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!

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.

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.

The Other Black Girl

Book Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

A 5⭐️ Book Review

Dear Readers: Please read The Other Black Girl. This book addresses race, feminism, and success in so many different ways. I loved the setting of a publishing house because that’s one of my dream jobs, but this book is so much more than a girl trying to get ahead of the office politics and games. It’s a thriller, a social commentary, and a timely read.

Nella, the protagonist, wants to do more than what she’s given as an editorial assistant at Wagner Books. But as the only Black girl in the office, her efforts are thwarted with microaggressions, apathy, and racism. Then Hazel-May arrives as a new assistant. Bella is cautiously optimistic about what another BIPOC colleague might mean for her. Yet, in just a few months, it all goes terribly wrong.

I loved the characters and all their attributes in this book. Nella and her best friend Malaika are real, empathetic, and endearing characters. I loved their interactions. Hazel-May makes you question your trust level of her on every page. The Wagner employees add layers to the story as well.

The Other Black Girl is being described in publicity materials as Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada. I definitely recognized the truth to these comparisons – especially to Get Out. Like after watching that movie, I’m still thinking about this book.

The Beautiful Novel of Mina Lee

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

This book was a beautiful read! Nancy Jooyoun Kim crafted a gorgeous story about family, loss, language, and tragedy. I loved the dual timelines that told the story of Mina Lee and her daughter, Margot. With differences in culture, understanding, and desires, this mother-daughter relationship is complex but realistic, and I felt empathy for both characters. The book shares the immigrant experience in a vulnerable, often brutal way, while honoring the stories of each character. As her debut novel, Ms. Kim has set the bar high and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Broken: A (Funny) Tale of Mental Illness

Book Review: Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson writes with honesty, vulnerability, and power. She brings truth to the page as she explains what it’s like to be in the dark hole of depression and anxiety while you lose shards of your soul. She brings levity to the story as she shares her wild experiences at the dentist, in Puerto Rico, and in her backyard. Her love of taxidermy — including Allie McGraw the alligator and Daenerys Targaryen the prairie dog/squirrel — as well as her late night Twitter sessions and her insistence that her missing phone is in the floorboards (really in her pocket) are just a few of the laugh-out-loud instances from Broken.

But it’s so much more than that. Jenny is helping to end the stigma of mental illness. She is open about her dark days and shares what of feels like to walk into the light — to be unsettled when you have good days because you’re not sure when the dark will come again. There’s a reason I used up nearly all my sticky tabs and almost an entire highlighter while reading this book. Because it’s that good. And because it’s that real.