Another good month of reading. To be really honest feel a little bit of weird shame for having read so much (this is a LOT, even for me) but as I talked about last week I’ve been in a bit of a dark place and when I am feeling low I tend to just hole up at home and read. My favorite thing to do when I don’t feel great is to read a twisty thriller in one sitting. You know, read something really messed up to take your mind off/escape of how messed up real life feels?
EVERYTHING I READ IN JULY 2020
In July, I read 14 books (eek – double my usual) and from this list, nothing got below an A-. I’d say I’m a medium-tough crowd so this is pretty wild. Usually there is at least one or two books I only felt medium about. My favorite book from the month from a pure enjoyment perspective was The Boys Club. But honestly, everything on this month’s list is some combination of enjoyable or moving. It was an excellent month in books.
TELL ME WHAT YOU ARE READING! I’m always looking for great recommendations… I love reading your comments!
IF YOU’RE NEW HERE AND ARE LOOKING FOR A BOOK, DON’T FORGET THAT YOU CAN ALWAYS CHECK OUT MY BOOK CLUB PAGE.
Every month I update it with everything I read – it includes every book I’ve read in the past six years. The best part is that now you can filter + search by genre (memoir, light read, historical fiction, thriller, books by Black authors, etc!) Now you can also filter by GRADE to find exactly what you’re looking for or just peruse my top picks. If you’re feeling like you need even more book recs, check out last month’s list and everything I read in 2019!
This month’s anti-racist reads.
(These came highly recommended by you and are on my personal anti-racist reading list.)
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
So many of you recommended this and I am so happy I read it as I absolutely loved it. I have been a huge, huge fan of Trevor Noah (and of course The Daily Show) for a very long time and had somehow not realized he had a book. And it’s amazing. As one would expect, Trevor tackles heavy stuff with grace, wit, and (when it is appropriate), humor.
This is the story of his childhood in South Africa. Because of apartheid his birth was a literal crime (his father was a White Swiss man and his mother was a Black Xhosa woman), so he was kept inside for most of his early years. Then, as he got older we learn about his more mischievous teenage years (from his love of computers as a teen to his early encounters with girls and life as a “colored” child – not Black, not White, never quite fitting in.)
The book is at once light and optimistic while also talking about serious things like domestic abuse. I cannot recommend it enough. And while I am usually a paper books purist, this one is especially wonderful as an audiobook as Trevor himself narrates it. My favorite part was everything in regard to his mother: fiercely independent and fervently religious. She seems like an absolutely incredible person. I will warn you that the last 25 minutes are extremely intense. But everything wraps up okay in the end.
- Overall Score: A+
When They Call You a Terrorist, by Patrisse Cullors and Asha Bandele
I cannot recommend this book enough. Please read this book. I think it’s especially powerful after reading one of the more academic anti-racism books like How to Be Anti-Racist or So You Want to Talk About Race. I split my time reading and listening to this one and preferred the audiobook. Especially as it’s narrated by the author. (I used to be soooo anti-audio books but have come to really enjoy them. Particularly for memoirs when the author of the book reads it to you.) Patrisse Cullors is one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the book is her memoir.
From growing up Black and queer and watching the men in her life struggle with addiction and mental health issues (and wind up imprisoned for it) to founding what has become a global movement, it is absolutely amazing (though yes – very hard to read at times). It’s hard to read. I didn’t know the whole story of how BLM was founded. And hearing the stories of the early movements (especially leading up to Trump’s election) feel eerily similar to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I loved this book and I hope you all will read it. It’s an important book. It will break your heart and is a lot to absorb. But it’s definitely one of my favorite books from this year.
- Overall Score: A+
Fans of Younger, rejoice!
Older by Pamela Redmond (out 9/8/20)
Oh I LOVED this book. And sometimes I will feel a little bit guilty reading something so far from the pub date but this one was sitting on my shelf just taunting me! If you know me, then you know that Younger (which is based on a book!) is one of my all time favorite shows, about a woman in her 40’s who re-enters the workforce, pretending to be 26. And this is the sequel. I didn’t read the first book but watch the show religiously so was fine.
