The Book Beat - April 4, 2022
Hello, bookworms! It's been a while, but I'm glad to be back with some book news and reviews, my Bridgerton Season 2 review (❤️🔥), and more book-related fun. I've read a lot since my last post, so I'm going to put some reviews here and then link to others through my GoodReads page. I got some great constructive criticism about my posts being too long (I agree!), so I'm going to shorten them and get back to once-a-week posting. I mean, there's (sadly) always book-banning to cover, right?
To start, here's a pic of me and the kids on "No Screen Saturday." I'd love to say that I didn't have to cajole them into taking this picture and that we read for hours on end, but, sadly, that was not the case. Still, I had a few moments and that was a win!
Now, on to some bookish fun!
Happy National Library Week!
April 3 - 9, 2022
National Library Week runs from April 3 - 9. First celebrated in 1958, this event is sponsored by the American Library Association and celebrates our nation's libraries and library workers' contributions, while also promoting library use and support. It’s observed in school, public, academic, and special libraries across the
country every April.
This year’s theme is “Connect with Your Library.” Within the week, there are several events, which you can learn about at the ALA's official site here. Be sure to celebrate—and share an email or word of thanks with hardworking librarians and library workers!
Highlights of the Week!
Monday, April 4: State of America's Libraries Report released, including Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2021.
Tuesday, April 5: National Library Workers Day, a day for library staff, users, administrators, and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers.
Wednesday, April 6: National Library Outreach Day (formerly National Bookmobile Day), a day to celebrate library outreach and the dedicated library professionals who are meeting their patrons where they are.
Thursday, April 7: Take Action for Libraries Day, a day to rally advocates to support libraries.
Book-to-Movie/TV News & Reviews!
TheWhere the Crawdads Sing trailer is live, and it features the original song, Carolina by Taylor Swift. I can't wait to see this book come to life on the screen. Our Patron Saint of Books, Reese Witherspoon, is producing, so I have high hopes it'll be as great as her other book adaptations. It premieres July 15.
The fabulous The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid has been green-lit for a movie by Netflix. Her other book, Daisy Jones & the Six, is already in production and should be out on Amazon this year. And it stars Elvis's granddaughter as Daisy.
Netflix is also bringing a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion to the screen, starring Dakota Fanning and Henry Golding. This is my second favorite Austen book, and I love the understated yet powerful 1995 movie starring Amanda Root and Ciarain Hinds. I'm hoping this one will be as good.
Pachinko on Apple TV+. This limited series premiered last weekend. I'm absolutely going to check it out when I get to the book. I haven't read it yet but it's almost at the top of my TBR pile.
And, finally, Killers of the Flower Moon, the nonfiction tour-de-force by David Grann, is getting an adaptation by Martin Scorsese himself (with Marty staples Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro). My review of this 5-star book is here. The book/movie tells the story of the FBI's investigation into the killing of wealthy Osage people in the 1920s.
Review! Bridgerton Season 2
[🚨 Spoiler alert! 🚨]
I know I've been so-not chill about my love of all things Bridgerton on this blog, so I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I took the day off to binge the new season (and have watched it a second time since). I was, in a word, thrilled with how this season turned out. And I was once again ecstatic to see a romance novel brought to life on the screen with care for that special mix of fantasy, romance, heightened drama, and storytelling through the female gaze that has defined this book genre for decades. How long did we hear that romance novels weren't interesting enough or "real" enough to merit adaptations? That they were too frivolous to be taken seriously by a wider audience than just women? That they're all about gratuitous sex and nothing more?
This is why it was so disheartening to me to see early reviews of Bridgerton bemoaning the lack of "sex," "raunch," or "banging." Or ones that don't understand how historical romance series work. I adored Regé-Jean Page as much as everyone else (and, to me, him and Daphne's TV story was a vast improvement over The Duke and I book), but his love story is done and now it's on to the next couple (and if him leaving gives us a chance to see him as James Bond, it sounds like a win to me!). Just when I think we've moved the needle, it can swing back (a bit) in the direction of snark, surface examination, and, as always, an underlying disrespect for stories that center women and highlight emotional, substantial stories over style.
