I've still been reading a lot! I'm so happy to have something to talk about with friends, to be able to give book suggestions, and to connect with authors online because the internet is awesome.
If you missed my first two posts since I started reading again, here are the books I read in 2020, and here are the books I read in the first three months of 2021. These posts were retroactive, but I’m going to try to do them monthly in the future so they’re shorter and more frequent.
As for April, May, and June, I added more young adult novels, and some quick reads which was nice. The first two books I got in July are nonfiction, which takes longer.
Also I managed to read a LOT of books about witches. Some of the reviews I read criticize books for using certain tropes, but isn’t that why we choose certain genres? There are archetypes for a reason, and it’s not interesting to read about super powerful people who easily crush the marginalized. We already have that in real life.
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from my suggestions, I get a few cents from Jeff Bezos. Feel free to get them from the library or an independent bookstore! But if you’re ordering from Amazon anyway, I appreciate the extra grocery money. 😘 )
Nonfiction Books I Read This YearMediocre by Ijeoma Oluo This book was fascinating. I love Ijeoma Oluo anyway, but having her trace the history of mediocre white men explains so much about the world today. She tackles various topics such as laws, politics, higher education, and the workplace, and takes an intersectional view to discuss race, gender, and class. The conclusion isn’t that white supermacist colonial patriarchy is bad for women and people of color, but that it’s harmful to everyone, white men included. Highly recommended, especially for white people.
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown Austin Channing Brown’s parents gave her a white man’s name on purpose, but how did that affect her identity growing up? Let’s find out. This memoir of a Black woman in Christian, and often white, spaces shows us how various institutions approach racial injustice. Even when they try to get it right, they often do it wrong. I’m not religious, but I appreciated her perspective and reading about an experience I’ll never have.
The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman The text is available online, but it was a lovely treat to savor Amanda Gorman’s powerful poem from the 2021 presidential inauguration. Listening to her read it was wonderful, so I enjoyed being able to spend a little more time appreciating all the wordplay she included.
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene I’ve owned this book in paperback for several years but hadn’t read it. Finally I ordered the ebook from the library because my children kept moving my physical copy. It’s actually a quick read, and I felt so seen after reading parenting books where my kid simply doesn’t respond like the magical example child. Ross Greene outlines what he calls his “Plan B” approach to collaborative problem solving and it’s been really helpful. The book explains his main premise, “Kids do well when they can.” So if they’re not doing well, it’s not out of malice, it’s because they lack some skill that would allow them to do better. I’ve also heard good things about his book Raising Human Beings, but haven’t read it yet. You can also get a lot of information (and video examples) at livesinthebalance.org
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel This was a dense read, but interesting. Esther Perel has been working with couples for over 20 years, and she brings her clinical knowledge and many case studies to explain why modern marriage is so complicated. I took a lot of notes, not just for myself, but because I hear these issues come up with my own clients all the time. She makes a few snarky remarks about Americans since she’s European. Her main argument is that platonic friendships have declined, and marrying for love puts a lot of pressure on couples to perform multiple roles for each other. I don’t agree with all her advice, but I appreciated a lot of the examples of couples with children.
We Do This ’Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba My brain is having a hard time reading essay collections, but this book is very powerful. If you have a gentle parenting approach because you know that punishment doesn’t work, you should also be a prison abolitionist. Mariame Kaba, who I have followed online for years, lays out the issues with prisons, why they don’t work, and what possible solutions would be better. It’s not a simple fix, but what we have now certainly isn’t working. My biggest takeaway is that “abolition isn’t about your feelings.” Highly recommended.
The Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock With all the witchy fiction I’ve been reading, I threw in a nonfiction book, too! Arin Murphy-Hiscock is a fairly prolific author. Though she’s Wiccan, the book doesn’t require any particular spiritual belief, and could easily align with any spiritual practice. Green witchcraft is about “harmonizing” with nature, and the book explains various ways to do that. It’s a fairly entry-level text that goes broad versus deep. The book suggests a lot of flexibility, but that can be hard if you’re new to the practice. I had some mixed feelings about the focus on “harmony” in various areas, since that could be interpreted as peace being more valuable than justice which often requires disruption. Personally I found her writing style a bit tedious, but I learned a few things, too.