Liza is now turning 50, and a little lost in life. She’s broken up with her on again off again boyfriend Josh, her daughter Caitlin is pregnant, and she’s just published her book, Younger! Her friend Kelsey is out in LA, shopping the book around, and it gets optioned for a show. So Liza heads West to help work on the show. Through that we are introduced to a whole new cast (literally) of characters, including high-maintenance actress Stella and older dreamboat actor Hugo. Hugo is playing her boss (think Charles in the show) and the two of them develop quite a flirtation.
I loved this book. It isn’t going to change your life or leave you thinking for days, but it scratched such an itch for me and made me really happy. Highly recommend pre-ordering it and that way in September you’ll get a little treat in the mail!
- Overall Score: A
These will both haunt me.
This book is part horror, part thriller but not the usual light and twisty story about somebody murdering their husband or a wife that’s been locked up. You know I love those books, but this goes much further and deeper than those books. This is an important book and a horror thriller of the psychological nature. It’s the sort of book that sticks with you. And makes you break out in chills upon thinking back on it later.
Lena Johnson is a college student with a heavy weight on her shoulders. Her mother is sick, her grandmother just passed away, and they are in a lot of debt. The best job she can find involves dressing up as a corn chip for $9.25 an hour. A new job offer surfaces and it seems like a dream. Move to Lakewood, Michigan with free rent, high pay, and health insurance for both her and her mother. It will be more money than she’s ever known. The catch? She’ll be participating in a secret research study. She drops out of college and takes the job, and that’s where the horrors start. From memory drugs to drops that can change your eye color, the experiments range from innocent(ish) to potentially devastating.
As the book goes on it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what’s real and what is fake. It’s set in modern day but with a nod to the horrible tests and experiments that have been conducted on Black bodies in the name of science. It’s part Black Mirror, part Handmaid’s Tale… I can’t stop thinking about it.
- Overall Score: A
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
While this book was excellent (beautiful story, beautiful writing, just a beautiful book in general), it was at times very very (very?) hard to read! And I don’t want this review to discourage anyone from reading it but I do want to warn you. I read it during a week last month where it was thundering and raining every day and I hadn’t been sleeping very well, and the combo of that + this book really affected me. So I would recommend this book 1000%, but I’d also say that it’s probably best to read it when you are in an emotional place to handle all of the heartbreak that comes with reading it. Does that make sense?
It is the story of two half-sisters. One is sold into slavery and one marries a white man who works in the slave trade. Every chapter is the story of a different descendent, working all the way from the 18th century to the 80’s. It’s fascinating seeing what happens with every new generation, especially when previous characters are referenced. I should note that I’m also someone who (generally) doesn’t like short stories, so this one was hard. Every chapter was a different heartbreak for different reasons. And just as you felt yourself bonding with/getting attached to the character (or the storyline improving), the book moved on to a new story.
A reader commented saying that “it ripped my heart out and threw it down the stairs in every chapter,” and those words are very true. The ending was magical and I really did love it. But I don’t remember the last time a book affected me this way.
- Overall Score: A
The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
If you read and loved The Royal We as much as I did, The Heir Affair is going to be such a treat for you! Honestly, reading this book felt like I was being reunited with my long lost pals Bex, Nick, and Freddie.
After a scandal turned their would be fairy-tale wedding into an absolute nightmare, Bex and Nick have fled the palace for a tiny town in Scotland where they’re working in a bookstore. But when the queen has a health scare, they find themselves having to return. Back at home, Freddie is furious with them and we aren’t sure the guys can ever recover… the media and their former (traitor) friend Clive is having a field day (especially with digs at Bex), and the whole family is having a hard time forgiving them for leaving. It starts out a little bit slow, but as Becca said to me, I’d read about these characters doing anything so I truly didn’t mind – it was just so nice to have them back in my life!
It’s really in the last third of the book that things pick up and there is a new juicy scandal, baby fever, a romance for Freddie and much more… but I don’t want to ruin it for you! This was a very fun read (no surprises there), and despite being 460 pages long I read it in a single weekend! Highly recommend.
- Overall Score: A-
Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
When Becca told me that I had to read this “romance novel about gymnastics,” I was not exactly sold. I definitely balked a little. But I “knew” the author from social media and after reading some really heavy books this month, I desperately wanted to something light and happy where the ending was tied up in a bow. And this book delivered! It’s so much more than just a romance story. There’s a redemption story (I love when a character gets her act together and finds her passion… falling in love along the way), a powerful friendship between the female characters, and the coaching dynamic was very sweet and heartwarming.
