15. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Ross Gay decided to write an essay every day about something that delighted him starting on his birthday and ending on his next birthday. This book contains a selection of those essays. Some delights are straightforward and some begin as a seed that twists and grows into a greater story or reflection. One might expect that the book might be treacly or try to be inspirational, but it’s really neither of those things and some of the essays wind up pretty heavy even as they spring from a delight. Gay is a fantastic writer that really has a way with words and expressing things. Although the book is not meant to inspire anyone to do anything, it has made me to start noticing those small delights in my everyday life too. I give it a 9 out of 10.
14. The Removed by Brandon Hobson
Fifteen years ago teenage Ray-Ray was killed by a cop. The story focuses on the remaining members of the Echota family leading up the annual bonfire they hold in his memory. His father is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. His mother, a retired social worker, has agreed to take in a temporary foster child who reminds them both deeply of their lost son and seems to bring some magical healing powers to the father. His sister is involved in a questionable romantic relationship, and his brother is deep in a drug addiction and may not return home at all. The book is steeped in a lot of Cherokee mythology. I enjoyed it while I was reading it for the most part, but it didn’t stick with me and I felt like there were a lot of things that were not really ever tied up and then something that was tied up at the end that felt a little out of nowhere. I think the book had great potential, but wasn’t quite there. I give it a 6 out of 10.
13. A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske
A Marvelous Light is set in a magical version of Edwardian England. After his predecessor goes missing, Robin is accidentally assigned to the role in the secret part of the civil service that deals in magic where he comes to learn of an entire world that has been hidden to him. Suspecting that he is somehow knows where his predecessor hid something, Robin has a curse put upon him and now curmudgeonly colleague, Edward, feels compelled to him remove it and find out what is happening. I thought it set up a an interesting magical world that created new ideas that I hadn’t seen previously, though this isn’t a genre I read a lot in. I knew going in that this book had a gay romance at the center of it, but I was not expecting how racy the sex scenes were going to be, so fair warning if you are not into very graphic sex scenes in your romance novels. If you like magic and erotica then this book is for you. I give it an 8 out of 10.
12. Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
Laurie returns to the small town in Maine where she grew up to clean out her great-aunt’s house. Her aunt had never married, but lived to be 90 and had many great adventures in her life. Laurie becomes intrigued when she stumbles across a wooden duck seemingly lovingly packed away among her aunt’s stuff and even more so when she discovers an old love letter that references ducks. Laurie becomes obsessed with finding out where the duck came from and winds up wrapped up in a caper along with her oldest friend and high school boyfriend. It’s an unconventional romance novel to some degree, but it has a lot of good banter and people who enjoy rom-com type romances should enjoy it even if it ends with a bit of twist on the typical happily ever after. I give it a 7 out of 10.
11. The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian
After running away, Ada swore she would never return back home to her abusive father and their life living in the marshes of rural Louisiana, but circumstances force her back home where events wind up connecting her to Matilda, a Black girl from the other side of town. There’s a lot of terrible things that happen to these two girls in this book, but it does eventually end on a happy note. It’s definitely aimed at people who enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing. I give it a 7 out of 10.
10. The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
The House on Vesper Sands is a Victorian murder mystery with a supernatural twist. A number of girls have gone missing under similar circumstances, the most recent with a mysterious message sewn into her skin. A police detective and his sidekick, an Oxford dropout who stumbled accidentally into the role and separately a female journalist trying to tell a story of importance are all trying to find out what is happening. I get what the author was doing in writing in the style that he did trying to emulate books from that actual time period, but I also found that the round about language made it very difficult to follow what was happening in the book. I give it a 5 out of 10.
9. Metropolis by B.A. Shapiro
This book centers around six different characters all attached in some way to the Metropolis Storage building. When an accident, or was it, happens in the building all their lives are affected in some way as the mystery surrounding what happened begins to unravel. This book was fine, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the previous B.A. Shapiro novels that I’ve read. I give it a 6 out of 10.
8. The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
Set just after the Emancipation Proclamation, two freed brothers take refuge on a farm where they strike up an unlikely partnership with the farmer and his wife while the town fights against the Union and accepting freed slaves into their society. I can’t fault the author for writing the story he wanted to write, but it wasn’t necessarily the story that I wanted to read. I was really interested in the idea of what it was actually like to be a freed slave and how you actually managed to survive with essentially nowhere to live and no money to even start out with if you didn’t want to stay and work wherever you were technically freed from. There was a little of that, but for the most part I felt like this story was much more about the white family, which I was much less interested in. I give it a 5 out of 10.
7. All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
Tiya Miles examines the history of a simple cotton sack embroidered by a woman named Ruth with a simple message detailing that the sack carried a small gift of food and clothes given from her great-grandmother to her grandmother as she was sold as a slave to another master. The simple words detailing a heartwrenchingly painful loss of a child in a cruel system are more powerful than many much more detailed history books. Miles digs into what she can find about these individual three women, but as of course there was limited record keeping about women who were slaves she expounds by digging into the history of what life would have been like for these women by extrapolating from records that do exist. She also examines what the items in the sack and the sack itself would have meant to these women. It’s definitely an academic book, but one that elucidates not just slavery but the lives of the slaves themselves and the culture that they created. I give it an 8 out of 10.