Take My Hand for a 5-Star Read

Sometimes an author gives the amazing gift of a beautiful read that is page-turning and educational. Dolen Perkins-Valdez did exactly that with her 2022 book, Take My Hand.

The Tuskegee syphillis experiments are a horrific, tragic part of US history. It’s still unimaginable to think of what doctors did to Black men in Alabama for 40 years (1932 to 1972). It’s reprehensible.

But that’s not the only story of its kind. As Ms. Perkins-Valdez explores so eloquently in her novel, the involuntary sterilization of Black and poor girls and women was commonplace in the US as recently at the late 20th century. Take My Hand is based on the true case of Mary Alice and Minnie Relf, who were sterilized without their consent by US government workers. In the book, the sisters are Erica and India Williams, and the narrator is Civil Townsend, a 23 year old nurse in Montgomery, Alabama, who champions these children, their father, and their grandmother as she is desperate to right the terrible wrong that took away the girls’ fertility.

What I Liked about Take My Hand

  • The writing: Ms. Perkins-Valdez is a talented author who moved between the past and the present with ease and who crafted a story that is not only about tragedy but also about love.
  • Civil’s journey: Civil is a motivated young woman who is determined to make a difference as a nurse. She deeply loves the Williams family and must grapple with boundaries while trying to help them.
  • The sisters: Erica and India have a deep bond, particularly because India is not verbal, placing more responsibility on Erica. These girls are children facing experiences that adults haven’t witnessed, and their story is beautiful.
  • The message: I knew about forced sterilization in US history, but I didn’t know how far it went. This book opened my eyes to so much more, and, unfortunately, it is apropos for what is happening in the US in 2022.

In short, please read this book. It will stay with me for a long time.

Five Stars for All My Rage

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

A Five-Star Book Review

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir is a book about love, culture, and who you turn to when life is unimaginably hard. It is a beautiful story I about desperate people making desperate decisions, and I am here for it.

Nope and Salahudin (Sal) have been best friends since grade school. They were the only Pakistani children in their small desert town of Juniper, California, and have been bonded since Noor arrives in the classroom after being rescued by her uncle when her family was killed in an earthquake back home. That is, they were best friends until The Fight, when Noor confessed her non-platonic love for Sal and he denied her.

Despite the pleas from Misbah, Sal’s mother, that the two should rebuild their friendship, the two are distant until the unthinkable happens. With tragedy and threats of future ruin approach, these teenagers join back together. Sal is desperate to save The Clouds’ Rest, the desert motel that was his mother’s dream, and to stop his father’s alcoholism, and Noor is determined to escape her oppressive Chachu and his liquor store, which is where her uncle is determined Noor will work upon her high school graduation. The decisions these two make through the book are frustrating, hopeful, and anguished.

What I Loved about All My Rage

  • The time shifts: The book is separated by Then and Now, so we learn about the past: Misbah’s life in Pakistan, her marriage to Toufiq, and their arrival in Juniper, and the present: Noor and Sal’s experiences in their high school years.
  • The cultural diversity: Author Sabaa Tahir is a master at weaving Pakistini and Muslim culture and traditions into the immigrant experience in the U.S. This helped me learn while I read a page-turning novel.
  • The tough choices: Noor and Sal face terrible situations that make them take action in different ways. This isn’t easy subject matter; sexual and physical abuse, addiction, and poverty are threaded throughout the book.
  • The resolution: I won’t give any spoilers, but I left the book feeling that Noor, Sal, and Misbah all received a well-deserved end.

What book have you read and loved lately?

Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

Spending a Day with Dava Shastri

Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

A five-star book review

If you could find out what people say about you after you die, would you want to do so?

Confession: I did lot know if I was going to rate Dava Shastri’s Last Day as a five-star read until the last few chapters. This debut novel by Kirthana Ramisetti is a character study of a determined, complicated woman who has taken her fate into her own hands, determined to enact her own decisions before cancer does it for her. But, she discovers that prematurely announcing her death has lasting effects on her children. That is the premise for this book, but its pages are filled with so much more.

