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Happy first day of summer! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted here and I’m so sorry about that. I’d planned to post May books at the end of last month, but then my mother suddenly got sick and ended up in the hospital. My siblings and I flew in and were with her for a few days before she peacefully passed away. I had just been to see her two weeks before she died and though her dementia was progressing to a concerning point, we went out and did things, visited with relatives, etc. So, it was a shock to lose her from what was really a minor infection. We’re doing a celebration of life for her in July.
On a happier note, I decided to retire a little earlier than I had originally planned, so as this posts I am done! I made the decision so late in the year that it still doesn’t feel real, but I know it will come fall when I don’t head back to the classroom. I’m very excited and looking forward to the freedom, the ability to spend more time with my family, and to be able to travel in seasons other than summer.
And finally, I’ve been having my kitchen and bathroom remodeled over the last few months, so life has been insane!
Despite all that, I have still been getting some reading done, so I have eight favorite books to share today. The best part is I enjoyed them all very much! (For more timely reviews of all the books I’ve read, you can follow me on Instagram @novelvisits.)
My Thoughts: I’ve been a bit challenged when it comes to audiobooks this year. I’ve listened to many I’d call good, but not any I’d call great. That is…until 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐋𝐀𝐒𝐓 𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐇𝐄 𝐓𝐎𝐋𝐃 𝐌𝐄 by Laura Dave. This book hit the sweet spot for me as far as domestic thrillers go. The set up and basic premise was well thought out, the characters interesting, and I don’t think anything in the story required an eye-roll. What more could you possibly want? Maybe, great narration? Well you got that, too, from the always fabulous Rebecca Lowman.
Now, I know this review is all too brief, and I apologize. Life has been crazy, and time has been in short supply. So, I’ll leave you with one last comment on 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘓𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘏𝘦 𝘛𝘰𝘭𝘥 𝘔𝘦: I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an audiobook more in 2021! Grade: A-
Note: My thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for an ALC in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann (debut)
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Length: 336 pages
My Thoughts: 𝐎𝐋𝐘𝐌𝐏𝐔𝐒, 𝐓𝐄𝐗𝐀𝐒 by Stacey Swann moves from the usual Greek mythology over to the lesser known Roman mythology. Swann loosely structured her story of a Texas family fraught with melodrama around some of the most powerful gods in Roman mythology. Peter, the philandering father of the Briscoe clan represents the similarly wandering Jupiter. June, Peter’s wife, takes on Juno’s long-suffering role, and his various children, those of Mars, Apollo, Diana and more. Vera/Venus wreaks havoc between the Briscoe brothers, and even the pets, Romulus and Remus, get a nod. For a mythology nerd, it was fun matching up the characters to the gods. Now, do you need to know anything about any of that to love this story? Absolutely NOT!
What you should know is that 𝘖𝘭𝘺𝘮𝘱𝘶𝘴, 𝘛𝘦𝘹𝘢𝘴 is a fun romp through a week with a VERY dysfunctional family. There are affairs, long held grudges, petty jealousies, rivalries, fights, a tragic accident, secrets, lies, and more. In true mythological fashion, all the characters are tragically flawed; all have trouble seeing beyond their own small sphere of interest, but they’re working on it. Therein lies the fun. I was looking for something light and breezy and Stacey Swann’s debut truly delivered. If you haven’t already read it, add this book to your summer TBR list! Grade: A-
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen (debut)
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Length: 304 pages
My Thoughts: Some books start out strong and some books end strong. 𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐍𝐆𝐒 𝗪𝐄 𝐋𝐎𝐒𝐓 𝐓𝐎 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝗪𝐀𝐓𝐄𝐑 by Eric Nguyen is one of those books that does both. As the story opens in 1979, we meet Huong and her two young sons, Tuấn, 4, and Binh, a baby. They have just arrived in New Orleans, after first leaving Vietnam by boat and then spending time in a refugee camp. In the chaos of fleeing, Huong’s husband, Cong, did not make it onto the boat. Nguyen did a beautiful job laying out their story in a chronological order, with each member of the family sharing his or her perspectives of what was happening in their lives. We see both their fear and anxiety around being in a new land, and their desire to make a full life there. We also feel their pain at not having Cong with them.
