Category: Book Reviews

My Favorite Reads of 2021 – So Far

At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to read more, so I got a membership to the Book of the Month Club, joined a book discussion group, and signed up for two different reading challenges.

It has been a formidable task. But also amazing.

I have read – and loved – several books that I normally wouldn’t have given a second glance, including Matthew McConaughey’s autobiography, the first book in the Bridgertons series, a collection of essays on Basquiat’s Defacement, and the haunting The Death of Vivek Oji.

To say my selections have been eclectic is putting it mildly.

Of the twenty-three books I’ve read so far in 2021, these are only a few of my favorites:

  • Rewinder by Brett Battles
    This is an interesting take on time travel and I loved the moral dilemmas the characters faced. In an alternate reality, the United States doesn’t exist, but is still part of the British Empire. With caste systems and a lack of modern technology, the world the main character, Denny, lives in is somewhat bleak. Instead of working in the factory with his father as his place in society dictates, Denny’s intelligence earns him an invitation to become a Rewinder for the Upjohn Institute where he will verify personal histories. But instead of getting stuck in a library with dusty tomes, he is tasked with observing history. In person. As you can guess, decisions made create some fascinating challenges.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
    This trilogy is considered Young Adult, but I have always been a sucker for a good fantasy adventure. I devoured this one in a weekend. Orphaned as an infant when her kingdom of Winter was conquered, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, training to be a warrior. She’s desperately in love with her best friend and future king, Mather, and will do anything to help them return to their home. When she learns that the key to restoring their magic is within reach, she goes after it herself – but the mission doesn’t go as planned. The Winterians are forced to beg for help from another kingdom where she meets the charming Theron. Yes, it’s a teenaged love triangle, and yes, I have a favorite, and NO, I’m not ashamed of that. My only 5 star review this year.
  • Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
    This was a pick of my book club and I loved it. I could see it as a movie as I read, and I would love to see it made! Growing up with a single mother who struggled to keep them afloat through various cons, Nina has plans to leave that life behind with a fancy art history degree. But when her mother gets sick, she starts stealing from rich, spoiled, L.A. brats with her boyfriend, Lachlan. At the same time, heiress Vanessa’s life is thrown off course by family tragedy and she ends up becoming an internet influencer – a life she realizes is shallow and lonely. After a failed engagement, she retreats to her family’s mountain estate, Stonehaven. Nina, Vanessa, and Lachlan’s paths collide here, and the result is a delightfully twisty tale of lies, love, and revenge.
  • The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
    I consumed these three novels via audiobook, and I’m so glad I did. The incomparable Soneela Nankani narrated all three novels, The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, and The Empire of Gold, and she was amazing! The story starts in Cairo, with our heroine Nahri, an orphan with no memory of her past who uses her unsurpassed talents as a con artist just to survive. When she accidentally summons an ancient djinn warrior during one of her cons, she is drawn into a world of magic, danger, and mystery. The warrior brings her to the enchanted city of Daevabad, full of strange creatures, dangerous politics – and a love she can’t have. I adored the characters and my heart broke for the horrible choices each one had to face throughout the three novels. I was satisfied with the ending, but if there’s a spin off following Darayavahoush I wouldn’t be mad…

What have you been reading lately? Have you read any of the books mentioned here? Please leave a comment or send me a message – I’d love to discuss them with you!

A Moving Study in Family Relationships

I think when I picked up this novel I was expecting to learn more about the concentration camps built on American soil during World War 2. Instead, I was pleasantly drawn into this study of familial relationships and racial identity.

The Stories We Choose Not To Tell follows Angela Campbell on her path to self-discovery through following the paths of the strong Japanese-American women who came before her.

Click the image to view on Amazon

Just as her family is burying her grandmother, or Obachan, Angela learns that she is expecting her first child – and she’s terrified. Her relationship with her mother, Judith, isn’t the best, and she’s afraid the pattern will continue with her own child. On top of this, her Aunt Pamela gifts her a collection of cassette tapes of a teenaged Pamela interviewing her mother, Aiko, Angela’s Obachan, about her time in the Amache internment camp. The story that unfolds pulls you in and immediately invests you in the relationships.

Angela dives into the box of tapes, as well as her mother’s old journals, and a bigger picture emerges. Making the connection between what happened to her grandmother, the way her parents were treated as a mixed-race couple, and current events, she is compelled to find a way to tell Aiko’s story. Along the way, as she strives to honor her ancestors, she loses sight of the family already surrounding her and loving her. I cried through the last several chapters of this novel.

Life is messy, relationships are complicated, and communication is everything. There are so many important facets to Kelly’s novel, I’m still thinking about it days later. I love Kelly’s writing style and adore her characters. I highly recommend this book!

