House of Beauty by Melba Escobar (2015 in Spanish, 2018 in English) - a murder mystery among Bogota's elites and the people who serve them. Perfect for a rainy Sunday Covid isolation day. Great insight into the lives of different classes in Colombia and a well plotted twisty tale -- even though from page one you know what happened. Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon (1952) - a look at the psychological affects of racism on Blacks.
Trace Elements by Donna Leon (2020) -- the plot almost does not matter to me at this point in the series-- this time a water pollution scandal leads to murder. It is the time spent with beloved characters I've grown to know over the years. Although the numerous food descriptions were missing this time so I felt less hungry than usual.
The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell Antonio (2020) - Reality TV, fried Chicken, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and rural Kansas combine in this deceptively simple story of what happens when social media and small town life collide. Mae, Amanda, Barbara, Nancy, and their unique neighbors are all portrayed with love and quirks. The plot revolves around who will win a reality show's designation of best fried chicken in town and the messes those cameras can uncover (literally and figuratively as one of the characters suffers from extreme hoarding). What it really revolves around is how where we grow up shapes us, how family is lovely, horrific, and definitely complicated, and how we are all doing the best we can in this life. KJ Dell Antonio seems to have taken her years as a NYTimes columnist and best selling author observing how good and bad parenting occurs and turned it into a terrific, fun, and insightful debut novel about how families are formed and changed by the distinctive people in them.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (2020) - Controversy about who gets to tell whose stories abounds surrounding this book. I am grateful for that discussion being so public; and, I won't address it here. Instead, I will say that I am glad for this novel. Like one of my favorite books ever - Urrea's Into the Beautiful North (Ms. Cummins references Mr. Urrea in the novel) this book brings the lives of immigrants forward. With so many immigrants in the world, with so much politic weight being given to immigration in the USA, these stories are essential as we decide how to respond as countries and as human beings. The four main characters Ms. Cummins introduces us to in this book show us life as a refugee as someone trying to escape horrific conditions, which are compassionately portrayed. Her writing is moving. Towards the end some of the characters seemed to be inserted mostly to allow the plot to explain immigration and the crossing, and that was distracting. But don't let it get in the way of reading this book and having a lot of discussions about immigration that start with the migrants' perspectives and needs as show in this novel.
What A great Age by (2020) I wanted this to be better than it was. I see this as a book she wrote because her message was so important. And it is! Yet in doing so she created a group of people it is hard to like. And not that characters have to be likeable; But I do need hope that someone will change. I need someone to hang my hat on and that was hard to find. However somehow I still am glad I read this book.
The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor (June 2020) - A terrific atmospheric thriller set in Ireland and Long Island. You will love the main detective Maggie d'Arcy and her colleagues and friends as they try to solve the mystery behind a series of abductions and deaths of women along the Irish coast. A mystery that is personal as it involves the disappearance of Maggie's cousin Erin 23 years prior.
2020 Kids and YA
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (2019) - I love books by Jason Reynolds (and became a huge fan of him as a person after being lucky enough to meet him multiple times). Thus, the fact he blurbed this novel was the reason I picked it up when looking for a book for this post. In this novel for kids, the main character, Jude, is introduced to us while living in Syria with her family - dad, mom, and an older brother. A few pages in, with her mother pregnant again, only Jude and her mom move to the USA so the baby can be born in a safer place. They land in the home of Jude's uncle, aunt, and cousin, who is around Jude's age. The story follows what it is like for Jude to navigate her new school, being Muslim in America, and worrying about the family she left behind. The story is full of moments of sadness and warmth, told with great heart. Bonus -- the book is written in free-verse poetry meaning fewer words per page - helpful with reluctant readers. Enjoy!
Be You by Peter Reynolds (2020) -- Another inspiring and lovingly illustrated book by Peter Reynolds. This one directly inspires us all to just be ourselves. From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (2019) - Ms. Marks's debut novel combines social justice issues - the number of black men who are incarcerated and the more mundane concerns of being a pre-teen girl in this story of a 12 year old Zoe - and her quest to get to know the father she has never met as he is incarcerated and her mom forbids contact.