2019 Upper Shelf Reviews (in alphabetical order) Part 1

American Spy

American Spy

Author: Lauren Wilkinson
Category: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 289 Pages
Format: Hardcover
Published: February 2019
Book rating: 8/10
Mommy readability rating: 8/10

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Summary: It’s 1992 and Marie Mitchell is attacked in the middle of the night in her home in suburban Connecticut while her two young boys sleep in their room. She is able to kill the attacker and escape with her two boys to the home of her estranged mother in Martinique. There, temporarily safe, Marie writes the story for her boys of how they came to be where they are, why someone is after their mother, and why she now has to leave them. She tells of her childhood, growing up in 1960s New York, how she became the only black woman working for the FBI, and how, at the height of the Cold War, she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention. In the year that followed, Marie observed Sankara, seduced him, and ultimately had a hand in the coup that brought him down. But doing so changed everything she believed about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American. Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance.

Review: I found American Spy to be quite interesting and the characters within it fascinating. I was, however, a bit frustrated with the premise of the whole story. The words within this book are meant to be a journal that Marie is writing to her sons. And there were multiple parts of the book where, remembering this, really pulled me out of the story. I loved the main character and her voice, but I questioned a lot of what she chose to put in her telling of events and what she chose to leave out. I feel that, if I was one of her sons, I would be left with a lot of questions. I’d want to know a great deal more about the man who it turns out was my father and really not care about a lot of the minor details that she included. The story would have been much stronger without this exterior framing of the “letter to my sons”. Within that, the story itself was well-crafted and intriguing. The buildup was a bit slow and there were moments where I was really left wondering where it was all headed. This also made the final quarter of the book feel a bit rushed, but I also understand that this often goes along with the spy genre. So, all in all, a decent story that I would recommend to others who have found other spy novels lacking a strong story, as this really provides so much more than the typical spy story. It also introduced me to a side of the Cold War that I was previously unfamiliar with and would like to explore more.

Mommy Readability Rating: This book is a pretty easy read. The chapters are relatively short and the story-telling is very straightforward. There is a lot of chronological jumping around, however, which makes the date and place signifiers at the start of each chapter essential to following the story. For that reason, this is not one I would want to listen to on audiobook. This is a good book for a bit of an escape during the kids’ nap time or after bedtime.

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An American Marriage

Author: Tayari Jones
Category: Adult
Genre: Domestic Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audio book (Audible)
Published: January 2018
Book rating: 8/10
Mommy Readability Rating: 8/10

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Summary: Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But on their honeymoon, Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for sexual assault, a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. The story chronicles their time as a married couple, separated by Roy’s placement in jail. Celestial initially works to maintain her strong, independent self and her marriage, but soon turns to the supportive embrace of Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. The marriage is ultimately tested by Roy’s conviction being overturned and his release from prison.

Review: An American Marriage is a powerful story about love, hope, and the change of a desired future. I listened to this book in the Audible format (because sometimes audio books are the only way to get reading done with children around). I think the story was made much stronger by the actors’ voices on the audio book version, as they added a depth to the characters that I’m not sure I could have provided on my own silent reading. The book itself, though, is striking. Each chapter is narrated by one of the three main characters (Roy, Celestial, and Andre), giving unique voice to each aspect of the story. The characters are relatable and you love and hate each of them at different points in the book. While reading, I felt quite conflicted about who I was supposed to, or wanted to, sympathize with, and I think this is quite a testament to Jones’ writing ability. The people in the world she created are so round and real that we can understand and relate to all of them. Jones does an excellent job at painting a picture of contemporary marriage that is so authentic. It’s work, even in the easiest of times, and tests those in the relationship to the extreme during times of trouble. This is set against the backdrop of the current state of our country and the all too often occurrence of wrongful convictions.

Mommy Readability Rating: The sections are short and the events of the story are quite enthralling, making them easy to get through. I imagine the print format would be quite conducive to short reading periods. This is also a great listen. I would warn, however, due to language and content, this is not the best audio book to play in the car with the kids listening.

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Ask Again, Yes

Author: Mary Beth Keane

Category: Adult 

Genre: Contemporary Fiction 

Pages: 388 

Format: Hardcover 

Published: May 2019 

Book rating: 8.5/10 

Mommy readability rating: 9/10  


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Summary: Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope are born six months apart and grow up living next door to one another. They are best friends and inseparable until, one night, tragic events tear their families apart. When they are reunited years later, their love story will be tested by the loyalties of their family and childhood.  


Review: Ask Again, Yes is a powerful story about love and forgiveness. Keane has created an intimate look at the second chances we are given in life and how they affect everyone involved. And, while the story is a bit slow at points, the characters are what you stay for. I loved all the people Keane created here and was deeply invested in their lives. Each character is so real, no stereotypes or flat portrayals of one-dimensional individuals. Keane writes in a beautiful, honest way about life and love, romantic relationships and familial relationships. This is definitely a book I could go back and read again and, I’m sure, pick up new intricacies that were missed on my first reading.  


