moves between memoir, fascinating snapshots of a variety of Americans opening up about their lives, and expert opinions to show why having tough conversations is important and how to do them in a thoughtful and generous way.

My review: This book is exactly what it says on the cover. It's a self-help book for how to talk about awkward topics. It's divided into 5 sections: "Death," "Sex," "Money," "Family," and "Identity." I learned the most from the "Money" section because I've never had to share a bank account with another person. I've never thought about what would happen if my future husband's spending habits were vastly different from my own. I don't know if I'll ever get married and share a bank account, but now I know about the conversations that need to happen before money is merged.

The "Family" section is the most relatable for me. My family is a freakin' disaster. The book put words to problems I've only thought about abstractly. I'm not ready to storm through a family member's front door and have an unpleasant conversation, but the book made me feel less alone. Other people have the exact same problems as me! Yay!

(Amusing side note: There's a story in the "Family" chapter about a woman who's trying to reconnect with her stepfather. Whenever she goes to his house, he turns off Fox News because he knows it gets on her nerves. What is this wizardry? 

My parents are hardcore Fox News addicts. It's on their TV 24 hours a day. I couldn't even get a break from it on my birthday! The sound is kept at a volume that will make your brain hemorrhage. Asking them to lower the volume is pointless because I'm "a snowflake who can't handle the truth."

I'm deducting stars from my rating of the book because it failed to teach me magic. You can't casually mention turning off Fox News and get my hopes up like that!)

Anyway, back to the point: I think this book would be a great gift for a recent high school or college graduate. It would prepare them for problems they might encounter later in life. Since I'm old, I didn't learn a ton from it. I've already floundered my way through difficult conversations and learned from experience. I wish I had this book 10 or 15 years ago. It would have been very helpful.

Buy it on Amazon

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?


  1. Lots of intriguing books! The Bright Ages and Let's Talk about Hard Things both sounded good to me initially.

  2. Wow! There are some great books there. Way to read the books you newly acquired. Go you! I love Frederick Backman, and I haven't heard of that book. I will have to add it to the list.

  3. Both the Backman books were exquisite. I might have bawled while reading Every Morning. That disease is a cruel one.

  4. Backman is an author that I have been meaning to try for literally years and yet it still hasn't happened. What can I say, I procrastinate. A lot.

  5. So, I've heard so many great things about Amor Towles--I've always wanted to try one of his books. :) Also, you just encouraged me to put The Animals at Lockwood Manor on my TBR. That sounds SO GOOD!

  6. Wow - what an interesting variety. I still need to listen to A Man Called Ove. These others sound engaging too.
    Have a good week and Happy Reading!

  7. I have the Lincoln Highway on my TBR. Nice haul!

  8. Wow these all look good, especially The Lincoln Highway and The Animals at Lockwood Manor. Thanks for the recommendations! I need to read Fredrik Backman too.

  9. Lockwood Manor sounds really cool - I love the gothic vibes and the callbacks to all those classics!

  10. I feel exactly the same about Girl, Woman, Other. My boyfriend gifted it to me, so now it's waiting for me on my shelves!

  11. My husband enjoyed A Man Called Ove; I haven't read it yet, but probably will eventually. I was excited about The Bright Ages, so I'm sorry to hear you felt the writing was lifeless. (OTOH, thanks to a wonderful history professor in college, I already knew that the medieval period wasn't nearly as "Dark" as it's made out to be.) And based on your review, I'll be putting The Animals of Lockwood Manor on my TBR list.

  12. I'm putting The Animals of Lockwood Manor on my library list. You sold me on it! Thanks.