Dark & Twisty, This Book Belongs On Your Summer Reading List

Bang to BeginBang to Begin by Jethro Weyman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautifully written and deliciously disturbing!

I have been a fan of Jethro Weyman’s prose since reading the first page. There are many reasons to fall in love with this book, but for me, it’s all about the graceful way Jethro weaves his words. Don’t get me wrong, I love the dark themes and the horrific situations the characters find themselves in, but I am in awe of Jethro’s descriptions and the unique cadence of his prose.

There are some chapters that feel like the imaginings of a fever dream and others that hit a little too close to home in their raw honesty. Each chapter could stand alone, unique and beautiful, but they all intertwine into an ethereal, mind-bending, heart-stopping ride you’ll want to take over and over.

Definitely recommend!

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Book Review: Hydraulic Level 5

It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that delighted me so thoroughly. To be honest, I bought Hydraulic Level 5 nearly a year before I read it and just never gave it the attention it deserved, which is a shame.

Because I loved this book!

Kaye Cabral is an extreme sports junkie, spending her time rafting the most dangerous whitewater rapids, skiing impossible slopes, and scaling jagged cliff faces. Her life in Lyons, Colorado may be filled with adrenaline-pumping activities, but the rest of her time is spent surrounded by the people she loves, including the family of her successful author ex-husband, Samuel. When his sister’s wedding rolls around, Kaye and Samuel are thrown together and have to find a way to survive everything leading up to the wedding without killing each other. The task is easier said than done when they have to contend with Kaye’s unwilling role in Samuel’s best-selling novels, his stunning editor – and new love interest – Caroline, and the scars of their heartbreaking divorce. Having been childhood sweethearts, there’s a lot of history and baggage to unpack so they can both move on with their lives.

If that’s truly what either of them want.

Through clever dialogue and brilliant interactions, we get to know all of the characters and experience this wild ride with them. I love how the past is revealed through the chapter snippets of Samuel’s new novel, but the memories and the lingering affection dredged up as Kaye and Sam are pushed together are my favorites. The character development is exceptional, bringing the reader along to re-examine painful past events through Kaye’s eyes tempered with time, regret, and newly revealed details that change everything.

Hydraulic Level 5 is the first book in a planned trilogy from author Sarah Latchaw, which has me giddy. The relationships here are very real, full of sweetness and sadness, joy and pain. Kaye and Samuel’s romance is tender and sexy, and I laughed out loud at many of Kaye’s non-swear words.

Full of secrets, hard truths, and belly laughs, Hydraulic Level 5 portrays the reality of love’s growing pains with humor and heart. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I gasped. All of the relationships were so true, the characters were drawn deep, the situations relatable and heartbreaking and lovely.

Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

Get your own copy of Hydraulic Level 5 HERE and then check out The Hydraulic Series Book 2 Skygods HERE. Then come back, leave a comment below or send me an email, and let’s talk about it!

Book Review: Witches’ Quarters

Stephen King has said it time and time again: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Finally, I took some time to read for fun! I started with a book I purchased six months ago at the DSM Book Festival in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. One of the books I purchased was Witches’ Quarters, the debut novel from Des Moines-based author Laura Snider.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me and I hope Laura can turn this into a series, somehow. She made it easy to become invested in the lives and troubles of the characters and I would love to see what happens next!

Siblings Charlotte, Ava, Nolan, and June exist under consistently unpredictable circumstances. They have a violent father who takes his anger out on their detached mother; June, the youngest, lives with epilepsy; and the relationships among the four are tenuous at best, resulting in frequent clashes and arguments.

Their mother’s sister, Aunt Stacie, had given the oldest sibling, Charlotte, a bizarre gift for her 16th birthday: a bag of state quarters and a coin bank in the shape of a creepy, bare tree. In an attempt to distract themselves from the sounds of yet another beating that they are powerless to stop, they decide to examine the bank and slip a quarter from the bag into the slot.

That’s when things get wild.

The siblings are transported to another world that looks much like their own, but things are slightly off. For instance, in Nova animals can talk – and they aren’t happy to see the four children. Before long, they find themselves caught up in a war they know nothing about, June’s seizures are starting up again without her medication, and despite fighting and being separated, they have only each other to rely on.

Laura Snider does an excellent job of establishing the unique personalities of the children and demonstrating how much they change and grow throughout their events of the story. With every chapter, new strengths are revealed for each of the siblings, and they are all forced to make choices and take action in a way none of them thought they ever could.

Witches’ Quarters is full of excitement and danger, laughter and tears. While it could be considered a Young Adult novel, I think it has enough thrills to entertain readers of all ages.

If you’d like to check out this novel for yourself, visit Laura Snider’s website and order your copy today!

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