Favorite Books of 2021

 A little housekeeping note... I think after almost ten years (ten years???) it's time to retire ye olde blog. I've been tapering off posts little by little in the last few years, getting down to just one a month. To regurgitate what I already post to Instagram/Twitter/Goodreads seems overkill and it takes much more time to craft a post in Blogger than the aforementioned socials - time better spent reading.

I refer back to this space often for book, food, and random life stuff... Who knows? One day I might want to revive things. So, it'll stay on the internets for now. 

If you've visited here regularly over the years, THANK YOU. And I'm still putting all reviews on Goodreads and staying active on Instagram @EvergreensAndBookishThings Hope to see you over there!


Links are to the full reviews of the books when I first read them, with the exception of How the Light Gets In, which I read last month.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

I almost always have a book that stays with me throughout the entire year, and this year it was Lily King's - a beautiful story of grief and hope.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

One of the many must reads on institutional racism in America, I so appreciated Wilkerson's journalistic writing that was so clear and concise in conveying how we indeed live in a caste system.

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

This was my sleeper favorite for the year, and I adore a novel that is emotional and thought provoking, as well as an author that takes some risks. 

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Yep, I agree with all the readers and critics - this memoir that weaves the bonds of family and food is incomparable.

Yearbook Seth Rogen

And, yes, I'm putting this memoir on my list, too! I recommend it ALL THE TIME and I still find myself chuckling about anecdotes ALL THE TIME. 

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

This is the first book of poetry I've put on my year end favorites, and like the others, it has stuck with me and I think so often on her words that moved me and hit me squarely in the gut. 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

The MOST FUN reading experience I had all year. What a ROMP. This was adorable and edge-of-your-seat good times!

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

Another must read book on institutional racism that took on the history of slavery in America and how an entire country can delude themselves into such false narratives. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

I am a sucker for books with interconnected stories that come together in a poignant way, and Doerr's latest does that AND THEN SOME. Just a beautiful book about books, stories and how they are passed on.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

This is everyone’s favorite in the Louise Penny series, right?? RIGHT!? I can’t imagine a better Gamache book than How the Light Gets In, but I have nine more to go, so…
I am so glad that I jumped right back in after the cliffhanger ending of the previous book, The Beautiful Mystery. I timed it perfectly with a Christmastime reading while being buried in snow here in Seattle. Returning to the atmosphere of Three Pines (during the holidays!), the beloved characters (some reappearing from many books back!), so much excellent relationship drama (Ruth an Jean-Guy! Gah!), the standalone mystery dovetailing so perfectly with the drama of the core characters (as per usual!), the most tension filled action sequences she has written, and the absolute perfect ending made this THE perfect book in the series for me.

I am also in love with the title, the Leonard Cohen song, and her story about asking him for the rights to use it. Just everything about it is *chef’s kiss*👌
I am slightly afraid to keep going for fear of disappointment… I almost wonder if she thought about ending the books here because it really would’ve been perfect. But, I am itching to get back into them already, so I am obviously so glad I have more in store!
If you haven’t jumped on the Louise Penny train because, as many people will tell you, it takes a few books to get immersed / why bother with that kind of investment? It is so, so worth it. Similar to some fantasy series, there is a lot of world building and as you get more immersed they become that much more meaningful and well written.


November Book Reviews

 Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

Many thanks to Netgalley and Scribner Books for the digital ARC of damnation Spring by Ash Davidson! I highly recommend this book if you like settling in with a community, getting to know a wealth of vivid and complex characters (the kind you think about when you aren’t reading), with an excellent slow burn of increasing tensions that come to an emotional conclusion. And it’s a heartbreaker.
I was initially drawn in by the very familiar Pacific Northwest atmosphere, and could picture it all so clearly. This was an especially impactful read after having finished The Seed Keeper and listening to Braiding Sweetgrass on audio. The author is from this logging area of Northern California and, though she is not indigenous, I think she represented her indigenous characters well. So many themes to unpack on environmentalism, and how we take care of ourselves, our families. This book will stick with me, and I highly recommend it - with the caveat of major trigger warning for miscarriage and stillbirth.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

