What I Read in May 2023

I’d like to start by saying that I honestly can’t believe I’ve kept up with this book-documenting habit! I said I’d do it for as long as it was still fun for me and I’m still going. I’ve only skipped a few months when I didn’t read anything. And I’ve never felt guilt about that. Man, I love living a shame-free life.

Onto the books!! As a reminder, anything purchased from the links in this post goes to help support our bookshop in McPherson KS: Twice Told Tales.

You Were Always Mine by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza
Pre-Order the hardcover copy here.
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

I did not know what this book was about when I picked it up. I didn’t care! Christine Pride and Jo Piazza teamed up for their last novel, We Are Not Like Them and it blew me out of the water–determined to read anything they write together from now on. I feel like they’re joining the ranks of Jodi Picoult when it comes to fiction that really explores ethical questions in a thorough and thoughtful way. That’s why I was so thrilled when the publisher sent me a copy to read in advance.

Simply put, this is the story of a Black woman who finds an abandoned white baby, sending her on a collision course with her past, her family, and a birth mother who doesn’t want to be found. The way the authors bring immeasurable nuance to this story–it becomes challenging to assign the label of “hero” and “villain” to any one character here. It presents us with the truth of humanity, which is that there’s always so, so much more to any story.

I will say that this book is going to be a very popular choice for book clubs not only because of the ethical dilemmas presented throughout but also for the (what I predict will be a) divisive ending.

The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer
Order the hardcover copy here.
Download the audiobook here.

I started this audiobook on a whim after a long streak of “ugh… nothing is keeping my attention!” This book did but not necessarily because of a fast-paced plot or anything. I just really liked Clover from the beginning. I just understood her.

Clover has an unusual job as a death doula. She helps people to pass along from this world in a way that makes them feel held and safe. But despite the incredible grace and poise she has with her clients, she really struggles in her interpersonal life. She’s experienced her fair share of grief and being left behind, and besides that she carries immense guilt with her.

As we walk along this road with Clover, we understand where her fear of abandonment comes from and we root for her as she fumbles her way along. This one was a sleeper hit for me. I haven’t heard anyone talk about it in the book blogs but I really treasured it.

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Order the paperback or hardcover copies here.

Gender Queer was selected as our book club discussion book in the Liberated Library–a group I host in The Empowerment Studio (an online and in-person community). A part of the Liberated Library is a virtual book club where we meet every other month to discuss a book that we’ve all read together!

This is the second Graphic Novel style book I’ve ever read in my life! The first one being almost 20 years ago when I read Craig Thompson’s Blankets. I loved it and it really lit a fire in me to read more and more Graphic Novels. Which should I read next???

I was really interested in Gender Queer because it is one of the most banned books in the US currently and I wanted to see what the big deal was. Now, I don’t want to give all of my thoughts away before we have our meeting. But I will say that I can see how if you only flipped through this book without reading it there might be some parts where you’d be shocked. And maybe it’s not appropriate reading for any child of any age and maturity level. But isn’t that true with any book? The purpose of a book isn’t to grab one or two pages and say “I get the gist.” A page exists within the context of the body of the whole book. Maia Kobabe wrote a powerful and poignant story and how anyone could walk away from eir story without empathy, compassion, and understanding is beyond me.

Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby
Order the paperback here.
Download the audiobook here (if you dare).

Oh my god I love Samantha Irby. She’s such a delight. An honest, visceral, mildly-crotchety delight.

I… learned something about myself while listening to this audiobook and it’s that I can not listen to Sam’s works. I must read them with my eyeballs.
I can read about masturbating over a toilet seat. I could even have a conversation with you about it if that’s what you want to do. Obviously. But I absolutely can not listen to someone talk about it in my car when I’m trying to place my order with the sweet, 15 year-old, Mennonite barista who is trying to figure out what I mean by “a splash of vanilla.”

That being said, Samantha Irby’s voice is so similar to that of my friend Jess that it made me miss her and made me laugh that much harder. Now let’s take a hard right!

