My reading has been a little slow the past couple of months, with a short holiday thrown in and spring in the air which just begs for outdoors activities. My last half dozen is an eclectic bunch, but there were some real winners in here, and there is something for everyone! In the order in which they were read, here are my reviews:
The Maid - The Maid is a fast, easy to read, but not believable, mystery about a maid in a high class hotel who discovers a dead body in one of the rooms. The main character is an eccentric, socially inadequate young lady. One thing I did like about the book is the understanding it gives about the ‘unseen’ people in the world - such as ‘maids’ in hotels. It reminded me to be nice to everyone and not to judge the cover. But I wonder why writers have to throw in twists when the story could be perfectly great otherwise? I’m not a fan of ‘twists’. It’s getting good reviews, but my rating would be 3 out of 5.
State of Terror – This is a good political thriller that has you thinking, “I know this isn’t true, but what if . . . .?” There are so many parallels to what the US has experienced politically in the past five years – a new president taking over from a rogue administration that had severed positive relationships throughout the world, leaving the US vulnerable to attack. This book is a fast, easy read. The new Secretary of State is tasked with handling a global terrorist attack crisis that takes you around the world. The strength, and real interest, lies in having someone who clearly knows the inner functioning of a government and of world relationships (Hillary Clinton) as a co-writer. A good ‘escape’ novel. Rating 4 out of 5
Still Life – Still Life is a fiction (and maybe a bit historical) that expands a time frame from wartime 1944 through to 1979 and takes place, for the most part, in Italy. I thought it was slow-going to start, but I am glad I persevered. It is made up of several key eccentric characters and is all about the ‘right’ people who fit together so well that time cannot break them apart, even if they have no contact for 30 years. It’s also all about how these people meet again in life, and how ‘families’ form without bloodlines. It is full of non-judgement for age, character, and sexuality. Throw in a dose of adventure, ‘intimacy’, art, feminism, food, wine, and coming of age (even later in life) - phew! This is not an exciting or fast-moving book. It is a large, sweeping saga, with the strength being the writing. You will think you are sitting in a plaza in Italy sipping a cappuccino. Rating 4 out of 5
Mary Jane - Mary Jane is an easy to read, simplistic (and unrealistic) coming-of-age novel. If you are a child of the 70’s, you might smile at parts of this book. It’s about a 14 year old girl from a most ‘appropriate’ household in Baltimore. Her upperclass family does everything ‘right’, and she only knows what she knows thus far in her life. The family lives in the most stereotypically perfect house and belongs to the local country club and the local church in their manicured neighbourhood. There are high expectations of everything from how you act to how you dress to how you set the table. During the course of one summer, when she accepts a job as a nanny in a non-conventional household, Mary Jane learns to question her upbringing. You could say it was the summer of love, of rock and roll. To me, this book shows the ‘coming out’ of the 70’s when society changed a lot. Mary Jane learns that behind ‘perfect’ façades, there can be elitism and racism and dysfunction. More importantly, she recognizes that she learned some valuable skills from her ‘perfect’ family but that she is free to accept other values and become who she wants to be. Rating 3.5 out of 5.
American Dirt – Well, I loved this book. I could not put it down, and it raised a lot of emotion. It is about a Mexican woman and her eight year old son and their migrant journey to the USA after the journalist husband/father and the majority of their family is killed at a family gathering by the drug cartel. The journalist had written an expose article about the cartel leader and, after the mass execution, the woman feared for her and her son’s lives. I was hooked after the first couple of pages. The book is horrific in telling their journey and focusses on the love between the mother and son. I don’t read book reviews until after I have read a book, and I found that this book has received a lot of criticism about validity, writing style, and racial stereotyping. It's worth checking out the controversy. (But it is a novel, not a textbook.) I thought it was beautifully written, it is very easy to read, it elicits emotion, and it is thought provoking. Maybe it will contribute to helpful discussion. I still give it 5 out of 5.
Where The Crawdads Sing - I was really late to the party on this one! It was published in 2018 to world wide acclaim and was a best seller. It is about an abandoned girl growing up by herself, isolated, in the swamps of North Carolina with the animals and plants as family. She came to be known as 'marsh girl', a suspicious and despised character to most of the townsfolk. There is romance and a suspicious death involved. The strength of the book is the beautiful writing, how the author describes the scenery, swamp life, and creatures and plants, and how the girl learns about human relationships through the evolution of plants and animals. It is a fast, easy read but, to me, the story is rather implausible. It is still a great read. Rating 4.5 out of 5.
So, in my subjective opinion, my order of favourites: #1. American Dirt #2. Where The Crawdads Sing #3. Still Life #4. State of Terror #5. Mary Jane #6. The Maid
And now off to find my next half dozen!