Young Adult, Fantasy, and Fiction BooksRemote Control by Nnedi Okorafor This Afrofuturist novella isn’t my favorite genre, but the story is really compelling and beautifully written. It’s so easy to play a movie of the book in my head as I read. Sankofa is a young girl with the sudden power of death. How did she get this strange power? Do people respect or fear her? Is it a gift or a curse?
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness The second book of The Book of Life trilogy does not disappoint. Each book has its own arc, but is also a piece of the larger story. A Discovery of Witches (which I listed in my previous post) is exposition and a love story. This book is the historical piece set in 17th century England and actually follows Diana and Matthew’s relationship as it develops. The author’s history background shows in her attention to detail, and it’s fun to follow the characters navigating a new time period.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness And then book 3! Back to the present, we get to wrap up the main storyline and learn the secrets of witches, vampires, and daemons. There’s science, young love, and new cultures to explore. Good times are had by most.
Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha Warning: The authors are still working on book 3, so don’t start this one unless you’re willing to wait for more books. If you want a complete set, start with their Beyond series based in the same world. Meet The Mercenary Librarians, a trio of post-apocalyptic badasses with access to a bunch of contraband 21st century data. Nina and company are hired for a job by Knox, hottie captain of a rogue troop of biologically enhanced soldiers. Hijinks ensue.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow I wanted to love this book a little more than I did, but it was still a good read. Witches are often simply women with information and power, and this book takes that idea and runs with it. Women in New Salem have a few small charms passed down from relatives, but they have to keep it on the downlow. Then three sisters reunite and get involved with the women’s suffrage movement. Apparently there are a lot of little literary easter eggs that I didn’t catch, and the feminist and racial themes aren’t subtle, but I enjoyed it.
A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan This one started slow for me, but it was an interesting premise. A seer sacrifices herself to protect her family so they can escape to a new life, and the other women carry on their tradition of rituals in secret. The book then follows what happens to the daughters of the family for several generations and how they keep and use their family secret.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab Be careful what you wish for… A young French woman in 1714 makes a deal in the darkness to escape an ordinary life, but doesn’t anticipate how that will work. She learns to survive, but yearns to actually leave proof of her existence on the world. It takes her 300 years to figure it out.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North It was a funny accident reading this right after Addie LaRue since they have some similarities. When Harry August dies, he just starts his life right over again from birth, but with all his memories intact. And he’s not the only one. When someone starts breaking the rules of the “Chronos Club” and messing up time, Harry has to stop them. It’s a clever twist on a Groundhog’s Day-type setup. It’s more modern and time travel-y than Addie LaRue, and poses some questions about the benefits and drawbacks of technology.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik Imagine if Hogwarts and the Hunger Games had a baby… and you were so powerful that you couldn’t actually use your magic without pretty much blowing everyone up. Oh, and magical creatures at the school are trying to kill you, but some jerk golden boy comes and rudely saves your life! This antihero young adult novel was a fun read as the protagonist navigates class issues while trying to save herself and her privileged classmates. The second book comes out this fall!
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith I really enjoyed this character-driven story of internal conflict and mental health. A therapist literally talks a man down off the side of a bridge and ends up taking him home to keep an eye on him. Both of them have secrets and a lot of healing to do as he agrees to stay for the weekend. Can they be honest with each other, and honest with themselves?
