Recent Reads, August 2022

I think I normally read more in August, because of the summer weather and my obsession with reading on the patio. But with the trip to Charleston and some extreme exhaustion, I’ve been leaning into the Netflix a little harder than usual. But I read some really really good books this month that I’m really excited to share.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

I had heard that this book was dark, and that isn’t wrong at all, but it’s dark in a different way than I imagined. Frida is a divorced mother of a young child, Harriet. In a moment of stress and exhaustion, Frida leaves Harriet alone at home for too long, and when she comes back and the police are there, Frida is sent to what is essentially a governmental reform camp for “bad mothers.” If she is able to reform and become a “good mother,” Frida will be reunited with Harriet when her time is up; otherwise, her parental rights will be terminated. It’s a really dark look at the judgments that come along with being a woman and a mother, and while this seems like something that could never happen now, it’s set in present time and doesn’t feel out of place at all. This is not a light or cheery book in any way, but it was very, very good.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

I loved this book. I actually started it once earlier in the summer and couldn’t quite get into it, but I got hooked quickly this time around. Luli Wei is a young Chinese American girl who lives in Hungarian Hill but wants nothing more than to be a big-name actress in old-school Hollywood – and she’s willing to do anything to make her dreams come true. Her story is split between interjections from present-day Luli, and past Luli as we watch her life play out and see how she becomes a star. In Luli’s Hollywood, the “magic” of the silver screen is very real, and it’s ancient, and it often requires sacrifice – which Luli is more than willing to go along with when she’s young and starting out. It’s kind of hard for me to describe this book well – nothing I’m saying gets across how truly excellent this book is!

Central Places by Delia Cai

I got this as an ARC through NetGalley – it will be published on January 31, 2023. This is another one that I really loved – it’s a great story about coming home and finding yourself after being away for years. Audrey moved to New York City as soon as high school ended and left the old version of herself behind. Audrey of now hasn’t been home in years, hasn’t kept in touch with any of her friends from high school, and has a high-pressure New York City job and a NYC born-and-bred fiance. But when Audrey agrees to go home between Christmas and New Years to introduce her fiance to her family and help her father as he gets a minor medical procedure, she has trouble making the new version of herself fit into her old life at home. And being at home (and running into her unrequited high school crush) makes her wonder if her changes were actually all for the better. She has to decide which version of herself she really wants to be. It feels achingly relatable in many ways and I sped through it.

Bad Vibes Only by Nora McInerny

I got this as an ARC through NetGalley – it will be published on October 11, 2022. Nora is one of my favorite internet follows because her voice is so unique, and her book really does have the same tone. Reading her book kind of felt like having a conversation with a good friend – lots of bopping around topics, but reading about all the same things that you talk to friends about. Nora talks about what it’s like to be alive right now – and what her life was like growing up – but talks about it all in a very honest, raw, and funny way. While Nora has certainly had many life experiences that I haven’t, it felt so incredibly relatable.

The Making of Her by Bernadette Jiwa

(Content warning: adoption) I got this book as an ARC through NetGalley. I liked this book, but didn’t love it. It’s split between Joan in the 1990s (current day) where she’s a married woman and a mother, and Joan in the 1960s where she’s a young woman and meeting her husband. Joan of today has everything that she didn’t have growing up – namely, money and stability – and her life seems perfect on the surface. But as more and more of Joan’s past is revealed, we learn that she had a child who she gave up for adoption years ago – and that child has just decided to reach out, but Joan and her husband have very different ideas on what they should do. The book was fine, but some of it just felt a little too predictable.

Mothered by Zoje Stage

I got this book as an ARC through NetGalley – it will be published on March 1, 2023. I typically love Zoje Stage’s books – she’s a master of the psychological thriller. This one was just not my favorite of hers, though. Grace is living through a pandemic (not COVID specifically, but not unlike COVID!) when her newly-widowed mother comes to live with her. Grace and her mother have never exactly gotten along, but Grace has hopes that this time together may let them fix their issues. Soon after her mother moves in, though, Grace starts to have dreams so intense that she starts to confuse dreams and reality, and she even starts to dream about her disabled sister who died when they were children. Then Grace’s mother accuses her of something that happened years ago, and in trying to figure out if it happened or not, her grip on reality starts to slip even more. I loved the confusion, but there was some “disabled kid” plot that I just didn’t love. Zoje is disabled herself, so I don’t think she did anything wrong by writing it – just wasn’t exactly for me.

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