What I Liked about Dava Shastri’s Last Day

  • The premise – I think it’s natural to want to know what people say about you when you’re not there. Unless you’re one of those completely self-assured individuals who can genuinely say, “Screw them,” that question is always at the back of your mind. But, hearing your eulogy or legacy amps up that experience. Dava read, listened to, and witnessed others’ responses to her death, and some of it surprised her, not in a positive way.
  • Dava – The protagonist of this novel isn’t necessarily a likable character. She’s deeply driven, a bit egotistical, and extremely controlling. But, as her last day unfolds and we learn more about her past and how those events influenced her life, I started to empathize with her. Revealing more of her experience would give away spoilers, so I’ll just say that her story is complex and full of emotion.
  • The children – Much like their mother, the Shastri-Persson children aren’t lovable characters at first encounter. They run the spectrum of deeply committed to Dava’s foundations and work (daughter Sita) to wandering through life courtesy of their trust funds (son Rev). The children attribute their lives and their own decisions to Dava’s influence, and they’re not wrong. Their mother is a force in their lives, but as I made my way through this book, I found myself rooting for their growth and own decision-making.
  • The philanthropy: Dava made her billions in music, first as a producer and then as an investor in an iPod-like device. But her real impact comes from her foundations. Likable or not, Dava is a philanthropist who wants to support artists, especially women. She wants to make an impact with her money, and I admire that.

Dava Shastri’s Last Day was a surprising read for me. The more I read, the more I became invested in the stories of Dava and her children. A complex novel about family, secrets, and ambition, it’s a book that left me thinking about my own legacy, and that makes it a five-star read.

The Importance of Moxie

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
A 5⭐️ Book

I heard about Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu when the Netflix movie with Amy Poehler released and eagerly bought the novel, but like so many books on my TBR, it got pushed down in the stack.

I added Moxie to my 22 in 2022 challenge list and definitely knew I wanted to read it soon. So, searching for an audiobook to keep me motivated for my workouts last week, I decided to listen to this one and check it off my list.

Friends, I was wrong to have waited so long. This book is fantastic! A YA novel about high school girls taking back their agency and using their voices to stand up against sexual harassment and violence? Yes, please!

What I Loved about Moxie

  • The Message: I couldn’t help but think about my high school experiences while listening to this book. I was the target of several instances of sexual harassment. One moment in the library continues to haunt me. I didn’t stand up for myself out of embarrassment, but I wish I had. This book gives inspiration to young girls, and I want my daughters to read it so they know that they are empowered to stand up for themselves, if they ever experience sexual harassment, and that I will stand and fight with them.
  • The Characters: I loved the protagonist Vivian and how she gained inspiration to show moxie from her mom’s ‘90s Riot Grrrl past. I loved Lucy and Claudia. I loved Vic’s mom and grandparents. But most of all, I loved the message of this book: that girls can do anything.
  • The Setting: Moxie is set in a small town in Texas, and being a girl from Nebraska farm country, I could relate to the small-town politics and experiences.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I definitely want to watch the Netflix version of Moxie. I hope that it stays true to the novel!

Unbound: The Story of #MeToo

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

A Five-Star Book

Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of the Me Too Movement that opened the door for thousands of women to finally raise their voices and share their stories of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment. Ms. Burke is a powerhouse, a woman who stands for so many BIPOC, for so many women and girls who do not have the words or the voices to speak up. She empowers us all to speak up and calls for the end of the horrors of sexual assault.

Ms. Burke begins her memoir by sharing the morning when her words, Me Too, became a viral hashtag that finally gave a voice to the silent suffering. But her memoir is much more than a recounting of how Me Too began. It is a vulnerable, painfully real story of truth that began when she was sexually assaulted as a child. With her truth, Ms. Burke shines a light on the meaning of #metoo, demonstrating that it’s not just a hashtag but a highly nuanced movement to hold others accountable for sexual violence.

As a Black woman, Ms. Burke explains how Black culture addresses sexual violence under a lens of not just taking care of others but with caution because of the countless Black men who have been violently accused and condemned and murdered by whites. This feels so wrong yet so relevant to what has happened in the U.S. for centuries. Her explanation was both vivid and heartbreaking.

Much of Unbound is about Ms. Burke’s realization that others have experienced the same type of pain and suffering. Their stories helped her to find her voice, and she returns that gift to others. This book is raw, honest, and brutal. But it is hopeful as well, as she encourages us to speak out and give others our voices.

I am thankful for Ms. Burke’s activism, her voice, and her courage to share her story. I do not yet have all the words for what violence and scars I carry in my past, but one day I will share my #metoo story. I hope it gives others’ strength to do the same.