I loved that first part of this book, then it slowed down a little for me, but at about the halfway point the story really took off. This was when the perspective from Bihn/Ben began to appear in the rotation, adding more depth to the family story. Somehow, this character added more life, more urgency to the whole story. Each family member had secrets that rippled out to affect the others. I don’t want to say much more, but I do want you to know that 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘞𝘦 𝘓𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳 was a beautifully rendered story that grew stronger and stronger as it neared the end. As I put it down, I felt awed by Nguyen’s debut. His writing was stellar, his character development, subtly layered, and his sense of place, transported me. I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next. Grade: A-
Note: My thanks to Knopf for a beautiful finished copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Publisher: Custom House
Release Date: May 11, 2021
Length: 320 pages
My Thoughts: 𝑭𝒖𝒏! 𝑭𝒖𝒏! 𝑭𝒖𝒏! I love a good coming-of-age story and 𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐘 𝐉𝐀𝐍𝐄 by Jessica Anya Blau (5/11) is exactly that. The year is 1975 and 14-year old Mary Jane has been hired to be the summer nanny for 5-year old Izzy, daughter of the young and hip Dr. and Mrs. Cole. Mary Jane has wonderful parents, but they just happen to be very strait-laced and buttoned-up. Over the course of the summer Mary Jane’s eyes are opened to a whole lot of things she never expected, including the alternate meaning of her own name. Things really heat up when a rehabbing rockstar and his actress wife move in on the sly for some intense one-on-one therapy with Dr. Cole.
Now the premise might seem a little unlikely, but Blau handled it beautifully. She provided the perfect balance between Mary Jane changing and growing, seeing many parts of her world differently, and the adults around her being influenced by the calm, organized presence that was Mary Jane. The ending was a tad neat and tidy for my tastes, but I still loved it. If you’re looking for a summer read that is pure fun, you need to read 𝘔𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘑𝘢𝘯𝘦. This is a book that has it all, sex, drugs and rock & roll! Grade: B+
Note: My thanks to Custom House for an ARC in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
Publisher: Tin House Books
Release Date: May 18, 2021
Length: 330 pages
My Thoughts: I was a little unsure going into 𝐔𝐍𝐒𝐄𝐓𝐓𝐋𝐄𝐃 𝐆𝐑𝐎𝐔𝐍𝐃, Claire Fuller’s newest novel, because I had mixed feelings about her last couple books, but I needn’t have worried. 𝘜𝘯𝘴𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘎𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥 was every bit as wonderful as her debut, 𝘖𝘶𝘳 𝘌𝘯𝘥𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘕𝘶𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘋𝘢𝘺𝘴. This is the story of Julius and Jeanie, twins still living with their mother at 51-years old. Neither twin is quite what you’d expect for 51, and both were completely lost when their mother suddenly died. These two were left without the normal life skills needed to survive, and yet they struggled on.
I found both characters extremely endearing in their own unique ways. As they faced grief, loss of the life they’d always known, trauma, bullying and more, they persevered, slowly winning me over, forcing me to root for them both. Jeanie, especially, lacked almost all common life skills and her timidity at times was frustrating, yet she fought for a place in the real world. 𝘜𝘯𝘴𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘎𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥 was a completely unique, beautiful story. It’s difficult to describe with out giving much away, but if you love a rich character-driven novel, this is a book I can highly recommend. Grade: A
Note: My thanks to Tin House Books for an ARC in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Without a doubt, 𝐌𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐁𝐔 𝐑𝐈𝐒𝐈𝐍𝐆 by the incredible Taylor Jenkins Reid has been my most eagerly anticipated book of 2021. I got an e-galley at least 6 months ago, but held myself back from reading it. Then, I heard the audiobook was to be narrated by the equally incredible Julia Whelan and I had a dilemma on my hands. Should I read in print early, or hold off for the audiobook? I tried to score an early audiobook, but my sources failed me! And so, I waited, but thanks to @librofm I began listening on June 1.
No one can tell a story quite like TJR, and this one was especially tricky in that it covered the lives of the four Riva siblings in a single day, the day of their famed end-of-summer party. Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit should have grown up in luxury being the children of a world famous rock star, but instead they just got by thanks to the determination of their mom and later Nina. Despite that, theirs was a happy life. They lived in a run down beachside cottage in Malibu, where surfing and surviving ruled their days, but through it all they always had each other.
