Hello everyone! I’m back with another set of mini book reviews! Books included: How Beautiful We Were, Leave the World Behind, The Hill We Climb, Woolly, Well Matched, These Precious Days, How to Do Nothing, Harlem Shuffle, American Dirt, and The Love Hypothesis.
In case you’re new, every May I blog every day and call it BirthMay! Why? Because it’s my birth month and I’m super extra.
These books brought my total up to 32 books read in 2022, which is great as my goal is 65. I feel a reading slump coming on so it’s nice to be ahead and have some wiggle room.
For the most part, I try to provide a bit of a summary on the book first, non-spoiler and general thoughts next, but, if needed, I’ll warn if I include spoilers for that book at the start of that paragraph.
Note about my ratings: I’ve switched to using the StoryGraph to track and rate the books I’ve been reading. This site uses 1-5 stars, 5 being the highest, in 0.25 increments. Feel free to friend me on the StoryGraph – my username is StarringPamela there!
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
This book was gorgeous! I think I randomly found it in Libby but it might have been TikTok. The novel tells the story of the fictional humble village of Kosawa, who become victims of a negligent and irresponsible American oil company as oil spills, pollution, and resistance start to take their lives. The story features the family members of a girl named Thula, with transitionary chapters from the perspective of the village children moving the story along from one family member to the next. This story was just beautiful and really stayed with me in between reading sessions and long after I’d finished the story.
*SPOILERS AHEAD* It was so moving to read how desperately the people of Kosawa wanted to just have a chance at a healthy and self-efficient life. With oil spills destroying their farm land and contaminated water killing their children, it’s easy to think the villagers should pick up and move elsewhere. But Kosawa is their home, and it has been for generations. It would have continued to be if not for the pollution. It’s so infuriating to then remember that this is a fictional story but the situation is very real, even closer to home. There have been many oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico with oil appearing on the shores of the southern states. There was almost that pipeline built that would have surely polluted the land around it. And even tainted water in Flint, Michigan, and many more communities. It’s so easy to do the right thing but instead profits are prioritized at the expense of people who just want to live.
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
This book was one of President Obama’s 2021 recommended reading list. I’m slowly making my way through his 2021 recommendations and I was so intrigued by this book that I checked it out as soon as I could. This novel tells the story of a family who rented out an Airbnb on Long Island, in order to get a break from NYC, when the owners of the house arrive suddenly and bring concerning news of blackouts in the city. Something is clearly not right, but the blackouts mean that the two families are isolated and without news or regular updates on what is happening back home.
This book was so mysterious and intriguing! I would have actually liked it to be a bit longer and to keep going, as I felt like there was still a lot unanswered, but it really gave me flashbacks to the confusion and uncertainty of the “two week” quarantine back in March 2020. This book is about a different, fictional situation, but the feelings are now all too familiar and so I do think it’s important to keep in mind when picking this up.
*SPOILERS AHEAD* Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit too vague for my liking. I know that was the point, but… there was just nothing! Honestly, at some points I was questioning if anything was actually wrong, since there was no real news that there were problems except that there were blackouts from Ruth and G.H. I also found Amanda and Clay so annoying as characters. Amanda was way too freaked out and Clay was way too calm. They were both on polar opposites and extreme in their reactions. Also, there was no real resolution to the story either, so for me it was just a frustrating read. I think I totally expected something more like Station Eleven so that could have also contributed to my feelings on the story.
I gave this book 3.75 out of 5 stars.
The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman
I don’t have much to stay on this book, which was just the inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman. I did opt for the audio book on this one, so it was a great way to experience this book.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures
This was the March pick for my library’s non-fiction book club! This book follows Dr. George Church and a group of scientists studying and working under him at Harvard University. Their goal is to bring back the extinct woolly mammoth to maintain the Arctic circle and test scientific progress in DNA sequencing.
I am going to be honest, I did not expect to like this one! We always vote on the next book and I was outvoted this time, which does happen from time to time! (Actually about half the time.) We actually all really enjoyed this book! It was super cool to read the story and how the scientists made progress towards their goals. I also greatly enjoyed some of the lengths they took to try and get what they needed, like elephant placenta. Honestly, it was great. We also had a really fun book club meeting as well since we had a ton of people arrive, including some that hadn’t read the book, so we got to fill them in! We also welcomed the newest librarian which was so fun!
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Well Matched (Well Met #3) by Jen DeLuca
This was such a fun novel! I hadn’t read the first two in the series but it came up in the Libby app and I read it anyway. The book features a single mom, April, who is preparing to send her only child off to college and the town’s most beloved bachelor, Mitch, who needs a fake girlfriend for the upcoming family retreat, just as the town’s Renaissance Faire is about to start.
