it's a veritable story smorgasbord
Hello, everyone! Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, and by that, I mean the lack of my highly unoriginal monthly title. After years of titling my blogs and then these newsletters with a basic month, I thought maybe it’s time for a change. Something to differentiate between January 2023 and January 2017. I’m not yet committed to “monthly rundown” (y’all, I am NOT good at titles), so if you’ve got a better idea for these reviews and recommendations newsletters, let me know!
So, with that out of the way, I also have a few newsy things to pass on this month:
First, I had a lot of fun being a guest on the YouTube show What are You Reading? What are You Writing? with author Karen E. Osborne. It’s a tight twenty minutes and was such a delightful conversation about books and writing, I wish it had been longer! You can check it out here.
Second, I’ve begun doing a little experimenting with Kindle Vella. If you’re not familiar with Kindle Vella, it’s Kindle’s outlet for serialized fiction and short stories. The first few episodes of a story are always free, and then readers can unlock further episodes by purchasing tokens. My first story on Kindle Vella is a short story about Celia and Levi Blair (and if you’ve read either of my novels, yes, it’s THAT Celia and Levi Blair). Here’s the summary: Levi and Celia Blair are high school sweethearts with two kids, a mortgage, and a lot of unspoken tension and built-up resentment. When the two hit the road for a weekend getaway, will their forced time together bring them closer together, or drive them further apart? You can check it out here!
Now on to some reviews and recommendations! (FYI: any book links below are affiliate links)
Everything Here Belongs to You by Saborna Roychowdhury. This was such an interesting book. Set in Kolkata, India, it’s a family drama about Parul, a poor, young Muslim girl who becomes a live-in servant for a middle-class Hindu family. She grows up with Mohini, the daughter of the family, like a sister but not really equal. As the girls grow up, the difference in their circumstances begin to pull them apart. Each girl questions where they belong in the world, and Parul in particular begins to feel adrift. It’s part coming of age story, part family drama, with rich descriptions of the setting and culture. It’s poignant, sympathetic, and I really enjoyed it.
Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Pulling from way back with this one, but there’s a reason people still read Screwtape Letters. The premise is that of a seasoned demon writing to a trainee about how to best corrupt and turn his assigned human “patient” away from God. The point of view takes a little getting used to, but in my opinion also makes the messages in the book even more powerful. Which, if I could sum up the message it would be–everything good can be twisted and used against you, so be on guard and keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s a thought-provoking book, and despite having been written in the 1940s, it’s remarkably relevant. I also admire how Lewis is able to say so much using relatively few words.
First Comes Love by Emily B. Riddle. This sweet romance was utterly charming and funny. I loved the relatable characters, the realistic conflict, and the kids who felt like fully fleshed out characters rather than plot devices. And here’s an extra fun part: a few months ago, the author reached out to me after reading my book, With You and said, “I think our books would be friends!” and after reading her book I absolutely agree with her. If you liked either of my books, I think you’ll like this one.
Miranda Writes by Gail Olmstead. This mystery was John Grisham meets Janet Evanovich: a well-plotted legal mystery with a memorable heroine who is really likeable, good at what she does, and sometimes just a little bit of a mess. The small New England town and secondary characters help bring the book to life.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. This was a fast-paced, engaging thriller set in the world of cutthroat publishing and pretentious writers. The book starts out with the main character’s personal tension around his flagging career and a significant ethical dilemma, then shifts to the tension of mysterious threats and a potential murderer. Even though I figured out the mystery before the protagonist, I enjoyed watching the story unfold and play out.
Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love by Jared Reck. This young adult novel felt like a classic story in the best possible way, with an endearing cast of characters, and realistic conflict. It’s about family and friendship, and all the promise and anticipation that comes with being a teenager about to graduate high school. It made me laugh, made cry, and was just really good. (side note: it’s really good on audio, and coincidentally has the same narrator as The Plot, which was also excellent on audio)
Pay Dirt Road by Samantha Jayne Allen is a moody, atmospheric story about Annie, a young, twenty-something woman who returns to her small hometown, somewhat directionless, trying to figure out her next steps. When two murders rock the small town, Annie is drawn into the situation, while also forced to confront her own past and uncertain future. It’s a slow read (but not a long one), and the story gets a little bit lost in the language at times, but the small West Texas town is incredibly vivid and real, and as much of a character in the story as any of the people. The author has a sequel releasing this year, and I think I’ll check back in with Annie the people of Garnett, Texas.
I absolutely LOVED Glass Onion. It’s the sequel to Knives Out, although only a sequel in that the detective Benoit Blanc (basically a modern-day Hercule Poirot) once again proves he is the “world’s best detective” as he solves a murder among a truly bonkers cast of characters. Everything was on point: the cast, the setting, the pacing, and even the cameos.
Weird. If you like Weird Al Yankovich or movie parodies, this is the movie for you. It’s a parody of a biopic and was such a fun watch.
Abbott Elementary I may be the last person to watch this show, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a documentary style comedy about an underfunded elementary school in Philadelphia. It’s heartwarming, true, genuinely funny, and full of fantastic actors. I could watch it all day.
Well, that seems like a long list (thanks to relatively short books and audiobooks) but what a lovely problem to have. See you next time!