A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Publication Date: February 2010
Genre: nonfiction, science, biography
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: I just can’t even. How do I have a bachelor’s of science and doctorate level degree and I’ve never heard of HeLa cells??? I’ve taken probably over a dozen biology, physiology, and pathophysiology course in my academic career and never once have I learned about Henrietta Lacks. And I’m pissed! What a disservice to Henrietta and her contribution to science, cell biology, and the pharmaceuticals industry.
At times this book was scary relatable. In chapter 13 the author recounts the polio epidemic in the 1951, “Schools closed, parents panicked, and the public grew desperate for a vaccine.” If that doesn’t directly parallel the COVID19 pandemic and last year of our lives, then I don’t know what does. Also, at times, this book was just scary. Like how if cells and tissues are removed from your body, they no longer belong to you! In the afterword, Skloot writes “And at this point no case law has fully clarified whether you own or have the right to control your tissues. When they’re part of your body, they’re clearly yours. Once they’re excised, your rights get murky.” EXCUSE ME WHAT. The audiobook was excellent. Not sure if I’ll prioritize watching the movie adaptation with Oprah Winfrey, I’ve heard mix reviews.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It
Author: Elle Cosimano
Publication Date: February 2021
Genre: mystery
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

Review: The set up and premise of this book was great. Stressed out single-mom who lands a book deal which is certain to change the trajectory of her life? But also she’s mistaken as a hit-man and tasked with murdering someone’s horrific husband? Sign me up, I’m in! I liked the female friendship and the commentary on Panera, but I found the big reveal way too improbable. Similar to films and tv, I just really really don’t care for any story that involves real or fictional mob/mafia themes, so when that component was revealed, all hope for a 5 star rating was lost. I did love that cliff hanger ending. I’ll pick up the next book in the series in 2022 when it comes out, fingers crossed no Russian mobs in that one.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man
Author: Emmanuel Acho
Publication Date: November 2020
Genre: nonfiction, race
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: Quick, informative, conversational text about author Emmanuel Acho’s personal history with racism in the United States throughout his life. A great companion read to Hood Feminism as Acho’s accounts and stories about his life as a Black man. Many topics covered but some of I found most interesting and informative were about the N word, voter suppression, cultural appropriation, and social determinants of health. This book left me feeling like I’m on the right path of allyship, but the work is never done as a cis white woman. Acho gave a great list of essays and books to read for further reading, the ones I plan to pick up include:
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Native Son by Richard Wright
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why by Jabari Asim

Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Publication Date: July 2016
Genre: science fiction
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

Review: Earlier this year I read Recursion by Blake Crouch which I enjoyed, but found it to be very science fiction focused – which makes sense, it’s sci-fi book first and foremost. But what I love about this book, Dark Matter, is the very real, human connections seen between husband and wife, mother and father, that drives the plot and the intentions of the main character, Jason. With the more books and stories I read, the more I’ve come to realize that I love a story opening with a well established family (in this case, dad Jason, mom Daniela, and son Charlie), then getting flashbacks revealing the origin story of the parents, first as lovers, then a dating couple, to newly weds, and parents. Diving into a science fiction title with this element is chef’s kiss near perfection. While, yes, this is science fiction at it’s core, it reads as so much more. An exploration about happiness and what that means on an individual level. Crouch mentions having written this story at “a low point in my life” and “looking back at all the roads not taken and feeling envious of my younger self.” As a work of science fiction, I loved it for the human, emotional elements. But that says more about me, and less about the book, now doesn’t it?
Buzzword Readathon: April selection

This Is How It Always Is
Author: Laurie Frankel
Publication Date: January 2017
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: What can I say, there’s just a lot to love about these characters and this story, no matter how ambiguous the ending – but life is ambiguous, is it not? While this story centers around Claude and their transition to Poppy over a 10 year period, this story isn’t only about Claude or Poppy. But rather the impact both Claude and Poppy have had on every member of the Walsh-Adams family. My favorite being doctor, wife, and mother, Rosie, if anything, this is her story. Rosie has an analytical, methodical, and medical driven mind, in contrast to her husband’s literary, fantastical, and romantic mind. I loved the flashbacks diving into the history of Rosie and Penn – first as lovers, then as partners, and finally parents to 5 children.
Can’t write a review without gushing about K, physical therapist, social worker, mechanic, medic, midwife, extraordinaire. In the words of Rosie, “K was also her physical therapist and her social worker and her security detail… But K had never even been to physical-therapy school or social-work school. K had never even taken a martial-arts class. What K knew, and it was a stunning, encyclopedic amount, she had learned from the doctors who’d come before Rosie, from 0the doctors who came and stayed for weeks or months or years, from watching, from experience, and from necessity.” Honestly, I needed more K in this story. I needed 75 more pages with Rosie, Poppy, and K. Certainly, I’m biased, always love a well developed physical therapist in any novel but especially this one. K is so special. At long last, I leave with a quote from K about change that I keep returning to: “All life. You are never finish, never done. Never become, always becoming. You know? Life is change so is always okay you are not there yet. It like this for you and Poppy and everyone. The people who do not understand are change. The people who afraid are change. There is no before and no after because change is what if life. You live in change, in in between.”
This book explored so much: gender stereotypes, identity, expression, fluidity, gender dysphoria, societal norms. It opened the door for such important conversations about parenting and parenthood with my parent. I’ll think back to this story often, of that I am certain.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Publication Date: November 2016
Genre: nonfiction, history, science
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

