What I Read This Week: May 15-22

This was a mixed week of audiobooks and physical books, with some really good reads topping my list!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

A loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty with so much depth and nuance, I loved this book. Read my full review of Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust here.

Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan

I loved Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan and am disappointed that I let this one sit on my Book of the Month backlist for so long. This is a contemporary romance about Yasmen and Josiah, who thought their love would never fall apart, but when life gets too hard, the two stopped talking and their marriage ended. Despite that, they still remain dedicated to their children and their thriving restaurant business, and soon both Yas and Si question if there’s still a spark between them. This is a second-chance romance story, with a lot of heart and I loved how Kennedy Ryan wove Black culture, mental health, and friendship into this novel. It looks like this is the first book in a series, and I can’t wait for what comes next.

The Royals Next Door by Karina Halle

I love when a book is more than what I expected it to be. Based on the synopsis and the cover of The Royals Next Door by Karina Halle, I thought this book was going to be a gossipy take on royal neighbors moving into a small town. Yes, it’s that, but the love story between elementary schoolteacher Piper and royal bodyguard Harrison is sweet and lovely, making this a good almost-summer read.

Heard It in a Love Song by Tracy Garvis Graves

Having loved Tracey Garvis Graves’s book The Girl I Used to Know, I was excited for Heard It in a Love Song when it first published, but kept pushing it back on my reading list. This story of Layla, a singer/music teacher, and Josh, an electrician and single dad, is sweet beyond measure, as both leads try to discover what makes them happy after their first marriages end. While the book was predictable, the writing was impeccable.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Like so many people, I consider To Kill a Mockingbird to be a nearly perfect book, but I’d heard mixed reviews about Go Set a Watchman, the 2015 published follow-up that was discovered after Harper Lee’s death. I have many mixed emotions about this book, which I have to believe was the intent of the author. Jean-Louise Finch (Scout) is all grown up and living in New York City, but when she comes home to Macon, Alabama, she discovers that her revered father, Atticus, is not the hero she has believed him to be. This was a hard character shift to understand after thinking of Atticus as one of the greatest fathers in American literature.

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

What I thought would be a ghost story about a creepy location for a writer’s event turned out to be so much more. The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz, her debut novel, has ghosts, lovers, frenemies, and mysteries galore. It is a character-driven novel with so many twists of whodunnit that you’re never sure of who is in control. Alex, the protagonist, is thrilled to receive a last-minute invite to Rosa Vallo’s secluded Blackbriar Estate for the famed author’s exclusive writer’s retreat, but when she finds her former best friend, Wren, amongst the other guests, Alex quickly learns that what is supposed to cure her writer’s block could be much more complicated.

A New Fairy Tale: Girl, Serpent, Thorn

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust; A Five-Star Book Review

I love fairy tales. The magic, the romance, the monsters, the inevitable battle between good and evil… I’m here for all of it. And retellings are just as good in my mind, when they’re done well.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is a fairy tale loosely based on Sleeping Beauty with folklore from all different cultures woven into this magical story in which the princess isn’t just the lonely girl locked in the tower. She’s also the monster who unwittingly releases chaos on her kingdom. I listened to this YA fantasy novel as an audiobook and was wholly obsessed with the story.

What I Loved about Girl, Serpent, Thorn

The Premise: Golvahar, where Soraya is kept at the top of of her twin brother the Shah’s palace, is a mysterious city because she has yet to discover much of it, being allowed only to watch from the roof where she grows her roses. Her brother and mother travel from palace to palace, but Soraya is cursed and must stay away from everyone because whatever touches her bare skin dies instantly. She forces herself to be content with this life until she learns that her brother will marry and that a mysterious demon is kept in the dungeon, one who might have answers to free her.

The Love Stories: Love is a build-block for much of Themis story, from the love of Soraya’s mother, Tahmineh, for her twin son and daughter to the love that Soraya feels for others throughout the book. It is love that spurs her decisions, both good and bad, and that is the essence of a good fairy tale, in my opinion.

The Creatures and World-Building: From Soraya’s curse to the evil divs (demons) to the pariks (fairy-like creatures), this is a story filled with fantastic characters of all kinds in all shapes and colors, and the world they love in is vivid, both beautiful and dangerous at the same time.

The Resolution: While I will do my best not to spoil the ending of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, I must say how much I loved its resolution. The characters, especially Soraya, found what was necessary. It’s not the traditional fairy tale ending, but it is one for the current times and one that made me smile.

Do you like fairy tales or retellings?

