Okay guys, I'm getting back in the swing of things here. I was seriously slacking on reading for awhile, but I had a 10-day break from school and then and 18 hours of drive time to and from Tennessee to get some reading in for August and I managed to finish 7 books. All of them were hits except for the very last one. Read on to see what I read and what I thought!
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
I need to start by saying wow. This book had me in actual tears at the end.
The story follows a cast of characters in the quiet neighborhood of Oak Knoll. Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor at the local college, and her biracial son Xavier try to welcome the Whitmans, new residents of the neighborhood... that is, until Valerie's beloved oak tree begins to die due to construction of the Whitman's new home. But that doesn't stop Xavier and the Whitman's very white daughter, Juniper, from falling in love. What ensues is a story of revenge and heartbreak and injustice, one that had me wanting to throw up when I got to that part and had me raging throughout the last half and had me crying over the last few pages.
I feel that this book hit me so hard emotionally that it's hard to articulate my full feelings on this stunning novel. I only regret that it took me so long to get around to reading it.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
This historical fiction novels intertwines the stories of Hannie Gossett, a former slave still working at Goswood Grove Plantation and longing for her lost family, and Benny Silva, the new English teacher in town who’s living in a rented old house on the Goswood Grove property. The chapter alternate between Hannie’s life in 1875 as she follows her master’s daughters on a mission to find him and Benny’s life in 1987 as she tries to navigate the trials of a low-income school and the people who hold control over it.
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and this novel has the back and forth style that I love to see. The story was truly so rich with historical facts since the author utilized actual Lost Friends columns that were published in the “Southwestern” following emancipation so that people could find their missing loved ones. I’m glad this was my 52nd book of the year (finishing out my Goodreads 2020 goal)!
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Alexa Monroe is a short, curvy Black girl working as the chief of staff for the Berkeley mayor. Drew Nichols is your typical California boy with a speciality in pediatric surgery in LA. When Drew ends up in San Francisco for the wedding of his ex-girlfriend and Alexa goes to meet her sister to celebrate her recent promotion to partner of a New York law firm, the elevator goes out, leaving Drew and Alexa stuck together and a plan for Drew to bring Alexa as his fake girlfriend to the wedding that weekend. The romance that follows is anything but fake.
I've seen this series splashed all over Instagram and for GOOD REASON. This first novel in the Wedding Date series blew me away. I literally started it at 4 a.m. and read straight through in a matter of four or five hours. I could not put this down. The writing was amazing — I could feel the angst and indecision of both characters as they try to navigate their unexpected relationship. And those steamy scenes? Hell. Yes. I would have to say that this was probably one of the best romances I've ever read and I can't wait to dive into the following books.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
The second book in “The Wedding Date” series, this novel takes supporting character Carlos from the first book and puts him center stage with Nik, a freelance writer who was proposed to by her boyfriend of five months on the JumboTron at a Dodgers game... she did not accept THAT rose. Carlos and his sister save Nik from the oncoming camera crew and go out to drinks with her and friends after. The following days bring about the start of their FWB relationship, but how long can that last until one of them falls in love? And what happens when one of them does?
I can’t really add anything more here that I didn’t already say in my review of The Wedding Date. Writing is still amazing and I’ve already started the third book which I will have probably finished in a day or so. I'm sure it will be the next review on this post!
The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
And here is that next review!
This time around, we're focused on Alexa's best friend, Maddie, and Alexa's co-worker, Theo. They've hated each other from the start, but when Alexa and Drew get back together at Theo's birthday party and leave Maddie behind, something starts to form between the two of them... and that something is a friends-with-benefits deal that they've said will only last them until Alexa's wedding, though keeping it from her will be hard when she's asked both of them to be in the wedding party.
Again, I can't really say anything new about these books other than I love them and they're such a great escape to slip into for a few hours. I was happy to see an enemies-to-lovers trope as those are probably my favorite ones to read. There's just so much more tension than your standard two strangers meet and fall in love story.
I already have the next two books checked out from the library and I can't wait to get to them in September.
Kindness and Wonder by Gavin Edwards
This book follows the life of everyone's favorite neighbor, Mister Rogers. Edwards details his life from his childhood all the way up until his death, including the beginning of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (actually Children's Corner) in Pittsburgh all those years ago. The last third of the book also has chapters on ten ways that you can live like Mister Rogers with anecdotes about how Mister Rogers himself really embodied those characteristics on and off the screen.
You can't hate a book about Mister Rogers, you just can't. This, for me, was a great insight into the beginnings of his life and career as well as a great behind-the-scenes look about the metamorphosis of the show and its mission. I remember watching Mister Rogers as a kid although it wasn't the main programming by the time I was really into watching afternoon TV. I loved that I got to learn more and more about him as the book went on — there were some stories that even made me cry. While I really enjoyed the book, I wouldn't say it was a groundbreaking piece of writing or anything, hence the 4 stars rating.
The Margot Affair by Sanaë Lemoine
So I was actually supposed to read this book in July for Literary League but I've been a bit behind recently because of school and getting married and having a toddler. But the story itself didn't really help me along either...