The hype was real on this contemporary romance! I'm glad I knew going into it that the author workshopped her Star Wars Kylo and Rey fan fiction into this story about two modern day scientists. For one: yay for smart and successful female leads! And second, yay for putting Adam Driver in my head as the hopelessly in love, but romantically inept, male lead. Swooooooon. 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I finished Braiding Sweetgrass over the Thanksgiving holiday, which was serendipitous and I highly recommend googling the entirety of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. A small quote that encompasses much of the book’s themes:

“We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”
Our #evergreenreaders book club pick was a perfect nonfiction book to dive into after finishing The Seed Keeper and Damnation Spring. Kimmerer’s way of illustrating science and nature through personal stories about her family, her tribe, and her students is so engaging. I bounced back and forth between print and mostly audio, and it felt like I was listening to a lovely guided meditation with a message. I learned so many fascinating things about lichen! pond scum! maple syrup and squirrels! cattails! and, of course, the erasure of Indigenous cultures and their efforts to forge new traditions. This book is so informative and just lovely.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

My daughter picked this up during one of our trips to Third Place Books and insisted that I read it after reading it with lightning speed. I must say, that I was a little confused about who was who, in relation to the main character Tiến at the outset. But once I got my bearings as to where I was in time, or reality, I found this book to be so engrossing and the illustrations of the fairy tale sections are just GORGEOUS. I loved how Nguyen straddled several storylines without it feeling as if one was given short shrift. My heart ached and swelled for Tien, as well as his parents. As always, I highly recommend picking up graphic novels, as they convey so much emotion and drama in a way that words alone cannot.

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Another romance novel that lived up to the hype! I thought Hoang's debut, The Kiss Quotient, was excellent and missed her second novel, but couldn't resist grabbing The Heart Principle from the lucky day shelf at the library. And, as I had read about in the million glowing reviews, Anna goes on a journey to hell and back, and the narrative is quite dark. It made me rife with anxiety for her and I wanted to scream at multiple characters and multiple occasions. And major forewarning about the realities of grief and family strife during hospice. But, damn, I applaud Hoang for tackling really difficult stuff that is close to her personally as a person on the autism spectrum and who has dealt with taking care of a loved one who is dying. It is still a great romance, quite steamy/open door in parts, with the absolutely requisite happy ending!

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I picked up this back list Kate Morton because I always think of her mysterious literary fiction as excellent reading for the cool and rainy days. Somehow I missed what seems to be everybody’s favorite, the secret keeper. Just like all of her books I’ve read before, it was an engrossing read with great characters and family dynamics. But, I felt like I knew the twist very early on and I didn’t realize it was a World War II novel which feels kind of stale to me - but perhaps this is why it’s one of her most popular? If WWII historical fiction is your jam, it's a perfect entry point to Morton's excellent work.


October Book Reviews

An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn

Romancing Mister Brigerton by Julia Quinn

To Sir Philip with Love by Julia Quinn

I plowed through three Bridgerton novels at the beginning of the month, as it was kind of a crappy time around these parts. Reading during times of high anxiety is always difficult for me, but thank goodness for these novels! It’s rare that I go from one book in a series right into another, but after finishing An Offer From a Gentleman, I immediately got the next two in the series.
Julia Quinn makes these characters come to life in such endearing ways, her pacing is PERFECTION, the dialogue crackles, and I love that sometimes the central conflict isn’t so straightforward.
I completely lose all sense of time and my surroundings when reading these and always highly recommend.

