Spring is officially here, and with that comes the beautiful blooming trees in Northwest Arkansas (grab your Claritin). It also is a great time to review the books I’ve read since my last book review in September.
There are a lot of books, so I’ve highlighted just five of the more riveting reads, and the rest are listed below by genre. If you are interested in what I thought of the other books in the listing, check out my Goodreads account. I believe these are the best books of Spring 2023, and hopefully, one of these will make an excellent addition to your TBR list.
The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr
The main character, R.T. Baxter, is a Black sleeping car porter who is attending the wealthy white passengers on a four-night trip from Montreal to Vancouver in the 1920s. While the passengers are oblivious to only their needs, the sleep-deprived Baxter balances his dreams of leaving the grind to pursue his passion for dentistry. While cleaning one of the guest’s bathrooms, Baxter discovers a postcard that he cannot bring himself to dispose of and may cost him his job and future career aspirations.
Suzette Mayr brings to life unforeseen elements in The Sleeping Car Porter. If you read this book, you may be surprised and shocked at how the story unfolds. This isn’t just to capture the attention of the reader but is part of a larger story to blend present cultural movements with the past. Readers will be left in awe at how deeply Mayr describes historical events yet blends them into modern-day issues such as racism and inequality.
Readers will also love the depth Mayr brings to each of the numerous characters presented in the book, including Baxter. I was in love with Baxter’s hope for a better life besides the inhumane working conditions, low wages and poor treatment. Baxter never succumbs to cynicism or self-pity, remaining steadfastly committed to his dreams and optimistic about a brighter future. But for readers not interested in one character, Myers writes with equal beauty and grace to all the book’s characters, capturing both the ugliness and the splendor with equal mastery.
The book’s greatest triumph lies in its ability to deliver unexpected plot twists while maintaining an elegant writing style. What a fun discovery. Learn more about Suzette Mayr and her other six novels at https://www.suzettemayr.com/bio/.
Spare by Prince Harry
I won’t take too much time explaining the plot of this book since if you don’t know who Prince Harry is and what has been going on in his life, yet you still have access to the internet to read this review, I can’t help you.
I absolutely adored Harry’s telling of his childhood to his current adventure as a newlywed escaping the paparazzi. The story has all the ups and downs and nitty-gritty you are looking for in a tell-all book, and this is undoubtedly a big one. Some moments are funny, while others are terribly sad and difficult to handle. There are also some cringy moments as Prince Harry fumbles through maturity.
Surprisingly, Harry’s retelling of his military experiences was the most enriching for me. His bravery, courage, leadership, camaraderie and dedication to service sparks the beginning of his selfless attitude. Coupled with his service work to many charities, including those in Africa, showcase the heart he developed on his own, with the help of the servitude attitude passed down from his mother.
This is a book where you need to dispel your beliefs about the Harry and Megan saga and just enjoy a fantastic memoir written by someone who didn’t think he was a writer but brought me to tears in his epilogue. A true coming-of-age story, this book is one you can get lost in, especially if you listen to the audio version. I encourage you to listen to the audio because you hear the story straight from Harry, and a British accent always makes things sound more authoritative, right?
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
At 13, Yeonmi Park was starving in North Korea, and her family’s situation was hopeless. Living near the border of China, Park wondered if she could continue living if she escaped to China. But, without any accurate news or knowledge about moving across the border, little social awareness and survival skills, and no resources, Park’s sister escaped, followed by Park.
What follows next is Park’s discovery that life in China is dangerous, evil is out to prey on her, and the Chinese government is out to send her back. The story is indescribable and frightening. But Park’s bravery to tell her story at a detailed level she had never shared before, and few have, shines above all.
This is a very important book for everyone to read. This is an exceptional educational piece to learn the struggles Kim Jong-il’s rule imposed on the North Korean citizens, especially those not in a higher class as deemed by the government officials.
Park was 21 when she wrote this book, and with youth on her side, she captures her story with a rare honesty that comes with fresh wounds. The events are so unthinkable they will keep you reading to see how her circumstances will unfold.
For a moving video of Park’s story, view her TED talk here: YouTube.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I’d always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life
-Summer of ’69-
It’s the summer of 1975, and Mary Jane Dillard is 14. And like the John Mellencamp song, this girl-next-door is looking for something beyond staying within the expectations and rules of her parents.
