Last Batch of Book Reviews for 2021

At least twice a year, sometimes more, I review the books I’ve read. My last such post was in October of this year. Here is the link to that blog if you are interested. As I look over the list of the other books I read, there were some I absolutely loved and others that were forgettable. It’s probably easiest to cover the ones I loved first.

  1. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This is a book that should be read by any parent of a teen or college student. Its premise is based on some magic that allows the central character to experience different versions of their life if different decisions had been made. Can’t we all relate to that? What if I had done this or that? Would things have turned out differently? The main character in The Midnight Library gets to experience just that. We all often start down a road, thinking it is the right path, and somewhere along the way, realize it’s not a great fit. This happened to me in the field of nursing. I should have gone to college to be a teacher. It is who I am. Life provides opportunities to change paths. This is was I saw the book The MIdnight Library being about and why parents of teens and early college students should read it. My rating is 5/5 stars.
  2. The Lost Apothecary by Sara Penner was also a favorite book from my reading list this year. It was somewhat more predictable than The Midnight Library but still very, very enjoyable. The character development is good and you feel like you’re on an adventure with the main character as she becomes an amateur detective who investigates the past. I also rated this 5/5 stars.
  3. The Orphan House by Ann Bennett was a favorite read as well. Again the author has great character development and it is a well-written story. There are a few twists that take time for the reader to figure out but it is possible to do before the end of the story if you like to second guess the ending. I would definitely recommend this book that delves into the past of a prominent structure and the people who lived in a small town. I enjoyed it very much. My rating is 5/5 stars.
  4. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead cannot be called an enjoyable read but it is an informative one. This was the second of Whitehead’s books that I read. He is an adept storyteller and gifted writer of social atrocities. The story is disturbing, and the end especially bothered me. But, that is all I will tell you. I would recommend you read this novel by Whitehead. He sheds an unpleasant light on our collective past that we all need to come to terms with. My rating is 5/5 stars.
  5. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarity. I read this book in early December. I was looking for a “light read” having read many disturbing and heavy novels that induced an uncomfortable internal dialog about what is right and wrong and why. So, after reading Killers of the Flower Moon, a book reviewed in October, and followed by reading Braiding Sweetgrass (reviewed below) I needed something lighter, and something that did not reference social injustices that were real or perceived to be real by the authors of those books. Moriarity’s book did the trick. It was pure ficiton, not historical fiction. And, it was an enjoyable story. I ate it up. Nine strangers on an upscale health resort retreat? What could go wrong?! As it turns out, a lot! Read this novel and enjoy the ride! My rating is 4.5/5 stars.
  6. As I mentioned, there were some less memorable books on my list. These include two by Ruth Ware. The Death of Mrs. Westaway and One by One (7) were good reads. I enjoy Ware’s writing and storytelling. I give them both 4/5 stars. Unfortunately, months later, it is hard for me to recall much of either story. Butterflies in November (8) was a book I snatched off the public library shelves because its title drew me in. I had difficulty with it because of some of the character names and places. The novel is written by an Icelandic author, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, and the setting is Iceland. It wasn’t a bad story but an unusual read for me. Rating 3/5 stars. The Identicals (9) by Elin Hilderbrand was a book that I read as the author came with recommendations from my mother. Let’s just say I finished the book did not really enjoy it. 3/5 stars. The story was just okay, not gripping enough for my taste. I have not reached for anything else by this author (Hildebrand) and that tells me a lot. It’s what I would call a “beach read.” Murder on the Left Bank (10) by Cara Black was another novel that I picked off the library shelves without first looking up the title on Goodreads or receiving a recommendation from other readers I know. It was just okay – again – I cannot recall being in love with the story, but rather wishing I’d get to the end of the story. My rating? Another 3/5 stars.

11. I enjoyed The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, a book I read about on Goodreads. prior to borrowing it from the library. The setting, as you might guess, is Paris but the story takes place during WWII. It is historical fiction and I really enjoyed learning some new facts about this period in time. The story was an easy read and flowed well with excellent character development. Can you imagine a time when libraries were shuttered? I know you can – this has happened recently with the COVID pandemic. But, at least, today we have the digital means to still access texts. The central character is someone you’ll fall in love with if you love books. She fights to keep the library alive and well during a tumultuous time. My rating is 4.5/5.

12. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I read this book late this fall. I knew that as an environmental educator, I should read it. Hmmm. I am not sure what to say. I didn’t love it. I agree with the many others that reported on Goodreads that they felt it was too long. I also have a hard time with the fact the author wants us to acknowledge her beliefs while she fails to acknowledge the beliefs of others. She tells a story near the beginning of the book about being interviewed to go to college and get a degree in botany. The professor does not care for her story about plants found together in nature. He tells her she should be a poet, not a botanist. She attributes this retort to her being from an indigenous people and the professor not having the same belief system about humans and the earth. My problem with this is that it might not be that she’s indigenous at all. It’s just that he misunderstands her point of view. Fresh out of college, my husband, a white young man who got a bachelor’s degree in engineering applied to medical school. He had a similar experience with the professor not giving credence to his experience and new desire to be a doctor – after all, he had not come from a family of doctors, nor had he taken any “pre-med” courses in college or expressed interest in medicine prior to his application to medical school. He was not understood or welcomed by the professor either. What is the difference between these two stories? I fail to see one. It was at this point, early in the book, the author of Braiding Sweetgrass first lost me. I struggled to finish the book. It was too fluffy and repetitive for my taste.

I also feel that those that revere this book have not done as much reading in environmental literature as some. Naturally, I was required to take an environmental history course and read the views of many pioneers of environmental disciplines such as conservation, restoration, and even transcendentalism. Therefore, the words Kimmerer wrote resonated loudly with those new to this type of writing because they had never heard them before.

In addition, the issue with lead and other environmental pollutants is not unfamiliar due to my health care background. Leaded paint and windows were prevalent in Buffalo, New York where early in my career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I regularly tested for and found lead poisoning in children. Love Canal also casts a long dark shadow, just as the polluted shadow was cast on the lake the author uses as an example. Her story, is sadly relatable for many, even without being of indigenous ancestry.

Like others, I wish this book was shorter, more concise, and more accepting of the belief systems of others. While I harbor these criticisms, I do agree with Robyn Wall Kimmerer that we need to work to become more one with the land and limit our abuse of our only home – the earth. Sharing stories about how we got in this predicament is one way to raise awareness. Furthermore, she does not address how we can “hook” young people to love our earth and work to save it. This has always been my personal focus. Although I did not love this book (rating 3.5/5), I do think it should be read.

It was with Braiding Sweetgrass that I met my reading goal of 24 books for 2021. But, I continued to read and finished 26 books in total. There are two more that I’ve started as well, but I doubt I’ll finish either before 2022 arrives.

As before, I’ve linked the titles of the books to either Goodreads or Amazon. I do not have affiliate links so I do not profit from your purchase of any of these titles. What will I read in 2022? I do not know! What do you suggest?

Happy Reading! Happy New Year!

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