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!
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Apparently, I am now a romcom fan? This novel was right on time, and I’ve never read a book about a school community that reflected how passionate teachers are about children. What You Wish For was full of endearing characters and surprises that kept me glued to its pages. The protagonist is a quirky and adorable librarian at a unique seaside elementary school who is shocked to see her former crush walk through the doors as the new principal. He is a completely different dude, though, one who seems intent on erasing the culture of the school. Of course, there is more to his story, and it involves some tragedy and drama. This is such a sweet story with depth and relevance. Now I want to visit Galveston! I’d love to see this adapted somehow to a streaming service. Cute and quirky, tender and fun! The message of celebration and intentional joy was a perfect reminder to start the summer.
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
I’m on a bit of a romcom tear right now, but I would actually label this an action/rom/com/drama. A romdrom, if you will. Katherine Center is such a fabulous author when it comes to capturing spirited women who are in need of healing and are yearning to experience love, whether they know it or not. Things You Save in a Fire feels like if a firefighter action novel was written by Nora Ephron and Brené Brown. There’s comedy and drama with a heavy dose of Brené’s teaching on vulnerability and empathy. In this novel, a female firefighter moves to Massachusetts to join a new firehouse because her mother’s sight is compromised. In the process of joining a new crew, she confronts her own trauma, her complex feelings toward her mother, her ability to heal, and the possibility of falling in love. This is a summer must! So glad I’ve let go (just a little) of only reading serious, heavy reads. Happy endings and healing are a good change of pace.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Beach Read was an unexpected indulgence that totally consumed me for a couple of days. I carried my Kindle around everywhere, reading when I could. I really enjoyed that this novel centers on two authors with writer’s block who spend the summer together. Emily Henry creates such memorable and multidimensional characters that get me sucked into their world. She really writes witty banter and authentic dialogue well. She knows her style and her audience, and it’s clear this is a romcom, but she also tells a great story about emotional and personal development. As the title suggests, this is the perfect beach read, although I was surprised this beach is on Lake Michigan, not the oceanside. Definitely pick this one up this summer for a light read with some depth, some romance, and some laughs. It’s unforgettable!
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Ngyuen
Things We Lost to the Water is a beautiful and moving story of a Vietnamese immigrant family in New Orleans. I chose this book because I wanted to learn more about the Vietnamese population in New Orleans, and it truly delivered. This multiple POV novel takes place over 30 years and is narrated by a mother and her sons as they live in New Orleans. This one took me a while to get hooked, but about halfway in, I was immersed in the prose and development of the disparate characters. The mother is haunted by her separated husband, still in Vietnam, and her boys grow up to become very different people. The family is forever changed once Katrina hits. I found so much value in The Things We Lost to the Water. If you love New Orleans like I do, or if you are interested in other cultures or immigrant narratives, this is a good choice. Stick with it. And the writer is a new author, and he’s from New Orleans!
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid does it again! FIVE STARS. Malibu Rising is the summer read you have to get ASAP and devour. First of all, the setting: 1983 Malibu with flashbacks of the 1950s-1970s. Next, the characters: The Riva family is unforgettable. Four very different siblings who stand together through it all, and who can forget their parents? A crooner à la Frank Sinatra/Frankie Valli and a beautiful beach mom. This novel takes off three pages in and careens its way through relationships, disappointment, family crisis, broken hearts, disaster, and sunny Malibu nonstop until the last page. And it ties in with another Jenkins Reid favorite, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo! I can’t stress enough how readable and quick-paced this excellent novel is. Come for the drama, stay for the pop culture references and a party to remember! Personally, I went to Malibu five years ago, and it completely stole my heart, so this one felt a little different.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Brit. Bennett. Sheesh. The Mothers is about women, mothers, friendship, love, grief, and the threads that connect all of those together. I read Vanishing Half last year, and I loved it, so I have been wanting to read this predecessor for a while. I was not expecting the intense character development, the hovering loss of a mother, the slow burn, the haunting presence of a lost pregnancy, the tender tethers between young women, and the depth of human trauma and connection. Set in Northern California, this novel is narrated at times by “the mothers” of a church. They are the ones who pray for everybody, cook for everybody, and to be honest, gossip about everybody. They begin the story of a high school girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The story then focuses on the journey of several characters and dives deeply into themes of grief, love, and loyalty. Amazing. Soooo glad I picked this from Libby and read it finally. I want to talk about it, so let me know if you’ve read it! (Warning: suicide, abortion, and sexual assault are dominant themes in this one.)
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
One Last Stop was quite a journey full of self discovery, love, identity, hope, and found family. This LGBTQ romance transcends time and space with a heavy dose of magical realism and a sprinkle of sci-fi. There’s so much I love about this book—New Orleans people and places, NYC people and places, BROOKLYN, history, the subway, social movements, music, pop culture, food, pancakes, community, well-developed characters, and magic. To be honest, some of it was not for me, but that’s okay because I’m not necessarily the target reader. I liked it enough though to keep reading. Overall, One Last Stop features a wonderful character arc for the protagonist and a lovely ending. August and Jane are memorable, but my favorite characters were August’s colorful roommates and friends. I found the wit and humor and vulnerability in the dialogue really quick and entertaining. I also loved the plot of being stuck on the Q train. I really resonated with the theme of a subway crush because I can remember quite a few from my own days in Brooklyn. Casey McQuiston accomplishes so much in this magical novel!
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Well, this stunner just blew my mind and heart out of the water. This was the perfect read for the perfect time. This work of heartbreak, fury, pain, recovery, healing, and redemption met me at the right moment. Katherine Center is the best at creating a female protagonist enduring pain and trials, but vulnerably persevering to find her own healing. This was my third Center novel this month, and I think, my favorite. Margaret has it “all” when a life-altering tragedy forces her into uncharted territory. Center captures this new reality of permanent spinal injury so vividly. On a personal note, after experiencing a brief encounter with spinal surgery as a caretaker, the early part of this novel really hit home. This journey of healing that involves tragedy and family dynamics really captured me. From the hospital descriptions to physical therapy to finding new purpose, Center nails every moment. I devoured this beauty in about 24 hours, and now I’m devastated it’s over! Isn’t that how a great book goes? We fall head over heels and then…the last page! If you haven’t read this, go get it, go check it out, go buy it, go download it, and then let me know what you think.