MID YEAR FREAK OUT BOOK TAG // 2022

And just like that, we are just about half way through 2022. Like last year, I couldn’t just pick 1 answer for each prompt, because who could?

1. Best book(s) you’ve read so far in 2022

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2022

Technically, I have read a sequel, A Games of Cones, but I wasn’t a big fan, I’ll leave it at that

3. New release(s) you haven’t read yet, but want to

Let’s Get Physical by Danielle Friedman
Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale by Haley McGee
The Intangible by C. J. Washington
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Vladimir by Julia May Jones
Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

4. Most anticipated release(s) for the second half of the year

The It Girl by Ruth Ware
Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead
Upgrade by Blake Crouch
The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda

5. Biggest disappointment

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow

6. Biggest surprise

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
A Little Hope by Ethan Joella
Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann
Will by Will Smith
Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner

7. Favorite new author(s) (debut or new to you)

Tara M. Stringfellow
S. A. Cosby

8. Newest fictional crush(es)

Charlie Lastra of Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Atlas of It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

9. Newest favorite character(s)

Buddy Lee of Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby
Ove of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Joan of Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Adele of Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

10. Book(s) that made you cry

A Little Hope by Ethan Joella
Will by Will Smith
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

11. Book(s) that made you happy

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Will by Will Smith

12. Most beautiful book(s) you’ve [read]

Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

13. What book(s) do you need to read by the end of the year?

Until next time, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 9

Happy People Are Annoying
Author: Josh Peck
Publication Date: March 2022
Genre: nonfiction, memoir
Method: audiobook via TPL

I love throwing (comedic) memoirs into my reading rotation for a change of pace. Like most memoirs, I went into this knowing very little about Josh Peck outside of his time on Nickelodeon. I really enjoyed his commentary and insight on single parenthood paired with being an only child, child acting, network television, growing up fat, weight loss, drug abuse, sobriety, his influence on social media (Vine), chasing fame, and his transition from acting to social media/content creator. If you combined Will Smith’s memoir about fame and Seth Rogen’s memoir about drugs, you’d get this book

I swear there’s some higher book being or power out there who influences the books I read because I had no idea and couldn’t have anticipated how this memoir would parallel James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Maybe I’m the only person who didn’t know Josh Peck’s struggle with drug addiction and sobriety, but it was definitely interesting to read the two books in tandem (more on James Frey and his credibility later)

Did I expect to cry at 8:12 in the morning in my car while listening to the audiobook when Josh paraphrased an iconic Grace Hopper quote? No I did not, but I feel no shame. Favorite quote: “I’m not going to apologize for being relentlessly human”

Behind Her Eyes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publication Date: January 2017
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: paperback

Alright, I’d dragged my feet long enough. It was time to see what the hype was about with claims like “the greatest ending of time” and “the ending of this book was absolutely bat shit crazy in the best way possible” and “the ending was so insane that I actually screamed” – you get the point. My immediate reaction upon finishing the last page was, My God, I didn’t think I was going to be shocked, but holy fucking hell

I spent the entire novel hyper fixated on every small detail, considering every possible twist and turn, and I still didn’t see that final twist until the very end. And it was incredibly satisfying. I finished the book late last night and laid there wide awake reviewing the entire book in my head, then again in the morning. I love twists like that, when you get excited to flip back through and see the clues you missed and how each piece fell together perfectly. I didn’t scream out loud, but I had a solid jaw drop moment. It’s a 5 star, I’ll be forcing other people to read this. So happy to have an ARC copy I snagged from a used book sale
Buzzword Readathon: May selection

Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publication Date: July 2015
Genre: nonfiction, memoir
Method: audiobook via TPL

Every year I set out to read at least five books about race and/or racism in America. Enter, Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’d seen this book cover everywhere in June 2020, but didn’t really have an understanding about what it was. Structured as an emotional and deeply personal letter to his teenage son, Coates shares his experience inhabiting a black body in America

“I am speaking to you as I always have – as the sober and serious man I have always wanted you to be, who does not apologize for his human feelings, who does not make excuses for his height, his long arms, his beautiful smile. You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable. None of that can change the math anyway. I never wanted you to be twice as good as them, so much as I have always wanted you to attack every day of your brief bright life in struggle. The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your won dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”
Buzzword Readathon: May selection

A Million Little Pieces
Author: James Frey
Publication Date: April 2003
Genre: fiction? memoir?
Method: hardcover

I don’t know how to rate this book. I made a decision to stop rating non-fiction titles unless they were absolute, without a doubt, 5 star reads. But like, is this non-fiction? After the scandal with Oprah, author James Frey has admitted to exaggerating details and falsifying claims related to his criminal past and time spent in jail, and I knew that going in. So to be fair, I started with the expectation and understanding that I was reading Frey’s dramatized account of his struggle and triumph over alcohol and drug addiction

