My monthly wrap-up — April 2021

Hi, friends! April really got away from me — I posted here way less than I like to, which was a bit disappointing on a personal note. But when I looked back at why, I realized it was because April was so full of wonderful things. My family had a big Easter celebration with our first pool day of the season, and then celebrated my niece’s third birthday the following weekend. Two weekends ago I went to Toledo, Ohio, to visit some friends I hadn’t seen in ages (two of them I hadn’t seen in over two years!). And last weekend, my husband and I went to the North Georgia Mountains for a family reunion — last time we saw them was in January 2020, before we hit quarantine. And in the midst of all of that, I still managed to squeeze in 14 books, which is an all-time record for me, and received my second COVID vaccine — as of today, I’m fully inoculated, which is a great feeling. So while I took a break from blogging, I had so many wonderful things to fill my time with ๐Ÿ™‚

Here are the books I got to read this month. There were some great ones, good ones, and also my least favorite read of this year (and maybe ever!). In order, I read:

The Babysitter by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan. Thank you to Atria and Mystery Book Club (courtesy of Jordy’s Book Club and Boston Book Fanatic on IG) for the free finished copy and the chance to participate in MBC. This is a thrilling, slow burn memoir about a woman who discovers later in life that her kind childhood babysitter was one of the most prolific serial killers of the 60s.

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley. I got to read this memoir with one of my book clubs. It tells the heartbreaking story of Conley being outed to his family and his time at a church-sponsored conversion therapy program.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I read this one through the recommendation of one of my closest friends, Lauren, in anticipation of the upcoming Netflix series based on the series! I absolutely loved the book, and — no surprise — think it’s better than the show!

The Last Exiles by Ann Shin. Thank you to NetGalley and Park Row Books for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review. This was a heartbreaking tale of a young couple living in North Korea who become separated and go against all odds to be reunited. It’s a sad tale but still full of a sense of hope that really resonated with me. Full review to come.

Anna K Away by Jenny Lee. Thanks to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for providing a free eARC — as you may know, Anna K was one of my favorite novels of 2020, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. This one sucked me in just as much, and while I thought it lacked some of the charm of the first book, it still was a great read that really explored how teenagers deal with grief and heartbreak.

We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A. E. Osworth. Thank you to Grand Central Pub and Novel Suspects for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review. I posted my full review of this one on its pub day, which you can view here. But this was a hell of a debut that covered misogyny and gender violence in the gaming industry, based on the real-life Gamergate. I highly recommend to those who love suspenseful novels and interesting and unreliable narrators.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. This was my first ever comic series that I read! I adore Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, so no surprise I loved the follow up story.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. This was a fun, easy read that totally flipped how I view the genre “cozy mystery,” bringing with it excellent representation and diversity, while still providing a more lighthearted take on the usual darker or gruesome mysteries/thrillers I tend to go for. I look forward to more in this collection! I’ll be posting a full review soon.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Books for the free eARC — I love SMG and honestly will read anything she writes. This one felt like I was reading a Jane Austen book, but with an added element of telekinesis and magic. I’ll be writing a full review soon!

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. After reading the first set, I couldn’t wait too long to read this one! The story was equally as great with gorgeous illustrations.

Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalola. I’m currently working on writing up this review, but it’s so hard because there’s SO many good things to say about it! Usually with a short story collection,, I struggle to connect with at least a few of the stories. All of these were great and stunningly beautiful.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. Thank you to Celadon (partner) for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review. I have lots of thoughts on this one, but I am truly struggling to organize them into something coherent! I read this book so quickly, but there are some parts that just felt… off for me? Especially compared to his first one. At some point, I hope to get a review up when I can figure out my thoughts more.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. This was my first audiobook I checked out this year! I listened to it on my drive to and from Toledo and was so impressed. It’s definitely a character-focused book and I loved how nuanced each character was while addressing some difficult topics revolving around race, privilege, and more.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes. And this, sadly, ended my month on a low point. This is by far my least favorite book of the year, and maybe one of my least favorites ever. It just didn’t do it for me. It was for a book club, so it was good to discuss with friends, but this definitely won’t be one I’ll recommend or revisit in the future.

What books did you get to in April? Any standouts or ones that fell flat? Let me know in the comments or on IG!

My monthly wrap-up — March 2021

A stack of books that I read in March sit next to a fish tank with my betta fish Reggie.