Mary Jane finds a babysitting job at the home of the Cohns. Watching the Cohn’s 5-year-old daughter Izzy ends up being a dream, and she can immediately apply the skills she learned growing up in her own strict and high-expectations home to the Cohn’s mess. One day, Mr. Cohn explains that they will be taking in a famous rock star with addiction issues and his high-profile wife for the summer so that he can overcome his addiction issues. The summer plays out unexpectedly as Mary Jane discovers life outside her typical, tightly controlled bubble.
In Mary Jane, readers get to walk with the main character as she discovers herself and begins to choose a different path than the one she thought she had to live. The Cohns value Mary Jane, unlike how she is treated at home, and provide experiences that will shape the person she is discovering and will become for the rest of her life.
Besides Mary Jane, all of the characters in the book show their strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, showing Mary Jane that she’s not perfect, and it’s okay to make mistakes while you figure out how to become a better person.
There aren’t any huge and horrible discoveries, just a lovely story of unexpected developments that are a joy to read. Mary Jane is a joy to spend your time reading about, and the rest of the characters are also intriguing. But stick around for the ending. The author does a fantastic job tying everything up in a nice bow.
Solito by Javier Zamora
In Solito, the author, Javier Zamora, recounts his difficult journey as a 9-year-old walking from a rural town in El Salvador to the U.S. Raised by his grandparents, Javier yearned to reunite with his parents, who were already living there. Eventually, his parents paid a coyote to smuggle their son, selecting one who had previously helped Javier’s mother. Unfortunately, Javier’s experience was vastly different. Although the journey was supposed to last only two weeks, it took two months. The key to remember is that this is a 9-year-old who has nothing but a small backpack with essentials and his parents’ complete trust in the coyote they paid to watch over Zamora. Throughout the trip, he has to rely on the adults, whether they are good people or not.
The language usage is the most touching part of this story. For example, Samora uses magical, child-like language to describe his grandparents’ house, just as a nine-year-old may describe a secret hideout—a mosquito net is like a crown protecting them all. Another example is the use of the word “trip” that Samora explicitly points out. He can, “feel the word in the soles of his feet,” hinting at the physical journey ahead of him. Or, at the end of the “trip”, the word takes on heroic proportions—the end of the trip, he will see him reunited with his family in the U.S. at a huge house with a big TV and swimming pool.
My favorite use of Spanish in this book is the word también, which Samora repeatedly uses throughout the book. También means “also” or “alike,” which” also relates to “equally” or the phrase “as well.” Although I don’t speak Spanish enough to be fluent, I took this as a play on the opposite of the words solito or alone, that Samora is an “also,” that he belongs in the group, or that he is not alone on his journey. Even though Samora made the trip across the border alone, he relied on strangers to safely get him to the U.S. I also took también to mean that he felt like an equal, although there were many times Samora faced racism and ageism.
And although I don’t speak Spanish fluently, I know enough to catch on to all the Spanish references used easily. If you don’t speak Spanish, I’m not sure if you will completely get the depth and purpose of the language Samora purposefully chooses to use throughout the story. However, even without knowing Spanish, the book is still an amazing and horrific story that serves as a beautiful education about what immigrants like Samora face when deciding to leave their homes for the dangerous journey to the U.S.
Zamora is the narrator of the audiobook, which adds a special touch. You can learn more about Javier Zamora’s work at his website http://www.javierzamora.net/. To view an interview with Zamora, I recommend the Today’s Show interview.
- Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
- When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash
- The Hike by Susi Holliday
- Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
- I Wanna Rock by C.C. McCandless
- West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge
- Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
- The Storied Life of A.J. Filky by Gabrielle Zevin
- Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Midpoint: A Memoir by Patricia Angeles
- Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope by Anthony Carmelo
- Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
- The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret
- I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
- The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir by Paul Newman
- Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery by Casey Parks
- Every Day the River Changes: Four Weeks Down the Magdalena by Jordon Salama
- Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
- Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
- Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles
- If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen
- The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
- This is What it Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You: by Susan Rogers
As always, I encourage you to purchase your books from a local bookstore, but today I’d like to nudge you to join their mailing lists and get involved with some of the great events they put together for our communities. For example, my local bookstore, Pearl’s Books hosts the most creative events, including a Silent Book Club, where you just read in the lobby of a cool hotel for a couple of hours. Or check out my next closest neighborhood bookstore Two Friends Books for their expertly curated collection.
If you are interested in a book review or beta review, please check out my services at https://rivetservice.com/manuscript-editing-and-proofreading/.