Sunday, May 03, 2020

April Roundup

April was a tough month on so many fronts, but at least I read some great books!

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by Erik Larson - I like Larson's books and have read most of them and this is one of the best. Focus is on the Churchill family and the prime minister's staff. Larson's primary sources were the diaries of Churchill's youngest daughters, Mary, and one of his private secretaries, John Colville. While most of the narrative is on the British experience, it was interesting to read about the German perspective of the same events. Absolutely powerful book - one of the best of 2020 for me.

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson - the first in Atkinson's Jackson Brodie mysteries, I absolutely loved this book. Atkinson is a very literary writer and this was a very literary mystery - she did a superb job of telling 4-5 different stories simultaneously, while also introducing her main character and giving us his back story. Eager to read the rest in this series.

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo - this is part of my Maine reading project for 2020, and was a very interesting story about a depressing little town in Maine. The mill has closed, no jobs or prospects of jobs, and the main character Miles is struggling with family, his past, his faith, and his job. Nevertheless, I thought it a compelling novel, and I plan to read more of Russo. Sadly, as expected, our trip to Maine this summer is cancelled, but I am enjoying digging into the fiction of the region.

Girl, Woman, Other, by Evaristo Bernardine - just finished this incredible book last night, and recommend it to anyone who wants to get a different view of Britain than the land served up by most of the novels I read. This is a collection of short stories about women of color in Britain whose lives intersect in the most interesting ways. This was one of the Tournament of Books contenders in 2020, making it to the quarter finals. I had read a few reviews that made it intriguing to me, and I thought it powerful, well-written and inventive, and broadened my horizons considerably.

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard - I picked this up on impulse and wasn't disappointed. A novel about the women who worked at the Oak Ridge, TN factories that processed the plutonium used in the Manhattan Project (aka the atomic bomb). A fascinating story about race, naivete, patriotism, and ambition. I liked the main character, June, and thought her coming of age story was interesting and believable.

Hope you are all staying well and healthy, practicing social distancing, and finding comfort and strength or whatever you need from the reading you are able to do.


  1. Glad you at least had some good books to read this month. The only one of these I've read is The Atomic City Girls, which I liked. The others' look really good, too. :)

  2. An excellent reading month, for sure! I haven't been reading much nonfiction lately, but when I get back to it The Splendid and the Vile is near the top of my list.

    Empire Falls was my introduction to Richard Russo many years ago. I've read nearly all of his books now and loved every one. Sorry about your trip to Maine :(

    I was thinking I'd read The Atomic City Girls, but it was actually the nonfiction Girls of Atomic City. Could be an interesting fiction/nonfiction pairing. Hope you May is filled with more wonderful books!

  3. I loved The Splendid and the Vile! I read Case Histories years ago and later watched the television series which I really enjoyed. Richard Russo is always a pleasure.

  4. An interesting group of books. I want to read several of them myself. I have not read Erik Larson at all, but I need to get to him. I want to read a general biography of Churchill before I read The Splendid and the Vile.

    Stay safe.

  5. I have read 2 of these: Empire Falls and Case Histories ... but it's been a long while. They were good. I'm interested in the Churchill book ... but I need to be in the right headspace ... for a long history read so I will wait a bit. Glad you liked it a lot!

  6. All these books sound really interesting. Thanks for the reviews. I'll keep a look out for them.

  7. I plan to read Empire Falls soon too. Even though I can download e-books from the library and of course, buy on-line, I am using this shelter in place order as an exercise to read books I already own and that was one I recently pulled off the shelf. It will be my first Russo.

    I don't know how you feel about Elizabeth Strout but I just finished Abide With Me from her and it is also set in Maine. I really liked it. Very quiet and pretty sad though hopeful ultimately.

    I am glad you enjoyed Case Histories. I love the Brodie series and they just get better and better I think. Atkinson is an amazing plotter. My favorite is When Will There Be Good News but all are really good.

  8. My book group is reading The Splendid and the Vile this month. I was kind of hoping my library would open in time for me to grab it (I have been on the waiting list since February, I think) but may buy it this weekend. Case Histories is a weird but fabulous book. I could not get into it the first time or two I tried it, despite the great reviews, but then one day I saw the CD version at the library and tried that instead. I was captivated! It is absolutely amazing how she pulls all her storylines together. I like the Jackson Brodie books better than her other ones.

    I want to read The Atomic City Girls too.

  9. The Splendid and the Vile wound up being one of my favorite books of the year, and a friend in my book group asked me recently if it was that much better than other books we have read or if we are zoomed out. I think I liked it especially as a complement to Citizens of London by Lynne Olson, which I highly recommend (the audio is also excellent), also set during WWII London but from the American perspective. I did occasionally think Larson explained things anyone would know but I suppose that is harmless.