The Surprises of Honey Girl

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

A five-star book review – Includes spoilers

I ordered Honey Girl as one of my Book of the Month picks a few months ago, and oh how I wish I’d read it sooner.

This debut novel by Morgan Rogers was such a surprise for me. I thought it would be a sweet romantic comedy like many others, but Honey Girl stands out. It has heart. It tackles serious mental health issues. It is life-affirming.

What I Loved About Honey Girl

The representation in Honey Girl is amazing. Morgan Rogers is a Black Queer author who incorporates diversity into every page of her novel. The protagonist, Grace Porter, is a lesbian born to a strict, military father who is Black and a white mother who travels the world in search of herself. In a drunken frenzy after receiving her PhD in astronomy, Grace marries Yuki Yamamoto, an Asian radio host and waitress, in Las Vegas. That’s where the story begins, but Grace goes on a much more nuanced journey than only trying to get to know her wife. Grace’s friends are just as diverse as she and Yuki are, making this book a refreshing read.

This book is a romance, but it’s also described as a coming-of-age novel. Grace is struggling to find her home in academia. She is determined to be the best, and that means achieving the top position. She has been following the plan laid out by her father, Colonel, for eleven years, with her only rebellion being that she chose astronomy over medicine. Her job interviews sour Grace from the field as interview panels imply that her sexuality and race are “unsuitable” for a researcher. Despite being the favored student by her professor and mentor, Grace is distraught because her dream career has stalled.

This lost feeling really resonated with me. I could relate to Grace because of my own experience after my Master’s program. You work so hard in school and do everything right, but then when you graduate, you lose that student identity. I felt lost for a few years after I got my Master’s and eventually started my doctorate program to get back some of that identity and ultimately prove something to others. That is a disheartening sentence, but it’s the truth. I still question whether I’m living up to my potential and my worth as dictated by those two degrees.

But back to Grace. Her mental health is hurting, and I cheered for her when she came to that revelation. Ms. Rogers described mental illness in the most realistic way I have read in a very long time. From anxiety and depression to a damaged self-esteem to the struggle of finding a proper mental health therapist, Grace’s story felt real in every aspect.

Those are just a few of the reasons I loved this book. I especially loved Grace’s found family of roommates Ximena and Agnes, as well as her coworkers Raj and Meera. Honey Girl is a love story between two lonely creatures who find themselves bound by marriage. It is a beautifully written debut from an author I will be following closely. It is a book that I highly recommend!

Enjoying Black Cake

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

A Five-Star Book Review

I went in blind when I started reading Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, having only seen rave reviews of this debut novel on Bookstagram. I can say now that those reviews were totally on point. This book is beautiful!

I describe Ms. Wilkerson’s writing as magic, and here’s why.

Why You Should Read Black Cake

It has everything. Sometimes I love a book because of the plot and characters. Sometimes I love it for the author’s writing style. Black Cake is one of the rare finds that has both for me to love. Ms. Wilkerson’s writing ability is on par with the best in contemporary fiction. She builds a narrative that is complex but well-defined, that leaves a mystery and then shows you the truth when you least expect it, that uses sentences and paragraphs and chapters to capture your whole heart.

I love a generational story with multiple timelines, but some books try to do too much across those different narratives. Black Cake is not one of those books. Ms. Wilkerson uses short chapters to shift the storylines and bring all characters to life across decades. The pace of these chapters ebb and flow like the sea, which is nearly a character itself in this book that takes you from an unnamed Caribbean island to the Mod years of London to 2018 in Southern California.

Identity is at the center of Black Cake. Byron Bennet May think he knows who he is, but his sister Benny is still working to find herself. Their parents, Bert and Eleanor, don’t accept Benny’s decision to quit university or her bisexuality, and she’s walked out of their lives in order to find herself. But neither Byron or Benny truly know their parents, as they learn from their mother’s voice recording after her death. Soon, they see that both their parents aren’t who they think they are and have struggled to form their own identities.

Finally, while the core of her novel is about identity, Ms. Wilkerson takes us on a journey that addresses so many social and emotional issues. From today’s climate of racism in the U.S. to sexuality, from environmental protection to assault, from parent-child relationships to colonialism, this book is full of horrors, insights, and calls to action.

I loved this book so much, and I hope you will read and love it, too.

Love Under One Roof

Under One Roof

By Ali Hazelwood

A forced-proximity love story? Why, of course!

