Ah, my favorite books in May – I read and listened to so many books this month! It was, however, easy to pick my favorites. Most of the books I read were just so-so and I listened to several short-reads from Audible. I did notice a common thread for many of the books I read- they were about people that love books!
I don’t think you can go wrong with reading a book about a library, or bookshop, or people that read! I also listened to a heartbreaking memoir that is reviewed below as one of my favorites. And, of course, I read a stinker of a book that is listed as my least favorite of this month. Enjoy the reviews of my favorite books in May!
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The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay
Madeline Cullen is living her dream life as a lawyer in a high-end law firm. She has an amazing apartment with expensive furnishings and a boyfriend that works at the firm. Everything seems ideal.
And then… Madeline is hoping for a partner position with the firm and is told someone else has been chosen. She is the more qualified but, wait for it…
…her boyfriend is getting the position.
Madeline packs her things and leaves the office. Yes, that is a risky choice, but there is more to the story!
Madeline has an elderly Aunt Maddie that passed away at the same time that the law office events were happening. Madeline accompanies her father and mother to the funeral. Aunt Maddie was dear to Madeline as a child and teenager and then real-life got in the way and Madeline stopped visiting. Also, there was some trouble between Aunt Maddie and Madeline’s father and she did not wish to go against her father’s wishes to avoid Aunt Maddie.
Aunt Maddie lived in a small town and owned a quirky little bookshop – the Printed Letter Bookshop. Imagine Madeline’s surprise when Aunt Maddie’s lawyer informs her that the bookshop is now hers. And, keep in mind, that Madeline has just quit her job and needs something to keep herself afloat. She commutes to the small town to try to salvage or sell the bookshop.
Now, we meet Claire and Janet, employees of the bookshop, who have their own family drama going on. Madeline becomes involved in their stories, along with a local man that might be a handyman, gardener, or something else! Let’s just say the book becomes quite interesting with all the secrets, a vandalism experience, and multiple characters trying to get along with one another and save the bookshop.
I loved this sweet little book! It was a chick-lit book eventually, but not typical of that genre. The details about the books and authors of books were really fun. Here is a tidbit for you. At Aunt Maddie’s death, Madeline discovers letters she has written to Madeline, Janet, and Claire. In each letter, she has listed books the women need to read. At the end of this book, the author lists all those books, as well as all the other books mentioned throughout. I added so many titles to my wish list!
I give this book 4.5 stars! It was fun, and as a book-lover, I appreciated all the references to books I have read or need to read. I definitely can recommend this one to you!
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
This book will end up on my 2021 Best Books of the Year collection! You will love it, too!
It is 2005 when a librarian catches sight of a book that was once hers. The book is featured in a newspaper article about looted and stolen books that disappeared during World War II.
Eva Traube, now age 86, reads the news article and learns that someone has recovered the looted books and wants to return them to their rightful owners. In a split-second decision, she decides she will travel from her home in Florida to Germany to claim her book.
What is so special about this book of Eva’s? I will leave you to discover that answer as you read! I can share a few more details about the background of Eva’s story. In 1942, Eva and her parents were living in Paris. The family was Jewish, but her father felt they were safe in France. This turned out to be untrue. In a twist of fate, Eva’s father is seized and she and her mother make their way to a small village called Aurignon. They take shelter with a woman that takes in people that are hiding. Soon after arriving, Eva is visited by someone that asks about her identity papers. Eva herself used ink to design and forge the papers. The woman they are living with has told others about the false papers. Will Eva and her mother get caught?
Eva somehow trusts the man that is asking questions- he is a priest after all. And thus begins her adventure. Eva starts creating identity papers for children that are being hidden and then taken into Switzerland to a free zone. She works with the priest and a man named Remy and a few others, including an old childhood friend. They all have alternate names and they create papers giving all the children new names. (This is where the “lost book” comes into the story.)
There is heartbreak in this story and such courageousness on the part of Eva, the priest, and Remy. I was mesmerized by the descriptions from this author. This is not my favorite genre to read, but I enjoyed this book. I give it 4.5 stars (I did think some of it was past believable, like sending small children running into Switzerland unescorted). At any rate, try this book– you will be glad you did!
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
A beautifully written memoir of a young woman that loses her mother to cancer. Just when she feels like their relationship has reached its best point her mother becomes sick.