I understand the inherent criticism given Frey’s deception, but I thought it was excellent and well done. Who am I to judge how an author wants to tell their story? Frey’s depiction about addiction feels so visceral, raw, and real. As a healthcare professional who works with recovering addicts (in a physical and functional capacity), I’m grateful for this book and the insight it provides into the mind of one man and his struggles with addiction. In a way I was able to watch this story unfold in my mind like a movie – the violence, the repetitive thoughts, the flat affect, blank stares. Its’s not a favorite book, I don’t feel the need to hold onto it, but I’m thankful for the perspective it provides
Buzzword Readathon: April selection

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism
Author: Amanda Montell
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: nonfiction
Method: audiobook via Libro.fm

Cultish is a nonfiction text about the language of cults, as so clearly stated in the subtitle. But who reads subtitles? Because apparently I don’t, or not very well, rather. Because I went in with the wrong expectations. I was expecting a deep dive into the culture of cults, juicy secrets, and details about unknown rituals and practices. While those topics are included, the true focus is on language, yeah, that subtitle, ya know? Don’t get me wrong, it was still very interesting, fascinating, and insightful – especially the discussions surrounding religion, as a fading Catholic. I would definitely recommend to others – language is power!

“I like Burton’s way of looking at it, which is less about what religions are and more about what religions do, which is to provide the following four things: meaning, purpose, a sense of community, and ritual. Less and less often are seekers finding these things at church”

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn

BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 8

Memphis
Author: Tara M. Stringfellow
Publication Date: April 2022
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

This book is recommended for fans of Homegoing and The Vanishing Half, blurbed by both Jacqueline Woodson and Chloe Benjamin, and therefore, was destined to be incredible, and it totally was! Much like Homegoing, I really took my time reading this book. Conscious not to rush through it, to allow myself to be engrossed in the story and lives of the powerful black women in this multigenerational, multi-perspective, and multi-timeline drama

Stringfellow strategically pairs a historic milestone with each generation, including WWII, the civil right movement, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, highlighting the social issues of that time allowing the reader to compare and contrast across generations but also decades through the lens of American history. So much packed in a novel less than 250 pages, with themes like domestic abuse, domestic violence, power, grief, poverty, sacrifice, heartbreak, but also joy, belonging, friendship, community, and hope

Now to gush about my favorite character, Joan. Introduced as a 10 year old with a sketch book and a piece of charcoal, hoping to sketch hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, Joan stole my heart immediately. It’s not often that I feel inspired to create art while reading, but the beautiful depictions of Joan’s art, her passion for the craft was beautiful to read. I remember thinking, “I want to make art. I want to be Joan. I want a book only about Joan.”

And final thoughts: 1. all the men were trash except Stanley, 2. hands down, the most beautiful cover of the year, and 3. my favorite quote is “She knew if she took it, this hand, she would be opening the first chapter of a book that would span her lifetime.”

The Love Hypothesis
Author: Ali Hazelwood
Publication Date: September 2021
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook via TPL

You want to talk about one of most hyped romance novels of 2021? This is it, baby, and I can see the mass appeal. Apparently it’s Kylo Ren and Rey fan-fic, not that really I know what that means, but that’s cool. Pros: STEM romance, academia, romantic tension, definitely a fan of Adam, I didn’t think he was mean or evil at all?? Like he was my favorite character of all of them! Cons: Olive was meh, annoyed by her insecurities (academia, self image, and self worth), could have done without Malcolm all together, the entire premise was stupid, I said what I said. It was fine, 3 stars. It ain’t no Emily Henry, that’s for god damn sure

Local Woman Missing
Author: Mary Kubica
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: audiobook via TPL

I’d seen this book popping up everywhere and getting a lot of buzz, especially the audiobook. So when I saw a withdrawn library copy up for grabs, I swiped it, and I’m so glad I did because this was really good!

The first chapter is so haunting and jarring. It gets disgusting and disturbing real quick, right out the gate. “Omg, omg, omg” and “this is insane” is what kept running through my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this unsettled and intense sense of dread in the first chapter of a book in a very long time. The prologue and first chapter were so vastly different that I was immediately hooked, intrigued, and needed to know more

This book had so many of my favorite elements of thrillers: multiple POVs, multiple timelines, unexpected reveals, a medical/maternal health related component, and left me with visceral reactions e.g. unsettling dread during the first chapter. Was the concluding reveal a little far-fetched? Absolutely. And despite having guessed the big reveal in the first quarter of the book, I still enjoyed the story unfolding until that point because of the other secondary mysteries and interpersonal conflicts woven throughout

While I obviously enjoyed the story, I don’t think the audiobook was as spectacular as I was hoping. I’d seen the audiobook specifically recommended all over bookstagram – it wasn’t bad by any means, but nothing super incredible awesome amazing, in my opinion. 4.25 stars, close to a perfect mystery thriller, but just missing the mark given how implausible of a story this is, when you think about. But that’s what makes reading fun, right? Okay, bye

The Cartographers
Author: Peng Shepherd
Publication Date: March 2022
Genre: fantasy, mystery
Method: audiobook via TPL