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Download the audiobook here.
Order the paperback book here.

Here’s a fun fact about me. I haven’t felt “allowed” to read not-new books ever since my bookstore started carrying new books. Not only are they very accessible to me but I also need to be familiar with my product, you know?

But ever since I finished Demon Copperhead, I’ve been craving to read more from Barbara Kingsolver. Ugh. She just gets people! Anyway–since I started a habit of reading in the morning before work, I decided that I will let myself read “old” books at home and start knocking out some of those backlist titles I’ve been wanting to get my hands on. The books I read at work and the audiobooks I listen to throughout the day will be new releases–books for work. (I know it sounds like champagne problems but this is actually something that’s been breeding resentment for a long time, now, and I’m thrilled to have come to a solution.)

ANYWAY The Bean Trees. Wow. It’s everything I’ve ever loved about Barbara Kingsolver. I love the way she can make her characters feel so real–down to their voice! It’s also obvious that she writes her characters with love. Not to say that they do no wrong, but that when they do wrong, there’s care and acceptance without judgment.
If someone were to ask me what this book was about, I’d tell them that it’s about found family (literally). And I’m not sure what else I’d be able to muster*. It’s just so good.

*Though there is an instance of “finding” a child–almost like what happened in You Were Always Mine and I thought it was wild the way that I read two books with that same plot point this month.

The Museum of Ordinary People by Mike Gayle
Order the hardcover copy here.
Download the audiobook here.

I’ll be honest, at the time of writing this I still have 1 hour left in the audiobook but I feel okay about writing my review.

I really enjoyed this one! OH what a warmhearted book. I mean, it’s got it’s conflict points but that’s how stories are told. This one feels like it could sit on the shelf right between A Man Called Ove and The Midnight Library. The Museum of Ordinary People is a poignant novel about memory and loss, the things we leave behind, and the future we create for ourselves.

As Jess is cleaning out her mother’s house before putting it up for sale, she doesn’t take much with her but she does take an old, tattered set of encyclopedias from the 1970’s home with her. Just something to remember her childhood by. But as you can guess, there’s not a lot of use for something like that nor do they take up a small amount of space. Eventually because of life, Jess realizes she needs to get rid of them. But she can’t bear the thought of tossing them. That’s when she hears about a place… a place that holds onto things for people. It’s not a dump. It’s not a charity shop. It’s a meticulously catalogued collection of items from the lives of ordinary people…

I feel like this book will especially appeal to the used book customers of my shop. You wouldn’t be able to guess how many times a day I hear someone say, “I just couldn’t stand the thought of throwing it away, so I hope you can use it.”

What I Read in April 2023

The last weekend in April is always Independent Bookstore Day and then I spent 2 days recovering from all the work I put into planning and executing the thing. Soooo I’m just now getting around to writing about what I read in April. I’ve been excited to write about this because the majority of the books I read have a hot pink cover and I just was excited to see them all lined up together.

Shall we? Oh, PS get ready for a lot of romance. Hence all the hot pink.

True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren
Pre-Order the hardcover here (May 16)
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

This was the first Christina Lauren book I’ve ever read! I know they’re, like, super duper popular in this genre but I’d never picked up a book until it was shipped to me as an ARC. I would compare their writing to Emily Henry in the way that they all do a great job of writing fully fleshed out characters. We understand why everyone is making the decisions they do and even when we want to yell “stop!” we still get where they’re coming from.

So in this book the main fella (Connor) is a documentary filmmaker with a passion for saving the planet. But when his production company is shifting gears, he can either make a reality dating show or he can move to LA (and away from his daughter) to find better work. So, just for now he takes the gig. He calls on famous romance novelist Felicity Chen (her friends call her Fizzy which is adorable) to be their leading lady! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Can you predict exactly what’s gonna happen ultimately? Of course! You know there’s going to be a happy ending but the joy is in the journey.

Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
Order the hardcover or paperback here.
Download the audiobook here.