Review: A quick read exploring the lives of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden and their contributions in the field of mathematics and physics while working at Langley Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia. I would agree that this book is quite dry. Many reviewers say that movie is much better with more charm and focus on the 4 leading women’s personalities, sacrifices, and achievement. It’s definitely on my list of movies to watch!
This book proved to be a great refresher on the timeline of important historical events, weaving together aeronautics, war, and race. While the discussion on the speed of sound was brief, it had me doom spiraling. Does everyone understand that bullets fire at the speed of sound? At roughly 760 miles per hour? Or was that just my dumbass who didn’t understand this concept? Also, did we learn this in grade school? Because I feel like if children would have learned that bullets leave the barrel of a gun at 760 mph, there’d be less accidental gun injuries and deaths. But maybe that’s just me. This nearly insignificant scientific anecdote led me to MythBusters videos about the speed of sound and sparked very interesting discussion between me and my partner regarding gun violence and gun safety.
Women’s History Month selection

Grace Hopper: Computer Scientist
Author: Jill C. Wheeler
Publication Date: September 2017
Genre: nonfiction, biography
Method: hardback borrowed from TPL

Review: This is a biased review because I whole heartedly love and am endlessly inspired by Grace Hopper. With good reason as I am (partially) named after her – it’s a long story. For that reason, I’ve always been intrigued by Hopper and I’m so glad I picked this book up from the library to read for Women’s History Month. I already knew I liked Hopper from the basic level research I’d done throughout my lifetime, but I was amazed to learn how many similarities we shared. From the influence of her parents and their high academic standards, to her hobbies as a child (disassembling and reassembling clocks, sewing, cooking, knitting, needlework, embroidery, tending a garden), to her fascination with Stonehenge. Hopper kept a clock in her office that ran counterclockwise as a reminder that there was more than one way to do any job, and I just love that with my entire heart and soul. I am likely one of a handful of people who will give this a 5 star rating. I’m not embarrassed to admit I cried at the end.
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
Women’s History Month selection

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Publication Date: 2003
Genre: fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: Beautiful, heart felt, touching, poignant, real, messy. People talk about beautiful writing in books and I’ve never really felt or experienced that, until now.
Going in, I knew the general premise of this story. It was a love story with a time traveling main character, obviously we can expect high and lows of love and romance. What I didn’t expect was the connections I felt in the last quarter of the book as main character Henry’s health deteriorates. We had accurate and positive acute physical therapy rep, insight into life following amputation, body dysmorphia, grief about loss of physical and functional health – topics and feelings I work with every day as a physical therapist. I felt connected to this book, connected to Henry. This doesn’t often happen for me. I don’t often relate to characters in books. My tendency is to be engaged while reading, finish, move on and never give characters a second thought. But Henry, he sticks with me. And this is, at it’s core a love story, and yet my lasting impression is so unrelated to the romantic love the main characters share. I’m realizing now this is exactly how I felt reading In Five Years. Where I thought I was getting a romance, but almost felt tricked into reading a book about grief. But I’m not mad about it. I actually really appreciate it, so thanks.
Unpopular opinion: I liked this so much more than The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Buzzword Readathon: March selection

A Brief History of Time
Author: Stephen Hawking
Publication Date: April 1988
Genre: science, nonfiction
Method: audiobook and paperback borrowed from TPL

Review: While I’ve taken numerous physics courses in my lifetime, I definitely didn’t read this to refresh on the context of astrophysics and cosmology, though I found it to be approachable, interesting, and enlightening. This book does not claim to be about Stephen Hawking himself, but I very much enjoyed the personal stories regarding how his life and learning changed after acquiring his motor neuron disease in 1963 at only 21 years old. What is marketed as a nonfiction, scientific text of sorts, I read almost as an academic memoir. As a physical therapist, what Hawking was able to accomplish after his ALS diagnosis is astounding and endlessly inspiring.
Buzzword Readathon: March selection

The Survivors
Author: Jane Harper
Publication Date: February 2021
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: hardback from BOTM subscription

Review: I need a thriller to have a couple things to be a winner: 1. a diverse and interesting cast of characters, 2. an engaging, paced plot, 3. various timelines, and 4. unanswered questions along the way to keep my mind guessing and flipping the page.
The cast of characters were great with their overlapping histories, so much so I was formulating venn diagrams in my head to understand how they connected to one anther. Having said that, I still don’t know how I feel about a character with dementia being used as a plot point. Personally, I love working with individuals with dementia. This patient population brings me a lot of joy and satisfaction as a nursing home physical therapist. This can be an underserved and misunderstood patient population and time and time again, their diagnosis is exploited as a means to drive plot lines in novels. And I just don’t know how that sits with me. Maybe if I knew that the author had a personal connection with dementia or had adequately studied the diagnosis, I’d feel less icky about it.
Even so, this book came close to having it all, but fell just shy of a 5 star rating. I didn’t get the visceral, physical response I want out of a great thriller. I want a literal jaw dropping moment, I want genuine fear, heart pounding anxiety, I want to gasp out loud. This book didn’t get there for me, but I’m definitely interesting in reading more from this author.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


And just like that, we’re already a quarter of the way through the year! In this blogpost I’ll be sharing facts and figures from the past 3 months, reflecting on my 2021 reading goals and intentions, as well as my 30 book 2021 TBR!

Facts and Figures

Non-fiction: 9
Autobiographical: 4
Feminism: 1
Race: 1

Fiction: 15
Crime, suspense, thrillers: 6
Fantasy: 1
Fiction: 4
Historical fiction: 1
Romance: 1
Science fiction: 2

Physical books: 14
Audiobooks: 10
Library books: 21

Book of the Month purchases: 1
Buddy reads: 3
Buzzword Readathon challenge: 7
2021 releases: 1
2020 releases: 4
5 star reads: 6

Reading Goals + Intentions

1 | Backlist titles from 2020 favorite authors: Goal met
In this goal I specifically called out The Ghost Bride and Everything I Never Told You, both of which I read this first quarter of the year.

