Recent Reads, April 2024

We’re now in my favorite season of the year – patio reading season! I’ve been having the best time taking a book outside with me for a lunchtime coffee and reading break – it just puts me in the best mood. And I had a great reading month book-wise, too – I loved all of these! Here’s everything I read over the last month.

Funny Story by Emily Henry

Emily Henry never misses for me – I loved this book so much. Daphne unexpectedly finds herself living with a new roommate, Miles, after her fiance and his girlfriend leave them to be together. They both are living separate lives within the apartment until they each receive a wedding invitation to their exes upcoming wedding, get outrageously drunk together, and Daphne RSVPs yes to the wedding… saying that she’s going with Miles, who she’s now together with. Fake dating (or really, “fake” dating) ensues, as Daphne and Miles start to slowly warm up to each other and Daphne starts to build connections in a town where her whole community had been connected to her ex. As always, my favorite thing about Emily Henry’s stories is that there’s a lot of real-life things in the plot – struggles and baggage – separate from the romance.

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

The Hakawati begins as a sort of modern day version of Arabian Nights, with the request to tell stories to win someone over, but quickly becomes so much more. Past and present become interwoven – Osama returns to his home because his father is dying, and is reminded of the stories that he learned from his grandfather, who was a hakawati, or storyteller. The personal stories merge with classic Middle East stories and history, and the story itself is about the power of stories, and about family, and identity, and trauma. It was beautiful, but a bit long – it was close to 500 pages, and felt like it dragged at some points.

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

This book is so incredible – dark, and surreal, but also feels like a version of a dystopia that absolutely could come to pass. In this book, prison inmates can “choose” to take part in Criminal Action Penal Entertainment (CAPE), where the contestants are pitted against each other and fight to the death on the popular program Chain-Gang All-Stars. Two of the most beloved contestants, Loretta Thurwar and Hurricane Staxx, are both teammates and lovers, though Thurwar will be free in just a few matches if she continues her winning streak (and if CAPE doesn’t throw new obstacles in her way). The way this book puts the real US prison system under a microscope is so impressive – there are both fictional and non-fictional footnotes throughout the book that really underscore how much of this is already happening here now.

Only and Forever by Chloe Liese

The last Bergman Brothers book!! This was the perfect end to the Bergman’s story, as sad as I am to not have more stories about spending time at the a-frame to look forward to. Viggo has always been the most chaotic of all the Bergmans, but this time he’s been able to be quiet about something in his life – the romance bookstore that he’s working on opening. But he’s possibly overcommitted himself, and could really use an extra set of hands. And his sister’s friend, Tallulah, could really use some help with the book she’s writing – so they offer a trade in time and services. Tallulah is the opposite of everything Viggo’s romance-loving heart should want… or is she? Viggo has to learn that sometimes, love looks a little bit different in real life than it does on the pages of his favorite books.

My Name is Barbra by Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand’s memoir is an epic book – I listened to the audiobook version, and it was 48 hours long; I think the physical book was over 1,000 pages. I’m only a casual Barbra fan – I don’t know that I’ve actually ever seen any of her movies, but I have certainly heard her sing and know of her. All of this is to say that I came into this book without knowing much about her life at all, and now I feel like an expert! The book is great, but she really goes into an incredible amount of detail with every single story she tells, down to what she was eating at the time. I found the book as a whole really interesting – it is good! – but it is LONG.

Annie Bot by Sierra Greer

This is one of those books that starts out kind of strange, but I ended up loving. Annie Bot is a robot made to be the perfect girlfriend for Doug – her personality and looks are customized exactly to his preferences, which he selected after a bad breakup. But her AI also allows her to learn, and she’s constantly trying to please Doug and learn how to make him happy. But as Annie starts to learn, she starts to realize more about the complexities in life – about what she wants, versus what Doug wants, and about what happiness for her would actually look like. It’s honestly such an intriguing look into AI, and made me feel a little bit weird when I talked to my Alexa device after I finished reading!

Next To You by Hannah Bonham-Young

I found out about Hannah Bonham-Young’s books because she moderated Chloe Liese’s talk at the release night for the last Bergman Brothers book, and I’m so glad about that! Her books are another great entry into the disability in romance books genre, and I’m here for it. Lane is going through an early mid-life crisis of sorts – her friends are all in relationships and seem to know about be content with their direction in life, and Lane is not. On somewhat of a whim, she buys a big old school bus to renovate and turn into her home, and she enlists the help of Matt, who is a mechanic and handyman and (more than) willingly offers his services. There’s some definite chemistry there, but Lane thinks that it’s important that they stay friends – she knows he’s a “committed relationship” kind of guy. But the more time the two spend together, the more lines start to blur. Lane also is dealing with her own anxiety, and family trauma, and has to learn to be happy with herself and her own life and choices, too.

Next of Kin by Hannah Bonham-Young

Chloe is adopted, and when she learns that her birth mother is having a child and wants Chloe to be the legal guardian, she doesn’t hesitate to say yes – her time in the foster care system was rough. But Chloe is just out of college and doesn’t pass the financial check that CPS goes through, so they suggest a new program where they pair up two guardians together who wouldn’t pass CPS criteria otherwise. When Chloe meets Warren, guardian to his Deaf younger brother, the two don’t exactly get along, but agree to make it work. After they start to spend more time together, though, Chloe learns there might be a soft side under Warren’s prickly exterior. While I’m not sure how realistic the CPS program really is, I did love the “adversaries to lovers” trope and the Deaf representation!

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue

This book reminded me a lot of something by Sally Rooney – a realistic coming-of-age where friends make decisions (and mistakes) and how friendships shift and change as people grow. Rachel and James meet as coworkers in a bookstore where they both work – they quickly become friends who are attached at the hip and start living together. Rachel has a crush on her married professor, and enlists James to help her plan a book signing for his newly-published book, where she’s sure her professor will appreciate what she’s done and fall in love with her, too. But he has someone else in his sights that night, and the ensuing relationship tangles Rachel, James, her professor, and her professors wife in a complicated web that will shape them all for years to come. I loved how this story looked at the realities of growing up (and the realities of academia, too).

Just for the Summer by Abby Jimenez

The best thing about Abby Jimenez’s romances is that, amidst all the light, fun, cute moments, the characters are dealing with real shit, too. Justin and Emma both have the same “curse” – every time they break up with someone, their ex goes on to find their soulmate. When the two connect over a Reddit thread, of all things, they start chatting, and decide the solution to their problem is simple – they need to date each other, break up, and then they’ll be free to find their own soulmates. And what starts as a joke ends with Emma changing her travel nurse plans to go work in Minnesota, so she and Justin can put her plan into action. While they claim they’re dating to put an end to their curses, Justin forgets about that after their first date, pretty much. But Emma has a lot of baggage and trauma in her past, and isn’t necessarily read to commit to anything the way that Justin is. There’s a lot of heaviness in this book, but I love the balance of romance and real.

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