For the past… 2.5 years? I’ve almost exclusively read brand new releases so that I know what to carry at the store. So if I don’t get on a book right away, it will likely pass on by me and I’ll add it to my list of books I’d love to get to one day (you know, after I retire). Broken Horses was on that list but my adoration for Brandi Carlile kept pushing me to pick it up. So after I started my new morning routine of waking up early and reading a book for 30 min before starting the day, I ordered myself a copy of this book.

I have to admit… for the first 2/3 I wasn’t loving it! Which surprised me because as I mentioned, I adore Brandi Carlile and also every single person that I talked to said this book was incredible. I quickly learned that everyone I know who loved it, listened to it on audio. And I am confident that’s where my mistake was. Which is so strange because 75% of my reading is done on audio. I don’t know why I decided that I just had to have the physical copy. But Brandi not only reads the book but also sings all the songs that are mentioned in the book. SO GET THE AUDIOBOOK IS ALL I’M SAYING.

Once we got into more recent times, I felt like we got that Brandi Carlile writing we all love: lots of reflection and thoughtfulness. But at the beginning, I have to be honest it just kind of read like a list of things that happened to her with not a lot of insight into how it affected her or how she was feeling. There’s one point where she talks about how she wanted to be baptized so badly and went to all the classes but day-of, the pastor refused to baptize her because she had a girlfriend. I felt like I got nothing of how that affected her even though I’m sure it broke her heart. That being said, I’ll bet I would have heard it in her voice if I had listened to the audiobook.

Happy Place by Emily Henry
Order the hardcover copy here.
Download the audiobook here.

Another excellent romance. I think what I really loved about this book is that it’s kind of a coming-of-age sort of book. It’s about that time in young adulthood where everything is changing in really, really big ways. It’s about the way you desperately want to hold onto life exactly the way it is right now because you can’t imagine that anything will ever be as good as it is right now. Your friendships are shifting in big, uncharted ways and you wonder what your life is going to turn out to be. I remember that time vividly and I hold young-Libby with so much compassion for the way she flailed through those moments.

Happy Place centers around Harriet–a lovable, if guarded, people pleaser who, after recovering from her breakup with her fiancĂ©, Wyn, is ready to let loose with her dearest friends on their yearly trip to the summer house in Maine. She’s finally in her happy place with her favorite people. As she turns the corner into the kitchen, who does she see? It’s Wyn.

Through the course of the story, Harriet takes us back and forth between her lifetime of “happy places” and “real life”. Could it ever really be possible for real life and happy place to co-exist? Again, it’s a romance so you know the happy ending is coming but I’ll be honest, I was wondering how it was going to work itself out!

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld
Order the hardcover here.
Download the audiobook here.

I don’t know why I was reticent to pick up this book. Curtis Sittenfeld has a long history of “serious” literature under her belt and I was having feelings about her moving into the romance genre. But after thinking about it for a while (and getting the audiobook for free–bookseller perks), I decided that I was excited to see what she could bring to a romantic comedy!

So… Sally Milz is an accomplished comedy writer working at a fictionalized version of Saturday Night Live where she’s been for YEARS. This week on the show the host AND musical guest is a very famous singer who has been in the industry for about twenty years after finding early stardom with his famous song, “Making Love in July”. They didn’t explicitly say that it was Justin Timberlake… but it’s not not Justin Timberlake. His name is Noah Brewster. Anyway, Sally expects that Noah’s gonna be so dumb but he’s not and they seem to have a connection. But, you know, things happen and yadda yadda yadda we pick back up in the summer of 2020 and they strike up an email correspondance after I forget how long exactly but it’s been years.

Now, full disclosure, if you had told me that there was a significant Covid presence in this book I would have 100% not read it. Absolutely not. So if you’re like, “I’m out!” I get it. I’m not ready to go back to that place, especially in my entertainment. That being said… this was my favorite book I read all month. The Covid parts made things make sense in a way that any other plot device might have felt kind of forced. And I feel like if there’s any part of you that thinks you might be interested in picking this up, I think it’s absolutely worth it.