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

I HIGHLY recommend both of these books, and reading them back to back was unplanned but perfect pairing.
I’m so glad My Monticello was in my latest Third Place Books signed first editions box. A collection of short stories (finishing with the titular novella) that were lyrical, visceral and absolutely haunting.
Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed (on the National Book Award long list for nonfiction) begins with his visit to Monticello. It’s beyond eye opening, heartfelt, and so necessary right now when such a loud minority of our great nation is trying to ignore learning from our past, or push completely false narratives (The civil war wasn’t about slavery! Enslaved people were happy!🤥🤬) And it is excellent on audio.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

I finished Cloud Cuckoo Land over a week ago and have been struggling to find the words to describe why I loved it so much. I think that many book reviewers can agree, it is really hard to review a book that you love! (And pretty easy to explain why you dislike a book!)
If you want to read about why Doerr’s latest is well written and excellent, definitely check out the New York Times book review. It’s what convinced me to buy it, rather than waiting for my library hold.
I’m pretty sure this doorstop of a novel landed on my all time favorites because I am a sucker for interconnected stories that come together in a surprising and poignant way, recurring motifs, and secular musings on the meaning of life. It also came out came at the right time for me: when I was really wanting to sink my teeth into something after devouring a lot of romance, and feeling a little sad and lost - like each of the protagonists in the story. I found such lovely reassurance about the human spirit, of perseverance, of hope. I was reminded that pain and loss, our impermanence, are also what makes life meaningful. And books about the wondrous nature of the written word? Yes, please.

“By age 17 he’d convinced himself that every human he saw was a parasite, captive to the dictates of consumption. But as he reconstructs Zeno’s translation, he realizes that the truth is infinitely more complicated, that we are all beautiful even as we are all part of the problem, and that could be part of the problem is to be human.”

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

I stole this graphic novel from my 11 year old's school library pile and read it in an evening, and it it is a wonderfully told story based on Hughes' grandparents story of being sent to Japanese internment camps after WWII. The way she presents the harsh realities of this often overlooked piece of history is perfect for young readers, as the main character in present day is transported back in time and swept up into this terrible situation, forcing one to put themselves in the shoes of those who lost so much.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

Slowly, but surely, I'm making my way through the Inspector Gamache books and I loved spending time with beloved characters again. This installment was a departure from most of the others in the series. Similar to Bury Your Dead, the setting was not in Three Pines, and it focused much more on the relationship between Gamache and his right hand man Beauvoir. A monastery of monks who have taken vows of silence was a fascinating backdrop for a murder mystery and Penny's writing was so atmospheric and immersive. Really liked this one and the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, so I might move on to the next one soon!

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

The Seed Keeper was my book club pick for October and would be an excellent choice for November, Native American Heritage month. This is a multi generational story of a Dahkota family and their enduring spirit despite the horrors of colonialism, past and present. It’s a beautifully told story about how our past affects our future and reminded me of of reading Barbara Kingsolver, with threads of historical fiction and current themes on environmentalism. My only critique was that I wanted MORE. More of Rosalie’s story in the present day, and more details of her great grandmother prior to their subjugation. Braiding Sweetgrass was mentioned in the author’s note, which is our nonfiction November book club pick, and I’m looking forward to reading more indigenous literature this month!


September Book Reviews

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets by Margaret Kimball

Periodic reminder! Illustrated/graphic novels and memoirs are such a wonderful way of comprehending an author’s art.
And Now I Spill the Family Secrets was such an engrossing memoir. The nostalgic and melancholy tone (as well as a family dealing with the fallout of mental illness) reminded me of Fun Home, but more linear and accessible.
There is a lot to absorb on the subject of mental illness, how society affects each generation in different ways, and the devastation it can wreak on a family. Yes, it’s often sad, but so moving and well done.
*Major trigger warning for suicidal behavior.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

This coming of age novel has one of the more endearing main characters I have come across, albeit frustrating in her choices, and the author examines very realistic scenarios of how children can become homeless. I felt invested in April’s journey, and the pages went by quickly as I was eager for her happy ending. However, the overly solicitous kindness of strangers and insta-love seemed too far fetched, and things became increasingly unrealistic as the plot snowballs towards an ending that was rather twee. But we can all use a little schmaltz right now, right?

