This post may include Amazon links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
So sorry to have been absent for an April post. I’ve been traveling a lot and some of that spanned the end of April. Plus being on the go did not work for getting my usual reading numbers in, but it was worth it! The big trip to Greece and Turkey with my sister was amazing. I’d been to Greece before and it was wonderful, but wow, I loved Turkey. We ended the trip with three days in Istanbul and I could have easily done a couple more. Okay, enough about me. It’s time for books!
My numbers were down a bit in both April and May, but I’ve read some truly wonderful books, including one that just might be my favorite book of the year so far. Three are from authors I’ve read before and I’ve even got a memoir in here. I hope you find something to add to your own TBR list!
My Thoughts: ALL the stars! I’m so hungover by this book that I don’t want to read anything else and I’m tempted to just start reading it again. Right now! How is it possible for a debut author to write such a remarkable book as 𝗜𝗡 𝗠𝗘𝗠𝗢𝗥𝗜𝗔𝗠? Alice Winn and her beautiful writing cannot rise any higher in my admiration. Her story is a brilliant juxtaposition of love and war. It begins in 1914, just after the start of WWI, when classmates Gaunt and Ellwood are still in school with few worries and a large cadre of friends. There’s a strong attraction between the two, but neither is willing to fully acknowledge their feelings for fear of losing the other entirely.
As the war progresses badly for the British, first Gaunt, then Ellwood and most of their friends feel compelled to join up. At 17 and 18, these boys become men, living the horrors of war with death all around them. With that comes a sense of urgency, a need to grab onto love and find happiness wherever it might be.
Romance and war may seem like an unlikely pairing, but let me assure you, they make for an unforgettable story. I grew to care so much for Gaunt and Ellwood. WWI was so tragic, so horrific and Winn shied away from none of it. No one survived unscathed. 𝘐𝘯 𝘔𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘮 was not an easy book to read and yet, I couldn’t put it down. I can’t recommend this highly enough and I have no doubt that it will be among my 𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘣𝘦𝘴𝘵 books of 2023. Grade: A+
Thanks to AA Knopf for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: I’ve seen some mixed reviews for 𝗥𝗢𝗠𝗔𝗡𝗧𝗜𝗖 𝗖𝗢𝗠𝗘𝗗𝗬 by Curtis Sittenfeld, but I don’t understand why. How could anyone not have loved this very fun story? It stars a comedy show writer and a rock star who form a bumpy relationship when he guest hosts on 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘖𝘸𝘭s (a SNL type show). Now I know what you might be thinking: “What! Susie doesn’t read romance, she almost never goes for a love story.” You’re 95% correct, but this book was that 5% exception.
The hook that drew me in was the 𝘚𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘥𝘢𝘺 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘓𝘪𝘷𝘦 like setting. I’ve been a fan of SNL from the start. My friends and I would gather every Saturday night to watch this new show that our parents found subversive and outrageous. I still watch today, so I immediately loved that the first half of the book takes us through a typical week on such a show, from pitching ideas, to writing the skits, to rehearsals, vying for screen time, and so much more. Of course, that week was the set up for a romance, but not in any way that you might expect.
The second half of the book goes into some unexpected directions that I truly loved, making me root for this seemingly unlikely couple. The only reason I’m taking a half star off is because I wish the main character had been more self-confident. Her insecurities got a little old, but that didn’t stop me from flying through Romantic Comedy and loving every minute. This was definitely romance done right! Grade: A-
Thanks to Random House for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Sometimes you come across a book that speaks directly to you and that’s exactly what happened when I listened to 𝗬𝗢𝗨 𝗖𝗢𝗨𝗟𝗗 𝗠𝗔𝗞𝗘 𝗧𝗛𝗜𝗦 𝗣𝗟𝗔𝗖𝗘 𝗕𝗘𝗔𝗨𝗧𝗜𝗙𝗨𝗟 by poet Maggie Smith. This is the memoir of her crumbling marriage, divorce, and the aftermath for her and her 2 children. The circumstances surrounding the end of her marriage and her divorce process were a mirror image of my own. Smith beautifully expressed so much of what she went through and how she felt, while echoing my own feelings during that part of my life.
She got it 𝐚𝐥𝐥 right: seeing signs, but not wanting to see; trying to fix a relationship that doesn’t want to be fixed; letting it go on; the gaslighting of feelings; hiding what’s happening from even your closest friends and family; finally, finally letting a friend in, then leaning on them over and over; wanting to save a marriage out of fear more than love; the end, trying to let go; telling the children; the endless legalese; the tears; ALL the trauma. Divorce can be crushing and Maggie Smith did not hold back. I appreciated that so much. A good chunk of the book was devoted to the impact of the divorce on her children. There’s no getting around it, divorce is painful for kids and trying to ease their pain is the best we can do. She got that, too.
