Discovering a Torch in the Night

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

A 5⭐️ Book Review

A Torch Against the Night continues the story of Laia and Elias, two strong-willed protagonists who are bound together by a sense of right and duty. In this follow-up, author Sabaa Tahir continues to weave her tale of An Ember in the Ashes, a story of high-fantasy, Rome-like intrigue, and magical jinn while holding on to the power of family, honor, and love.

While Laia and Elias continue the search for her brother, Darin, we also get to better know Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike and Elias’s oldest friend. I liked reading Helene’s point of view as she battles two unbearable choices: to follow the Emperor’s orders and kill her best friend or to deny her role as Blood Shrike and see her family slaughtered. With magical secrets attached to each of these characters, this book is driven by their wants and needs, as well as an action-packed plot. I really enjoyed this follow-up and am looking forward to reading the third and fourth Emberling books.

Loving GUP: A Beautiful Book

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

A 5⭐️ Book Review

The Guncle was a mainstay on Bookstagram this summer, and there’s a good reason for that. This book by Steven Rowley is just delightful, a real five-star read. Or, in Patrick’s case, maybe five martinis?

Patrick O’Hara walked away from Hollywood after his hit TV show ended several years ago and now lives a quiet life in the desert of Palm Springs. That’s how he likes it, as he’s still mourning the death of Joe, his lover from many years ago. But then, when Sara, his best friend and sister-in-law, dies, Patrick must care for his niece and nephew while his brother Greg deals with his own health issues. What is a Golden Globe-winning actor supposed to do with two kids under 10 who are grieving for their mother?

The answer comes in the form of funny shenanigans, pool floats, and a grumpy Aunt Clara, along with a new dog Marlene and a pink Christmas tree in July. Maisie and Grant help GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick) heal his own losses as much as he does theirs. This book is full of heartwarming, tender moments as Patrick realizes what’s important to him and learns how to live with the ghosts of his beloved friend and lover. The Guncle is a real treat to read because of the witty dialogue and fun antics of a whole host of characters. I highly recommend this one!

Switching Lives

The Seven Day Switch by Kelly Harms

A 4⭐️ Book Review

Do you remember Freaky Friday? I’m old enough to remember the Jodie Foster movie, as well as the more recent Jamie Lee Curtis/Lindsay Lohan remake. Neither movies were my favorite, but it’s a cute concept.

The Seven Day Switch takes that concept and puts two overstressed, misunderstood suburban moms against each other. Wendy excels in her work as a productivity consultant but can’t get her husband or kids to take out the trash. Celeste is a stay-at-home-mom who makes organic bento box lunches and hand-sews outfits for her pre-teen while trying to connect with the other moms in the neighborhood. After a sangria-filled night at the softball park, Wendy and Celeste wake up in each other’s bodies. Hilarity, misunderstandings, and realizations ensue.

I enjoyed this read. While fairly predictable, there were some really touching moments between these two moms as both realize that neither one has a lock on parenting. In the end, the book solidified its message that everyone struggles, no matter what their outside life looks like.

As a mom of three teens/pre-teens with a pretty stressful job that I love, I could relate to a lot of this book. Busyness is definitely a challenge, and I find myself looking at social media wondering how those other moms are doing everything so well while I’m over here dealing with mounds of self-doubt.

Finding Embers in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

A 5⭐️ Book Review

When an author builds a world of light and shadows, builds characters with morals and emotions, and creates a plot of twists and thrills, that author has written a great book.

Sanaa Tahir is one of those authors. I greatly enjoyed reading the first book in her An Ember in the Ashes series because of the intricate world-building, the flawed but richly drawn characters, and the plot that turned in directions I wasn’t expecting. I especially enjoyed how the book shifted between Laia’s and Elias’s points of view, and I could sense the foreshadowing for the rest of the series. However, Ms. Tahir surprised me several times in this book, so I don’t doubt that there are more surprises to come.

I was in a bit of a reading slump, but when I finally sat down with this book, I tore through 300 pages in 24 hours. I am very much looking forward to reading A Torch Against the Night and the rest of the series.

