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.
92. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
I adored Gyasi’s previous book Homegoing. It was my favorite book of that year. It’s still something I think about frequently. While good this book does not live up to the same level as Homegoing. I read it a couple weeks ago and had to go look up the synopsis to even remember what it was about, so obviously it’s not something that has stuck with me in the same way. It does very deftly touch on issues of family, addiction, mental health, and religion. I give it an 8 out of 10.
91. Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution that Changed America by David Kamp
A history of the advent of educational children’s television in the late 60s and 70s. As one might expect a large portion of the book is devoted to Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. A number of other shows are covered though. It was an interesting and informative read, but I found the parts about all the shows I never watched and many I had never even heard of less interesting. This wasn’t bad, but I would definitely recommend Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis over this book, especially if you’re primarily interested in Sesame Street. I give it 6 out of 10.
90. The Mixtape to My Life by Jake Martinez
The main character love’s 80’s music and each chapter of the book is titled with an 80’s song related to what happens in the chapter. As a music lover I appreciated that aspect of the book. It’s an enjoyable LGBTQ high school romance. I’m guessing that authors want to present a positive outlook to teens, but this book like many others I feel like makes the coming out process too easy when all plot points up to that point to realistically people not coming around so easily and embracing their kid with almost no issue. I give it a 6 out of 10.
87. Kind of Famous by Mary Ann Marlowe
Layla has been the anonymous site moderator for an online fan club for her favorite band for the past decade. Now she has the chance to express her love of music with a new job at a rock music magazine where she befriends a photographer who is the girlfriend of a band member that winds up throwing her into the orbit of several bands including the one she runs the fan club for. She quickly hits it off with a drummer in one of the bands, but will when he finds out her secret will he ever be able to believe that she’s not just using him to get to the member of her favorite band?
I’m a big music fan myself, though I’m not into fan club stuff like the protagonist in this book. I still enjoyed reading a romance set in the music world though. This is the third book in a series with the first two books focusing on how two of the couples in the bands in this book got together. I liked this one well enough that I thought about seeking out the first two, but then I read the plot synopses and at least the first one sounds entirely ridiculous so I didn’t. I give it a 7 out of 10.
74. Boys Will Be Boys: Power, Patriarchy, and the Toxic Bonds of Mateship by Clementine Ford
I quit this book about a 1/3 of the way through for the exact reason that I quit Twitter. This book felt like reading a book length Twitter thread with someone ranting about toxic masculinity. Even though I agreed with what she was saying and understand the importance of changing it, I don’t know who this book is for based on the way it was written. It’s what made me tired of Twitter. It’s a bunch of people patting themselves on the back for the evolved consciousness and calling out other people, but not in any way that would create a meaningful dialogue. This book, which actually includes copies of some of the author’s Twitter threads on the topic, is exactly that. It may make the people reading it who already agree with the author feel good about themselves, but it’s not doing any good. The people who actually need to be educated and engaged with the ideas in the book wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. If anything it would push them farther into their existing beliefs. I give this book a 2 out of 10.
39. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Nina Hill was raised by a single mother who basically abandoned her with a nanny to travel the world. She never knew who her father was so she’s lived a rather solitary life and she likes it that way. She works at a book store during the day and has a very rigid set of activities she schedules for herself in the evening including one of her few social activities, a trivia team. Her comfortable routines are starting to be shaken when her father dies leaving something to her in his will forcing her to meet the many brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews she has from his four marriages. To top it off her trivia nemesis from a competing team seems to have a crush on her. Can Nina let go enough to let herself find a family and love?
This was a really sweet little romance. It’s a very gentle book. The story is not entirely realistic, but it was a lovely little diversion to read. I give it an 8 out of 10.