Personally, I read to learn and/or be entertained, this book provided both. I didn’t know deep down inside there was a piece of be that was fascinated with maps, but hot dog, it’s there. Add mysteries about historical maps to my favorite things in books list. It gives major National Treasure vibes, please please please be adapted into a movie, it seems so well suited for a film adaptation

The secret academic society at the heart of the story, The Cartographers, is everything I wanted The Maidens by Alex Michaelides to be – though the stories are vastly different. I loved the big cast of characters, the story structure with multiple POVs and multiple timelines, the fantastical element, and the two major identity reveals, like how did I not see those coming? “OMG IT WAS SO OBVIOUS HOW COULD I BE SO SUTPID OMG I THOUGHT I WAS SMART?????” was my exact reaction, mind you. My only compliant is that I feel like it could have been like 50 pages shorter, or whatever the equivalent of 1-2 hours less of an audiobook. Overall, I loved it, 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 on Goodreads

Book Lovers
Author: Emily Henry
Publication Date: May 2022
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook via TPL

As expected, Emily Henry does it again. Is it too dramatic to admit it was a 5 star romance from the prologue? A new take on the classic Hallmark-esque movie where the career driven, female lead is forced to slow down in a quaint, small town. Chef’s kiss to the following: witty banter, endless book references, sister relationship and bond, absolutely insane similes, and real life references that feel so spot on for life this decade, like I’m going to be transported right back to the 2020s when I reread this when I’m 75 and retired. My only compliant is that this marketed as an enemies to lovers but like, was it? Because these two main characters feel like enemies for like five pages of the book then we be past that. It’s more like, moderate rivals to lovers?

Emily Henry continues to be the only romance author I’ll happily rate 5 stars. Also, you have to listen to the audiobook by Julia Whelan. It’s non-negotiable

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn

BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 7

The Golden Couple
Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Publication Date: March 2022
Genre: thriller
Method: BOTM hardcover

Why did I wait so long to read from Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen?? This was my first read by the author duo and it certainly won’t be my last, I absolutely loved this! I usually don’t like domestic thrillers (so many center around SA/DV) but this grabbed my attention from the very beginning. I love a story with tons of characters, obsession, dual perspective, complex plots, secrets, and relationship drama (that isn’t rooted in violence). I’ve got The Wife Between Us by the author duo on my shelves and definitely need to pick that up soon! Overall, super enjoyable and entertaining, 4.25 stars!

Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publication Date: February 2017
Genre: fiction, mystery
Method: audiobook via TPL

I knew virtually nothing about this story going into it, other than the wild success of the HBO show. But pleased to report, I loved this! I unashamedly admit, I am easily entertained by stories about rich white moms and their drama. As expected, I love having so many characters to keep track of and especially liked how Moriarty incorporated the secondary characters. The overarching mystery woven throughout the story regarding the ambiguity of the murder victim is so good. I distinctly remember shouting out loud, “I KNOW WHO I HOPE DIED.” Guaranteed star for correct use of the term physiotherapy, because I am unhinged. Solid, 4 star dramatic thriller.
Buzzword Readathon: April selection

A Brush with Love
Author: Mazey Eddings
Publication Date: March 2022
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook via TPL

First, thank you to publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Goodreads, as I received an ARC copy in a Goodreads prompted giveaway. It is for that reason I really, really wanted to love this book. I was so hopeful, given that this is a medicine/health based romance, but this ain’t it. The more romances I read, the more I’m realizing I really need to care about and like one, if not both, of the characters in the romantic relationship. I wanted to like Harper, but she was just too type A, and Dan was meh. Also, I gaged at all the sex scenes, but that might just be a me problem. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t for me. I got so desperate to be finished with it that I jacked my audiobook speed all the way to 2x so I could move on to something else.

A Little Hope
Author: Ethan Joella
Publication Date: November 2021
Genre: fiction, contemporary
Method: audiobook via TPL, BOTM hardcover

There’s something about the simplicity of this story that is just so effortless, quiet, and beautiful. A handful of unique and well-crafted characters each with their own story. A story where grief and hope collide. Every vignette felt intentional and purposeful. It felt like with every new chapter I had a new favorite character and peak inside a slice of their life. Don’t be fooled by the word hope in the titled, I was left devastated and in near tears multiple times. This hurts to read, but it is so well worth it.
Buzzword Readathon: April selection

Ugly Love
Author: Colleen Hoover
Publication Date: August 2014
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook via TPL

It’s rare that I read an entire book in one day, from title page to epilogue, but in this case, I did. And you’re probably thinking, “wow, she must have really loved that book to have finished it so quickly!” No, sorry. No hate to Colleen Hoover, but it was just fine. Some of my best bookish friends have rated this 5 stars, but this ain’t it for me.

For me to like a romance, I have to care about and like both people in the relationship as individuals AND want them to end up together. I liked Miles character enough, could do without Tate. I was, however, shipping Miles and Rachel HARD. Side note, I do have it in me to like a messy relationship e.g. Luke and Ginger in A Little Hope. Their relationship made up like 20% of the storyline in A Little Hope and it had me crying, it was heart breaking.