How did my love of Bridgerton start? I read Julia Quinn's historical romance series over 20 years ago when they first came out and fell in love with the sexy and sweet romances lived by the brothers and sisters of the charming Bridgerton clan (they were so refreshingly humorous that the eight-person family helmed by Violet Bridgerton truly stood out in the genre). Over the years, I've also listened to Julia Quinn speak at writing conventions, and she's a lovely cinnamon roll who deserves all this success and more.
The Viscount Who Loved Me, Anthony and Kate's story, is my second favorite of the books, so I had high hopes for this season. While some book purists are upset that story beats from the novel were changed or didn't get explored on-screen, I have to say, as much as I loved the book, I adored the show too, often because of changes that were made. Most importantly, I felt the underlying book appeal of the Kate/Anthony romance—two very similar people who challenge each other, while sharing the burden of intense familial expectation to duty—was on-point.
And, holy cats, did actors Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley have some intense chemistry! This season was slow-burn romance done extremely right. While Daphne and Simon were quick to get steamy, it was because Daphne's sexual awakening and Simon's pull-out prowess were important parts of their overall narrative. Kate and Anthony's story hinged on a strong, physical attraction that could NOT be consummated. Why? Because, in his quest to deny himself the horror of losing a love as quickly as getting stung by a bee, Anthony was determined to marry in action only. No love, no emotional attachment, just a woman who checked all his boxes for "the perfect Viscountess." And Kate was determined to put her beloved sister's happiness and security above her own due, in big part, to her feelings of inadequacy as an illegitimate stepdaughter.
Let's talk foreplay. The stares. The dancing. The arguing. The touching. The horseracing. The almost kissing. The smelling. I loved that they took Anthony's obsession with Kate's lily perfume from the book and kept it, even having Lady Danbury chastise him for it. It was oh-so titillating to see the exquisite Jonathan Bailey (my choice for star of the season) continually tempted but unable to act on it because he's been thrust into the role of dutiful gentleman who is responsible for his whole family. His character growth from season 1 to 2 was a joy to see. We knew he was capable of love from the first season, but to see him fall for someone who was his match in every single way was intense. The flashback scenes were vivid as well. Bailey effortlessly became the younger Anthony and showed such horror that it made sense that he was still so traumatized by it years later.
Simone Ashley was a glorious Kate. An obstinate, headstrong woman who took her duty as seriously as Anthony, yet still vulnerable and affected by their attraction. Ashley's gorgeous eyes expressed so much with a single look. I loved how her hair became less and less perfect as she became more undone by Anthony. For my money, these two had much more chemistry than Simon and Daphne in season one. They didn't need sex scenes to show how perfect they were for each other.
Everything else was icing on a delectable cake (with a few misses, mainly the cringey Featherington saga). Other highlights:
Pall mall! This scene had to be perfection since it's a terrific part of the book. I adored it. The competition, the mud, The Mallet of Death, and Anthony and Kate finally cracking smiles.
POLIN! My favorites continue to inch their way closer to one other. But seeing Colin trash Pen in the company of his bros hurt even more than reading about it. I do like how show Penelope has a stronger ego when it comes to defending her writing, even to the detriment of her relationship with Eloise.
The Peneloise breakup. My heart!
King George and the Queen. I love how he brings out Ms. Fancy Hair's humanity.
The Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton ma'amance.
The Danbury/Sharma/Bridgerton dance scene. Pure joy.
Benedict, high as a kite. I'm anxious to see if the third season is his or if they hold off and go right to Polin.
And, most importantly, when will the third season premiere?!
Want Romance with Some Laughs?
If you love rom-coms and are looking for a new show after your Bridgerton binge, may I recommend Starstruck on HBO Max? Take the tropes from the classic rom-coms you've loved, put them in a blender, and you get this funny, romantic, charming reverse Notting Hill. The star/creator Rose Matafeo is hilariously relatable as a "kooky" romance heroine who has a hard time with commitment. The dreamy Nikesh Patel plays her love interest, a sweet action-movie star who just can't quit her. Add in some zany friends, Minnie Driver as the agent from hell, and a London setting and you get a lovely way to spend a few hours (each season is six 1/2-hour eps, so it's easy to binge).
