It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down, yet here we are. It’s funny; I’m usually excited for spooky season to begin, but with a baby, I want time to slow down. Let’s keep the summer for a while longer.
Before Nora, I was able to read 6 books a month. Now, I am happy to average 3. So this month, I will aim for 4 books and see how it goes! Here’s what I plan to read this month:
The It Girl by Ruth Ware
I’ve always enjoyed Ruth Ware’s books, so I am looking forward to this one. It does seem a little cliche in the plot, but wondering if I need cliche right now and something easy to read. This one is top of the list for August.
The Winners by Fredrik Backman
I was lucky enough to get an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of The Winners, the last book in Backman’s Beartown series. I cried when I got it, no joke. I anticipate reading this one slowly, so it might make the August list, might not. Regardless, I know it’s going to be heart-wrenching and amazing.
Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman
I really liked this author’s book, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, so I expect this one to be just as cute and quirky.
City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare
Here I go. I am starting Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter Chronicles. I found this website that says to read the first three in The Mortal Instruments and to move on to the others. We shall see.
What a fun month! I continued to navigate working from home, full-time mom-ing, and I also started a fun 365 Days of Movement challenge where I dedicate time to moving every day! We also went to the beach for a week, and Nora crushed her first family vacation!
I read three books in July, and DNFd a fair few. Bleh. Anyways, here is what I read this month!
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
What I liked:
This book was pretty darn funny!
The inside scoop on reality TV — ‘cuz we know it’s not real.
Inclusivity: LGBTQ, diverse characters, neurodiversity, and mental health.
What I didn’t like:
Honestly, nothing. I loved it! 🙂
Trigger Warnings: anxiety, panic attacks, depression, conversations about OCD and mental illness, drinking, alcoholism, familial estrangement, homophobia and racism (challenged)
Finlay Donovan is Killing It: A Mystery by Elle Cosimano
What I liked:
This book was super quippy and fun!
The plot/idea behind the book is wildly entertaining.
That this book is a series!
What I didn’t like:
The main character is “eh.” She makes a lot of obvious mistakes that can lead her to trouble but she somehow gets away with it? Not very realistic.
Some of the book was too detail heavy, and could have benefitted from some editing to focus on plot movements rather than mundane “tell not show” details.
“Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.”
This line immediately grabbed my attention as I picked up Bonnie Garmus’s debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry. I had recently joined a new book club, a goal I’ve had for some time now, so I was looking forward to reading this book and meeting some new bookworms in my area.
A little about Lessons in Chemistry (from the book jacket): Chemist Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel Prize-nominated grudge holder who falls in love with — of all things — her mind. True chemistry results.
Like science, though, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother but also the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show, “Supper at Six.” Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because, as it turns out, Elizabeth isn’t teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.
I read somewhere that it took Garmus 10 years to write this book, and it shows. Her writing is deliberate, quirky, and smart. I loved the matter-of-fact narration and her storytelling. I was instantly hooked and knew I was going to enjoy this book about feminism and motherhood. As a new mom, I was all about it!
Elizabeth Zott is such an interesting and fabulous character. She is brilliant, sharp-tongued, and clearly advanced when it comes to cultural norms. It was frustrating reading this book sometimes. The writer, who sprinkles in free indirect discourse throughout her prose, demonstrates how men perceived Zott. Even more frustrating was the women who did not support her. Some parts were hard to read, especially since we still live in a world where women do not have autonomy over their bodies and their livelihood. There are some other trigger warnings, which I list at the bottom of the post.
One of the novel’s biggest strengths was its side characters. While I was not a Calvin fan, I did enjoy Mad (their daughter), Harriet (the neighbor/nanny/babysitter/stand-in grandmother), and Six-Thirty, the sweet and smart dog. They really made the book special.
OK. Some dislikes.
The book opens with promise talking about Zott on her television show and its success, but then it takes a turn and brings readers through her entire backstory. This includes her education, early career, meeting Calvin, losing Calvin, and getting the television gig. While I appreciate a good backstory and its importance to setting up the plot and character development, it was very convoluted. There wasn’t enough balance and could have benefitted from some cuts. Rowing is cool, I guess? But I wanted more of the present and the television show, which was the real draw of the book.
Another dislike. Does she have to be hot? Like. Can’t she just be a regular woman? Not this stunningly hot, brilliant chemist? Just an average looking working mom would have made it a little more realistic.
Overall, it was an enjoyable book that I zoomed through. But what I liked more was meeting this group of ladies!
Some trigger warnings if you want to read … and I would have appreciated an author’s note at the beginning about these (proceed with caution because there are spoilers):
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.
Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.
Ari Abrams has always been fascinated by the weather, and she loves almost everything about her job as a TV meteorologist. Her boss, legendary Seattle weatherwoman Torrance Hale, is too distracted by her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband, the station’s news director, to give Ari the mentorship she wants. Ari, who runs on sunshine and optimism, is at her wits’ end. The only person who seems to understand how she feels is sweet but reserved sports reporter Russell Barringer.
