Fargo Rock City

I want to like this guy. We like the same things. But he desperately needs an editor. So much of this book reads like a high school kid trying to pad his prose to fit a required word count. It’s a mix of heavy metal book report with a dash of memoir, but the memoir stuff is so few and far between that when it does arrive it feels jarring. 3/5 stars. –An anonymous Winter Reading 2023 participant.

Black Cake

I enjoyed this book! Firstly, I love it when books jump through time and this one did that in a very compelling way. Normally, in many books, there’s a looking back and jumping to the present but this time it came to the present as well as hopping into the future. You think you have things all sewed up on a character but then you find out no, -there was more to this person’s involvement and you see it from THEIR perspective as well as opposed to the original main characters. I like this kind of “surprise” dynamic. To use time to your advantage to visit and revisit scenes from different viewpoints, like a hidden cameras in different places.
The variety of characters was also intriguing. There were no “good guys” or “bad guys.” Well, maybe one or two REALLY bad guys. But their presence was needed to expose flaws of a father and create a character who needed to be reunited with her family. The mother, who I see as the main character, had a way of completely disappearing and reinventing herself to be reborn in a new life, more than once! This is always an interesting plot because who doesn’t admire that ability to change oneself into someone new? And she did it at least twice.
The only thing I found lacking was the book’s original mother leaving her child to a flawed father and being written off in a kind of quick, convenient way. I would’ve liked to know more about her.
And lastly, I love the Black Cake being such an important touchstone of this book in all its colonial symbolism and familial weight. I loved how the plastic measuring cup was a cherished kitchen utensil. Every family kitchen has something like that, I believe. Ordinary things that become almost holy in their family’s lore. 4/5 stars. –An anonymous Winter Reading 2023 participant.

Have Dog, Will Travel

This memoir by poet Stephen Kuusisto details his experience of getting a guide dog in his late 30s, after stumbling through life pretty much pretending not to be blind. (Really.) It’s so beautifully written and it offers perspective from a very different way of life from most of us. Kuusisto also enlightens the reader on many details of the history of Guide Dogs and the process of training them and matching them with the right people. It was a delightful, humbling, and inspiring read. 5/5 stars. –Laura Zaino for Winter Reading 2023.

Skinny House: A Memoir of Family by Julie L. Seely

Despite having limited details and most of the book’s featured people being dead, Julie Seely paints a vivid picture of her family’s experience during the Depression. Now instead of seeing an architectural anomaly, I see a man who tried his hardest to hold his family together. 3/5 stars.

–An anonymous summer reading participant

Book of Night by Holly Black

This was an interesting book but it took awhile to get into and actually understand what was going on as the beginning was very confusing. Overall it was entertaining for what it was, though I didn’t realize going into it that there would be a sequel. So waiting until the 2nd book would probably be best before starting this one. 3/5 stars.

–An anonymous summer reading participant