February’s Best books list includes 3 that might make it to my top ten list for the whole year! And then, there is one odd book. I liked it, it was mesmerizing. But, at the same time, I didn’t like it. The characters were not compelling. I guess I finished it to see what was going to happen!
Have you read any of these?
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Flight Risk by Joy Castro
Isabel Morales is an artist/sculptor living in Chicago with her husband, Jon, who is a pediatric physician.
All seems perfect for them. But, of course, it really isn’t.
Soon into the book, Isabel receives a phone call letting her know that her mother has died- in prison. She must return to Appalachia, a place she left many years before. Little by little you will learn of the tragic circumstances that led Isabel to get as far from her hometown and its people as she could.
In the meantime, what is going on with her husband? Does he know about her past? When will it come crashing down around her? Or will it?
When Isabel arrives back in the mountains of West Virginia she finds family members that must be dealt with and several high school acquaintances that she sees in a new light. Traveling back sets her on a new vision for her life, well except for one thing- that husband back in Chicago.
This seems to be a typical thriller, but there is one catch to it. It is beautifully written. Ms. Castro has a haunting style of writing that is perfectly delicious. I loved it!
In describing a scene from the airport where Isabel is observing people around her, she wonders if people aren’t all the same-striving to love and be loved by their families and friends. She thinks:
“We don’t know each other, but you love someone as much as I do, and somewhere there’s a person waiting for you who’d be wrecked if you didn’t come home.”
The last few chapters were not what I expected and the ending was perfect. A rarity, indeed!
Unthinkable by Jamie Raskin
Subtitled – Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy
This heartbreaking memoir by Congressman Jamie Raskin relays the beginning months of 2021. With Congress being overrun by a frenzied mob of people with the intent of interrupting the peaceful transfer of power, Raskin became an integral part of not letting this happen.
What you may not know is that on the last day of 2020 Raskin’s son took his own life, leaving the congressman and his family grief-stricken with the tremendous loss. Only 7 days later, Raskin found himself in the chambers of Congress helping certify the votes for the 2020 Presidential election.
Raskin speaks the harsh truth of what happened not only to his family but to the country he serves. Raskin is a Constitutional lawyer and well-schooled in the history of the constitution and all it contains. He emotionally conveys the story of January 6, 2021.
Woven into the story of our country was Raskin’s personal story. As he spoke lovingly about his only son’s death he was often overcome with the still-raw emotion. His voice broke as he fought the grief. It was unbelievable to listen to.
I highly recommend this book for many reasons. First, the story of this amazing man and his stunning declarations of love for our country and unwavering allegiance to serving the public. Second, the personal story that he shares openly with the hope of helping any of us suffering from depression. 5+ stars.
Another recommendation- you need to listen to the audio version of this book!
The Maid by Nita Prose
Molly has been taught for years by her grandmother, whose strict social rules have served her well. Molly, it seems, has autistic tendencies. (This is never fully explained in the book.) She is quite literal and interprets everything with her own perceptions. Her grandmother has some tendencies as well, toward perfectionism and maybe a little bit of OCD.
Molly’s unique traits work perfectly with her obsessive need for cleanliness because she happens to be a maid at a luxurious hotel. She delights in wearing her crisp uniform and bringing all the rooms she cleans back to their state of perfection.
With the death of her grandmother, Molly is without her most staunch support, and also, the woman that kept her socially aware. She is, as I said struggling, and this becomes even more apparent when she walks into the suite of Mr. Charles Black, a rich client that spends a lot of time with his second wife as occupants of the hotel. As Molly discovers as she enters the suite, Mr. Black is quite dead.
The situation quickly escalates because Molly has been duped by other employees of the hotel and she ends up in real trouble with the police. To the rescue comes the doorman and his daughter and one or two close “friends”. But, are they really her friends? Who can she trust? In her naivete can she trust anyone? Does she even know she is being tricked?
Ahhh, this was a lovely book! Full of humor, good intentions, and a little bit of trickery. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, several of the scenes in the last chapters just blew my theories away! It did not end as expected at all!
Four stars for this one! I enjoyed it. The narrator of the audio version spoke with the innocent staccato that you would expect and yet she lent a charm to the voice of Molly the maid. Listen to this one!!
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
“When you leave one country for another, nobody tells you years will bleed together like rain on newsprint.”
This is the story of Elena and Mauro and their struggles as immigrants in America.
The story begins with Talia, their daughter, and the best opening line. “It was her idea to tie up the nun.” Talia, it seems, is a 15-year-old incarcerated at a girl’s reform school in the mountains of Colombia. Talia has a brother and sister but has not seen them or her mother in many years.
Chapters alternate and fill in the story of Elena and Mauro and their decision to immigrate to the United States. At some point, the family must decide if Elena and the children will stay as Mauro is deported. Living in poverty, finding childcare, and doing this alone creates another dilemma for Elena. Will she send her infant daughter, Talia, back to Colombia to be cared for by her mother? What will happen to this American born child?
And, many years later, Talia is racing back to Bogata for a scheduled flight to the U.S. to be with the mother she has only known through phone calls. Of course, she had to tie up that nun!
This short book reads like a much longer one. Interspersed with Talia’s race across Colombia are folktales, stories told by her father and grandmother, and descriptions of the areas she is traveling through.
The point of view changes midway through the book and it was a little awkward. I kept having to guess which point of view was being written. The book is rich with emotion, raw, and thought-provoking. And yet, it is not superfluous. The author gets right to the point.
I loved this book. It’s a very real picture of the life that immigrants have when they are trying to survive in America. The mistreatment, the judgment, and the longing for their homeland.
“How stupid she was to think leaving would be as easy as handing over her ticket and finding her seat on the plane. She did not yet know she would mourn this morning like a death.”
5 stars for this one!
And, Now, the Oddest Book of the Month
This is the story of Luciana Armstrong, called Lucky. After her mother, Gloria mysteriously left, Lucky is being raised by her father. This is not your ordinary dad.
Dad is a con artist, a grifter, a liar, and he enjoys a good scam. Guess who is following in his footsteps? Yep, a little girl named Lucky. Even as a very young girl, Lucky could scam people out of money, pick pockets, and play along with whatever story dad was weaving at the time. They changed their names, backstories, and looks as easily as you and I change our shoes.
One odd turn concerned a mother and daughter the two meet. The daughter and Lucky become good friends, even though dad is pulling a fast one on the mom. Leaving these two and running off was heartbreaking for Lucky. Just imagine how awful it might be (or odd) if these two show up to visit the mother-daughter again.
Now, of course, you have to constantly think about these two getting caught and when it does happen, Lucky is old enough to run her own schemes without her father. How do you think this is going to work out?
And, smack in the middle of her own escapades she buys a lottery ticket. Remember her name is Lucky. The ticket is worth $390 million but there’s a catch. Can Lucky cash in her ticket without being arrested? At about this same time some characters from the past catch up with her and… oh my. She takes off to find her long-lost mother with plans for a con scheme to help get that lottery ticket taken care of.
Chapters of this very short book alternate with telling about Lucky’s upbringing and the current day story. I give this one 2 stars. It was not believable. I mean seriously, who wins a lottery ticket? And, in the end, it was a contrived mess. Too many coincidences turned it into a big disappointment.
Have fun reading? You might find a great book on one of these posts:
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.