Bookish – In Which I Offer Mini Reviews for Many Books

Nobody reads my book reviews anyway, so I figure it’s totally okay if I cheat and pile a bunch into one post. I just want a place to record everything I’ve read because otherwise I’ll pick up the same title five years from now and read it again, and seriously, there are too many books to read, I’m not reading something twice unless it changes my life in some way.

So here’s what I’ve been reading lately…

Crow Winter
Karen McBride
This novel about a young Anishinaabe woman returning to her family home after the death of her father reads more like a young adult novel with traditional characters from the spirit world coming to life to help her come to terms with her loss and save her community. Beautiful artwork throughout by the author. A good entry point for readers of colonial descent to learn more about First Nations culture.

The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father
Janny Scott
As much as British authors from Austen onwards might criticize the tradition of primogeniture — handing down an estate, in its totality to one person, usually the eldest male — the American alternative, to put the estate into a trust to avoid taxes, is often just as unfair and complicated. Scott traces her family history through their sumptuous  800-acre estate, built during the gilded age and home to four generations. In his later years her father dumps all of his own money into refurbishing a house that he doesn’t actually own and his daughter starts working through family documents to discover why. A journalist is real life, Scott explores her posh family origins, and discovers a thread of alcoholism that taints every bit of family history she uncovers.

Such a Fun Age
Kiley Reid
This is a mostly fun read with serious sub-themes that explores the relationship between white employers and Black employees, with some interesting twists and turns. Power balances, white saviour complex and race fetishism are all addressed as Emira and her boss Alix work through their own issues (Emira is in her mid-20s and can’t decide what to do with her life; Alix has built a business as an internet influencer who considers herself woke because she has Black people in her life). The plot arch is clunky and a bit distracted, but overall it does what a good novel should and leaves the reader thinking.

Watching You Without Me
Lynn Coady
Many readers on Goodreads seem to have issues with the slow burn of the plot in this story about a woman who returns home to Nova Scotia to take care of an older, mentally-disabled sister after their mother’s death. A care worker who seems helpful and friendly insinuates himself into their household as Karen tries to tie up loose ends and find a new home for her sister Kelli. This is one of those stories where you continually find yourself going “Oh noooo, don’t do THAT!” but then keep reading anyway to find out how much of a mess the character’s decision has wrought. There’s a weird sub-plot of Karen coming to terms with her relationships with both her dead mother and her sister, distorted by the creepy care worker. Let’s call this one a subtle thriller.

The Glittering Hour
Iona Grey
This dual-timeline story intertwines the era of the 1920s and Selina, one of the Bright Young People, with that of her daughter Alice, a decade or so later. Selina meets Lawrence, an artist and photographer, but the classic trope of early 20th century class systems mean they cannot be together. As Alice follows a scavenger hunt through her grandparent’s country estate, based on letters from Selina as she is traveling, Alice discovers who she is and why her family has never accepted her. My issues with this book revolved around the author ascribing a level of maturity to a child that might not be present, as well as some actions and plot points that are so out of character that they needed far more explanation to be realistic. Beautiful, descriptive prose, however, and the author does an excellent job of painting every aspect of the roaring 20s, including a whole lot of survivor’s guilt that coloured every character’s lives.

Infused: Adventures in Tea
Henrietta Lovell
Known as “The Rare Tea Lady” Henrietta Lovell has made tea, especially the rare stuff, her life’s work. This is not a book specifically about tea, although tea is certainly a prominent theme, but rather a memoir, in a series of essays, about Lovell’s adventures around the world, sourcing tea, developing blends, creating tea menus for fine dining restaurant and hotels such as Claridge’s and Noma, and how her business has affected her life. Includes tips on brewing, recipes for tea-based beverages, and tea ceremonies. A flowery writing style might not be everyone;s cup of tea but it seems to stem more from enthusiasm than pretension.

Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women
Lizzie Skurnick
What words do you use to describe women? Pretty? Shrill? Too — as in “too much”? Zaftig? Good? Exotic? Fat? A variety of writers explore these words, and more, discussing, for the most part, how these words are used against women, to keep us in our place. The diversity in authors means that not every reader is going to agree with every writer’s assessment, but enough of this hits home for most of us that this is worth reading. Some pieces are amusingly already dated, such as “Princess” by Carina Chocano who explores Megan Markle’s relationship with the royal family *before* she flipped the bird at the lot of them and went back to America, taking her husband and son with her. Some reviews considered this collection a bit militant, and others a bit “Feminism 101” basic, but it had enough different perspectives to be worth the effort.