2 | 2021 releases from 2020 favorite authors: No progress
Haven’t been able to check any of these books of the list yet. Of the 4 titles mentioned, none of them have released yet this year.
☐ Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens, to release June 1st
☐ Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop, to release June 1st
☐ Riley Sager’s Survive the Night, to release July 6th
☐ Paula Hawkin’s A Slow Fire Burning, to release August 31st

3 | New to me authors: Ongoing
Of the 8 authors listed, I’ve only read from Fredrik Backman so far this year, but that should change in the next 3 months. My reading plans for the #buzzwordathon challenge should have me knocking off Leigh Bardugo and Stuart Turton by next quarterly update.
☒ Fredrik Backman
☐ Leigh Bardugo
☐ Alice Feeney
☐ Lisa Jewel
☐ Lars Kepler
☐ Jo Nesbø
☐ Stuart Turton
☐ Ruth Ware

4 | Author diversity and inclusion: Ongoing
Excellent progress thus far, if I do say so myself. I specifically mentioned wanting to read from more BIPOC and queer authors. Of the 24 books I’ve read, 12 are titles by BIPOC authors and 1 identifies as queer. I specifically mentioned four BIPOC mystery/thriller authors I wanted to explore:
☒ Oyinkan Braithwaite
☐ S.A. Cosby
☒ Eva García Sáenz
☐ David Heska Wanbli Weiden

5 | Genres and reading format: Ongoing
The genres I mentioned wanting to explore more in 2021 included comedy, poetry, memoirs, non-fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. So far, the genres I haven’t hit this year are comedy, poetry, and memoirs. In this goal I also made the intention of reading more audiobooks and there’s no doubt I’ve met that goal. Of the 24 books I’ve read so far this year, 10 I read as audiobooks!

6 | Buddy reads: Ongoing
For buddy reads with my brother, I mentioned 3 books, Recursion, which we read, Let My People Go Surfing which we are currently reading, and Atomic Habits, which I’m sure we’ll get to sometime in the year.

For buddy reads with my BFF, we’ve read and discussed My Sister, the Serial Killer and I’m currently holding us back from discussing Homegoing because she’s finished it and I just haven’t prioritized it yet. Strike me God if I haven’t finished Homegoing by the next update.

7 | General goals: Ongoing
☐ 24 books (goal 60 books)
☐ 7,491 pages (goal 20,000 pages)
☐ 1 book about race/racism (goal 5 books)

To Be Read List

Of the 30 books on this list, I’ve managed to knock off 5 of them, which is only 16.66%. But in my defense, 4 of them haven’t even been published yet. Of what’s left, I own 8 of them, 1 I have requested from the library and I’m first off the list once I unfreeze my hold (The Midnight Library), and another I can borrow from a friend. When looking at the list, the only book I’m not really interested in is American Dirt – I’ve read some mixed reviews and critique related to cultural appropriation. Other than that, this entire list excited me and I’m excited to chip away at it more and more this year!

Overall I’m happy with what I’ve read so far and the progress I’ve made towards my goals and intentions. I need to slow down on the library books and really get to the books I own on my bookshelves and the books lent to me by friends, but I just love the Toledo Public Library so much, it’s hard to stay away.

Until tomorrow, Meryn

Original blogpost READING GOALS + TBR LIST // 2021 linked here


The Silence of the White City

White City Trilogy, Book 1
by Eva García Sáenz, translated by Nick Caistor
Publication date: July 28, 2020

Goodreads synopsis:

A madman is holding Vitoria hostage, killing its citizens in brutal ways and staging the bodies. The city’s only hope is a brilliant detective struggling to battle his own demons.

Inspector Unai López de Ayala, known as “Kraken”, is charged with investigating a series of ritualistic murders. The killings are eerily similar to ones that terrorized the citizens of Vitoria twenty years earlier. But back then, police were sure they had discovered the killer, a prestigious archaeologist who is currently in jail. Now Kraken must race to determine whether the killer had an accomplice or if the wrong man has been incarcerated for two decades. This fast-paced, unrelenting thriller weaves in and out of the mythology and legends of the Basque country as it hurtles to its shocking conclusion.

Personal review:

Fantastic and fascinating. Intricate and immersive. I loved this book, without a doubt. This came highly recommended by Abby of Crime By The Book and it delivered. I really enjoyed and appreciated the Spanish and Basque culture, history, folklore, and mythology embedded throughout the story. I had fun defining and building a glossary of the unfamiliar Spanish and historical terms sprinkled throughout. I loved spending time researching and learning about the various days of celebrations that drive the plot of the story. It was fun to stop mid paragraph and look up a term and either hear the pronunciation or flip through a couple images e.g. before reading this book I definitely didn’t know what a dolmen was, and now I know.


acolyte noun // a person assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession

akimbo adverb // with hands on the hips and elbows turned outward

anthophila noun // scientific term for bee

apoplectic adjective // overcome with anger; extremely indignant

avarice noun // extreme greed for wealth or material gain

brachycephalic adjective // having a relatively broad, short skull (usually with the breadth at least 80 percent of the length)

conciliatory adjective // intended or likely to placate or pacify

corbel noun // a projection jutting out from a wall to support a structure above it

corbel verb // support (a structure) on corbels

cuadrilla noun // gang; a matador’s team of assistants, including picadors and banderilleros

dolmen noun // a megalithic tomb with a large flat stone laid on upright ones, found chiefly in Britain and France

esplanade noun // a long, open, level area, typically beside the sea, along which people may walk for pleasure

esoteric adjective // intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest

eguzkilore noun // flower of the sun in Basque (eguzki = sun and lore = flower)

garrote verb // kill (someone) by strangulation, typically with an iron collar or a length of wire or cord

gravid adjective // pregnant; carrying eggs or young; full of meaning or a specified quality

hermetic adjective // (of a seal or closure) complete and airtight; relating to an ancient occult tradition encompassing alchemy, astrology, and theosophy

