June Books Reviews

There's not much I can add to the conversation about this book, other than to say that it does feel like an actual conversation with a friend (I especially enjoyed the audiobook). Oluo clearly lays out the structural racism and bias we all live with, and it was even more impactful as a fellow Seattle dweller. I could vividly picture the story she told of staying with her mother's friend in the small mountain town we have driven through countless times, and I knew exactly where she was going when talking about cultural appropriation when traveling at our local airport. Ooof, the Africa Lounge really ought to go...

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Okay, I GET IT. I like to know what’s up with polarizing books, and I wouldn’t say that I came down on either extreme of ‘all time fave’ or ‘worst book ever’ for Normal People. But I REALLY liked it - 4 stars. And I confess that I LOVED the BBC series - 5 big stars.
As for the book, I was enthralled by Connell and Marianne’s back-and-forth through their coming of age, the very real feeling breakups and makeups. Sure, they were insufferable in their constant miscommunication. But they’re teens/young adults figuring sh*t out. And they DO FIGURE IT OUT, which is wonderful and heartbreaking by the end. I also appreciated that they never cheated on each other and acted deferential towards one another.
In my reading experience, I felt very empathetic towards Marianne. Who doesn’t love a story of the bookish nerd girl glowing up and getting the guy? My heart ached for her as she dealt with Connell’s immaturity and her family trauma. It was harder for me to get my arms around Connell and his struggles with anxiety. He didn’t leap off the page for me. But after watching Paul Mescal’s performance on screen, I saw scenes from the book differently. Looking back on what I highlighted, I don’t know how I missed such a beautiful character study the first time around.
“He finds himself rushing to the end of the conversation so they can hang up, and then he can retrospectively savor how much he likes seeing her, without the moment-to-moment pressure of having to produce the right expressions and say the right things.”
Rooney’s writing was hypnotic, nostalgic and so thoughtful about socioeconomic status, family, mental health, trauma, and learning self-worth through it all. And I actually liked how it flowed without quotation marks! I think it lent itself well to such an interior focused narrative.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
I finished the Revisioners on a typical June gloom day here in the PNW and it felt like the perfect fit for this amorphous and mystical novel. I am a sucker for a dual timeline narrative, and the common threads that Sexton weaves between present day Ava, and her mother’s great grandmother Josephine, a formerly enslaved woman who becomes a sharecropper, was beautifully nuanced and thoughtful. For only 288 pages, it’s quite an epic family story about the power of mothers and Black women. I do wish it was a tad longer, as I felt that it ended too abruptly and I was just beginning to learn about the Revisioners magic.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
I am realizing that one of my favorite genres is the graphic memoir. Good Talk is as FANTASTIC as every person I know that’s read it says it is. It is ‘timely’ for sure, about a dark skinned south Asian woman raising a mixed race child with her Jewish husband. But, in any time, the whip smart art paired with heartfelt prose is utterly compelling and completely gutted me.
“We think our hearts break only from endings - the love gone, the rooms empty, the future unhappening as we stand ready to step into it – but what about how they can shatter in the face of what is possible?”
As with all graphic memoirs, even if you don’t think they’d be for you, I strongly urge giving them a try. Similar to memoirs on audiobook, there is something about the visual arts paired with the prose that gives the reader so much more. In addition to Good Talk, I’d recommend anything by Lucy Knisley, and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. 

Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery
It’s been over two years since I picked up where I left off in reading my beautiful Tundra Books Anne of Green Gables box set. Spending time with Anne is always a perfect respite, and I need to remind myself of this more often! In book three, Anne of the Island, we’re treated to the halcyon days of her college life. It’s filled with all of the drama of young adulthood, immersive scenery, and the mirthful humor of all L.M. Montgomery books.

