I read “Blood Water Paint” as part of an online book club. I’m so glad that it was the club’s pick, because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up — it was such a unique and intense experience! It is written mostly in verse, but don’t let that put you off — the poetry is beautiful and quite accessible. There are intermittent chapters written in prose, and they were my favorites due to their content: the main character, Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi, remembering the stories that her mother had told her about strong women in history. There’s a theme throughout the book of women telling stories about women (especially those of women being abused and standing up for themselves) to girls/women because we need those stories and the boys have their own stories of warriors and kings . But I wish that the boys had BOTH stories — otherwise, how is anything ever supposed to change? I’m inspired by this book to strive to tell stories halfway as well to my own daughter as Artemesia’s mother did to her — and if I had a son, I’d sit him down right there next to her.
Three words that describe this book: Beautiful, raw, true
You might want to pick this book up if: You are interested in the Renaissance art world and/or gender issues. Trigger warning: rape.
“A Good American” is about a family of German immigrants who settle in Missouri; the book follows several generations of the family circa 1900 and onward. I liked the book because I learned more about Missouri history and because it tells the story of immigrants. It was a very entertaining, absorbing, informative, moving and a richly drawn narrative. I think I would have liked to understand the main character (and narrator) better, especially as an adult.
Three words that describe this book: historical, colorful, moving
You might want to pick this book up if: You want to learn more about Missouri’s immigration history.
What a tome! Stephen King really does a deep dive into history, into paradoxes, into love, into causes and effects. I don’t always get into King’s out and out horror, but something like “11/22/63” is perfect for me. Sure there are still the occasional gruesome images (I mean, this is a tale centered around that time in history a US president had his head blown off), but for the most part this an introspective adventure novel. For years we are tracking Jake/George in an almost minute by minute way, and we’re better for it. He is having the sort of experience that can only happen in books, and it’s fascinating. For weeks now this protagonist has been a present friend of mine and I’ll be sorry to leave him behind. Sometimes you pick up a massive book and while you might be enjoying it, you nonetheless look forward to completing it. That’s not the case here. I’d happily spend another thousand pages inhabiting Jake’s mind and admiring his experiences. I’d love to get to ask, “What next?”
Three words that describe this book: Paradoxes, Passion, Pressure
You might want to pick this book up if: You love an excellent adventure, a protagonist you can really get behind, a meditation on the immutable nature of time.
“Exhalation” is a collection of science fiction short stories. The author works in the software industry and is clearly knowledgeable about scientific principles and technology and curious about its possibilities. His stories often blend the scientific with the spiritual, and invoke a lot of moral and ethical questions. My favorite stories were “Omphalos” which focuses on a narrator struggling to reconcile her faith and purpose in light of new scientific evidence, and “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” which deals with the flexibility of memory, how we construct narratives about ourselves and our worlds, and how different forms of technology can shape those narratives.
Three words that describe this book: Thought-provoking, enlightening, well-crafted
You might want to pick this book up if: You like humanistic science fiction.
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is a modern fairy tale in the way that only Neil Gaiman can write. The protagonist returns to his rural hometown for a funeral, and finds himself recovering strange memories of events that happened when he was seven years old. Could they have really happened? Could he really have befriended an eleven year old girl who was actually as old as time itself? Could he have brought an ill-tempered spirit home with him from the edges of reality? Could he have died and come back to life? How is it possible that memories could be ripped out and new ones stitched together?
I love the way Gaiman weaves a story, and this one leaves just enough to the imagination of the reader, while being set in a fully-imagined world. It was a quick read—I did it in one sitting on a sick day in bed — and a wonderful escape from what’s going on in the real world. The characters are well-drawn; the “scenery” is at turns idyllic and horrifying.
Three words that describe this book: Magical, quick, fantasy
You might want to pick this book up if: You loved fairy tales as a child, and still love them as an adult.
