Thursday, May 26, 2022

Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips book cover and review
I realize Disappearing Earth has won multiple honors and gained a lot of praise throughout the bookish world. But this was just not the book for me.

At the beginning of the novel, set in the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two young sisters are kidnapped as they are walking home. This happens in August, and each chapter is set during the following month. To me, Disappearing Earth read like a book of short stories where the characters in each are tangentially related to other characters, and somehow connected to the disappearance of the sisters.

It didn't seem like we get any closer to finding the girls. There is no build up of tension. It's just storytelling. And Phillips is a great storyteller. The descriptions of setting and characters are colorful and vivid. As I look through others' reviews I see words like "thrilling," "engrossing," "addictive," and "mesmerizing." And I wonder, what did I miss? The last few chapters are satisfying, and we do get a resolution to the case of the missing girls. (This book was so weird, I sincerely worried that Phillips would leave us hanging.) But I don't understand the purpose of most of the chapters in the middle.

So don't take my word for it; I seem to be in the minority. Read other reviews and decide for yourself. I just had to be honest. And I freely admit I shy away from books described as "literary fiction," although I didn't see that description of Disappearing Earth.

The narrator, Ilyana Kadushin, did a great job. I really only finished this book because I was listening to the audio version. If it were in print, I definitely would not have finished.

Published by Knopf, 2019, audio by Random House
Audiobook obtained from
272 pages

Rating: 2/5

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Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: I Must Betray You, by Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray you by Ruta Sepetys book cover and review
Sepetys usually writes about little-known aspects of war or politics, and I Must Betray You is no exception.

It's hard to read. The political situation in Romania in the 1970s and 1980s was so horrific -- and pretty much hidden from the rest of the world. Nicolae CeauČ™escu was a Communist dictator that ran the most isolated and oppressive nation in the world. People always stood in line for very little food. Coats were worn inside since little heat was available. Students were required to attend school six days a week. But the biggest issue was the fear.  People were afraid of each other. There was no place to talk, no one to trust. Not even within families.

Christian Florescu is a seventeen-year-old high school student who has been turned in to the secret police for supposed illegal activities, and they bribe him to become an informer. He's trying to navigate his teen years with the usual romantic endeavors. He wants to become a writer, but that seems impossible at this time.

The story starts in October of 1989, and if you know history (which I looked up), Ceaușescu is executed in December of 1989. Christian becomes involved in the resistance and is put in grave danger.

I Must Betray You is compulsively readable. The chapters are short and because of the conditions, the tension is constant. As usual, there are detailed notes at the end and an extensive bibliography. This was an eye-opening book for me, and teens, as well as adults, should consider I Must Betray You. 

Published by Philomel, February 1, 2022
Copy obtained from the library
336 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, May 16, 2022

Book Review: The Book Woman's Daughter, by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman's Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson book cover and review
If you enjoyed The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, then you definitely want to pick up The Book Woman's Daughter. If you are unfamiliar, you should click and go read my review of the first book.

The Book Woman's Daughter continues the story of the packhorse librarians of Kentucky in the 1950s. As the title indicates, this story is about Cussy's daughter, Honey. 

At the beginning of the book, Cussy and her husband are being arrested and taken to jail for miscegenation. The authorities are going to try to take Honey and put her in a workhouse for orphans. So, of course, she runs.

The story involves many old characters and several new ones. I didn't feel Daughter was quite as tense as the original book, but in the end, it ramps up quite nicely.

I highly recommend both books. This book, although a sequel, has been marketed as being a stand-alone, but I would not recommend reading The Book Woman's Daughter unless you have read the original. There is just too much back story in the first book that immediately attaches you to the characters in the sequel.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, May 3, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
352 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

Book Review: The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner book cover and review
I haven't read many Weiner novels, but I really enjoyed The Summer Place.

When I see a title like The Summer Place and a cover like this one, I usually think "sappy romance at the beach". And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but that isn't what this book is.

Sarah is one of the main characters. She has a stepdaughter who has just announced she's getting married. So the wedding and the planning are a big part of the story. Sarah's husband, Eli, is acting very weird. They've pretty much had a perfect marriage and have two little boys as well as the stepdaughter. But Eli has shut down. Sarah's mom is hosting the wedding at her beach house, and she's got several secrets. Eli's brother has had somewhat of a tragic past, and he has secrets.  The fiance's mom has secrets. Sarah has secrets, and she's so distraught about the state of her marriage, that she creates even more secrets to keep. And the house is a character, which is sort of cute, but not really necessary.

I'm not sure if I've covered it all, but there are a lot of secrets in The Summer Place. And it's really good when most of them are revealed. I think this is the third book in a row that I've read that features each chapter narrated by a different character. I didn't plan it this way, and they were good books, but I'm hoping for a different format for the next one!

If you are a Weiner fan, you'll want to pick up The Summer Place. Or if you want a summer read that's not just about people hooking up on the beach, this is it.

Published by Atria, May 10, 2022
eARC obtained from Edelweiss+
432 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Audiobook Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List by Lucy Foley, book cover and review
Once all the introductions were over, The Guest List got really interesting and kept me guessing until the end.

The celebrity wedding is on a remote island off the coast of Ireland and it is a stormy night, the lights go out, and when they come back on a young waitress is screaming about something bloody outside. There are bogs that you can sink into and cliffs to fall off. And it's dark and very windy.

The atmosphere is perfect. Then we flashback and get introduced to all the characters as they arrive on the island when the weather is beautiful the day before the wedding. It takes a long time to get back to the "now" during the wedding. I tell myself that the book slogged during this part, and it did, but maybe the detailed introductions of each of the main characters (the bride, the groom, the wedding planner, the plus-one, the bridesmaid, and the best man) were necessary. But once the book added back the "now" perspective, things got a lot more interesting.

We don't know who ends up dead. And we don't know who killed that person. But as the story unfolds and secrets are revealed, we realize that a lot of people could want this person dead. I was guessing until the end, not that it mattered. This victim was pretty evil.

You will enjoy how the story is revealed. And the atmosphere is perhaps another character, as it is so well described you will feel the wind and rain on your face.

The audiobook is full-cast, which I normally don't like. But in this case, it worked. If you enjoy atmospheric, locked-room mysteries, I recommend The Guest List.

Published by William Morrow, 2020
Audiobook obtained from
320 pages

Rating: 4/5

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