Mommy Readability Rating: The chapters in Ask Again, Yes do tend to lean toward the longer side. However, there are resting points and breaks within them that provide an exit to put the book down occasionally. However, I found most chapters to be so engrossing that it wasn’t necessary. A relatively quick read. Perfect for a little break during nap time or a longer reading session after the kids are in bed. 


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The Astonishing Color of After

Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Category: YA
Genre: Paranormal Fiction
Pages: 480
Format: Hardcover
Published: March 2018
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy Readability Rating: 8/10

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Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is certain that when her mother died, she turned into a bird. Days later, the bird becomes to visit Leigh. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time and to find the bird. While she struggles to form a relationship with her grandparents and better understand her family and herself, she tries to come to terms with the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life. It’s a story of self-acceptance, love, and the importance of family.

Review: “My mother is a bird.” This is the opening line of The Astonishing Color of After, the most beautifully written story I've read in a long time. Intriguing from the start, it doesn’t let up until the final page. I love the way Pan weaves the past and present together with a touch of Eastern mysticism. Even readers who are not completely fascinated with the fantasy or paranormal writing genres will be drawn in by Pan’s exquisite language and compelling story. The main character’s relationship with color adds another wonderful layer to the book, evoking emotions through imagery. All the characters are unique and well fleshed-out, giving the reader a strong cast to enjoy. The narrator, Leigh, has such an original voice and sympathetic character that the reader becomes instantly invested in her outcome. I will definitely be reading this again.

Mommy Readability Rating: This book has a high readability. Chapters are relatively short and easy to get through. They do vary, however between the main story, flashbacks, and mystical trips, so that sometimes you need to go back a few chapters to remember exactly what was happening in the present timeline. Each chapter, though, is marked with an icon to help you note which chapter is in which storyline (main story, flashback, mystical journey). And, while the language is rich and a pleasure to read, it is a YA novel and thusly written with that audience in mind.

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Asymmetry

Additional Information

Author: Lisa Halliday
Category: Adult
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 271
Format: Paperback
Published: October 2018  
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy Readability Rating: 6/10   

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Summary: Asymmetry is a story told in three parts. The first, “Folly”, follows the May/December relationship of young editor Alice and famous author Ezra Blazer in New York during the early years of the Iraq War. The second, “Madness”, narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man, details his detainment by immigration officers at Heathrow Airport at the end of 2008. The third part is a transcript of a radio interview with Ezra Blazer, now in his nineties. Seemingly unconnected, the three stories portray the many imbalances in life; age, power, geography, fame, justice, to name a few.  

Review: Asymmetry is an incredible novel with much to unpack. This is definitely a story I will come back to and read again at a later date. Halliday’s writing is beautiful and she is quite proficient in conveying the subtleties of human relationships. It has also been suggested that the relationship between Alice and Ezra feels so real because Halliday based it on her own affair with Philip Roth. As a reader, I definitely connected with Alice, a young woman trying to figure out her place in life, having heroes but also trying to understand who she wanted to be as well. And at the same time, I also completely understood Amar, even though on the outside we have very little in common. These two characters serve as one of the main asymmetrical aspects of the book and, upon a second read, I’m sure the parallels will be even more apparent. It took a very talented hand to create what Halliday did. The stories within the book are not straightforward. They are messy and obscure, but that is what makes them feel all the more real. However, it is this realness, this blurring of the lines of scene and dialogue, past and present, which makes it a challenging read. It is a good challenge, and one that leaves you questioning a lot about what you know about fiction and what it should be and do. But a challenge none the less. One to be savored as you can tell Halliday did while writing it.  

Mommy Readability Rating: This is a book that, before having a child, I would have sunk deep into and read straight through in a weekend binge reading session. However, that is no longer possible and as there is so much to this story, it is hard to follow when reading in short, distracted sessions. The first section, “Folly” is particularly difficult to follow as there are no real breaks and scenes and dialogue flow together and jump forward in time without any notation to the reader, making distracted reading difficult. This is not helped by the fact that the thing that ties all the parts of the book together, the ah ha moment, comes in one, blink-and-you-miss-it, vague line of dialogue. So, is it an amazing story? Yes. Is it a great read for busy, unfocused reader moms? Maybe not.  

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Becoming

Author: Michelle Obama
Category: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 448
Format: Audio book (Audible)
Published: November 2018
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10

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Summary: In her memoir, Michelle Obama tells the story of her life, from growing up in the South Side of Chicago, to her rise as a prominent lawyer, to her eventual position as the first African-American First Lady of the United States. The story gives an intimate look at the early campaigns of her husband, through her time in the White House, and after. It is a story of a young girl, a woman, a wife, a mother, and everything that went into becoming the successful individual she is today.

Review: I listened to this book in the Audible format (because sometimes audio books are the only way to get reading done with children around). Becoming is a powerful story written (and spoken) by a very strong woman. I feel that hearing Obama’s voice telling the stories made the whole book even more relatable than if I had just been reading it in print format. I really enjoyed listening to her journey and gaining a better understanding of who she is. Obama is open and honest about everything that she’s been through and I learned so much from her experiences. What I found most surprising was how much I connected with her even though our lives have been so different. From her efforts to please her parents, to her search for her true self, her struggles with infertility and miscarriage, and her thoughts on her role as a wife and mother. She completely exposes her whole self through this book and there is definitely something that every reader can take from her journey. Everyone should read this book. It gives you hope when it feels like there is so little left in the world.