This is my first friends with benefits trope which I didn’t really like. The spice was better, more believable and less outlandish, than the previous romance I read (A Brush with Love), so that was okay. Overall, just fine. Fingers crossed I love the next Colleen Hoover I pick up, which likely will be the super hyped and mega popular, It Ends With Us.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE DAY 2022 WISH LIST

The best day of the year is quickly approaching!

2022 TBR

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard
Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead
Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

2022 Releases

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel
Vladimir by Julia May Jones

Friend Recommendations

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

My local Indie bookstore I’ll be supporting is Gathering Volumes in Perrysburg, Ohio!

Until next time, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 6

Malibu Rising
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Method: audiobook borrowed from TPL

I’ll be honest, I went into this not expecting to love it but was quickly hooked. And spoiler alert, I have a new favorite TJR. Daisy Jones you have been dethroned!

The story opens with four, picture perfect siblings, Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit, living an idyllic life in beautiful Malibu, California. As the story unfolds, we learn about the relationship between their parents, June Costas and Mick Riva, and the secrets and traumas that surrounded the family since its origin. As a familial drama, this story had some of my favorite components: the origin story of the focal parents, a blended/unique family set-up, sibling rivalries, broken marriages, familial obligations, and sibling swaps (IYKYK). When one of the Riva kids questions, “Do you even know how many children you have?” that hit way too close to home.

My only compliant, like a lot of other readers, lies in the second half of the story. Once the party is in full swing, we are introduced to dozens of new characters that don’t feel relevant to the story and detract from the storylines of the four Riva kids. I saw a reviewer refer to the second half of the novel as “disjointed” and I completely agree. Despite this critique, what can I say, it’s a 4.5 stars rounded to 5!
Buzzword Readathon: March selection

Ghosts of Harvard
Author: Francesca Serritella
Publication Date: May 2020
Genre: mystery, fiction
Method: audiobook via TPL

This is a safe space, so I can admit that I picked this up solely based on cover and title. Happy to report, better than expected! I was pleasantly surprised how easily I was transported right back to college, the struggles of navigating forced friendships with roommates, the desire to impress your professors, and the daunting task of keeping up with the workload. Man, I’m glad to be past that season of life.

There’s something about a brother-sister relationship that I really enjoy reading about, especially when the age difference and birth orders matches that of my relationship with my brother, and this just about spot on. My brother is the old of use two and we went to the same university, but there’s a bigger gap between us than Eric and Cady in this story. The dynamics between siblings and parents gave me major Everything I Never Told You vibes, which is much appreciated.

Overall, I enjoyed the mystery Cady sets off to solve in this story. Detailed and intricate with a well constructed plot and interesting twists. I liked the ghosty elements and the historical context woven throughout. Didn’t know I’d be learning about the atomic bomb but hey, I’m not mad about it. Wasn’t ground breaking, but it was good – 3.75 stars rounded up to 4!
Buzzword Readathon: March selection

Black Cake
Author: Charmaine Wilkerson
Publication Date: February 2022
Genre: historical fiction
Method: BOTM hardcover

If you love a multigenerational, expansive drama, look no further. Black Cake is the story of one woman’s devastating past and heart breaking secrets which she reveals to her estranged children only after her death. Black Cake explores themes of sacrifice, loss, grief, lies, resentment, deep unbreakable love between friends (and lovers), racism, identity, climate change, and sibling conflict.

I loved nearly all the characters (Etta + Patsy 4 eva), the details about Caribbean culture and history, the discussions on sexuality and ocean conservation. For me, one thing that is so fun about reading is when similar themes unexpectedly appear in multiple books. Earlier this month I read Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkin’s Reid, a book heavily focused on surf culture in the 1980s. I was so pleasantly surprised on the emphasis on the history of Caribbean surfing in this novel – I just loved the overlap!

“Question yourself, yes, but don’t doubt yourself. There’s a difference.” Eleanor Bennett

Girls Solve Everything: Stories of Women Entrepreneurs Building a Better World
Author: Catherine Thimmesh, Melissa Sweet (Illustrations)
Publication Date: March 2022
Genre: nonfiction, biography
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

A fun and inspiring book! Glad to have stumbled come across it and learn about women entrepreneurs during Women’s History Month!

The Book of Cold Cases
Author: Simone St. James
Publication Date: March 2022
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: BOTM hardcover

In short, I loved this. Lord knows I love an old, historic, Victorian house with a mysterious past, supernatural and ghosty elements, a female villain, a dual timeline, I mean I’m in, sign me up. It was nearly perfect. Nearly. See rant below for the mandatory 1 star subtraction. Simone, you almost had me, almost.

