The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

If it wasn’t for book club, I wouldn’t have read this book. Overall, it’s cliched and heavy-handed. But we all agreed that we loved parts of it and hated others. I loved that music was the narrator. I recently started taking piano lessons and given that the teacher and I were both English majors, we talk about the language of music fairly often, like the notations and how they’re communicated. I also loved Frankie’s music teacher. But the rest of the story? It’s just too much. I don’t want to give any spoilers so I’ll just say the dog and the old woman take things over the top. I think I audibly groaned in places.

Gwenamon says: Meh

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This is a memoir about a same-sex abusive relationship. Although it does a good job of showing that abuse, of course, can affect any type of relationship, it stays more scholarly than actually delving into the motivations, reactions, and effects. I got tired of all of the metaphor. Obviously Machado is intelligent. But her metaphoric lens means there’s little emotion and insight, making for a rather sterile memoir.

Gwenamon says: Alright

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

I loved this book for its simple but eloquent writing, and for its story. Both Addie and Louis are living alone. She asks him to come to her house at night to talk before sleep. So begins their intimate adventure and managing the reactions of the town as well as their children. This book is about expectations, relationships, and judgements. I was very sad to learn that Haruf wrote this novel as he was dying and there’ll be no more books from him. I’m lucky that I can read his previous novels and appreciate his legacy.

Gwenamon says: Loved it

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Here’s a very well written novel about the Vignes twins who runaway from their small southern town at 16-years-old. Their lives take different paths but eventually, through their daughters, new intersections are made. This is a book about betrayal, deceit, and the meaning of home. I didn’t love this book, but I liked it a lot. I think that may have to do with the third-person narration and the number of characters. I never got completely drawn in.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Lyman is a retired historian who goes through the family archives to write about his grandmother and grandfather as the American west was being settled. Theirs was a difficult, unpredictable life. His grandfather, Oliver, had to take engineering jobs when and where they were available. And Susan, the grandmother, was an artist who gave up her higher-society life. She worked through the mail, mainly as a book illustrator. Lyman’s choices of what to narrate reveal a lot about him, given he is divorced and has a conflicted relationship with his son. Don’t Google the meaning of the title until you’re finished reading the book, which has so many layers. It’s about marriage, art, friendship, adventure, landscape, and betrayal.

Gwenamon says: Well done

The Past by Tessa Hadley

A group of four siblings meet (along with their children, one partner, and an invited guest) at their grandparents’ country home for their annual summer stay. The house is crumbling and they need to decide what to do with it. Here’s a tale about memory, jealousy, and lust. I was so impressed by how Hadley writes about a cast of characters in a relatively short novel, communicating so much about them and their motivations with carefully chosen and powerful prose. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending, which felt a little too symbolic. A little out of tune.

Gwenamon says: Yes! So well done

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Looking for a story about a young girl’s resilience and bravery? Here you go. I read this aloud to my 10-year-old son and we both loved it. We also had a lot of good talks about what was going on. Yes, the story is slow-paced and I can see why having to read it for school may be a bit of a yawner. But reading a chapter aloud every other night or two is the perfect pace.

This is Karana’s incredible story. She ends up alone on an island in the Pacific. She must figure out how to survive and sometimes that means going against how she’s been brought up. What’s more – this is based on a true story and I was deeply affected when I discovered its details.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

I haven’t been posting much but I have been reading quite a bit. Time to catch up!

I loved this book for its writing. Johnson writes beautifully, creating vivid images. I didn’t like how this book misses the crucial teenage years for two of the characters. That miss made me feel like Johnson couldn’t deal with details and fact to lend weight to her tale, based in myth. The main gist of this book is that Gretel, a lexicographer, must abandon her job to find her mom who has dementia. The search revives Gretel’s memories of growing up on a houseboat, on Oxford’s canals, where mom and daughter had their own secret language. They feared the lurking creature that they named the Bonak and they sheltered a runaway boy.

Gwenamon says: Very good

Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz

It’s pretty incredible how prophetic Nawaz ends up being in this novel about a coronavirus that ravages the world. After years of research, the novel was released right at the time the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. But careful research and fantastic timing aside, this novel falls short. I don’t understand the accolades. Nawaz only gives a cursory pass at the characters’ struggles and motivations. Some of them are absolutely ridiculous, like Owen who decides to escape to a sailboat with a woman he barely knows and her child, despite the fact he dislikes children. And the ties between the characters are too neat and predictable.

Gwenamon says: Avoid it given there are only a few decent passages

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates tells Hiram Walker’s tale. He was born a slave, with no memory of his mom. His dad is the plantation owner. Hiram’s unique power surfaces when he almost drowns in a nearby river. Although I enjoyed the magic realism, I did find the book’s second half to meander.

Gwenamon says: A decent read