What I Read in May 2020
I finished nineteen books in May, the most of any month so far this year. That brings my total of books read to 83. According to GoodReads, I’m 34 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal of 120 this year.
When I set that goal back in January, I was concerned I was being too ambitious. I planned to do a lot of writing this year, and that cuts into my reading time. But of course this year has been everything but predictable. In the first weeks of the COVID crisis, I did nothing but read. Well…read and worry. I hardly slept or showered. I was finishing a book a day.
As I’ve settled into what I’m calling our New Normal, I’m not only still reading a ton, I’m writing more than I have in a while, plus I’ve managed to be consistent with my blogging. I’ve realized this is because I have very few obligations compared with my life “before.” While I’m still meeting with my writing partner and seeing my therapist, both are virtual. I’m only doing the things I truly want to be doing. This eliminates commuting, running errands, and social events I wasn’t all in for. The errands I do run are scheduled and strategic, to avoid unnecessary stops and wasted time.
The “problem” with reading so many books per year is I encounter a lot of duds. The books I post here are the ones I finish, not including the ones I quit. The bar is pretty high for an amazing read. So pay attention to my star ratings this month, there are several two star reads I don’t recommend. If it’s got four or five stars, it is definitely worth your time!
Here’s a summary of my reading in May 2020.
Beard With Me by Penny Reid
Book six in The Winston Brothers series. Overall, I’m loving this series. This book is a departure from the others, yet it works well. This is a rough book. There are some brutal acts described, though they aren’t terribly graphic. It’s more emotionally brutal. The important thing about this book is how it informs the series so far. Now that I’ve read about the characters as kids, everything about them makes SO MUCH SENSE. I definitely recommend this series for readers of romance-start with the first book (Truth or Beard).
Beard Necessities by Penny Reid
Book seven in The Winston Brothers series.This series has been an intense emotional rollercoaster. I appreciate how this book wrapped up the series. It wasn’t simple, with everything tied up easily or neatly. One of the things I love about this series is how realistically they portray relationships of all kinds, though particularly the complexity of romanic relationships. They are hard work, even when the partners love each other deeply, and this story shows that even more than the others. I definitely recommend this series for readers of romance-start with the first book (Truth or Beard).
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
I almost quit 30% in because I didn’t like the dishonesty component of this story. Thankfully, it ended up being an enjoyable reading experience overall. Naledi is an orphan who was raised in the foster system. She’s worked hard to become a successful grad student. Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, searching for the woman he believes to be his soul mate. Their stories weave together as a exploration of place and what is means to find ones roots. I recommend this one for readers of romance.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Biggest disappointment of 2020 here! This isn’t a bad book. It was slooooow and not as advertised in the title/cover/blurb. Yes it’s about a book club in the South and yes there is a vampire-esque chracter. There’s not a ton of action. There’s not even much paranormal activity for that matter. It’s there, and there are some well done grotesque scenes, but the majority of the book just plods along. Bahni Turpin’s narration of the audio book was spectacular and likely made the story a lot more entertaining than a physical read would have been. I can’t say I’d recommend this one.
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
I’m shocked by how disappointing this novel is, considering how much I enjoyed the author’s other two. The writing here is not great, it’s weak, and it reads like a first draft. The story is sweet and interesting though. The characters are fairly developed and relatable. Our protagonist is a widow raising her two daughters, and struggling to adjust to life a few years after her husband died. I listened to the audio book, and the narration wasn’t great which amplified the weak writing. I say skip this one. If you loved Waxman’s other novels and really want to try this one, go with a physical copy..
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
This was slow to start and it took a while for me to get into it. Once Leon and Tiffy start exchanging notes, I started to enjoy it. The flat sharing concept is unique and well done. I appreciate how they got to know each other through writing notes, it a genuine and sweet way for them to connect. I’ve come to realize I like my romance novels to have a little heaviness and this one does the job well. The author addresses domestic violence fairly well. As a whole, this is a charming novel, I recommend it for romance readers as well as general fiction readers.
Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon
Read with Kindle Unlimited. What a fun, sweet romance! The writing is pretty simple, which is the main reason I’m not giving it more stars. However, that made it a fast, easy read that I finished in two sittings! As a fairly recent convert to the romance genre myself, I liked how Rex came around from his snarky judgement of romance novels. The way Jordan sticks to his guns was inspiring. Watching he and Rex come together was fun. The story has just enough steam and the characters’ personal journeys are wonderful to follow. I recommend it for all romance readers.
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Ann Fowler
Best novel of the year so far! This book ripped my heart out and stomped all over it. It’s going to haunt me for a long time. What an incredibly well done drama. This story is about two neighboring families, whose teenage children fall in love, a black boy and a white girl. The author explores everything about race, class, and privilege that I could imagine. The characters are extremely well developed. The story is a slow burn, the tension building gradually from the first page. The writing flows well, as it follows multiple characters. I highly recommend this one for readers of literary fiction.
