So many books to love this February
I read a lot of nonfiction this month. Several of these books were sobering, shocking and revealing. But I will start with the fun one — “Hotbox” — by Matt and Ted Lee. You know them from the Southern food scene. They spent 18 months working in high-end catering in New York City to learn the back story on events that feed 1,500 people all at the same time with a gourmet palate. It is much more than that, and I was fascinated by the ingenuity and engineering that go into this type of food service. Engaging and rapid read.
Anna Weiner serves up a factual expose of the Silicon Valley world of startups in “Uncanny Valley.” Happy I read it; happier I am not part of it.
One of my favorite books is “Citizens of London” and Lynne Olson is back with the story of the woman who ran the largest spy ring in occupied France during WWII. “Madame Fourcade’s Secret War” tells the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade who worked fiercely and fearlessly against the Nazis. This is an astonishing story and a must-read for WWII buffs.
Alison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne are both award-winning musicians. Their father shot and killed their mother and then himself in front of their house when the girls were young. As expected, it has taken them a lifetime to deal with this tragedy. “Blood: A Memoir” by Alison is an honest, but unpitying look at her childhood and the life she had with her parents before and her own struggle after being orphaned. I heard her interview on NPR and knew I wanted to read this book.
This next book has a few passages which may be a bit gruesome, but nothing disturbs me and I see this as a fantastic book for discussion. “Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen” by Dexter Palmer is the fictionalized telling of a true story from 1726 England of Mary Toft who claimed to give birth to 17 rabbits. The renowned medical experts of the day and the British population believed her. The examining doctors did not figure out the ruse. It sounds crazy but the story really proves that people will believe what they want to believe in contradiction to rational thought and clear facts. And that is what makes for lively discussion.
The final nonfiction this month is required reading for all of us living here in paradise. “Solitary” is Alfred Woodfox’s account of his 40 years in solitary confinement in Angola Prison for a crime from which he was exonerated. He is certainly no saint and admits to his bad behavior, but the depiction of the prison facilities and the corruption of the Louisiana “justice” system truly give one pause. Nothing good is going to come out of what could best be described as Dante’s Nine Levels of Hell. Clearly, there were a few dark and dreary reading days this winter!
Whew! On to fiction:
“A Small Town” by Thomas Perry is a 180 degree turn from the story of Angola Prison. In this novel, a dedicated and cagey policewoman sets out on an undercover mission to eliminate 12 convicts who caused a mass breakout from a federal prison resulting in death and destruction in her town. The 12 who got away should be very afraid.
“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins is the story of a woman forced to flee Mexico with her young son after a cartel wipes out her family and her journalist husband. There are some strong opinions about “cultural appropriation” over this book but I gained some appreciation of the migrants’ journey. I fully realize that this is only one view and does not in any way portend to tell the story of all immigrants. Read it and make up your own mind.
In “Long, Bright River,” Liz Moore tells the story of sisters in Philadelphia who end up on vastly different paths — one a cop, one a drug addict.
I had not read a Stephen King book in a long time, so I read “The Institute.” As expected, a well-written story, both thrilling and thought provoking.
“Marilou Is Everywhere” by Sarah Elaine Smith introduces us to Cindy, a 14-year-old girl with no parents and a miserable life, until another girl disappears and Cindy takes her place and finds a home. At least until she finds herself.
“The Girl Who Reads on the Metro” by Christine Feret-Fleury is a sweet fable of a girl who loves books. Only serious readers will appreciate the book references.
Deb Spera pens a Southern Gothic with “Call Your Daughter Home.” Set in Branchville and Charleston in 1924, it is an engaging read of three women handling entwined challenges.
The final book is a sweet (sometimes a bit saccharine to me) saga of children who escape an orphanage to search for their own home. “This Tender Land” by William Kent Kreuger is a hopeful and ultimately satisfying read by the writer who gave us “Ordinary Grace.”
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.