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Reviews of February and March 2020 books, including A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther, The Opposite of Fate by Alison McGhee, and The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin.
Reading in 2020 is looking up! I still haven’t quite found that 5-star, blow-me-away book that I’m always looking for, but the three new books that I read this past month were all excellent.
And what better time to curl up with a great new book than during a pandemic? I’m not making light of a serious situation: I mean it. Curl up, stay healthy, and read some books!
(Also: stop panic-buying soap and toilet paper. Also also: if you’re a reader, why weren’t you ALREADY hoarding soap? I wrote this post back in 2017: Reading Dystopian Books Has Made Me a Soap Hoarder. I guess I’m weirdly prepared.)
I’ve been thinking about how strange times like now can bring out some strong mood reading tendencies.
And if you’re still not sure what to read next, definitely check out some of the new books below, or try out my new quiz!
March 2020 Book Reviews
In the 1920s, author Eleanor Anstruther’s grandmother Enid suddenly walked away from her wealthy family–including three young children–to live in a Christian Science compound in England. Two years later, she began fighting to get custody of only one of the children. Anstruther weaves this tale of a family driven by legacy over love and a woman plagued by family expectations and depression.
Anstruther began this book to tell the story of her father’s childhood, and to search for sympathy for the grandmother who abandoned her children. The most sympathetic character here is the forgotten daughter, Finetta–neglected because she is only a girl and not an heir. Anstruther doesn’t find much sympathy for Enid, but this is a fascinating portrait of the motivations that drove wealthy families to maintain their legacies at any cost.
After 18 months in a coma, Mallie Williams has woken up, only to learn several shocking things: 1) She was attacked. 2) She was pregnant and had a child. 3) The world and family she knew is no longer the same.
As Mallie comes to grip with what happened to her and the decisions that were made on her behalf, she starts a journey to come back to herself. Her loved ones, as well, struggle to come to grips with the choices they made and the choices they couldn’t prevent.
This quiet, lyrical novel reminded me a lot of one of my favorites of last year, A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do. McGhee perfectly creates her small cast of characters who do their best and create family in an awful situation.
She treats the question of what should have been done about the pregnancy with sensitivity and realism. There’s no agenda here, only the aching questions of what should have been done and what is to be done, after choices have been made.
Georgia is a urologist in South Carolina, and she and her best friend, Jonah–a doctor at the same clinic–have become family. Just as she leaves the country for a conference, a crisis: the clinic bans Jonah’s transgender patients, and Jonah himself is in danger of losing his job because of his sexual orientation.
Based on the description, I expected a much darker story. Instead, I was treated to a delightful friendship, funny quips, and intelligent medical writing (Martin is a doctor). Serious topics and dark moments drive the plot, and Martin covers them with sensitivity, without overtaking the characters and the story of their lives and careers.
A bit of romance on Georgia’s trip adds some fun, but Jonah’s and her friendship is the real star here. Smart but light writing at its best.
Very Nice was a hard novel to pin down. It begins with a college student who sleeps with her professor. She then offers to care for his dog, and he becomes a guest at her mother’s house–where he falls in love with her mother.
Further connections are built between others, and ultimately this story is about terrible people behaving terribly, using each other for their own purposes.
The alternating narratives kept my interest on audio, but I suspect I may not have finished this if I read it in print.
I’ve fallen into a weakness for books about trees–I think I find their quiet resilience comforting in these tumultuous times. So I couldn’t resist this nonfiction book about the remarkable ways that trees communicate, form families, build communities, and sustain one another.
Wohlleben is a German forester with a true love of trees and he explains the science in an accessible, relatable way. My mind sometimes wanders when I listen to nonfiction books like this, but I still enjoyed learning about this secret world.
Did Not Finish
I had high hopes for this book about four women working in a 1950s department store–the description was reminiscent of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Unfortunately, I just didn’t care about any of the characters and nothing seemed to be happening, so I didn’t finish. Reviews seem on both ends of the spectrum–some love it and find it very charming while others were bored. If this looks interesting to you, check out Catherine’s review–she loved it and has excellent taste!