Category Archives: Book I’ll Forget I Read

Five Carat Soul: Failure of Focus

I had to look up in my library borrowing history the title of the book I read on an off for the last month and then eventually put aside. And it’s Five Carat Soul by James McBride. Would I have ever remembered that on my own? No. I remembered the cover was kind of bright. NOT HELPFUL And no fault of the book, which is, on its own, great – smart writing and unique premise and funny – but each chapter was its own thing – loosely connected by the Five Carat Soul band and their stories – and from one night to the next I couldn’t keep them all connected and in focus. So don’t not read this one on the account of my lagging attention span. Go get it and read it when you are not exhausted or have an hour so you can read it in focus and enjoy the romp.

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The Last Chance Library: Snuggly and soothing and aren’t libraries the best

There is nothing but cozy feelings in Freya Sampson’s The Last Chance Library. It borders on the saccharine and pat (in the way of A Man Called Ove or The Hundred Year Old Man) but perhaps because its is also an ode to the library as essential public institution, or perhaps because the world is terrible and we all need the occasional reprieve, I enjoyed it.

The book opens with June, 27 years old and working as a library assistant in the tiny town of something that starts with a C. If you were drawing the plot arc of this book, alongside the character development it would go something like this: (1) June is timid/still lives in childhood home/can’t connect with others because of her grief (2) library is threatened with closure/June encounters man from childhood who also loves books and is incredibly kind/June is timid and now aware of how her grief and timidity are preventing her from living her life (3) a series of escalating moments of decision force June to take tiny steps to connect with others and to be brave and a series of obvious but nevertheless endearing obstacles get in the way of June dating the man (4) climax where we see June and the library get what we hope (5) very tidy ending.

The whole time you know exactly that everything is going to work out, and that all of the little challenges – will they get enough people to the protest? – are manageable and quaint and so even if somehow things go wrong… nothing will explode. Identity, politics, the fate of the world, none of them are implicated here. Just… will the library be saved, will June move on in her life, and the whole time we all know: yes, just the question of how.

I shouldn’t say politics aren’t involved at all. The library is threatened because of government spending cuts, and part of the argument the townspeople mount is how the library is the one remaining space where people of all ages and backgrounds can come for a safe place to be, to connect with one another and to receive service and care. And to use the washroom and get out of the heat or cold. I appreciated the way the book tried to figure out what it was that makes libraries so special – is it the place, or the people, or the librarians, or the programs, or the books, or the history – but ultimately allows that it has to be all of those things, and that we will each have special resonance with the library.

I do love the library. And if nothing else this book reminded me not to take it for granted. But mostly, it reminded me – as I’ve always known and still forget – that beyond baking shows, I can also be soothed by a completely gentle and utterly enjoyable book.

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Bath Haus: Maybe-Murder, Definitely Mystery, but Easy to Solve, so Maybe-Mystery

I was recently getting my haircut and reading P.J. Vernon’s Bath Haus (I’m terrible at chatting with hair stylists and so I read a book). I’m not usually concerned about being seen reading whatever I’m reading, but in this self-described ‘thriller’ (I should amend my title) there are many, many scenes describing sexy things and murderous things and I kept imagining the stylist reading over my shoulder and judging me OR being so engaged that she’d cut off my ear, which is to say, the book had me on edge.

By the mid point of the book it’s not particularly challenging to sort out the whodunit behind the thriller bits, but there is sufficient tension and slow drip of information to make you want to keep reading. Plus it was – for me at least – a novel plot to have a gay couple maybe murdering and being thriller like. Plus a very mean mom character, which, as I understand it, always does turn the children into criminals.

It’s a good book for vacation, and with a few weeks left of summer, you could do worse. But also better. So… maybe? I don’t know. Like if the library has it on the shelf: get it. If you have to put it on hold and wait a week maybe don’t. And so ended the least helpful review of all time. Ever. The end.

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All Adults Here: I’m 37! Happy Birthday! But… Not an Adult. No I am.

For 90% of last year I thought I was 37. I was not. I was 36, so this year, when I *really* turned 37 it felt like a gift. Surprise! You get to be 37! Again! It does Not Bode Well for my memory.

You’d think being 37 a second time would mean I’d have adult-ing sorted out. And to be clear, I do. But whenever adult became a verb, I lost track of what it meant in the pop culture sense – something about being the one to empty the dish drain of all the chopped up bits of food and stringy what’s its. Probably it means being a little rich and having a cleaning person so if you don’t really want to clean the dish drain you don’t have to (I have just googled it, and I am right.)

Emma Straub’s All Adults Here isn’t much clearer about what it means, except to insist at various points in the novel that all the grown children are adults. It follows a folksy white family from a super small town – like it has scenes of literal protests to keep big box stores from buying in – and their ups and downs and inbetweens. Astrid, the matriarch, offers the most scandal in announcing in the early pages that she is bisexual (the drama! the scandal!). Oh and there’s a daughter who decides to have a baby on her own Out of Wedlock (the drama! the scandal!). And a son who was never properly loved by his father (I can’t even).

I shouldn’t make fun of it, but it just read as so quaint when the world is on fire to be fretting about maintaining the downtown core.

Oh but actually, now that I mention it, the book does have a lovely set of scenes with the teenage character, Cecelia, figuring out the difference between privacy and a secret, and making this particular adult worry *even more* about how to raise children in this world even if it wasn’t already actually on fire.

For all my griping about how earnest it is and how willing to have everything work out in the end, I did enjoy reading it. Probably because we’re all yearning to have everything work out in the end. If you can suspend the desire for something real, and instead embrace this fiction-on-a-fiction, the adult-ing, of being an adult, then I’d recommend. If nothing else it would make a good beach read: entirely unaffecting while also being engaging.

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