This was such a delightful rom com book! There were secrets, there was love, there was strife, there was everything one could hope for in this book! It was honestly giving me major Gilmore Girls vibes with the single mom thing except that April was overall more like Luke and Mitch was more like Lorelei in terms of personality. I really, really enjoyed this book! Even though it’s part of a series, it was okay to read as a standalone as apparently each book follows different characters so the couples featured in the previous two books appear in this one. How fun!
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
This was a collection of essays by the author on her life. I picked this up as it’s on President Obama’s list as well and it was at the library! At this point, I was starting to stress about how many more Obama books I had left to read, so I tried to pick up the pace as my unofficial goal to read them by is the end of this year. Anyway, Patchett’s essays ranged from her mother’s three husbands who attended her wedding, her friendship with Tom Hanks’ assistant Sooki, weird life experiences she’s had, and more.
I really enjoyed her essays! I actually have one of her fiction books on my list of books to read, so I hope I can get to it soon. I really enjoyed how Patchett wrote her essays so I can’t wait to experience her novels too!
I gave this book 4.75 out of 5 stars.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell with Rebecca Gibel (Narrator)
I listened to this book and I think I probably should have read it instead. I found myself getting so distracted during this book! Overall it was a great read and a great perspective about fighting toxic productivity culture and focusing on rest. I did really enjoy it even if I did get momentarily distracted a lot. I loved hearing about Odell’s efforts to connect with nature especially.
I gave this book 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
This was another President Obama pick! I honestly did not like it… This novel is set in Harlem, in the 1960s, centering around Ray Carney, who comes from a family of criminals but is trying to break that cycle. However, his wife is pregnant with their second child and Ray’s in-laws already look down on him. With the pressure to provide for his growing family mounting, Ray starts working as a fence for his cousin.
I really expected to like this book so much more! The blurb sounded so interesting! But somehow I just couldn’t get into it and found the story hard to follow. At one point, I realized I was just struggling through to just finish it rather than put it down because of my goal. In the end, I didn’t see the appeal of this one!
I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings
I wasn’t going to read this novel as it was heavily criticized by Hispanic BookTok on TikTok, but a friend recommended it (I asked her for a list of recommendations) and so I figured I’d read it after all. This book follows Lydia, who flees Acapulco with her son, Luca, the only survivors after a cartel kills her entire family following her husband’s profile of the cartel’s leader for the newspaper where he worked. Lydia decides she and Luca will go to the United States, and start the long, dangerous journey north. Ultimately it was a powerful read and I’m happy I did give it a chance.
*SPOILERS AHEAD* I did think it was a little too much of a checklist at times, which is why it didn’t make it to 5 stars, although it was close. It was just one thing after another and it really seemed like Cummings was determined to fit every stereotype of the journey that the migrants make into the story. I also found it really strange how Lydia was so unprepared for the journey. She didn’t even grab her son’s paperwork when she grabbed her own so she couldn’t take a plane within Mexico, she barely prepped for the journey, and just didn’t seem to really have a plan beyond a vague destination of “Colorado”. Even so, it was a really moving story. I know a lot of people didn’t want to read it because Cummings is not Hispanic so they thought she was stealing the story or appropriating or something. Which I do understand on one hand, but on the other it’s a fictional story and that’s the job of a fictional author, to make something up not necessarily tell their own story. I do enjoy a good “own voices” fiction book like anyone else, but as someone who likes to dabble in fiction writing I’d hate to put a ton of work into a book only to be told I can’t write it because of someone’s opinion. So I totally see both sides but ultimately fall on the side of the author, trying to tell a powerful story the best way she can.
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
This was another rom com that I found on Libby and/or TikTok (I gotta get better at remembering where I hear about these books from). I loved it! This was another fake romance story, this time between a PH.D. candidate, Olive, and a professor, Adam (important note that Adam is NOT Olive’s professor). Olive needs a boyfriend to convince her best friend that she can date whoever she wants and Adam needs a girlfriend to convince his superiors that he’s not trying to leave the university so he can get the rest of his funding for his project. Together they help each other reach their goals, personally and professionally, but just when Olive’s dreams seem to be coming true it all starts to fall apart, just when their deadline to break up approaches.
*SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD* I loved this story! Olive and Adam were just too funny! My favorite bits were anytime Olive ordered the most sugary and unhealthy Starbucks drink and then ordered something equally repulsive for Adam, and then Adam had to pay. Ah, fake love! The lighthearted moments were just plain fun and the more serious moments were powerful and incredible to read. I really loved how Olive and Adam connected and made it through their fake relationship, committing totally to their plot.
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Fun fact on these ten books – they were all from the library! Only two were physical books and the rest were digital or audio books that I read on Libby.
Thanks for reading!
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