Isotta Fraschini proper noun //  Italian luxury car manufacturer, also producing trucks, as well as engines for marine and aviation use; founded in Milan, Italy, in 1900

scabrous adjective // rough and covered with, or as if with, scabs; indecent; salacious

torpor noun // a state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy

Days of Celebration in Basque and Spanish Culture:

Celedón – a man wearing a floppy beret who represents the Álavan people, descends from the tower of San Miguel Archangel Church on his umbrella and crosses the sky via a system of pulleys. This event is followed by the lighting of the chupinazo rocket signals the start of las Fiestas de la Virgen Blanca

La Fiesta de la Virgen Blanca – beginning in 1884 and held on August 5th, but the celebrations begin the day before on August 4th and end on August 9th, honoring the patron saint of the city, and features a program of special events, activities and free open-air concerts. The actual festivity starts at six in the afternoon with the chupinazo and Celedón’s descent. Once Celedón reaches the balcony of the Church of San Miquel, Celedón greets the crowds below and wishes everyone a happy celebration article linked here

El Dia de la Blusa – festival held on July 25th, also known as “garlic day”. The morning festivities begin with the long-held tradition of buying a string of garlic, which people wear around their necks on the way home. Garlic day is a kind of prelude to the festivals of the Patron Saint of the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the festival of the Virgen Blanca (White Virgin), held on August 4th through 9th
Basque Country Tourism article linked here

El Dia de Santiago – annual Feast of Saint James takes place in Santiago de Compostela on July 25th and is a public holiday in Galicia. The celebration begins the evening before with the Fuegos del Apóstol (“Apostle’s Fire”) at midnight, a special fireworks show that takes place near the St. James Cathedral. On Día de Santiago, many devoted Christians and admirers of the patron saint walk the St. James hiking trail in Spain. This trail is called the Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”), and this is considered a lugar de peregrinación (“place of pilgrimage”), leading to Santiago de Compostela.
Spanishpod101 article linked here
Spanish Fiestas article linked here

The Water Rituals

White City Trilogy, Book 2
by Eva García Sáenz
Publication date: March 30, 2021

Goodreads synopsis:

How do you unmask a killer who’s spent years preparing to hunt you down?

A pregnant woman has been murdered in a brutal, ritualistic way: burned, hung, and then placed upside down in a Bronze Age cauldron. When Unai “Kraken” Lopez de Ayala discovers the victim is his first love, Ana Belén Liaño, memories of their time together come flooding back, and with them reminders of a dark secret long buried. Then the killer strikes again, enacting the same ritual against a second expectant parent. Kraken knows he must confront his past in order to unmask this fiend. And there’s no time to waste, because Deputy Superintendent Díaz de Salvatierra has just found out she’s carrying a child. And the father could very well be Kraken himself…

Additional Resources:
1 | Behind The Basques: The Most Misunderstood Culture in Europe
Orge Castellano article linked here

Crime by the Book article linked here

Crime by the Book article linked here

Until tomorrow, Meryn


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

Purple Hibiscus
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: April 2012
Genre: fiction
Method: audiobook and paperback borrowed from TPL

Review: Reading this story felt like divine intervention, like this story found me at a time when I needed it most. I started this book just a few days after Ash Wednesday and this is the first year in my life that I had no recognition for the Lenten season, no intention to celebrate in the Catholic traditions and teachings leading up to Easter. I find the timing serendipitous – at the time I find myself stepping away from the Catholic church, I immerse myself in a story centered around an overhearing Catholic patriarch who exploits his power and control over his wife and children by way of manipulation through the guise of organized religion.
This work of fiction is an excellent example of how every reader will walk away from this novel with a different appreciation and critique. This could have been a story about hope and redemption, about self acceptance and love. Despite there being beautiful and touching moments, I found myself fixating and focusing on the exploration of male abuse of power through the vehicle of religion and holiness. I loved this book for the way it made me think and reflect, both heart-breaking and thought provoking.
Buzzword Readathon: February selection

The Wife Upstairs
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publication Date: January 2021
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardback from BOTM subscription

Review: I feel like this book got a lot of hype as it was marketed as a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre. As someone who’s never read Jane Eyre, I was intrigued. It was good, it was fine. Like always, I enjoyed the various POVs and multiple timelines. The book overall was fast paced with it’s short, quick chapters. Some surprising moments but nothing jaw dropping. I would have liked more character development for main character, Jane. I love thrillers, don’t get me wrong, but I just need to step away from the domestic thrillers for awhile. They just aren’t that different from one another, at least the ones I’ve been picking up.

The Kiss Quotient
Author: Helen Hoang
Publication Date: June 2018
Genre: romance, contemporary, fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: I was browsing popular audiobook on the Libby app when this one caught my attention. I’ve seen such high praise for this book all over booktube and bookstagram. First a foremost, damn does this get steamy, and quickly. I listened to this while driving between my buildings for work and kept thinking how I’d likely die from embarrassment if someone overheard one of these sex scenes. What to love: disability representation, laugh out loud funny, smart and witty statistical and mathematical references, the career-based gender swap as the female lead is the money maker working in STEM and the male character is the starving artist, creative type. What didn’t work for me: the big reveal regarding main character Michael’s hatred for his father was so underwhelming. I can’t be the only one who expected something much worse given how much Michael despises his deadbeat dad.
And the one true reason this could never be a 5-star book: misrepresentation of the field of physical therapy. After Evie proudly recognizes herself as a physical therapist, her mother remarks, “Why couldn’t you be a doctor, then, E? All I wanted was doctor in the family, and not one of you could do that for me.” Given this book was published after 2009, Evie’s approximate age, and location in California, I can assume she holds a clinical doctorate degree in physical therapy, and professionally can be considered a doctor. I would know, I have the degree myself. This is the exact battle my entire profession is facing. The general public denounces our professional titles and disregards our level of education, because of misinformation in stories like this. For a book boasting a female main character who is at the top of her profession in a male dominated STEM field, who then takes charge of her sex life like a badass independent woman, to misidentify a supporting female character and reduce her professional status is appalling to me. Unacceptable.

Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publication Date: August 2011
Genre: science fiction, fantasy
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

Review: Started the audiobook on a whim and was immediately hooked, grinning ear to ear. I would catch myself at the end of my work day feeling giddy knowing I was about to hop in the car with this story waiting for me. Wil Wheaton was an excellent and iconic selection for the audiobook narrator, it elevated the reading experience for me. Also had to chuckle when his own name surfaced in the story.
A limited list of what I loved: the OASIS world building, endless 80s references, dystopian vibes, all incredible. This story gave me a sense of nostalgia that I’ve never experienced before while reading. Beyond the wonderful 1980s references, many of which went directly over my head, Wade himself as a main character was just so relatable and enjoyable to follow. I also was once an overweight, shy, lonely teenager who didn’t feel like they fit in at high school, who felt self-conscious about their body, social and popularity status, and felt isolated and abnormal for not having a boyfriend/girlfriend experience. That poignant monologue in chapter one about death and the afterlife shook me to my core, so well executed. I don’t know if reading those paragraphs with my eyes would have had the same impact but listening to those words left me with a pit in my stomach and full body chills.
If I happen to stumble upon a used copy one day, I can definitely see adding this to my collection. I’d like to lend it to my dad to read one day, I feel like he’d really love being transported back to the 1980s and reminisce on a time in his life when he was in college, collecting and tinkering with hundreds of computer parts as a bachelor, kicking at home.

A Deadly Inside Scoop
Author: Abby Collette
Publication Date: May 2020
Genre: cozy mystery
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

Review: I promise I wanted to love this book. A black female author writing mysteries set in Cleveland, Ohio. Could there be a more perfect book? I didn’t think so. However, there were multiple points where I considered DNF’ing. The dialogue was painful – repetitive, bland, boring, flat, simple. It’s hard to judge this book as a stand alone because it’s the first in a series, so while I understand the emphasis on developing the backstory and really diving into the main characters, it just felt 100 pages too long. I just don’t know that I’m enticed enough to keep reading. I’d never read a ‘cozy mystery’ before and I’m certain now I am not the ideal demographic for this book, which I now learned is woman over the age of 40. Nonetheless, I loved the representation and diversity amongst characters, loved the Chagrin Falls, Ohio setting, felt very nostalgic and at home. Yeah, cozy, okay I get it now.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for stories to come

The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Publication Date: August 2013
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism
Method: audiobook and hardcover borrowed from TPL

Review: I had high expectations starting The Ghost Bride given how much I loved The Night Tiger, Choo’s second novel. I began with the audiobook and was immediately enamored by the beautiful writing and setting, 1890s Malaya. I absolutely, without a doubt loved Part 1 as it introduced and explored Asian history, culture, and folklore surrounding death and the after life. Moving into Part 2 and 3 with the audiobook, I felt lost as the story transitioned into dream-like sequences. That’s when I switched over to the physical book and had a much easier time following the plot and storyline. Unfortunately the last half of the book just didn’t captivate me as much as the first half. I liked a lot of what this book had to offer: a large cast of characters, multiple ‘universes’, Asian folklore, little bit of romance, sprinkle of murder mystery, some gothic and magical realism vibes. I liked it, it was good! But it didn’t blow me away. I bought the book second hand and I’m glad to have it in my collection, to live alongside The Night Tiger. While listening to the audiobook I flagged passages with unfamiliar terms and plan to annotate my copy with the definitions.

Author: Blake Crouch
Publication Date: June 2019
Genre: science fiction
Method: hardcover, borrowed from TPL

Review: What a strong, impressive, and captivating first hundred pages – loved the two POVs, their different timelines, and the point at which they intersected and converged. Initially, the story was confusing in a good way, like I was a little bit lost but knew the more I read the more I’d understand. But then came book 5 which was just way too long and too repetitive. I understand Crouch was trying to convey the gravity and weight felt by main character Helena, having lived her life multiple times over, but I felt it detracted from the story overall.
There are many plot holes to be bothered by, but the one that sticks out to me that I see very few reviewers mention is how Barry goes from NYC police office to part time physicist – or did I misunderstand? Because it seems in different variations of his life with Helena, he assists her with creation of the memory chair. Maybe that’s all there is to it, he is just an assistance whom contributes in no way scientifically.
Even though this wasn’t the perfect book for me, I’m still very interested in reading Dark Matter (DM). It seems readers who felt ehh about this book sing the praises of DM.

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington
Author: Alexis Coe
Publication Date: February 2020
Genre: history, nonfiction, biography
Method: audiobook and hardcover borrowed from TPL

Review: In her preface, author Alexis Coe speaks on the male skew both in the technical writing of the popular Washington biographies and the overwhelming appearance of male authors discussing the first president of the United States of America. In fact, Coe states ‘no woman has written an adult biography of George Washington in more than forty years.’ Color me intrigued.
This book had such a strong start. A list of George Washington’s closest friends and frenemies? Love it, yes please. An entire section about his medical history and the diseases he survived? I’m into it. A page dedicated to his pets and farm animals? Incredible.
I found Part 1 fascinating, learning about the different family dynamics Washington had with his mother, siblings, half siblings, step children, etc. But Parts 2 and 3 were just a snooze fest – someone had to say it. I’m sure it’s no small task to jazz up topics of revolutionary war and slavery, but this is the biography I would have expected some pizazz, given the whimsical and cheeky vibes of the introduction. Even then, Part 4 had a recipe for hoecakes, an unexpected addition to a biography, but I’m here for it. I will say, this book definitely led to some interesting discussions with my peers regarding land ownership, slavery, and war. At the least, I have some new useless knowledge to utilize when bar trivia is a thing again.