What I Read This Week: May 8-14

After finishing zero books last week, I’m happy to have gotten back into a groove of reading this week. Here are the books I finished, most of which I enjoyed.

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

If you read my book review post of The Measure by Nikki Erlick, you already know that I loved this book. Its premise is that age-old question of would you choose to know when you are going to die, but the story is nuanced with beautiful characters facing their own dilemmas and choices when given the opportunity to learn the length of their lives. This is a gorgeous book, and despite being about death, it is somehow life-affirming.

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

This was an impulse add-on to a Book of the Month order, and it sat on my shelf for a long, long time. I listened to the audiobook because I wasn’t feeling invested in the overall story from the beginning. While I think maps and cartography are fascinating, this wasn’t a book that I enjoyed, mainly because I didn’t connect with the characters. So, The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd rests solely in the “glad-to-have-finished” category for me.

Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes by Alexa Martin

Two best friends decide to move in together after their adult lives diverge from their original plans. Lauren is a single mom to precocious, adorable Adelaide and is dealing with her ex-fiancé’s on-and-off again presence in their lives. Jude is a fitness influencer who lost her money in a bad investment but is still burdened by financing her widowed mother’s lavish lifestyle. Lauren and Jude lean on each other through it all and find happiness in their new lives. Mom Jeans and Other Mistakes by Alexa Martin is a sweet book about friendship, starting over, and finding strength when you think all is lost.

The Measure of Your Life

The Measure by Nikki Erlick – A Five-Star Book Revieve

I finished The Measure by Nikki Erlick early this morning before work and am so excited to tell you why this is a five-star read for me!

  1. The Premise – I think most of us have pondered the question, if you could learn when you were going to die, would you want to know? This book takes that question and shows people’s answers, whether they choose to open the mysterious boxes that arrive at their doorsteps and measure the lengths of string found inside or not. Long- and short-stringers must contend with their fates, whatever they may be.
  2. The characters – I ship several of the duos in this book, particularly Nina and Maura, as they face their strings as individual and partners. Their story was full of emotion, but also tender, without unnecessary drama adding to the emotional toll the strings put on their relationship. With each chapter told from a different point of view, The Measure tells a host of characters’ stories, and I loved finding the Easter eggs of how they intertwined.
  3. The writing – This is Ms. Erlick’s debut novel. Her debut, friends! With such a powerful first book in which every word, sentence, and paragraph is crafted with care and talent, she blew me away.
  4. The ending – I won’t spoil the end of The Measure, but I will say that it was wholly satisfying and worth the journey that Ms. Erlick carried us through for nearly 350 pages.

I hope you’ll read The Measure soon. I’m certain you won’t regret it!

What I Read This Week: April 24 to April 30

Does anyone feel pressure to squeeze in just a few more books during the last week of the month? I sure do. April has been a month of ups and downs, reading-wish, and I spent the first part of this week slogging through a book that I eventually decided to stop reading because I wasn’t enjoying it. However, I was able to finish three books to round out the month.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

Stacy Willingham’s debut novel, A Flicker in the Dark, has all the pieces of a thriller that I love: a mentally anguished protagonist with a dark past, a cast of untrustworthy side characters, and a mystery with plenty of twists and turns. Chloe Davis is the daughter of a serial killer and has been haunted by her father’s brutal murders of six teenage girls for most of her life. Now at 32 years old, Chloe must confront the past she’s tried to ignore when an apparent copycat has come to prey on young girls in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it took me awhile to get into the story. None of the characters, not even Chloe, are particularly likable, but the story is strong and I was surprised by the twists in the third act. Willingham is an excellent writer, and I look forward to reading more of her books.

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen

This book has been on my list for a long time, and I flew through it this week. Ava Wong has been the good Chinese American daughter all her life. A graduate of Stanford and now a married corporate lawyer on sabbatical with her first child, Henri, she goes through her days meeting others’ expectations. Until her old college roommate, Winnie, returns to San Francisco and asks Ava to meet her for coffee. That meeting leads to Ava joining Winnie’s counterfeit purse dealings in China and the U.S., but if Ava is to be believed, her involvement is reluctant and Winnie’s coercive behavior is more powerful than the lure of millions in counterfeit luxury brands. Soon Ava is in deep, and the two must find a way to escape the FBI, Chinese gangsters, and their own cultural expectations.

This book gave me a Catch Me If You Can feeling, and I loved that. One of my favorite writing conventions is an unreliable narrator, and Ava is definitely one to be watched. Counterfeit is a fast-paced, fun read–perfect for the end of the month.

Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese

Confession: I think The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most ridiculous books I’ve ever read. It’s nothing but pages of narration with little compelling me to care about the characters, even poor Hester Prynne with her scarlet A branded across her Puritan’s dress.

Luckily, I found Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese to be a lot more engaging than The Scarlet Letter. I love a good historical fiction novel, and this novel delivered with a descriptive narrative across generations. Isobel Gamble, born in Scotland, lives in fear that someone will discover her synesthesia–her ability to attach one sense to another–and brand her a witch like her ancestor. With a warning from her mother, she learns to hide how she sees colors attached to noises, words, and smells while honing her skills as a needleworker. Then, she and her husband Edward move to Salem, and she meets young Nathaniel Hawthorne. With her husband away on shipping travels and her need to adjust to the community, Isobel draws closer to Nathaniel and into an affair. With themes of love, morality, and friendship, this book is a good read and full of historical tidbits, even for someone like me who doesn’t care for Hawthorne.

And now we’re at the start of May! What will the month bring, bookish friends?

What I Read This Week: April 17 to April 23

This week was slower compared to the last, but I still cleared two books from my to-be-read bookcase and most importantly finished Yours Truly, Abby Jimenez’s new book!

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

I listened to Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour, and the narrator, Zeno Robinson, did an amazing job. I felt like he was sitting next to me, telling me Darren’s life story. And what a story it is. This book, Askaripour’s debut novel, is a satire about how Darren, a young Black man working at Starbucks, finds stardom when he’s whisked into the intriguing DotCom world of a mysterious business. From horrific hazing on his first day to his position as the only Black person in the company, Darren isn’t sure where he fits, but he’s swept up by the CEO’s magic and loses himself in the process. I enjoyed this book a lot, and the audiobook was fantastic as it brought each situation and emotion to life.

Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez

I hugged my copy of Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez when it finally arrived this month, and I felt the same way when I finished reading it this week. Like all of Jimenez’s books, this contemporary romance brings so much heart to a story that is more than what it appears to be. Dr. Briana Ortiz is prepared to hate Dr. Jacob Maddox when he invaded her ER, but those feelings change as this gentle man slowly wins Briana’s heart. This book has all the tropes—fake dating, miscommunication, forced proximity—but it tackles mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and it is a deeply moving love story, just what I expected from Jimenez, one of my new favorite authors.

Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Gallant is an award-winning gothic novel, one for which I’ve seen a lot of hype on Bookstagram. But, this wasn’t the book for me. I didn’t find the story engaging or the characters endearing enough to be invested in the novel. I’m glad to have cleared it from my to-be-read list, but I would have preferred spending my reading time with another book.

Did you read anything that you loved this week?

What I Read This Week: April 10 to April 16

This was a big week for reading, both physical and audiobooks. As I continue to clear my shelves, I checked five books off my to-be-read bookshelf! Here’s what I read from April 10 to 16, 2023.

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

Snobs has been on my shelf for at least four years, chosen because Julian Fellowes created Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, this book didn’t bring the drama or the delight that the show is famous for. This book, a character study on one man’s observations of his friend’s attempts to infiltrate high society in England, felt like a categorized list of the faults of the rich with a few eccentric characters thrown in. Maybe it was meant to be modernized, satirical take on the classics, like The Age of Innocence and The Great Gatsby, but all I was left with was a sense that Fellowes hates the wealthy.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Listening to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was a great experience. This book features characters who are implied to be autistic, and there is not enough representation of autism in literature. Don, the leading man in the story, is seeking a wife who will meet his specific requirements. This list of attributes leads him to meet Rosie, and intriguing graduate student at his university. The two are a perfect pairing, and their interactions are fun and endearing. I enjoyed Don’s journey through the novel, as he grew to realize what was most important to him and how Rosie could fit into his life without being who he originally thought would be his mate. This is a fast-paced read with a good message, and I’m glad I picked it off my my shelf.