Mandatory rant, because I HAVE TO:
Simone St. James did me dirty, AGAIN. She just had to go and tease me and actually use the term “physical therapy” correctly on page 321, a redeemable moment given The Sun Down Motel fiasco last time, to then incorrectly use the term “physio” on page 329. Simone YOU’RE KILLING ME. Who is your editor? Who is letting you get away with using a Australian and/or Canadian term for a story set in Oregon, USA?! I swear to God if I read The Broken Girls and I see the words physio or physiotherapist, I’m sending a hand written letter asking for an explanation and an apology.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 5

Call Us What We Carry
Author: Amanda Gorman
Publication Date: September 2021
Genre: poetry
Method: audiobook via TPL

In 2022, I’m on a mission to read more poetry in the hopes to expand my worldview and appreciation for literature. This journey didn’t start out on a high note in 2021, but we are now on the upward trajectory after having listening to Call Us What We Carry by American poet and activist, Amanda Gorman. Because I loved this collection – it’s fresh, raw, relatable, beautiful, thoughtful, thought provoking, and so much more.

I should have known this collection of poems would have social commentary and historical context given Gorman’s rise to critical acclaim after her reading of The Hill We Climb during the Inauguration of President Biden in January of 2021 (marking her as the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history). Maybe social poetry, if that’s a subgenre, I don’t know, is where I should keep exploring. Because, no hate to Mary Oliver, but reading about forests and trees is just too abstract, I can’t connect at all, and I love forests and trees. But reading lines and stanzas about racism, hatred, a global pandemic, then hope, freedom, and prosperity, I can jive with.

My favorites, in order in which they appear in the collection, include: ESSEX I, ANOTHER NAUTICAL, CORDAGE, or ATONEMENT, SURVEY, _____ [GATED], DISPLACEMENT, AND AUGURY or THE BIRDS
Buzzword Readathon: February selection

Olympus, Texas
Author: Stacey Swann
Publication Date: May 2021
Genre: fiction
Method: audiobook via TPL

Let the record be known, I love a family drama. I want a messy, multigenerational saga about a dysfunctional family. Give me all of the broken marriages, love affairs, dark secrets, and small town scandals. In this story, one by one we are introduced to each member of the Briscoe family, highlighting their origin story as we come to understand how each member of this woven family is interconnected. Every character is flawed, everyone has made mistakes, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable to read and uncover the vast history of this family. I had known about the mythological tie ins but it wasn’t until after I finished the audiobook and started readings reviews that I started to truly understand the genius storytelling of this debut novel. Nearly perfect, but it did start to drag in the last quarter. So, 4.5 stars rounded up to 5!
Buzzword Readathon: March selection

Cherish Farrah
Author: Bethany C. Morrow
Publication Date: February 2022
Genre: horror, thriller
Subgenre: social horror
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

The amount of times I thought to myself, and outwardly verbalized, “what am I reading” is maybe cause for concern. As I sit here and reflect on this story, I’m just at a loss. What did I just read? Unsettling? Yes. Eerie? Yes. Thrilling? Not really??? Horrifying? I mean, kinda. I think I’m left with more questions than answers, which I don’t mind.

It was fine. The characters were interesting, the premise was compelling, the social horror and social commentary was intriguing. A story I’ll think back on from time to time, sure, but won’t widely recommend to friends. If social horror is your jam, sure go for it, but otherwise just pass.

The Paris Apartment
Author: Lucy Foley
Publication Date: February 2022
Genre: mystery, thriller
Subgenre: locked room mystery
Method: hardcover

The Paris Apartment was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022 and it didn’t let me down! Yes, 5 stars! Generally I’m seeing mixed reviews across Goodreads and bookstagram and some of the criticism is warranted, but for me, this is my perfect blend of a locked room mystery meets familial drama.

Here’s my abbreviated list of my favorite components of this mystery-thriller: 1) short chapters that make for a quick reading experience, 2) atmospheric, historic Parisian apartment setting, 3) multiple POVs, 4) multiple characters (10 or more) 5) cluster of plot twists, and 6) ambiguous/cliff hanger chapter endings.

And because one list isn’t enough, here’s another list of everything else I loved about this story: 1) the juicy family drama, 2) tangled/secret relationships, 3) unlikable characters, 4) a language barrier/foreign language, and 5) the slow burn, plot pace.

I will say, I didn’t find this story to be that thrilling per say, and was disappointed in Irina’s tie in, but that’s more a personal preference than a commentary on the quality of the book. In the end, I loved it and was highly entertained, and that’s what matter to me! Maybe it’s time I finally pick up Foley’s first mystery, The Hunting Party.
Buzzword Readathon: March selection

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women – And Women to Medicine
Author: Janice P. Nimura
Publication Date: January 2021
Genre: nonfiction, history, biography
Method: audiobook via TPL

Picked up the audiobook to read in March in celebration of Women’s History Month, brilliant, I know. This was definitely a passive listen for me. Glad to have learned about Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell, but don’t ask me to give you a synopsis of this book or of their lives.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 4

Will
Author: Will Smith, Mark Manson
Publication Date: November 2021
Genre: nonfiction, biography
Method: audiobook via TPL

Going into this memoir, I knew next to nothing about Will Smith other than he was born and raised in west Philadelphia, but doesn’t everybody know that? Let me tell you what – I haven’t been able to shut up about Willard Carol Smith II for the entire two weeks I consumed this audiobook. If you are in my social circle, I’ve told you at minimum, two Will Smith facts that you most definitely didn’t want or need to know.

