Looking over my list of best books of April I found no particular theme, a few stinkers, and a few really good books. One I will remember for a long time and the others probably not at all. I can recommend a few! Let me know if you have read these!
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We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride
Jen and Riley are lifelong friends whose lives will be forever altered when a tragedy occurs.
Having been friends since Kindergarten, their friendship will be tested as they experience this event from separate views- Jen is white, Riley is Black.
The book is told from alternating points of view with Jen telling a little about her years as a young girl when her mother neglected her. Her solace came from Riley’s family who embraced as her one of their own.
Years later, as adults, Jen and Riley have remained close friends. As the book opens Jen, now married, is pregnant, and Riley has moved back to their hometown where her job as a television journalist is taking off.
Jen’s husband, Kevin, is a police officer. He is involved in a shooting incident with his partner. They both fired shots at a 14-year-old Black boy.
And, Riley is asked to cover the story as it unfolds. Can she objectively report what has happened to a young Black teen who was walking home with a cell phone in his pocket, when one of the officers involved is her best friend’s husband?
Can their friendship survive this?
Riley: “Jenny and I met when we were so young, during that brief elusive period when kids are truly color-blind. We didn’t talk about race when we were 5, or 10, or 15, and now… It’s a muscle we have not used.”
This book is a complex look at the divide between what happens to young Black children and the officers sworn to uphold the law- including shooting at a “suspect” that can’t possibly be the perpetrator. It’s worth your time to read this and learn. It’s also a well-written book. 4 stars for this one– I did find the ending was a little too pat- like a book ending and not a real-life ending.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
Ms. Ford’s memoir is brutally honest and depicts her life as a poor Black girl growing up with a strict and often violent, abusive mother.
Ms. Ford’s father was incarcerated for as long as she could remember and he became her “beacon” of light. His letters sustained a relationship in which she rarely visited him.
Growing up with a mother that had many boyfriends and children, Ms. Ford approaches puberty and a changing body with little understanding of what it all means. I was struck most by her constant vigilance to appear to follow her mother’s rules to stay away from her wrath. Ms. Ford’s ability to block out the abuse from her mother and schoolmates made this book difficult to read.
I found the memoir compelling and yet I could only read a chapter or two at a time due to the troubling nature of Ms. Ford’s relationship with her mother. I alternated reading this book with another memoir (reviewed next).
I give this book 4 stars- it’s a heartbreaking look at growing up in poverty and abusive relationships, however, it’s also uplifting and beautifully written. The story of Ms. Ford’s father factors into the overall book, but the bulk of the story is about her mother, grandmother, and just growing up.
North to Paradise by Ousman Umar
Born in Ghana, Ousman Umar dreamed of a different life. At the age of 12, he left his village and traveled for years trying to reach the dreamland of Europe. His dangerous journey is motivating and considering his age it’s amazing!
The first leg of Ousman’s journey meant crossing the Sahara desert. He and 40 others, including his best friend, paid to be taken across the desert. The truck carrying the group stopped in the desert and abandoned them.
One group member claimed to be a desert guide and offered to continue the journey, on foot, but only if the group paid them. And they did and they walked for miles and miles with little water and no food. When Ousman and his friend finally reached their destination there were only 6 left of the original group. The others perished in the desert.
This desert story is only the beginning of Ousman’s story. He encounters many others that trick him into trusting them and then stealing from him. He works at whatever jobs he can find and meets strangers that offer kindness, shelter, and food along the way.
The journey includes many walks, rides, and even traveling on a very small boat to cross from Africa to Spain. Don’t forget that all of this takes place when Ousman is a teenager!
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
I did not rate this book immediately. I had to rest with it before I made up my mind and I will tell you that you might also feel this way. In the end, I say 5 stars.
It will stay with you for a while. It’s heartbreaking. It’s emotionally packed. But isn’t that one of the reasons we read?
The swimmers are a group of people that go every morning to their local pool to swim laps. They don’t interact ever, except for those moments in the pool. They swim their laps, in their respective lanes and styles, and life moves forward. The point of view is awkward at first because you cannot decide who is telling the story. Most days we are able to leave our troubles on land behind.
As I read the first third of this book I kept feeling that the story of the swimmers was a metaphor for something. Especially when a crack appeared in the bottom of the pool and became an overwhelming worry for the swimmers. The normal wear and tear on this old pool was, in fact, a moment of change for the swimmers.
In the meantime, one swimmer, Alice, became a focal point. Alice, afflicted with dementia, swam daily and then she didn’t. The story took a turn.
It became the story of Alice and her impending struggle with her memory, her caretakers, her family, and her memory lapses and losses. It seems the pool was the one thing Alice had that gave her days meaning. And the crack in the pool might represent more than we think.
This book is very short and worth your time.
The Most Disappointing Book of the Month
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Jess shows up at her brother’s apartment in Paris only to find he is missing and the others in the building are unfriendly, definitely hiding something, and a bit odd.
This book was a hodgepodge of weirdness and characters I could not keeps straight. By the time I reached the point of maybe finding out where the brother was I really didn’t care anymore. There is a delightful twist at the end that almost redeemed this book for me, but not quite. I still did not love it.
I can say, however, that the audible version was SUPERBLY read by several people, playing the parts of the characters. Listening to this book is likely the only reason I finished it. 2 stars.
I also read a few more books this month that I can recommend:
- The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain (I listened to this book- the book was good, but the narrator was awful!)
- The Existential Worries of Mags Munroe by Jean Grainger (A delightful, hilarious story of a police sergeant in Ballycarrick, Ireland.)
- Impossible to Forget by Imogen Clark (Interesting premise with alternating chapters of the current story and backstory.)
You might also enjoy these reviews:
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.