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The Violin Conspiracy, by Brendan Slocumb

35/60 | Started 05.22.24 • Finished 05.31.24 | 3 stars

This month's book club was just another middle of the road for me. I enjoyed reading about Ray's family and upbringing, albeit dysfunctional, and especially his tender relationship with his grandmother. The mystery aspect of the book was also sufficiently attention-grabbing. Ray's descriptions of musical pieces had me wanting to look all of them up and make a playlist, just so I could try to experience the same feelings about them that he described.

However, I found the author's inclusion of racism to be extremely overdone. Slocumb reveals in the afterword that he personally experienced each scenario described in the book, which definitely made me pause. But rather than having a more nuanced approach, Slocumb became more and more heavy-handed as the book went on, leaving a sour taste that lingered after I finished reading. I'd probably recommend this one to the right reader.

Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett

34/60 | Started 05.10.24 • Finished 05.22.24 | 4 stars

I'm a huge Ann Patchett fan and couldn't wait to dive into this one. While not as stellar as some of Patchett's other work, it still fit the bill and came in at a solid 4 stars. The novel centers around a family of five and their cherry orchard. A mother shares with her girls the story of her earlier years, how she loved and lost and found greater love where she least expected it.

There is no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, while the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else. Memories are then replaced by different joys and larger sorrows, and unbelievably, those things get knocked aside as well, until one morning you’re picking cherries with your three grown daughters and your husband goes by on the Gator and you are positive that this is all you’ve ever wanted in the world.

I loved Patchett's descriptions of the orchard, and the family's beautiful and hard-working life on it. I also loved the way she wove into the story how her daughters came to have their names. It was subtle and endearing. However, I didn't find the writing quite as memorable as her previous works, so I find it hard to rate it as high as them. In addition, there's one trigger warning: a brief inclusion and acceptance of abortion. Overall, a really good book.

It’s not that I’m unaware of the suffering and the soon-to-be-more suffering in the world, it’s that I know the suffering exists beside wet grass and a bright blue sky recently scrubbed by rain. The beauty and the suffering are equally true.

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