What I Read in April and May

This is going to be a long one as I never made my monthly reading post in April. I’m still working my way through Women’s Prize winners (and added a new one to my list yesterday when An American Marriage by Tayari Jones was awarded the 2019 prize) and reading a lot of other great stories as well. Looking for recommendations if you have them for stories by women of colour, indigenous voices fiction and non-fiction, and also some good narrative non-fiction.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve read over the last few months and as always, please feel free to add me on Goodreads.

 Home (Gilead, #2)Home by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m such a sucker for this sort of quiet, small-town family drama novel. Full of reflections on home (as the title indicates), family, faith, and dignity, there’s not much action in this story but the richness of the characters’ relationships and personal struggles bring so much complexity to the book. The theological undertones guide the characters’ motivations and actions; however, it doesn’t preach but rather ponders the certainty of sin and the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. A soft and compassionate read.

Native Tongue (Native Tongue, #1)Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Language and linguistics, feminism, dystopian futures… this book felt tailor-made to my interests. There are so many concepts in this book–societal inequality, expansion and exploration through language and action, gender separation, freedom of speech, etc.–and yet they all weave together to create a rich and unsettling future world. Although I didn’t find the characters to match up in complexity, acting more as vehicles for the concepts than as fully fleshed-out in their own rights, and this did make the book feel a little more like a treatise than a novel, the premise and the collective characterisations of the women were so interesting that the execution worked for me.

Fugitive PiecesFugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I looked up Anne Michaels on wikipedia after finishing this book and was not surprised to read that she is a poet; this novel was filled with such a poignant sense of grief and longing that to come from a poet makes perfect sense. While the style is prose rather than an extended work of poetry, there are plenty of beautifully artistic turns of phrase and fragments of emotion that showcase its poetic nature. And they’re bound together into a story that crosses oceans and decades to offer an affecting reflection on life, death, and the sentiments and relationships that surround both.

Larry's PartyLarry’s Party by Carol Shields
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of a man who doesn’t lead what most of us would call a particularly interesting life (although his occupation designing hedge mazes is certainly out of the ordinary), and there isn’t much drama in it or in the plot (even a failed relationship that ends with what could be a bang turns out to be more of a whimper thanks to the involved characters’ calmness and maturity) but Larry is such a likable, enjoyable person to read about that the story remains a joy to read. Larry lives a life that I think many of us would be content to live; it’s not particularly adventurous but it’s happy and fulfilled, and as we follow him through the decades we see him learn about family, love, and grow into himself. He rejects certain traditional constructs of masculinity and the story offers thoughtful critique throughout. It’s not an eventful story, but it’s an insightful one, and well worth the read.

All This I Will Give to YouAll This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this one because Amazon Kindle store offered it for free on World Book Day and I didn’t have much else in my library to read because I was waiting for some holds to come in on Overdrive. It’s nice when serendipity leads you to a good book. This twisty mystery novel is a slow-burner for sure, but it’s equally a page-turner. Part family drama, part crime whodunnit, the story (translated from Spanish) follows a man as he grieves his husband’s death and searches for the truth both about his husband’s potential murder and also the secrets he kept. There’s a grandioseness to the prose that I would definitely guess means the translation is true to the original writing, and it captures the weight of the history, both familial and cultural, that protagonist Manuel encounters as he explores Galicia seeking answers.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The worldbuilding, which I so loved in the Grisha trilogy, just blew me away in this novel. I want to dive into this world and explore every nook and cranny, wind through alleyways and clamber across cobblestone streets and over stone walls. The story itself offers all my favourite tropes of antiheroes and found families and grift and double-crossers double-crossing double-crossers and so on. I was intrigued by the characters, although having so many viewpoints made their development feel a bit lacking in comparison to the plot and setting, but as it is a duology I assume we find them more fleshed out as the story continues.

As far as the writing itself. I’m going to steal from my friend Nuzhat’s review:

Her writing in SoC is spectacular; she writes a YA novel with sophistication, not underestimating the reading ability and depth of her audience just because technically it’s a younger audience. Bardugo, I think, understands YA isn’t necessarily just for young audiences anymore–or she does and she doesn’t underestimate their abilities. It’s an approach to YA that is incredibly refreshing.

I think this is so true and there’s a real complexity in both the worldbuilding and the plot that, while is maybe a bit lacking in the character, brings so much depth to the story and makes this a novel that is equally suited to fantasy-loving adults and ambitious younger readers. I think it’s a really perfect example of “new YA”–which is really “old YA” that’s always existed but maybe wasn’t recognised as such because too many people (not readers or authors, but publishers and marketers) assumed that there had to be some great divide between children’s literature, YA, and adult fiction.

BecomingBecoming by Michelle Obama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2012 I did a little (seriously tiny, like a few days) phone banking for Barack Obama’s election campaign in my area. I got lucky with my timing and it happened to coincide with Michelle Obama doing a campaign stop in a nearby town. A spare ticket was available and so I went. I don’t remember now what she said that day, but I remember how I felt, and it’s the same way I felt reading this book. Inspired, electrified, acknowledging the power and importance of civic duty and community service. The book is heartwarming and poignant, an honest look at life as a lawyer, civil servant, a mother, the First Lady from an eminently qualified woman, and also an appealing, enjoyable read. Despite the political obviously being at the forefront of the Obamas’ lives and the impetus for the book, it focuses more on the day-to-day and the life surrounding it, giving us insight behind the curtain at the responsibilities, triumphs, and struggles of a historic First Family.

View all my reviews

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