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 πŸ™‚

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!

Think Daisy Jones but better: A review of The Last Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

A copy of The Last Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton, a red hardcover book with a guitar on the front, set on top of my Victrola record player.

Thanks for bearing with me, folx… I am beyond behind on reviews here. I’ve been overbooked (get it πŸ˜‰ I’m all for a good pun!) with ARCs and just great backlog reads that I wanted to take time to do what I love most — read. Now that I’ve cleared up my schedule, I’m hoping to be more consistent with my blogging and catch up on writing reviews to highlight some really incredible books and authors.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love a debut! I think reading and reviewing them is an honor. And when it comes to debuts I’ve read in 2021, The Last Revival of Opal & Nev is definitely top of the list. Dawnie Walton is such a talent, and you better bet I’ll be reading whatever she decides to publish from here on out. Like, she could publish her grocery list, and I’d be all about it!

Quick synopsis: This story follows the infamous rock duo Opal and Nev, nobodies who rose to fame in NYC in the 70s. In 2016, journalist S. Sunny Shelton is curating a collection of interviews from and about them as they prepare for a reunion tour, but a new allegation threatens everything Opal, Nev, and now Sunny have worked for.

Now I’m as big of a Daisy Jones and the Six fan as about anyone else, so I was at first a bit hesitant — this book, while quite different, followed the same oral story format, which I thought may feel too similar to Daisy Jones. But I was definitely wrong — in my opinion, this book shines so much brighter than Daisy Jones. I loved that coupled with the interviews are editor’s notes from the point of view of Sunny. These notes help develop Sunny as equally a main character, next to the titular Opal and Nev, and allowed the present day to become a story of its own, parallelling and moving on from that of Opal and Nev back in the 70s.

Opal, however, was my favorite character. She was bold, imperfect, bright, and brave. I loved how she knows exactly who she is and never tries to be anything she isn’t. Most importantly, she unabashedly stands up for what she believes in.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but what made this book so incredible and truly a step above Daisy Jones is how it shows the effects that white supremacy — and taking a stand against it — has on women of color, and especially Black women. It’s a powerful testament, both sobering yet full of hope. Especially in the context of 2016, when Sunny is performing these interviews and publishing this book. This book took turns I couldn’t have anticipated, and it both sucked me into this fictional story and reminded me of the lengths we still need to go for racial equality in our real-life society.

Lost in translation: A review of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

A copy of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, a purple hardback book with a bottle and flowers on the cover, with live flowers surrounding it that are pink, green, and white

Have you ever just wanted to love a book SO much, and no matter how much you try, it just doesn’t seem to work out? That’s how I felt about The Lost Apothecary, unfortunately. Billed by Book of the Month as a historical fantasy and touted by just about everyone else as the next big hit, I felt in my heart it was going to be one of my favorite reads of March, if not 2021! While there was still much to like about it, it fell ended up falling a bit flat for me.

Quick synopsis: In 18th century London, a mysterious apothecary named Nella sells her goods to a specific clientele — woman looking to escape oppressive lives at the men in their lives. When 12-year-old Eliza comes into her shop, an unspeakable accident will put everything Nella has worked for at risk. In modern-day London, Caroline goes on vacation alone to escape heartbreaking news about her marriage and discovers a token from the past that will force all three women’s lives to intersect.

There was much to like about this book — I enjoyed the three main characters, but especially Nella and Eliza. I thought Penner’s character development with them was excellent as was the plotline, so much so that I sort of dreaded when I’d start a chapter based in modern-day London! Not that I didn’t like Caroline, but I do have a fascination with that time period and found Nella’s mission (and Eliza’s role in it) to help women admirable. It felt timely, important, and transcendent of time, which is clear in how that same oppression from men catches up with Caroline in modern time as she deals with marriage issues.