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I’ve started listening to backlist thrillers on audiobook, which has been a lot of fun. Normally I’m a nonfiction audiobook reader, but I have been in the mood for less reality and it’s been a perfect way to see what the fuss is about with books I normally wouldn’t pick up. This psychological thriller was pretty compelling on audio, but still a little slow paced for my liking.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I keep trying Backman books because they are so popular, and I find the discussion around them fascinating. Yet there definitely seems to be a polarizing component to his work. And increasingly I find myself in the ‘it’s just not for me’ camp. I disliked A Man Called Ove, felt that Beartown was quite good, but now Anxious People is swinging back towards that sense of emotional over-manipulation I got with Ove.
I will say that I absolutely admire his sense of humor and prose: he deftly conveys complex facets of the human condition.

“That’s an impossible thing for sons to grasp, and a source of shame for fathers to have to admit: that we don’t want our children to pursue their own dreams or walk in our footsteps. We want to walk in their footsteps while they pursue our dreams.”

Yet his stories feel more like parables, and characters typecast. The narrative structure for Anxious People was odd and hard to get my bearings. Though I eventually found it entertaining and found myself intrigued by the story and the interaction between the characters, but… in a detached way. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig landed similarly for me, which is also a hugely popular novel. So, your mileage will definitely vary! I will say if you are a fan of the one author you will probably be a fan of the other.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

This was another attempt at trying out thrillers on audiobook, and my first Riley Sager book. I was sucked into the atmospheric writing straight away, which had a very Gothic feel even though it’s a “camp experience gone awry" narrative which I found uninspiring. It seemed to drag on when the action should have set in midway through, too many red herrings, and an ending that left me with more questions than answers. It was a surprising one I didn’t see coming, at least, but doesn’t seem to hold water. I don’t know. I just don’t think thrillers are for me.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

The only retellings of Greek mythology that I have read are Madeline Miller’s books, and I have been meaning to read other authors. This was really well done and all encompassing. While I enjoyed getting such a broad view of the women of The Odyssey the author packed in to this novel, admitting that she couldn’t fit all that she wanted, I think I would have enjoyed a more narrow story about just one of the women. Or perhaps even just the women of Troy who anchor the book with their story told throughout. Though, if you are new to Greek mythology and don’t mind juggling a lot of names and relationships, it is a fantastic overview that gives a taste of just how fantastic the stories are in Greek myth.


August Book Reviews

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

I forgot how much I enjoy Green‘s voice, and this book was like a balm during a trying summer. I think it’s the first book I’ve read that was written during Covid and acknowledges our current reality, which helped give me perspective. I found his essays fascinating, funny, heartbreaking and hopeful. You would think that an essay on “researching strangers on the Internet” would be totally tongue-in-cheek, but it brought me to tears. All around really powerful and wonderful stuff - excellent on audio.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

A lovely family saga with all of the Irish colloquialisms (Grand! Right, so!), of which I am a sucker for. The characters are all deeply flawed, but not unlikeable, and the narrative took turns in some unexpected directions. I would say it was a tad too long (didn't need to be over 500 pages) and MAJOR trigger warning for disordered eating. But if you are looking for a lovable and dysfunctional family drama (with a side of European vacation) to immerse yourself in, it’s a good choice. 

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Last book of the summer reading season for me, and it was a JOURNEY reading People We Meet on Vacation!
I used my Book of the Month birthday credit grab this buzzy book, and I have to admit, it stated off on the wrong foot for me. I kept thinking what kind of college age humans that are clearly attracted to each other stay “just friends“ for so long, and is this ripping off when Harry Met Sally!? Alas, the author was intentionally honoring the great Norah Ephron, and being “just friends” that meet during a drive home from college are where the similarities end.
Soon I became drawn into their inside jokes which felt so authentic, Henry has my kind of sense of humor. And I also felt that she treated the high school trauma that Poppy carries with such care and authenticity.
Usually I get frustrated with romance novels where the basis of tension is miscommunication or no communication at all. Yet when the threads of the story come together between Alex and Poppy, it actually makes perfect sense and I adored the ending. Deserving of the hype! Recommend!