I knew this book was going to be special when I found myself crying in chapter 2 when Will recounts his experiences from their 2 month family road trip from Philly to LA. This would be one of many sections of this book that had me in tears. I didn’t know Will Smith was gonna make me cry, but damn.

Will recounts, “This trip expanded and detonated my imagination. Every person we came across seemed like a new fascinating character; every destination a dreamland; and I felt like life was just waiting for me to make up the story. The American landscape was so diverse and beautiful – there were mountains and prairies and valleys and white-water rivers and regular deserts and painted deserts and green forest and petrified forests and corn into infinity and sequoias or redwoods – whichever ones we saw – touching the sky..” then “These were the best eight weeks of my childhood – everybody was happy. We were the perfect family.”

I loved learning about Will’s childhood in Philly with his dad’s unorthodox and militant parenting style, his emergence into the world of hip hop with long time friend, Jazzy Jeff, then his transition into sitcom television. I will say, the sparkle did dull for me when Will openly starts to seek fame and his journey to becoming the biggest movie star of all time. His ego explodes, in a very unflattering and indigestible way. I was cringing the entire time listening to the chapter devoted to Jada’s 40th birthday. But in the end, I don’t feel like I can fault the author for expressing his story in his own way. It’s HIS memoir after all, I’m not here to police.

Anyone who reads the physical copy has done themselves a disservice. When Will starts to sing “Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down,” I don’t think I’ve ever smiled more while reading a book, than in that moment. Because for me, I only really know Will Smith is as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When considering his filmography of 30+ movies, I think I’ve only seen 2, maybe 3 at most. And I’ve definitely never listened to his hip hop albums.

This was an absolute joy of an experience. The audiobook is not simple a book read by the author – it’s an incredible performance by a world class performer.

Seven Days in June
Author: Tia Williams
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook via TPL

A beautiful and captivating story about two writers, their traumatic past, and their second chance romance 15 years later. The chemistry between Eva and Shane was electric. All of the characters had so much depth and personality, even minor characters. I really appreciated the commentary on chronic illness and invisible disabilities as my mom has struggled with chronic headaches for decades and I know first hand how debilitating that can be. Other topics explored were racism in the publishing industry, motherhood, and alcohol and drug addiction. I loved the commentary on chronic illness, racism, and motherhood. Would love to see this adapted to a feature film! And/or get a sequel!

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Author: Dawnie Walton
Publication Date: March 2021
Genre: historical fiction
Method: audiobook via TPL

This story follows the music careers of Opal, a fierce and outspoken spitfire from Detroit, and Nev, a British aspiring singer-song writer, during the height of their music careers together and their ultimate break up as a famous rock duo.

It’s hard not to compare this story to that of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six given the similarities in set up. Where Daisy Jones is presented in an interview format, Opal and Nev is described as an oral history which includes both interview transcript and more traditional paragraphs with historical context and background information. I feel like I got a better understanding and look at the political climate and racism through the lens of rock and roll in the 1970s as Walton weaves in real events to add to the authenticity of the piece. To me, Daisy Jones felt more dramatic and focused around the interpersonal relationships between band members, whereas Opal and Nev is an obvious exploration of racism and misogyny in the world of rock and roll in the 70s.

I really enjoyed this one, definitely would recommend the audiobook as it has a full cast of narrators!

The City We Became
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Publication Date: March 2020
Genre: fantasy
Method: BOTM hardcover

I’m trying to like fantasy, I swear, but this ain’t it for me. This was a chore and a slog to get through. I wouldn’t say I had to force myself to pick it up every night, but I wasn’t eager to jump back in really at any point.

What it comes down to is the writing style, we just don’t jive. It was way too wordy for me. I feel like the same story could have been told in 200 less pages. Readers who have first hand experience in New York who love the city that never sleeps would probably really enjoys this story. But that’s not me, I feel very neutral about NYC having never visited.
Buzzword Readathon: February selection

Razorblade Tears
Author: S. A. Cosby
Publication Date: July 2021
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: BOTM hardcover

This is the story of two very different men looking to seek vengeance after the brutal murders of their sons, Isiah and Derek. Ike Randolph, father of Isiah, is a black ex-convict turned lawn care business owner. Buddy Lee, father of Derek, is a white man, also with a criminal past who has no hesitations returning to a life of violence. The unlikely duo team up and set off on a quest for revenge in the hopes of tracking down their sons’ killers. Along the way, the pair face their own prejudices regarding race and sexuality, with their sons and each other.