A Taste of Sage by Yaffa S. Santos
Advanced copy from NetGalley, published May 19, 2020 This is a solidly meh romance. If it wasn’t a book from NetGalley, I would have quit at 20%. The premise is interesting, the female protagonist can feel the emotions of the person who prepared a food item, just by tasing it. I felt no emotional connection to the story or characters. What could have been a stunning plot line, falls flat here. The romance portion felt forced, there wasn’t the usual build and anticipation between the characters. I say skip this one, there are too many other great romances out there.
The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness by Sarah Ramey
Hands down one of the most powerful and important memoirs I’ve ever read. This is the author’s story of over a decade spent trying to get help from medical professionals for chronic pain, fatigue, and a variety of other symptoms. The book is so much more than a memoir, it’s a guidebook for other women in similar situations (there are thousands of us) and a call to action for the medical community. The writing is brutally honest, poetic at times, and loaded with research. This is a must read for any woman suffering from a chronic illness. I also recommend it for readers of memoir and medical stories.
The Holdout by Graham Moore
This is a tense, compelling literary thriller. We alternate between current day, when defense attorney Maya is arrested for murder after a dead body is found in her hotel room, and ten years prior when Maya was a juror on a world famous case that may have acquitted a guilty man. Themes of race and class are strong, as well as issues of domestic violence and pedophilia. The characters are complex and I enjoyed the ways they interacted with each other. The writing is strong and the author is skilled at creating tense scenes. I recommend this one for general fiction readers as well as those who enjoy legal thrillers and mysteries.
The New Girl by Harriet Walker
Advanced copy from NetGalley, published May 19, 2020. Meh. This one just didn’t land for me. The blurb makes it sound like a twisty thriller, using the phrase “whiplash-paced,” which I strongly disagree with. It’s a suspenseful story for sure, but most of the “tension” between the characters made me roll my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’ve never held a powerful job or wanted to have a baby. The characters made decisions that created their distress and then didn’t take responsibility for those choices. I kept reading because I did want to know what happened, but I don’t recommend it.
Meet Cute by Helena Hunting
I’m learning I like my romance novels to have some heaviness alongside the love story. This one definitely delivers. I found some of the legal stuff hard to believe (ethics wise) but otherwise this is a lovely story. It’s not as cutesy as the cover and blurb lead you to believe. There are heavy topics of tragic loss and grief. Yet also, the message that family can be what you make it, and not necessarily what you’re given at birth. I highly recommend this one for readers of the genre.
Poll Dancer by Laura Heffernan
Advanced copy from NetGalley, expected publication June 15, 2020 This title, cover, and blurb were the perfect trifecta! Mel is a pole dance fitness instructor who loses her job after a conservative politician sees her viral video. When Mel realizes he’s running unopposed for a vacant state senate seat, she decides to run against him. It’s a compelling story with a strong sex-positive female protagonist. The writing is pretty simple and the story felt rushed at times, but it was still an enjoyable read overall. It didn’t always go in the direction I predicted. I recommend for romance readers, and those looking for something different with a strong feminist viewpoint.
The Storytelling Cody by Dana Norris
Advanced copy from Calisto Publishing Group, published May 5, 2020 This short book is gives ten rules to follow in story-telling. While this is geared toward the verbal story, everything can be applied to written stories. In fact, the author advises writing at least a first draft of any story you wish to tell, even if you’ll be delivering it verbally. There are exercises throughout the book to help you practice the rule being addressed. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to be a better storyteller in any form.
Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talie Hibbert
How cool to see a female protagonist with fibromyalgia! It felt like a fair representation of life with chronic pain and fatigue. Both characters’ back stories could have been a little tighter and have more depth. Red’s especially was pretty vague for most of the book. Both of them had to truth themselves again, as well as others, which I found relatable. This is a charming romance, very cutesy in spots which I love. I recommend this for readers of romance, and for anyone interested in a portrayal of life with fibromyalgia.
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
This didn’t wow me, but it was still an enjoyable read. I love learning about the history of the circus, and “curiosity” collectors. This story is fascinating and combines science with myth nicely. This is a mystery that closes the line between fact and folklore. I recommend this novel for those who enjoy historical fiction, particular of the Victorian period, and readers who want a little supernatural spin on their stories.
Crushing It by Lorelei Parker
This is a super cute story about a female video game developer who needs to overcome her fear of public speaking in order to give a big presentation on her company’s new fame at a big conference in Germany. Sierra is a wonderful protagonist and I adored her. The main focus of the book is a ten year old grudge she has been holding. At first that was annoying, but ultimately was a fascinating look at how we deal with our pasts. This was a quick, fun read, I recommend it for romance readers.
Recipe For a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
What a wonderfully put together novel! This was an enjoyable read from start to finish. We alternate timelines between Alice in 2018 who has just moved to the suburbs with her husband and is unsure of her path in life, and Nellie, in the 1950’s. Alice finds one of Nellie’s cookbooks when moving in, and as she explores it, she learns about the woman who lived there so long ago. Both women’s stories are fascinating, complicated, and relatable. There’s an element of suspense as well that is woven in nicely. I recommend this for readers of literary fiction and historical fiction.
What’s the best thing you read in May?