There’s one other book that I DNF’d but it was by no fault of its own. I was listening on audiobook but I felt like the narrator did a rough job of using her voice to differentiate between who was talking and this was a very conversation-heavy book. So I was getting so confused. But I’m even more excited to pick up the physical copy! I just wanted to show you the cover because it’s also pink!

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What I Read in March 2023

March was long. And also it was here and gone in a matter of what seems like hours. What the hell. Anyway, springtime is officially here–something I, for one, was starting to wonder about. This winter felt like the longest winter of all time. Or maybe I say that every year. Who knows. All I know is–so many vegetables are coming my way these days and I’m thrilled for it.

Anyway, here’s what I read in March. As usual, any purchase made through these links helps to support our bookstore, Twice Told Tales in McPherson, Kansas.

Ghost Club by Kate Winkler Dawson
Download the audiobook here.

This was a fun, short, audiobook-only-available listen. So I’m not sure it even counts as a book? Who knows. Only about 4 hours long. I love Kate Winkler Dawson’s historic true crime podcasts. So when I had the opportunity to give this one a listen, of course I jumped on it.

The Ghost Club tells this history of, you guessed it, The Ghost Club–a collection of spiritualists in the early 1900’s. The Ghost Club membership roll boasts all sorts of folks you’ve definitely heard of; people like Arthur Conan Doyle and William Butler Yeats. I thought it was interesting to learn of the ways that over the years, skeptics and believers alike were welcomed into the group. I can’t imagine that happening these days but I love to see it.

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

Order it in hardcover here. (Or stop into our store and grab a copy!)
Download the audiobook here.

I really, really enjoyed this book! I found it to be lighthearted and at some parts even quite funny despite the fact that it centers around themes that can find themselves feeling very heavy and dull at times. Like, would this book appeal to you if I told you that it was a sociological exploration of wealth, class, family loyalty, and whiteness? I mean, maybe it would. I don’t know what you like. What a testament to Jenny Jackson’s abilities as a writer! I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

The story itself centers around three women in the very well-to-do Stockton family living in Brooklyn. I liked the way that each chapter took us to the perspective of a different sister and we get to know a little bit more about the roles they play in their family, how they actually feel about that role, and what they’re keeping from the rest of the family. My only complaint is that I wished it was longer!

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Order on hardcover or paperback here (we have paperback copies at the store currently).
Download the audiobook here.

After years of people telling me, weekly, that I just had to read The Four Winds, I finally dug in. I was hesitant to dive in for two reasons:
1. If you tell me what to do, there’s an 80% chance I absolutely will not do it. That’s just who I am. Ask my BFF Jamie about all the incredible television shows she’s recommended to me. And I love her. And I know she has amazing taste! I should jump on ANYTHING she recommends to me. But the second you give me an assignment, my brain files that shit away like it’s homework.
2. My Grandma Doris lived through The Dust Bowl and it traumatized her so severely. She’d never discuss it. The most she ever told me was that they had to hang wet sheets in the windows to keep the dust from blowing into the house. But I knew it was bad for her and the thought of reading about it–I don’t know. It just felt really tender to me.

But I picked it up, partly because I wanted to see what all the hype was about. But a little bit of me was ready to feel a little bit closer to Grandma. Her birthday was this month and she’d just been on my mind. While I know this wasn’t her story–it was the story of many of her friends and neighbors and I know for a fact there was plenty that she could have related to. Grandma was born in 1920 and Loreda (a primary character) was born in 1921, so it was quite easy to picture my ancestors as they were carrying out their lives during the storms.

This book is a hard read. It’s sad after sad after sad after sad. And while it ends on a hopeful note, I know that the book was written this way for a reason–it’s because that’s what life was like on the Great Plains at that time. Just when you think you’re due for some relief, another even worse storm comes for you. If you like a book because it makes you feel, this is a book for you. I just definitely recommend having a pallet cleanser on deck. Which is why the next book I finished was…

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Order the hardcover or paperback copy here.
Download the audiobook version here.