It’s not often I feel inclined to take highlighter to paper while reading a thriller but wow my book is highlighted and dog eared something fierce. The dialectic and banter between Ike and Buddy Lee was incredible and like nothing I’d ever read before. “He shouldn’t be dipping his wick in that girl’s wax.” Like I definitely know what that means, but do I really? I haven’t really given a second though to similes since my AP literature course over 10 years ago but my God, the similes in this book were deliciously violent and graphic, “The two of them had slaughtered that kid like a pig and fed him to the wood chipper like a mama bird feeding a chick.”

At times the language used was both poignant and cringeworthy, but further highlighted the journey both men go through as they learn about their sons, both individually and as a married couple, to reflect the themes of racism, homophobia, transphobia, wealth, and poverty.

I laughed. I cried. I cringed, but in the best way. All I have to say is, Buddy Lee is in the running for my favorite character of the year

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 3

Greenwich Park
Author: Katherine Faulkner
Publication Date: January 2022
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

I’m not usually the biggest fan of domestic thrillers but I devoured this debut by author Katherine Faulkner! Personally I loved the slow pace of this thriller, getting to know the main characters, their connections to one another, and the string of clues we as the reader were trying to piece together along with Helen, the main character. I’ve never read a story following the pace of a pregnancy but I found myself really liking that aspect of this book.

For me, this was the perfect blend of family drama and quiet thriller where the uneasiness of the story comes from misplaced items, lying characters, and speculation, rather than out right graphic violence (which I also enjoy time to time). And the reveals at the end, one hit after the other, left me jaw dropped and gasping.

While the plots have little to nothing in common, the pace and bread crumb trail reminded me of When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole and A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins. This is a thriller I would read again in a few years, definitely.

The Office of Historical Corrections
Author: Danielle Evans
Publication Date: November 2020
Genre: short stories, fiction
Method: audiobook via TPL

I so badly wanted to love this like The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. I mean, I liked it overall, but it’s not Church Ladies level of love. Each story in this selection was unique and spoke to themes of racism, domestic violence, and what it means to be a black woman in America – a perspective I’m always grateful and appreciative to learn from as a white reader.

My favorite of the 6 short stories was Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain. Unfortunately, I was a tad disappointed in the novella, The Office of Historical Corrections – I loved the concept, didn’t love the execution. Definitely something I would recommend to others, but not a collection I expect to revisit.

Ghosts
Author: Dolly Alderton
Publication Date: August 2021
Genre: contemporary fiction
Method: hardcover

I usually blow through books in a week or less but I found myself really savoring this story and enjoying it’s slower pace – the subject matters is well suited for it. It’s rare for me to ever feel connected to a character but Nina Dean felt real. Like you could easily convince me this was a memoir. I thought her character was so relatable, honest, and raw. Dolly Alderton perfectly encapsulated what it means to be a a 30 something year old, single millennial in a technology driven, dating app centric world.

I appreciated how the author handled a character with progressing dementia. As a healthcare professional who has worked with hundreds of older adults with dementia, I really enjoyed reading from the perspective of the family members most affected by the disease.

If you’re in the mood for a relatable read with characters that feel true and real, like people you actually know if your real life, pick this book up. It wasn’t earth shattering but it kept me engaged.

Blacktop Wasteland
Author: S. A. Cosby
Publication Date: July 2020
Genre: thriller
Method: hardcover

I was so hyped for this and HOLY HELL it didn’t disappoint! I had high expectations and S. A. Cosby far exceeded those expectations. Not my usual thriller, full of tons of violence and gruesome deaths, but I couldn’t put it down!

Fast paced and gritty, this heist tale is perfectly woven with shocking moments and thrilling violence. When I tell you I gasped so loudly at one point that Kyle literally said, “okay Meryn” in annoyance because he assumed I had exaggerated my response. But it was just that good and that shocking.

A Game of Cones
Author: Abby Collette
Publication Date: March 2021
Genre: cozy mystery
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

Cozy mysteries are not for me, of that I am absolutely certain. But that’s not gonna stop be from picking up every book Abby Collette publishes in this series because the charm of reading a story set in a Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is too good to pass up. I just love Abby, okay. It’s just that simple.

Honestly, the plot of this story is as bland as vanilla ice cream. The characters are annoying and make some of the stupidest decisions. The text is incredible repetitive and simple. All I wanted from this book was some romance between Win and O and he made it into a total of like 6 pages. Maybe next time?

Again, I’m not the audience for this story nor genre. Take this brief review with a grain of salt. But I’ll definitely be picking up book 3. The cover is too cute not to. In the end, 2.75 stars rounded up to 3.

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP – VOLUME 3 ISSUE 2

The Girl Who Died
Author: Ragnar Jónasson
Publication Date: November 2018
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: audiobook via TPL

Picked this up on whim because it fit for January’s #buzzword prompt (who, what, where, when, why, and how), and it was available as an audiobook, which was definitely a good call because there’s no way I would have been able to pronounce all of the traditional Icelandic names. I went in with little to no expectations and was pleasantly surprised! Not as thrilling as I had hoped but a page turner none the less.