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
Another summer, another Hilderbrand novel! I can now see why people are raving about her latest, it is indeed fantastic. It’s a testament to how much I love her storytelling, despite utilizing one of my least favorite conflict tools in storytelling: people just not being truthful and saying how they feel. Ugh. As a riff on Same Time Next Year, it’s built on two people in love who only meet once a year and go back to their separate lives. Normally I get frustrated with the characters obtuseness in these situations and just tap out. For the first part of 28 Summers I was wary of how I would feel by the end. But, Hilderbrand knocks it out of the park with this cast of characters, intricate plot and the realness she brings to each fraught relationship: spouses of course, but also mothers and sons, best girlfriends and, what stood out to me most, the relationship between siblings.
She is one of the few authors I can immerse myself in for hours and wonder where the time went (4 hours of reading until 2 a.m. to read the entire second half of the book). It’s like listening to a friend relay an unbelievable story, filled with sumptuous atmosphere (oh, Nantucket), humor (“Mallory’s breathing is so shallow, she feels like she’s playing a dead person on television.” ha!), nostalgia (especially for us Gen X’ers - I mean, how many people get the Yaz or Michael Hutchence references??), and so much heart.
If you love Hilderbrand’s work, this is a no-brainer. And if you’re new to her novels, this is an excellent place to start.


May Book Reviews

A housekeeping note, I’ve begun using  Bookshop affiliate links to support independent bookstores instead of the big A, which gets me a small percentage of sales if ya purchase books through my link. I’m working on setting up a storefront soon!

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight
This book lives up to the hype, and is definitely my kind of thriller: thought provoking social commentary, nuanced characters, and absolutely believable twists and turns.
McCreight creates a rather large cast of characters, but I could completely understand each and every one’s motivations, which I find lacking in a lot of thrillers. And she thoughtfully ties in the theme of ‘a good marriage’ leaving no couple behind. Even those on the fringes are analyzed, from divorced or seemingly perfect, to those with an open marriage. Nothing is what it seems and I absolutely was guessing until the last. Not since I read Miracle Creek last year did I enjoy this kind of provocative legal thriller (with Angie Kim’s excellent social commentary on parenthood). Methinks I need to seek out more thrillers written by women with law degrees...
Thank you to Harper Books for the complimentary advance copy!

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
The story of the Galvin family, with six out of twelve children diagnosed with schizophrenia, is as fascinating and compelling as it sounds. I can see why Oprah chose it for her book club! If there is any criticism I’ve seen, is that more readers are drawn in by the family narrative, and less so by the scientific and bureaucratic interludes about schizophrenia research. But, those are the parts that I am finding truly remarkable! Science, y’all.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I stayed up way past my bedtime finishing A Court of Mist and Fury (book two in this series), and I’m so glad I did.
The world building of the Night Court is spectacular, the character development of the heroine Fayre is much more empathetic (as is Rhys, obviously), I was on the edge of my seat for much of the book. And llast, but not least, the swoon factor is OFF THE CHARTS. I also appreciated the very strong theme of valuing consent and being autonomous, equal partners in a relationship.
I’m so glad that I started these after all the books were published, as I just popped the third book into my recent Target order.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
Oh, I am SO HAPPY that Lucy Knisley is doing middle grade fiction with her amazing drawing and storytelling.
In Stepping Stones, Jen’s coming of age story is told in the aftermath of her parents divorce, moving to the country from the big city, and gaining new family members she certainly did not ask for. It is heavily based on the author’s own experiences, and the emotions of Jen’s highs and lows are certainly on-point and easily identifiable. I couldn’t help but root for her, and her new family by the end.
My daughter and I gobbled up our (signed!!) copy, and we are eagerly awaiting the next installment in this TRILOGY. My love for this author knows no bounds, and I highly recommend all of her books, reviews can be found in the tab above 'by author' and my favorites are definitely Kid Gloves and Something New.

Go with the Flow by by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams
This boooook!! I would love to put this graphic novel into the hands of every school principal and every girl in the world, as a start.
I’ve been breaking into some of my daughter’s library stash, and Go With the Flow was an absolute delight while confronting the insufferable stigma around menstruation, and exposing period poverty. I was also so impressed with the diversity of the book - not just with race, but body types, sexuality, family structures and even our cycles, and how they can be vastly different. It’s full of heart and a call to action. Highly recommend!!!