I’m a day late on my March wrap-up post AND it just snowed for the first time in a month — so that’s the April Fools Day joke, right?? But living in the Midwest, you just have to accept that Fake Spring is a real thing and you’ll inevitably get that last snow sometime in late March or even April. Hopefully it’s the last one of the season, however!

On a reading note, this month was a great month for me. Typically, I read around eight books, but this month I got through a whopping 11 books! There were many awesome reads, some of which I’ve already reviewed, some of which are to come. I’ve probably spent just a little too much time reading and not enough keeping up with reviews on here and Instagram. But I promise — they’re coming soon!!

Here are the books, in order, that I got the chance to read this month, plus a short summary. Also, check out my new Betta fish, Reggie! Sadly, Barry passed away (may he RIP) after nearly two years. But we’re excited to welcome Reggie to the family!

Watch Her by Edwin Hill. This suspense/mystery features Hester Thursby, Harvard librarian and master finder/researcher. I loved the whodunnit aspect, the alternating POVs, but mostly, I loved Hester. Check out my full review here. You better be sure I’ll be going back to read books 1 and 2 at some point! Also, thank you to Books Forward and Kensington Books for this free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. This book follows two parallel storylines, that of modern day Caroline, who is on vacation alone after a shocking revelation from her husband, and that of Nella, an apothecary who sells her concoctions to women in need of help against the oppressive men in their lives and whose run-in with young Eliza will forever change their lives. My full review will be coming soon.

The Northern Reach by W. S. Winslow. This is a slow-burn collection of interrelated stories about the residents of a coastal Maine town and how throughout the 20th century, they intersect, intermarry, and intermingle. With a dash of magical realism and truly atmospheric writing, this one is great for fans of historical fiction. Thank you to Flatiron Books for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review, which you can read here.

The Push by Ashley Audrain. Living up to all the hype, this suspense novel unpacks the darkest side of motherhood and was truly a profound read. I was often disturbed and unsettled, but as a reader, I appreciated the way this book made me think hard about motherhood and womanhood. Check out my full review here.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan. This was a book club choice that I read with some college friend that was a thought-provoking dissection of how both media and the justice system often let those who commit heinous acts of sexual assault/rape get away and how victims are often to blame. This book is being turned into a Netflix series and I cannot wait.

My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee. So I’m not sure I’ve ever spent this long on a book! Like no joke, I was reading it for about a month. It’s a slow, arduous read, but also beautifully written, telling the story of how Tiller, a young, not-so-ambitious American, is taken under the wing of Pong, an enigmatic and charismatic businessman, and the events of their year abroad. Thank you to NetGalley and Riverhead for this free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. Definitely the stand-out novel of the month, this story — part contemporary fiction and part romance — follows Chinese-Indonesian Meddy, whose aunties must come to the rescue after a blind date gone horribly wrong. What follows is a hilarious, heartwarming tale of of five women trying to cover up an accidental murder, work the biggest wedding of their careers, and Meddy’s run-in with an old flame. What could possibly go wrong? Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. This was a buddy read and a total “bookstagram made me do it.” The first book of the series, this story follows Feyre, a young girl cursed to live among faeries as punishment for a crime. A mix of Beauty and the Beast, Hunger Games, Spinning Silver, and a whole bunch of other fun fantasy tropes, this book was a fun, sexy read. I’m excited for the next ones to come!

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. This Book of the Month selection and debut novel is an oral history of the famous (yet fictional) rock n’ roll duo, Opal and Nev, who rise to fame in the 70’s. While it is a thrilling biography of sorts, it is also an indictment of consequences of protesting injustices has on women of color, especially Black women, versus men. Another stand out of the month.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. This book follows 17-year-old Lily Hu, growing up in San Francisco Chinatown in the 1950’s. She is struggling with her budding feelings for a female classmate, but throughout the story, must find the courage to be true to herself while falling in love for the first time. It’s a touching, heartbreaking, yet hopeful read.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. This fun, super steamy romance follows Chloe Brown, who after a near-death experience, makes a list of things to do that will help her “get a life” and step out of her comfort zone. Enter her superintendent, Red, who is the perfect person to help her cross off this list and perhaps fall in love with along the way.

What was your favorite read of the month? Let me know below or send me a message on Instagram!

Incredible stories to celebrate Black History Month

A stack of books, nonfiction and fiction, by Black writers, sitting against a white brick wall.

Happy Black History Month! While I think we as readers have a real responsibility to read stories by diverse voices all year long, I do think cultural celebratory months such as this are a wonderful opportunity to take a step back, reflect, educate ourselves, amplify diverse voices, and most importantly celebrate! To start off this incredible month of recognizing and celebrating Black history, I wanted to share a stack of some of my favorite books by Black writers that I have read or have on my TBR.

