May was a wonderful month for books—I read so many good ones, and I am excited to share those with you here today! Speaking of books, one of my favorite podcasts is called Bad on Paper, and it’s hosted by Grace Atwood of The Stripe and her friend Becca. Initially, they reviewed a different young adult novel every episode, but now they review books once a month and also discuss a wide variety of topics—careers, beauty, dating, fashion, their latest obsessions. They had a live show in DC on Friday I went to, and it was wonderful. If you love reading as much as I do, definitely check out their podcast as I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Like I’ve done over the past few months, I wanted to call out that I’m part of a program where Random House will send me some of their new titles each month. I’m under no obligation to post about any titles I receive, so I really can tell you my own opinion (good or bad!) about them. I’ve starred the books Random House sent me for free below. I’m so lucky to be sent books en gratis and that’s not lost on me! This month, Kristy Woodson Harvey also sent me an advance copy of her latest book, and I’ve starred that one, too.
If you’ve read anything great lately, please let me know—I love shopping the recommendations you all give me. You can also keep up with what I’m reading in real time on my Goodreads—feel free to friend me.
TELL ME MORE // KELLY CORRIGAN*
This book had been on my nightstand for a while when I heard the girls on The Lady Gang talk about how much they enjoyed Tell Me More. Written as a series of 12 essays, Kelly explores the most powerful phrases we use to sustain our relationships with our family, friends, and children. Phrases like I love you, yes, no, tell me more, I don’t know, and I was wrong. Written as a memoir, she organizes stories from her life in California with her husband and two teenagers around these phrases. And throughout each essay, grief is a major theme, as Kelly struggles to cope with the loss of her best friend, who died in her 40s of cancer, and her father, who was larger-than-life. This one was amazing—it made me laugh and it made me cry, and I seriously could not put it down.
Would I recommend it? YES! Add this to your Amazon cart immediately.
LOST ROSES // MARTHA HALL KELLY*
When Random House sent this one over, I was super excited to read it as I’ve been hearing great things about Lilac Girls for years, so I knew Lost Roses would probably be great, too. This is the prequel to Lilac Girls, and now that I’ve read them both, I can say with confidence you can read them in any order. This story features highlights the journey of three women during World War I. Eliza Ferriday, a prominent New Yorker, travels to St. Petersburg, Russia with Sofya Streshnayva, a Romanov cousin. While there, Austria declares war on Serbia, and Eliza decides it’s necessary for her to return to New York while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate away from the city. In need of household help, Sofya hires the local fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, to watch her son—and unknowingly brings danger into the house. Across the ocean, Eliza begins helping White Russians who have fled the Bolsheviks find new life in America, but grows increasingly concerned when Sofya’s letters stop arriving. The journey that follows is an amazing read as you learn how these three women are interconnected in more ways than one.
Would I recommend it? Definitely, and especially if you love historical fiction about World War I or the Romanov era.
LILAC GIRLS // MARTHA HALL KELLY
After finishing Lost Roses in just three days, I immediately checked to see if my library had Lilac Girls available. And luckily for me, they did! Lilac Girls tells the story of Caroline Ferriday, Eliza’s daughter, who is working at the French consulate in New York when Hitler invades Poland, which lights the fire for World War II. Across the Atlantic, Polish teenager Kasia’s town is taken over by the Nazis, and as she was working for a resistance network in town, is captured along with her mother and sister, and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. While there, she is “treated” by Herta Oberheuser, a Nazi doctor. Much like Lost Roses, these women’s lives become intertwined and amazing cross-continent story unfolds.
Would I recommend it? I loved Lilac Girls and am so glad I read it—but I think I liked Lost Roses more. I would definitely recommended both though—and am looking forward to Martha Hall Kelly’s next book in this story, featuring a Ferriday woman during the Civil War.
EDUCATED // TARA WESTOVER
Tara Westover was born to survivalists on a mountain in Idaho and her family was isolated from mainstream society. Her father was always preparing for the Second Coming and believed that the Federal Government was evil. Physically abused by her older brother for years, Tara’s life changed when another older brother left the family mountain and went to college. Convinced to follow in his footsteps, Tara began studying for the ACT, and eventually, earned accepted to BYU. She was 17 when she stepped foot into a classroom for the first time, and struggled to fit in, as she didn’t know the cultural norms her peers had been socialized into since kindergarten. She overcame all odds, and went on to study at Cambridge and Harvard—but as she became more educated, the gap between her and her family widened. This beautifully written memoir made me so thankful for my own education, and so in awe of Tara.
Would I recommend it? 100%—I think everyone should read this book.
WHEN WE LEFT CUBA // CHANEL CLEETON
After reading Next Year in Havana last year and loving it, I was so excited to read When We Left Cuba, which chronicles Elisa’s sister Beatriz’s story after the family fled Cuba during the Castro regime. Unlike Elisa, Beatriz does not adjust well to her new life in Palm Beach, Florida, and longs for her home. As such, she begins working as an asset to the CIA, and her main mission is to infiltrate Castro’s inner circle. While she’s completing dangerous work, she’s also living dangerously in her personal life, by having an affair with an engaged US Senator. She must carefully calculate her every move to avoid defeat, as she’s torn between the past and the future. I especially liked how this story focused on the Cuban emigre experience in the United States, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the Kennedy administration’s policies on Cuba, as those topics weren’t as central to the first book.
Would I recommend it? Yes! But start with Next Year in Havana.
THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE // KRISTY WOODSON HARVEY*
This is the third novel in a a great trilogy about Ansley, and her three daughters, Caroline, Sloan, and Emerson, who all descend home to Peachtree Bluff at the same time as they find themselves at a crossroads. This book focuses on Emerson, Ansley’s youngest daughter, who just landed the film role of a lifetime and finds herself recently engaged. Seemingly at the top of the world, she finds herself worrying she’s making a mistake, and wondering if she can go through with her marriage and be happy. At the same time, Caroline and Sloan discover a secret that could rip the family apart—and especially impact Emerson. I’ve become so invested in this family through the last two books, and this one did not disappoint. I will say that I had forgotten some details of the first and second book since it’s been over a year since I read a Peachtree Bluff story—so now that all three books are out, I’d recommend binge-reading them so you can keep the details straight.
THE KISS QUOTIENT // HELEN HOANG
Stella loves math—it creates order within the universe, and she has leveraged her strength in math into a lucrative career that has earned her more money than she knows what to do with. Her mother is consistently pressuring her to get married, but Stella has Aspergers and has less dating experience than the average 30-something. So she decides to hire a professional escort to help her practice. Enter: Michael Phan. He’s in desperate need of money, and agrees to Stella’s proposition to work through the lesson plan she’s designed. Stella soon realizes that love doesn’t follow logic, and drama ensues.
Would I recommend it? Yes! This is a great “chick lit” piece with lots of depth and a wonderful story. I also think it is wonderful representation for the ASD community, which is not typically portrayed in these types of books.
THE BRIDE TEST // HELEN HOANG
As a mixed-race girl living in Ho Chi Minh City working as a hotel maid, Esme Tran has always felt out of place and unworthy. One afternoon, a hotel patron offers to send Esme to California for a summer to seduce her son into marriage. Esme decides to take the offer in hopes of giving her daughter, mother, and grandmother a better life than what they have in the slums. So Esme heads to meet Khai, who processes feelings differently than most since he has autism. While Esme falls for Khai, he struggles to return her affections—but will it cost him everything?
Would I recommend it? Yes! Like The Kiss Quotient, this was such an enjoyable story with such depth.