April & May Book Review Summary

Spring Into Summer!!

These past two months have been a whirlwind of activity in our household. We've had family in for an extended stay, and then did some traveling together with them. It's a "coming out of the pandemic seclusion" story that I am seeing repeated this spring by friends as well. Below is a picture from the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, one of the local stops we toured with our visiting family this month.

If you're anything like me, you check out the local bookstores when you travel. On this latest trip I had a chance to visit one of the Indigo book stores (or !ndigo as its signs proclaim) in the Toronto area. Indigo is Canada's largest bookstore chain. They also offer gifts and toys. The store I visited in Mississauga was voluminous - both with it's high ceilings and also it's rows and rows of books. There are some photos on Yelp that give some idea of the size of the place. 

Of course I bought books! This photo shows my latest book haul, and most of the books pictured here were purchased at Indigo:

One thing I haven't been busy doing, at least this month, is reading. My reading has fallen off by almost half - I only got to six books in May. 

I don't think it's just me whose bookish habits are suffering a slump. I've noticed that traffic to my blog is down year-to-date too. And, one of my favorite newsletters about book publishing, SHuSH, by Kenneth Whyte, did an article in mid-April about the pandemic boom in reading that has now gone bust. According to stats Ken quotes, US book sales were down 8.9% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 2021.  

So, anyway, that's enough procrastinating - on to the book reviews!

Favorite book this month

I've had a pretty good run of books this past two months, and as always I hate to pick just one favorite. For fiction I have to go with the last one I read - I gave a five star review for William Saroyan's short story collection The Daring Young Man On the Flying Trapeze.

In non-fiction books its a toss up really, between Ghost Map and This America of Ours. Going into it, I expected Ghost Map to be really good, but This America of Ours was a pleasant surprise. Non-fiction audiobook is definitely Unprotected, Billy Porter's autobiography. 

And for indie books this month Dogma of the Five Kingdoms gets the nod.

Book Formats

  • Three audiobooks (Unprotected: A Memoir, Evolution Gone Wrong and Queer City
  • Four physical books (The Ghost Map, Out of Africa, Go Tell It On the Mountain and The Daring Young Man On the Flying Trapeze )
  • Seven ebooks in April and May (Every book that's not in the prior two categories

ARCs and Book Tours

Seven ARCs in the last two months. That seems like a lot (doesn't it?).  
  • White Nights and Dark Factory, both indie published books, and both courtesy of LibraryThing.
  • A Man Named Baskerville, part of a book tour from Escapist Tours
  • Dogma of the Five Kingdoms, courtesy of author Charles K. Jordan.
  • And three from NetGalley, including Tomorrow's Capitalist, Divorce Colony and This America of Ours

Summary Reviews

Summary reviews of each of April and May's books are below. The title links in the summary review leads to my full review for each book. 

At the top of each full review posts are links to the publisher's page for the book, and the author's web page (or internet presence). At the bottom of each review post are library and bookseller links if you'd like to borrow or purchase a copy. 

Two Stars 

I really wanted to like this one. It's a murder mystery set right here in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The confusing characters and disjointed storyline hide what is actually a pretty great thriller plot. It was OK, but I find I liked the idea of the book more than the book itself.

Five Stars ⭐

Like everything Billy Porter does, his memoir is over the top and fantastic! The audiobook is definitely the way to go on this one - it's narrated by the man himself in an authentic and inspirational tour de force performance. If you are at all a fan of the Tony, Grammy and Emmy winning performer you will love this!

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Alex Bezzerides explains how a lot of the things about our bodies that don't work are evolutionary trade-offs for the positive things that evolution has given us. Bad backs, bad knees, teeth that need braces, eyes that need glasses - Bezzerides explains the evolutionary history behind all these aches and pains that are part of being human.

Two & a Half Stars ⭐⭐🌠

Have you ever listened to an audiobook that you thought you’d absolutely love & instead found yourself disappointed? This was that audiobook for me. I was disappointed. There’s certainly a lot of history here. I did enjoy parts of the book. But it was too spotty and about two thirds of the way through I just wanted it to be finished.

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fans of Sherlock Holmes may remember that the murderer in The Hound of the Baskervilles presumably died in the bog while trying to escape. But did he? Jim Nelson has taken his short and incomplete back story from the end Conan Doyle's book & turned it into a fun, adventurous novel. It's been ages since I read The Hound, but it didn't matter - this book stands on its own.

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Well done combination of a lovingly evoked word-painting of Victorian London, and a medical thriller. The story of the city and the cholera outbreak there in the summer of 1854. Over 120 people died in a three day period in Soho. Local doctor John Snow, along with young clergyman Henry Whitehead set out to investigate, trying to understand how the outbreak had happened. An instant classic when published in 2007.

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Business journalist and Fortune CEO argues that corporate leadership has changed for the better. He has plenty of examples. Recent events (i.e. the pandemic and George Floyd's murder) have accelerated the trend. In the context of Murray's world the assessment seems valid, and it's a hopeful one. Accountability is lacking though, and there are plenty of companies not members of the Biz Round Table that need to follow suit.

Not Rated (Classic Read)

A different book than I was expecting. It’s not a memoir like you might think, with a focus on the author, but rather a series of stories about what happened in and around the farm of writer Isak Dinesen 1920s Africa. Dinesen is an effective writer, straightforward in style, but lyrical when describing the African countryside and its wildlife. As the stories unfold (and they do so at a fairly languid pace) you get a clear picture of what life must have been like 100 years ago on her coffee plantation in Kenya. It is such a different world that I sometimes felt like I was reading a set of fantasy tales rather than a memoir.

Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

Author Kathe Koja takes us into the world of dance clubs and immersive events in a book that questions our perceptions of reality. Koja's writing is excellent, the concepts explored are intriguing and the characters mostly interesting. But the story is a bit muddled, and overly long. 

Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

Powerfully written and intensely felt. Brilliant novel. But also dense, dark and depressing. I read Baldwin's Giovanni's Room last year. The two books are both semi-autobiographical and share intense storytelling and brilliantly drawn characters. But Giovanni's Room is a much easier read. I hated to come to the end of Giovanni's Room. But this book left me drained. Glad I read it and also glad it's over.

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the 2nd in a series from Charles K. Jordan. Both books are well crafted and engaging, with excellent world building. A bit frustrated with the # of loose ends left dangling by both books, but the action and story telling style have made up for it. If you want to take the plunge into an indie fantasy series, you could do a lot worse than this one.

Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Well done narrative nonfiction set during America’s Gilded Age, this book tells the story of four women who come to Sioux Falls, SD to seek divorce - Sioux Falls was then the nation’s easiest place to obtain a divorce. White resurrects a forgotten history as she tells the stories of the four women, and how they came to be seeking divorce. It’s a great summer read, as it’s a book you can easily pick up and read in sections and then come back to later without losing the thread.

Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

It's not often that an American history book is a complete surprise to me. I didn't think I'd ever heard of the DeVotos before picking this up, but they are important figures in America's history of public lands and national parks. Fascinating book. A must read for anyone interested in the history of the American West, conservation and governmental corruption in the 40s and 50s.

Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What a pleasure to read these 26 short stories for the first time. Saroyan writes with humor and emotion. He's known for his “free style” of writing, more concerned with conveying an idea, a tone, or an emotion than with the form a story takes. He may not be as often read today as Steinbeck or Hemingway, but he is a distinct early to mid-20th century American voice who is well worth your time.