A Return to Three Pines

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

A 5⭐️ Review

After taking us to Paris in All the Devils Are Here, Louise Penny brings us back to Three Pines in The Madness of Crowds, the 17th installment of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. I was so glad to open this beautiful edition and experience a return to the alluring Canadian village of Three Pines. Meeting the residents again was like coming home, a true sign of a great series for me.

But all is not well in Three Pines. The characters are cautiously tiptoeing out into a post-COVID-19 world. The pandemic has done to these characters what it has done to us in reality. There is fear and trepidation and a keen desire for a return to “normal,” despite a question of whether normal will ever exist again.

As the mystery unravels, Gamache shows his wisdom and gentle power, his love for his family and friends, and his innate drive to be morally good. Starting with his assignment to guard Professor Abigail Robinson to his vehement disgust against the woman’s claims of what society “needs,” Gamache battles with his own internal moral compass and watches his loved ones, especially his dear son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, do the same.

This book is about what fear can do to people. It is gorgeous and haunting and a little too real. I wanted to savor every page but also rush to read the ending. Reading a story about a post-pandemic reality was difficult for me as it felt too real at times, but Ms. Penny is a master storyteller who has created characters and settings that move me. As always, I was amazed by her ability to turn a phrase, describe a character, and unpack a mystery in a way that felt like magic. I hope that all will be well in Three Pines for many more books in the future.

Violence and Vengeance

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby

A 5⭐️ Book Review

Razorblade Tears has been all over my Bookstagram feed for the past two months. I enjoyed this book because of the emotional story, but I have to admit that it took me longer than usual to read this one. The violence and desperation that S. A. Cosby describes is truly heartbreaking.

The book is centered on two fathers, Ike and Buddy Lee, and their deeply complicated relationships with their sons. Ike is a Black man who changed his life after his prison release but never connected with his son, Isiah. Buddy Lee, who is white, has tried to drink away his own criminal past and troubles with his son Derek. But when Isiah and Derek are shot and killed, leaving their young daughter Arianna and a mysterious story about a friend named Tangerine, Ike and Buddy Lee join together to seek vengeance against their married sons’ murderers. The fathers, both engulfed in grief, must face their assumptions about each other and their sons in order to move forward.

Razorblade Tears takes you on a journey about race, sexuality, and family. It’s a story where there are no winners, no heroes, but it’s also a story about hope and love. Mr. Cosby’s writing is descriptive and lyrical, but sparse and brutal at the same time.

Reading this book was hard. As a parent, I cannot imagine losing a child, and I ached for the losses felt by Ike and Buddy Lee. This is the most violent book I’ve read in a long time, and it felt like I was watching a movie as I read each page.

Unwind: A Book Review

Unwind by Neil Shusterman

A 4⭐️ Book Review

The first book in the Unwind Dystology by Neil Shusterman is a quick, but disturbing read. I can’t say that I loved this book, but it was a good read, one that I’ll be thinking for quite awhile.

Unwinds are children. Some are marked for Unwinding from before their births, and some are designated as Unwind for various reasons as they grow older. Be a troublemaker like Connor? Unwind. Be a ward of the state without enough musical talent like Risa? Unwind. Be the 10th child in a religious family dedicated to tithing 10% like Lev? Unwind.

And what is an Unwind? Simply put, an Unwind will be harvest for parts. Eyes, hearts, lungs, appendages. All taken from Unwinds and grafted into people who are considered more deserving.

None of these teenagers know each other at the start of the book, but Connor’s actions set in motion a journey to run from the harvest camps and launch a course for each of them to discover who they are, Unwind or not.

This book is heavy. While weaving together the story of Connor, Risa, and Lev, Shusterman addresses abortion, the soul, and body autonomy, all topics that are relevant and worldly now in 2021. I’m impressed by Shusterman’s ability to build a dystopian world layered with foundations of our own realities and bring the hard questions to life.

We Are the Brennans

We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange

A 5⭐️ Book Review

I love family-focused novels. Family relationships are so complicated, and a good writer brings those stories to life. Tracey Lange is one of those authors. We Are the Brennans is an amazing novel. On the surface, it’s a story about one daughter’s return home after a self-imposed exile. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a story about secrets and duty and loyalty, striving for more and living in the roles others have placed on you, and finding your family beyond your bloodlines.

I loved the multiple points of view in this novel, especially how Lange shifts the POV by using dialogue from chapter to chapter. The characters are well-formed and nuanced, and I found myself rooting for all of the Brennan siblings.

Finding the Cerulean Sea

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

A 5⭐️ Book

TJ Klune has given us a gift. The House in the Cerulean Sea is a gift of love and color and adventure and magic. It is a book about being comfortable in your own skin, questioning your preconceived notions, and finding where you belong. In short, I believe this is very nearly the most perfect novel ever. Full-stop.

Linus Baker is a caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). He lives a grey existence and follows the RULES AND REGULATIONS to the letter as he investigates orphanages housing magical children. He does not sway from his life as an observer.

Until Extremely Upper Management sends him on a month-long Classified Level Four assignment on Marsyas Island. As Linus gets to know – and love – the brood of characters on the island, he shifts from being an observer to an active participant in life.

I loved this story. TJ Klune’s writing is spot-on – both witty and touching, with plenty of bits of wisdom thrown in as we travel through this world. Each character is endearing in a unique way. The cast includes

  • Talia: A young (263 years old, to be exact) gnome who loves gardens and threatening to beat people with shovels
  • Theodore: A wyvern who hasn’t grown into his wings but will love you forever if you give him a button
  • Sal: A quiet, tentative boy with a tragic past and a gift with words, and who happens to be able to shift into a Pomeranian
  • Chauncey: A – well, we’re not exactly sure what his physical being is – but we know his lifelong goal is to be a bellhop
  • Phee: A tiny sprite with magic in her fingers and wings and a deep understanding of roots and trees (she’ll turn you into one!)
  • Lucy: A little devil. Literally, his name is short for Lucifer and his father is Satan. Lucy is a 6-year-old Antichrist,but we don’t use that word on Marsyas Island
  • Zoe: An older sprite who owns Marsyas and is a fierce protector of its inhabitants, including Arthur and the children
  • Arthur: A gentle man with secrets of his own but who knows how to make each of his children feel special, who teaches them and guides them, and who loves deeply

I hope you’ll choose to read this gorgeous book. It gave me hope and joy, and it touched my soul.

A Slow-Burn Spy Novel

Impostor Syndrome, written by Kathy Wang, is a slow-burn novel about career aspirations, privacy, and womanhood. Oh, and espionage!

I think the concept of spies among us is fascinating, so I was eager to read this Book of the Month pick. It did not disappoint!

Julia is Chief Operating Officer at Tangerine, a Google / Facebook / WhatsApp conglomerate with thousands of employees on its 90+ acres of campus in Silicon Valley. She’s hailed as one of the most powerful women in the world and praised for her prowess in the board room, her poise at the podium, and her picturesque life as a new wife and mother. Julia is the example that women point to when they think of having it all.

She’s also a Russian operative, plucked from an institute (orphanage) in her teens to be groomed for her role to support her homeland by working as a spy for the SPB. When Julia’s handler, Leo, orders her to use her power to access data at level that has never been breached before, she starts to question her dual roles. And when Alice, a low-level Tangerine tech support employee, discovers Julia’s actions, the web twists even further.

None of the characters in this book are truly likable. Julia is selfish and condescending. Leo is smug and aloof. Alice is meek and fearful. But yet, it all works. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, and I felt empathy for each of the main characters (Aaron, not so much). Impostor Syndrome tackles women’s issues in the workplace, sexism, technology and privacy, and diversity – all in the uber-rich setting of Silicon Valley with a cat-and-mouse spy game to drive the plot forward. A solid 4⭐️ read!