November’s best books…Ahh, what an interesting month of reading. And, yes, I found a theme for this month’s reviews.
This underlying emotion of heartbreak was part of most of the books I read and 4 of the ones I am featuring today. The last book was pure joy.
Take a look at November’s best!
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This book is pure poetry. It’s heart-breaking. It’s hilarious. It’s moving and thought-provoking. It’s mesmerizing.
I cannot believe I have not read it until now.
A book I read last month had a character that carried a copy of this book in her backpack. She had read it until it was ragged and worn. A sign of being a much-loved book. I completely understand this- now.
Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Johnson, and her brother Bailey come to live with their grandmother, called “momma”. A strict southern black woman who runs the town’s store, Momma instills a sense of manners and graciousness in her two young grandchildren. She loves them fiercely even if her outward behavior does not always show this. She is a stern disciplinarian.
Each chapter tells the story of Maya’s young years. From the story of learning her multiplication facts to seeing a dead body that looks like a mud-baby. From her rape as a 7-year old to the story of a community revival that left Maya and Bailey gasping for breath as they laughed uproariously at the antics of the pastor whose teeth have fallen out.
And so much more. The story is mesmerizing and rich with detail. If I must find fault with this book, it was the ending. But, this is a good thing. This is book one in a series that becomes the total memoir for Maya Angelou. I have them all reserved at the library to savor one by one in the next few months. This book left me hanging and wanting more and I will read all of them!
If you read nothing else, read this one. (And, I promise, you will be hooked!) 5+ stars
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Lydia Perez, a young mother, lives in Acapulco with her husband who is a journalist. They have a son named Luca. Lydia owns a bookstore and one day is befriended by a customer named Javier. He becomes an important part of her life for many reasons- as you will find out in the first few chapters.
It is at the beginning of the book that Lydia takes her son inside their home during a party. An extended family is there and grilling outside. As Lydia and Luca visit the restroom she hears gunshots and grimly discovers that she and Luca are the only survivors.
Lydia knows she must flee and do so quickly. You will find out why this is so urgent. I will stop here by not telling you of more events because I do not want to spoil the story for you.
Full Disclosure- I tried to listen to this book about a year ago. The first two chapters were awesome and the narrator was superb. So, why didn’t I finish it? Well, I was looking at my Goodreads account and noticed the book had thousands of reviews, but a few caught my eye. There are some really dramatic reviews that will urge you not to read this book. The author is not a Spanish-speaking person, has never lived in Mexico, so how can she write about it? The book is full of stereotypes and these can be considered demeaning. The book is not true-to-life.
So, I returned the book- unfinished.
About a month ago I found this book on a best book’s list and revisited it. As I did so, I realized this- All of those reasons I listed above about this book not being good could also be said about the Harry Potter series. (not true to life, full of stereotypes, the author has not been to Hogwarts, etc.).
So, I grabbed a copy and started reading and could not put this book down. It is a work of fiction. That is all you need to know. It is a page-turner, something we all want, and the story is captivating. The writing is amazing. 5+stars for this one, too!
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
It is 1954 when 18-year-old Emmett is brought home from a juvenile detention farm by the warden. He has served a 15-month sentence and arrives home to a house that the bank has foreclosed on. While at the juvenile facility his father passed away and his mother, it turns out, left the family years before.
Billy, his little brother, is 8 years old and quite ready for his brother to come home. As Emmett relays to Billy where they are moving to, Billy announces an alternate plan. He wants a grand adventure- with a purpose I will not reveal.
While on their travels Emmett finds Billy, a voracious reader, pouring through a large book. It is a compilation of stories about famous adventurers. At the back of the book, there are blank pages. Billy says these pages are where he will write his adventure.
He explains that most of the adventures he has read about seem to start in the middle of the story.
Billy says, “I am pretty sure that we are on our adventure, Emmett. But I won’t be able to make a start of setting it down until I know where the middle is.”
And what an adventure this turns out to be!
The book alternates with its point of view in every chapter. The story is told through the eyes of those characters and their backstories. There is Emmett, of course, whose reason for being held in the detention facility is startling and life-changing. However, upon his return home, you will find that he was remarkably mature prior to the event.