Set in 1976 in the fictional Missouri towns of Jessup and Dry Creek somewhere south of Jefferson City, “Nothing More Dangerous” is a coming of age novel of race, crime and the meaning of family. The writing is excellent, and the story, as told through the eyes of the fifteen year-old narrator, is compelling and often poignant. It’s a gritty crime tale told against a backdrop of cultural issues that remain relevant today. Added bonus: the author is a former criminal defense attorney who grew up in Jefferson City, and locals will appreciate the Central Missouri setting and references to Columbia.
Three words that describe this book: moving, engrossing, perceptive
You might want to pick this book up if: You enjoy coming of age novels, crime novels, novels that address racism, or novels set in Central Missouri. If you check any of these boxes, you will appreciate “Nothing More Dangerous.”
“Between the World and Me” is written by the author as a letter to his teenage son. It describes his life growing up and living as a Black man in America. He speaks frankly and bluntly about the way systemic racism has shaped his behaviors and self-perception in today’s world. This was a great book and I really liked it. It gave me a small taste of what it is like to live in America as a Black man, something I can never experience. It also was a personal call to action against the deeply ingrained policies and systems put in place in our country.
Three words that describe this book: Powerful, Moving, Vivid
You might want to pick this book up if: you are seeking to understand the world from another perspective and to learn more about the systemic racism in our country.
“Recipe for A Perfect Wife” is about a modern-day newlywed who finds herself in a new house that is actually old and has some stories she ends up unearthing and digging into. It’s two stories in one, from the past residents of the home, to the present, and woven together very nicely. Here is my review: I absolutely loved this creation! Absolute pure, dark genius! I mean it! Really, really fabulous. I think that’s what I said aloud, at least, as I closed the book after reading the final acknowledgements. I loved the recipes, and the quotes at the beginning of the chapters. The story of the past and the story of now and how they coexisted was spectacularly formed and woven, and it was funny, dreadfully awful, and inspiring all at the same time. How do you DO that? Why don’t more authors DO THAT?! I loved reading the little author’s recipe in the back, and seeing some of the other author names listed made me happy because I have their their books too. This book drew me in from the very beginning, never lost me for an instant, never disappointed me in any way, and was better than I had expected. I had read some snippet about this book from BookBub and put it on my Goodreads “to read” list and waited through the holiday, then the coronavirus (and we’re still kind of there, but at least now finally the library has curbside open and I could finally get this book), and it was worth the wait. I will read it again, or own it even. Loved it! It’s going to sit with me for a while, and I’m so glad.
Three words that describe this book: entertaining, haunting, beautiful
You might want to pick this book up if: You liked “Julie and Julia,” or if you want a blast from the past.
“Brave, Not Perfect” is about empowering women to just be brave enough to try. It talks about how women are raised to believe in order to try something, they must be perfect at it. This isn’t the case! The author gives many motivating and heartfelt examples of how she or others have tried and failed or tried and succeeded, but the most important thing was that they tried. I think it is absolutely true that we are not taught that failure is okay. We are taught to be perfect and anything short is detrimental; the judgement from other women for not being perfect (or even their version of perfect) is astronomical. I can very much relate to what she is saying. In a society where everyone wants to prove everyone wrong, I feel stupid when people correct me, and it shouldn’t be like that. I think it is important what she is doing: telling women it is okay to apply for jobs you don’t 100% qualify for, or to learn about coding, or to fail. The important thing is to be brave, not perfect.
Three words that describe this book: Empowering, Motivating, Women
You might want to pick this book up if: You need a boost to help you jump-start that thing you’ve been too nervous to try.
“Terra Nullius” is one of the best books I’ve read on the topic of colonization. Realistic multiple perspectives? Check. Accessible, concrete language? Check. Timelessness? Check. Interesting, original plot line? Check. Written by someone with skin in the game, not just a research project? Check. One of the things I most appreciated about this book was it avoided the simple “cry for the poor victims” or “rage against the oppressor” or “bear ALL the guilt” approaches — it addressed all of those things, but the aftertaste of this book is acknowledgment of the problems and HOPE for finding improvements now.
Three words that describe this book: soulful, active, hopeful
You might want to pick this book up if: You can’t decide if you want to feel things or you want a fast-paced story– have both!