“Show Us Your Books”: What I Read in March

I’m linking up to a new book group today:  “Show Us Your Books” hosted by  Jana and Steph.   (There’s more about this event at the bottom of this post.) Here’s what I read in March.  What’s on the list?  Some Kahlo, a mystery-thriller, some “women’s fiction,” and some poetry.

Frida Kahlo: Her PhotosFrida Kahlo: Her Photos by Frida Kahlo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very scholarly essays to describe Kahlo’s life as related to photography preface each section. The book contains both her photos and her father’s (of course) as well as others found in her collection. Although some of the photos show Kahlo’s real-life struggles, many more show a happier side with friends and family. Others document her travels. It was intriguing to see the photos she altered with lipstick kisses, notes, or by tearing or cutting away portions.

This book is a great addition to my Frida collection.

Frida Kahlo: An Illustrated BiographyFrida Kahlo: An Illustrated Biography by Zena Alkayat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would classify this as a “gift book,” a small book easily read in thirty minutes (or less). The biographical details are accurate (if abbreviated) and the illustrations are creative. If you are looking for depictions of Kahlo’s work, you won’t find them here. But, you will find colorful illustrations depicting her life.

I did learn something—I did not know that Kahlo had two sets of teeth–a gold set and a diamond set.

It’s a fun addition to my Kahlo collection.

Why I Never Finished My DissertationWhy I Never Finished My Dissertation by Laura Foley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time I pick up a poetry volume, I think, “Why don’t I read more poetry?”  Foley’s Why I Never Finished My Dissertation was no different. (I did receive a free copy for an honest review.)

I was thankful for the editor’s “Introduction” as a preface to the work. Otherwise, I might have been a bit lost. It was good to have the permission to embrace the work as autobiographical. “Readers, here is Laura Foley, contained in poems that reflect a fascinating and wide-ranging life” (1). The “Introduction” offers a few tidbits of this fascinating life: a green-card marriage, a sister in a psych ward, a loving marriage with her current partner. The only problem with this information…I wanted more. Foley has had a fascinating life and while I enjoyed her poetry, I would really love to read her prose autobiography.

It’s hard to classify Foley’s style. I found I could make comparisons to T. S. Eliot (“Visiting My Sister in the Mental Ward” (38) and “Dawn Aubade” (73). Others made me think of William Carlos Williams like “Discharge” (40).

My favorite poem has to be “Gratitude List” (81).

The volume is separated into four parts and I will have to reread the book to distinguish what the theme is for each.

If you’re a poetry fan, I would pick this up. I’m glad I got the opportunity.

Look for an inspired-by recipe from this poetry collection here on April 15.

The Speed of LightThe Speed of Light by Elissa Grossell Dickey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I did enjoy this book. Simone is a very strong character…stronger than she knows. Her narration is honest and real. Although I did want to shake her at times to make the right decision, I knew she would be alright.

The twist in the plot jumps the setting back to a year ago and we learn a lot of what happens in these flashbacks.

I did want more of a wrap up, like what caused the tragedy to happen.

The Island of Sea WomenThe Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Island of the Sea Women provided insight into a life, culture, land and time that I was totally unfamiliar with. The setting is Jeju, a Korean island. The “Sea Women” of the title are fascinating.

I have to say that any political information I had previous to this book of Korea (pre modern era of North and South Korea) comes from M*A*S*H. I had no idea of this island, the Haenyeo (“sea women”) or the bloody and horrific history of the island (April 3, 1948). The matrifocal society (another new concept) of the Haenyeo showed the power of women.

The story is of a friendship, a bond that the two young women, Young-sook and Mi-ja, that is unbreakable. Their loyal friendship is a bond that will last their entire lives. The plot shows the two different paths their lives take and how the bond is renewed by other generations.

I know I can’t do this story justice in this short review. You must experience it for yourself.

It’s interesting that Wikopedia does not mention the Haenyeo in the article on Jeju. The April 3 “uprising” is also in contrast to what the narrator lives through.

They All Fall DownThey All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not being a huge mystery fan, I was not looking forward to reading They All Fall Down for a book club selection. My copy was also a trade paperback which gave me pause as well (call me a book snob).

I picked it up ages ago and finally finished weeks later. So, on the plus side, it is a book that you can come and go with. I did end up enjoying the book but I found the premise pretty implausible. Then, you have Miriam, the main character and narrator. She’s not to be trusted but who else can we believe? She is also despicable but likable at the same time. This feeling is true for the readers and the characters in the book. Most of them end up trusting her at some point. Most, not all.