The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Publication Date: March 2020
Genre: fantasy, fiction, LGBT
Method: audiobook and hardcover, borrowed from TPL

Review: This book has gotten a lot of hype across social medias. Is it warranted? ONE HUNDRED MILLION TIMES, YES. There isn’t a more wholesome book on the earth, prove me wrong. I had high expectations and TJ Klune DELIVERED. Heart warming, charming, welcoming, lovely, whimsical, the list goes on.
Klune’s use of imagery and symbolism had me dissecting every word choice like I was back in honors English class. The use of rain and storms to symbolize main character Linus’s depression was spectacular. My first instinct was to label Linus as lazy for repeatedly acknowledging the rain that casts down on him day after day, but then forgets his umbrella every morning. But as I understood the rain to symbolize depression, I saw the parallels Klune was making to mental health and how we can inherently know what to do to ‘fix’ our problems, but having the resources, courage, or energy to actually act on these solutions can be extremely difficult. That’s not laziness, it’s depression.
Similarly, Linus’s anxiety at work is palpable in chapter 2 when his boss is approaching his desk and in what probably is less than 30 seconds, Linus has concocted no less than minutes and minutes of worry and assumptions regarding what he believes to be impending punishment from management. In this extremely short amount of time, Linus’s mind is running so wild with fear that he starts sweating, enough to stain his shirt.
The subtle adult humor regarding the children was laugh out loud funny. The way in which Klune discusses isolation, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, hatred, bigotry in such discreet ways is incredible. Would read again, would recommend, would like to move to Marsyas to hang out with Helen and J-Bone.
Buzzword Readathon: February selection

The Silence of the White City
Author: Eva García Sáenz
Publication Date: July 2020
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: Fantastic. This came highly recommended by Abby of Crime By The Book and I was not disappointed. This is the first book I’ve read this year where I was actively day dreaming and counting down the hours until I could get home from work and dive back into the story. What we have is a serial killer thriller set in the Basque region of Spain. I really enjoyed and appreciated the Spanish culture, history, folklore, and mythology. I spent some time looking up unfamiliar terms and days of celebrations which was interesting to learn about. I loved the various timelines, as I always do. When it comes to thrillers and mysteries, I really just immerse myself in the story and try not to guess the ending. So for me, the connecting point between the two timelines was very much a surprise. And the twist? Yeah, I literally gasped and had a jaw drop moment. I thought it was excellent for translated work. Very excited and interested to read the second and third books in the series once they are translated to English.
Buzzword Readathon: February selection

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Publication Date: June 2014
Genre: fiction, contemporary
Method: audiobook, borrowed from TPL

Review: Celeste Ng knows how to write about complex, family drama. Everything I Never Told You is an exploration of family dynamics and relationships of the Lee family, an Asian American family living in small town Ohio in the 1970s. A book about parental expectations, societal norms, prejudice, young love, heartache, identity, freedom, and self discovery. The storytelling was beautiful and poignant, in a subtle and quiet way. Wonderful character development and depth that had me on a roller coaster of emotion, at times hating these characters for their actions, but later empathizing and forgiving them by the conclusion. I listened to the audiobook during my commute to and from work and often times I found myself disappointed to have to pause in the middle of a chapter, but excited to jump right back in as soon as I could. Additional stand alone review linked here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Publication Date: November 2018
Genre: fiction, thriller, mystery
Method: paperback, gift from a friend

Review: I was 100% ready to love this book but it really fell flat. As one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and a very much appreciated gift from a friend, I’m saddened to report I found this bland, dull, and predictable – I mean, the title alone gives the entire plot away. As Kayla of BooksandLala said, “That’s it! That’s the book!” Part of me wants to blame myself for expecting a thrilling, suspenseful story with twists and turns, but I can’t really because that is how the book is marketed, and it’s really not that. There was so much build up between main character Korede and Muhtar and what came of that dynamic was basically nothing. I liked the hospital setting and the power dynamics between Korede and her colleagues. Definitely not something I’d recommend to someone wanting a mystery thriller, but I can understand the appeal with different expectations.

Hank Aaron: Home Run Hero
Author: Jessica Morrison
Publication Date: August 2010
Genre: biography
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: A quick read about one of the greatest ball players of all time, Hank Aaron. Picked up this up after Hammerin’ Hank’s passing on January 22, 2021. Could I have just skimmed the Wikipedia page to learn about his life and legacy? Sure. But where is the fun in that?

Dream Land: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic
Author: Sam Quinones
Publication Date: April 2015
Genre: nonfiction, history
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: Oof, that sure was labor intensive to read. Well written, well researched, but dense. I found I could only read about 30 pages a day or so. As I got about a third of the way through, I started skimming or skipping the chapters on the Mexican drug cartels completely, those chapters felt the most repetitive. My favorite chapters focused in on pain science, health care, and big pharma.
Definitely interested in reading more about John Bonica, pro wrestler turned anesthesiologist who opened America’s first pain clinic in 1960 at the University of Washington School of Medicine. It was his successors who expanded the clinic to include occupational and physical therapists, psychologists, social workers, and others to treat and manage pain with a multidisciplinary and bio-psycho-social approach.
I conclude with a quote that perfectly sums up my frustrations working as a skilled nursing home physical therapist, “Nobody thinks those things are of value. Talk therapy is reimbursed at fifteen dollars an hour. But for me to stick a needle in you I can get eight hundred to five thousand dollars. The system values things that aren’t only not helpful but sometimes hurtful to patients. Science has shown things to have worked and the insurance companies won’t pay for them.”
Buzzword Readathon: January selection

Big Dreams Daily Joys
Author: Elise Blaha Cripe
Publication Date: December 2019
Genre: nonfiction, self help
Method: paperback, my collection

Review: As a long time fan of Elise’s Instagram presence and her many creative projects and endeavors, I’m not surprised in the slightest by the high quality and practicality of this book. Elise has a way of delivering advice, inspiration, and message in a way that is digestible, achievable, and actionable. Happy to have lots of highlighted paragraphs and underlined sentences to refer back to throughout the year!
Buzzword Readathon: January selection

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


A stand alone book review, because this one hit me in my feels.