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

I was in the mood for some fast paced and engrossing sci-fi, and I am glad I picked up this novel that published last summer. The story grabbed me right away, I was hooked on this authors concept of a multi-verse and excellent world building. Though when the plot went in the weeds with political/palace intrigue, my interest started wane. Overall, though, the ending was satisfying, and the themes were thought provoking.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

This memoir as ode to the author’s grandmother was so wonderful and moving. Everyone should be so lucky to have a grandmother like Bobby. I kept thinking I hope I get to have children to spoil and be a part of their lives the way Bobby was for Bess. Not that their relationship was perfect, and Kalb writes with such sincerity the realities of maternal relationships. I also quite enjoyed the way she outlined her family history, which could be the same story of so many immigrants that came to New York, told in such a loving, funny and bittersweet way. This was such a fabulous book - excellent on audio.

Only When it’s Us by Chloe Liese

Liese’s Bergman brothers romance novels are favorite series on Bookstagram, so I decided to dive in and see what all the fuss was about! The character development in the book is excellent, but the constant non-communication gets a little old for me as a romance trope. Although there are very specific reasons in the beginning of this book, then more emotional reasons why the characters hold their cards close to the vest as the book goes on - understandable, but still got a bit stale and repetitive. The non-romantic relationships (Willa and her mother/Ryder and his family) kept me engaged while the romantic leads kept repeating mistakes. When the HEA finally arrives, it gave me all the warm and fuzzies. I also thought that grief, disability, and mental health were written with such care.


July Book Reviews

 Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy

(Many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for the complimentary advance review copy!) Despite some good reviews from folks I trust, this novel of a small town girl taking a job as a bunny at the Playboy resort just didn’t work for me. I was going into it with a lot of high hopes, as I have actually stayed at the resort at the center of the story (now The Grand Geneva), and my mom worked for Playboy’s Chicago offices back in the 70s (first in data entry, then in purchasing, ahem!) and, yes, she met Hef on occasion. I was hoping to love it and recommend it to her. Alas.
It was just one of those books that felt as if someone were describing a story, rather than putting me into the story - a lot of tell, and no show. Even foreshadowing was announced, rather than implied with the writing, which is a peeve of mine: Little did she know! This is a pivotal moment! Make note! Then big swaths of time go by in the second half of the book in order to come to an ending that was a big slap in the face for the main character that just left me kinda sad.
I also found it weird that it was set in the 80s. There weren’t many markings of the time, except for a concert at Alpine Valley (which I have also frequented!), and I felt as if this was a missed opportunity. Maybe it is because I recently finished an excellent and immersive book set in the 80s where the author wrote multifaceted characters while supplying me with every scent, sound, taste and feel of the time and place. (Malibu Rising, obvi.)
Again, this one just did not work for me, but I believe that there’s an audience for every book! The fun tidbits and all of the idiosyncratic rules about working as a playboy bunny ALONE made this book worthwhile. So, definitely pick this up if that sounds entertaining and you want to read a book that does not demand too much of you as a reader this summer.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary was definitely the most fun reading experience I’ve had so far this year! Like most of the readers who loved it and convinced me to pick this up, I was VERY hesitant despite loving The Martian, because I did not like Artemis. I even ended up buying a copy because I didn’t put Hail Mary on hold at the library (convinced I wouldn’t read it) and when I finally caved, the list was just too long to wait! Now I’m so glad I have my own copy to put on the ol’ favorites shelf.
Because of my ignorance around this novel, I went in pretty blind and I definitely suggest this approach. I was surprised at several turns, especially a few whoppers near the end. There’s so much I’d love to tell y’all about why I adored this story, but I’d be giving a lot of plot away. Generally speaking, it has that sense of urgency (much late night reading) mixed with humor that worked so well in The Martian and, dare I say, even better in this novel. The heartwarming feels, too, are off the charts. Like The Martian, it’s an absolutely universally appealing book, not just geared towards sci-fi fans. Amaze! (IYKYK) Please read it and gush about it with me!