Eight-year-old Billy is a true phenomenon that reads voraciously and remembers everything. He also has an unusual way of putting events together- something that will astound you all the way to the last few pages.
And then, there are the two characters that accompany Emmett and Billy on their travels. Duchess and Wooly were also living at the detention center and when Emmett is driven home these two scoundrels sneaked a ride in the trunk of the warden’s car. Although it may seem these two have bad intentions toward Emmett and Billy it turns out that they are all trying to do what is right- in sometimes very humorous ways.
Sally is also factored into the story. She is a local woman that loves Emmett and actually took care of Billy after the father died.
The story culminates with these five, after escapades across half the country involving escaping from train-riders, living with homeless people, scraping together pennies and dollars to buy what they needed, and meeting various interesting people that help them along the way.
The book is written in absolutely gorgeous prose, witty and insightful, beautiful descriptions, connecting the past with current events. Pay attention to every detail because so much of what you read leads to another event. There are moments you will laugh out loud and stunning moments when you turn the page and deflate as you see what happens to these travelers. This book will go on my best books of all time shelf. 5+ stars
The Push by Ashley Audrain
This book was nothing like what I expected. It was… perplexing, compelling, and, yes, heartbreaking.
It’s the story of Blythe and her daughter Violet.
And her son and her husband and so many other mothers.
Blythe’s story is written from her perspective as she details her marriage and the birth of her children. She writes the story to her husband and refers to him as ‘you’. I cannot recall ever reading another book written in this style. (“You reached for your phone and I studied you.”)
The other mothers of the book are Blythe’s mother and her grandmother- both of whom had major issues with parenting and life in general. Blythe’s mother, Cecilia, and her mother, Etta, are the crux of Blythe’s problems.
Blythe, it seems, wants to be the mother she never had. And, along comes Violet.
Motherhood is nothing like what Blythe expected. She is constantly exhausted and from the beginning, Violet is not a normal baby or toddler. Blythe cannot bond with her child and the focus on Violet’s odd behavior is unsettling, to say the least. Blythe’s husband, Fox (yes, his name is Fox) immediately falls in love with Violet and creates a strong bond with her. He takes very little notice of the odd behaviors.
Then Sam is born. Blythe’s reaction with her son is a complete reversal and the bond with this new baby is also unsettling- in a different way. In the meantime, Violet continues to struggle with bullying and often violent behaviors.
There are so many parts of this book that mothers can relate to, but there are parts that were quite alarming. So, just know that the thoughts of Blythe and the antics of Violet may be triggering. Sleep deprivation, household demands, a seemingly perfect little family… hmmm, what could go wrong?
In the end, I felt the book was 4 stars. It was mesmerizing although written awkwardly in short choppy sections. I did not care for the point of view of the writing and actually wished several times that Fox would narrate some of the sections to give the reader more insight into what was happening. The ending was not a surprise.
The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard
Here it is- a book full of love and pure joy. Happiness, family-centered, and amazing.
I listened to this book and encourage you to do the same. It was read by its two authors!
I hope that you are as familiar with the Andy Griffith show as I am. It was primetime television when I was a little girl and I can still watch episodes and marvel at our wonderful they were. Especially Opie! Also known as Ron Howard.
I grabbed this audio book as soon as it became available. There is nothing like listening to an author read their own work. The book begins with family tales and quickly moves into the acting careers of the two young Howard Boys.
In addition to The Andy Griffith Show, Ron was an actor in The Seven Year Itch, Playhouse 90, The Music Man, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and Happy Days. This is only a partial list, and you might also know that Ron moved into the director’s chair later in life and directed some well-known movies.
His brother, Clint, also had quite an adventurous youth acting in Flipper, Gentle Ben, Star Trek, The Virginian, and Bonanza.
Their amazing collaboration in this memoir includes memories of their parents and early years trying to maintain a family and brother relationship in the middle of their acting careers.
This book was so fun and I learned so much. I really loved the sections about Opie and how he was able to perform specific parts with the gentle coaching from his father. You will love this book, too! But listen to it! 5 stars!!
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.