Hello, bookworms! I hope the new year is off to a fab start for you AND you've finished a book or two. 2023 is already shaping up to be a GREAT year for reading.
As far as this blog goes, every two weeks seems like good pacing, so that's how often I'll be posting. I was tickled to see how much interaction the last post got. Thank you for hanging in there with my sporadic posting in 2022.
Now, for the most important question...have you read Spare yet?
I review Prince Harry's memoir below. Full disclosure: I loved Princess Diana (even had her Barbie doll!), so I'm absolutely #TeamHarry. I listened to him read it and it was lovely. I love it when people grow and learn by honestly assessing their emotions and actions (especially men) and speak truth to power. Miss me with the Institution actually conniving with the paps and British tabloids AFTER they had a large part in Diana's death. No thank you.
I was also able to finish four other books and am hoping to end the month with a total of ten. I'm beyond excited to have the week after my birthday off and am spending it doing what I love: reading, going to tea, reading, visiting indie bookstores, reading, hanging with my family, and reading. I cannot wait!
Keep reading for reviews of Spare, How Beautiful We Were,Wade in the Water, and Age of Vice (this one is getting lots of press). I also share scoop on what I'm reading now, some book news, and the CoverS of the Week. Thanks for reading!
P.S. Here's me repping The Birds and books at work! GO EAGLES! 🦅💚
Spare by Prince Harry - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
"Harry spills the tea!”
Cheeky headlines are the hallmarks of tabloids and gossip papers—especially in the UK. Slap a rhyming, pun-filled header on a story about a celebrity & willing readers gravitate toward the ink-splotched paper, plunking down the money to get the salacious details. This same strategy is now the standard for social media. Why do so many (including me) get such a kick out of seeing movie stars at the grocery store ("Celebs! They're just like us!)? Yet how often do we really think about the person on the other end of the tale? What's true? Who's lying? Aren't they signing up for this by being famous? In this intimate, revealing, profound memoir, Prince Harry tells his side of this story. And, in my opinion, it's terrific.
Like Jennette McCurdy, Harry's story shines a light on the "other" side of an issue, in this case the monarchy and tabloid culture. While the book is divided into three sections, Harry's life after Diana died, his military service, his life with Meghan, it still manages to have one thread woven throughout—how humanity is muzzled by large-scale power structures, particularly those built on money and tradition. Sound too lofty for a book about the spare and (in one story) his frozen penis? Maybe. But that's what elevated it above the usual for me. It speaks to an issue that, in today’s day and age, is getting worse. And it’s not just affecting so-called royalty. Many days it seems power, ego, lies, nastiness, and a lack of humanity reign (very often fueled by social media) and “death bed” ideals (what I call the things you’ll hold onto when dying)—family, joy, love—are suppressed or, worse, abandoned completely.
I won't go through the parts that were leaked before publication but instead speak to the bigger issue he touches on. After Diana's death, Harry assumed, even at 12, that things would change. The paparazzi and the entire tabloid culture would stand down and keep the promises they made—no more endangering the lives of people with aggressive behavior or incessant lies. Yet, as we clearly see by the end of the book and his family’s move to America, it’s worse than it's ever been. And it was made worse when Harry dared to marry a biracial woman and expected them to be supported, defended, and protected by his family. Yet there weren’t. Sadly, the monarchy works in concert with the tabloid machine to stifle truth, perpetuate lies about one royal to “beef up” the public goodwill given to another, and to craft lie-riddled narratives that are underpinned by the ego of the subject AND the media to satiate a willing public. Some of the hardest parts of this to read for me were when Charles (Pa), William (Willy), and even the Queen (Grammy) had the chance to stand up and say, “No, this is NOT how we’re going to do this.” Unfortunately again and again they did not.
What I found interesting was how relatable Harry’s story was to the state of our world. Diana’s death gave the tabloids and the monarchy an opportunity for a reset—a chance to self-reflect, course correct, and work to advance humanity, not degrade it. Unfortunately, the chance was squandered and it all came back and is now worse than ever. And the “spare,” or Harry, the one furthest from assuming the throne, seems to be the only one able to see just how damaging and, frankly, ridiculous it all is. Family, life, humanity, and, yes, true love, seem to have firmly put him on the side of, “I’m not gonna take it anymore.”