For me, I hope that this month is one where I not only reflect on all I’ve learned and where I have room to grow when it comes to being a voice for racial inequality, but also to use my love of reading to joyfully celebrate and highlight Black voices, especially this month!

Photo by Ellie Turns the Page.

So here are some mini synopses of the books featured here that I have read, ranging from romance to fantasy, and memoir to coming of age.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin — What if cities really did have a soul? This fantasy explores the individuals who make up New York City in a creative, fantastical ode to NYC.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — This story follows twin sisters whose lives diverge when one embraces her Blackness and one chooses to pass as White.

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper — Dr. Harper, an ER doc, discusses brokenness, in her own experiences, in the patients she encounters, and within a medical system that isn’t always fair.

Here For It; Or How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays by R. Eric Thomas — A hilarious, laugh-out-loud collection of essays that explores how to move forward and keep going in modern America. Hint: the answer involves hope.

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon — After Samiah and two other girls go viral when it is discovered they have all been cat-fished by the same guy, the three new best friends make a pact to put themselves first. But that promise is put to the test when Samiah meets sexy, thoughtful Daniel Collins at work.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — A stunning, expansive story that spans several generations beginning with two Ghanian half-sisters unknown to each other, one who marries into the comfortable life of a White man and the other who is sold into slavery.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans — This collection of short stories explores race and history in the U.S. You can check out my full review of the novella here.

Memorial by Bryan Washington — Benson and Mike’s relationship is at a crossroads when Mike’s mom finds herself staying with Benson while Mike flies to Japan to reconnect with his dying father. This story explores both their relationship with each other and their families.

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith — Tallie comes across Emmett, who is about to jump off a bridge. After convincing him to come back with her, they discover the power of healing and truth over the course of one short weekend.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour — A laugh-out-loud funny satire about ambition, race, and identity in the American workforce. You can read my full review here.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi — This story opens with Vivek’s death. What follows is an exploration of the events that lead up to its crisis and the people involved.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi — Gyasi’s newest novel explores themes of loss, faith, science, and addiction through the voice of Gifty, a PhD student studying the role of addiction on the brain, whose depressed mother has come to stay with her. Both continue to reel from Gifty’s brother’s death, the result of addiction.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum — Highly researched and informative, this nonfiction book discusses the role psychology plays when it comes to racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Darรฉ — Told from the perspective of 14-year-old Adunni, this story explores Adunni’s journey to finding her voice on the path to her dream of gaining an education, escaping poverty, and one day helping other girls do so as well. You can check out my full review of the book here.

Books on my to be read list include The Mothers (Brit Bennett), Queenie (Candice Carty-Williams), and Stamped from the Beginning (Ibram X. Kendi).

What books by Black authors do you love? Which ones do you want to check out? Comment below or message me on Instagram!

What makes up an identity? A review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

A Book of the Month copy of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. The book sits on concrete and is surrounded by fall leaves.

For my first-ever review on this blog, I wanted to highlight one of my top reads of 2020 — The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. This one was all over bookstagram, so when it became available as Book of the Month’s October pick, I absolutely knew I had to grab it! Plus as a former English major, I love finding stories that take classic literary tropes — in the case of Addie LaRue, a Faustian bargain — and twist and mold them into something razor sharp and fresh. Schwab 100% accomplished that with her 442-page masterpiece, and what screams fall-ish, spookier vibes than a deal with the devil?! Plus, if it’s any testament to my love for this fantasy-driven, historical fiction-laced, and romance-tinged story, my rescue pup is named is even named Addie after the book!

Quick synopsis: After Addie ignores the advice of a village elder “to never pray to the gods that answer after dark,” she strikes a deal with a dark, alluring, yet dangerous stranger that forces her to walk invisible across time, history, and geography. Determined to make peace with what it means to be forever alone and forever forgotten, Addie finds adventure in the world around her for the next 300 years. All that changes, however, when she meets a stranger in a bookstore later who finally remembers her face.

The first thing that grabbed my attention as a reader, even in the slow burn of a start, was Schwab’s mastery of language. Her prose is gorgeous, perfectly balancing detailed character development and a winding, provocative plot, both of which sucked me in. Iโ€™m usually a fast reader, but this one had me slowing down in order to savor each sentence down to the letter. It had me deeply thinking about my own choices, regrets, would-beโ€™s, and future opportunities.

