69. The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird
Although it’s being released in 2021, apparently this book was written prior to the coronavirus. It’s obviously very different reading a book about a pandemic that kills most of the men in the world than it would have been to read it had we not currently been living through a pandemic. I can certainly say at this point this book is a work of fiction because when they developed a vaccine in the book people actually took it and ended the plague.
I started reading the book without actually knowing what it was about, but it was obviously well written enough that I kept reading despite topic because I never would have started reading it had I known what the book was about. The book is told from the perspective a bunch of different characters over a number of years. I get what the author was trying to do in representing a broad swath of experiences and highlighting various issues and obvious changes that would occur with almost all men having gone extinct. However, it did make it difficult to really connect with any of the characters even the few main characters that are centered in the book. To some degree they all felt a little one note and not easily differentiated from each other. It definitely was an interesting premise. I’m not sure if it made me feel better or worse to think about how much worse things could be than they currently are given what happens based on the pandemic in this book. I give it a 7 out of 10.
59. Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Greatest Living Negro League Baseball Players by Cam Perron
As a young boy Cam Perron got super into collecting and eventually became obsessed with collecting autographs from Negro League baseball players. By the time he was in middle school his attempts at obtaining autographs through letters and phone calls resulted in friendships with some of the players and other collectors and researchers. Ultimately it led to this young white boy from Massachusetts becoming deeply involved in working to get Negro League players pensions from the MLB, helping create reunions to bring the players back together, and establishing a Negro League museum in Birmingham. It was a very sweet story about friendships forged in the most unlikeliest of places. I give it a 7 out of 10.
47. Next Stop Love by Rachel Stockbridge
This romance had potential. There was some good banter, but there were also a lot of weird melodramatic things that happened that just seemed out of place in the story. There was a plot surrounding a gang of some sort that just seemed ridiculous and the villain in the story seemed to have no real motivation for what he did. I give it a 4 out of 10.
44. While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
Ben is a an ad exec in charge of his first big campaign starring movie star Anna Gardiner. They’re instantly attracted to each other, but both have their reasons for wanting to keep things strictly professional. However, their relationship takes a turn when Ben helps Anna out with a family emergency that brings them closer together. Then he agrees to play her fake boyfriend to help her get some good publicity in front of some roles she is trying to snag. Will their fake relationship finally help them admit the real feelings they already have for each other? This was a fine romance novel. I didn’t love it as much as some of Guillory’s other books that I’ve read. It’s fun and flirty, but I think I felt like some of the situations that the characters were put in were a little too ridiculous including the reason they wind up growing closer in the first place. I give it a 6 out of 10.
43. One Two Three by Laurie Frankel
Seventeen years ago things were looking up for the town of Bourne. A new factory was moving in and bringing what they thought would be lots of good jobs. Instead it left the town poisoned. Now pretty much everyone who could leave has and there isn’t much left in the town for those who are still there, most of whom still suffer health problems. Now the son of the factory’s original owner has returned to the town with his family with aims to reopen the plant. The story centers around the Mitchell triplets. Mab is the one who was born without any health issues. Monday has presumably some sort of autistic disorder, though it’s never specified. Mirabel is smarter than anyone, but is extremely physically disabled. Their mother is still looking for the evidence needed to hold the company accountable for the destruction they caused during their first run in the town and is now determined to stop the factory from reopening and causing even more damage to the town. The story is told in successive chapters starting with Mab, then Monday, and then Mirabel in repetitive order. I thought it was a very clever set-up and it was interesting to see how each of the triplets processed what was happening. Definitely a very engaging story. I give it an 8 out of 10.
42. When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
It’s shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s. Huda is a secretary at the Australian embassy who has been forced by the Iraqi secret police to befriend the ambassador’s wife Ally and report back to them any information she finds out. She has to comply or she puts her son’s life in jeopardy. Meanwhile, her estranged childhood friend, Rania, is also under the thumb of Saddam’s regime and trying to protect her daughter. The three women’s lives intersect trying to protect their families and their secrets.
I thought it was an excellent look at the lives that ordinary people lived during that period in Iraq and brought up many questions of what you would be willing to do in order to protect your family. I give it an 8 out of 10.
2. The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
April is a teenager living pretty much by herself in a rundown motorhome after being abandoned by her mother as a young child and her father now mostly off living with his girlfriend. She hates school and has dreams of becoming a musical star, so when she sees the chance she takes off to get out of her small, oppressive town in upstate New York. I really liked this book. This was one of those books where I felt like the author was really good about setting the scene. I could really picture the places where April was throughout the book and put myself into her life and feelings. I give it an 8 out of 10.
103. The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South by Chip Jones
In 1968 Bruce Tucker, and African-American, fell and hit his head and was taken to the hospital where his heart was removed and placed in the body of a white man without his family’s consent as the first heart transplant in Virginia. This book is the story of that event but also the history of heart transplants and some of the issues surrounding by African-Americans are skeptical of the medical establishment. This is one of those books that I feel like I would have read a New Yorker length article about rather than an entire book. It was interesting information and I felt like most of the context provided around the central story of this particular heart transplant was relevant, but there also felt like there was too much of it. It was a longer book than I felt like the content warranted. I give it a 6 out of 10.
94. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
While leaving work one night a Moroccon immigrant is killed in a hit and run outside of his diner. The story then interweaves the lives of his daughter who returns home to deal with his death, his widow, a former classmate of the daughter, an undocumented immigrant who witnessed the crime but is afraid to come forward, and the detective working the case in addition to pieces of the story being told from the perspective of the man who was killed. I really liked the characters and how their stories worked together. I felt like the detective’s story felt a little tacked on, but otherwise I appreciated how you got to see how the man’s death affected people in various ways and unlocked some hidden secrets. I give it an 8 out of 10.
93. How to Be Fine: What We Learned From Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer
This book is based on a podcast that I’ve never listened to called By the Book in which the authors do what the title says and try to live by the rules of 50 self-help books each for a two week period. I am not a self-help book person, so in some ways this is not for me but in other ways pretty much just confirmed that I’m right not to be a self-help book person. I suspect the podcast would actually be more enjoyable than reading this book. In the book they distill down what they experienced into three sections: things that they found helpful, things that did not work for them or in some cases were actually harmful, and things that they wish self-help books would address but they don’t. I found the way the way the book was written with each of them taking the lead on writing every other chapter while providing input from the other author kind of awkward. If you like self-help books this might be of interest to you. I give it a 6 out of 10.