Sunday, April 4, 2021

Library Loot Mini-Reviews: Two Recent (Good) Reads

 My reading time isn't my own at the moment "for reasons" and while it's been great for my reading output (deadlines!), I can't really say I've loved much of it.  It's mostly been tedium with a side dreadful. When I was a younger, baby blogger I used to blog about Every. Single. Book. I read.  No foolin'.  But now I'm too old and tired for such shenanigans.  That said, I do clock everything and write pithy reviews on GoodReads - so if you want to read all The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - be sure to follow me over there.

It's been weeks since I've blogged though, so I've decided I need to put something up here - which means y'all are getting two pithy, mini-reviews for books I actually have enjoyed in recent memory.  Neither of them romance.  OK, one of them is. Sorta, kinda.  Let's lead off with that one shall we?

The Switch
by Beth O'Leary was the March pick for my monthly book club / book girlies Zoom chat.  Not everybody was enthralled with it, and I'm pretty sure it was a DNF for one person - but I liked it!  And this being my blog, we all know I'm right 😜

Leena Cotton is an overachiever who has not dealt with her younger sister's untimely death from cancer some months earlier. This ends up manifesting itself into the mother of all panic attacks during a work prestation with a client (which she inevitably blows).  There's nothing for it. Her boss is ordering her on a two-month, paid sabbatical. Where do I find these bosses who offer up paid sabbaticals?  Oh yeah, I work in the public sector. Stupid Wendy - make better choices in your next life.

Anyway, Leena's grandmother Eileen is nearly 80 and her husband has left her for a dance instructor.  It wasn't a happy union, but it's still a blow - coupled with the loss of her granddaughter and her daughter (Leena's Mom) unraveling - it's a lot.  What follows is Leena and Eileen deciding to swap lives - Eileen will live in Leena's trendy London flat with her roommates, Leena will move into her grandmother's country cottage.  And when I say swap lives?  I mean everything. They both end up undertaking each others' various projects.

This is, quite firmly, in women's fiction.  Oh sure, you get two romances, and two happy endings (yes, Grandma gets a romance and HEA!!!!) but it's not the focus of the story. It's about grief, strained family dynamics, and in Leena's case, a romantic relationship that isn't as great as it appears.  That's actually my one solid quibble about this story - the pacing of the Leena's boyfriend plot drags out too long.  It's obvious she's not going to end up with this guy, but he hangs around for entirely too long.  That said, it was warm, cozy with just the right amount of angst to keep me interested. I liked it quite a bit.

Final Grade = B

I heard about Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson several months before it was published, and thinking "Hey, that's probably going to be interesting..." I recommended the audiobook edition to my library and when they ordered it I found myself on the holds list.  It came in for me right away, but the timing was off so I suspended the hold so others could enjoy. Well I finally checked it out and wrapped it up this weekend and OMG, this book is a triumph - I'm so glad Tyson finally decided to put her life on paper.

Tyson pretty much covers it all, from her childhood in New York City, her complicated relationship with both her parents, the birth of her daughter (her only child), her faith, her relationship with Miles Davis, her modelling and acting careers, and her multitude of friendships (oh man, the people she counted as friends!).

My only real quibble in this story was Bill Cosby. Tyson was friends with both Bill and Camille (his wife). I mean, she HAD to put them in the book - her and Miles got married at the Cosby home!  But she completely skips over Bill's fall from grace, arrest and conviction.  Her only reference to it is a mention of "he never laid a hand on me."  That's it.  Look, I get it - it's hard to talk about friends who turn out to be repugnant human beings, but the lack of talking about Cosby's crimes, juxtaposed against Tyson's opinions on feminism and civil rights is....something. It's not one elephant in the book, it's a whole herd. 

Also, while it didn't bother me, Tyson believed very firmly that she had a sixth sense and she had a very strong sense of faith. Many of the moments and milestones in her life she attributed to one, the other or both. Depending on what type of person you are Dear Reader, you'll either be like me (fine with it) or think it's pure hokum.  

Other than the Cosby thing, I loved this and was riveted by the audiobook.  Viola Davis' forward was poorly recorded (did they record it in an empty, cavernous warehouse?) and while it's a shame Tyson only reads the first chapter, primary narrator Robin Miles knocks this one out of the park.  If she's not nominated for an Audie next year we need to light everything on fire.

Final Grade = A


Jen Twimom said...

Like you, I don't necessarily blog every book I read, but I do write a review on Goodreads. I keep a list so if I run into blogging setbacks, I can pull reviews from GR and set up on the blog.

Thanks for your insight and review of Tyson's book, I've added it to my Audible wish list. My goal is to listen to more non-fiction this year (I listen to about 1 per year), so this moves to the top of the list.

azteclady said...

You may not have loved many of your recent reads, but I think these two would make up for a whole lot of duds!

Wendy said...

Jen: I love audiobooks for nonfiction! Biography/Memoir are my go-tos, but sometimes I'll pick up true crime.

AL: They did! I was pleasantly surprised by The Switch, and truly, the Tyson memoir is wonderful. I think it's my first 5-Star read of the year....

Kristie (J) said...

I was always a big fan of Cicely Tyson and was sad when I heard of her passing. I had no idea though she was as old as she was.

Wendy said...

KristieJ: She talks about that in the book - early in her career she was encouraged (I can't remember by who - an agent maybe?) to fudge her true age. She didn't start modelling or acting until she was well into her 30s (IIRC) and the logic was "You're going to have a hard enough time getting jobs as a Black woman, if people know how old you are they're going to dismiss you out of hand even though you look much younger."