Avery is a former gymnast whose career was ended at the Olympic trials with a devastating injury. Since then, she’s never been able to get her act together… dropping out of college and never really figuring out her passion. When she’s brutally dumped by her quarterback boyfriend, she returns back to her hometown, desperate for a fresh start but unsure what that will look like. When an old (and very handsome) acquaintance reaches out with a coaching job she accepts, and things finally start to fall into place. But it’s not all perfect… there’s a shocking scandal that rocks the gymnastics world, and old struggles with her former best friend and coach (who are now married!). I read this in a day and absolutely loved it.
- Overall Score: A
The Boys Club, by Erica Katz
Oh how I LOVED this book! I read it in just a couple days; despite being a thicker book, I could not put it down!!!! (TW: Attempted rape + some violence.) This is the story of a first year law associate (Alex) who moves to New York, fresh out of Harvard, to work in Biglaw. It’s (true to the name of the book), a Boys Club. As she strives to make her way in the hyper competitive environment working in mergers and acquisitions, she finds herself changing. Drifting from her long-time boyfriend, getting competitive with the women she works with, developing a crush on the handsome partner at the law firm, letting down her family.
I have likened it to Devil Wears Prada (toxic, stressful work environment) meets Suits (an old favorite show of mine with good looking lawyers and lots of drama), Tell Me Lies (toxic relationship, coming of age story as our loveable but human protagonist makes some terrible romantic decisions). But I could not put this book down. I loved it so much. It’s such a New York book (and made me mourn the days of fancy restaurants and big nights out), and it’s very fun to read while also touching on the really important stuff like sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and sexism. It was one of those books where once I got invested (early on), I literally could not stop reading. I can’t recommend it enough! I also think it is so interesting that the author still works in law but writes under a pseudonym.
- Overall Score: A
The One About Friendship
Big Friendship by Aminatou Sou and Ann Friedman
As a long time listener of Call Your Girlfriend, I was excited to read this book! I think one of the most interesting things about the book is the voice that Aminatou and Ann decided to use… it’s written entirely in third person! This is effective for so many reasons but I think the biggest thing is that it allows them to talk about their friendship in a really objective manner. The book itself was fascinating and deeply relatable. It’s the story of their “big friendship.” The good parts, the bad parts, and how they’ve gotten through the tougher times. I flew through it.
If you’re a listener of their podcast, you’ll love it because you’ll feel like you know them so much better after reading. (I really identified with Aminatou’s introvertedness – and her openness about it… she said a lot of things I’ve thought but been unable to articulate as eloquently!) And if you don’t listen to their podcast (you should!), I think you’ll still get a lot out of it as it’s an interesting story about their friendship and also a hard look at being a better friend. I also took away a lot from the chapter about having an interracial friendship and the nuances of that. Highly recommend it!
- Overall Score: A-
This Month’s Bad on Paper Pick!
The Comeback by Ella Berman
Oh I loved this book. There’s so much to talk about with this one. (TW: Sexual Abuse – it’s not graphic but wanted to disclose) Becca and I were in a reading “war,” over what our August book club pick would be and this was her pick and did not disappoint.
A young actress (Grace, great name) disappears from Hollywood mysteriously, at the height of her career (the night of the Golden Globes). When the book opens, we aren’t sure what’s happened to her or why she’s decided to leave behind what by appearances seems like the absolute dream. As the book alternates between modern day (living at home with her parents in Anaheim and eventually returning to LA) and the past, we learn the abuse and trauma she suffered at the hands of her famous director boss Able Yorke. We slowly learn what he did to her and how he managed to manipulate her for eight years, and how she moves on.
While Grace is not always likable (you see a lot of how what she endured impacts her relationship with her family, friends, and husband), you also understand why she did the things she did and you root for her, wanting her to thrive. I tore through this one and loved the mix of a thrilling page turner with the importance of the #MeToo movement and standing up for what is right. Similar to The Boys Club (another fav from the month), it weaves heavy issues into something unputdownable.