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano

Oh, Finlay. You do get yourself into some situations, don’t you? But at least your bestie Vero is there to help out, even when it’s climbing through your ex-husband’s office at night or finding a cold place to store part of a corpse. Elle Cosimano’s second Finlay Donovan book is just as fun as the first! Yes, the plot requires a bit of suspended disbelief, but these are comedic mysteries, so it all works out. Finlay and Vero’s friendship is what keeps me coming back to the series, and Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead did not disappoint.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Reading The Power by Naomi Alderman this week left me questioning why it’s been on my TBR shelf for so long. I love a dystopian novel, and this one comes highly recommended by the queen herself, Margaret Atwood. You can read my full review in another post, but here’s a quick summary:

In The Power, teenage girls suddenly develop the ability to shoot electricity from their hands, resulting in a mass shift in the world order, which is now under the power of women. With Mother Eve revising the traditional scriptures of world religions and queens and mob daughters taking control of populations by force and by charisma, the world is in an uproar. This book starts slow, but soon I couldn’t look away from the pages. With the mess of gender, power, religion, and humanity, this is a five-star book that I’ll be recommending to everyone!

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

Historical fiction is another favorite genre of mine, as I explained in my post about five reasons I love this genre, and Fiona Davis is a must-read author for me. I love how she blends multiple timelines, incorporates the arts, and adds mystery to her historical novels. Unfortunately, I didn’t love The Masterpiece, the story of Clara, a watercolor artist and illustrator poised to be the next leading artist right before the Great Depression begins, and Virginia, a divorcee recovering from breast cancer and learning to be on her own in the 1970s. When Virginia finds a painting of Clara’s, she’s determined to give the artist her due. I liked the premise and the historical aspects of the story, but the characters weren’t engaging enough to make me love this book.

The Power of the Girls

Five-Star Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Do you ever pick up a book from your to-be-read stack and think, why did it take me so long to read this? Well, that was certainly the case for me when I read The Power by Naomi Alderman this week. This book caught my eye years back because it’s dystopian fiction, a favorite genre of mine, but it sat on my shelf unread for too long. Then when I saw that Amazon has adapted The Power into a drama series featuring Toni Collette and Toheeb Jimoh (hello, Sam from Ted Lasso!), I decided it was the perfect time to finally read this book before I tune into the show.

And I’m so glad that I read this book. It starts a little slow, but I quickly found myself wrapped up in a dystopian world where girls have the power to spark electricity from their hands and change society. This is a novel with multiple points of view, and you know from the prologue that the events happened in the past, although it’s unclear what the impact is now. The premise is that somehow young girls around the world are imbued with electrical powers from awakened skeins in their bodies. They can now shock people, send currents of electricity through metals, and play with electrical arcs with their hands. First. these girls keep these powers secret, but then on The Day of the Girls, they can no longer hide, and the patriarchal world turns upside down. Here are a few of the reasons I loved The Power and consider it a five-star book.

Themes within The Power

So many themes are pitted against each other in The Power as young girls learn to harness their electrical strengths, share their sparks with older women, and become the stronger gender across current social norms. Gender norms flip, men become beholden to women for their freedom, and power structures are rebuilt.

Religion is another primary theme in the novel. Mother Eve, a main character, teaches that the Christian mother of Jesus, Mary, was the true giver of life, as Ruth was the most powerful in the Jewish tradition, as Fatima was in the Muslim faith, and as Tara was in the Hindu religion. Mother Eve asserts that women from all religious teachings should be the most worshipped as the Mother of all, and her preachings spread across the world. From that, however, comes the uprising of cults, as other women use their power to control, abuse, and even sacrifice men, and we see concept of humanity challenged across the world.

The Characters of The Power

The majority of the main characters whose viewpoints we experience in The Power are young teenagers at the beginning of the novel before The Day of the Girls:

  • Roxy is the illegitimate daughter of a British gang leader. She has few scruples and immense power with the potential to take down armies of men.
  • Ally is the adopted daughter of a strict, abusive southern Florida couple. Despite their cruelty, she knows her power is a gift. The voice she hears tells her so.
  • Jocelyn is the privileged but vulnerable daughter of a prominent, powerful mayor. Her power is unreliable, as is her behavior.

Mayor Margot Cleary, Jocelyn’s mother, is another main character in the novel. At first she faces decisions on how to stop girls from spreading the power to others and then becomes engaged in a morale battle of how to succeed in her career without damaging her daughter or the world.

And then there is Tunde, the only male point of view in the novel. He is an ambitious young man who seizes the opportunity to capture a girl using her power on video that launches his career as a rogue journalist who will stop at nothing to document the power across the world.

All of these characters grow over the decade or so that their stories span. Roxy, Ally, and Jocelyn learn to harness and use their powers to different effects, and they along with Margot and Tunde each experience the positives and negatives that come from the power itself. With additional side characters who are just as interesting and morally grey as these five, Ms. Alderman has created a character-driven story that is full of tension and leaves you hoping that each will come to their own right conclusions, whatever those may be.