Welp. I am in agreement with most of the reviews that I have seen for A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The consensus is that the first two parts of the book are engaging, and then the third falls flat. I would argue that it ALL felt dull.
At first I was sucked back into the world of Panem, and the idea of seeing the origins of the hunger games. I just wish Collins would have gone in a less predictable direction with Snow’s character. He was just wooden, predictable, and uninspiring - as a villain or a hero.
On the bright side, I do love how it matches and rounds out my beloved trilogy


April Book Reviews

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
Thanks to the folks at Catapult, I was able to get a complimentary early digital copy of Godshot. This story of a girl coming of age, while stuck in a dead-end town and being brainwashed by a cult was a WILD ride. Lacey May is an utterly authentic and compelling character, whom I wanted to hug and smack upside the head in equal measure. The same goes for her mother, the town beauty who is the focus of the evil pastor’s designs. Godshot offered up a lot to think about when it comes to the relationship between mothers and daughters, what makes a family, and what it means to forgive.
I flew through this book wanting to know how things would end up for Lacey May. I find books about cults rather fascinating, even though this was fictitious. One might wonder where the author drew her inspiration, as some of the details were pretty horrific (Lots of trigger warnings - definitely research before reading, or shoot me a DM.) but she grabbed my attention in a visceral way. Bieker certainly nails the inherent misogyny of cults.
“But my body did exist and was only growing bigger. I would only keep existing more and more, and then when the baby came she too would exist, angering men and boys all on her own. When did this end? I wondered.”
If you think a sinister, and also weirdly charming story about a young girl in throes of a cult sounds fascinating, for sure grab this singular debut!

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand
I normally save Elin Hilderbrand books for the summer. However, with my waning attention span and anxiety these days, I decided that getting to some unread backlist might be a good idea! The Blue Bistro wasn’t my favorite narrative of her novels, but the food writing sure was! If you know Hilderbrand’s work, you know that the love she puts into talking about food is such a huge part of her appeal. That, and being so vividly transported to beautiful Nantucket, which was SO NICE RIGHT NOW.
If you haven’t read any of her novels, hit me up and I can try to recommend one that might be perfect for you! I especially like to recommend her to fans of Louise Penny, because they have many of the same enchanting elements.

Here for It by R. Eric Thomas
 I’m really glad that I had R. Eric Thomas to keep me company in the last few weeks at home doing the thousands of dishes and loads of laundry that come with going absolutely nowhere. Anyway! Anyone that can tie in my favorite childhood read aloud (The Monster at the End of This Book) from the beginning of their memoir, to the heartwarming ending is TOPS in my book! This was an astute, eye opening, and obviously good humored collection of essays on his coming of age and confronting issues of race, class, LGBTQ, and religion. Highly, highly recommend!

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
I hadn’t planned on reading the next winter-y installment of Inspector Gamache in April, but here I am craving those comfort reads. Bury Your Dead was excellent, of course, and each book just compounds upon the last. I rather enjoyed the tied up loose ends from the previous novel, while also taking in Québéc through Penny’s eyes in this volume. It’s like being given the gift of travel right now.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
I finally CAVED to this series that is all over Bookstagram. I dabble in fantasy books a few times a year, but many of the hyped series didn’t suck me in past the first book - Six of Crows, Caraval, A Darker Shade of Magic... All great, just didn’t have that something that made me want to devour them. (Sorry! I know how beloved those titles are!) ACOTAR is reminding me of my reading experience with The Selection or Twilight series: kind of ridiculous, but so ADDICTIVE. It’s like Katniss mashed up with Cinderella whilst being rather sexy (PSA: not all fantasy written by women is YA). I have already ordered the next book!

The Whisper Man by Alex North
This was the first fiction novel I have ever listened to on audiobook! I tried to when I first started listening to audiobooks, but learned quickly that nonfiction holds my attention best, preferably memoir. But I had a complimentary advance copy sitting in my Libro.fm account and thought that I'd give this thriller a go. I listen to books at normal speed (or sometimes 1.1 speed, which is so awesome this is available on Libro.fm), but I pushed this one up to 1.25 in the final chapters, absolutely riveted. The ending was downright unsettling. If you are into creepy thrillers, I would definitely recommend this story about a child killer who whispers in victim's bedroom windows, complete with a scary rhyme about 'The Whisper Man.' *shudder*


March Book Reviews

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
This novel, reminiscent of Kingsolver, will definitely go down as one of my favorite books this year! Full review here

Middle School Matters by Phyllis L.  Fagell
Well, I guess I don't need to worry so much about school dynamics for awhile now... ANYWAY. This book was pretty dry, and there was a lot of information within that I have taken in from various articles and books. But, it does contain a lot of good information. Funny enough, there were many gems that I had already gleaned YEARS ago from Connecting Boys with Books, which is a great read.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
It’s been a RULL LONG time since I dipped my toes into YA dystopian fiction. But, my 7th grader chose is for his book club in English class, so I figured it was time to pick it up - especially after hearing so many of y’all singing it’s praises. I must say that I found it very entertaining, and cinematic in tone. Is there a screen version in the works? I can’t imagine there not being one. It definitely evokes excellent philosophical discussions about life, death (obviously), and purpose. Though I felt the pace sag in the middle, it comes to a heart pounding end that is equally satisfying and tantalizing. I for sure plan to finish the series.