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody by Kelly McClorey

(Many thanks to Bibliolifestyle and Ecco Books for the complimentary advance review copy!) If I were to summarize this novel, it would seem pretty straightforward. It’s about a woman trying to turn her life around when she goes to shambles after the death of her mother. And yet…
There was something foreboding about Amy’s inner thoughts, about her feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing that seemed tied to some horrible actions on her part. I kept expecting a major reveal as to why she acted the way she did, sometimes rather alarmingly. Alas, even though the narrative is reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, there was no real denouement and the ending was open to interpretation.
I did find Amy to be a fascinating character, the relationship she began to forge with her landlord was endearing, and it was a super fast read. But, contrary to the publisher’s description, I never once laughed out loud - or quietly. The overall tone felt sad and anxiety ridden, a tale of someone in desperate need of mental health care. I think it’s a read-alike for fans of Convenience Store Woman, and it would definitely an interesting book club selection.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection of short stories was INTENSE. I laughed, I cringed, I gasped, and I smiled big. I'm always so impressed with short stories that can pack so much emotion and story in fewer words. Not a single one wasted. Listening to the audiobook definitely added to the intimate feeling of each woman's story, like a girlfriend whispering some JUICY gossip in my ear. 

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Chalk this one up to 'Bookstagram made me do it' and it was cute, it was fine. This story of a divorced mother mistaken for a hitman in a Panera bread and hilarity ensues is just not my bag. If you are looking for something that doesn't require a lot of your attention, this makes for very easy listening on audiobook. For me, the far fetched and silly just didn't grab me. I needed something more and this didn't deliver much more than exercising my suspension of disbelief.

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

(Thank you to Little Brown for the the complimentary finished copy!) I went into this with trepidation. On one hand, it's a summer ritual for me to read her latest book. On the other, I have been disappointed with some of her choices as an author - practically bullying folks who give her book even a slightly negative (but not mean) review, and the thought process behind a few lines in this particular book. However, given that she has apologized and owned up to her mistakes rather than digging in (looking at you JK Rowling) I gave Golden Girl the benefit of the doubt. It was a usual Hilderbrand read: the pages flew by, the food and atmosphere of Nantucket sumptuous. Her concept of the main character experiencing the afterlife was fun, in a 'Good Place' kind of way, too. However this story was a little too creepily close to her real life. The main character Vivi is also a novelist, of beach reads, on Nantucket, not a native to the island, has three kids plus a Black friend of the family considered a fourth kid, is divorced...THE LIST GOES ON. The first quarter of the book I seriously was wondering if Elin had broken up with her boyfriend the way Vivi did, thinking hmmmm - he hasn't made much of an appearance on her Instagram... Just all around weird feeling! It also felt like a creative shortcut. But, if you are a fan of her novels, this will definitely scratch that yearly summer itch.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Yep, I am in agreement with all of the glowing reviews: The Guncle is very cute and sweet. It was a perfect summer read, full of brunch (and linner!), caftans, cocktails and Palm Springs atmosphere. The story had some heft and thoughtfulness about a tough topic. No - not about gay uncles, but grief. Each character was dealing with grief in different ways and it felt real, not saccharine. 

The Star Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

This novel really hit all the sweet spots for a perfect wanderlust summer read. Even though I've been to Italy (main tourist spots like Rome, Venice, Florence) I've never been to the coasts and I think the Amalfi coast will be the first vacation my husband and I will take when we are finally able to travel without kids again one day! It's a sweet story about unrequited love and becoming who you are meant to be, not what is expected of you. My only beef is that I have a hard time with characters that let people walk all over them, I get a lot of righteous anger on there behalf and Emilia made me want to scream on multiple occasions. There were one too many missed opportunities for her to stand her ground, and it got a little exasperating. But the adorable great aunt Poppy and her sweeping love story made up for my quibbles! 


