April 2021 Book Reviews

Another month, another book review! I’m really excited to share today’s reviews because I read three books in the month of April and they were all winners – I love when that happens!

Any of these books would make for great summer reads, perfect for sitting back and relaxing in the sunshine. Let’s dive in!

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

The second-born daughters in the Fontana family have been living under a curse for generations: not one of them has found love. Second-born Emilia thinks the curse is nonsense, while her second-born cousin Lucy has tried everything in her power to break it. One day they receive an invitation from their eccentric great-aunt Poppy (also a second-born daughter) to join her on an all-expenses paid trip to Italy where, on her 80th birthday, she will meet the love of her life and break the curse.

While this book started off a little slow and I was initially very annoyed by the family dynamics, I really enjoyed the story once the women actually got to Italy. Justin and I traveled to Italy five years ago and visited many of the places the book mentions so it was fun to connect with the setting. Even if you haven’t been to Italy, this book was a great escapist book that sweeps the reader away to another place with Vespa rides through Tuscany, museums in Florence, and indulgent meals in Venice. I liked that the narration went back and forth from present-day Emilia to Poppy’s life in the past. It was a sweet, indulgent read with several twists to the plot, some I predicted and some I didn’t, that kept things interesting. I finished the book feeling satisfied and ready to travel again (aren’t we all ready for that?) and recommend this book for fans of adventure, sisterhood, and falling in love.

Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

Life's Too Short (The Friend Zone Book 3) by [Abby Jimenez]

Popular YouTuber Vanessa has traveled the globe and had many adventures, but none have prepared her for the instant motherhood of gaining custody of her half-sister’s baby girl. She’s certainly not prepared for the appearance of her gorgeous next-door neighbor Adrian one night as he comes to try to help soothe the infant’s wails that have kept him up all night. Before long, Adrian and Vanessa strike up a friendship that could lead to something more . . . if Vanessa is willing to hope for a future that a looming health fear has never allowed her to dream of.

Alright y’all. Here’s the deal. I have read Jimenez’s previous two rom coms and while I really enjoyed The Friend Zone, I straight-up adored The Happy Ever After Playlist which has kind of become my rom com benchmark. So I had very high expectations going into this book – and they were exceeded. I loved this one! I loved Vanessa and Adrian as individuals and could not get enough of their fun banter and blossoming relationship. All of the supporting characters are interesting and ultimately likeable. I loved that it wasn’t all fluffy love and “easy” problems; this book covers guardianship of an infant, a drug-addicted sister, a hoarder father, reconciling broken family relationships, and a potentially devastating health diagnosis. Yet the book never feels heavy. It remains relatable, charming, and entertaining. I feel like Vanessa and Adrian reminded me of Justin and I at the start of our relationship – we were acquaintances, then friends, then best friends, then interested in dating but both afraid to cross that line and mess up our friendship, and then we finally dated knowing it was going to be “it” for us. This book took me back! It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s endearing, it’s inspiring – I just loved it so much and highly recommend it!

*A note: the chronological order of books is The Friend Zone, The Happy Ever After Playlist, Life’s Too Short. You don’t have to read them in order, as each book is a standalone, BUT there are some minor spoilers and character overlap so I do recommend reading in order if you can! It’s fun to see where the characters are in different stages of life throughout the book. I would say they also get more tame as they progress, going from Hot to Medium to Mild (for contemporary romance standards) in terms of language and sexy scenes, so if you feel strongly about that you could start where you feel comfortable on that scale.

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

New Year’s Eve, 1982. Eighteen-year-old Oona is at a party that will ring in the New Year and, on the stroke of midnight, her nineteenth birthday. She’s in love with her boyfriend, their band feels like it’s on the verge of their big break, and life stretches out infinitely in front of her. Only when the clock strikes midnight, she opens her eyes to find that while she is now nineteen years old on the inside, she is physically in her 51-year-old body in the year 2015. Her disbelief turns to horror as she realizes that she will live the rest of her life out of order, never knowing what year it will be next until she jumps to it on midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Time travel books always have the potential to be confusing, and I’ve learned you just have to give them a little leeway. I spent some time trying to figure out logistics of her past/future actions and just kept turning my mind in knots. Time travel is impossible, so the book itself needs to be granted a little creative license and once I just accepted that and didn’t try to “figure it out” I enjoyed it a lot more. I found the plot surprisingly easy to follow along with considering all the jumps. I liked the recurring characters and how they wove in and out of her life. I liked that there was some mystery to it – the people in Oona’s future life knew some things that they refused to tell her about her “past” because she hadn’t yet lived it and they wanted her to have some surprises, both good and not-so-great. Ultimately, can she do anything to change her fate? It’s an interesting concept to ponder as we read along with her adventures. There are some twists I didn’t anticipate and ultimately, I found myself wishing for even more. I loved seeing how her life played out and how the things connected and made sense throughout her life and could have kept reading through even more years! This book was recommended to me by friend and I was glad to have someone to talk with about it after I finished, so I think it would make for a great book club discussion.

March 2021 Book Reviews

No tricks, just treats today as I’m kicking off April with my favorite kind of post: book reviews!

In March I read three books and mostly (you’ll see) enjoyed them all. Let’s dive right in!

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London

One to Watch: A Novel by [Kate Stayman-London]

Bea is a successful and popular plus-sized fashion blogger, and after writing a scathing about the lack of diversity on the reality show Main Squeeze, she is approached by the producer to come on the show and give a new look to the franchise as the lead for their next season. I’ve watched the Bachelor/Bachelorette for years (although less frequently in the past 5 years) so this was a really fun read for me. I liked the characters, I liked the parallels to the franchise we all know and love (or love to hate), I liked how it gave a peel-back-the-curtain feel to “reality” TV . I found Bea to be a charming and relatable heroine and I was rooting for her to find love. Most of the other characters are also really likeable and I loved that in between chapters we would see what was happening around the country – what were people saying in podcasts or writing in articles or talking about in group chats. That’s really what Bachelor Nation is like and it broadened the plot beyond Bea’s personal experience. The real Bachelor franchise is currently experiencing a major reckoning with lack of racial diversity over the years, and they also never have contestants with body diversity either. It was really interesting to imagine a scenario where they would move in this direction! I loved the message that everyone deserves love and size isn’t (or shouldn’t be) what people judge you on. I’ll give a little warning that while the Bachelor has producers to edit out language and sexual content before viewing, this book doesn’t, so be aware of that if that’s not your cup of tea. If you’re a fan of the Bachelor franchise, I really think you’d enjoy this book but I also think those who aren’t fans would enjoy it.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Long Bright River: A Novel by [Liz Moore]

Mickey is a cop whose beat includes a tough Philadelphia neighborhood overwhelmed by the opioid crisis. Her sister Kacey is an addict who lives on those same streets. After Kacey disappears around the same time as a string of murders begins, Mickey becomes obsessed with finding both the killer and Kacey.