Michelle, a biracial Korean-American, describes her middle-school years and her mistreatment from girls questioning her origins, along with the turmoil of living with a Korean mother that is relentless in demanding the best from her.
Annual pilgrimages from America to visit relatives in Korea keep Michelle a part of her Korean heritage and its culture.
Passages about the foods eaten in Korea or prepared by her mother add to the beauty of this book. The cancer diagnosis comes at a time when Michelle is comfortable with her mother and is beginning her dream of a music career. Wracked with guilt about all she needs to do with and for her mother, Michelle grieves before the death takes place. She moves in with her parents to care for her mother and strives to do everything she can. Her mother, however, will not accept more than two chemotherapy treatments.
Against the doctor’s orders, they travel to Korea (for her mother’s last visit) where her mother is almost immediately hospitalized. One striking detail from this time came from Michelle- she tells how attentive the Korean doctors were, spending enormous amounts of time with the family and talking with them, even holding her mother’s hand. Michelle says the American doctors only visited the family for about a minute at a time. The Korean doctors seemed to genuinely care about her mother. Heartbreaking.
Michelle wants her mother to see her get married so she and her boyfriend plan their engagement and wedding to occur prior to her death. Hauntingly beautiful and yet very sad. The loss of someone dear to you is never easy. This was an audio book for me and the narrator was wonderful. 4.5 stars for this one!
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster
This is a story of family relationships and choices made that affect everyone – even families that only meet by chance.
It’s 1992 when Gee is being cared for by his “father” and absent mother, Jade. When Ray, the dad, is tragically killed, Jade and an old friend named Linette take over the care of Gee.
Gee, as a young black teenager, is part of an integration effort in local schools. Neighborhoods have taken on busing to bring students into more affluent schools. Gee and his mom, Jade, attend a school meeting. This is their first encounter with Lacey May Ventura.
Lacey’s story begins in 1996 when she is trying to raise three daughters with her husband, Robbie, in jail. The daughters, Noelle, Diane, and Margarita, are all completely different. The stories of the Ventura girls are woven into the 1990s and alternating chapters in the years 2002 and 2018. By chance, the girls cross paths with Jade and Gee over the years.
Decisions are made at the school meeting about integrating that school that will forever mark these families. Although the two families are at odds with one another there are still moments when they think alike. I enjoyed the background stories of all the characters- especially the Ventura girls. The book did move from past to present but this was not a difficult transition to follow. There were some surprises and some secrets that finally were revealed. 4 stars for this one!
My Least Favorite Book of May
Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger
Selena, a working mom, is commuting home on the train. Earlier in the day she watched a video from her nanny-cam and saw her husband and the nanny- again. She sits next to a stranger on the train.
They strike up a conversation. And, suddenly Selena finds herself confiding in “Martha”. She tells her all about her cheating husband. Martha confides a secret to Selena and the ride on the train ends.
Then the nanny disappears.
And Martha keeps sending text messages to Selena.
Thus begins a convoluted mess of a book. Who is Martha really? How does Anne factor into the story? And Pearl? Where is the nanny? You get it – I am sure. Everyone has a secret and the names change and people you least suspect suddenly take on a new role and then there is that twisty-plot turn at the end that makes you gasp. Or not.
If you read my reviews often you know I am just exasperated with this genre. I call it the “girl-in-distress-with-secrets-and insane-plot-twists” genre. I am so tired of this format, y’all. Just stop. Please write a literary book that is believable and has characters we actually care about. Please send books to me that make me cry for all the right reasons and remember two days or two years later. And if I pick up one more book like this one in this review, may an electrical shock hit me and make me put it down.
This is my least favorite book of this month. Really, if I am being honest, I hated this book. I disliked all the characters- especially the whiny children and the husband. Yech. I put the plot twists together easily and knew exactly who was who even when they changed their names. It was not plausible and I skimmed a good bit of it. I do not have time to read stupid books. One star (even though I did finish it).
Alright Book Friends, those are my favorites from May and the ones I can highly recommend (or not). Which one will you try next?
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My rating system: 5 stars- perfection, the book was written well, held my attention, and I did not want it to end. 4 stars- the book was really good, but I had questions or concerns about parts of it. This might include the way it ended. 3 stars- the book was okay, but I just didn’t like it much. 2 stars- I skimmed most of it. 1 star- I could not finish it.