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
I didn’t burn through it very quickly, and I thought it sagged in the middle. But would I have felt that way when reading it a month ago, pre-covid 19?? Overall, I’d say Jimenez drew me in immediately with his eerie, somber and vivid world building. I was reminded a bit of A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Though the tone of Vanished Birds is much more introspective and dark, I’d definitely recommend it as another example of thought provoking literary sci-fi.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
I felt ambivalent about Perfect Little World, but Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books convinced me to give this a try. I appreciated Wilson’s fantastical story, his take on class and power, and completely unique and convincing characters. How an author can make spontaneously combustible children seem like a plausible storyline, while balancing a sweet as well as sinister tone, I can't quite articulate. It has to be read to be believed, which I'd certainly recommend.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This one definitely lived up to all of the hype! Gottlieb gives a fascinating glimpse into the work of a therapist, some excellent nuggets of wisdom through which we can look at our struggles in a more constructive manner, and a string of excellent narratives that propel the book forward. I was so invested, not only in her life story, but those of her patients Rita, Julie and of course JOHN. The raw humanity she shares in herself and others instills such empathy - just a lovely book.


Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (ARC Review)

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Publisher: Harper Books (March 31, 2020)
Description from the publisher:
Mercy is hard in a place like this . . .
It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.
In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

So many feminist books of late center on the harrowing 'what-if' of a potential dystopian future. Yet this story of amazing and powerful women needs only to look into our very recent history: west Texas in 1976... What a phenomenal debut by Elizabeth Wetmore - I went into this novel blind, and was completely blown away: the lush prose, vivid sense of place, powerful storytelling, and authentic characters all culminated in such an emotionally moving way.
The plot begins with heart pounding scenes from Gloria's perspective as she escapes from attack, then bounces to Mary Rose as she answers the door, and eventually to a kaleidoscope of different women who each have a compelling narrative in their own right. The brutal crime and the way it's repercussions unfold certainly propels the story forward, but it almost feels secondary after getting caught up in these fantastic characters’ lives. I felt so much sadness, rage (oh the RAGE), and ultimately hope on their behalf.
The comparisons to Kingsolver are completely legit, and I felt echoes of The Poisonwood Bible while reading Valentine. I'd say her writing is also comparable to Ann Patchett, with such perfect unique and compelling character studies that punch you in the gut - but in the best way!
Thanks to Harper Books for gifting me a review copy! This indelible novel is definitely going on my yearly favorites list. It comes out tomorrow - March 31st, and I would recommend preordering and getting those library holds in!


February Book Reviews

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Oona is definitely making the rounds on social media right now, and I was lucky to be one of the folks to receive an advance copy in a promotion from Flatiron Books.
This was a fun and fluffy take on the idea of time travel/alternative realities, wherein the main character switches into a different year of her life at the stroke of midnight every January 1st. I think we can all agree is no longer a unique concept in fiction nowadays, and it needs to be done exceptionally well to stand out. I think this one will stand out because it is the first I’ve noticed that has popped up in the women’s fiction/contemporary fiction genre in a long time. 
The plot kept my attention, wanting to know what lay ahead for Oona and how she would handle the year she was given. There’s also an emotionally manipulative plot twist later in the book that gave it some heft, but I was left wanting more. It is nowhere near the epic level of literature it is being compared to, like Life After Life or The Time Travelers Wife, which are two of my all time favorite books. If you are intrigued by the premise and are looking for something quick and light, definitely give this a read. If you are looking for epic and indelible, read the latter two - you won’t be disappointed!

