Sarah's August 2022 Wrap-Up

Sarah's August 2022 Wrap-Up

Welcome to the first edition of my monthly wrap-up! Instead of doing a long, dedicated review to each book I finish over the course of the month, I think it would be more concise and sustainable for me to do a little month-end wrap up to talk about my feelings. I know that some of these books may be listed for sale on the website, but I want to keep my reviews honest. We may not have the same taste in books and I encourage you to check them out regardless!

With that being said, I read six books this month. Let's get into it!

1. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine - Lindsey Fitzharris - ⬤⬤⬤⬤〇

Synopsis: In The Butchering Art, the historian Lindsey Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery on the eve of profound transformation. She conjures up early operating theaters--no place for the squeamish--and surgeons, working before anesthesia, who were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These medical pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than their patients' afflictions, and they were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn't have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the deadly riddle and change the course of history.

My Review:  I've had this book on my shelf for a while and tired to pick it up a couple times to no avail. I'm glad I made it through this go-around! This is a fascinating read about the history of antiseptic in medicine, which is a microhistory I was completely unfamiliar with prior to reading. I always find retrospectives interesting and often shocking, knowing what we do in the modern age; this book is no exception. I got a little queasy at times with some of the descriptions (I've never dealt with medical procedural explanations well), but it really drove home how far we've come in the field.

I do think the book was a little slow at times, but ultimately worth it for the knowledge and intriguing story.

Also, there aren't many times where I compliment the cover of a book, but this one ties in to references in the story SO WELL! It felt like a little twist when it was mentioned in the text and I got a great kick out of it.

2. Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators - Ronan Farrow - ⬤⬤⬤⬤〇

Synopsis: In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood's most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained - until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond.

My Review:  I love listening to Audible on my commute in to work and this was my most recent pick. I love when authors narrate their own works and this was no exception; Ronan Farrow does a great job telling his story. There was so much more to this case than I could have imagined and even though Ronan tells the story in an objective way, I yelled out loud at what was happening while I was driving multiple times. This story is infuriating but so important and I would highly recommend it to everyone. The end sort of felt like it got off track when Farrow started covering other catch and kill stories besides the Weinstein case, but I understand why they were included. I think the book would have felt a little leaner without the added examples, but I appreciated them nonetheless.

3. Harrow Lake - Kat Ellis - ⬤⬤〇〇〇

Synopsis: Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker--she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she's quickly packed off to live with a grandmother she's never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father's most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map--and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away. And there's someone--or some thing--stalking her every move.

My Review:  I'm disappointed because this was a book with an interesting premise and great small-town horror atmosphere with a main character that I actively wanted to die. I absolutely cannot stand stupid main characters who lack basic common sense and decision making skills. Lola's thoughts are incredibly childish and repetitive, she actively alienates herself from those who want to befriend and help her, her relationship with her father is strange yet underdeveloped, and she constantly puts herself in danger against her better judgement.

I also love a good ambiguous, smart ending, but this one was a little too hasty and unexplained for it to be considered clever. Between Mary Ann, what actually happened to the missing girls, the real explanation of Mister Jitters...it's all too open. Which is a bummer, because the idea of Mister Jitters is really creepy and intriguing, despite the kinda dumb name. All in all, this book took a good idea and good beginning and drove it into the ground.

4. The School for Good Mothers - Jessamine Chan - ⬤⬤⬤〇〇

Synopsis: Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough. Until Frida has a very bad day.

 

The state has its eye on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgement, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion. Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

My Review:  I'm not entirely sure how to feel about this one. The premise was interesting and I think that Chan brings up some interesting points and starts conversations about how mothers are scrutinized and must be 'perfect' in every capacity. The hyperbole she employs is infuriating in a good way and I think this book did the job it came to do in making me frustrated and mad and sympathetic towards the mothers and Frida. This book also felt like it was about 50 pages too long, which is saying something for a novel that's only around 325 pages. The middle was repetitive and dragged, but maybe that was the point.

Also didn't really like the ending to this one, at all. I understand it and I'm not sure what a better choice would have been, but it felt off and somewhat soured the story for me. Not bad by any means, but not one that's going to crack my 'best of' lists in any year.

5. The Kitchen Front - Jennifer Ryan - ⬤⬤⬤◐〇

Synopsis: Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest--and the grand prize is a job as the program's first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it's a chance to pay off her husband's debts and keep a roof over her children's heads. For a kitchen maid, it's a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it's a chance to escape her wealthy husband's increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it's a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

My Review: I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book. I thought the characters were intriguing and complex, and I found myself rooting for all of them in different ways even if I didn't really like them. I thought the competition was an interesting idea and enjoyed that The Kitchen Front was actually a real WWII radio show. I enjoyed the writing and I found great joy in the often-strange recipes at the end of almost every chapter. I'm not one for war-era historical fiction but this is definitely an exception.

And then the ending sort of let me down. Everyone seemed a little too eager to get together and toss years of trauma aside to sing kumbaya. I love a good happy ending and I wasn't reading this book to have my heart ripped out, but I almost felt like the ending wrapped things up too nicely. All in all, a fun read that I really enjoyed, but I was ready to give this book four and a half stars and the ending soured that for me.

6. The Turn of the Key - Ruth Ware - ⬤⬤⬤

Synopsis: When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

My Review: This novel would have been even better if stopped two pages before the ending. I really enjoyed the atmosphere Ware conjures and the underlying mystery behind everything. The first twist got me the most, but after that the book started to play into some thriller tropes that I'm not really a fan of. The last two pages are essentially a letter that explains the answer to the building mystery and it fell so flat for me. There were also a couple of plot points that went unresolved that I would have liked some closure to. Other than that, I enjoyed the unsettling feelings and suspense throughout the novel and felt like it was a good fall read.

That's all my reads for the month of August! Feel free to follow me on Goodreads to see my reviews as they appear during the month, or check back in at the end of September to see what I read!

 

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