Loving Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A Five-Star Book Review

I’m calling it. Lessons in Chemistry is officially one of my favorite reads for 2022! Bonnie Garmus exceeded all expectations with this book, introducing unique characters, exploring multi-layered plot lines, and delighting us with fantastic writing.

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, one of the rare females in her field in the 1950s. Because she’s a woman, her professors, bosses, and colleagues assume that she’s more suited for fetching coffee than trying to solve abiogenesis. She faces sexual harassment in every part of her work, but her strong will and intelligence keep her going.

Upon her first encounters with Calvin Evans, the golden boy of the laboratory that employs them both, Elizabeth is wary of befriending him. But soon, a sweet love – full of chemistry – blossoms. Yet, life doesn’t work out as a love story for Elizabeth, and by the 1960s she finds herself not working as a chemist in a lab, but hosting her own cooking TV show, Supper at Six. Her opinion that cooking is chemistry, her straightforward manner, and her rightful belief that women can be more than housewives.

The result? A story of growth, wit, and perseverance for Elizabeth and the cast of supporting characters, from her highly intelligent daughter Mad to her dedicated neighbor Mrs. Harriet Sloane to her TV producer Walter Pine.

What I Loved About Lessons in Chemistry

  • Elizabeth – She is hands-down one of the strongest female protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. Her story is tragic but also triumphant, and that’s because of the depth of her character.
  • Mad – This little girl is just as blunt as her mom, and she’s equally bright, too. She’s young and innocent, but she understands that her mom has been through so much.
  • Six-Thirty – This former military dog is the loyalist, most loving dog. I loved when Ms. Garmus added Six-Thirty’s perspective to the chapters. From fetching Mad at school every day to learning 891-plus words, Six-Thirty has my heart.
  • The Resolution- I won’t give away anything to spoil the ending, but I will say that I was so satisfied with how Ms. Garmus completed this story.
  • The Message – Reading about the harassment, the bigotry, and the injustice that Elizabeth and other female characters faced in this book was difficult, and it made me question how much has really changed. as Elizabeth said many times: gender, race, religion, or creed makes no difference in a person’s abilities or what opportunities they should be given.

I hope you will read Lessons in Chemistry! I loved every bit of it.

Trigger Warnings: Harassment, assault

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.

The Glory of HOSAB

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J Maas

A Five-Star Review (Minor Spoilers)

If you’ve been on Bookstagram or BookTok in the past two months, you’ve seen tributes to Sarah J Maas’s newest book, House of Sky and Breath, which is the second in her Crescent City. There’s good reason for this adoration, in my opinion. HOSAB is a great book – a long one too, clocking in at 800+ pages!

What I Loved about HOSAB

  • Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar: This couple is end game. They’re complicated protagonists with a deep love for each other and a desperation to live a quiet, uneventful life together. Bryce is another one of SJM’s queens, right up there with Feyre (A Court of Thorns and Roses) and Aelin (Throne of Glass), and her tormented angel Hunt is just as great of a character.
  • The circle of supporting characters: Ruhn is my favorite side character in Crescent City. He is a classic bad boy with a heart of gold, and I am here for that journey. His friends Declan and Fynn give off vibes like Cassian and Azriel, another excellent entourage. We see more of Juniper and Fury, Bryce’s BFFs, and they are so good as well.
  • The world-building: I don’t know how SJM creates these fantastic worlds with multiverses and unique histories. My brain doesn’t work that way, so I have to be content with reading about them in books like this.
  • The representation: I have seen criticism of SJM’s previous series for the lack of diversity, and I agree. Bring on the diversity of characters, Sarah! HOSAB brings more representation to our eyes, and I hope that this prevails in future books.
  • The ending: I’m not going to spoil anything, but that ending! Wow. I had no inclination that SJM was leading us down that path. I went back and re-read the last chapter just to make sure that I read it correctly. Perfection!

Other Thoughts about HOSAB

  • In it for the long haul: Much like House of Earth and Blood (Book 1), this is a slow build to greatness with different points of view and more exploration of Midgard, the planet on which our story occurs. What does this mean? A heck of a long book. It took me about 3 weeks to read, with breaks for other books as I went along.
  • The steam: Audiobook lovers, I advise wearing earbuds with this one! HOEAB had some steamy scenes, but House of Sky and Breath brings the heat. I was blushing!

So, now I join the ranks of all the SJM readers who are impatiently waiting for the next book in the Crescent City series.