I am amazed how quickly summer came and went and yet still parts crawled by. As I am still dealing with things which started earlier this summer, I can’t help but think that all the reading and listening I have been doing has helped time to march along. Certainly my book club selections have opened whole new worlds to me for which I am grateful to escape into as do my audiobook selections. September was a month filled with some wonderful selections, all very different from the next!
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The influences of H.G. Wells, Agatha Christie, and the writers of Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, can be seen throughout Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The English countryside setting is straight out of a Hercule Poirot mystery. Blackheath is the remote country estate of the wealthy Hardcastle family, who are throwing a party for their daughter, Evelyn, on the anniversary of their son’s murder. Family can be so twisted. The guests that have all been summoned were also present all those years ago, the night of the murder, except one. One guest, the narrator/protagonist, decided to come to Blackheath because he wanted to be there. This complex novel is further complicated by deliberately confusing the protagonist from the beginning.
Are people whom they appear to be? A question for the ages, and it’s presented rather cleverly. There is a large cast of characters to keep straight as we figure out the mystery. This gets tricky since we learn about many of them as the protagonist jumps from body to body, day by day. Each time he jumps, he has no recollection of who he is and what he learned about the murder when he was in the other bodies. So, there is a lot to keep straight.
Can people change given a chance to relive their mistakes? Would they repeat them, ever learn from them? Like the classic 1983 comedy Groundhog Day, Turton has turned this question into a darker story at Blackheath. An essential element of the story which some might find triggering is suicide.
Overall, I liked the book; but being so confused for so long throughout made following along challenging. The audiobook is 17 hours and 4 minutes long and narrated by James Cameron Stewart.
Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to expect when my August Literati book from Cheryl Stray’s Wild Reads arrived last month. Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow sounded like a potentially scary memoir. In ways, Chow was haunted by images of her mother’s “taxidermic self,” picturing what her mother would be doing in situations after her death from cancer. They shared a fascination with death – a subject that many find uncomfortable to discuss, but Chow discussed freely with her mother. Like many memoirs, she talks about family, loss, love, and grief, but the book goes far beyond exploring the process of her loss and grief. The mother-daughter initial focus of the story is just part of the larger story.
I was pleasantly surprised to find this book to be an intimate and poignant narrative about three generations of Chow’s Chinese American family and how we are not just affected by death but how we can grow from it. Chow delves into her family’s history through her father’s plight to reunite the remains of his parents. Her extensive research of political and historical events shows how they directly altered the lives of her ancestors and millions of Chinese. She touches upon her struggle with trying to learn Cantonese, the language of her ancestors and mother, and how essential pieces are lost in assimilating with the American culture. She shares the rituals she learned from her mother as a child, not realizing their importance until later in life(like many of us). She uses humor effectively in demonstrating the absurdities life will throw at you in the worst of times. Her story is raw in places, making you feel as if you are reading her diary, as Chow processes her grief as she writes.
A great read and relatable in many ways, which surprised me a bit. I am a second-generation Greek American struggling to learn Greek via an app. I know and have seen how as time ticks by, cultural traditions are lost or fade and how the yearning to be able to speak the language of your grandparents makes you feel closer to them. Even if you never met them. Chow’s memoir Seeing Ghosts pays homage to her ancestors and her culture. At the very core, this book is about family and the relationships within a family, a story that almost everyone can relate to on some level.
Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I started listening to the Random House Audio version of Carrie Soto is Back on the last day of the 2022 US Open. Serena William, age 40, had played and lost her final match before retiring, and 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz from Spain had just won the men’s singles title. I had forgotten how thrilling it is to witness athletes play at such a high and admirable level of physical skill and mental acuity.
Taylor Jenkins Reid captures the excitement of the rhythm of the game, the highs, the lows, the give and take. She shows how the best players can defeat themselves on the court if they get too much into their own heads. But Carrie Soto is Back goes well beyond being a story about tennis or the mindset of an aging athlete coming out of retirement. It’s a story about commitment, love, grief, and personal growth.
As I stated earlier, I listened to the audiobook, which had a cast of narrators – twelve exactly. Several narrators are the tennis commentators discussing the matches, which helps move the narration along. I couldn’t help but think about the 2004 film Wimbledon with Kirstin Dunst and Paul Bettany – which I loved – and the first part of the book Carrie Soto reminded me of. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a tennis fan for sure, but you don’t have to know or understand tennis to enjoy a great story about a family.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you enjoy historical fiction, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
If you enjoy words and are interested in their history, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
If you enjoy reading stories with good character development, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
If you enjoy reading stories about family, read The Dictionary of Lost Words.
And if you enjoy reading stories about love, I highly recommend reading The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Pip William wrote a masterpiece. Her thorough research about the times surrounding the period in which the words were compiled and published in the first edition of the Oxford-English Dictionary allowed Williams to create a vivid and accurate historical backdrop for the reader to follow Esme grow up in an ever-changing world. I enjoyed every moment of this book and was delighted with how Williams focused on certain provocative words to make a point about how words can be ‘lost’ depending on who oversees the editing. Narrator Pippa Bennett-Warner does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life.
View all my reviews
I am currently 51 books into my goal of 58 books for this reads Goodreads Reading Challenge. Now that I have completed 88% of my goal with still ninety-one days left of 2022, I am excited to have the luxury of some time in case I opt to pick one of the longer books on my TBR list. There are some of the classics which I would like to listen to such as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. But at 57 hours and 48 minutes and 52 hours, 41 minutes respectively these selections make Dicken’s David Copperfield or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina at 36 hours, 30 minutes and 35 hours, 35 minutes look more doable. The longest book I have listened to so far is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara at 32 hours, 51 minutes; so I know I could get through something so long, as long as it’s a good story.
Happy reading and listening everyone!
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”