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters This book was fascinating. The author is a transwoman telling a story about trans folks, which is important. The amount of cultural information I learned from this book made parts of it feel like nonfiction. Reese and Amy were a couple, but they broke up and Amy decided to detransition. Now as Ames, he starts a relationship with his boss, Katrina, who gets pregnant. She isn’t sure she wants to be a single parent, but Ames isn’t sure he’s ready to be a father. Then he comes up with the idea of having Reese, who desperately wants to be a mother, get involved. I learned a lot from this book and really enjoyed the characters. The writing can be heavy-handed at times, and it was a slower read due to all the information packed in it. But it was definitely worth it, and spurred some great discussion with a friend who read it, too. If you read it, tell me when you’re done so we can talk about the ending!
Witchmark by C.L. Polk This is the first book of the Kingston Cycle, and I loved them. Miles Singer is a war veteran now caring for other veterans as a hospital physician, but everything changes when a strange man bursts in with a dying patient. Solving the mystery of his death will require Miles to come out of hiding and risk giving up the life he has built, but he may find even more on the other side. There’s an Edwardian feel to it with a monarchy, magic, and powerful women but in a patriarchal system. The plot is compelling without feeling overly complicated, and the love story is sweet. The author is nonbinary and the books have diverse characters.
Stormsong by C.L. Polk Book two of the Kingston Cycle follows Miles’s sister, Grace, and her transformation from privileged aristocrat to using her position to suss out corruption in the system. Can the monarchy be saved, or is letting it fail the just option? If only she weren’t so distracted by intriguing journalist, Avia Jessup…. The books are sequential in telling a through story, but each follows a different protagonist. I wasn’t sure I would like that since Miles was so fun in the first book, but I ended up enjoying the different perspectives.
Soulstar by C.L. Polk Book three wraps up the trilogy from the perspective of Robin Thorpe, a nurse who worked with Miles at the hospital turned revolutionary. When the horrific truth of Aeland’s energy source is discovered, Robin must choose between helping Grace and keeping her own family safe. When an old flame reappears after 20 years and Robin is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, the stakes are even higher. So many fantasy books skirt around the big bad monarchy, so I love how this trilogy tackles it head on. A little revolution plus family drama make for an adventure.
Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova I loved the Hollow Crown duology. Sometimes I make the mistake of reading other reviews and question my own, but I just really love to read which can make it hard to be critical unless something is truly bad. The characters were well-developed, their relationships were layered, and the plot moved well. Renata Convida is part of a persecuted group of magic-wielders who was kidnapped and turned into a weapon as a child. Now part of the Whispers, a rebel group, she still isn’t accepted or trusted, except by Dez, their young leader. When Dez is kidnapped, she attempts to rescue him. When things go sideways she’s forced to confront her traumatic past in order to gain access to the palace and survive.
Illusionary by Zoraida Cordova Book two brings us the unlikely duo of Renata and her mortal enemy, Prince Castian, on the run from both the monarchy and the rebels. Ren must face her own past in order to use her powers without destroying herself, but she worries that her memories may destroy her anyway. There are some fun twists and surprises, and more great characters. I love that it’s only two books because I don’t have to wait for a third, but I was sad that there wasn’t more to read about them!
Uprooted by Naomi Novik The same author of A Deadly Education also wrote these fantasy riffs based on Polish folklore. Agnieszka lives in a valley near the Wood, a dark place full of monsters. But the villagers’ biggest fear is when The Dragon, a wizard who protects the valley, comes to take a girl every 10 years to serve in his tower. Luckily for her, everyone knows that Kasia will be his choice that year. Unluckily for her, everyone is wrong. Agnieszka is scared, but learns she has more power than she thought. I have a few minor complaints about it, but I did enjoy the book.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik The premise had me nervous at first -- a Jewish family of moneylenders is doing poorly because the father is terrible at his job. So his daughter, Miryem, takes it upon herself to collect the debts and is successful. (Yikes, Jewish moneylenders? Really? Then it talks about how they’re treated and it isn’t cringey after all.) But her newfound power to “turn silver into gold” catches the ear of the terrifying king of the mythical, murderous Staryk. In her quest to survive, two other young women become involved, each trapped in their own way. The three women have to discover how to use their limited powers to be free.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson Stevie Bell loves true crime, but high school, not so much. Unbeknownst to her conservative parents, she applies, and is accepted, to the mysterious Ellingham Academy in Vermont. Each student enrolled has a particular focus, and Stevie’s is a cold case from just after the school opened when founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and 3-year-old daughter were kidnapped. But then there’s a new murder. Are the cases connected? Can she solve them both? It’s a fun young adult mystery thriller, and a fast read.
