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My Bookshelf 8 - My last half dozen: There's Some Good Reading Here!

Yes, it's been awhile! I got severely sidetracked in the fall by an amazing European adventure and by my own foray into podcasting. But I managed to get caught up on the reading as the temperature dipped into the very-cold figures and the snow piled up. There's some good reading in this batch! Some of these books pleasantly surprised me. I hope you find one (or a few) that are enticing. Remember, it's all subjective!

In the order they were read:

The Book Haters' Book Club - I imagine at the heart of it, this book is about people finding themselves. The premise behind the book is that an independent book store is 'going under' after the death of one of it's owners, and family and friends come together to salvage the ruins. The key players are Irma, a middle-aged woman and co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookshop with the now-deceased Elliot. Bree and Laney are Irma's daughters. Bree is a long-time employee of the bookshop while Laney is the long-lost daughter who left town at a young age and returns to help put things back together. Thom is Elliot's lover who is jealous of the intimate, albeit non-sexual, relationship between Irma and Elliot. Every character has their issues. The book title is attractive, and one good thing about this story is that it makes many references to books that might be worth reading. I thought the story sunk into immature humour which did nothing for the storyline, and the book was a bit ponderous to read. Reviews are all over the page for this book. Rating: 2.5/5

Be Frank With Me - Brilliant. That could be my only description. Frank is a 9 year old eccentric, brilliant lad (as he will keep telling you), with a penchant for wearing period costumes everywhere and for telling people all that he knows, which is considerable. He might also have a penchant for dishonesty and nosiness and manipulation. He has issues with self-control. This all makes him quite the social outcast. I think you'll love Frank. His mother, Mimi, is a reclusive one-story author trying to write another book, and Alice is a steady-headed 24 year old 'nanny' hired to maintain some semblance of normality. She can 'roll' with Frank, so to speak. I loved the relationship between her and Frank. In the process, she learns about herself. The writing is smart. The storyline is unique, if not totally believable. There are lots of references to old movies and books because, as you will find, Frank knows everything and is old beyond his years. There is a little drama and romance thrown in. I cannot believe this has not been made into a movie, kind of like Little Miss Sunshine, or that there is not a sequel. After you've read it, think about the title. (Side note: Sister-in-law and I were standing in the English section of a tiny bookshop on the train platform in Porto, Portugal, as she was looking for a last-minute read. I turned to her with Be Frank With Me in hand and said, "Here it is" while, at the same time, she had Be Frank With Me in her hand. It jumped out to both of us.) Rating: solid 5/5. Highly recommend.

all that's left unsaid - Rarely do I pick two great books in a row, but here it is. 'all that's left unsaid' is another brilliant book. Although the story is fictional, it takes place in a town in Australia, Cabramatta, a real place with real-life drug and racial issues in the 1990's. The story line is about Asian refugee families who have formed their little community. One main theme is the generational divide between refugee parents and their children - parents who believe that to work endlessly and have high hopes for their children is all that is needed while the children want to assimilate into the culture with all the inherent pressures to 'fit in'. When a 17 year old boy is murdered, and none of the spectators/witnesses will say anything, his older sister (who has left the town and gone on to education and career in a larger city) goes on a hunt for facts. In the meantime, she learns some truths and gains understanding about herself, her associates, her upbringing, and her family. This book is part murder mystery but is completely a social study into racism, fitting in, grief, loss, guilt, cultural divides, decisions, social status, generational differences, and generational trauma. Everyone has things left unsaid. I am neither a refugee nor a person of colour, so I cannot say how much validity there is to the story. All I know is that even if a shred of it is true, this book opens eyes and gives food for thought. The book is written in a unique style - through the eyes of the potential witnesses and also through flashbacks. This is the author's first novel, and it is great. Rating: 5/5. Highly recommend.

If I Survive You - Unique is one word to describe this book. I have never read anything like it before. In a series of short stories (all, however, related), Jonathan Escoffery tells the story of Jamaican immigrants settling in Miami. This is not autobiographical, but I imagine he speaks about what he knows. The stories wind around Topper and Sanya who flee to the USA from Kingston, Jamaica, and their two sons, as well as some influential extended family. The main character is Trelawny, the youngest son, who is not like the others in his family. He was the only one born in the USA. The strength of the book is the struggle of immigrants to fit in (or not fit in) with pressures from the outside world and from inside the family. Do you fully integrate or do you keep your traditional ways? Or can you keep your traditional ways and still assimilate? It is made all the more difficult when your skin colour makes you unidentifiable as either black or white. There are issues of intergenerational trauma and family dysfunction. The writing is superb, some chapters written in Jamaican parlance. One warning I would give is that parts of the book are quite disturbing and some rather sexual and outright 'kinky'. But who knows what you would do when desperate? The book is getting rave reviews and is on a couple of "100 must-reads of 2022" lists. This is the author's first novel, and I look forward to more. Rating: 4/5.

The Hate U Give - This is a 2017 book that is now taught in some high schools and colleges in America. It is described as ' young adult' literature and has received accolades and many awards for tackling the issue of systemic racism. The main player is Starr, a 16 year old girl of colour, who witnesses the shooting of one of her best friends of colour by a white police. This is the second murder she has witnessed in her young life. The story line details how she comes to the understanding that she can fight racism and injustice by using her voice. The story is graphic but easy to read. This is a good read for any age. There is lots to think about. There is a strong portrayal of intergenerational trauma and how the cycle continues (such as alcoholism, addiction, violence, gangs) and the fact that it is hard to break out of a cycle as there is not only pressure from outside your group but also from within. It's hard to have a foot in both worlds. The book portrays the pressures that teenagers experience to make their way in the world. Regardless where you stand on issues, and aside from racial issues, I like the bottom line: learn about others, listen, be kind and accepting of everyone regardless of colour/sexuality/identity/appearance/social standing, try to understand the other person's reality, and speak up when wrong is done. This book has been made into a movie with rave reviews. This is a great book for discussion groups. Rating: 4/5

A Nearly Normal Family - Well, this book takes some processing. It's a super fast read, (two days for me) when we are in the 'extreme cold' as they say here on the prairies. The whole premise of the story is the question: how far would you go for your family? An 18 year old girl is charged with the murder of an older man. This is a parent's worst nightmare. It tests the morals and ethics of her parents, her church pastor father and her lawyer mother who have long deluded themselves into seeing their family as 'normal'. You learn a lot about your family when it's in crisis. Why do people do what they do and how much is done simply to keep up appearances and the status quo? This book is part psychological thriller, part family sociology/crisis, part lesson in ethics and morals, part unresolved trauma. It delves into friendships, teenage pressures, religion, the criminal justice system, loyalty, and victimization. Always read the epilogue! This is a book in which you might end up not liking any of the characters. The story is sure to evoke much thought. We might all say we would NEVER do that but we never know until we are in that situation. The book is written from the perspectives of the three main characters intertwined with courtroom scenes. There are book group discussion questions at the end. This is the Swedish author's first book. (By the way, those Swedes can sure write some good mystery!) A Netflix series is in the works. Rating: 4/5.

There you are. I love it when the majority of my last half dozen are all worth a read. My favourites: 1) Be Frank With Me 2) All That's Left Unsaid ; the next two are close 3) A Nearly Normal Family and 4) The Hate U Give; then 5) If I Survive You; and finally 6) The Book Hater's Bookclub. But, as I said, it's all subjective.


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