The Structure of The Power as a Novel

The multiple points of view give a depth to The Power that is very intense and engaging. You are engrossed in each character’s experiences as they are well-developed, nuanced individuals. But the structure of the novel is interesting for another reason, as it is presented as an anthropological study at first, with letters in the prologue and epilogue between two authors debating the value of the history within the pages. The book includes illustrations of sculptures and artifacts from the time period, which these two authors refer to as the Cataclysm. This adds another layer to the book and makes it feel like an even more realistic history of what a dystopian world could have been.

The Power was my first five-star read for April 2023, and now I’m hungry for more dystopian fiction. Is this a genre you like to read? If so, drop a note and tell me about your favorites!

What I Read This Week: March 27 to April 2

Spending a good portion of the week in bed with a bad reaction to medication did have one benefit: I read four books from my to-be-read bookshelf!

Before I get into my mini-reviews, a quick health update. My migraines are about 40 percent better than they were a month ago, which is good but not great. The new emergency med that the neurologist gave me to try made me so nauseous that I couldn’t do anything but lay in bed, so no to that one! I am hopeful that with the more lifestyle changes I make, including my ongoing quest to cut out sugar, I will be able to get to a point that the migraines are manageable. A couple weeks ago I was at my wit’s end because of the near-constant pain and frustration of not being at my best, but today I’m feeling better.

But enough about my brain, on to to the books!

My Reads for the Week

Favorite: White Ivy by Susie Yang – I love a complicated main character, and Ivy is definitely that. This novel is a study on mothers and daughters, tradition, class and expectations.

Most hyped: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – So many fellow readers have recommended this book to me and others, but I had left it on my shelf for years. It was good, but I didn’t love it, partially because I did the audiobook, I think. I may try the printed version again another time.

A YA thriller: The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas – Sometimes you need to go back to high school just to be reminded of the meaning of angst, right? This book gave me Pretty Little Liars vibes all the way through. Not a perfect book, but a quick, entertaining read.

A Rom-Com Palate-Cleanser: The Honey Don’t List by Christina Lauren – I read a lot of heavy books in March and needed a rom-com romp to clear my head. This was a predictable, but enjoyable, read with main characters who are perfect for each other, of course.

What did you read this week?

What I Read This Week: March 20 to March 26

This week’s reading was a mixture of fiction and memoir, all books from my to-be-read list as I’m trying to clear my shelves. Here’s a recap of the reads I finished this week.

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

I wanted to love this book by Jamie Ford; I really did. The Many Daughters of Afong Moy had all the conventions that I love on a regular basis: strong female main characters, a sweeping family saga, and deep explorations of the past. However, this book didn’t live up to my expectations. The concept of generational trauma is very compelling, and I think that Ford should be commended for his ideas in this book. Yet, it was a slow read for me, and even though each daughter was intriguing, they weren’t compelling enough for me to love the book. I think I would have enjoyed it more if there had been more focus on two or three Moy daughters, rather than a briefer look at them all. I wanted more of Afong Moy’s own story as well. Still, Ford is an accomplished writer and the book’s concept was unique.

Kiss Her Once for Me

Alison Cochrun’s Kiss Her Once for Me was the best book I read for the week.In general, I don’t care for the fake-dating trope in romance novels, but Ellie’s connection to Andrew, her fake fiancee, wasn’t overdone or trite. To summarize, Andrew proposes that he and Ellie get married in order to open the inheritance that his grandfather left him under stipulation that he marry before receiving the $2 million. Broke and lost after losing her dream job, Ellie says yes, but she soon finds out that Andrew’s sister is Jack, the woman with whom Ellie spent a magical 24 hours last Christmas. I really liked Ellie and Jack’s story, and I think the LGBTQIA+ representation was excellent. This was a good story with great character development and growth over the course of the chapters, and I recommend this read.

All Boys Aren’t Blue

I love a good memoir, and George M. Johnson’s writing took me into his world of being a gay Black man raised in a family who supported him as well as let him discover his own personhood. All Boys Aren’t Blue is a young adult memoir, written for young people like George so that they could hear from someone like them, an experience that George never received. As a forty-something white cis woman, I’m not Johnson’s target audience, but it’s important for me to read and learn about experiences like his so that I can be aware and more educated about the topics of race and sexuality. I appreciated his honesty and openness throughout the book, and I was happy to learn.

So now it’s the last week of March, and I have a goal to read three more books by the end of the month. I’ll be tuning in to at least one audiobook, but as I review the month so far, March has been a good reading month.