April Book Reviews

This was a lighter reading month — both because it’s warm enough to begin frantically putting things in the ground and because I’m slowly wading through Crime and Punishment for Well-Read Mom. (Pippin’s Dog Man: Grime and Punishment is apparently not an acceptable substitute.)

Lemons by Melissa Savage

Synopsis: When nine-year-old Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mother dies, she leaves behind her city to move in with a grandfather she’s never met, in a small town in northern California obsessed with Bigfoot. Her mom named her Lemonade hoping she’d always be able to make lemonade out of the worst situations, but has Lemonade lost her ability to find the good as life hands her lemon after lemon?

My first-ever book recommendation from Pippin, who loved the audiobook. He says it’s the sort of book Yoda would assign Luke Skywalker because it talks about overcoming sorrow and anger. High praise!! As an adult reader, I found this book fine — the narrator was a little squeaky (think the little brunette in Garfunkel & Oates) and the story was fairly predictable for a jaundiced old reader like myself. But I thought its emphasis on emotional resiliency, its quirky cast, and its charming setting all made it a good story for Pip and a pleasant enough read for me.

The Modern Cottage Garden: A Fresh Approach to a Classic Style by Greg Loades

Mr. Loades, I guess I don’t like prairie perennials all that much, or at least, I find it hard to get excited about ornamental grasses. But I appreciate your emphasis on working with a gardener’s whims in accumulating plants, and your challenge to extend the season of interest for a garden with late bloomers and interesting foliage.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

I remember clearly reading this beside the pool the summer after Uganda, the summer we rented a pool house, back in 2009. I was 23, and couldn’t cook very well, although most of what I knew I’d picked up cooking seasonally (by force) in the Rwenzori Mountains the year before. At the time I was interested, but not especially motivated: adult life was already bewildering enough without adding in any additional strictures. Now it’s interesting to see how much I’ve learned and grown and changed in the interim, and to find myself with the margins to keep pushing more into Kingsolver’s direction. (And, bonus, we are now in the same growing zone!)

Takeaway Passage: “When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families’ tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.”

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry by Wendell Berry

I finally made it through this behemoth, narrated yet again by the lovely Nick Offerman. There was some overlap with the collection of Berry’s essays I listened to earlier in the pandemic, The Unsettling of America. I’m still not convinced audiobook is the way to go on these — I had to stop periodically because I’d realize I wasn’t retaining anything and try again weeks or months later, and these are definitely meaty ideas that would benefit from being marked up so I could wrestle with them and remember them better later.

The collection’s essays, in seeking to distill Berry’s ideas and writings across five decades, tackle local food economies; our relation to place; the human responsibility to care, both for our landscape and each other; and critique technology. Berry, as ever, resists clear conservative/liberal definitions and challenges the reader. This would be an excellent introduction to Berry and such fun for a reading group or book club to work through.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Synopsis: Vietnamese-American Khải Diep’s mom, refusing to accept that her son is successful, dutiful but a loner (who’s ever heard of autism in Vietnam?), takes matters into her own hands when she brings home Esme Tran. Esme, raised in desperate poverty in Vietnam, has her own reasons for accepting an offer to spend a summer in the US trying to romance an eligible — if resistant — bachelor. But what lessons do Khải and Esme need to learn about themselves before they’re ready to love another?

The same is true for romcom books as for romcom movies, I guess — while I claim to like the genre, I rarely find one that actually satisfies me. This one was raunchier than I’d hoped. I really, really don’t need a play-by-play of the male love interest’s arousal at any given moment. (I find Modern Mrs. Darcy’s distinction between open- and closed-door romance helpful; I’m closed-door all the way.) I was interested in the conversations about culture, poverty, privilege, and the agency of women, though, and enjoyed the relationship between Khải and his brother, Quan, who accepted how Khải was different while challenging his little brother when he needed it.

Takeaway Passage: “My heart works in a different way, but it’s yours. You’re my one.”

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