What I Read in April 2020

A funny thing happened to me this month. My friend Maria talked me into starting a book series she loves, and I happened to start the first book at the same time her sister Monica did. We decided to chat after we finish each book. Well, Maria has already read the books twice, Monica is flying through them at double my speed and all of a sudden, I’m the slacker in our reading group! That’s never happened before! So when I finish a book, we have a video call to discuss. It has been so fun. It’s different from book club because there’s no point to reading the books and chatting besides we like them and we want to.

I am loving how these two are pushing me. Not only to read faster, though that’s not exactly the issue. It’s about me not being the leader of the group this time, or the most avid reader. They’re teaching me about reading for the sheer pleasure, and I’m teaching them a little bit about how I review books. This has been one of the best things to come out of this quarantine period for m.

 

Group book chat

 

So that’s why you’re going to see a bunch of books on today’s list with similar covers and beard pun titles. (Honestly, I could do without the beard puns, they don’t suit the stories.) The writing is surprisingly complex. The books follow six brothers who live in Tennessee and the author does an incredible job of weaving different viewpoints and timelines together. While being funny and sweet books, they also tackle some heavy subjects such as organized crime, domestic violence, and mental illness. t’s been a joy to get lost in this world for a while.

I read a lot of great books this month, not all of them involving beards! I hope you can find a recommendation or two here that you enjoy as well!

What I Read in April 2020

 

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

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This is the first romance novel I’ve ever given 5 Stars! I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t read The Friend Zone first, so definitely do that. It’s a wonderfully done follow up, a beautiful story of grief and healing. The way music is tied in with the story is super cool and gives the reader another level of emotional investment.This was an emotional, satisfying read. I highly recommend this series for readers of romance looking for substance to the stories. 

Medallion Status by John Hodgeman

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My husband and I started this audiobook on our Christmas road trip, and finally got to finishing it while quarantined at home. Hodgeman’s writing is so sharp. His jokes are tight, he doesn’t mess around with extra words. His deadpan delivery makes this a must for listening to the audio book. He has a knack for observing things with an open mind and then describing them with sparse, literal language. Even when he’s making fun of his own privilege, it’s easy to feel sympathy for him because he’s a human like all of us. I highly recommend you read/listen to his first book Vacationland, and then this one.

All the Wrong Places by Joy Fielding

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This was my book club‘s April selection. I was surprised by how much we all liked it! It’s solid thriller with a high creep factor and interesting characters. The story follows four women, who are all connected in some way, as they navigate their romantic lives. There are a few scenes that were tough to stomach, but the book wasn’t nearly as violent overall as the beginning suggests it may be. I recommend this one for readers of thrillers and mysteries, and those who like to read about serial killers.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

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It’s important to note I listened to the audio book. I doubt I would have felt nearly the same about this novel if I had read a physical copy. This is not simply a thriller, and it’s much more than a missing girl story. I see this as a literary mystery. The writing is excellent. It did feel too long, there were side characters who gave input that seemed irrelevant to the story. It’s about family and grief, also about how things aren’t always as they appear on the surface, and most people are truly doing the best they can. I recommend this for readers of literary fiction, mysteries, and thrillers.

The Sundown Motel by Simone St James

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This was another selection for my book club. It’s a well written ghost story told through two alternating timelines, Viv’s story in 1982 and her niece’s in 2017. I  couldn’t wait to see how it ended. The writing is sharp and evokes vivid scenes.This was an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it for fans of mysteries, thrillers, ghost stories, and even fans of true crime.

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

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The first in The Winston Brothers Brothers series (7 books total.) While reading this, I kept texting my friend who highly recommended the series to me with my commentary. At one point I said “I’m swooning left and right over here,” and she replied, “It’s a real problem.” So be prepared for that! Overall, this was a fun read. This story is a reflection on the power of place, especially where your roots are, and of family. The writing is witty, the story’s compelling, but it felt too long and disjointed. I now realize that is mostly the author setting the groundwork for the rest of the series. I recommend this for fans of the romance genre.

 

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia and J Hope Stein

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I thought this book may not resonate with me because I don’t have children, and I was wrong. Mike’s reluctance to have a child, and his self awareness through the process of becoming a parent is relatable sheerly on a human level. As always, his story telling is top notch. Here, even more than ever, he is totally honest, even when it might make him look like a jerk. Mike’s essays alternate with his wife’s poetry and show their drastically conflicting perspectives through this process of becoming parents. I recommend this book for Birbiglia fans and well as those looking for an honest, funny take on parenthood.