I can not overstate this–if you’re an audiobook listener, you’re gonna want to get this one on audiobook. Blair Brown does an incredible job of reading this story. I have narrators I like a lot but I’ve never felt so in-the-moment as I was listening to Blair Brown read.

Now, I’m going to keep a lot of my thoughts about this book to myself since we have our book club meeting about it tomorrow but I can tell you a little bit. This book was so gosh darn glamorous! I thought it was just such a delight and I was hooked from the very beginning.

It’s basically Vivian telling us her whole life story. The way she grew up with stuffy, stodgy, rich WASPy parents and the way she found her truest self in the bohemian NYC theater world of the 1940’s. There is a pretty hefty section where we’re just following Vivian along on her sexual awakening and some parts were helpful to move along the story or very funny but after a while I was like “We get it Viv.” But I loved the beautiful character development–sometimes our worst life-stories help to shape us into the people we want to be the very most.

A Likely Story by Leigh McMullan Abramson

Order the hardcover version here (we also have a couple at the shop).
Download the audiobook here.

A Likely Story takes place in the New York literary scene and Isabell Manning–the daughter of an iconic, wildly famous author, is working hard to get her first novel published and it’s not coming to her as easily as she–or anyone else, would have imagined.

The plot itself is quite simple–which just makes space for the incredible character development! That is where Leigh McMullan Abramson really shines with book.

Anyone who’s keeping track has probably noticed that my most favorite books are about family dynamics and that’s definitely what drew me to A Likely Story. The characters–not all of them lovable, feel so real. Because I felt like I knew these characters, I was rooting for each of them. And, look, I hate it when I don’t love a character. So… I guess I love her but she just makes some unlikable choices. But don’t we all? It’s easy to give her some grace.

I finished this book three days ago and I still keep thinking about it. Initially, I marked this book at 3.5 stars because I finished it and felt like “It was good but it wasn’t really thrilling or anything.” But since I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I went back and changed it to 4.5 stars. There’s just so much to chew on. I feel like these people are my friends that I wish I could check in on.

What I Read in February 2023

So this is fun, I only finished one singular book in February. This winter has been long (it’s been as long as it usually is but I think we can all agree it’s too long) and focusing on reading has been really challenging for me. I’ve discovered that while many people hibernate into books in times of darkness/ stress, reading is one of the first things to abandon me. Which is fine. I love to fall down a tiktok rabbit hole just as well.

While I only finished one book, I did quit a few books! I hesitate to share them because I don’t want to turn anyone off from them. But, I don’t know, sometimes hearing why someone didn’t like a book can be just as helpful as finding out why they loved it.

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Download the audiobook version here.
Order the hardcover copy here. (Or locals can stop into Twice Told Tales in McPherson and grab one of ours.)

It’s been a minute since I got sucked into a mystery/ thriller, so this was really satisfying. It’s about Bodie Kane–a successful podcaster and film professor who is asked to return to her old boarding school to teach a few classes over winter term. One of her students decides that she wants to do her podcast about the murder of a student in 1995–Bodie’s graduating year. To these young students, it feels like ancient history but to Bodie–the murder of her classmate feels like just yesterday. Together they explore the possibility that the wrong man may be in prison but on her own Bodie is forced to face the truth of what happened all those years ago. Who was she to other people? What did she really know? What did she not know at all?

Rebecca Makkai was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize for her novel The Great Believers. So while this is a whodunnit at its core–it’s a Pulitzer-level whodunnit. I highly recommend this book for book clubs–I think you’ll need to schedule extra conversation time though because there’s so much to think about and I’m confident that everyone is going to have completely different thoughts at the end of the day.

Okay, a peek at the books I didn’t finish:

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin: I read over 1/2 of this book expecting to eventually fall in love with it. The premise is great (a transcriber for a local therapist falls in love with one of the therapist’s clients without having met her) but there’s not a single character that I wanted to root for and I didn’t understand most of the decisions that most of the characters made. Turns out, I need that in my novels.