Under One Roof is one of Ali Hazelwood’s STEMinista novellas, and it does not disappoint. I really enjoyed The Love Hypothesis last year, so I looked forward to picking up this short book.

Mara arrives in Washington DC to start her job at the EPA as an environmental engineer and to inhabit her new home that she inherited from her grad school professor, Helena. But when she opens the door, Liam Harding surprises her by claiming that he already lives there. You can guess what happens after a few months of feuding, cautious friendship, and finally finding true love.

What I enjoyed:

  • The STEM aspect. I am all for more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and reading Hazelwood’s books puts a great spin on STEM superwomen.
  • Mara and Liam. They’re a cute couple with witty banter and chemistry. While their relationship didn’t feel like a unique romcom, I still rooted for them.
  • The timeline. I liked that Hazelwood took us back in time and built up to present day. The storytelling was a nice touch.

Under One Roof is a cute, easy read, and I would have continued to read more of Mara and Liam. I would love a follow-up!

The Maid: Adventures with Molly

The Maid by Nita Prose
A 5-Star Book Review

It took me awhile to become engrossed in The Maid by Nita Prose, but once I did, I adored this book, primarily because of Molly, a unique protagonist with a penchant for telling the brutal truth and getting herself into troubling situations. Her character arc was full of growth and a satisfying conclusion.

Molly treasures her job as a maid at The Regency Grand. She takes pride in bringing hotel rooms back to “a state of perfection” and doesn’t let others’ behavior bother her too much. At the start of the book, she has made a tentative friendship with Giselle Black, the second wife of the unlikeable tycoon Charles Black, and is enamored by Rodney, The Regency Grand’s bartender. She helps Juan Manuel move from room to room at night as Rodney insists, and she is friendly with Mr. Preston, the doorman who had promised Molly’s recently deceased grandmother that he would look out for her.

Molly’s life is set to a highly orchestrated routine, despite losing her Gran and confidante. While money is scarce and loneliness plagues her at night, Molly embraces her role as part of The Regency Grand’s bee hive of workers. But when Molly discovers Charles Black dead in the hotel suite, her carefully scheduled routine turns sideways. Wrongly suspected of the murder, Molly must join together with this cast of characters to clear her name and right her world again.

A large portion of Molly’s growth comes from learning to engage with others. She is a very trusting person, determined to please others and to follow all rules. Without Gran as her anchor, Molly has difficulties reading social cues. There is no interpretation to what others say or do; she takes everything at face value. This isn’t ideal when she’s surrounded by characters with questionable motives.

Molly’s voice is fresh and unique. While Nita Prose doesn’t reveal any diagnosis, I suspect that Molly may have Asperger’s syndrome. Her thoughts, statements, and behaviors reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, the protagonist in another amazing book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I really appreciated this voice and representation.

The character development and plot resolution carry this book. It’s a fun, fast-paced read that I fully embraced. A five-star book for me!

Inconvenient Daughter

Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey

A 5-Star Book Review

  • Representation and the search for identity?
  • Complicated mother-daughter relationship?
  • A battle to define self-worth?
  • Beautiful writing that made me want to cry?

Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey checks all the boxes for me to make it a 5⭐️ book. I loved this surprisingly brutal novel because of it’s characters and prose, and I highly recommend Inconvenient Daughter as a next read!

Rowan Kelly lives on Long Island with her parents and younger brother, but from the moment her 5-year-old peers question where her “real” mom is at Kindergarten Drop-off, she knows that she is different. Rowan and her brother were adopted from Korea by a white couple, and while there are details available about her brother’s bio parents, Rowan knows nothing. From the outset, Rowan’s perceived other-ness drives her decisions and her search for acceptance.

What I loved about Inconvenient Daughter:

The Representation

Rowan’s story of being a transracial adopted child is not often one that I’ve seen in a novel, and I am here for it. I have friends who were adopted, and I could relate Rowan’s story to what they’ve shared about their own experiences. This book remained true to Rowan, despite all of her bad decisions, and her feelings about being adopted, not knowing about her bio parents, and questioning whether she was truly wanted by her Irish-Catholic parents who do not look like her.

The Complex Relationships

Rowan and her mom have the usual teenage girl/mom fights about clothes, school, and boys, but underneath those explosive arguments, Rowan believes that ultimately Mom did not want her, did not accept her, and will not be satisfied with Rowan’s decidedly average achievements.

The Search for Self-Worth

The bulk of this novel is about how Rowan grapples with the desire to be worthy of others. She seeks outward praise from her mom and in intimate relationships, which lead to startling consequences for this young woman.