Overall, however, I didn’t enjoy the writing style. I felt that it was a little too much telling versus showing, so I didn’t feel myself transported into this story the way I had hoped. There were also a couple of plot points that felt rushed (but I won’t mention because of spoilers). Additionally — and this was probably my biggest issue — I felt a sort of disconnect between how the past storyline and the present storyline were supported to relate. I think for me, I hoped for a much stronger connection to tie them all together. Individually, each story was good, but together, it felt too disparate and forced.

But most importantly, I really thought there’d be more fantasy involved since it was billed as a historical fantasy genre. Book of the Month has typically done a great job labeling their picks in my opinion, and based off past options that are in this genre, I was expecting more fantasy, such as Addie LaRue, The Library of Legends, Things in Jars, or Gods of Jade and Shadow. I didn’t think The Lost Apothecary had nearly as much fantasy — perhaps just a touch of magical realism, but even for me, it felt a bit of a stretch.

That said, there are so many awesome reviewers out there that have rained praises upon this book! So while this book didn’t live up to its hype for me, I still think that many will love it and connect greatly with its story. For those who like historical fiction, female-powered books, or stories with parallel storylines, this would probably be an awesome fit. But if you, like me, were thinking this was going to have a lot of fantasy elements, this may fall flat based off the genre description alone.

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!

My Friday Five β€” book club picks for any group

Happy Friday, friends! I wanted to think of a weekly list that would be fun and easy to pull together, while also being a great starting point for conversations and potentially add some great new recs to my readers’ TBRs! So this is the first installment of my “Friday Five” — this week will focus on books I’d choose for a book club. My friend, Maggie, recently started this challenge on her bookstagram, and I thought it was such a fun idea. The biggest struggle was narrowing it down to only five! But here are my top choices that I think would satisfy any group and why.

Photo by Ellie Turns the Page.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin. I would choose this book for the thriller-obsessed group that not only wants an awesome whodunnit with a fearless lead, but also a deep dive into the portrayal of sexual assault victims in this Me Too era. Full review is here.

Here For It; Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas. This nonfiction essay collection would be my choice for the book club that wants to drink wine and laugh out loud while also talking about politics, social ideals, love, race, and hope in modern America.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This short, critically acclaimed novel would be a great pick for a group looking for a historical fiction that centers on race, class, gender issues, and more in a cross continental setting. Full review here.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. This debut sci-fi would be the perfect fit for any sci-fi or fantasy book club. It’s a fresh take on the popular multiverse concept, features a diverse cast, and explores topics including race, women’s rights, religion, and social/economic status in an unforgiving landscape.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. This choice would be for a group who is ready to feel ALL the feels by exploring loss, life, and hope through the eyes of a child who experiences an unbelievable tragedy and must figure out how to not only survive but truly live.

What book would you choose for your book club? Would any of my picks catch your attention? Let me know in the comments below or reach out on Instagram!

My monthly reading wrap-up — February 2021

On the left is a white, fluffy goldendoodle and on the right is my husky mix puppy. In between is a stack of books for my

Just like in January, I am so excited for the eight books I got to read this month. I tried to include books by Black writers to honor Black History Month, along with one eARC and even a Western — a totally new genre to me! I also picked up a childhood classic, which was an awesome reminder that children’s books can be as thought-provoking, if not more so, than many adult books.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. What a great way to start off February, and as a buddy read with one of my favorite bookstagrammer friends. This story was incredibly told and so unique in its format, as it told the diverging stories of two half sisters unknown to each other on the Ghanaian Gold Coast. This short read still read like an epic and was full of incredible character development. You can check out my full review here.