But where this story really captured my heart was Addie herself. She is exactly the type of character whom, as a reader, I adore deeply. She is courageous, intelligent, independent, resourceful, and clever, yet so achingly human in all of her imperfections. Despite the limitations of her curse — never being remembered by anyone — she manages to live her immortality to the fullest, attempting to find adventure in each new day while still experiencing the hardships that all humans face: that is, heartbreak, pain (physical, psychological, and emotional), loss, fear, etc. Addie is the sort of character I wish I could be friends with in real life, which for me, is the true mark of an amazing, well-developed character. Her story is an incredible testament to the importance of living life to the fullest, loving deeply, and staying true to yourself. 

But the most important facet of this story, for me at least, was its exploration of what makes up one’s identify. Is is a face, a name, an idea, or something else entirely? Addie’s experience of living forever, yet never being remembered, takes the idea of identity — or lack thereof — to a new level. And while I can almost assuredly say that none of us will experience anything exactly like it, don’t many of us at least understand her struggle to find herself?

As a 25-year-old woman, identity is one of those themes that is close to my heart. It feels like every action I take, every choice I pursue is in constant pursuit of finding my own identity. I related so much to Addie’s search for herself, even when it seemed nearly impossible. Her journey reminded me of the importance of living life fully, loving deeply, and staying true to yourself — all ingredients that lead to recognizing and understanding one’s identity.

My top 10 favorite books of 2020

Four books in shades of blue against a black background.

What a year 2020 was! I don’t know about you, but it’s certainly not one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. Aside from all the craziness of pandemic living, one good thing it gave me was time — which lead to reading 81 books from a wide variety of writers and across a range of genres and topics. And while I know it’s almost the end of January, I wanted to officially put forth my top 10 favorite books of 2020!

10 – The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

This book was one of the biggest delights of 2021! When the book popped up as one of the November Book of the Month choices, I picked it purely because Italy (where the story takes place) sounded like such a wonderful escape during a time in my life that was rather difficult. But I ended up falling in love with the second-born Fontana sisters (Poppy, Emilia, and Lucy), cursed never to find love. This book, while funny and oftentimes light-hearted, was far from fluffy, diving into serious topics, as the Fontana women not only discover more about each other, but also learn more about themselves as individuals. Overall, it was a wonderful tale of family forgiveness, self-discovery, and learning how not to let others’ opinion (or even you own self cloud of judgment) define who you are.

9 – These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

If you didn’t know, I am a major Shakespeare fan girl (my college capstone was actually about feminism in his plays, but we can talk about that a different time!). But surprisingly, my least favorite play of his is actually Romeo and Juliet. Maybe it’s the countless poor re-imaginings of it out there or the tired old star-crossed lovers trope — or least that’s what I’m going to blame, because Gong’s debut novel completely transformed my view. It was such a fresh take on an old classic, namely through its setting of 1920s Shanghai and its diverse cast. I mostly adored Juliette Cai — underneath a hard exterior was a character who cared deeply for her family, friends, and city and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them. She is the heroine I wish I had growing up: someone who looks like me, experiences some of the same feelings I do as an Asian woman, and isn’t delegated to some basic, uninteresting, or stereotyped side character.

8 – Anna K by Jenny Lee

So confession — I just told you how much I adore a good reimagining. But I actually haven’t read Anna Karenina! It just seemed like one of those really intimidating classics, so alas, it has been left untouched on my shelf. Regardless, I adored Lee’s retelling. It read like a television show, giving off massive Gossip Girl vibes, but it was diverse — and actually diverse, not just “here’s some characters of color to please readers.” Anna K herself was smart, brave, and kind, and she was another character I wish I had read about as a teen trying to come to terms with my identity as an Asian American woman.

7 – Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

This book was a bit of slow burn for me, told from the point of view of Gifty, a PhD student studying the role of addiction on rats’ brains. Through this heavily character-driven story, I found myself sucked into Gifty’s narrative and she addresses her experience growing up in a Ghanian immigrant family in the Deep South and watching her brother and mom struggle with addiction and mental health, often in retrospect of her current role as a scientist. Her voice is so honest as she grapples with coming to terms as a scientist, daughter, sister, lover, and friend. For me, the most powerful part of Gyasi’s novel was her exploration of Gifty’s personal, sometimes contradictory, and oftentimes intertwining relationship between science and religion. Gyasi is a talented writer with artful control of language — I’m so glad to have discovered her this year.