This was a book chosen by my book club. I’m not sure I would have chosen to read it otherwise, but I can say with a good amount of confidence that if I had chosen to read it on my own, I doubt I would have finished it because the plot absolutely dragged. It’s not really a mystery and not really a thriller, though it had elements of both. It was a character-driven novel, but I struggled because I didn’t actually like Mickey, the sole point of view and main character, very much. It is very slow-moving and covers a lot of hard subject matter like drug addiction, exploitation, murder, single parenthood, homelessness, etc. There are a lot of little side plots and a lot of time spent on Mickey and Kacey’s history and childhood. By page 200 I was really having to force myself to keep reading and I think had it not been a book club pick, I would have quit. But then, all the sudden, something happened in the plot that changed everything for me and I couldn’t put the rest of the book down! I absolutely flew through the last third of the book and loved it. Everyone in my book club agreed that the last portion of the book was so different than the rest; it felt like “this is the book I wanted to read!” To be honest, I don’t know if I recommend it or not. I think it definitely depends on the reader. It needed to be 100 pages shorter, but I did ultimately really enjoy where it ended up. I’m glad I finished it!

What you Wish For by Katherine Center

Samantha and the rest of her colleagues at school are reeling from the loss of their beloved principal. Just when it seems like things will never be good again, Duncan Carpenter is announced as the next principal. Sam’s history with Duncan at a previous school gives her hope that he will bring much-needed fun, joy, and life back into the school. But when Duncan arrives, the rule-following, safety-obsessed authoritarian is nothing like the guy she remembers. Is the old Duncan still in there? And can Sam help coax him back?

I wanted to read something fun and interesting, with a bit of depth but not too much and this was the perfect choice. I found the characters, both main and side, to be interesting and likeable, I loved the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I enjoyed that there were only a couple side plots included and they were all meaningful to the story. The setting in a unique school in the beachside community of Galveston was fun to picture and I easily felt like part of the school community there. I will say, this book does cover the heavy topic of reasons why safety in schools is important in this day and age, which might be triggering for some people. That being said, it didn’t really feel overly light or overly dramatic – it just hit a nice middle ground, like a Hallmark movie with some depth. I enjoyed it!

My April stack is growing so hopefully I’ll be able to devote quite a bit of time to reading because I have several books I’m excited about reading soon! What books have you been loving lately?

February 2021 Book Reviews

February may be the shortest month of the year, but you wouldn’t know it from this month’s book stack. Since we weren’t working on any major home projects, I had extra time to read and I made it through six books – almost all of which I enjoyed!

Only one of the six books was by a new-to-me author. Four of these books were from authors I’ve read and enjoyed before and one was a book of poems from a woman I’ve fan-girled over on Instagram for years. That made for an interesting month of reading because I more I or less knew (except in one unfortunate case) what to expect from each book. Let’s dive in!

All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

All the Ways We Said Goodbye: A Novel of the Ritz Paris by [Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White]

The Ritz hotel in Paris has hosted many people over the years, including three different women in the pivotal years of 1914, 1942, and 1964. This novel alternates perspectives from Aurelie, Daisy, and Babs as they navigate very different circumstances in the world and in their own lives. I love historical fiction so much and I’ve read and enjoyed works by this author trio before so my hopes were high going into this book – and I was not disappointed! I absolutely devoured this one. It is a bit of a sequel to The Glass Ocean in that there is some character/family overlap. While you don’t need to read that book first to understand this one, but there are a few minor spoilers (finding out which people ultimately ended up together, who survived the ship, etc.) so I would personally recommend reading The Glass Ocean first.

With this book, there weren’t any shocking revelations – I predicted all the secrets and “twists” pretty early on but that honestly didn’t ruin the experience. I still enjoyed the journey of figuring out how the characters got from points A to B to C. I loved each of the three women, and admired how each one felt inadequate in her own way, but ultimately each one came into her own and discovered strength she didn’t know existed. I also loved the setting! I have read a lot of WWII historical fiction but nothing with a setting like the Ritz in Paris and I enjoyed seeing how that hotel connected all three stories. One thing about books by this trio – they always leave me a little bit heartbroken. Because you’re reading from three different time periods, the later stories reveal what happened to the previous characters and sometimes it’s lovely, while other times it’s very sad. Overall, I loved this book and highly recommend!

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party: A Novel by [Lucy Foley]

A group of longtime friends decides to spend New Years together at a remote estate in the Scottish Highlands. At first it seems like the perfect getaway, but it isn’t long before tensions rise and old hostilities emerge. Before the end of the stay, one of the friends will be dead. And another one will be a murderer.

Awhile back I read The Guest List and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to read another book by the same author. The problem is, I believe I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t actually read The Guest List and this felt like a new story. Instead, it felt like a deja-vu read. Obviously there were differences in characters and parts of the plot but the overall formula was the same: mystery/lite-thriller, small gathering of people, one of them is dead, one of the remaining ones is a murderer, remote location with weather events causing isolation, chapters with alternating perspectives of some of the guests and employees. Everyone has motives, everyone has secrets, and no one is particularly likeable. It takes a long time for anything to be revealed – you know that something is going to happen but it’s like each chapter leaves you hanging for a long time. In both books you get a sense of all the tension simmering but you don’t even know who is murdered for a long time. And as little hints are dropped throughout the story, you can’t decide what is just a red herring and what is an actual relevant clue. All of those are fun aspects of a read, but I just couldn’t be as enthusiastic about it as I wanted to be because it felt like a story I had already read. I was still invested and got through the book quickly because I wanted to find out who the murderer was (and there were things revealed that I definitely did not predict!) Overall, I give it 3/5 stars, but likely would have given 4/5 if I hadn’t read The Guest List first.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

In a desperate situation that she can’t see a way out of, Addie LaRue runs into the woods and makes a deal with Luc, a god of darkness – in exchange for her soul, he will help her out of her situation and she will live forever. What Addie doesn’t bargain for though, is that in this never-ending life, no one will ever remember her. Three hundred years later, Addie is still roaming the world, forgotten by everyone she meets . . . until one day she enters a bookstore and someone remembers her.

I couldn’t put this down and read in under 24 hours. It has a really intriguing and unique premise and the short chapters kept me going – I kept telling myself “just one more, just one more!” Chapters alternate back and forth between Addie’s life now and her life at various points in the past centuries. I will say the ‘history’ parts got repetitive and a bit slow for a while, particularly in the first few years of Addie’s bargain (although that is kind of the point, to show how monotonous and never-ending life now feels for Addie) so I skimmed a few of those chapters. Once Addie finds someone who actually remembers her, the book really picks up! I was very invested in figuring out why Addie could now be remembered by someone and loved the ways in which she made her mark on history, despite being forgotten. I found this to be a really compelling read overall, and it falls just short of my top tier of recommendations only because some parts feel repetitive and slow and the book feels overly long (450 pages!!) I also don’t want to spoil anything about the ending so I’ll say this – I can appreciate how it was satisfying, but it also felt kind of underwhelming and made me want a bit more. It’s definitely a unique novel that is unlike anything else I’ve read before and I do recommend it!

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years: A Novel by [Rebecca Serle]

Dannie has her life planned out to a T. She just nailed the interview for her dream job and said yes to her boyfriend’s proposal and knows exactly where her life is headed. Until she falls asleep and somehow flashes forward five years into the future, where she has a different ring on her finger, a different apartment, and a different guy in it. She spends one hour in the future and then wakes back up in her regular life, where she now grapples with knowing that a different life, with one very clear hour, is quickly approaching.

This book is very hard for me to review because I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling anything. Let’s just say it was very unexpected. I went in expecting a fun, somewhat mindless romance, and instead it was surprisingly poignant and deep, covering friendship, grief, loss, letting go of best-laid plans, etc. I read The Dinner List by this same author a couple years ago and it was also a novel with a fun concept but more depth than expected so maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised that this one was the same way. It definitely had twists and turns I did not see coming and was actually a pretty great book, but definitely was not the right book for the mood I was in and so I didn’t really enjoy it. I kept waiting for it to change into the book I expected it to be, so when it didn’t (obviously), I judged it more harshly. I know if I would have gone in with less expectations, I would’ve liked it a lot more. I didn’t love the main character, I didn’t love certain aspects of the plot line, and I wasn’t totally satisfied by the ending. That being said, I read this in like, half a day. It’s a nice short read (250ish pages) that is easy to get through quickly. And I have a friend who read it without having expectations and she loved it, so I think it helps to not expect light, fluffy romance beforehand!

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Survivors: A Novel by [Jane Harper]

On a visit home to Tasmania to help his parents pack up his childhood home, Kieran is haunted by memories of a long-ago storm that changed his life and his hometown forever. When a young woman’s body is found dead on the beach one morning, old memories and long-held secrets threaten to resurface and once again, change the town forever.

I love Jane Harper! If “environmental suspense” was a genre, she would have it locked down. The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man – her books always include an atmospheric element that makes the weather feels like a character. This book was no different, as the ocean played a big part in the story. I was super invested in this book and the dual-mystery aspect of the current murder and the questions surrounding the long-ago storm. This book kept me guessing and was full of little clues and red herrings, and after finishing up, I had to go back and reread several parts of the book to see all the things I missed the first time around. I liked reading from Kieran’s perspective and thought the setting was great. I could picture this little seaside town so vividly and the characters were complex and interesting. I will say, wish there had been one more chapter! It felt like after a lot of buildup, it ended somewhat abruptly and I wanted a little bit more. I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of Harper’s other works.

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

I’m not sure a book of poetry has ever made my list before, but this one was fantastic! I don’t know Kate personally, but we have multiple real-life mutual connections and so I’ve been following her on Instagram for several years now. I was so excited to see her first book of poems was finally published! One of my best friends from college surprised me with a copy and I loved cozying up in a comfortable chair and reading these poems. Kate has a way with words that is just beautiful. The book separates the poems into three parts based loosely on three categories: life as a woman, life in a relationship/marriage, life as a mother. These poems are relatable, accessible, modern, and even nostalgic. Some are heartfelt, some are downright snarky (in a good way). It’s a short book and could easily be read in an hour or two, but I recommend indulging in a slower pace to really absorb and enjoy each poem. I know this is a book that I will pick up again and again and return to my favorites. Even if you’re not a poetry fan, I encourage you to check out this book!

Whew! What a month! I’ve already started my first book for March and I’m loving it so far, so I’m hopeful next month is just as full of great reads as this one was! As always, if you have great suggestions for books to read, please send them my way!

January 2021 Book Reviews

I have to start this month off with a confession: I did not read all the books pictured here.

Each month I like to have a picture of all the books I read, but occasionally, books aren’t able to be renewed and I have to send them back to the library before the month is over. When that happens, I have to guess at which books I’ll be able to finish by the end of the month. Usually it’s not too hard because I know what I can finish in x number of days, but this month was extra hard because one book was due January 4. Only four days into the month and I had to guess what I’d be able to finish over the next 27 days. I took a guess that I’d be able to make it through five books, but I was wrong. I only made it through four of these – read on to see what I was able to read and what is now first on my list for February!

American Royals by Katharine McGee

When the Founding Fathers created America’s government post-Revolutionary War, they purposely chose not to establish another monarchy. But…what if they would have? This young adult novel imagines a present-day America ruled by a monarchy and follows the lives of four young women deeply entrenched in it: Beatrice, in line to be the first female monarch, her younger sister Samantha, Samantha’s best friend Nina, and socialite Daphne.

I started this book several months ago but once I realized it was a series I decided to stop and pick it back up once the second book was out. I had the feeling it was going to be a binge-worthy read and I’d want to dive right in to the next book. And boy, was I right! This book sucked me right in and I loved it. It’s got an interesting premise with fun story lines and lots of juicy drama. Chapters alternative points of view between the four main characters; each girl has her own struggles and growing pains with her romantic relationship(s) and role within the monarchy. As each girls works to come into her own, I found myself rooting for (almost) everyone. It definitely falls in the young adult category but I still found it to be a really addictive read and absolutely flew through it! It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger so I was excited to dive right on in to the next book . . .

Majesty by Katharine McGee

. . .which I unfortunately did not enjoy. Ugh!

This book picks up right where things left off and follows the same four women, but any preconceived notions I had of where each story was going to go were quickly shattered. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say it felt almost jarring to have every storyline go in a completely different direction than I imagined. I was invested in the first book’s stories and did not enjoy the abrupt changes of plot. That being said, of the four girls and their stories, I ended up loving the direction that one of them took and eventually came to terms with another one. So, I enjoyed two out of four ha!

I will say, these books are both very long (400+ pages!) and reading them back to back was a long stretch of reading. 800 pages of drama is a lot and I found myself much less interested in the second book than the first. Maybe I shouldn’t have read them back to back? Maybe I should have just ended things after I loved the first book? I definitely recommend the first one, but I’m really on the fence with the second one. It brought back feelings of reading The Royal We – I love love loved the first book and then hated the direction the second book (The Heir Affair) took. Maybe this is just a sign that I shouldn’t read the second books in drama-filled young royal fiction? I don’t know. If you’ve read both books, I’d love to know your thoughts!

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

If You Want to Make God Laugh by [Bianca Marais]

It’s 1994 in newly post-apartheid South Africa. Teenage Zodwa is about to give birth to a baby while living in a squatter camp with her dying mother. Meanwhile, middle-aged Ruth, a famous former stripper, and Delilah, an excommunicated nun working in an orphanage, both face personal crises that draw them back to their rural hometown. Soon, the three women’s lives become connected in ways that none of them could predict.

I recently joined a book club and this was the first book the group chose. It was an excellent choice and led to some great discussion! I need to include the disclaimer that this book is not for the faint of heart and contains some pretty heavy issues including rape, attempted suicide, domestic abuse, and racially-motivated violence. That being said, it’s an incredibly well written book and I couldn’t put it down. The short chapters and alternating points of view kept the book moving quickly, despite some of the heavy content. The characters are so complex; they are grappling with their own flaws and past mistakes but they all also have redemptive qualities that make the reader want to root for them. With each revelation a character made about her past, it just layered more richness to the story. This was a very thought-provoking novel that will stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend (with the caveat of possible triggers in the darker content previously mentioned).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

“At some point, being a fulfilled adult means taking responsibility for the course of your own life and accepting the fact that now you’re in charge of your choices.”

Despite her training as a therapist, Lori struggles to come to terms with a shocking breakup and decides to seek out therapy for herself. This nonfiction book chronicles both her experiences with a variety of her personal patients as well as her sessions with her own therapist and feels part-memoir, part look into the lives of others (or at least as close as you can get while still honoring patient privacy). I found it to be a really interesting look at the variety of reasons that people seek therapy and the transformations that can happen when we work to better understand ourselves: our histories, our motivations, our goals/hopes/dreams for the present and future. I had to place a sticky note in several different places so I could go back later and reflect more on a profound revelation or a simple truth that resonated with me. I was actually less interested in Lori’s personal therapy journey and more interested in the stories of her clients – it was fascinating to see how each person changed and how my perceptions and assumptions about them also changed as they became more vulnerable and revealed more about their histories. Overall this was a really interesting read and I’d recommend it!

If you’ve been keeping track, you know that means I did not get to All the Ways We Said Goodbye so that is first up for my February reads! Beatriz Williams is one of my absolute favorite authors so I have high hopes for it!

Top 10 Books of 2020

As this year draws to a close (tomorrow!) I thought it would be fun to do something new and write a roundup of my favorite reads/best books I read in 2020. I read a ton of great books this year, and it was surprisingly difficult to cut it down to a top ten. There’s a wide variety of genres represented (rom com, thriller, historical fiction, courtroom drama, memoirs, and more) and looking at my list, these are the books that shaped me, challenged me, and entertained me the most this year.

Initially I thought I’d combine this with my monthly book review, but then I ended up reading a LOT of books in December and the post would have just been way too long. So stay tuned for the monthly book review recap coming soon!

My Top 10 Reads of 2020

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

A highly addictive courtroom drama with so many layers to the characters and their stories: the struggles of an immigrant family, the toll of infertility on a marriage, the complex emotions involved with parenting a child with special needs. This would be an excellent choice for a book club! Read my full review here.

To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, & the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood

Written by a psychologist, this is an intimate look at the challenges many mothers face. It is validating, vulnerable, and incredibly relatable. Find my review here and a full blog post I wrote further expounding on it here.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Incredibly powerful memoir that first started to challenge my worldview and recognize my white privilege before I even really understood what that meant. A very important read! Find my full review here.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

A fresh and fun rom com about two flatmates who agree to share an apartment on opposite schedules so they never (intend to) meet each other. Full review here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

A deeply moving and vulnerable memoir written by Chanel Miller, the victim in an infamous campus rape case. She gives a voice to so many other women in this heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful read. Full review here.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

One of my favorite rom coms ever, this delightful mixture of sweet + sexy rom com also showed very likeable characters dealing with real-world problems and struggles. Full review here.

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by [Ibram X. Kendi]

Challenging, convicting, inspiring, hopeful, powerful. This book felt part memoir part motivational speaker and is easily one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Read my full review here.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This nonfiction book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson’s life working as a lawyer representing those who are often overlooked by our criminal justice system: the poor, the wrongly accused, and those condemned on death row. It can be overwhelming to realize there is so much work to still be done, but ultimately this book left me feeling passionate and hopeful. Read my full review here.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

This heart-pumping, fast-paced thriller had me hooked from the beginning. I love a good thriller that isn’t gory or creepy and this one nailed it! Read my full review here.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

An elderly Polish grandmother with a big secret and one dying wish, a granddaughter who travels halfway around the world to fulfill it. Alternating timelines of Nazi-occupied Poland and present-day. This is historical fiction at its best! Read my full review here.

Honorable Mentions

I couldn’t end this post without including a few books that just barely missed the cut of my top 10 (and honestly, there were several books that just barely missed this honorable mention list, but I had to stop somewhere!)

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Full review here.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Regretting You by [Hoover, Colleen]

Full review here.

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

Full review here.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Full review here.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

The Authenticity Project: A Novel by [Clare Pooley]

Full review here.

I keep a running list of all my previous reads over on my ‘Bookworm‘ tab, so you can always use that as a resource to access all my previous reviews.

Here’s to more great reading in 2021!

November 2020 Book Reviews

After this past month’s reading, all I can say is “wow.” While they are all very different from one another, each of the three books I read was powerful in its own way, and each one was just so incredibly well written. I’m so excited to talk about them today!

Transcendant Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The collaboration that the mice and I have going in this lab is, if not holy, then at least sacrosanct. . . I’m aware that the Christians in my life would find it blasphemous and the scientists would find it embarrassing, but the more I do this work the more I believe in a kind of holiness in our connection to everything on Earth. Holy is the mouse. Holy is the grain the mouse eats. Holy is the seed. Holy are we.

Gifty has seen struggle and suffering around her for most of her life. Her parents struggled to find good jobs in Alabama and provide for their children after immigrating from Ghana. Her brother struggled to cope with a sports injury in high school and became addicted to drugs. Her suicidal mother has battled depression while tightly clinging to her faith for much of her adult life. And Gifty is trying to use her talents in science to understand it all by studying reward-seeking behaviors in mice. This book is a slow burn, character-driven novel. There’s actually not much at all that happens in the overall plot, but the book poignantly journeys through Gifty’s thoughts and experiences, both past and present, and explores her times of deep spiritual belief and wavering faith. It’s definitely not the book to choose if you want to just zone out, as it jumps around in time too frequently and sometimes without warning so it’s easy to get confused. It’s also not the book to choose if you’re looking for a fast-paced plot. It’s one to choose if you’re desiring a rich, thought-provoking, beautifully written look at grief, faith, suffering, and the desire to find hope and meaning in it all.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing by themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.

This book has been circulating a ton on social media this year and I finally decided to check it out. I hadn’t read Glennon’s previous books or followed her on social media or known much beyond the basics of her life (namely, her somewhat recent marriage to soccer star Abby Wombach after divorcing her longtime husband). This book serves as part-memoir, part-motivational speaker and while much of it centers around the end of her first marriage and then relationship with Abby, it covers a wide range of topics. Glennon writes powerfully about her motherhood journey, addictions, feminism, depression and anxiety, discovering herself, racism, and so much more. There are over 50 chapters touching on so many things that it feels more like a collection of short stories that are connected, yet separate. As it is with most short story collections, I definitely resonated more deeply with some than others. There were some chapters that didn’t land for me, but then others that spoke to me so deeply I teared up. (In that sense, it reminded me of Girl, Wash Your Face, although Untamed is so much better written). Glennon is a gifted storyteller and I especially appreciated reading her takes on raising both boys and girls, navigating an anti-racist journey as a white women, learning to value herself as a woman and mother, and her journey as an activist for social and racial justice. It’s deep, it’s charming, it’s vulnerable, it’s funny, it’s well done.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

By now it’s no secret that historical fiction is my favorite, so this dual-perspective novel seemed like it would be right up my alley and I was not disappointed! Alternating between Alina, a Roman Catholic teenager living in Nazi-occupied Poland, and Alice, a present-day wife and mother hoping to fulfil one last request for her dying grandmother, this gorgeously-written novel spins a tale of hope, resilience, and undying love in the face of an unimaginable war. The interesting thing about this book is that there aren’t shock factors so much as twists that are expected to happen, you’re just not sure exactly how they will unfold. Even when I thought I figured out how all the stories connected, I was so intrigued with the why they connected. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I can’t say more without giving things away. You’ll just have to read it and find out what I mean. 😉 My one criticism would be that while I was absolutely captivated by Alina’s story, I didn’t feel like the first half of Alice’s was that interesting. There was a lot written about her life, marriage, and family that felt like it didn’t necessarily have to be included. That being said, I still could not put this book down! I was in full-fledged tears through several chapters and it will stay with me for quite a while. This is easily going to make it to my top recommendations – I loved it!

Honestly, I’m a little nervous for December reading now – this is quite the lineup to have to follow! As always, if you have any great recommendations, please send them my way!

October 2020 Book Reviews

Good morning!

It’s been a while since I’ve had a non-One Room Challenge blog post and that’s because both on the blog and in real life, the month of October was dominated by work on our home office. It’s been such a fun room to design and work on (see our most recent progress here), but it has meant that I don’t have much free time to do things like reading. I only finished two books in the month of October, but I’m hoping that once the office is wrapped up, I’ll have lots of time to read in it!

Don’t the books look SO GOOD on our new home office bookshelves? 😉

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by [Christina Lauren]

Millie and her four best guy friends all need dates for an upcoming work event, so they decide to all create profiles for an online dating site. After a very unsuccessful first round of suitors, Millie tries her luck again with an alter ego, “Catherine.” This time, she gets matched up with her best friend Reid, and what started out as a joke to see if Reid would figure out who she was turns into a way for Millie to open up to Reid in a way that she never has been able to before. Add in the fact that Millie and Reid do have a bit of a friends-with-benefits thing going on in real life and . . . things get complicated.

I always go into Christina Lauren books with high hopes because the first book I ever read by these authors (it’s a writing duo – Christina and Lauren!) was The Unhoneymooners and I loved it. Unfortunately, so far that’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most and each book afterwards seems mediocre. I really liked all the characters individually (the friend group was so funny!) and loved that the authors did things like including their group chats – it was a fun way to see everyone’s unique personalities and make the reader feel like one of the group. I also liked the idea of Millie and Reid, but I got a little annoyed by parts of the plot and ended up skimming several sections. Overall, this one falls pretty middle-of-the-road for me. If you’re in the mood for a decent, fluffy read that you can skim and finish in a day, this is a good option.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

This book was selected as a book club book for a podcast I listen too (HERself – highly recommend!) and while the title is definitely a little aggressive (I definitely do not hate Justin), this was a really interesting read. The author details the struggles of her marriage after becoming a parent – the feeling of carrying most of the weight of parenting and housework duties, the frustration of asking for help with chores only to be told an noncommittal “later,” the lack of romance and passion, and the intensity of arguments and fighting. She’s incredibly vulnerable and transparent about the struggles she and her husband faced and then details the information she learned from seeking the opinions of others: everyone from marriage therapists to credentialed researchers to FBI negotiation experts to her friends and family. She slowly starts to implement various strategies and notices how her marriage, her personal happiness, and her family life all improve afterward.

I really enjoyed this book. I was fascinated by her sessions with therapists and appreciated that she addressed the more obvious aspects of relationships (sex, money) and also some of the sneakier aspects as well (clutter, kid chores). There were a lot of little nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned from reading and I think this is a book I’ll come back to again someday. There’s just a lot of great takeaways that can benefit whether you’re a parent to one newborn baby or five teenagers or anything in between. I highly recommend it as a read for parents! And as a side note: I also really enjoyed the HERself podcast episode with this author and definitely recommend that as well!

The One Room Challenge finishes up in two weeks, and just in time because a bunch of my holds from the library recently came in. I’m excited to break in my cozy reading chair in the brand new office soon!

September 2020 Book Reviews

While I can hardly believe tomorrow is going to be October, I am also excited because that means it’s book review day!

This month I read five books (one of which was actually a re-read from a few years ago) and as usual, genres were all over the place. Let’s dive in!

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

Claire has been searching for a way to escape her abusive marriage, so when she meets Eva, who also seems desperate to escape her life, in the airport, switching tickets seems like the perfect solution. That is, until Eva’s plane crashes. With no money, no identity, and no one to ask for help, Claire decides to assume Eva’s identity until she can figure out her next steps, not realizing that Eva was keeping some dark and dangerous secrets of her own.

This book was fast-paced and heart-pumping! I was immediately hooked from the start and raced through this book. I loved the alternating perspectives and the fact that Claire’s story mostly happened in the present while Eva’s focused on the past. Knowing Eva’s secrets and history before Claire did made me that much more eager to keep reading and see how things would unravel for her. I wasn’t necessarily expecting twists, but there were definitely a few towards the end of the book that I did not see coming and that made things even more interesting. While this book definitely got my adrenaline going, it wasn’t downright scary and I was able to read it alone at night while Justin was away without needing to sleep with the lights on. It was thrilling without being creepy and I really enjoyed it – highly recommend!

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

When I searched my library for The Last Flight, this book also came up in my search. As soon as I saw it was a Beatriz Williams book, I requested a hold. I’ve raved about past books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) and books she’s co-authored (The Glass Ocean, The Forgotten Room) so I was excited for this one and it did not disappoint!

Janey Everett is a journalist in pursuit of a story: after finding the wreckage of legendary pilot Sam Mallory’s plane, she discovers that he may not have been alone in his final crash and sets off to find the groundbreaking female pilot Irene Foster, who famously disappeared a decade earlier. This reads like biographical fiction even though it isn’t – it feels like a loose adaptation of Amelia Earhart’s life. I loved this book! The alternating timelines were a fascinating way to watch Sam and Irene’s lives unfold and I liked that it wasn’t directly Irene’s first person perspective but read like a novel. The characters, the historical details, the mystery – Williams just nailed it. My one complaint is that one of the “twists” was too easy to guess (and was guessable waaaay too early) but since this isn’t a suspense novel, I’ll let it slide. Overall, this book was a really enjoyable read and I’m adding it to my list of highly recommended Beatriz Williams novels!

The Royal We by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

American college student Bex Porter sets off for a study abroad adventure at Oxford only to find herself dorm-mates with Nick, aka Prince Nicholas, third in line for the throne of England. While romance is the last thing on her mind, she can’t ignore the close bond she feels towards Nick or the way their friendship soon feels like something else.

I actually read this book several years ago and loved it, so much so that it landed on my Ultimate Book Recommendations list. It’s like a fan fiction re-imagining of Prince William and Kate (if Kate was an American) and there are a lot of obvious parallels to the real life royal family (like Nick’s younger, rebellious, redheaded brother). It’s binge-y, it’s fun, it’s got characters you fall in love with and want to be friends with. I had forgotten how long it is though – I’m not sure 450+ pages was necessary and there definitely could have been things edited out. The length keeps it from being a true easy, breezy, light beach read simply because it does take effort to get through the whole thing. But even so, I really enjoyed it the first time and it was fun to re-live it again the second time. I would wholeheartedly recommend it with one caveat . . .

The Heir Affair by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Heir Affair (The Royal We Book 2) by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

. . . I hated the sequel. So much so that I think it makes me like The Royal We a little less.

When I first read The Royal We, it read like a standalone book. Even though there were still a few loose strings at the end, it very much ended in a way that allowed you to draw your own conclusions and feel happy and hopeful about the way things played out. Only to turn to The Heir Affair and realize you got it all wrong. I wanted this book to be about so many things – I feel like the authors could have taken a sequel in a lot of directions – and honestly, I just hated the direction it took. It took away my happy hopeful feelings, it made me frustrated, and it made me angry at characters I had once loved.

There were still some fun, cute moments that felt reminiscent of The Royal We, but not nearly enough. I kept holding out for an ending that made things make sense, that made me feel that same sort of happy, hopeful, “complete” sense I felt after reading The Royal We and I not only didn’t get it, but was so unsatisfied by the ending. Again, this book was long (450+ pages) and that’s a lot of exasperated reading. I find myself torn with whether or not I want another installment of this series. Maybe a third book could redeem all the things that I felt went wrong here . . . but also maybe not. My suggestion is to read The Royal We, draw your own conclusions, and then just move on without this sequel. 😉

The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

After the death of Truviv’s CEO, all eyes are on the short list for his replacement. Ames Garrett is at the top of that list and while he appears to be a stellar candidate, there are a few women in the office who feel very differently. There are many secrets that have been buried, but with the impending nomination, it’s starting to feel like they need to come to light . . .

This book read like a murder (maybe?) mystery meets thriller meets expose of workplace sexual harrassment. To be honest, I’m not sure if I technically enjoyed it. It was really frustrating and hard to read, and I’ll never understand why women aren’t believed first, but at the same time, that was kind of the point. It shows just how hard it is to come forward with sexual harrassment or assault claims and how swift and severe the pushback can be. I think this would be an interesting book to discuss in a book club. It feels like a page straight out of the #metoo movement and I think it can be an important piece of the conversation. It’s certainly not a light, fun book but I flew through it even when it was frustrating.

As we’re entering fall, I’m really looking forward to lighting a candle and curling up under a blanket with a good book! Send all the cozy recommendations my way!

August 2020 Book Reviews

It’s the last day of the month and that can only mean one thing: it’s book review day!

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This month I read six books and while there were a few I didn’t totally love, I enjoyed all six for different reasons. I’ve got some nonfiction memoirs, a long historical fiction saga, two rom coms (coincidentally both with protagonists working in the same industries), and a murder mystery whodunit. It was a fun mix of genres and topics and I’m excited to dive in!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

A glamorous wedding on an obscure island off the coast of Ireland brings together a unique mix of people, including the bride, the plus-one, the bridesmaid, the wedding planner, and the best man. As the wedding festivities unfold, tensions rise and hidden secrets come to light. This alternating perspective whodunit was suspenseful and eerie without being creepy and I could not put it down! The thing about a book like this is that you know from the very beginning (even before you crack open the book, as the back cover mentions it) that a murder happens. But obviously, the author doesn’t want to give too much away too soon. So for the first third of the book, very little is revealed and each chapter ends with a bit of a cliffhanger/allusion to something but you don’t quite know what. It can be a little maddening, but it does make for a binge-worthy read. I just wanted to keep going to finally get a little breadcrumb of a clue. I did guess a few of the twists, some even pretty early on, but there were still some OH DANG moments for me as everything started to come to light. I felt very invested and I had to know who did the murderer was! The thing holding me back from this going on my all-star list is that I wasn’t altogether satisfied by the ending. I appreciated how most of it wrapped up, but there were a few things I wish had been a bit different. There needed to be one more chapter and a touch more resolution, but there are likely many readers who think the ending is perfect. Either way, I’d recommend this as a good binge-y whodunit!