June Book Reviews


Fire Keepers Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Yep. The hype is warranted with Firekeeper’s Daughter. It grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the last page. Boulley has written exceptional YA, mixed with thriller and family drama, that sheds light on so many important issues, while being much needed representation for indigenous people in published literature.

One thought I kept coming back to after reading it, was how the history that has been whitewashed in our schooling I inevitably learn through novels or film. I finished this book just before the 215 murdered children’s bodies were found at the residential school in Canada. There are parts of Firekeeper’s Daughter that address these schools, and my thoughts also went to Anne with an E on Netflix, which my daughter and I devoured this year. The show took liberties with LM Montgomery’s source material and included a storyline about an indigenous girl taken from her family. It was excruciating for us to watch, yet so important to understand. I am glad that if kids aren’t being exposed to atrocities we need to learn from in school (yet), they will learn about them through books and other art forms.

I am so glad Higher Ground productions optioned this for Netflix, giving even more of an audience for this wonderful story. I definitely plan on putting in my kids hands, too.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The story of Newland Archer (who is just as pretentious as his name sounds), and his struggle with the status quo/keeping up appearances while falling for an independent woman he can’t have, and courting another who is his destined match, was slow going for about the first quarter of the book. There is a lot of superfluous detail that bogged me down. Though, much of this detail would be illustrative for readers during the era in which it was published in 1920. Down to the type of furniture, art, opera seats, or cross streets of homes gave so many clues about the characters. But to someone in 2021? Not so much. I’m reading a book now that references Instagram stories, and I wonder, just as with this novel, how will it be received decades from now?

By the halfway point I began to see Wharton’s subversiveness in regards to Archer, and what a rather ridiculous character he is, while the women seem to be cunning and calling the shots - all while the men remain oblivious. Her narrative choices made me think more about perspective and who’s telling the story. I so wish that she wrote another version from one of the women’s point of view.

Overall, I am glad I read it and the ending was quite memorable. I am so grateful to StephanieReads for providing such interesting material to chew on while reading - from articles about Wharton’s life (which is definitely imbued in her work) to pictures of homes during that period. (The summer homes of rich Gilded Age New Yorker’s are something else!) Everyone should subscribe to her newsletter to reference whenever you might decide to pick up a classic from her list of buddy reads!

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

“It’s easier to watch myself be sad than actually feel sad.” 

Oof. If you are into books that wreck you just a little bit, but leave you hopeful, Yolk is IT.

It took me a few dozen pages to get my footing in the narrative. Things felt abrupt and unexplained at first, being thrust into Jayne’s gritty reality as a cash poor art student in New York. But I quickly became invested in her life, and the reconnection with her sister June. Choi’s writing is phenomenal, from the searing quote above, to oddly perfect lines that made me chortle: “The bottoms of the produce drawers looked like the contents of a sharks stomach during an autopsy.”

I’m so glad I had recently finished Crying in H Mart - Michelle Zauner’s memoir perfectly compliments this novel of two girls growing up as Korean Americans and all of the family dynamics at play.

I would also classify this as ‘new adult’ rather than the YA it’s shelved under at my library. I know the YA classification can steer some readers away, and I would absolutely not want that to happen with Yolk - I highly recommend this multifaceted and poignant novel.

Think Again by Adam Grant

As the title implies, Think Again is a thought-provoking book about changing minds, and most importantly, changing our own mind. Though a lot of what I took away from Grant’s work seems like common sense, it’s hard to put into practice because of all the self-imposed road blocks he describes. But his words give incentives to continually work on rethinking, adapting, and changing.

One nugget that stood out to me was that we don’t use the same computers or technology today that we did 20 years ago, so why should our opinions stay the same for that long, too? Our goals and perspective should adapt as we change and grow.