Good for him, I say. Honestly, I'm tired of hearing, "This is just part of being famous." Diana's death was supposed to bring about change—and it didn't and, 25 years later, it's gotten worse. And, sadly, the Institution aids and abets it. Harry speaks to an issue that plagues even our country today—humanity being muzzled by nastiness, lies, power-trips & ego. He has experience and a platform on which to speak to that issue AND try to institute change. But speaking truth to power and change takes time. I'm glad he is living a wonderful life—with true love and family—away from the heart of the mess. I do hope his family comes around and realizes that tradition, power, and ego should never come before love.
🌍 How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue - ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
I’ve had this book on my TBR since it was published in March 2021. The stunning cover has taunted me since then! (Props to Daniel Arsham for his amazing sculpture and Jaya Micelli for her cover design!). When I was looking for a book set in Africa to fit the bill for my #ReadAroundTheWorld 7 continents/7 months challenge, I knew this was the one.
Kosawa, a fictional African village, is home to a people whose children are dying from toxic water. It's the 1980s and Pexton has been drilling for oil in the village and have the full support of the country's dictator. When the novel starts, the Pexton reps are having a meeting with the villagers when the village madman captures the company's reps' keys and all hell breaks loose.
At this point I thought the novel would lead to a long-fought victory. But life is not like that. And Mbue is too smart and talented for that. And thank goodness because this novel blossoms into a decades-long tale told from multiple perspectives that breaks your heart and raises your ire. The most vocal of the characters, Thula, hopes her education will help her figure out a way to save her homeland. "The children" are a Greek chorus of sorts, who have grown up with Thula, are devoted to her and her cause. Parents, siblings, and other villagers have their say. Yet the vestiges of colonialism and the heartlessness of capitalism continue to devastate as the village and its people go through more changes brought on by time.
I love the expanse of this book. So many voices. So many issues. So much emotion. Mbue is great at shifting through various timelines and characters. Some minor quibbles were perspectives in the middle that didn't really move the plot forward and intriguing characters (Yaya) who only got one chapter to speak. This wasn't quite a 5-star read for me, but it was pretty close, so I'm giving it 4.5.
If you enjoy sprawling, issue-driven literary fiction, this is a great one.
💧Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
When I read the summary of this novel I was immediately intrigued. Set in 1980s rural Mississippi, it tells the story of Ella, a young Black girl who befriends a middle-aged white woman named Katherine St. James. Katherine is in town researching her thesis about race relations. She moves into a house on the Black side of town and starts asking questions of the town's residents.
This novel touches on so many important themes--colorism (Ella is very dark-skinned since she's a product of her mom's relationship with an African man who passed through their town), sexual abuse (Ella's stepfather), racism (Katherine is the daughter of a KKK member), violence, white supremacy, mental health issues, etc. The author handles all of them with sensitivity, which I admired, but the lack of even minimal closure for some left me feeling wanting in the end.
Ella's story is more compelling than Katherine's, especially as a coming-of-age tale. She's precocious and her personality jumps off the page. You cheer, cry, and ache for her and her struggles. Katherine is an enigma that slowly gets revealed as the novel progresses. Her first-person portions were interesting—and admittedly something we don't normally get to read—but they still ended with many "what happens now?"
I enjoyed this read and appreciated the author's attempt to cover so many facets of racism, white supremacy, and the vestiges they leave, but I still felt like not enough was resolved to make it a 5-star read. I look forward to more from this debut author! Her voice is strong and her story-telling intriguing.
Thanks to @netgalley for the gifted copy in exchange for a review.
💰 Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor - ⭐⭐⭐.5
This book has been everywhere! It was a January pick for Book of the Month & Good Morning America. It has its own table at my Barnes & Noble. I expected it to be a 5-star for me. Unfortunately, it was not. That's not to say it's bad; it absolutely isn't. The story just didn't resonate with me (especially at 500+ pages).