I spent a year off during college working in Malibu in the very era 𝘔𝘢𝘭𝘪𝘣𝘶 𝘙𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘨 takes place. My familiarity with the places and the lifestyle made the story even more enjoyable. Reid beautifully wove together past heartaches with present secrets to build to a climax that was unsurprising and yet completely fulfilling. My only fault would be that I thought there were way too many cliched characters popping up at the party. I wanted more of the Rivas! Despite that, I flew through this audiobook and loved every minute listening to Whelan as she brought the Rivas to life with what will surely be 𝐭𝐡𝐞 beach read (and audiobook) of the summer. Grade: B+
Note: My thanks to Libro.fm and Random House Audio for an ALC in exchange for my honest thoughts.
One Two Three by Laurie Frankel
Narrators: Emma Galvin, Jesse Vilinsky, Rebecca Soler
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (Macmillan Audio)
Release Date: June 8, 2021
Length: 416 pages (14 hrs. 59 min.)
My Thoughts: I’m always a fan of books with multiple points of view, and when an audiobook goes one step further and uses a different narrator for each, I’m in heaven. That was certainly the case with 𝐎𝐍𝐄 𝐓𝗪𝐎 𝐓𝐇𝐑𝐄𝐄, Laurie Frankel’s new novel about teenage triplets whose lives have been severely impacted by environmental devastation in their small town. Bourne is a town where oddities are the norm and almost no one has been left untouched, including the Mitchell sisters. Mab born first is the “normal” one, a role that carries a lot of burden with it. Monday, lover of all things yellow, is highly intelligent, and also on the spectrum. Mirabel, confined to a wheelchair and without the ability to speak, is off-the-charts brilliant. The three are always a team.
Their single mother has spent their entire lives fighting for justice, and much of her fiery spirit has rubbed off on Mab, Monday and Mirabel. When the company that fled Bourne seventeen years ago, taking no responsibility for poisoning the waters there, suddenly returns, the girls are put on high alert. Suspicion runs deep, complicated by the very kind, very cute teenage grandson of the company’s founder.
I loved the interplay of these feisty siblings and how each saw the world a little differently, playing into each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Some of the plot points around the environmental issues came off as a little heavy handed, or maybe just a tad over-played, and the ending was pretty out there, but that didn’t stop me from rooting for the Mitchell sisters and their town from start to finish.
The three different narrators, Emma Galvin, Jesse Vilinsky and Rebecca Soler, who gave voice to each of the sisters were superb! Grade: B
Note: My thanks to Libro.fm and Macmillan Audio for an ALC in exchange for my honest thoughts.
All Together Now by Matthew Norman
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Length: 288 pages
My Thoughts: I became a Matthew Norman fan with last year’s Last Couple Standing, a riotous look at the realities of marriage coupled with approaching 40. ALL TOGETHER NOW takes a slightly more serious, but equally fun tone as it explores the bonds of friendship tested by time.
“The Rejects,” Robbie, Blair, Cat, and Wade first became friends in high school, while trying to find a place to belong on the cross-country team. That didn’t work out so well, but their friendship and dedication to each other did, ending up with their nickname after a controversial incident in their senior year. Nearly twenty years later, Cat, Wade, Blair and her family agree to spend Memorial Day weekend with billionaire Robbie at his Delaware beach house (mansion). I’m giving nothing away when I tell you that Robbie has recently been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and wants to make sure his friends are all safe and happy before he leaves them.
Thus unfolds the weekend, and the lives of this quirky group. We learn about their teenage years, where each is now, and the years in between. We learn about heartaches and longings, successes and failures, dreams realized and others not. Despite the looming cloud of death surrounding Robbie, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know “The Rejects.” Friendships like theirs we too often allow to slip out of our lives. I appreciated they’d held on no matter how tenuously. I think you’ll find All Together Now a perfect beach read this summer. Grade: A-
Note: My thanks to Ballantine Books for an ARC in exchange for my honest thoughts.
What have been some of your recent favorite books?
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