December 21, 2020

Maureen’s Year End Wrap Up

Another fabulous year of reading!! So many great books were published in 2020 and boy, did we need them. Since many of my favorites are global favorites or on other people’s lists (thanks a lot, Obama!) I’m going to highlight a few lesser known books that made an impression on me this year.

Purple Lotus

by Veena Rao

Tara moves to the American South three years after her arranged marriage to tech executive Sanjay. Ignored and lonely, Tara finds herself regressing back to childhood memories that have scarred her for life. When she was eight, her parents had left her behind with her aging grandparents and a schizophrenic uncle in Mangalore, while taking her baby brother with them to make a new life for the family in Dubai.
Tara’s memories of abandonment and isolation mirror her present life of loneliness and escalating abuse at the hands of her husband. She accepts the help of kind-hearted American strangers to fight Sanjay, only to be pressured by her patriarchal family to make peace with her circumstances. Then, in a moment of truth, she discovers the importance of self-worth—a revelation that gives her the courage to break free, gently rebuild her life, and even risk being shunned by her community when she marries her childhood love, Cyrus Saldanha.
Life with Cyrus is beautiful, until old fears come knocking. Ultimately, Tara must face these fears to save her relationship with Cyrus—and to confront the victim-shaming society she was raised within.
Intimate and deeply moving, Purple Lotus is the story of one woman’s ascension from the dark depths of desolation toward the light of freedom.

My Thoughts: Tara is caught between the confines and expectations of family and society and her desire to find her own happiness in the world. Her journey of self-discovery and independence is compelling and engaging. I felt for her along this journey. It’s fascinating to learn about Indian culture and see how it conflicts with the American lifestyle and values. One can see why a woman from India would be torn between the two worlds. This book has stayed with me for months. It’s a gem.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person

by Frederick Joseph

From the perspective of the friend everyone should have, Frederick Joseph offers an essential read for white people who want to be better about race—and people of color who long to see their experiences validated. Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter includes the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Tarell Alvin McCraney, screenwriter of Moonlight; April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite; Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give; and eleven others. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many of us need. Back matter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.

My Thoughts: This is one best books I’ve read on race and anti-racism this year. Mr Joseph is an engaging and empathetic writer. He explains issues from white supremacy to microaggressions clearly and with concrete examples. I especially loved the encyclopaedia in the back. The message is powerful and heartfelt. The interviews with prominent figures throughout are enlightening. I foresee rereading this many times.

Rules for Being a Girl

by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno

It starts before you can even remember: You learn the rules for being a girl. . . .
Marin has always been good at navigating these unspoken guidelines. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright―and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.
But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?
When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an ax to grind.
But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules.

My Thoughts: Marin is on track to get everything she’s ever worked for…until she is derailed. The result is her recognition of casual sexism, double standards, and inequality between boys and girls. Hits just the right tone for a YA book about serious issues. Not too confrontational but definitely illuminates the issues dealt with. I was immersed in Marin’s world, unabashedly privileged, but still empathized with her problems. A great read for pre- and young teens.

Brooms Away

by D.A. Kelly

Fun, wacky with spit-your-drink laugh-out-loud moments, Brooms Away will have you up way past your bedtime.
An enchanted world. A missing sister. And suspects with dangerous supernatural abilities around every corner.  
When Arabella Black is swept away to a fantastic and faraway land by her cat, who she thought was an everyday Maine coon, she discovers everything she knew about her life was a lie. The biggest lie of all: she’s not human. Not even close. And to top that off, her sister is missing, her family home is threatened and a mysterious shapeshifter is following her. So what’s a half-banshee, half-dryad to do, but get her sleuth on.

My Thoughts: To be honest, I am not a big magic lover when it comes to cozy mysteries. When I picked up this ARC, I didn’t realise it was a paranormal cozy so I wasn’t expecting to like it too much. Boy, was I wrong! I loved it and read it in one day. This is a well-written and imaginative story that’s part Harry Potter magic and part Lord of the Rings quest. I was transported from the very beginning. Arabella is a delightful character. Her three “friends” are loveable and I was worried for them anytime they were in danger. Then I reminded myself it was a book. That’s the mark of gifted storytelling and empathetic writing. I particularly enjoyed the Wizard of Oz references. I’m looking forward to future adventures!

Dear Edward

by Ann Napolitano

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.
Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery–one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

My Thoughts: This is one that’s hard to put down. It is beautifully written. The descriptions of the people at the gate felt like exactly what I’m thinking as I size up my fellow passengers before a flight. All of the emotions are captured and conveyed so well. It’s heart-breaking yet uplifting and a true delight.

I hope you found something new to add to your TBR list. Happy 2021!! Here’s to another year of great reading!!

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