This story had a lot of my favorite elements in mystery! Set in a small Icelandic town, the atmospheric setting was a perfect match for my winter in the states. I also loved the limited cast of characters – I had fun making a character web to keep everyone straight and see how characters were connected to one another. The emphasis on local legend and Icelandic history also piqued my interest!

Unfortunately, I felt very meh about the conclusion and wasn’t thrilled or satisfied with learning how the two storylines connected. But overall, I enjoyed! I’d definitely read more from Ragnar Jónasson.
Buzzword Readathon: January selection

In the Dream House
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publication Date: November 2019
Genre: nonfiction, memoir
Method: audiobook via TPL

An innovative and haunting memoir about the trauma, abuse, and manipulation author Carmen Maria Machado experiences in her same-sex relationship. Vulnerable, eye opening, honest, raw, and explicit, this memoir is nothing short of incredible.

How often did I think to myself that she needed to leave this horrifying relationship. How obvious it was that she was being manipulated and disrespected. That this isn’t love. This is torture. And that’s the point, isn’t it? That love can mask torture.

It seems cruel and unusual to pick a favorite chapter given the extent of abuse suffered by the main character, but Carmen Maria Machado’s writing style is brilliant, unlike anything I’ve ever read, likely on the market in terms of memoirs. Dream House as Word Problem was exceptional, “In one trip, she can listen to 75 percent of an audiobook. If she is driving at sixty-five miles per hour, and the average length of an audiobook is ten hours, how many months will it take for her to realize she was wasted half of her MFA program driving to her girlfriend’s house to be yelled at for five days? How many months will it take her to come to terms with the fact that she functionally did this to herself?”

A second favorite was Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure, which is best when read through the physical copy. I had no idea this chapter was interactive, given I listened to the entire audiobook. But when flipping through my physical copy from the library, I came to this section where the author presents us a situation and we the reader get to choose a reaction and see how the story plays out. It’s brilliant. It’s heart breaking, but brilliant.

This is a memoir, which I didn’t plan to rate, but it’s 5 stars.

Fiona and Jane
Author: Jean Chen Ho
Publication Date: January 2022
Genre: contemporary fiction
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

First short story collection of the year and I really enjoyed it! This book depicts the friendship between two Taiwanese women as they grow together and a part from high school, college, and beyond. With themes of identity, resentment, friendship, sexuality, and regret, author Jean Chen Ho shines light on the Taiwanese-American experience.

I’ve seen some criticism about this book being marketed as a book about female friendship that actually just follows the main characters as they flip from one shitty partner to the next as they drift farther apart. And totally agree, as it turns out, the relationship between Fiona and Jane is not at the fore front of the story. But is it just obvious to me alone, that maybe that was the point? That Jean Chen Ho is providing commentary on how friendships change and evolve over time. I didn’t pick this book up solely on the promise of a female friendship, so this really didn’t bother me.

I picked this book up hoping for diverse representation and to learn about Taiwanese women and culture, and that’s what I got! I liked Jane and Fiona individually and the glimpses we got of their friendship. This book is about Fiona, and Jane, not Fiona and Jane. The synopsis states, “Spanning countries and selves, Fiona and Jane is an intimate portrait of a friendship, a deep dive into the universal perplexities of being young and alive, and a bracingly honest account of two Asian women who dare to stake a claim on joy in a changing, contemporary America.” Exactly, yes. It’s like the author wrote the book or something.

Side note: how interesting is it when books start to parallel one another. Prior to picking up Fiona and Jane, I listened to In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, an innovative and haunting memoir about the trauma, abuse, and manipulation in her same-sex relationship. One of the main characters, Jane, also experiences control and jealousy in her same-sex relationship.

Unpopular opinion: I liked this book! I rated it 4 stars!

Counting Descent
Author: Clint Smith
Publication Date: September 2016
Genre: poetry
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

Hear we go again, another year trying to get into poetry. I picked this up from the library after listening to conservation between authors Clint Smith and Ashley C. Ford at the end of the audiobook for Ashley’s memoir, Somebody’s Daughter, published last year.

Clint Smith explores what it means to be a black boy coming of age in America exploring subjects like race, politics, expectations, stereotypes, but also hope, love, and family. My favorite poem is titled, Today I Bought a Book For You, which opens with “it wasn’t one I had ever heard of but the first page had your favorite word and that was enough for me to unfold the dollar bills from my pockets.” I read that sentences back and forth. I couldn’t help but feel envy. As a book lover, isn’t this what we all want to hear? This sentiment felt so thoughtful and pure, made me feel hope.

My favorite selection regarding race and being black in America is For the Taxi Cabs that Pass Me in Harvard Square, which provides a look into how a black man hails a cab. So simple, yet so heart breaking and thought provoking.

What White People Can Do Next
Author: Emma Dabiri
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: nonfiction, race
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

This is going to sound mega harsh and no disrespect to the author, but this left little to no impression on me. Right book, wrong time. I just don’t think I was in the headspace to really engage with this text.
Buzzword Readathon: January selection

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn