Friday Reads 3/5/21

In full disclosure, I started the year fully intending to physically read one book and listen to one audiobook at a time. So the math on that is two books. Two books, max, at a time. I’m so funny. Here is a look at what I’m currently reading…

I am currently just past the halfway point in the audiobook for ‘Butter Honey Pig Bread.’ I am listening to this audiobook courtesy of Netgalley. This book, written by Francesca Ekwuyasi, follows three characters: twin sisters Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother Kambirinachi. The timeline jumps around between the present day reunion of the three, the time the twins spent estranged as young adults, and then back to their mother’s story (from birth to adulthood). The story is so full of love, guilt, pain, trauma, and personal discovery. And then there are elements of magic/mysticism/folklore that take me by surprise- Kambirinachi believes that she is an Ogbanje, a non-human spirit in the Nigerian tradition that plagues a family with misfortune. This element is introduced at the very beginning of the novel, but as the story unfolds you sort of get carried away in the reality of the characters so that you forget about it, until it is dropped back in matter of factly, and then: ohhhhh yeah! Angry spirits. It is just so well done. It should also be noted the story takes place over three continents, with the characters exploring their identities in Europe and North America, and bringing that self knowledge home with them to Africa.

I am also listening to a middle grade novel with my kids. ‘The Brave,’ by James Bird was selected as the group read for the 2021 round of Middle Grade March (hosted on YouTube by Books and Jams, Life Between Words, and The Curly Reader). I’m surprised my kids wanted to continue with me. It is middle grade, but probably on the older side than what they’ve read before. My husband was in the car with us when we started it, and he agrees that there’s nothing inappropriate or that they shouldn’t hear, but plenty that they haven’t been exposed to yet. The main character Collin is 12 years old and has a compulsion to count the letters of every word spoken to him and announce that number out loud, to the annoyance of…. well, everyone. It is such a big issue that he is asked to leave school and sent to live with his mother, who he has never even met, on an Ojibwe reservation. Enjoying it so far.

I started reading ‘A Little Life,’ by Hanya Yanagihara this week. I am two chapters in. 77 pages. A whopping 9%. I haven’t cried yet.. but I know it’s coming. Being so late to this novel has me prepared for the heartbreak. I am really liking the way each character has been introduced and the way they interact with and value each other. I am a sucker for friend groups in books and tv. I put this book aside for the past two days to try and make reading progress elsewhere, but I’m eager to get back into it.

Another read I have going for Middle Grade March is ‘Liesl and Po,’ by Lauren Oliver. It has fairy tale / ghost story elements, but honestly I don’t think I’ll read past the 50 pages I’ve gotten so far.

Lastly, I am reading ‘Five Carat Soul,’ by James McBride. I love it. He has quickly become a favorite author of mine. There is so much humor incorporated in his story telling

What are you currently reading? Do you read more than one book at a time? Let me know!

Happy Reading!

Recent Netgalley Reviews

In February I thought I’d get to work on my Netgalley ratio. I sit at around 50%, nowhere near the suggested 80%. At one point in the month I made it to an all time personal best 61%… but then I added some more to my shelf in proper self-sabotage fashion.

The Four Winds- Kristin Hannah


Amazing! Well written and researched. A mother's Grapes of Wrath.  I've heard nothing but praise for Kristin Hannah and now realize it is well earned! I look forward to reading more from this author.

The Four Winds starts as a story about a young woman desperate for love and worth and evolves into a story of strength, bravery, struggle, and hardships for migrant workers escaping the Dustbowl during the great depression. The writing is so emotive. It is heartbreaking and infuriating. A wonderful use of fiction to teach history as something that not just happened, but that was lived by real people, that shaped a generation. It encourages readers to put things into perspective in present day by remembering where we've been.

On a narrower scale, this story perfectly captures motherhood. The unconditional love, the fear, the pride, the sacrifice.

The Lost Apothecary- Sarah Penner


A very engaging dual timeline story told in three distinct points of view.  There is an ominous tone that keeps the reader engaged, as well as the interesting way the present storyline mirrors the past one. 

The author was a bit heavy handed in her vilification of men, and there was an annoyingly excessive withholding of information by the characters.

The audiobook was well produced with separate narrators for each POV.

Ikenga- Nnedi Okorafor


I was very excited for Nnedi Okorafor's first middle grade book.  This read as older middle grade; I believe the characters are 12, but they felt older to me (this could very well be a difference in culture as Americans tend to treat their children as less capable and independent than other countries/cultures do).  The plot deals with grief in a very real way.  Nnamdi responds with anger to his father's death (murder) and ends up distancing himself from his friends and family.

The plot hinges on the fantastical way Nnamdi expresses this anger: having been gifted an Ikenga figure by the spirit of his father, Nnamdi has the ability to become a Hulk-like (Hulk being his favorite superhero) vigilante, thwarting the attempts of a notorious group of criminals. Like in all vigilante stories, there are those in the community who fear and spread lies against him.

This all sounds very unique and intriguing, but I felt pretty bored and at 80% through the audiobook, haven't quite decided if I am committed to finishing it.

I love the setting and atmosphere, as well as the criminal characters (their names and signature crimes), but I feel like the character development overall falls flat, as well as the transition from scene to scene, conflict to conflict...very much how I felt reading Binti.

I don't believe my failure to connect with the story is an issue with the book itself. I can objectively say it is a good story, just not for me. For every qualm I have I can give myself a reason why I may not like it. Ultimately this is a book that is important in allowing African children to see themselves reflected as heroes of a story, and I am neither African, nor a child... this book was not written for me to connect to and I can appreciate that.

The Underfoot vol. 1: The Mighty Deep- Ben Fisher


This was like reading a post-apocalyptic Redwall meets Rats of NIMH! Really fun,  beautifully illustrated and colored- visually a huge success!  The story line was similarly engaging, with a cast of lovable characters who have a delightful chemistry and a history the reader only catches glimpses of based on their interactions, but still manages to fully develop them.  

The world building on one hand is easy to grasp- it is Earth and therefore familiar, but on the other hand leads to many questions: where are the humans (the "giants that were"), has there been an apocalyptic event, a natural disaster?

Some of the action scenes were surprising violent/graphic, but not upsettingly so... they just caught me off guard when first starting and still unsure of the target audience. (Young adult to adult, I would think). The use of animal characters made the story appealing to a nostalgic familiarity (Redwall, NIMH, Watership Down), while the subject of survival in a world left behind appeals to a present day climate crisis anxiety, with young characters just coming into their roles, and older characters bringing their history/experience/knowledge to the situations.... at age 34 I feel like my age lends to establishing a balanced connection to all parts of the story.