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!
1. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a historical novel narrated by a young Black nurse set in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973. Perkins-Valdez illuminates a heartbreaking and infuriating part of our nation’s history: forced and coerced sterilization of women. This novel captured my heart and mind while also stirring my anger at the injustice of race, gender, and class discrimination that has occurred repeatedly in our country.
Summary: Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend takes a job at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic with aspirations to help young women. Her first patients are two young girls, Erica-13 and India-11, living in dire poverty with their father and grandmother. Civil is tasked with administering birth control shots to the girls, but her assignment turns into a quest to help the family improve their lives. Then the unthinkable happens, and Civil finds herself involved in a fight for justice and protection.
Told in dual timelines, this novel deals with the heaviness of personal responsibility, regret, and pain. Civil confronts the egregious inequality that drastically impacts her girls and so many other women with passion and integrity. She is a fierce character who is easy to love and root for. The entire ensemble of characters is memorable and genuine. Take My Hand deeply impacted me and raised an awareness of women’s autonomy of their bodies. Relevant read for right now. I rated this FIVE STARS for power and impact. The story is ugly in places but written beautifully and tenderly. Everyone should read it.
2. The Change by Kirsten Miller
I am completely obsessed with The Change. As a 41-year-old woman, I was transported into a world where the heroes are menopausal powerhouses. The Change is First Wives Club meets Practical Magic with some SVU thrown in. Three gifted, powerful women work together to solve a haunting murder and punish the violators, but it’s so much more than that. This novel captivated me with the twisty plot, the vivid and incredible characters, and the theme of feminist power in the next phase of womanhood.
Summary: Mattauk, New York is a small beachside community that’s home to three spectacular women, each with a unique gift. Harriet, the fashionable advertising exec, discovers her relationship to plants and her herbal powers after her divorce. Jo, the women’s gym owner, is trying to channel her newfound energy and strength to defend the weak. Nessa, the widowed nurse, hears the voices of the dead who need to be laid to rest. These three women form a mighty trio to defeat the perverse patriarchy and corrupt system in their town. Each character’s story has dimensionality, and their work together is compelling.
Ever read a book at just the right time, and you’re so pumped you just exclaim consistently while you’re reading? That’s me and this book. I loved the ferocity of each character. Harriet is the ultimate boss. Jo is the badass. Nessa is the tender ghost whisperer. I loved the Hamptons-like setting, the fierce females, witchy vibes, their fight for justice, the magical realism, the relevant topic of sex trafficking, the quest for creative vengeance, and the bold and frank discussion about women’s bodies. I could not put it down. FIVE STARS. Warning: sexual assault, trafficking, high body count, drug use.
3. I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet by Shauna Niequist
Sometimes a book feels like a good friend and a needed conversation. This was my experience with Shauna Niequist and her latest book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet. This nonfiction memoir chronicles Niequist’s transitions and trials through leaving her home, home church, and starting over with her family in New York. This is a perfect meditation and exploration of middle age, shifting values, and discovering a new life.
Summary: Shauna Niequist is a noted Christian author who has been through some serious changes the last few years. She writes about how she moves through the painful experiences and comes out on the other side. She discusses how she processes grief, finds joy, shares her life, and heals.
This book is a beautiful reminder that we all go through something, and we can find creative and meaningful ways to survive. The last couple of years have been full of all the things. Shauna Niequist encouraged me and comforted me with her candor and kindness. I underlined so much of this tender work of heart. The sheer vulnerability and thoughtful prose makes this book unforgettable. FOUR POINT FIVE STARS.
4. Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez
I am declaring Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez to be the perfect summer vacation read. I devoured it the first three days of my beach vacation, and I endorse it for you, too. Jimenez imbues this sweet romcom with some small town warmth, some relationship realism, a hefty dose of romance, and a pinch of fairytale magic. This was my first Abby Jimenez novel, and I really enjoyed it. Some of the steaminess was a little much, if I’m being honest, but that’s more on me and my preferences. The characters are memorable and dynamic, and I completely adore the town of Wakan. Delightful read.
Summary: Alexis Montgomery is the heir to a prestigious medical legacy in Minneapolis, and she lives a high maintenance life as an ER surgeon. Her predictable life gets shaken up when a raccoon runs in front of her car and she lands in a muddy ditch. A handsome carpenter/innkeeper (10 years younger!) helps her out, and sparks fly. Soon Alexis and Daniel are seeing more of each other, and the attraction is more than either can handle. Alexis must choose between her family dynasty or a true love in a small town. Along the way, she discovers who she really is and where she belongs. Daniel also develops a new focus as he embraces his role and a family legacy of his own in his small town.
Aspects of this novel are a little Hallmark movie, but the development of characters, frank discussion of abuse and therapy, and the tension in the plot give Part of Your World more depth. I loved the spectrum of characters in Wakan, the medical elements of Alexis’ life, the treatment of expectations vs. desires, the beauty in taking care of others, the pop culture references (Princess Bride) and the fast pace. It’s a great escape with clearly lovable people and distinctly unlikeable ones that make the choices clear to the reader. FOUR STARS for being highly enjoyable and consuming! —Warning: emotional and physical abuse
5. Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Some novels illuminate a time and a place and a culture that was previously lost to the majority of readers. These novels are to be shared and treasured because they usher us into a valuable world and understanding. Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine reveals the lives of Indigenous Chicano women in 1930s Colorado. Through multiple timelines and POVs, Fajardo-Anstine creates a vivid world of remarkable characters with gorgeous prose.
Summary: Luz “Little Light” Lopez has the sight and the gift of reading tea leaves. She is 17 in 1930s Denver living with her strong aunt and handsome brother. Luz and her vibrant cousin Lizette make money by doing laundry for the rich. The young women weather the virulent racism and discrimination surrounding them as they all discover their identities and loves. Luz learns who she is once her brother, Diego, is attacked and run out of town. Although Luz’s story is the main timeline, we also get lyrical stories of her ancestors that capture life in Colorado in the 1860s-1930s.
This novel is breathtakingly beautiful and transporting. Luz, Maria Josie, Diego, Lizette, and every other character jumps off the page in a lyrical ballet of relationships. The setting and characters drive this historical novel. I loved the diversity of Denver in this time: Mexicans, Native Americans, Filipinos, Greeks, Italians, etc. Fajardo-Anstine is a gifted writer, and her style is poetic and magical. Pick this up to learn about a group of strong people who are resilient in the face of poverty and discrimination, who celebrate their traditions, who rely on one another, and who discover new ways to live. FOUR STARS. —Warning: racism, violence, and abuse