Title: Under the Whispering Door Author: TJ Klune Genre: fantasy; paranormal (ghosts); romance; LGBT Synopsis: (from Goodreads) When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.
Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.
But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.
Review: 5/5 stars
This is an interesting book to help cope with loss. It wasn’t what I expected to walk away with after reading it, but even now, a few weeks later, I keep thinking about this book.
This book is a sweet and slow read. I took my time, and I’m glad I did. I savored the character developments, the themes, and my own emotional process.
I don’t really have more to say about this – Klune is great at creating full and rich characters, and the storytelling is super strong. What I really walked away with were my own feelings about grief, processing, and moving on. Super powerful.
Title: The Meaning of Myth: With 12 Greek Myths Retold and Interpreted by a Psychiatrist Author: Neel Burton Genre: mythology; psychology; nonfiction; Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Not just the stories, but what they mean.
What is myth, and why does it have such a hold on the human mind? How does myth relate to near forms such as legend and fairy tale, and to other modes of understanding such as religion and science? What is a hero, what is a monster, and what function does magic serve? How has our relationship with myth and mythology changed over the centuries? And are there any modern myths?
These are a few of the fascinating questions that psychiatrist and philosopher Neel Burton explores in the first part of this book. In the second part, he puts theory into practice to unravel 12 of the most captivating Greek myths, including Echo and Narcissus, Eros and Psyche, and Prometheus and Pandora (see the full contents list below).
These myths have been haunting us for millennia, but are they really, as has been claimed, the repositories of deep wisdom and mystical secrets?
This was a really fun and engaging read from start to finish. For those interested in mythology and in psychology, this book is broken down into two sections:
The meaning of myth
In part 1, Burton spends a good chunk of time breaking down the idea and concept of mythology and it’s importance in the classical world. This is hugely important for people who (no shade) rely on Percy Jackson to understand mythology. This will provide a good primer-level background for life, definitions, and key roles for myth in the golden age of Greece. A reader will need all of this to beat understand part two.
In part 1, I particularly loved his chapter 8 on Magic and the tropes in our lore. He writes, “Magic is fading or has been banished from the land, which is in deathly decline—caught, perhaps, in a perpetual winter—and the hero is called upon to rescue and restore the life-giving forces of old. There is, of course, a glaring parallel with our own world, in which magic has been slowly driven out, first by religion, which over the centuries became increasingly repressive of magic, and more latterly by science, which, for all its advantages, struggles to meet our emotional needs.” In each chapter, he explains elements or themes of importance, and explains how they are still relevant thousands of years later. He also provides images to solidify his claims, which I enjoyed greatly.
In part 2, he takes some of the most famous myths (Medusa, Theseus, Odysseus, Pygmalion) and first retells them from the original sources and then begins to analyze them. For some, this may seem redundant as these myths are quite popular but for me (a life long reader of myth), I quite enjoyed the retelling. I don’t think a book like this could get away without the retelling aspect.
Each chapter is set up with a detailed retellings from as far back a source as possible, Plato’s Republic, Ovid even. And then, Burton provides an image inspired my the myth (sculpture, painting, etc), and then his analysis begins. Much of it is grounded in historical context from Greco-Roman society, and then he branches into a more modern take— why we still read them today and how they’re still archetypes for people, relationships, case studies, etc.
Not once did I feel like this nonfiction text was over my head, using jargon I didn’t understand or couldn’t comprehend. I enjoyed this reading from start to finish.
I received this copy from NetGalley for an honest review.
Title: Meant to Be: If the Shoe Fits Author: Julie Murphy Genre: romance; humor; new adult; contemporary Synopsis: (from Goodreads) After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.
Turns out being the only plus size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn’t expect? That she may just find inspiration-and love-in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.
Review: 5/5 stars
It’s not often that the plus size girl gets a whole ass romance plot (and isn’t just a side character) but this one is good! Cinderella meets the Bachelor meets Devil Wears Prada.
The step family in this Cinderella tale isn’t terrible, the Bachelor isn’t terrible, and neither are all the women in the show. The fashion industry isn’t full of superficial 2D characters that hate on sight. There’s a lot of meaningful depth and love in the relationships and characters in this book. I enjoyed watching each of the characters – the main and the sides – get unraveled. They were all so different in personality and expression.
Lots of really strong storytelling and good messaging in this book with an amazing love story woven in there too. In this book, the plus size girl gets a HEA.
Title: Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story Author: Lilliam Rivera Illustrator: Steph C Genre: YA; graphic novel; superhero Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Jessica Cruz has done everything right. She’s a dedicated student, popular among her classmates, and has a loving family that has done everything they can to give her a better life in the United States. While Jessica is a part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allowing her to go to school and live in the U.S., her parents are undocumented. Jessica usually worries for her parents, but her fears and anxiety escalate as a mayoral candidate with a strong anti-immigration stance runs for office.