The Writing

Ms. Sharkey uses multiple timelines to tell Rowan’s story, giving us a look at what happened in childhood and young adulthood and then switching to the present to let us feel how all of those experiences shaped Rowan in the now. The prose is stark – beautiful and dark while remaining simple and clear, making this book all the more powerful.

I listened to Inconvenient Daughter as an audiobook, but I plan to find a physical copy to add to my shelves because I loved it so much. At 232 pages, this short book packs so much into the story, and I know I’ll want to revisit it in the future – a true indicator that this is a 5-star book.

Why I Love the A Court of Thorns and Roses Series

If you’ve been around any book lovers on social media in the last minute, you have seen a post or two about Sarah J Maas and her trio of series: Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and most recently Crescent City. The general consensus amongst Bookstagrammers is that these series are swoon-worthy, fandom-worthy, and praiseworthy. There are some naysayers amongst the group, and the best series is up for debate, but overall, these series are popular to the max.

I am fully entrenched in the SJM camp, mostly because of my love for A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR). This was the first SJM series I read, and while I love Throne of Glass (Celaena and Rowan forever) and think Crescent City is well-worth the read, ACOTAR will always have my heart. Here’s why I love this series so much.

A Retelling of the Best Kind

ACOTAR begins as a retelling of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. There are plenty of references to this much-beloved tale in the first book, from which the series draws its name. We meet our protagonist, Feyre Archeron, as she’s trying to feed her father and two sisters after years of hardship and poverty, into which the family was thrust when her merchant father wrongly hinged all his fortune on a ship full of riches and paid for it with a crippling beating from his creditors. That loss, along with the tenuous treaty between the human world and the Faerie who live across the border (The Wall), have left the Archeron family in a wooden shack where Feyre takes on all the responsibilities for her family as her father has regressed into depression and her sisters, Nesta and Elain, are still mourning their life of riches.

In desperation, Feyre becomes a huntress and in a moment of fear and opportunity, she kills a wolf in the forest beyond the wall. That wolf pelt will feed her family, she knows, but she sees something unique in the wolf’s eyes before she makes the kill. This is where the story begins, and Feyre quickly learns that her kill would not be without repayment when a monstrous beast breaks into the Archeron cabin in the middle of the night. He terrifies the family as he demands to know who killed the wolf. Feyre, as she has done so many times before, sacrifices herself to protect her father and sisters. The beast insists she become his prisoner, and he takes her into the Faerie world beyond The Wall.

This is classic Beauty and the Beast inspiration, and I am here for all of it. The beast – named Tamlin – whisks Feyre to a mysterious castle where he shifts back into his Fae form, complete with a mask welded to his face. Tamlin is High Lord of the Spring Court, a brooding High Fae who protects his lands with mystery and passion. As the original BATB story goes, the Beauty melts the Beast’s cold exterior, but in ACOTAR, it is Tamlin’s wooing that eventually breaks Feyre’s apprehension.

Feyre faces kidnappings and challenges within a High Fae’s nightmare court as we meet Amarantha, a former general and now self-proclaimed Queen of Prythian, the Faerie realm. Amarantha is cruelly evil against her subjects Under the Mountain, and presents Feyre with three challenges to free Tamlin, who is now imprisoned by the Queen. From this adventure to those in the next four books, the story expands from a retelling of BATB and into an epic story of love, found family, war, and magic. It is glorious, and please read it!

The Characters

As the story grows beyond Book 1, the depth of the characters grows and becomes more intimate. When I first read the series and then re-read it, I found my love for the characters deepening because no one is who they seem at first, each has a backstory, and each acts with a passion to reach their goals. Here are four of my favorite characters, although I could go on about many more. (Note: This is where I’ll be spilling a few spoilers for the series.)