I’d Give Anything by Maria de los Santos

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This is the first of this author’s novels that I didn’t LOVE, it. just wasn’t as solid as her others. The story flashes from past to present to give a beautiful backstory.  I felt there were unnecessary threads and side characters that didn’t add to the story and left me confused. However as always, this author left me feeling satisfied and hopeful. She’s so great at wrapping things up with hope, yet not making it unrealistic. The characters here are well developed and utterly human – another thing she excels at. Ultimately this is a novel about trust, secrets, forgiveness, and love of all kinds – family, romantic, and friendships – and how those relationships are affected by the decisions we make. I highly recommend it for her fans, as well as readers of literary fiction and family dramas.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

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Such an utterly charming novel! It reminded me a bit of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I cherished it from beginning to end and wanted more. Yes this is a young adult novel, and it’s a romance, but there is much more to it. The adults in Lina’s life play major roles, it felt more like a compelling family drama than a romance. The writing is witty and full of beautiful descriptors. I highly recommend this book for readers of YA, romance, and family drama fiction.

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

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There were parts of this I liked, and other parts that were horrible. One thing this book taught me is that I do NOT care for the trope of a heroine who is a virgin. It seems outdated, and gives her romantic relationship a creepy vibe. The virgin sex is always unrealistic. Like, big time. That’s especially the case here. This would make any woman who didn’t have three orgasms her first time feel like a failure and/or that her partner was doing something wrong. Plus, the virgin angle doesn’t possess the sex positivity I’ve come to appreciate so much in contemporary romance.  This story is also about family and finding your place as you grow older. While it had some redeeming points, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

American Zion by Betsey Gaines Quammen

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This is a truly epic read. It covers everything you could possibly want to know about the Bundy family and their battle against the federal government over public lands. Starting with Jospeh Smith and going all the way up to the Trump administration, the author weaves together threads that seem random but definitely aren’t. The middle of the book is pretty dense, though thewriting is sharp and she creates a narrative that flows well. Her opinions and experiences scattered throughout the book keep the story real, and remind us how recent these events are. I highly recommend this one for non-fiction readers, particularly those interested in the history of the west, and religion. It’s also a compelling read for conservationists, and lovers/users of public lands.

Grin and Beard It by Penny Reid

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Book two in The Winston Brothers Series. I enjoyed this book a great deal more than the first. This was a fun read, and the story has a lot of depth. This is a story about finding someone who sees you for you your truly are, not your labels or past actions. I will say there are times when the Southern culture and gender stereotypes in these books are a little jarring. Referring to a grown woman as “my girl” is a perfect example. However the author does address the power of culture, and she writes strong women who push back on that a little bit, which I appreciate. I definitely recommend this series for readers of romance-start with the first book. 

Beard Science by Penny Reid

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Book three in The Winston Brothers Series. It’s a more solid book than the others, because both lead characters are incredibly complex. And while you kind of know where this one is going from the start, it doesn’t take the route you expect. Cletus and Jennifer see each other in a way the rest of the world doesn’t. I know what it’s like to FINALLY find someone who “gets you” and Reid does an excellent job of capturing the process and emotions. The way the characters stories are woven together through each book is impressive. There’s a lot more skill here than generally acknowledged in the romance genre. And the humor is top notch, just like the previous books. I definitely recommend this series for readers of romance-start with the first book. 

The Hopes and Dreams of Libby Quinn by Freya Kennedy

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Advanced copy from NetGalley, expected publication May 5, 2020. This is a sweet story about grief and believing in yourself. Libby loved her Grandfather more than anything. Now it’s two years after his death and she’s living out his lifelong wish to own a book store. As is true to life, things don’t go according to Libby’s plan and she finds herself re-evaluating the rest of her life in relation to how important this store is to her. The setting of a small Irish town, with friendly neighboring business owners was quaint. I would recommend this book to readers who are looking for a light, easy read.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

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A powerful poetry collection commenting on race in America, feminism, pop culture, and stereotypes,  among other issues. Her writing is concise and vivid. A few lines really stunned me. I appreciate the raw honesty in her words. I recommend this for readers of contemporary poetry. 

 

Beard in Mind by Penny Reid

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Book four in The Winston Brothers series. this was a heavy one. The subject of mental health is portrayed with honesty. I appreciate how the subject of therapy is normalized too. Both of the characters had powerful journeys in this book, and it was a lot to take in as a reader. The humor is still there although not as blatant. This book happens on the same timeline as book three, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. It gives us in depth looks into the minds of the different characters and how they operate. I definitely recommend this series for readers of romance-start with the first book. 

 

 Dr. Strange Beard by Penny Reid

Book five in The Winston Brothers series. Overall, I’m loving this series. This book was a bit of a departure from the rest. The most significant is that the characters are in situations that are outside of their control. That fact took a bit of oomph out of the love story. I do appreciate how Reid is able to keep this series from feeling stale. I definitely recommend this series for readers of romance-start with the first book. 

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