The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth: A big selling author in my store (and all across the US!), I was excited to get hooked into this thriller. But maybe I was just being picky–but one of the first things that was supposed to make us feel suspicious just felt super unbelievable to me. I’m being vague because it probably won’t be a deal breaker for anyone else and I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Spare by Prince Harry: I got this on audiobook and I’ll be honest. He’s a mumbler. Also after watching his Netflix documentary and 600 interviews while he was on press tour for the book, I felt like I got enough information here. Also I want to be clear: I’m 100% team Harry. When I tell people I didn’t finish this book, they usually think it gives them permission to say awful things about him–but no, no. I just don’t want him to read his book to me.

Really Good Actually by Monica Heisey: After about a chapter, I could tell this was going to have big If-I-Lose-Weight-It’ll-Solve-At-Least-Some-Of-My-Problems energy. Sometimes I have it in me to power through that stuff, but not today.

Do you feel the need to finish every book you start? Or are you a generous quitter like I am?

What I Read in January 2023

It’s weird because the backend of 2022 had a few flops in the reading department for me, so I was skeptical about starting new books this month. But January has been gooooood reading, my friends! Ooh. I did a re-read for the second time in six months–something before now I’ve never done!

I didn’t make any 2023 reading resolutions this year, but I would love to incorporate some more re-reads if I can manage it.

As usual, any purchases made through the links in this post will go to support my bookstore, Twice Told Tales, in McPherson KS.

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Order a hardcover copy here (or stop in and pick up a copy at Twice Told Tales)
Download the audiobook version here.

This book… was so fun. And scary! And un-put-down-able! I’ve been telling everyone that it has Big Gremlins Energy–that is to say that it feels very 80’s (though it takes place in present day) and campy and funny? But also I feel like it explores family dynamics and secrets and generational trauma in a deeply thoughtful way. I enjoyed this book so much and I can’t wait to read more Grady Hendrix!

Weyward by Emilia Hart (published in March)
Pre-Order the hardcover copy here.
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

This book is perfect for anyone who really loves family stories (me), multiple timelines and narrators (me), and witches? Or maybe not witches? What is a witch anyway? A woman that isn’t following the rules.

In this story we learn about Kate from 2019, Altha from 1619, and Violet from 1942–all women born from the Weyward line and all women who need to dig deep to find their own personal brand of magic. It’s not a spoiler to let you know that they find it and when it shows up… it’s big and it changes everything.

The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell (published in March)
Pre-Order the Hardcover book here.
Pre-Order the audiobook here.

Okay, okay, okay. So this is like… if Agatha Christie was the producer on The Great British Bake Off. Which is to say I loved it. I love a locked-room mystery trope–that is when all the characters are trapped in one place and you need to find out whodunnit.

Five contestants arrive at a big fancy Vermont estate to participate in the most famous baking competition TV show in American history! Here’s the thing, though. We find out on page one (more or less) that someone ends up dead at some point during Bake Week. As the reader, we’re spending the entirety of the book trying to figure out who died and who did it! It’s a sharp and suspenseful thriller for mystery buffs and bakers alike. This book is filled with twists and turns that will keep you reading late into the night until you turn the very last page of this incredible debut.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Buy the paperback copy here (or at Twice Told Tales)
Download the audiobook here.

I read One Last Stop for the first time in the summer of 2021 and I loooooved it! I was so excited when my book club decided to read it for our February discussion.

After reading a couple books that were a little dark and mysterious, it was such a delight to dive into the cheerful, fun world that Casey McQuiston has created in this story. On the surface it’s a love story and a steamy romance with a surprising time-travel element? But it’s deeply rooted in reality. What I love the very most about this book is the way that it celebrates and dives deep into Queer friendship and found family. I’m telling you–I’m a sucker for a family story!!
There’s also a ton of music referenced in this book and I went ahead and made a Spotify playlist about it. Check it out!