Joyful Reads with Joy from August and September
Hello! I’m Joy, and I love to read. I consider it my greatest talent and favorite hobby. Another one of my preferred pastimes is recommending reads to anyone who is the least bit curious. Seriously. I am always volunteering book recs to people near me, whether they ask or not. I thought it would be fun to bring this passion to Baton Rouge Parents Magazine. I will share with you every book I read month by month and what I think about them. The start of school and the hurricane knocked me back a little, but now you get two months at once! You can also follow me on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy!
The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
Allison Larkin left me in a complete puddle of cathartic tears on my couch. Y’all. This is a BEAUTIFUL coming of age story of growth and healing.
April is a neglected teenager who lives through her songwriting and guitar. She is desperate to escape her small town, and she drives to find a new home in Ithaca. After she finds a home and belonging, events occur that propel her on the road again, performing and surviving. Along the way, she learns we are all broken, and the people we meet are the ones that can help mend us. Music and found family propel April to a new start. Her discovery becomes ours, as we travel along with her.
I give this five guitars for this rhythmic Bildungsroman that intensely impacted me.
What I loved: the mid-nineties nostalgia, the vivid characters, April’s tender heart, the portrayal of how trauma stays in the mind and body, the songs, the little moments that linger, Carly, Ethan, and April’s growth. The People We Keep has grown on me and left me deeply connected to every single one of the sweet characters. Read this!
It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
Exhale. This was my first Colleen Hoover book, and it was gifted to me by a sweet colleague.
It Ends with Us is so much more than I expected. Lily is a young woman who is a little lost when she meets Ryle (rhymes with Kyle), a handsome but complicated neurosurgeon. After a dance of flirtation, they begin a relationship, but her teen love shows up unexpectedly. While this may seem like a Lifetime movie love triangle, it goes much deeper. Everyone in this novel is dealing with significant trauma. They are survivors of abuse and pain. The cycle of abuse threatens to continue if hard decisions aren’t made. This novel is heart-breaking but so thoughtful.
What I loved: lovable characters, plot twists, quick wit, nuanced portrayal of domestic abuse and trauma, complex relationships, journal entries, tenderness, vulnerability, and Boston moments.
Four Stars. Great and consuming. Page turner!
(Warning: vivid scenes of physical abuse and sexual assault)
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
I was actually breathless a few times reading this one. Kate Quinn is a master at historical fiction, particularly exalting women in unheralded but important positions.
This novel focuses on three very different women at Bletchley Park in England during World War II. They grow close as the disastrous war envelopes the world. Told from different perspectives along a parallel timeline, Quinn weaves a suspenseful tale of code breaking, intrigue, and crushing love. These brilliant women must work together to solve the most critical puzzle of their lives despite the trauma of war still consuming them.
I could not get enough of this book. A few years ago, I stumbled upon an unforgettable BBC series called The Bletchley Circle about four women who had worked together at BP as codebreakers who work together to solve a serial killer mystery. I have been completely obsessed with Bletchley since then. I am so intrigued with the truth that so many women had to keep their heroic exploits secret until their death. I’ve read two nonfiction books about female codebreakers during both world wars, and so I was all about this premise. All of that to say that I was predisposed to like this book, but The Rose Code absolutely delivered and captured me until the very end.
If you love history like I do or learning about beast women, or even if you just love a good suspenseful thriller, this is very worth your time. This was a FIVE STAR read for sure.
Things I loved: the Britishness (Anglophile here), Bletchley, the love stories, the portrayal of PTSD, the heartbreaking honesty of the terror in asylums, the characters, the parallel timelines, the plot twists, and the tenderness all three women got to experience.
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Imagine if My Big Fat Greek Wedding and You’ve Got Mail had a baby, and you have this heartwarming, delightful, and considerate novel, Hana Khan Carries On. Except place it in Toronto and imagine the entire cast is South Asian.
Ambitious, brilliant Hana is 24 and pursuing her dream of broadcast journalism and podcasting. While developing her voice, she continues helping her mom run her family’s Indian restaurant. Hana is figuring it all out when a threat to her family’s livelihood moves in down the street. Through a series of events, family secrets, and revelations, Hana finds what’s most important and who she really loves.
Hana Khan Carries On was the perfect blend of comedy, family struggle, love, cultural awareness, and dramatic irony. I fell for Hana and Aydin and all of the lovely characters in this captivating story. Nora Ephron would be proud of this interpretation and the sharp pen of Uzma Jalaluddin. I am so glad I read it, and I really want you to, too! Five Stars!
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Sizzling End-of-Summer Read!
I am so captured by the gorgeous characters in Seven Days in June. Tia Williams tells the most intense and beautiful story of Eva and Shane, two wounded writers who are trying to be true to themselves as they rediscover each other. Eva, a single mother and beloved erotic author, is managing chronic pain and her career when lauded author Shane, her love from the past, reappears. They reconnect 15 years after their week-long love affair when both were in dark places. This novel is all about confronting pain and embracing love. This should be a movie or series, hands down.