As the xenophobia in Coast City increases, Jessica begins to debate whether it’s worth renewing her status to stay in the U.S., or if her family would be safer and better off moving back to Mexico. And despite her attempts to lean on her friends and family, she finds herself constantly visited by visions of Aztec gods, one pulling her towards hope and the other towards anger.
But when her father is detained by I.C.E., Jessica finds herself being pulled into an abyss of fear. With her father gone and feeling helpless, Jessica must find her way out of her fears and ultimately become a voice for her community.
Review: 4/5 stars
I loved reading this, but honestly it was difficult to read on a kindle – and I think I lost some of the nuances of the comic nature of it. I’ll admit up front that I am not a DC enthusiast, so I don’t know much about the Green Lantern aspects that I might have otherwise looked for if I was a big fan before reading.
Getting the “unearthed” story of Jessica Cruz was so cool. I love Lilliam Rivera and have read a lot of her previous work – so I had a feeling already that the storyline would be pretty spectacular. I was not led astray. Her storytelling was out of this world.
I thought it was a good story for our time. Jessica being a DACA student, worried about immigration for her parents and others, is definitely a current worry for many. I think superhero stories are more than just fighting the big bad guys or aliens and all that, but also about fighting the big fight – the current big ideas like racism, xenophobia, and hate too.
Title: The Holiday Swap Author: Maggie Knox Genre: contemporary romance; christmas; fiction Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A feel-good, holiday-themed romantic comedy about identical twins who switch lives in the days leading up to Christmas–perfect for fans of Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze and Josie Silver’s One Day in December.
All they want for Christmas is a different life.
When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell–both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie’s identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family’s bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won’t get the memo that they’re over.
With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven’t done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician’s assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins’ identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track?
Review: 1/5 stars
Got about 35% of the way through, couldn’t handle the twins that felt like strangers dynamic. Too Hallmark for me.
There were so many instances where the twins could have done X but did nothing instead. That made me mad in just the first 30% of the book. Like, they didn’t even tell each other everything the other needed to know in order to successfully complete the swap.
Title: Priest Author: Sierra Simone Genre: contemporary romance; erotica; new adult Synopsis: (from Goodreads) There are many rules a priest can’t break. A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot forsake his God.
I’ve always been good at following rules. Until she came. My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I’m twenty-nine years old. Six months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again. I am a priest and this is my confession.
***Priest is a standalone, full-length novel with an HEA. For mature audiences only.***
Review: 3/5 stars
** spoiler alert **
It was okay. I picked it up because it was (over)hyped on Twitter. I don’t regret it, necessarily, but it was just okay.
The storytelling and character development didn’t do it for me. There’s a small town parish, and then we meet the MCs and then the sex begins. And then there’s backstory. And then the drama. And then it ends with a sexy HEA. Idk. It fell into the smut too quickly (gasp) and it didn’t build up to any real conflict or character development to make it mean something.
But it seemingly TRIED to. So it wasn’t just smut for smuts sake.
Tyler’s character was very impulsive and for someone who had this higher calling, he was very “act first, beg forgiveness second” — like that was how it worked. Maybe it does? Idk. It didn’t do it for me. He’s so relatable and so hot and so manly and so godly. If he’s all these things he’s none of these things, and it’s proven false immediately.
Poppy had so much potential. She could have been this amazing character but instead she is just kind of meh. We’re told she is Ivy League. We’re told she did charity work. We’re told she did CPA work. We’re told she likes good sex. She doesn’t ever really grow as a character and she doesn’t ever unfold as a character. She just is. And then martyrs herself (sort of) for a man. BS.
Title: A Spell of Rowans Author: Byrd Nash Genre: fiction; fantasy; paranormal mystery; contemporary romance; Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.
Rachel Rowan could sniff out secrets and her antique shop, Rosemary Thyme, was a front to torment the residents of Grimsby. When she dies, her children are faced with the deadly fallout of blackmail, murder, and magic.
Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.
When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free.
A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings.
And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
Review: 5/5 stars
Content warnings: childhood abuse, neglect, violence, and trauma; rehashed childhood trauma as an adult; assault; attempted rape.
Nash has created one of my favorite books of 2021. This book is an exciting magical mystery that could easily be turned into the next Netflix series. I enjoyed the characters, the sibling dynamic, and the plot development from page 1 all the way until the end. Even the short epilogue was great!
The Rowan family story is told through a first person perspective, so we get Vic, the middle daughter’s account of the goings on after her mother’s death— but there’s so much more to it than an old woman dying.
Death is only the beginning of this entire plot line. It just gets better as mysteries are unraveled and new characters are introduced. Vic as two siblings, Pip and Liam, who are also trying to survive after their mother’s legacy. Enter Hunter, a big city lawyer, and Reed, an FBI agent / Vic’s high school boyfriend and then things get interesting.
There always seems to be a few characters that can’t get past an old grudge, like a decade’s old grudge right? Well, that’s Reed’s dad— the town’s old chief of police.