Something New by Lucy Knisley
I’m officially out of new Lucy Knisley content and I’m so sad! Luckily, she has TWO new books out this year. I adored Something New. It had personal, heartfelt vulnerability paired with insightful anthropology that all of Knisley’s books share. I loved the fascinating cultural tidbits (and hot takes) on matrimony, as well as the nitty gritty details of her wedding planning. It, obviously, made me nostalgic for our wedding almost 18 years ago... I’m also a sucker for Chicago nostalgia, and felt as if I took a rocket ship back in time at the mention of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind!! Any of my fellow Chi-town peeps remember that show?? Anyhoo! Pick up Knisley’s books - they’re fantastic

How to Be Alone by Lane More
This memoir was an overwhelmingly sad listening experience. I was certainly moved by Moore's account of how her broken family and upbringing shaped her life. And it helps to explain where so many people are coming from who have difficulty with relationships. Given her humor writing background, I was just hoping for a bit more levity than this book offered. However, if you are someone who's had a freakout over whom to put as an emergency contact on forms (which is highly relatable) and find holidays difficult, this will definitely make you feel less alone.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Being a fourth grader, my younger kiddo was so excited to finally be able to participate in King County Library Global Reading Challenge! Her team didn’t win her school competition, but they came in third place despite being down two teammates. She had so much fun and can’t wait to do it again next year. Of the books in the challenge I decided to read Fish in a Tree and thought it was a perfect middle grade book about all the things kids grapple with: learning differences, new teachers, feeling alone, bullying, and making new friends. I loved the endearing characters in this book, especially the way Ally sees the world, and would definitely recommend for elementary/middle schoolers.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I don’t know how much more I can add to the conversation about Such a Fun Age, since it is everywhere (most notably, Reese Witherspoon's book club pick). But, I think it’s for good reason. As many have noted, it takes on difficult topics like race, class, and feminism. Yet it doesn’t feel heavy or didactic. It’s fast paced, topical, and the characters are expertly nuanced - they each have CRINGE WORTHY moments (some more than others..) and empathetic ones. I was really impressed by this debut and highly recommend!

Open Book by Jessica Simpson
It seems as if Open Book is THE audiobook that everyone I know is listening to, and I’m just going to add my praise to the pile! I was a little too old to be caught up in her music and the boy band craze. But, my husband and I totally watched Newlyweds! I love that she has taken control of, and rewritten, her narrative. This was definitely emotional, juicy and entertaining, as a good celebrity memoir should be - it was also very well written, and I love that she gives credit to her ghostwriter Kevin Carr O'Leary, which is NOT usual for a celebrity memoir. Kudos to her all around, this was fantastic.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
I had mixed feelings about this one: full review here.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
I thoroughly enjoyed The Bromance Book Club! I was dubious at first, because it starts at the ‘boy loses girl’ portion of the story and I wondered how I would be moved to care about the fate of a relationship between characters I didn’t know. But the humor and patriarchy-smashing themes made me smile and pulled me in as I got to know these, ultimately, complex characters. Definitely steamy in parts, if that is or isn’t your thing - would highly recommend if you’re looking for a refreshing take on romance. 


In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (ARC Review)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Atria Books (March 10, 2020)
Description from the publisher:

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.
But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.
After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the Todd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

This novel is getting alllll the buzz right now and was recently chosen for the GMA book club. I can see the wide appeal of the story, but I have conflicting feelings overall...
On one hand, I flew through the story of a woman who gets a fleeting vision of her life five years into the future. I love a little fantastical element in novels, and I kept wanting to know how it would unfold. The chemistry with Dannie and Aaron was compelling, which also kept me hooked. Are they destined to be together? 
There also were many aspects of Dannie and her best friend Bella’s lives with which I could identify. But it’s also where things started to break down for me. Much of their personalities seemed cliché, the type-A lawyer (Dannie is totally Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle) and Bella is an ‘adventurous free spirit’ of the spoilt trust fund variety. There wasn’t much beyond flashbacks of sleepovers or post grad trips abroad to reinforce their bond. 
I’m all for some misdirection and a ‘big twist’ ending – but I felt as if there wasn’t a foundation there to support it, and it didn’t pay off emotionally for me. It’s definitely worth a read if you are looking for fast paced and thought provoking - I just wouldn’t go so far as prepping the tissues for an ugly cry. Though, it definitely seems as if I'm in the minority on this one - so your mileage may vary!
Many thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for an advance copy for my honest review!