I tore through this book, and the pages nearly singed my fingers. It feels so relevant, witty, clever, intense, and tender.
What I loved: the sharp dialogue, the vulnerability of Eva and Shane, Black love, dynamic characters, the humor, the inclusion of Louisiana and Creole women, Black literary world, the styles, the vibrant characters, the honest treatment of chronic pain, and the love! I don’t generally like romance novels and steamy scenes aren’t my thing, but Williams created just a few at the right moments. FIVE STARS!
Incredible. So glad I picked it up at the library. Side note: I read this during Hurricane Ida and finished it without power. This was the perfect read to distract me from a massive national disaster.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
As a huge fan of Almost Famous and every 60s/70s nostalgia movie out there, I thought I would really enjoy this novel. I did enjoy it, but the first half was a little slow. I wanted more development and action at times. It was a bit of a slow burn. I kept going back to it though, which is a sign of a good book.
Mary Jane is a competent 14-year-old girl who is hired to babysit a precocious 5-year-old girl for a psychiatrist and his wife. This summer will transform her life because a rock star and his TV star wife are living with the family. Mary Jane’s conservative Baltimore upbringing is no match for the freedom, music, passion, love, vulnerability, mess, and honesty that ripples through Jimmy, Sheba, Izzy, and the Cones. Mary Jane discovers her voice and uncovers who she really is throughout the rock and roll summer.
What I loved: the cooking, the sweet relationship between Mary Jane and Izzy, Cher-like Sheba, the shedding of propriety for joy, the seventies vibes, the coming of age theme, and the awakening of Mary Jane’s justice.
Mary Jane was a nice diversion on my phone and kindle for the last two weeks. FOUR STARS!
Women’s March by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Women’s March is a stellar, well-researched historical novel, emphasis on HISTORICAL. For many pages, I felt like I was reading a nonfiction narrative of Alice Paul, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Maud Malone. In fact, this novel reads much more like a historical retelling of events with imagined dialogue and thoughts than a historical novel with characters who simply interact with historical figures.
Jennifer Chiaverini reimagines The Suffrage Parade of 1913 from the aforementioned three suffragists’ perspectives. I learned so much about Paul, Malone, and my personal hero, Wells Barnett. I truly was amazed at the hardships, the sacrifices, and the courage these women and other suffragettes experienced. This fictionalized account went far beyond my knowledge of these women and this seminal event on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s (bleh) inauguration. I also learned about The Army of the Hudson, the indefatigable group of women who marched from New York to DC.
What I loved: the depth of development of Paul, Wells Barnett, and Malone, the insight into their drive to achieve votes for women, the intentional discussion on intersectionality and the racism Black women faced in trying to get their vote, the details, and the sheer magnitude of effort and iron will that these women shared.
Incredible story and important history lesson! FOUR STARS!
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is a complete treat, an Italian escape perfect for this time of year! I went to Italy when I was 16, so I was lost in the pages of this travel drama. Family drama, personal awakening, touch of romance, descriptive beauty, and a stunning love story make this a delightful reading journey. I am head over heels for the characters: Poppy, Emilia, Lucy, and Rico!
The second-born Fontana daughters have been cursed for generations, unable to find love and marry. Emilia and Lucy, the second-born of their family, are trapped in this curse in their own ways when their Great Aunt Poppy invites them on a tour of Italy to return to their family’s homeland. The trip is more than they imagined as new experiences unfold. Unexpected growth and untold stories captivate the three women. As they travel, they bond and lift one another up; each confronting the curse in their own ways. The protagonist, Emilia, is forever changed. Aunt Poppy’s story is told in alternating chapters, which is one of my favorite plot setups.
For me, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany was a book to get happily lost in. I was immersed in the Italian, the characters, the winding story, Poppy’s sweet fierceness, and the development of Emilia. Grateful that I got to retreat to these pages during a rough week.
The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo
The Sweetest Remedy has Crazy Rich Asians flair but in Nigeria. Hannah is a young biracial writer living in San Francisco, somewhat satisfied with her life as she nears 30. The daughter of an absent Nigerian father and a white American mother, Hannah has yearned to know herself and her missing Nigerian culture. When her father dies, she is invited to his funeral in Lagos. There, the love and family drama begins. Four new siblings and a unique love interest bring heady days of discovery and conflict. Hannah learns more about who she is and the ultimate lesson, that her self love is really what makes her.
The beginning felt forced, but once Hannah lands in Lagos, the plot and characters take off. The family is loaded, and Hannah deals with some class discomfort along with the fish-out-of-water awkwardness. This is a really cute and sweet story that deals with deeper issues and questions of identity. The romance angle was sweet, a little quick, but adorable just the same. I really loved the vibrant descriptions of each sibling, and how Hannah sees her unknown father in each of them. I also liked all of the culture clashes and Nigerian influencer vibes. This would be a beautiful Netflix romcom if done right.
All in all, pleasant and delightful, a sweet treat to get me through the week. A light read that I did not have to really invest in was just in time. Also, the cover is to die for!