Everyone knows everyone, but no one knows anyone’s truth, and that’s what makes this book so, so good. There’s mystery, murder, betrayal, love, and intrigue until the very end.
I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Title: The Best We Could Do Author: Thi Bui Genre: graphic novel; autobiography; memoir; history; oral history Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Best We Could Do, the debut graphic novel memoir by Thi Bui, is an intimate look at one family’s journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new lives in America. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent — the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through.
With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. The Best We Could Do brings to life her journey of understanding and provides inspiration to all who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.
Review: 4/5 stars
Bui’s graphic novel is “one that will break your heart and heal it.” I went into this book not quite sure what to expect, but I was blown away by the art, the style, and the story. Bui does not pull any punches. Her first chapter is called “Labor” and she details out the process and immediately creates these strong familial bonds in her writing and art. Each panel expresses so much, and because she uses just one color to accent – it fills each page with intensity and clarity.
This book reads more like a love letter to the self and to family than it does anything else, in my opinion. She, upon having her first child, realizes that she has created something monumental. This act then allows her to process, or go through the process, of memory work. By looking back on her own memories, and asking her parents about those, it’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out a way to forgive so that she can be whole for her son.
I loved enjoying this book for many reasons, but one of the major ones was that she sought to listen for understanding when recording her parents’ stories. Her experience growing up was vastly different than theirs, but she, in listening, learned why her parents made the choices they made, and acted as they did. It’s not written in a way that excuses anything, it just is. And that’s beautiful.
Title: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You Author: Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi Genre: nonfiction; history; race; social justice; YA Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning for ages 12 and up.
A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism–and antiracism–in America.
This is NOT a history book. This is a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race.
The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This is a remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, winner of a National Book Award. It reveals the history of racist ideas in America and inspires hope for an antiracist future.
Stamped takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.
Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative, Jason Reynolds shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.
Review: 5/5 stars
There’s an old adage that says something like “If we don’t learn our history we are doomed to repeat it” or something similar. While reading this book on my own and with students, I found myself thinking about that over and over again, because this “not history book” taught me so much about the intentional cyclical nature of American racism. While times have seemingly changed, policies and practices written and built against people of color have not – they’ve adapted and gotten more slick.
This book is so digestible and so full of content that I thought I knew about it. I consider myself a pretty well-informed person, and while I knew quite a bit about some of the current policies in place, but I didn’t really comprehend the larger implications of the historical precedents set up from the foundations of this country. The way Reynolds breaks down such difficult and troubling concepts so that anyone can understand them is brilliant.
When you read this, there’s a charge at the end – what will you do now that you know what you know? For me, that question is so crucial to what the book is all about. You’ve learned the history, now how are you going to make a change for the present, and your future? For me, it’s to pass this book on to as many people as I can, talk to them about it as they read, and to continue to engage in those tough discussions.
Title: Unsteady Author: Nicole Northwood Genre: romance; novella; contemporary Synopsis: (from Goodreads) When Lincoln’s ex-girlfriend attacks him outside of the bar where he works, he doesn’t expect the confrontation to be thwarted by a baseball bat-wielding nursing student from the Collège de Saint Laurent.
As Molly Catherine takes Lincoln to her apartment and treats his injuries, a surprise New Year’s Eve storm sets in and turns the city of Duchamp into a blanket of snow and ice. Downed tree branches and power lines cut off electricity, and in the dark of the long night, MC and Lincoln quickly connect both emotionally and physically. When the power finally comes back on and the plows begin to dig out the city, MC and Lincoln are left to decide what will melt first: the snow, or their instant connection.
Review: 3/5 stars
Content Warning: physical partner abuse (the ex).
This was cute! A super quick 50 page read with two likable main characters. I don’t typically read romance novels with first person point of view, and even more rare – alternating firsts point of view. That said, I think Northwood created two characters that create a sweet, albeit fast, relationship.
While reading, I was looking for something a little deeper to grasp onto with both of their characters. Lincoln has more backstory than MC gets, but I was still hoping for a little more. There were quite a few things attached to both their characters that went past trope and landed into cliche territory. There’s 100% a place for cliche in romance (I mean that in a great way), but some of the expected pieces in romance, in my opinion, just did’t get fully developed.
There was a crazy ex, cheating, a bartender, a will they-won’t they, a love at first sight line, a “are they even into me?”, a “you can’t go out in that storm”, a text breakup, and drunken (maybe not) a one night stand. I absolutely love these tropes but in only 50 pages, they didn’t get a whole lot of page time.
There was also repetition in the little details – “cranberry” is one that comes to mind immediately. “Gin” is another. There were a lot of reminders that both MCs liked gin, and that Lincoln smelled like the cranberry juice from the bar – where he made cranberry vodkas all night.
All that said, I honestly really enjoyed the slice of life style of a novella. The intimacy is sweet and nervous and full of cute banter. The hookup felt authentic, and it was just a fun read all the way around.
I received a free copy of this book from the author and am provided an honest review.