  1. Feyre: She loves her family (biological and found), will sacrifice herself, and doesn’t know how much she can accomplish. She is full of fire and love, but she is much more. She feels deeply and puts herself in danger to protect others; she’s flawed and guilt-ridden because she can’t eliminate all pain. Her guilt pushes her to fight against evil, and she does it with a beautiful partner next to her.
  2. Rhysand: At first meeting, this half-Fae, half-Illyrian High Lord is the typical bad boy with a heart of gold. He sacrificed himself to Amarantha’s court to protect the people of Velaris, his Night Court home. Like Feyre, he feels a deep sense of responsibility for his people and is willing to do anything to protect his citizens, his found family (The Inner Circle), and his mate, Feyre. He is overprotective in many ways, but he believes in Feyre’s power more than she does herself.
  3. Morrigan: This magnetic siren of a High Fae woman is Rhysand’s cousin and a member of the Inner Circle. She is sexy and flirtatious, but she uses those traits to hide the painful past that exists because her father feared her immense power so much that he sold her in marriage to a son of the High Lord of the Autumn Court. Morrigan fought the marriage and was punished, but she escaped to the sanctuary of the Inner Circle and will fight to the death to save them.
  4. Azriel: This Illyrian warrior is mysterious, literally cloaked in shadows that swarm around his massive wingspan as he watches everything. He and Rhysand met in the Illyrian war camp when they were children sent there to train, joining together with Cassian, another one of my favorite Illyrians. Azriel is the spy shadowsinger of the Inner Circle, and he remains silent most of the time, but once he has something to say, people listen. He is haunted by his past and even shy, pining for Morrigan and then Elain. While he may be one of the most lethal of the Inner Circle, he is also one of the most gentle characters in ACOTAR.

There are so many more characters I could talk about: Cassian, Manon, Nesta, and more. But I’ll stop to transition to the third reason I love this series.

The World Building of Prythian

This was my first venture into High Fae fantasy, and I had no idea how much I loved it. SJM does an amazing job of world-building throughout the series. The unique characters, the settings across the nine Courts of the Prythian realm, the monsters, and the lore that lives in the background of these stories is just so intriguing and fantastically described.

Reading an ACOTAR book is like being whisked away into a technicolor world of intrigue, romance, violence, and magic. It’s a world that I am here for. If you want a deeply descriptive book, illustrative of a fully fleshed-out story and history for all characters, then this is the series for you.

I hope these three reasons will be enough to encourage you to read the ACOTAR series in its entirety, or at least give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Reckless Girls (May Contain Spoilers)

Reckless Girls

By Rachel Hawkins

Writing a book review about a thriller is a challenge for me. I want to provide a good synopsis of the book, as well as my thoughts, but try to avoid spoilers as much I can. Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins presented such a challenge. So, here’s a friendly warning, this post may contain a few spoilers.

Lux followed her new boyfriend, Nico, from California to Hawaii with the hope of making a new life with this intriguing, good-looking man. Before meeting Nico, she was lost, having watched her mother die of cancer, quitting college, and waitressing to make ends barely meet. Nico presented her with a grand plan: he’d sail his boat, The Susannah, to Hawaii where Lux could meet him and they’d earn enough money to then start their sea adventure across the world.

A few months after arriving in Hawaii, Lux and Nico still haven’t started their global travels. With a damaged boat and Nico’s apparent satisfaction in working on the docks, they’ve grown stagnant, and Lux isn’t sure what will happen next. Then they meet Brittany and Amma, two college girls who have been on a whirlwind international trip and want to end it with a bang on a sailing trip to Meroe Island, a remote location with a dark history of shipwrecks, military bases, murder, and even cannibalism. The girls offer enough money for Nico to repair his boat in order to take them to Meroe Island, and Lux agrees with the plan with the hope that this will jumpstart her and Nico’s travels.

When they arrive at Meroe Island, the four discover that two more travelers have had the same plan. Jake and Eliza are a beautiful, sun-kissed couple with money and a gorgeous boat, Azure Sky. While Amma shows disdain for the unplanned additions to the group, Jake and Eliza are magnetic personalities with plenty of wine and good food.

Meroe Island is mysterious and exotic, but the allure starts to wear away for Lux. Then, with the new arrival of Robbie, another sailor with a much more questionable past. Lux takes an instant dislike of him. Robbie disrupts the balance of the group but disappears with as much mystery as his arrival. Soon, Lux suspects that Brittany and Amma have a dangerous connection and starts to further question her relationship with Nico.

The entire trip starts to fall apart, with blood, skulls, and drugs. Lux doesn’t understand what has happened, and soon all that she knew explodes.

What I liked about Reckless Girls:

  • The multiple timeframes and points of view. This book is set in The Before and The Now. While Lux is the protagonist, we learn more about Brittany and Amma in their own chapters.
  • Meroe Island (at first). Sailing to an abandoned island seems exotic and adventurous, and I like the idea of being on a beach with just a few people, but after reading a few chapters of the island’s descriptions, I don’t think it would be for me.