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity. (p. 290)

Whenever things got really bad, and they were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. . . there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us. (p. 290)

Oh my. I have a hard time even putting this book into words. I had known that our criminal justice system has its issues, but this book really opened my eyes to a lot of the realities of its flaws and the many ways in which “justice” has ultimately failed so many people, particularly people of color and/or the poor. This nonfiction book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson’s life working as a lawyer representing those who are often overlooked by our criminal justice system: the poor, the wrongly accused, and those condemned on death row. A lot of the story focuses on one man in particular: Walter McMillan, who is on death row for a murder he is adamant that he did not commit. While Stevenson works to build a case for Walter, we also read many other stories of people who were sentenced for life for crimes committed as juveniles, people who are imprisoned after having virtually no good representation in their trial, or black people who were purposefully given all-white juries for their trials. It was truly heartbreaking to read the many times you think justice will prevail . . . and it doesn’t. Not every story has a happy ending. Not every wrong is made right. There is so much hurt, so much suffering, and so much that just doesn’t make sense. There were times it was really difficult to read. But there were also stories that gave me hope. There were triumphs and there were moments that restore your faith in humanity. It can be overwhelming to realize there is so much work to still be done, but ultimately this book left me feeling passionate and hopeful.  While this is by no means an easy read, I think it is such an important read and absolutely recommend it!

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

I think it’s okay every now and again to reflect on that time. Get down the box from the top shelf of the emotional closet and marvel at the things that used to mean so much. The keepsakes of our mistakes, the souvenirs of lost years. But know when to start making new memories with people who deserve the you that you are now. (p. 326)

I would never have claimed to be a big Jessica Simpson fan (although I love love love her show collection haha), but she was obviously a big part of pop culture in the 90’s and early 2000’s and I feel like I’ve grown up with her somewhat. I actually really enjoyed this memoir! It brought back a lot of nostalgia, and it was fun to read about things like the people she met trying out for the Mickey Mouse Club and her rise to fame with her music and Newlyweds . I was also fascinated to read all the things that were really going on beyond the things shown in magazines or on MTV; as always, there is more to the story than what meets the eye. While reading, I kept taking breaks to look up things on the internet – everything from her music videos to Newlywed clips or pictures she’s referencing. Jessica doesn’t shy away from the darker moments in her past and she opens up about abuse she’s suffered and unhealthy relationships she’s been in. While she does call out people (I wouldn’t want to be John Mayer’s publicist after this book came out), she also talks about the things she herself has done that she regrets and the mistakes she’s made. This book was fun, intriguing, vulnerable, and engrossing. I really enjoyed it and would recommend, even if you’re not really a Jessica Simpson fan.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

January and Gus are former college classmates turned bestselling authors who find themselves as neighbors in a small town in Michigan where they both are suffering from a bit of writer’s block. Though they aren’t exactly what you would call friends, they make a bet – write a book in the other person’s genre and see who can sell their book first. Through mini boot-camp trainings to educate one another on their genres, they get to know one another better and start to realize maybe they have more in common than a shared passion for writing.

I think my beef with this book is that the cover and the title feel misleading. Technically there is a beach, and there is a lot of reading involved, but the cover gives off a vibe that is not really at all what the book actually reads like. That aside, I thought the actual premise was cute and enjoyed this read. It took me a while to warm up to January but I loved broody and vulnerable Gus. I liked that the book dug into some meatier topics like marital affairs, abuse, rejection, life in a cult (see what I mean by the cover is misleading!?) and wasn’t just a feel-good, surface-level rom com. There were some parts of the story line that didn’t really interest me, but overall it was a nice enough light read to break up the heavier topics in the other books I read this month. I’d recommend it with the caveat that it falls pretty middle of the road for me – enjoyable, but not a standout.

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

I previously read Lilac Girls from this author and loved it, so I was excited to see this prequel to the book following the perspectives of three women, American socialite Eliza, Russian heiress Sofya, and Russian peasant Varinka as their lives intertwine around the time of WWI and the Russian Revolution. However, I’m finding this book review a little hard to write. I recognize that this is a a good book, but I’m not actually sure if I enjoyed it. Does that even make sense?

First of all, it’s over 400 pages and I just don’t think it needed to be that long. So many words, but really…did that much stuff happen? No. Secondly, I like having someone to root for but there were no clear heros. I had empathy for Sofya and the plight of the White Russians, but it was also frustrating to see their tremendous sense of entitlement and how little regard they had for the peasants’ suffering. I also had empathy for Varinka and all her suffering as a peasant, but she also did some pretty crappy things once she gained even a slight amount of power. And then Eliza’s story provided some American perspective, but her “America” seemed a little entitled and out of touch and her story felt superfluous to me. I think the book just needed less of her. All that being said, I also didn’t hate it. Ha!  Though it takes place during WWI it focuses more on what was specifically happening in Russia which I thought was interesting and I was invested in finding out the outcome for each woman (mostly Sofya and Varinka). I recognize that the author has written complex characters with vulnerabilities, redeeming qualities, and deep flaws. Overall, this falls in the mid-range for me. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, unsure if I’d recommend. If character-driven historical fiction is your thing, maybe give it a shot?

Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren

Dating You / Hating You by [Christina Lauren]

Evie and Carter meet up at a mutual friend’s party and the chemistry is instant. They’re both Hollywood agents and don’t typical date those in the industry, but in this case, it seems worth a try. That is until they show up to work one day and realize their companies have merged and they’re now vying for the same position. What was once a potential budding relationship is now filled with competition, zany attempts at sabotage, and maybe a little bit of that initial chemistry too? I read this book on my Kindle in about a day. It’s an easy read: it’s got some silliness, it’s got some steaminess, it’s got a fun cast of main and supporting characters. It’s got an interesting setting of the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood. It kind of reminded me of movies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days; even though the plot lines are really different, the general chemistry + sabotage + chemistry dynamic was similar. Overall, I enjoyed this as a nice light read to round out the month.

