Wait a minute—is May over? I’m pretty sure I was cheated out of a week. Or maybe it’s just that the bad news is coming at a faster pace, whether it’s the increasing attack on women’s rights or the unrelenting uptick in gun violence. I veer between apathy and a rage that wants to know: why doesn’t the government apply the same attention and rigor to young men buying guns as they do to regulating women bodies? Parental permission if under 21. 48 hour waiting period. Only one gun store per state. Extended travel and overnight stay in another city or state, missing work, in order to buy gun. A doctor’s note proving understanding of actions. Walk through a crowd of people calling him murderer, begging him not to buy a gun, before going into store.
I know this is a book blog, but America is sliding backwards at a frightening pace. If you think that’s a good thing then these are happy times for you and only likely to get better. If not, you’ll understand why I sometimes I share my personal opinions.
This is all to say that my reading has been impacted by recent events. My mind skitters and can’t lock onto anything or I choose foolishly and feel overwhelmed. Then I struck gold with novels infused with humor that didn’t hurt my brain. Here are some of the May books that worked and didn’t work for me.
The premise of Take My Hand is a powerful one—the coerced sterilization of two young Black girls in Alabama in the 1970s and one Black nurse’s determination to get justice for their trauma. Civil Townsend is a new nurse at a clinic that offers family planning services to the poor of Montgomery. The girls are her clients and live in squalor with their father and grandmother. She becomes personally involved in the family’s life and begins to question the services the agency is actually providing.
The novel is a shocking look at the very real truth of what was happening to poor Black women in federally funded health clinics. Namely, the administration of untested birth control options and the involuntary sterilization of underage girls. I recommend this for the subject and Valdez’s writing, but had two issues that affected my overall rating. The novel starts fast, but then lags so much in the middle it was hard to stay engaged. In the same way, Civil’s story and motivations are a bit confusing. I never felt I understood her.
Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close: Review to follow
Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier: Review to follow
For fast, page-turning reading pick up The Violin Conspiracy. A young Black musician is a rising star in the classical music world. He’s also surrounded by controversy in that he owns a $10 million dollar Stradivarius. As he’s preparing for the Olympics of music, the Tchaikovsky Competition, the violin disappears. The mystery is the novel’s core, but the emotion lies in Ray’s journey. All of the barriers to his success, from the racism against him to the avarice from his own family are the elements that stand out. My rating is lower because the writing is basic. It’s the story that will pull you in.
The Year of the Horses by Courtney Maum: Review to follow
The Golden State Killer was one of the most notorious criminals in CA history. Unmasked is by Paul Holes, the detective who finally caught him. The true crime aspects of this memoir are compelling, but they’re offset by Holes’ personal details which I found creepy and off-putting. While he has self-awareness about the impact of his life’s work on his personal life and health, he has some almost disturbing blind spots. He complains to his first wife that he needs more affection and when she replies that she can’t because he’s changed, he says, “This is who I am. I became who I had to be to win you, and then I couldn’t keep up the facade anymore.” Isn’t that the definition of a sociopath? Creating a fake persona to lure in a victim? Then in therapy he claims he wants a soulmate—someone to do things with and share life. Sounds good until the therapist rightly points out that he works all the time and only wants to talk about his cases.
These details in his own words, plus a certain grandiosity, unnerved me. Good reading, not great and the title feels accurate, but maybe not in the way the author intended.
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: Charming time travel novel about a father and daughter. Review to follow
Finding Freedom is a memoir of one woman’s journey to finding herself through her cooking. Erin French has spent her whole life in kitchens. First, at her father’s diner when she is a little girl. A demanding unpleasant man who never shows appreciation, much less love, he’s the blueprint for relationships in her life. When an unexpected pregnancy upends her plans for college, she moves back home and starts baking for the diner and then strikes out on her own, opening a restaurant in Freedom, Maine.
This is the kind of story that pulls you in completely. Erin’s life is one filled with difficulties, but she continues to fight, even when it’s against herself and her addictions. Her life is small in its sphere, but global in its relatability. I was touched by her story and her descriptions of food are hunger inducing. My only caveat- if you choose audio, she narrates and is incredibly soft-spoken.
What did you read in May? Share your thoughts, please!
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