Outlawed by Anna North. This one was probably the most fun read of February and so different than anything I had ever read. I’m not too familiar with the Western genre, but I typically think ultra-masculine and white, so it was awesome to see that totally flipped on its head in terms of female, racial, and LGBTQ+ representation. It wasn’t my favorite read of the month (a solid three stars), but it was still a fun traipse into the Wild West. You can read my full review here.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. This is my first sci-fi of 2021, I believe, and I’m so glad I got a chance to check this one out early by receiving an eARC from NetGalley and TOR. The Echo Wife was my quickest read of the month — I read it in only two sittings! I loved the domestic thriller vibes, and it really forced me to think about the ethical dilemma regarding the technology of cloning. My full review can be viewed here.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. After reading The Vanishing Half (Bennett’s second novel) last year, I knew that I’d need to add her debut to my TBR. This book is so different than The Vanishing Half, but told with the same level of tenderness. The three main characters — Aubrey, Nadia, and Luke — really hold this story together. While each is imperfect and certainly makes mistakes, this story was full of compassion. I’ll be posting my full review on my blog soon.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. How did I go my entire childhood and adult life without reading this wonderful gem of a story?! Well, luckily my mother-in-law gifted me a beautiful pop-up version for my birthday. This is proof that children’s stories can be just as, if not more, full of meaning as any adult book out there. I highly recommend if you haven’t read it already!

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel. Similarly to Homegoing, this amazing, lyrical, evocative story reads like a true, full-length epic, but manages to pack all that meaning and character development into less than 200 pages. This Own Voices story tells the tale of a family separated by their mixed-immigration status and the lengths they go to reunite. My full review can be read here.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho. If I could recommend a single book to someone looking to learn more about race in America, this would be it. Acho’s book reads as if you’re sitting down with him having a cup of coffee, while addressing all of the many questions regarding race and the Black experience you’ve probably had. It felt so intimate and compassionate, which is so valuable when it comes to these tough conversations. Check out my review here.

The Removed by Brandon Hobson. In my goal to expand my reading experiences to include marginalized and underrepresented voices, I decided to pick up The Removed, a genre-bending novel about a Cherokee family reeling in the aftermath of Ray-Ray’s death by the hands of police. This was a touching and emotional story. While it wasn’t my favorite book of the month, I certainly enjoyed this new perspective and a different take on police brutality. I’ll be posting a review for this one soon.

What did you read this month, and which book was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Instagram!

The queer, feminist Western I didn’t know I needed: A review of Outlawed by Anna North

A photo of Outlawed by Anna North next to a bottle of whiskey.

So in case it isn’t evident already, I tend to be drawn toward books that are dark, intense, satirically funny, mysterious, or pretty much bound to make me an emotional wreck. But I try to pick a book outside of my norm at least once a month, whether that is through tone or topic. In January/early February, I decided to go with Outlawed, as I have never read a book with a Western setting before! This one was a short, fun trip outside my norm that provided a great escape into the wild West, full of adventure. Overall, this book had awesome feminist vibes and positive LGBTQIA+ representation, and I. Am. Here. For. It!!!

Quick synopsis: In a town where barren women are thought to be witches and blamed for everything that goes wrong, Ada finds herself on the run as an outlaw when she fails to provide her husband with a child. A talented doctor, she joins up with the Hole in the Wall gang, a band of other outcasts led by the Kid, their enigmatic and charismatic leader.

This book was overall such a fun-filled ride. I loved Ada’s fighting spirit and appreciated how she had to really battle her own internal struggles of craving both motherhood and acceptance, but also recognizing and wanting to fight her society’s hatred toward barren women and groups experiencing “otherness,” such POC, queer-identifying people, and more. While this setting — “In the year of our Lord, 1894” (pg. 1) — seems so far from today’s time, it definitely helped me recognize the ways our society has advanced and become more accepting, but also the ways we’re often still stuck in the past when it comes to stigmas surrounding motherhood, sexual freedom, and queer identity especially.

Additionally, I loved the wide range of characters, such as the Kid, Lark, Cassie, Agnes, and many more. For a short book that was largely plot-driven and not as focused on character development, I still greatly enjoyed getting to know these characters, their personalities, their triumphs, and their struggles. I wish the book had perhaps dived a bit deeper into who each character is since I tend to gravitate toward character development over plot, but with Ada, Lark, and the Kid in particular, North did a great job building back stories for them that were both tragic yet uplifting and made me just want to totally cheer for them until the very end! It was also awesome to see such a diverse, inclusive cast in terms of sexual and gender identity and race. When I think “Western,” I typically think White and ultra-masculine, so it was cool to see this genre totally flipped on its head in terms of inclusivity.