I’m really excited about a few of the books I have lined up for September so hopefully I’ll have some more great reviews to report next month! What books are you excited to read?

July 2020 Book Reviews

Somehow, someway, this crazy year that is 2020 just keeps moving along and we’re onto another month and another book review!

I’ve been wanting to challenge myself with some harder, deeper books lately and this month I read some very compelling, meaningful books that I know will stick with me for a long, long time. Let’s dive in!

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How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by [Ibram X. Kendi]

The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it – and then dismantle it.

I would have always said that I was “not racist.” I would have considered myself to be colorblind (“I don’t see color”). Reading this book gave me so much insight into that language though and I now realize that when I was “colorblind,” I really was just oblivious. I was ignorant. And while I may have been “not racist,” I was not actively antiracist. I read this book as part of a virtual book club and it is POWERFUL. It’s really hard for me to summarize because there is so much in this book worth mentioning. I am thankful that I bought my own copy because I was constantly underlining, starring, making notes. Kendi addresses racism in many different areas of society and how it affects everything from policy making to poverty to standardized testing to individual relationships and so much more. It touches on the history of race and racism both globally and in the United States and shines a light on how both systems and individuals play a part. There may be those that disagree with me, but I would say that this book mostly manages to stay apolitical. In addition to a tremendous amount of research noted in the back, Kendi uses examples, both good and bad, on both sides of the political spectrum and even takes a critical look at himself. He writes so vulnerably about the ways in which he has fallen short or needed to grow in his own journey to be antiracist and I feel like that makes it easier for the reader to look critically at him/herself. I had to take a lot of hard looks in the mirror as I read and I feel like this book stretched me and changed me in many ways. It gave me a new lens with which to view the world around me and identify areas for growth. Now for all my gushing, I will say that Kendi is one man. This is by no means the exclusive answer to all the problems within our society and there are many perspectives and platforms to consider. Even so, this is such a valuable resource and I absolutely recommend it to everyone as an incredibly important opportunity to read, reflect, and grow. It is challenging but ultimately I found it to be inspiring and hopeful. I think it is an excellent candidate for book club discussions, or even just reading with a friend to process together. Highly, highly recommend.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Emira, a young black woman, is accused of kidnapping the girl she babysits while the two of them are in a grocery store. The entire confrontation, made by a white grocery shopper and the white security guard, is filmed and the story eventually gets back to Emira’s employer, Alix. Mortified by the situation, Alix tries to rectify the situation by befriending Emira – but is that really her place? And is she handling things as well as she thinks she is?

At first the style of writing felt disjointed to me, and it took me a while to establish a feel for it and get into the story, but once I did, I was hooked. I read this entire book in less than 24 hours! It was especially interesting to read this on the heels of How to Be An Antiracist – that book really did open my eyes to the ways in which so many well-intended “not-racist” behaviors are actually racist. Such a Fun Age was like a case study for exploring the dynamics of race, class, and privilege within relationships, both romantic and professional. The characters’ intentions didn’t always match the outcomes of their actions and it demonstrated the nuances in interactions and how things are rarely just black and white (no pun intended). When I tried coming up with a few adjectives for this book, intriguing, provocative, and engrossing immediately came to mind. I’m not sure if I would have felt this way had I not just read How to Be An Antiracist, (in fact, I know I would’ve viewed some of the interactions and characters differently beforehand!) so I would actually recommend reading both books if you can. But even if you can’t, this book is well worth a read. I think it would be an excellent candidate for a book club discussion on racial inequality and the white savior complex.

One in a Million by Lindsey Kelk

One in a Million: Heartwarming and uplifting, the perfect feelgood, funny romantic read by [Lindsey Kelk]

After several books on the heavier side, I was in the mood for something light and easy and this book seemed like just the thing. In an effort to save her small social media marketing business, Annie accepts a bet: a free month’s rent if she can make a total stranger Instagram famous in 30 days. The only problem is, the chosen target is Dr. Samuel Page, a dry historian with an overgrown beard, a flip phone, and absolutely no interest in social media. Annie is determined to win the bet, so she makes a deal with Sam. Allow her to open the Instagram account, and she will help him win his girlfriend back. Except it isn’t long before Annie realizes she doesn’t want Sam to win back his girlfriend…

I wanted so badly to like this little rom-com, but gosh I just did not. Honestly, I was bored! The pace is so slow and it is really long – I read it on my Kindle and remember looking for my percentage thinking “surely things are going to pick up soon” and I was shocked to see I wasn’t even 25% of the way through the book and it felt like nothing had happened. I also could not really get into the characters or understand Annie and Sam’s dynamic or growing relationship (and I wouldn’t even say that’s a spoiler, because this book is super obviously predictable). I think it was supposed to be endearing and sweet but I can’t really say there was ever a point where I felt super invested or interested in them. There were way too many underdeveloped side characters and stories (one side story seemed like it was going to be more of a thing which would have been interesting but then it just…wasn’t). As a whole, this book was fine if you want a feel-good, somewhat mindless beach read, but I found it to be pretty underwhelming and forgettable.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

Charles and James, two men from very different backgrounds, feel the same call to preaching and end up as co-pastors at a Presbyterian church in New York City in the 1960’s. Their wives come with them, although it soon becomes apparent that they could not be more different. Still, the foursome have a unique bond and navigate the ups and downs of their relationships and faith journeys over the years.

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I dove in without really knowing what to expect. While the book does technically cover multiple decades, it really focuses on their lives in college as Charles and James meet Lily and Nan and are led to divinity school and then the early years of their ministry. This is definitely a slow burn, character-driven story so don’t expect a fast paced plot, but it is really well written and ends up being very thought-provoking. I am a Christian and found it fascinating to think about what faith looks like to different people – how they think about God, how they feel in their callings, how they cope with suffering. I do not think you have to be religious to appreciate this book. There also ended up being a pretty large part of the plot that I didn’t see coming but was super interested in given a specific part of my background (I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling things). I felt like I could relate to each character in a unique way and felt drawn to them all for different reasons. This novel is compelling and moving and rich – definitely recommend.

 

Whew! What a month, huh? I know I’m going to continue processing many of these books for a while. At the same time, I currently have NINE books stacked up on my nightstand waiting to be read so I’m going to be processing these and taking in some more in August. 🙂 What have you been reading lately?