Books I Read in May

The Book of LongingsDuring those first couple weeks of the global Covid-19 pandemic, I couldn’t read and I’ve heard so many others say the same. It was sudden and scary, and nobody knew how things would play out. This Roz Chast cartoon in The New Yorker summed up those first few days pretty well.

We still don’t know how it will all “end,” but here in Hawaii we have been fortunate to have only a small number of cases so far. So as we settled into being at home and figured out how to get groceries safely, it got easier to concentrate. And without all the normal outside engagements, it turns out there’s a lot of time to read!

I read some good books in May. I think it’s wild that three of the seven books have a title starting with “The Book of Lo….” I didn’t plan that.

The Book of Lost Friends

This book, by Lisa Wingate, has two timelines. It follows three women in 1875 Louisiana—a white woman who is heir to a plantation, her half-Creole sister, and a woman who had been a slave but was recently freed—as well as a schoolteacher in 1987 Louisiana, who learns about their story and how it impacts her students. The author was inspired to write this book after learning about the very moving Lost Friends ads that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, in which newly freed slaves advertised to find loved ones that had been sold away from them. Really interesting novel.

American Royals

I wanted to read this after hearing about it on a books podcast. It’s a light read that asks, “What if America had a royal family?” The author, Katharine McGee, wrote about an alternate history in which George Washington was named the king of America, instead of president. The novel follows his present day descendants, Princesses Beatrice and Samantha and Prince Jefferson. Beatrice is next in line to be queen. This book, definitely a beach book, follows the three young royals, as well as the woman determined to win Jeff’s heart, and is a fast and fun read. A sequel is coming out in September. This American Royals trailer gives a flavor of the novel (the text messages fly).

The Jane Austen Society

This historical fiction novel is a good read that Jane Austen fans should enjoy. In addition to bringing together a rather disparate group of people seeking to establish a Jane Austen museum in a cottage she once lived in, it delves into some of Austen’s characters and stories themselves. I found it interesting how, and why, the characters in this novel had different interpretations of Austen’s works. I enjoyed the gentle English village setting, the characters, and how their stories came together. It’s well worth a read if this is your cup of tea. Here’s a short video message the author, Natalie Jenner, posted on her publication date.

The Book of Lost Names

I read this book as an advanced reader copy, which I only tell you because it isn’t coming out until July 21st. Go ahead and pre-order or pre-request this one. This book grabbed me and I couldn’t put it down. It’s based on a true story of a woman who saved thousands of Jewish children during WWII. The novel opens when, as an older woman in the U.S., she happens to see a newspaper article that leads to her returning to Europe where she gets some closure on the whole incredible experience. I’ll let you learn more about that yourself when you read it. You should. It’s truly an amazing novel, well-written and compelling. I was so moved by this story. Fun aside: there’s going to be a Zoom conversation with the author, Kristen Harmel, on July 24, 2020, through the Delaware Libraries.

The Book of Longings

I loved this book, which will stay with me for a very long time. This one was my highlight of the month, no question. In this book of intricately researched historical fiction, Sue Monk Kidd imagines the “missing” years of Jesus’s life. Not much is known of him between the ages of about 12 and 33, and she notes (in the very interesting afterword) that history erases women and that he very well, for the time and custom, may have married. So she gave him a wife, Ana. She tells the story through Ana’s eyes, and it is SO well-written and interesting. I kept clutching my hand to my heart at the language, the imagery, the metaphors. It’s an amazing book. I read it in two sittings. When I finished it, I turned to the front and read the beginning again. If you only read one novel this year, I recommend this one. Also, here’s a peek into Sue Monk Kidd‘s technique while writing the book, and her office. Cool.

The Stand

I got to thinking about Stephen King’s old novel The Stand because it’s about a pandemic, one that is way deadlier than ours by the way, holy cow, and I hadn’t read it for decades. I started it but didn’t finish it this time. I read all his books when I was younger, but nowadays it’s not really my genre. If you need a good Stephen King book, though, I highly recommend his 11/22/63. That one is a very different type of book and it’s great. In preparation for it, he read everything there is about the Kennedy assassination (he says he now knows as much about it as anyone living). Then he used that research in his book, which is about someone who travels in time to try to go back and stop the assassination. It’s an excellent book, and also a great audiobook. I highly recommend 11/22/63.

House of Trelawney

I also heard about this book on a podcast. The podcaster talked about how it was set in Cornwall, England, a place I have a special fondness for, and that it was a wonderful novel about an eccentric and dysfunctional family living in a 700-year-old family castle (with four miles of corridors) that was crumbling around them. That was enough for me, and I ordered it. What a fun book. I read this one in two sittings and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s a fun review of the book, which is by Hannah Rothschild, from The Irish Times.

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