This debut novel focuses on Margot, the daughter of semi-famous stage actress Anouk Louve and famous politician Bertrand Lapierre. She's in her last year of the French equivalent of high school and is navigating not only her final exams, but the feelings of needing her father to publicly claim her. She also grapples with trying to find a mother-figure in the story as Anouk is pretty absorbed in her work and mostly leaves Margot to her own devices.
I'll be honest — I did not love this book. I didn't even like this book. The pacing was absolutely glacial to me, and I didn't see the point. Maybe I'm missing some big part of the story here and I'm not interpreting the meaning right, but Margot really comes off as a lost teenager looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places. Her relationships with her best friend Juliette and with journalists David and Brigitte really threw me as they were weird and atypical. I wanted to like this book and see some deeper meaning in it, but I couldn't and it just fell flat for me.
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Another slower reading month, but summer classes don't wait for anyone so I'm happy with what I did read this month! Now that I'm finishing up my final summer class on the 7th, I'll have some time (10 days, to be exact) to sit and read to my little heart's content. But for now, read on to see what I read in July and my thoughts on each book!
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Due to the controversy surrounding this book, I am choosing not to review it, only to mark that I read it in July.
The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
This novel is the first in Williams's Prohibition-era series and goes back and forth between 1924 New York City and 1998 New York City. The timeline in 1924 follows Geneva Rose Kelly, also known as Ginger, or Gin, for her red hair. She's the stepdaughter of Duke Kelly, the now notorious Maryland bootlegger that the Prohibition agents are trying to bring down. Agent Oliver Anson is trying to use Ginger as the path to bringing down Duke once and for all. 1998 focuses on Ella Gilbert, newly separated from her cheating husband and now living at 11 Christopher Street, the same apartment inhabited by Ginger over 70 years ago.
This is the second novel I've read by Beatriz Williams and I was really looking forward to it since I loved THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT so much (review here). The novel is set up similarly in that it follows two storylines in different time periods, though this didn't have the connections that Violet Grant had. I honestly didn't see the purpose in Ella's storyline other than the fact that she lived in the same apartment as Ginger and was falling in love with Hector, the grandson of Bruno, a musician that played at the speakeasy in the basement next door. There was also the brief introduction with the idea of ghosts living in said speakeasy, but nothing was expounded upon.
Ginger's story was definitely the more interesting one in this novel, though I am going to read the sequel so maybe Ella and Ginger's stories will intertwine further. One aspect I did like about the novel was that it pulled in characters from Violet Grant. Vivian Schuyler, one of the main characters of that novel, is the aunt of Ella in THE WICKED CITY, and Pepper, Vivian's sister, is Ella's mom. Julie Schuyler also makes an appearance in both the 1924 and 1998 storylines. I looked more into it and a lot of the characters have overlap throughout Williams's novels. I'm excited to see how the come together further as I read through more of her works.
Sacred Duty by Tom Cotton
This nonfiction work is a focus on the famous Arlington National Cemetery written by former Army and Old Guard soldier and now Arkansas senator Tom Cotton. It gives an inside look at the cemetery and specifically the Old Guard and their various duties and divisions. It even goes into the history of the Old Guard and the history of the Army in the U.S. as well which were, to me, some of the most interesting parts. The section that focused on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was one of the best parts of the book. I also found myself tearing up at times when he talked about some of the funerals he was apart of and I almost cried full on tears when Cotton detailed the final walk of Sergeant Jeffrey Dickerson in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. What an incredibly emotional moment to end your watch as your family and those visiting the cemetery look on.
While this did have very interesting parts and even some emotional ones, I, along with the rest of the true story book club I'm apart of at my local library, felt that the writing was very repetitive and dry throughout the novel. As one of the men in the discussion said, it was like a long action report. Cotton discusses the various uniforms and their care too many times for my liking. It's all apart of the incredible care that the soldiers apart of the Old Guard take but I definitely think detailing it once was more than enough for readers to get the picture. I also thought that if I read the words "buff strap" one more time, I was going to scream.
Overall, this was an interesting look into some of the history and procedures of the soldiers part of the famous Old Guard but could definitely have been shorter with the removal of very repetitive parts and wording throughout. It piqued my interest in the cemetery and I would like to visit now as well as continue to learn more about it.
The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams
(forgot to take a photo before returning to the library lol)
I want to first formally apologize to my library for this book being SO overdue. But anyways... this book is a continuation of THE WICKED CITY which I read earlier this month. The story continues on with both Ginger and Ella's storylines. Ginger and Anson have made it safely to Florida and Ella finds out she is pregnant. Their stories move forward from there, both within a few days time, it seems.
I won't give away much information here as I don't want to spoil parts for those who haven't read the first book yet, so I'll keep this one short and sweet. I do really enjoy Willliams's writing. She writes historical fiction in a way I really enjoy, and timelines that run from the '20s to WWII are really interesting to me because I understand a lot of the larger worldly contexts surrounding them. That being said, though I enjoyed the writing, I felt the ending just left too much to be interpreted. I wanted a cleaner and clearer wrap-up to Ginger and Ella's stories and, unfortunately, this book didn't offer that. I'm hoping maybe I can get more of an insight into what happens to Ginger post-THE WICKED REDHEAD when I read ALONG THE INFINITE SEA, which focuses on Pepper Schuyler, Ella's mother. I will be sure to update once I get around to reading that!
When you see my next for another reviews post, I'll be Halle Rowley 🤭
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