6 – The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Sometimes a novel seems to just show up when the world needs it most — which is why this book became one of my favorite books of 2020. This story deals powerfully with race in a way I hadn’t discovered yet in fiction, and this year perhaps more than ever showed us that we need books that can do this and do it well. Each character was well-developed, making me feel like I knew them intimately, especially the twins: stubborn, vibrant Desiree, and intelligent, secretive Stella. This book is tenderly written and equal parts imaginative and grounded. It made me both escape inside the story and think hard about my world. And while it made me think about how much we as a society have to grow when it comes to how we deal with racism, it also gave me hope. It definitelyd deserved to be named Book of the Month’s Book of the Year!

5 – Anxious People by Fredrick Backman

So this was my first book by Fredrick Backman! I know he’s a fan favorite of many readers, and after this one, I can completely see why. For the first 100 pages or so, I honestly had no clue what I was reading — the plot was so weird, albeit funny, with a cast of oddball, off-kilter strangers. Yet through this charming story of a hostage situation gone wrong, Backman created a story that managed to touch my heart, make me both laugh and cry, and remind me of why stories done right about mental health are so important, as the story explores the lengths each character is willing to go for love, family, friendship, and forgiveness. There’s no surprise to me that this was a finalist for Book of the Month’s Book of the Year award.

4 – Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

In 2019, after finally finishing up school, I made a promise to myself to work hard to explore writers of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander descent. As an adopted Chinese American, I realized how powerful fiction was in allowing me to better explore my own culture and identity. Of all the amazing writers I have discovered, this hilarious and ultra-creative satire by Charles Yu really sticks out. For one, it is laugh-out-loud funny, but it also perfectly addresses the ways that Asians in media are portrayed. I think this perspective has been vastly left out of storytelling, so I am so glad that Yu’s story won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2020. This story spoke to my soul as an Asian American woman, and I was so touched by its beckoning to “be more” than any stereotype dictates of us or the world sees us as.

3 – The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

I recently revisited this book for the second time with a book club and a friend described it as a “warm hug of a book.” He could not have been more correct! I recently received my The StoryGraph results, which showed that I tend to read books that are emotional, mysterious, and reflective. So I love that a more lighthearted yet simultaneously thoughtful and touching love story cracked my top three. In a year that was full of collective challenges — isolation and fear from a pandemic, decisive politics, continued police brutality and reminders of the systemic racism still present in our society — this book was a breath of fresh air, as it followed case worker Linus Baker, enigmatic children’s home director Arthur Parnassus, and six magical, powerful children capable of bringing the world to its knees. It was not only lovely, heartwarming, and whimsical, but it was also a powerful reminder to embrace empathy, understanding, and acceptance of both self and others.

2 – The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

If you didn’t know, Addie LaRue is a special book to me — so special, that I named my new puppy in honor of the titular character! But as Addie walks forgotten and invisible across time, history, and geography, I found her story to be a powerful testament to the importance of living life to the fullest, loving deeply, and staying true to yourself. Simultaneously, it did a great job pondering the question of what makes up an identity: a name, a face, an idea, or something else? By the time I hit the end of Addie’s story, I wanted more. She is the type of character who I wish I could be friends with in real life. She’s brave, resourceful, intelligent, and brimming with curiosity and adventuresome spirit. Despite immortality, she is so achingly human — and because of Addie alone, this book deserves its spot as my No. 2 favorite read of the year. Check out my full review here.

1 – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

And for spot No. 1 — The Midnight Library! This wonderful story will probably always hold a special space in my heart. I remember finishing this book in a hotel room in Westchester County, N.Y., while my husband was on a virtual meeting. I attempted to hold in sobs as I reached the end — Erik thought some terrible tragedy had occurred, when really, I was just experiencing the power of fiction at its finest. Relatable-as-hell Nora Seed feels as if life has passed her by. Ultimately her choices — or lack thereof — bring her to titular Midnight Library, granting her the opportunity to pursue decisions she decided to bypass in her root life. What I love most about Haig is how he powerfully transforms his own experiences dealing with depression and suicide into a work of fiction that was so raw and relatable. Of all the books this year, this one really touched my soul the deepest, made me think the hardest, and has been most difficult to forget — so of course, it fully deserves spot No. 1.

Honorable mentions and books not published in 2020: This Tender Land by William Kent Kreuger, The Space Between Worlds by Macaiah Johnson, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Three Souls by Janie Chang, Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Circe by Madeline Miller, and Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.

What were your favorite books in 2020? Post a comment or reach out to me via Instagram!