I think that this book would be most valuable to someone who manages others and wants to excel in business, but the data conveyed can be useful to all readers. As a stay at home mom, the information about keeping our children’s minds open to possibilities and change was eye opening and impactful - yes! We should definitely stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up! It’s limiting! I am learning that the data does not support straight A students become more successful adults, and that it shouldn’t be a focus - successful individuals are empirically those that question the status quo, adjust well to change and think outside the box.
“Ultimately, education is more than the information we accumulate in our heads. It’s the habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep learning.”

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jiminez

What a perfect escapist romantic read! I’ve had Abby Jimenez on my TBR for awhile now, and even though The Happy Ever After Playlist is the second book in a series, it sounded like the most fun and well-reviewed, so I just dove in! And I’m so glad I did. Seeing as how happy ever afters are guaranteed in romance novels, I don’t think the spoiled me for reading The Friend Zone: which I immediately put on hold at the library.

This one starts off a little far-fetched, with the meet cute involving a lost dog jumping into the love interest’s car. But, the sweet and flirtatious banter that ensures between the two characters was adorable and I genuinely liked them both. So when things started to get intense with the inevitable ‘boy loses girl’ roadblocks, I was super stressed out! These people went through some THINGS.

I also found it admirable how Jimenez addresses grief in a thoughtful way, based on the similar experiences of her good friend. Excellent binge-able summer fare that I highly recommend!

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Stunning. It has been ages since I read a book of poetry. And such a slim volume that can be read in an hour sometimes feels like cheating when it comes to counting a books read. But the thoughts and feelings that Baer evokes are as moving as any novel.

Her hypnotic words evoke such visceral emotions about love and the realities of life as a wife and mother. That an oft used phrase like “When will you be home?” can be crafted into something so lyrical. Reading ‘What Kind of Man’ literally made me tear up with love and gratitude for my husband, and ‘Like a Wife’ made me fist pump and laugh aloud. Just so good.
My experience reading this reminded me of Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. While not poetry (it’s a collection of ‘mini-memoirs) it’s slim, similar themes, packs a punch, and is written by a poet. I highly recommend both!

She Come by it Natural by Sarah Smarsh

I remember a while back explaining to my kids who Dolly Parton is - beyond a famous country music singer. I read an article to them about her charitable giving and philanthropic efforts in literacy and putting books in the hands of children all over the world. She is responsible for donating over 130 MILLION books for children. I teared up talking about her, and I teared up a few times listening to She Come by it Natural.

I wouldn’t say that this was a very in-depth biography of Parton, but a really well done journalistic look at how she has affected and represented women from her small town Tennessee roots, to women worldwide. Learning more about her business choices, how she faced a lot of intimidation, and followed her gut to great success was fascinating stuff.

It’s inspiring and infuriating and equal measure how far we have come and how far we have to go in treating everyone with the dignity and respect we deserve. Dolly deserves it in spades, and it is very cool to see this happening for her in her lifetime.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Clarie Lombardo

"And it was weird, she thought, feeling adult and aware, how a thing so terrible as losing someone could yield goodness in the ones who were left.“

The synopsis of this book was uniquely appealing to me: multigenerational family drama, spanning decades, set in Chicagoland! I am glad I finally read it, as I enjoyed becoming completely immersed in the Sorensen clan.

Peppered with poignant and familiar scenes of life, Lombardo’s writing is sharp with characters that leap off the page. To that end, I’m not sure I would recommend this novel to folks who have a hard time with really flawed/unlikable characters. I usually don’t have a problem with it, especially when the writer can illustrate why they are flawed. But it took a long time to come to the realizations about why some of the characters were kind of awful in this book. This story requires some patience and probably could have been edited down from it’s 600+ pages.

If you like a slow burn, character driven, and intricate family saga, I highly recommend this novel. Also recommend if you loved Ask Again, Yes or A Place for Us - they’re very similar in scope and tone.