The backdrop of the supposed provenance of the island retreat was a bit of fluff I felt, too.

I did enjoy trying to figure out what made Miriam tick. The ending, while predictable–especially from the title, was a bit of a disappointment as well.

If you’re a mystery fan, pick it up.  (Not this book tried to be an homage to Christie’s Then There Were None.)

A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The opening of this book held some merit. The middle of the book showed promise. The ending left me wanting.

The Whiteshanks family is a conundrum, even to themselves. Abby, the current matriarch, is a trained social worker and if anyone can categorize the family dynamics, she should be able to. But all she can come up with is they’re “like passengers on a steamship deck. Abby thought that summed up her role in this family. She had her notions, her ideas of how things ought to be, but everyone proceeded as he or she liked, regardless.”

But, in actuality, maybe the Whiteshanks weren’t so much different than any other family: “The disappointments seemed to escape the family’s notice, though. That was another of their quirks: they had a talent for pretending that everything was fine. Or maybe it wasn’t a quirk at all. Maybe it was just further proof that the Whiteshanks were not remarkable in any way whatsoever. ”

The ending really let me down. Tyler uses a reverse narrative, starting out in Abby’s present day life and then progressing backwards to her husband’s ancestry. I did appreciate that but, again, the ending. I guess I wanted a bit more about Denny (the sometimes estranged son).

 

Last Couple StandingLast Couple Standing by Matthew Norman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I ADORED Domestic Violets and We’re All Damaged. Adored I tell you. Although the subject matter for both were serious and sometimes dire, I laugh my way through. Norman’s knack for dialogue and descriptions were spot on. I still remember “Significant things shouldn’t begin or end at Applebee’s” and “I’m a smeller of books and a marker-upper of books” from We’re All Damaged. The fight scene in Domestic Violets is still good for a rollicking good laugh (along with the caddy crash landing on a glitter-bombed yard in We’re All Damaged). I could go on and on.

Needless to say, I was anxious to pick up Last Couple Standing. Yep, I got little for you here. The only semi-laughfest came with a toddler kicking a hot guy in the balls. The subject matter (divorce, infidelity, marital commitment) is serious stuff but easy enough to also poke fun at. There was none of what I consider Norman’s wry wit working here. The writing was solid, I was just expecting more of the same.

I also did not understand the Mitch and Jessica, especially Jessica. I guess the grass is always greener……

How to Walk AwayHow to Walk Away by Katherine Center
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got hooked on Center after reading Things You Save in a Fire and Everyone is Beautiful. So, I was anxious to pick up How to Walk Away.

This one left me with just “meh.”

The hook got me, one of a beautiful person with her whole life ahead of her, the perfect job, impeding engagement, “perfect” boyfriend. That is, until, he guilts/forces her to “face her fear” and go up in a small engine aircraft that he is piloting BEFORE HE IS CERTIFIED.

I don’t think that’s a spoiler if you just look at the cover and read the dust jacket. As soon as he (and even her family members) started stating how hard the accident was on HIM, I was disgusted. But, I did keep reading. I’m giving this a three because I do enjoy Center’s stories but I won’t be recommending this one.

The wedding scene was the oddest thing I’d read in a while, plot-wise.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life InterruptedBetween Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m rating this a four for the simple fact that some might find it most difficult to read. I anticipated that the book would be more of a travelogue of recovery (from the cover and the Eat, Pray, Love blurb).

It. Is. Not.

The first half of the book is a more than harrowing medical nightmare. After letting some symptoms go ignored and having to travel back to the U.S. to finally be diagnosed, a twenty-two year old Jaouad is given devastating news. She goes through treatment after treatment and trial after trial. At times I totally anticipated that the remainder of the book would be written by someone else and that she didn’t survive.

The first half of the book is also about the relationship with Will (name changed for publication). He is a relatively new love interest that sticks by her through the most dire part of her illness.

The second half of the book is the journey—the journey of regaining health and confidence, of learning to relish life and being by one’s self. She travels from coast-to-coast and back again visiting the strangers that reached out to her because of her column, “Life Interrupted.”

I was rooting for her the entire way, in both the first half and the second half.

View all my reviews

 

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is May 11, 2021.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post.
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

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