While I probably won’t pick this book up again, I’ll definitely recommend it to any readers looking for a flat-out fun, high-stakes adventure filled with friendship and the search for acceptance — of others and of oneself. And I’ll certainly be looking forward to seeing how it translates to the small screen with Amy Adams at the helm.

The burden and blessing of memory: A review of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

My dog Addie sleeping on a copy of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Last year, I read Transcendent Kingdom, and it instantly became a favorite of 2020 due to its incredible character development and exploration of tough topics such as religion, racism, addiction, and mental health. So of course I went into Homegoing with HIGH expectations. Through powerful storytelling that discusses the collective power of memory and the meaning of home, I fell in love with this book even more than Transcendent Kingdom and think this one needs to be read by everyone ASAP! It was just that incredible, thought-provoking, heartbreaking, and so much more.

Quick synopsis: Two half sisters in 18th century Ghana — unknown to each other — find themselves on two very different paths: one, the wife of a wealthy Englishman who lives in the Cape Coast Castle, the other imprisoned in the castle’s basement and destined for slavery in the U.S. The book proceeds to tell the parallel storylines of these two half sisters through multiple generations, across continents.

This book’s format is unlike any other I have read before. The first two chapters tell the stories of half sisters Effia and Esi, while chapter three focuses on Effia’s son Quey, and chapter four discusses Esi’s daughter Ness, chapter five is Quey’s son James, chapter six is Ness’s son Kojo, etc., etc. While each chapter reads like a standalone story, it is clear that they both build off of the previous generation’s experience, while paralleling with that of their generational counterpart over the course of eight total generations. This may be a tad confusing to explain and is a bit complicated to read at first, but Gyasi provides readers with a family tree at the start of the book — I had this page dog-eared and flipped back pretty much every chapter to make sure I had my characters straight! It was a huge help. But this complicated, multigenerational story was so worth every word.

What was most incredible about each chapter was how invested I became in the individual character. Each chapter was perhaps 20 or 25 pages in length, yet by the end of each one, it felt like I had known these characters as deeply as if I had read a full-length novel about them. Each chapter often takes place over a number of years and dives deeply into not only the character’s experiences but also their emotions, livelihoods, and innermost thoughts. Each character was so well-developed in such a short amount of space, that I wished I could have had an entire book on each of them! And over the course of these eight generations, I got to the end of this novel feeling as if I had read an entire epic — yet over the course of only 300 pages. The character development and generational storylines felt as expansive as if had a bird’s eye view of this family tree, yet as intimate as if I knew each family member personally.

Most importantly, I loved how the book addresses the role of shared, generational memory. As each half sister’s family line parallels the other’s, it is clear the role of generational memory. Each character carries the weight of the love, trauma, pain, hope, livelihood, and much more of the generation(s) before them. It is a heavy weight, sometimes a burden, other times a blessing. But it is a powerful idea, nonetheless, and an important one.

Additionally, I loved the exploration of what home means. As each generation either builds upon the parents’ or grandparents’ choices or decides to forge a new path for him or herself, home took on many meanings. It made me ponder — is home a place? An idea? The people we call family? Or something greater or far more intangible?

As we begin this wonderful month of celebrating Black History Month, this book reminded me of the importance of reading own voices stories. I am so thankful for own voices writers like Gyasi who are willing to share stories like this one that can help us as readers continue to learn from and empathize with characters whose experiences are different then our own. Just another of the countless reasons I love fiction!

If you haven’t checked Homegoing out, I highly recommend it, as it is short, sure to get you thinking, and full of incredible character development and writing quality from Gyasi. If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below or reach out to me via 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 DarΓ© — 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. I’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-be’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.