Being the memoir of a poet, the writing had a lyrical quality to it that I really enjoyed. The book’s structure was fresh and original, making it special to me. As someone further away from divorce than Smith, I’d like to tell her that it keeps getting easier, that you’ll someday be thankful, and that life after divorce 𝘪𝘴 beautiful. I’d also like to warn her that he’ll never be fully out of your life. Even when your kids are on their own and thriving, there will always be reasons you need to communicate, and then come the grandkids you’ll also share! Grade: A-
Thanks to Simon Audio and Libro.fm for an ALC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: You all know I loved a dark, raw coming-of-age story and that’s exactly what I got with 𝗝𝗨𝗡𝗢 𝗟𝗢𝗩𝗘𝗦 𝗟𝗘𝗚𝗦 by Karl Geary. Taking place in the 1980’s in and around Dublin, this is the story of two friends who for the sake of survival align themselves at 12 years old. Living in the same housing project, Juno’s family is even poorer than most. For that, she’s shunned and picked on at school…both by other children and the Sisters and Father who are in charge. Because of his questionable sexuality, Legs is treated similarly.
Drawn together, the two learn to deflect and protect each other in ways ranging from subtle to subversive to violent. The story gets dark, really dark as the odds are completely stacked against these two 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘯. I don’t want to give away much more of this story, but I will say it follows the pair into their early 20’s, as alone and together they find ways to survive the harsh world they’ve been born into.
I truly thought the storytelling here was brilliant. Juno especially was such a well-developed character I felt like I knew her and I definitely was moved by her. Legs, too, was a soul Geary made me care deeply for. I’ve seen comparisons to 𝘈 𝘓𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 and I don’t fully agree with that one. I do think it has elements of 𝘕𝘰𝘳𝘮𝘢𝘭 𝘗𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦 and it also reminded me a bit of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘍𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘋𝘢𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘚𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨. No matter the comparisons, 𝘑𝘶𝘯𝘰 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘴 𝘓𝘦𝘨𝘴 is a book I highly recommend; just be in the right headspace for a serious book! Grade: B+
Thanks to Catapult Books for a finished copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Mary Beth Keane’s last book, 𝘈𝘴𝘬 𝘈𝘨𝘢𝘪𝘯, 𝘠𝘦𝘴 was beloved by many and rightfully so. I happen to be one of the few who enjoyed it, but not quite as much as most others. Still, I very much looked forward to 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗛𝗔𝗟𝗙 𝗠𝗢𝗢𝗡 and wow…I was not disappointed. I loved this book! It hit my reading sweet spot, a slow but steady, character-driven story. Yay!
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘢𝘭𝘧 𝘔𝘰𝘰𝘯 follows Malcolm and Jess, a couple who’s 15 year marriage has slowly devolved into more pain than joy. This duo were once envied by all. Their love and devotion, obvious to everyone, but over time life chipped away at their souls and that put a very dark cloud over their marriage. Malcolm’s entire identity is wrapped up in The Half Moon, the bar he bought after working there for many years, the bar that’s failing. Jess has struggled with infertility for years and years. Giving up the dream of children crushed her heart. It’s changed her. Over the course of one snowy week, we get to know Malcolm and Jess, their past and their present.
The writing was so engaging that once I got started, I could hardly put the book down. Yes, it was a little slower paced, but I actually like that when the payoff is really getting into the hearts and minds of characters and that was the strength of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘢𝘭𝘧 𝘔𝘰𝘰𝘯. Plus, I really liked the ending. Win, win! Grade: A-
Thanks to Scribner Books for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: I gave myself a couple days to fully digest 𝗬𝗘𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪𝗙𝗔𝗖𝗘 by R.F. Kuang, but still had trouble putting my thoughts into words. I’ll start with the fact that I really liked it and quite literally had a difficult time putting it down. The book centers on June Hayward, a struggling writer who steals the newly finished manuscript of her sometimes friend, Athena Liu, just after Athena dies at June’s feet. Now June has no guilt in Athena’s death, but her glee in making Athena’s manuscript her own leads to nothing but angst and rightfully so.
This is a book that has a lot to say about a lot of things. There’s a huge focus on the publishing industry and the ways it pushes authors, plus many the limits it places on authors of color. It touches on who can write what and how much background does one need to write a story outside of their own. Themes around racism, both overt and disguised, run throughout. Obviously, plagiarism and theft of intellectual property play a big role and it all comes together through June, her guilt, and her constant stream of excuses.
While I truly enjoyed 𝘠𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘦, there were times when I grew weary of June and her constant whining. Like in 𝘉𝘢𝘣𝘦𝘭, at times I felt Kuang was just a bit long winded and a bit repetitive. Otherwise, I thought it was a fun way to stir the pot on some important topics the publishing world continues to grapple with. Grade: B