The Last Slave Ship
by Ben Raines
This engrossing book charts the story of Clotilda, the last ship to transport enslaved Africians to the US in 1860…50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed. Ben Raines, a journalist from AL, shares the tale of the ship’s enslaved people, their creation of a community called Africatown & how he recovered the sunk Clotilda in a swamp in 2019 (on land still owned by the family of the man who instigated the Clotilda’s illegal trip).
For my full review of this nonfiction triumph, go here.
Honor by Thirty Umrigar
Wow. It's been a while since I was a bawling mess when finished with a book, but this stunner of a story did it.
Indian-American journalist and author Thrity Umrigar crafts a searing portrait of the religious, social, and gender divides in modern-day India that will stay with you long after the novel is over.
Smita, an Indian-American journalist, travels to Mumbai to cover the story of Meena, a Hindu woman who is suing her brothers for murder. Meena's brothers are charged with an "honor" killing: They burned Meena's Muslim husband Abdul alive & left Meena herself with a horribly scared face & body. Meena now lives with her cruel mother-in-law & is raising her young daughter. Smita, joined by driver/high-caste Indian man Mohan, travels from Mumbai to Meena's small village to investigate the story, while coming to terms with her own conflicted feelings about the home she left behind & its complex yet harrowing divisions in class, gender, and faith.
Smita and Meena's stories are both told, Smita's in 3rd person and Meena's in 1st. This literary device is an effective way of giving each women a strong, visceral voice, while still grounding Smita's tale in observation & Meena's in emotion. I was shocked that these divisions, which horribly subjugate certain castes, genders & faith communities, are still so prevalent today (Umrigar says that she based this story on actual articles written by NYT's Ellen Barry in 2017). This may be only one aspect of Indian life, but it is still tragic. Yet, as with all amazing fiction (and life) the tragedies and injustices these women's lives are threaded with pockets of joy, love, and hope.
One caveat: If the atrocities of the world are affecting your mental health now, this might not be the book for you in this moment. While powerful and unforgettable, it presents horrific events that aren't easy to read about.
Still, I was enormously affected and moved by this powerful novel and, once again, enlightened about another locale in this vast world of ours and the continued plight of women to find their place and power within its societal structures.
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
The good news? This book is wonderful! The even better news? The audiobook is narrated by actress Lauren Graham. I absolutely loved vicariously immersing myself in the sun, wine, food, and sights of Positano, Italy--especially with the rat-tat-tat staccato and emotive voice of THE Lorelai Gilmore leading the way.
Katy's mother and best friend Carol has just died. Bereft and lost, Katy's at a crossroads in her life. Is she happy in her marriage to her college sweetheart, Eric? Did she marry too early, as her mother suggested, and lose out on years of growth and discovery as opposed to the drudgery of marriage and mortgage payments? Is she able to survive without the amazing support of her mother?
Katy decides to go on a trip to Positano, which she and her mother had planned before her mother's death. For years, Carol had regaled Katy with stories about the spectacular trip she took there when she was young and single. To heal and nurse her heartache, Katy goes. And once there, she sees Carol...her mother, as a
30-year-old on holiday.
Serle does a wonderful job describing the glorious sights, sounds, and beauty of this wine- and olive-oil-soaked paradise. It's more than style, though. The substance of this book, a woman coming to terms with the death of her mother and the meaning of her present life and hopes for the future, are universal issues all people face. The novel's mesmerizing mix of magical realism, romance, women's fiction, and relatable themes elevate it from good to great. And, Ms. Graham does an amazing job voicing Katy's experiences. I'll admit, I smiled every time she said "coffee" or "mom."
Read it. Listen to it. Either way, this gem of a book will make you cry, smile, swoon, and salivate...make sure to have olive oil, crusty Italian bread, and wine on hand!
I loved this emotional and hopeful book, and I think you will, too.
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
Early on in this moving novel, mother Meilin is telling son Renshu a story based on a treasured scroll of images she carries with them. The moral of the story, like so many stories, both real & fiction, is this: "Within every misfortune there is a blessing, and with every blessing the seeds of misfortune. And so it goes, until the end of time." This sentiment describes every moment of this expansive, emotional novel.