- Overall Score: A
Some Excellent Thrillers!
The Wife Stalker, by Liv Constantine
I am a big Liv Constantine fan (fun fact “Liv” is the pseudonym for sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine) and The Last Mrs. Parrish was one of those books I devoured in a single day (you can read my review of it here). I somehow missed that they released a new book (this!) in May. So was v excited about this. I devoured it in a day. I stayed up late reading it and then woke up to read it the next morning. There’s a fantastic twist that totally got me, too.
Piper Reynard moves to Westport, CT to set down roots and move on from a horrible tragedy. When she meets successful and handsome lawyer Leo Drakos, the wedding ring on his finger is just a minor obstacle. Meanwhile, Joanna has just seen Leo through a terrible depression. And is waiting for the man she fell in love with to return to her. Slowly he starts to come back to life… only to throw her out of the house and fall in love with Piper. Joanna returns to her mother’s home, told by Leo that she can still see the kids. She won’t let him go so easily though. And becomes determined to find something she can use against Piper… diving deeply into her past and unearthing terrible secrets as she does. I loved this book. It was a fast, fun read and I love that I didn’t guess the twist!
- Overall Score: A-
Allegedly, by Tiffany D. Jackson
OK I don’t even know what to say about this book because the last chapter is going to maybe haunt me forever? (TW: a baby is murdered, some violence). I had been asking you guys for recommendations for thrillers by Black authors and Tiffany D. Jackson kept getting suggested (I’ve ordered her other books too!). This did not disappoint.
Mary Addison is a Black girl who (allegedly) killed a (White) baby when she was nine years old. After serving six years in baby jail, she goes to a group home where all the odds are stacked against her. She faces social workers who could care less about her. Intense bullying and the women in charge of the group home turn a blind eye to it. She’s basically on her own with no support system (her churchgoing mother is untrustworthy), though she dreams of reopening the case against her… and taking the SAT’s to go to college. Now, she has her boyfriend Ted and has a baby on the way. But as a ward of the state (and given her history), the state is threatening to take her baby away.
I don’t want to ruin the plot for you but I will just say that this one has a Verity-like twist. It hit me over the head and SHOCKED me!
- Overall Score: A
They Wish They Were Us, by Jessica Goodman
Oh boy this is a good one. It’s a twisty, YA thriller… the perfect summer thriller, in my opinion! I stayed up all night reading it. It’s been compared to Gossip Girl meets One of Us is Lying, which is a pretty perfect description!
Jill Newman is a high school senior at Gold Coast Prep. She has it all: a full scholarship to one of the best prep schools in the country and is on track to head to likely Brown in the fall, a loving family, a handsome and smart boyfriend… and she’s a member of The Players: an elite (not so secret) society. Everything’s perfect except for the fact that her best friend Shaila Arnold was murdered three years ago. Her boyfriend at the time confessed to it and the case was closed. But three years later, Graham and his sister Rachel are insisting he’s innocent.
Jill is torn: open up old wounds, or move forward with that “perfect” senior year? The book alternates between past and present day as we get to know Shaila and some of the secrets she was hiding. And come to find out what really went down on the night of Shaila’s murder. I highly recommend this one – you won’t be able to put it down!
- Overall Score: A
A sweet, sad YA read
Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson
This was recommended to me by Elizabeth Acevedo when she came on the podcast. Published back in 2010 this is more of a children’s book than a YA adult. (I think? It says ages 10 and up on the back of the book.) I wanted to read it because a) it’s a big focus for me to read stories about people with different backgrounds than my own and b) Elizabeth Acevedo recommended it and she’s one of my favorite authors/someone I respect so much.
It’s told from the perspective of a 12 year old Black boy (Lafayette). His father died when he was just a baby. His mother died more recently (his 22 year old brother Ty’ree is raising them and working around the clock to try to keep the family together). And his formerly loving and sweet brother Charlie has just gotten home from reform school and is now hostile and cruel. The book is short but powerful and a testament to the importance of family and looking out for each other. One weekend, events unfold and the brothers must choose whether to be there for each other or give in. This one made me cry! It’s a fast read only 131 pages and larger text. Read it in an afternoon and then pass it along to someone younger!
- Overall Score: A-
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Photo by Allie Provost.