What I did not like about Reckless Girls:

  • The overall plot. I liked this book at first, and I am happy to have read it. However, I don’t think gothic mysteries are for me.
  • The characters. None of the characters in Reckless Girls are likeable. Unreliable narrators, characters with questionable pasts? I’m here for those in a lot of books, but these characters, including Lux, were just too much for me.
  • The ending. This resolution of this book definitely soured my opinion of it. I wanted more. It felt too much like a movie ending where the producers forced a cliffhanger.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book because of the hype I’ve seen on Bookstagram and because this was one of my Book of the Month picks. But, it wasn’t one that I loved and the ending was unsatisfactory.

Book Review: Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

By Jodi Picoult

Did I stay up past my bedtime to finish one more book in February? Yes.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult is a 5-star book with so much heart and thought surrounding the story of Diana as she faces the start of the pandemic in New York City in March 2020. This book treats the COVID pandemic and all who have been impacted by it with care and opened my eyes to others’ experiences.

What I loved about this book

  • Diana’s drive and ambition, to which I can totally relate, and how she struggled when life took an unplanned turned.
  • Finn, Diana’s boyfriend, who is a frontline resident and whose narrative builds respect and empathy for all caretakers.
  • The Galapagos. I definitely added this archipelago to my bucket list after reading Picoult’s descriptions.
  • The people Diana meets on Isabela Island. Beatriz and Gabriel are rich, nuanced characters. Abuela is a joy.

This book is full of triggers, as the pandemic is still real in so many ways. But, Picoult handles it with the grace and beautiful writing for which she is known. I definitely recommend this book as I found it to be unique and engaging.

Gouda Friends: A Ponto Beach Book

Gouda Friends by Cathy Yardley

A Five-Star Book

Do you have favorite fictional couples, whether from books, TV, or movies? For me, Jim and Pam from The Office (U.S.) are so sweet because they started as friends and complement each other so well.

Liking that friends-to-lovers trope from The Office was probably one of the reasons why I loved Gouda Friends by Cathy Yardley so much.

Now that they’re in their late twenties, Tam has distanced herself from bestie Josh and her other SoCal friends (the Ponto Beach Nerd Herd) as she’s across the country in New York City dealing with a critical boyfriend, a demanding (and unfulfilling) job, and a general feeling of being lost. When things go further sideways, she reaches out to Josh, using code word “goldfish” to let her bestie know she needs help. Josh will walk through fire and glass to get Tam a sandwich, especially one filled with her favorite cheese, so he steps up to help her design her life. But what happens when these two friends start to feel the pull of a romantic relationship?

What I loved as much as I love cheese:

  • The relationship. I was rooting for Josh and Tam from the start, and I liked that Yardley kept their relationship arc realistic, keeping them out of contrived situations.
  • Josh. He’s sweet and almost too good, but he’s determined to ensure that Tam designs a life that makes her happy.
  • The Nerd Herd. This is the second book in Yardley’s Ponto Beach series, so we get to revisit and learn more about the crew. They’re fierce, successful, and funny.

This was a 5-star read for me, and I can’t wait for the next Ponto Beach book. I can see this series going so far with all the different storylines!

The Woman with the Blue Star

Book Review

The Woman with the Blue Star

By Pam Jenoff

Historical fiction about World War 2, strong female characters, and tragic circumstances were all indicators that I should have loved this book, but The Woman with the Blue Star just didn’t meet the “love” mark for me. I am happy to have read it, yet something just didn’t connect for me.

Sadie and her parents have been interned at a Jewish ghetto in Poland. Their lives are fraught with daily fears of being taken by the Nazis to another most unimaginably horrific location: Auschwitz. When that night comes, they escape into the sewers of Krakow and begin a fight to survive in their new underground hiding spot.

Ella is lives a bland existence with her stepmother in Krakow. She mourns the absences of her missing father, her brother who has escaped to Paris, and her boyfriend, Krys, who broke off their relationship before he went to fight for the Polish army. Her stepmother has started entertaining German SS officers, and Ella’s world is getting even smaller.

One day, Ella sees Sadie looking through the sewer gate, and both young women form a careful friendship that pushes them to face the boundaries of war-torn Poland and their own fears of how tenuous life has become.

I liked the plot of this book and the friendship between Sadie and Ella. But something about the writing didn’t make me love it. It’s solidly written, but with a lot of “telling” more than “showing” and a bit removed for my tastes.

What is most important to you when reading a book? Plot development, character development, or writing style?