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.

Iโ€™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 Oโ€™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 Stevensonโ€™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. ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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!