In the aftermath of a disastrous holiday party, Ari and Russell decide to team up to solve their bosses’ relationship issues. Between secret gifts and double dates, they start nudging their bosses back together. But their well-meaning meddling backfires when the real chemistry builds between Ari and Russell.
Working closely with Russell means allowing him to get to know parts of herself that Ari keeps hidden from everyone. Will he be able to embrace her dark clouds as well as her clear skies?
You Don’t Know Us Negroes is the quintessential gathering of provocative essays from one of the world’s most celebrated writers, Zora Neale Hurston. Spanning more than three decades and penned during the backdrop of the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, Montgomery bus boycott, desegregation of the military, and school integration, Hurston’s writing articulates the beauty and authenticity of Black life as only she could. Collectively, these essays showcase the roles enslavement and Jim Crow have played in intensifying Black people’s inner lives and culture rather than destroying it. She argues that in the process of surviving, Black people re-interpreted every aspect of American culture—”modif[ying] the language, mode of food preparation, practice of medicine, and most certainly religion.” White supremacy prevents the world from seeing or completely recognizing Black people in their full humanity and Hurston made it her job to lift the veil and reveal the heart and soul of the race. These pages reflect Hurston as the controversial figure she was—someone who stated that feminism is a mirage and that the integration of schools did not necessarily improve the education of Black students. Also covered is the sensational trial of Ruby McCollum, a wealthy Black woman convicted in 1952 for killing her lover, a white doctor.
Demonstrating the breadth of this revered and influential writer’s work, You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays is an invaluable chronicle of a writer’s development and a window into her world and mind.
It’s 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.
Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent but she can’t seem to find her own. . . until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.
Olga and Prieto’s mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.
Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream—all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.
After almost-eleven-year-old Kenyatta Bernice’s (KB) father dies of an overdose and the debts incurred from his addiction cause the loss of the family home in Detroit, she and her teenage sister, Nia, are sent by their overwhelmed mother to live with their estranged grandfather in Lansing. Over the course of a single, sweltering summer, KB attempts to get her bearings in a world that has turned upside down—a father who is labeled a fiend; a mother whose smile no longer reaches her eyes; a sister, once her best friend, who has crossed the threshold of adolescence and suddenly wants nothing to do with her; a grandfather who is grumpy and silent; the white kids across the street who are friendly, but only sometimes. And all of them are keeping secrets. Pinballing between resentment, abandonment, and loneliness, KB is forced to carve out a different identity for herself and find her own voice. As she examines the jagged pieces of her recently shattered world, she learns that while some truths cut deep, a new life—and a new KB—can be built from the shards.
Capturing all the vulnerability, perceptiveness, and inquisitiveness of a young Black girl on the cusp of puberty, Harris’s prose perfectly inhabits that hazy space between childhood and adolescence, where everything that was once familiar develops a veneer of strangeness when seen through newer, older eyes. Through KB’s disillusionment and subsequent discovery of her own power, What the Fireflies Knew poignantly reveals that heartbreaking but necessary component of growing up—the realization that loved ones can be flawed, sometimes significantly so, and that the perfect family we all dream of looks different up close.
Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up – to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this? – he’s not there.
The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question.
The socialite – The nice guy – The alcoholic – The girl on the verge – The concierge
Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.
(Crescent City has been my favorite of SJM’s books so far, so I cannot wait for this sequel.)
Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal—they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.
The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.
Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.
Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.
Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.
But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…
When Valentina Baker was only eleven years old, her mother, Eloise, unexpectedly fled to her native London, leaving Val and her father on their own in California. Now a librarian in her thirties, fresh out of a failed marriage and still at odds with her mother’s abandonment, Val feels disenchanted with her life.
In a bittersweet twist of fate, she receives word that Eloise has died, leaving Val the deed to her mother’s Primrose Hill apartment and the Book Garden, the storied bookshop she opened almost two decades prior. Though the news is devastating, Val jumps at the chance for a new beginning and jets across the Atlantic, hoping to learn who her mother truly was while mourning the relationship they never had.
As Val begins to piece together Eloise’s life in the U.K., she finds herself falling in love with the pastel-colored third-floor flat and the cozy, treasure-filled bookshop, soon realizing that her mother’s life was much more complicated than she ever imagined. When Val stumbles across a series of intriguing notes left in a beloved old novel, she sets out to locate the book’s mysterious former owner, though her efforts are challenged from the start, as is the Book Garden’s future. In order to save the store from financial ruin and preserve her mother’s legacy, she must rally its eccentric staff and journey deep into her mother’s secrets. With Love from London is a story about healing and loss, revealing the emotional, relatable truths about love, family, and forgiveness.
When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: to Positano, the magical town where Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.
But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliffsides, delightful residents, and, of course, delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.
And then Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her. She is not exactly who Katy imagined she might be, however, and soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.
Rebecca Serle’s next great love story is here, and this time it’s between a mother and a daughter. With her signature “heartbreaking, redemptive, and authentic” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Serle has crafted a transcendent novel about how we move on after loss, and how the people we love never truly leave us.
Lahore, Pakistan. Then. Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.
Juniper, California. Now. Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.
Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.
When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.
From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.
In the snowbound city of Kiev, wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son—but Hitler’s invasion of Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.
Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.
Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.