Celeste Ng knows how to write about complex, family drama. Last year I read and loved Little Fires Everywhere, and this story, her debut, definitely did not disappoint. Everything I Never Told You is an exploration of family dynamics and relationships of the Lee family, an Asian American family living in small town Ohio in the 1970s.

This story explores missed opportunities and the characters attempts to project their life’s desires and goals on their children, in an effort to live through them, but also to prevent the mistakes of their pasts. We see this in the relationship between Marilyn and her mother, Doris. While preparing to leave for college, Doris encourages her daughter to seek out a Harvard man to marry, casting aside and minimizing Marilyn’s dreams of becoming a doctor. Doris was left to manage a home and raise her daughter on her own when Marilyn was only 3, it’s understandable that Doris would want her daughter to have the stability of a husband, a security Doris would never have. Some 30 years later, we see Marilyn projecting, if not forcing, her dream of being a doctor on her daughter, Lydia.

As if the pressure from her mother wasn’t enough, Lydia also faces different, social expectations from her father, James, who had a difficult time making friends and fitting in as a child. We learn James was treated as an outcast as the only Asian student in his class – years later his children will also face similar battles. My mouth literally dropped when James presented Lydia with her Christmas gift, a book titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, 6 Ways in Making People Like You.” I can’t imagine the embarrassment Lydia must have felt in that moment. My heart also hurts for James, who feels he is responsible for the isolation and loneliness of his children, due to their mixed race and the lack of diversity in their small Ohio town, where is a college professor teaching a course on American history.

“How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

What feels special to me about this book is the ability to relate to every character at different stages of their lives. While I am not yet a parent, I can sense that Doris, Marilyn, and James had good intentions with their expectations and desires for their children. I was not long ago a hard working student myself, every homework assignment and essay under review by my mother with the expectation for near perfection. And who can forget the heartache of isolation in high school, both in social friendships and romantic relationships.

The storytelling was beautiful and poignant, in a subtle and quiet way. The symbolism was light but impactful. A book about parental expectations, societal norms, prejudice, young love, heartache, identity, freedom, and self discovery. Wonderful character development and depth that had me on a roller coaster of emotion, at times hating these characters for their actions, but later empathizing and forgiving them by the conclusion.

Additional Resources
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winners recommendation list on Goodreads linked here
Review by Felice Laverne on Goodreads linked here

Until tomorrow, Meryn


A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list for books to come

Anxious People
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publication Date: September 2020
Genre: fiction, contemporary
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: Within the first 50 pages I knew this would be a 5 star read. I loved the ambiguous style of this story, like how characters are initially introduced and referred to by their professions only, hilarious. I’m discovering I like when the synopsis of a book misleads me. Because what I thought I was getting was a story about a bank robbery gone wrong, but instead I found myself immersed in poignant and witty story about love, loss, grief, and self understanding. The characters right out the gate were incredible – Zara is literally my new favorite character of all time, she’s so fascinating. I was honestly disappointed when the story shifted away from her, I loved her so much. The witty banter was excellent, some of the best I’ve read, I found myself smiling from ear to ear. The icing on the cake was when a character paraphrased a Grace Hopper quote, my namesake, incredible. I borrowed this book from the library but never more have I wanted to buy a book so that I can reread and annotate and proudly display in my personal library.

No Exit
Author: Taylor Adams
Publication Date: January 2019
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: I’m annoyed because this could have been a 5 star read. If only the synopsis didn’t give away the exact details of the ‘horrifying discovery’ made by the main character at the beginning of the story. Without a doubt, would have made the reading experience 10x better. I spent the first half of the book questioning the author’s choice to include that detail in the dust jacket blurb. Having said that, it was well paced and suspenseful, like heart pounding, anxiety-inducing. The plot twists definitely got me, especially at the conclusion – I so easily fall into author traps. You direct me and my attention one way, good chance I’ll follow and fall for your twists, every damn time. As an aside, I really enjoyed the description and attention to details given to the setting of this story. I found it very easy and enjoyable imagining the cast of characters at the snowed in rest stop.

Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot
Author: Mikki Kendall
Publication Date: February 2020
Genre: nonfiction, feminism, race
Method: audiobook, borrowed from TPL

Review: If there is one book a person should read this year, this is it. Incredibly moving and thought provoking, well written and poignant. There were times when I felt uncomfortable, times when I had to acknowledge my biases, ignorance, and my version of feminism as a white woman. The chapters were diverse and digestible, covering a wide range of topics from hunger, to education, housing, and healthcare. Kendall shed light on topics I didn’t even understand as being feminist issues, like gun ownership and gun violence. I knew this was a 5 star read (and the thriller I read directly before this one was being demoted to a 4 star read) when my jaw dropped, repeatedly, during the chapter Parenting While Marginalized. I’ll be singing the praises of this text for the rest of the year, for the rest of time. The audiobook, read by author Mikki Kendall, was excellent and elevated the reading experience.