Taking place over 8 decades, this story follows Meilin and Renshu as they travel through China, Taiwan, and beyond during the Chinese/Japanese War, China's Civil War, and the mass exodus from Taiwan. Themes of tragedy, hardship, love, family, and survival abound. While paced differently in various parts of the novel, I never felt that the story lagged or went too quickly: The characters are too vivid and engaging for that. Meilin, the definition of sacrifice, wants nothing more than for her son to survive and thrive, which he does, once he goes from Taiwan to Northwestern University to study engineering (& adopts the name Henry). Yet he's still tortured by the tenuous nature of the immigrant experience. As time moves on and events unfurl, the mother and son bond is stretched as, due to circumstances beyond their control, the two are separated for long periods of time. But, through it all, the love and devotion they share, never wavers. And, although she comes in later in the novel, Lily, Henry's daughter, is equally well-rendered. Yes, tragedy—sometimes rather ugly tragedy at that—befalls this family frequently, yet the promise of nirvana, or "peach blossom spring" as one of Meilin's stories calls it, keeps them going. As they live their lives, the moments of happiness and ease of mind come with tragedy, heartbreak, and sorrow. While fiction, this glorious novel gets that part of the human experience exactly right. Highly recommend!
I listened to parts of the audio of this one, as well. It's wonderful. Eugenia Low does a wonderful job bringing all of these vital characters to life. Thanks to @hachetteaudio for the free @librofm copy for an honest review.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
Fowler's latest, a historical fiction novel that puts the spotlight on three of John Wilkes Booth's siblings, Rosalie, Asia, and Edwin, is outstanding. Mixing fact, rumor, and fiction, she renders an engrossing portrait of a troubled & complex family haunted by the divisive issues of the time, alcoholism, the supernatural, and fame.
It starts with Junius Brutus Booth, the Shakespearean actor/patriarch and alcoholic who had 10 children with Mary Ann Holmes, the mistress who he eloped with while already married. As the sibling about whom very little is factually known, Rosalie becomes a spinster/motherly type in Fowler's eyes, tormented by the early deaths of Mary Ann, Frederick & Elizabeth & especially the death Henry Bryon at 11 from smallpox. She routinely hears the voices of their ghosts chiding her from the graveyard. Throughout a life of sewing, cleaning & living off her siblings, Rosalie laments her lack of romantic love & independence but soothes her turmoil with alcohol. Edwin, the second oldest son, starts as the forced caretaker of his drunkard & traveling actor father, but eventually becomes the lauded theater star Junius thought he was & John had hoped he'd be. Asia, the closest to John, was a depressed yet strong-willed writer/wife/mother who wrote a hoped-to-be-redemptive memoir about her beloved John, which was only published 50 years after her death. In it, she calls him "the world's first martyr" & tries to make sense of his his descent into violent white supremacy.
Interspersed among these vivid character portraits, are stories about the freed slaves employed by the Booths & the political progress of Abraham Lincoln. These work as terrific bookends to the stories of the Booth siblings. Fowler is adept at both physical description of the various locales the Booths live in & the fraught emotional & familial experiences they endure. I loved her fictional spin on this fascinating family. In my mind, her goal of purposely not spotlighting John, but highlighting the siblings who fought with, lived with, and loved him is a stunning achievement of family saga/historical fiction.
The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
An expansive and powerful novel. Full review here.
With Love from London by Sarah Jio - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A bookshop in London? Sign me up. Full review here.
A Trio of True-Crime Reviews!
Catch the Sparrow by Rachel Rear - ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
When a Killer Calls by John E. Douglas & Mark Olshaker - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cover of the Week!
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
I'm working my way through this wonderful book right now and am really enjoying it! I keep referring to it as a queer Pride and Prejudice—with a bit of mystery and magic thrown in. It takes place in Edwardian England and the chemistry between leads Robin Blyth and Edwin Courcey is palpable as they take on a magical society and the secrets it harbors. Props to Will Staehle for the gorgeous jacket art and Christine Filter for the jacket design. Flap synopsis below.
Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.
Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it―not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.
Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles―and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.
Here's hoping your week is filled with good books and enjoyable reading! Until next week...