Family Life

Joyful Reads from July 2022

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. Let’s get started! You can also follow me on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy

July 2022 Reads

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah 
I know I’m really late to this magnificent journey, but I am so glad I finally read it. I loved The Nightingale so much that I was hesitant to read The Great Alone when it came out. However, this book far surpassed my expectations. Emotional, descriptive, and intensely moving, The Great Alone is a novel about resilience, survival, and love.

Summary: Leni Allbright is 13 when her father decides to take her and her mother up to a remote area of Alaska. The small family is searching for a new frontier and a fresh start, but they underestimate the drastic danger of life on an Alaskan homestead. Leni’s father, a Vietnam POW with severe PTSD, cannot handle the dark winter, and his abuse intensifies. Leni, her mother, and their community must survive the Alaskan wilderness and the brutal violence within Ernt Allbright.

This novel swept me away. Kristin Hannah is an impeccable researcher and writer of setting and circumstance. I have never read much of Alaska, but this novel made me want to read more and travel there. I was captivated by the lengths the characters go to in order to live in the Alaskan wild. The characters in The Great Alone are unforgettable. Not only will the Allbright family seep into your mind, but so will all of the other unique Kaneq villagers. Beautiful novel. Redemptive.

Warning: Repeated domestic violence, graphic violence, and death of parent.
Five Stars!
For fans of Educated, The Glass Castle, and Into the Wild.

2. Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev 
I picked Recipe for Persuasion up at the library because I thought it looked cute, and I love a cooking competition tv show setup. This novel was sweet and light at times, but also dealt with some very serious issues. I loved the Indian culture and food descriptions. This novel also has insightful multiple POV that illuminates the characters and their actions.

Summary: Ashna Raje is a chef in Palo Alto who needs a miracle to keep her deceased father’s restaurant open. Her best friend invites her to compete in a Food Network show, Cooking with the Stars. In a twist of fate, her high school love, a premier soccer star, shows up to be her celebrity partner. The two must confront their issues and play the game so Ashna can save Curried Dreams.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Sonali Dev creates a cast of wounded characters who are searching for healing and new chances. The story moves quickly, and the end is worth the pain. To be honest, I wanted them to find their relief sooner and just enjoy their happy ending.
Warning: plot involves suicide, parental estrangement, manipulation, marital rape, and PTSD.

I enjoyed this book, but at times, I was frustrated with the miscommunication trope. I just wanted the characters to talk about their misunderstandings! Loved the cooking show/reality tv angle and the family ensemble characters. Oh! And this is a part of a series!

3. I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston 
I immensely enjoyed this page turner of a YA romance, and I consumed it in less than 24 hours! I have read all of Casey McQuiston’s books, and I think this is my favorite with Red, White, and Royal Blue a close second. The second half really took off for me, and I liked the book much more after the pink scavenger hunt was over. This is an exceptional story for LGBTQ teens who may feel out of sorts in their schools and communities.

Summary: Chloe Green is a devoted student who is ferociously competing for valedictorian at her private Christian high school in Alabama. She is also queer. Her friends are, too, and she is determined to graduate number one and then get to NYU as soon as possible. All is going to plan when Shara Wheeler, the Queen Bee, kisses her abruptly and then disappears the night of prom. Shara has left pink clues scattered about for Chloe, her brooding neighbor, and her boyfriend. The odd trio must come together to find her and figure out themselves along the way. Shara and Chloe discover that their animosity towards one another is hiding what actually may be affection.

My favorite theme of the novel is that people are more than we think they are, and to really know someone, you have to get close. All of the ensemble characters are delightful and nuanced, and just the cutest kids that I would love to teach. As a high school teacher that has only taught at private schools, this book made my heart swell for my queer students that had to hide themselves those four years. The end of this novel is so joyous and celebratory that I wanted to give all the characters a big hug. Fast paced, funny, sweet, and tender, and the second half rocks.

4. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell 
I had been wanting to read this for a little while, and Bookstagram probably made me do it. I’m fascinated with language and how we use it, and I’m also pretty intrigued with cults, so I was sure I’d find this interesting. I was right. Cultish is a pretty quick nonfiction read with relevant information and engaging storytelling.

Summary: From suicide cults to culty fitness groups to conspiracy social media, Amanda Montell breaks down the “cultish” language of leaders, religions, consumers, and corporations. She uses linguistics to show how actual cults and “culty” businesses/leaders recruit, indoctrinate, and maintain followers/members. In addition to linguistic descriptions, Montell also shares anecdotes and personal ideas as she details the “cultish” speak.

This book isn’t for the thin-skinned, because just about everything we believe has some level of “cultish” language used, but if you can separate personal feelings from actual linguistic science and research, this book has something to teach you. I found the language analysis fascinating, as well as how people fall for “culty” environments for many different reasons. This book also helped me understand the divisiveness of the last few years from another perspective. Well-written and really interesting!
P.S. Montell has a fun podcast @soundslikeacultpod

5. The Bodyguard by Katherine Center 
The Bodyguard by Katherine Center is a complete delight. Uplifting, funny, and warm. Genuinely a pleasure to read. I devoured this lively novel in less than two days. If you are looking for a comfortable and kind escape, turn these pages! Get lost in the world of The Bodyguard.

Summary: Hannah Brooks is a high level bodyguard, an Executive Protection Agent, who is having a few rough weeks when she gets assigned to the hottest action star’s detail. Jack Stapleton is in Houston to support his sick mother, and due to a fanatic stalker, his studio has hired a protection agency. Hannah must protect Jack by masquerading as his girlfriend, which is pretty great since he is a total heartthrob. However, this also means living at his parents’ ranch and becoming a (fake) part of their family. Typical of a Center novel, there’s so much more to both main characters, like fear, grief, and trauma. The fake dating evolves into something more after sweet moments and lots of laughter.

The Bodyguard was my fourth Center novel, and I think my favorite. It’s joyful! Even though the characters go through some pain and trials, there is such celebration and goodness. Hannah and Jack and the supporting cast are just precious. The Texas ranch setting is familiar and comfortable. If Center wanted to write a book about “love and light and making sense of hard times,” she definitely does that. Like she says, laughter, hope, and joy matter so much.

FIVE STARS! Romcom heaven.

6. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Outstanding. Truly beautiful writing. Another level of creativity, prose, character, and brilliance. I found shades of Chabon, Eugenides, Boyne, and Tartt in the writing, but Gabrielle Zevin is also truly a master of her own voice. This should be a finalist for Book of the Year. I wish I could read it again for the first time!

Summary: Sam and Sadie meet as children in Los Angeles. They bond over playing video games while Sam is in the hospital. Years later, the two friends meet while at MIT and Harvard, and they embark on game designing together. As the years progress, the pair create multiple games and their own company, but they also experience multiple conflicts. Sam and Sadie’s pasts weave in and out of the plot, enhancing the characters and their unique friendship.

Zevin tackles love, identity, grief, family, friendship, work, immigration, race, trauma, chronic pain, and autonomy in this gorgeous novel. There’s so much I want to say, but I don’t want to give anything away. I loved Sadie, Sam, and Marx for different reasons. I loved the collaboration and creating between them. I do not care one bit about video games, but I was completely immersed in the worldbuilding that Sam and Sadie create. This novel helped me understand the gaming universe. I thought a lot about Kavalier and Klay when I was reading, which is a huge compliment. This is just a stunning journey from beginning to end that I want everyone to read. Great pop culture references!


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