So You Want to Talk About Race
Author: Ijeoma Oluo
Publication Date: January 2018
Genre: nonfiction, race
Method: audiobook, borrowed from TPL

Review: This was a great follow up to Hood Feminism, which I also consumed via audiobook during my daily work commutes and mundane, daily chores. There were definitely points while listening that I felt attacked, exploited, and uncomfortable, but in a necessary and growth-directed way. I found this to be a good mix of personal stories with hard hitting facts and statistics.
The most fascinating and eye opening section for me was chapter 11, “Why Can’t I Touch Your Hair?” The author states, “If you are white, there’s a good chance that I know almost as much about your hair as you do.” Then later provides the explanation, “Because your hair is everywhere. In every movie and television show. There are detailed how-to’s in every fashion magazine.” And this was the point when I was stopped dead in my tracks, reminiscing on the Seventeen magazine subscription I had as a pre-teen. And Ijeoma was right, when I think back to the make up tips and hair tutorials, the majority were white girls. As a pre-teen, the lack of representation never once crossed by mind.
The take away is simple, believe Black people and believe their experiences. I can never expect to fully understand what life in America is as a Black individual, the best I can do is be an ally and an advocate.
I also really enjoyed this insightful Goodreads review by Gary Moreau.

Miracle Creek
Author: Angie Kim
Publication Date: August 2019
Genre: mystery, fiction, thriller
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: My first check in for this book read, “30 pages in, I’m 90% sure this will be a 5 star read, the cast of characters and the medical mystery aspects are captivating.” Sad to report, no, not a 5 star read, more like 3.5, that’s my gut rating. It had a lot going for it in the beginning: the multiple POVs, the emphasis on alternative treatment approaches (HBOT, MMS, diet restriction), scientific jargon, heck, the various mentions to speech, OT, and PT, always a fan. The first few days of the trial were thrilling – I was surprised how easily the prosecutor would convince me of one thing, then the defense attorney would have me believing the exact opposite thing in the next chapter. But by the fourth day of the trial, my engagement started to wane. It seemed one of the main characters, trying to uncover the truth, was just running herself in circles, which caused the entire plot to drag. Kayla of Books and Lala, whom rated the book 4 of 5 stars and is the reason I picked it up in the first place, said her experience was “heart pounding, edge of my seat” – and I just can’t relate. While I couldn’t have predicted exactly how the entire story unfolded, I also wasn’t surprised by the conclusion.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until tomorrow, Meryn


And just like that, the year 2020 is behind us. What a wild, unexpected, and transformative year it has been. 2020 will forever be the year I rediscovered a love for reading.

In total, I read 56 books from a wide array of authors, formats, and genres. I read stories that were beautiful, mysterious, thrilling, and unsettling. I laughed, I cried. I had numerous, literal jaw dropping moments. My heart raced with anticipation, then fear while immersed in a handful of thrillers (e.g. Home Before Dark and The Shadows).

I recommended books to friends and family. Discovered and became obsessed with booktube and bookstagram. But most importantly, I learned along the way. If not about others, than about myself. I can’t want to see what stories end up in my hands in 2021.

Reading Superlatives

Favorite author: Riley Sager

Favorite book(s): Home Before Dark by Riley Sager and The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo 

Least favorite book(s): You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero or The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Féret-Fleury

Favorite character: Noemí Taboada of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Least favorite character: Juliette of The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Féret-Fleury

Most interesting character: Theo Faber of The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Least interesting character: Emira of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Most loved character: Connell of Normal People by Sally Rooney

Most hated character: Elikem Ganyo of His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Favorite relationship / parent-child: Roy Hamilton Jr. and Big Roy Hamilton in An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Favorite relationship / sibling: Simon and Klara Gold from The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Favorite relationship / friendship: Dannie and Bella of In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Favorite relationship / romantic: Addie LaRue and Luc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Favorite setting: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Best imagery: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Best symbolism: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Favorite cultural references: The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo and His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Favorite redemption story: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Favorite love story: The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss

Funniest book(s): In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren and One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London 

Saddest book: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Favorite book format: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager or One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London 

Best twist: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Worst twist: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

Most overhyped: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Most underhyped: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Biggest disappointment: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Newest release: Pretty Little Wife by Darcy Kane

Oldest release: The Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene


Total books: 56

Total pages: 18,126

Average book length (pages): 323

Average rating: 3.9

Physical books: 36

Electronic books: 20

Audiobooks: 2

Borrowed: 44

Owned: 12

BIPOC authors: 10

Book of the Month purchases: 9

Book of the Month selections: 27

BOTM Books of the Year: 3/5

Goodreads Choice Awards: 4/20

Reese’s Book Club selections: 14

2020 releases: 16

Non-fiction: 9

Fiction: 46

Crime, mystery, thrillers: 20

Contemporary: 7

Fantasy: 1

Feminism: 1

Historical fiction: 9

Poetry: 1

Race: 5

Romance: 6

best of lists

Aside from reading in general, I also have a new found obsession with book recommendation lists. The following is a reference list of popular media outlets and their best books of the year!

2020 BOTY Finalists // Book of the Month selection linked here
Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2020 // instagram post linked here
The Best Books of 2020 // Huffpost article linked here
The Best Books We Read in 2020 // The New Yorker article linked here
The Books Briefing: The Best Books of 2020 // The Atlantic article linked here
NPR’s Book Concierge // NPR article linked here
The 100 Must-Read Books of 2020 // TIME article linked here
The 10 best books of 2020 // The Washington Post article linked here

To follow along my reading journey, you can find my Goodreads account here and my merynmade Instagram where I post about the books I’m reading here. Additional blogposts about my 2020 books and reviews can be found under the category reading linked here. Be on the look out for my follow up book blogpost discussing my 2021 TBR and reading goals!

Until tomorrow, Meryn