With my birthday, homeschool practicum, mother’s day, and a road trip all stuffed into May, it was a pretty full month. Still read lots of great books. Short and sweet (and honest) reviews of each of the nineteen are below… scroll until you see something that strikes your fancy!
Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird
This was so well put together. We meet Cathy Williams toward the end of the Civil War, when she is “requisitioned” as a cook for the Union army, under General Sheridan. Cathy is the granddaughter of an Amazon queen, tall and muscular. As a recently freed Black woman, she is swept up in the end of the Civil War and opts to conceal her gender and join up with the peacetime army. Sarah Bird doesn’t write a lot (in the galley, at least) about why she chose to pursue this story, or how much of it is based in fact, or whether it’s even possible for us to know ANYTHING about women who served in the Buffalo Soldiers branch of the U.S. Calvary after the Civil War, but the tale she weaves is compelling and unputdownable. At 400 pages, this book breezed by. Definitely recommended for history aficionados.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
This book was so compellingly done. I found myself talking about it to all kinds of people who haven’t read it but I think should! We meet Tom when he appears to be 41-years old. But the trick of the light is that he ages only one year for every 15 years he lives, from puberty onward. So, he’s lived through the plague, and Shakespeare, and rubbed elbows with Fitzgerald. He has to move regularly, to keep the people in his life from realizing his difference, so he’s been all over the world. The research that has to have gone into this novel is just astounding, and the way it’s put together (jumping from present time to the past and back again, but always following Tom’s life) is so great. Definitely recommended!
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This screwy novel is so totally out there it took me a good long while (probably at least 100 pages) to even piece together what was going on. Todd lives in Prentisstown, where he is the last “boy” about to become a man, as all the women are dead and gone. He is told this is due to an alien virus that was brought to earth 15 or so years ago, and allowed all men to hear each other’s thoughts (their “noise”) as well as the thoughts of animals. The virus was deadly for women. Todd is about to turn 14 -in a 13 month year, so he’s actually about 15- when he starts to figure out that things are not all as they seem. Prentisstown is a mess, so he is encouraged to leave by his caretakers and find other settlements with his dog, Manchee, at his side. As he strikes out, we accompany him on his journey to find out the truth and find what else is out there.
A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
3.5 but rounded up because it’s SJM. This novella was so unsatisfying because I just wanted MORE. I mean, I loved getting back into this world with Ryhs and Feyre, and getting a glimpse into her other characters as they rebuild after the war, but bouncing from viewpoint to viewpoint means we don’t really get to dive deep with anyone at all. And only 270ish pages means there’s no real development, although there is somehow time for quite a bit of shopping. I just wanted… more.
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
This historical novel approaches the Spanish flu of 1918 from the point of view of an undertaker’s wife and three daughters, which brings it to life in an entirely different way. Pauline, Maggie, Evelyn, and Willa are uprooted to move to Philadelphia after the death of Pauline’s infant son (and the baby brother of the other girls) Henry, at just a few months old. They “confront” death in a tangible way when they move in with an uncle who agrees to leave his undertaker business to the family and give them a better life. But that means living with death on a daily basis as bodies are brought in and prepared for burial. As the Spanish flu epidemic ramps up, the death toll climbs and death becomes an ever closer companion. Meissner brings this novel together in just a fantastic way. Highly recommended.
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Emma and Cassandra disappeared from their childhood home three years ago, and now Cass is home. Where is Emma? Cass weaves the story of their disappearance, where they’ve been, and what has happened to them over the past few years, but the main psych profiler on the case just doesn’t buy into it and can’t figure out why. Even though the unreliable narrator trope can be frustrating, this one definitely took a turn or two that I didn’t see coming. I thought it was likeable, overall, but not compelling or thrilling. Just a standard thriller.
Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
Oh, Julie Murphy, I will read all the things you write. I didn’t know if we could follow on to Dumplin’ in any way that I would truly appreciate, but this spin-off novel takes a different turn and follows two of the side characters from the original story: Millie and Callie. Millie is big and vivacious and full of love and friendship. She lives large and is on her way to accepting herself exactly as she is. Callie is the co-assistant captain of the school’s dance team. She is tiny and lithe and judgmental and rude. The two are thrown together in response to a teen prank gone wrong, and their unlikely friendship. This book is about so much more than teen friendship or bullying or body acceptance. It’s about learning to live into exactly who you are and follow the path that’s right for you instead of worrying about anyone else’s ideas for your life. So fun to buddy read this with my reading friends!
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Oh, this book. This book is phenomenal. Robin Benway takes three siblings who are essentially separated at birth and walk three different journeys through the adoption/foster care universe. We have Grace, who is adopted by a childless couple and raised as an only child. We have Maya, who is adopted by a different childless couple that is unexpectedly blessed with a biological child just a short time later. She feels like she doesn’t fit in with her adoptive family as they are all light-skinned and light-eyed, but they love her well. And then we have their half-brother Joaquin, who is bounced from family to family, adopted and rejected and sent back to the system, struggles with anger and is scarred inside and out from his time in the system. The three meet right at the end of high school, and we get to walk with them as they learn about love and family and blood relationships versus the ones you are adopted into and how they are different and how they are the same. The whole book is just so wonderful. I couldn’t put it down, even when it meant walking through the grocery store on Mother’s Day weekend, with tears running down my cheeks.
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setback and Difficult People by Bob Goff
Reading the first five chapters, provided by the publisher! Can’t wait to read the rest!
Update: Now I’ve read the whole book, and have to say, I just love Bob. He puts his stories together the way that a pastor gives you a great illustration that you can’t get out of your head for days or weeks afterward. He has lived so MUCH life and met so many interesting people, and really just seized the day over and over again. And all that living leads to some great insights into the human condition, the way we love others, the way we relate, the ways we deal with fear, and the way we forgive. He can make you smile and laugh, while also leading you to weep or mourn with him. And it doesn’t feel forced or contrived in any way. Truly loved this book.
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris
10 days. 9 days to get actually interested in this book. And then one more day to finish it. Yeesh. I wanted to love it so much! I love the entire concept of this kid who doesn’t process faces, but DOES process sound as color. I love that he did or saw something, and we’re trying to piece it together with him, but his sensory processing differences make it so hard. I love that we don’t know who to trust. But seriously, the buildup and the development of the story is just not there. It shouldn’t be this hard to get into something that otherwise has so many qualities that you know you’ll love. I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend this one, because it just went too slow. But, if you feel like you’ve got interest in this type of story, hit me with other recommendations for the unreliable narrator/SPD combo, because I am FOR it! This book releases June 12th.
Since We Fell by Dennis Lahane
Welllll, I waited two weeks to review this book and I barely remember it at all. That doesn’t bode well, huh? At the time of finishing it, I gave it three stars, because I did really enjoy the way that Lehane put this love story/mystery together. Main character Rachel is essentially an agoraphobe after a breakdown on the air (she’s a journalist). She has to come to grips with the world around her, however, when her otherwise perfect life seems to not add up. We learn at the very beginning of the book that she shoots her husband, but what it takes to get to that point is a convoluted mystery, full of half-truths and full-on-lies. Just a compelling, if apparently a bit forgettable, read in general.
Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me by Alexandra Kuykendall
Author and mama Alexandra finds herself going through the motions of motherhood, not dreading, but also not really enjoying any part of it. She embarks on a 9-month experiment (a la The Happiness Project) to focus in on certain parts of her life to wring more enjoyment out of her days. Although she has specific goals for each month (and an evaluation process at the end), the months themselves read more like sporadic journal entries. I thought the premise was interesting, but the execution could have been better planned.
Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
Kelly is a fantastic, unfiltered (read: don’t listen around your kids, or recommend it to your straight-edged church friends), humorous author while dealing with some really TOUGH stuff. She buries her dad and one of her best friends within just a few months, and is therefore going through some terribly difficult grief while she pens this collection of stories and tidbits. The “12 Hardest Things” are all vitally important, but so counter-intuitive at times that it feels good to have this collection of them all in one place. I love the way she puts “Tell Me More” into practice with her daughter, the way she embraces “You Are Enough”, and the way she juxtaposes “Yes” with “No” (the two simplest chapters). I feel like this one deserves a spot on my shelves when this no-buy year is over.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I could NOT put this book down. Well, I did, because I had to, because Life and Kids and Husband and Eating and such. But not because I wanted to! The story just totally sucked me in, and I loved the way that Adeyemi made this entire world come alive with her characters and setting. (Dystopian/fantasy Nigeria). Zelie is the daughter of a Maji, but her mother was killed along with almost all the rest of them when Zelie was just a young girl. Now, magic is gone and the descendants of the Maji are referred to as maggots by their racist king and countrymen (you can tell who has Maji blood based on their stark white hair). But Zelie has the chance to bring it back. The cliffhanger at the end of this novel for book #2 has me salivating to get my hands on it!
Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
Screwy psychological thrillers are my favorites! Although I did eventually guess where this book was going, it was so far into it that it still felt like it was a shock! Layla goes missing from a car in Paris and all we really know is that her boyfriend wasn’t entirely truthful about the moments leading up to her disappearance. Now, 12 years later, he is set to remarry and has moved on with his life, when it seems as though someone wants him to believe that Layla is back. I tore through this novel in less than 24 hours. This book releases June 19th!
Rewiring Education by John Couch
This felt more like a pat on the back to the author than a real non-fiction book about how technology can “unlock every student’s potential”. There are a few stories of real-world application, but mostly I feel like we get to hear that he worked with this guy, got to shake hands with this one, and really loved developing this program that revolutionized something or other. I get that you can’t write a how-to book about bringing technology into classrooms because it just changes too fast, but mostly by the end of this book, I felt really vindicated that at least our homeschool “classroom” is getting really close to that ideal 1-to-1 teacher-student ratio that Crouch champions. He says it’s only possible with the use of technology. But other than rethinking a “ban” on technology for educational purposes, I didn’t really feel like this was anything truly groundbreaking.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Hannah and her mom, Suzette, are locked in an epic battle for daddy’s heart, only Suzette doesn’t know it. Hannah is a smart, sometimes sweet, seven-year-old girl, who doesn’t talk at all, but she’s pretty sure Daddy can only love one of them and Mommy has cast a spell on him so that he loves her more than Hannah. Written from H and S’s alternating points of view, this book will take you on a distrusting roller coaster of terror, basically. You’re never sure what Hannah will do next, how Suzette will interpret her actions, or what kind of intervention Daddy will provide. The whole thing is just shudder-inducing. I really enjoyed it, in the only way you can: with a grateful heart that this isn’t your life. This book releases July 17th!
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
So glad I finally had time to move this one up my TBR into the currently reading spot! Charlie (Charlotte) is an unwed mother who decides to bail on her abortion appointment in order to try to find her cousin, Rose, missing since WWII ended a few years ago. She approaches Eve Gardener, an alcoholic PI, with hands severely damaged from a previous injury, to help her find Rose. Evelyn was a spy during WWI, and the story jumps back and forth from Charlie’s present-day 1947 to Evelyn’s recollections of 1919, paralleling their stories in surprising ways. Charlie and Eve are both spunky, brave, damaged heroines, and it is so easy to get sucked into their stories. This novel came highly recommended to me, and I will pass it along as the same.
Milk and Honey by Rumi Kaur
This book is a beautiful, sensual collection of poems that I’m pretty sure I need on my shelf. It was great hearing it read by the author, but I’d love to keep a copy as well (high up, where the kiddos can’t reach it). Rumi doesn’t shy away from sex or rape or body image, and her short poems use words economically and perfectly to show her comfort with these subjects. I truly enjoyed every moment of listening (and even slowed down the narration from 2x to 1.5x so I could enjoy it, are you proud of me?).