I've never really been a fan of stories about the anti-hero. I'm the girl who's going to pick Ted Lasso over Tony Soprano. So this book, which centers some pretty despicable people, didn't absorb me as much as it might other readers.
Set in the opulent, drink-and-drug-drenched underbelly of modern India, it follows three characters—Ajay, a boy from a poor village who becomes Sunny Wadia's protector; Sunny, the son of an Indian mobster; and Neda, a journalist who forms a connection with Sunny. With the pace of a movie and a lush, cinematic scope, it zings back and forth through a non-chronological narrative that's fast-paced and engrossing at first, but becomes overly long about halfway through.
Ajay's story is the most compelling. His rise from poor village boy to muscle-to-the-mob is fascinating and heartbreaking. Sunny's story is more muddled, with his connection to Neda the most interesting part. I liked the fast-pace of the first half, but in the second, some characters (one who was literally just introduced) take center stage and made me wish for the story to get back to the main trio. While intriguing in parts, the ending was too drawn out and lacked closure...until I read that this is the first in a planned trilogy. Reading book #2 is going to be a wait and see for me.
While this one didn't wow me, that's not to say it won't wow you. If you like characters who fall victim to the corrupt forces in their families and lives and struggle to make good choices because of it, you'll like this one—especially if you like books with a movie-like pace and structure.
What I'm Reading Now
I'm still working my way through The Winners, the final one in the Beartown trilogy by Fredrik Backman (I'm reading it while doing my latest Lego creation!). I'm loving it so far. I'm also reading an advanced copy of a book coming out on 1/31—The Snow Hare by Paula Lichtarowicz. And I'm finishing up Independence, a great historical fiction about the mid-1900s Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. It's a historical period I don't know much about.
For February, I'll be reading my second #ReadAroundTheWorld book, Lean, Fall, Stand by Jon McGregor. It's set in Antarctica. I'm also prioritizing at least two books by/about Black people in honor of Black History Month (Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys will be one).
What are you reading?
Good news! Fiction sales went up 8.5% in 2022 compared to 2021—with, of course, romance leading the charge with a 54% increase in sales over 2021. GO ROMANCE GO! Sales of fantasy books also increased. (Source: Publishers Weekly).
New year, same efforts to erase marginalized people with book bans and censorship.
I love Retta, so I'm thrilled she's going to be playing a crime-solving bookstagrammer!
Love Emma! Love her bookstore Books are Magic! But hate this nonsense.
CoverS of the Week!
Both of the illustrations on these cover are so cute! I couldn't choose my favorite, so went with BOTH for the CoverS of the Week!
Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert
Hibbert's romances are great, so I have high hopes for this YA book. And look at the adorable, ACCURATE cover. We've come a long way since the romance covers of yesteryear where the people on the cover looked nothing like the characters on the inside. Props to illustrator, Mlle Belamour on this beauty.
From the publisher...
Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.
Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption—yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)
These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.
Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?
Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman
Lipman's The Pursuit of Alice Thrift is a favorite of mine, but I haven't kept up with all the books she's written since then. This cover enticed me, so I absolutely wanted to check it out. Kudos to Robin Bilardello on the great design. Fun fact: Elinor follows me on Facebook. She's a gem.
From the publisher...
Jane Morgan is a valued member of her law firm—or was, until a prudish neighbor, binoculars poised, observes her having sex on the roof of her NYC apartment building. Police are summoned, and a punishing judge sentences her to six months of home confinement. With Jane now jobless and rootless, trapped at home, life looks bleak. Yes, her twin sister provides support and advice, but mostly of the unwelcome kind. When a doorman lets slip that Jane isn't the only resident wearing an ankle monitor, she strikes up a friendship with fellow white-collar felon Perry Salisbury. As she tries to adapt to life within her apartment walls, she discovers she hasn’t heard the end of that tattletale neighbor—whose past isn’t as decorous as her 9-1-1 snitching would suggest. Why are police knocking on Jane’s door again? Can her house arrest have a silver lining? Can two wrongs make a right? In the hands of "an inspired alchemist who converts serious subject into humor” (New York Times Book Review)—yes, delightfully.