The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson Stevie was collecting clues about the Ellingham murders when her parents pulled her out of the school for her own safety. Then her parents’ boss, conservative politician Edward King, talks them into letting her go back. The caveat? She has to make sure his son, David, stops trying to get himself expelled. Navigating teen feelings, school, and murders old and new is a lot for Stevie, but she’s willing to try.
The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson Three people are now dead, but Stevie Bell has finally solved the decades-old Ellingham murder case. With a massive snowstorm heading toward the Vermont campus prompting an evacuation, Stevie needs the help of her friends to put together the details that link the recent deaths with the cold case she came to solve. There’s a fourth book, The Box in the Woods, that was just released in June and has Stevie solving her first case away from Ellingham, but it’s not available at my library yet.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen After some cliffhangers, this was a change of pace for my brain. A straightforward romance with a magical twist, Claire Waverly is content to live in her grandmother’s house and run her catering company, known for using ingredients from her magical garden. Then her estranged sister, Sydney, shows up at her door with a 5-year-old in tow, and her solitary life is interrupted. She’s also thrown off by a cute new neighbor who seems unaffected by her magic casseroles that are supposed to make him lose interest in her. Predictable in a comforting way, and a content warning for domestic violence early in the book.
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen Claire and Sydney Waverly are happily settled after Garden Spells, but Sydney’s teenage daughter, Bay, is not. Her magical gift is knowing where things (and people) belong, and her inability to make things right is upsetting her. Claire has found sudden large-scale success making candy, but she’s torn between financial success and happiness. Sydney is struggling to feel settled, but isn’t sure what she really needs. And who is the mysterious man in the gray suit?
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen Julia came back to the small town she grew up in for two years to run her father’s barbecue restaurant. She’s 18 months in to her goal of paying off the debt, selling the restaurant, and heading back north to open a bakery. Next door, teen Emily Benedict has moved in with her reticent grandfather after the death of her mother. No one will tell her why her mother left, or what the mysterious lights are in the backyard. But wait! There are cute boys involved, both with a complex family history. When the truth comes out, what will happen?
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah This book came highly recommended, and it’s good, but intense. Elsa had a hard childhood, and she loved to escape into her books. Then families collide in small Texas towns and she ends up marrying Rafe Martinelli. She learns to love their farm and his parents, but the Great Depression comes, and soil erosion turns their lives into literal dust. Elsa’s life has been a series of tough choices, including taking her children to California and trying to survive. I felt like there was so much development of how hard things were that the ending wrapped it all up too quickly, but it was also hard to put down. Not a light, happy tale, though.
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk I’ve always been able to predict plots pretty well, even surprising ones, and this one had me guessing until the very end! It’s Beatrice Clayborn’s time to be presented as an eligible bride for Bargaining Season, but her society’s rules demand that once married, she must wear a collar that prevents her from practicing magic. She secretly schemes for a way to escape her fate, though her debt-ridden family is counting on a good match to save them. On her quest, she runs into the Lavan siblings, one of whom has the same idea as Beatrice. Can they achieve their goals of personal freedom, or can they change the very rules of society for sorceresses everywhere?
How About Your List?
Have you been reading, too? It's great for self-care, especially if you feel like you're doomscrolling too much. Our library just re-opened for in-person visits, which my oldest child declared "The best day of [his] entire life."
The middle kiddo reserved that for our second visit where he got his very own library card. Here are my library tips in case you need them.
Check back for my next update of July reads! And send me your recommendations, or if you want me to read something and report back.