Mommy Readability Rating: I highly recommend listening to this as an audio book for, as I stated above, hearing Obama speak the words makes it all the more fascinating. This is also a book that can definitely be listened to with the kids as it serves as a strong inspirational message for all ages. The story itself is told quite chronologically, with a few well-incorporated flashbacks, making it easy to return to after stepping away from the book. It’s an easy read with a strong message.

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The Burning Chambers

Author: Kate Mosse

Category: Adult 

Genre: Historical Fiction 

Pages: 574 

Format: ARC Paperback 

Published: June 2019 

 Book rating: 9/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10   


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Summary: When nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop, her quiet, simple life is turned upside down. She is thrown into a search of her family’s history which plays out in her father being imprisoned and her little sister being captured. Meanwhile, Piet Reydon has a dangerous task of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to stay alive. This all plays out in a world where the Catholics and Huguenots are waging war over the future of France. It seems everyone has secrets and a dark past. Where will this lead the country and its most devout citizens?  


Review: The Burning Chambers is a fantastic book. Mosse’s writing is beautiful but not in a way that weighs down the story she is telling. I really have not read much of anything set in 1500s France and knew very little about the struggles between Catholics and Protestants of the time, so I definitely learned a lot while reading this, but the story was so powerful that none of it felt like a history lesson. Mosse clearly did a lot of research to write this book. But at no point did I feel like the author was explaining anything to me nor was there ever an info dump or a character saying anything clearly to tell the reader something in a manner that they otherwise wouldn’t have. I immediately fell in love with the character of Minou. It is so refreshing to see a strong female character in historical fiction, one who is willing to go against the gender expectations of her time. At the same time, it was hard not to like all of the characters in this story; even the “bad guys” were fascinating. The book is long, but it doesn’t feel like it. Mosse’s writing is so gripping that, at the end of each chapter, I just had to see what happened next. And since the chapters are told in alternating perspectives, sometimes “what happens next” isn’t for another chapter or two, and by that time, there are two other storylines in which you really want to discover the next part as well. There really isn’t much that is obvious in the plot either, leading to great twists and surprises for the reader. And then, I came to find that this is the first book in a series. I am excited to see where this series goes. It is described as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tale and this novel is just the first chunk of that story, so I’m curious to learn which characters continue on and who will be the eventual Romeo and Juliet, as I didn’t really see that in this part of the series (aside from the fact that the two main love interests in this book were of the differing religions). I highly recommend The Burning Chambers for anyone who loves a good piece of historical fiction, or just an overall good story.  


Mommy Readability Rating: The chapters are all quite short, making it very easy to read in the few free moments you have. However, each one is so engrossing, you’ll want to keep going. It’s not a light read, but an easy read. Great for naptimes and post-bedtimes. 


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The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

Author: Anissa Gray  

Category: Adult 

Genre: Contemporary Fiction 

Pages: 291 

Format: Hardcover 

Published: February 2019  

Book rating: 7.5/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10   


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Summary: The three sisters of the Butler family have suffered through a lot in their lives. With their mother dying young and their father being absent for most of their childhood, they learned to lean on one another and persevere. But now, as adults, they are facing their biggest test. Althea, the oldest, and her husband are imprisoned. Lilian and Viola, the two younger sisters, must now come together in their childhood home to take care of Althea’s two teenaged daughters while dealing with their own demons. A story told in the alternating first-person points of view of the three sisters, this book is about the strength, love, and importance of family.  


Review: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a powerful story of modern-day struggles. Gray takes on many tough realities in this book: parental imprisonment, eating disorders, depression, suicide, and abuse, just to name a few. The three Butler sisters each come to the table with their own baggage and Gray does a great job fleshing out each of their stories in very distinctive voices. However, I found myself caring more for the two younger sisters than the oldest. It was hard to find sympathy for Althea, and while I tried, about halfway through the book I lost it completely with her overly harsh treatment of her children and her seeming disregard for her crimes. And as the character whose voice opens the book, we are led to believe that this is the one we are meant to connect with the most or at least be able to follow with some form of interest. I struggled to understand her and still found myself not caring much about her by the end of the book. There just wasn’t enough character arc with her. Nothing that happened to her seemed to change her at all for the positive or change her at all really. The storylines of the other two sisters and Althea’s teen daughters are what pulled me into the story and made me want to keep reading. I found myself at multiple points comparing this book to another recent read. Along with having a main character (or characters) in prison, and having the story told from three different points of view, this book has a very similar feel to An American Marriage. However, where An American Marriage was more male heavy in voice, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is completely female driven. But the disconnect with Althea really made it hard to fully invest in the whole story.  


Mommy Readability Rating: The sections were relatively short and easy to get through in a brief reading session. The voices of the three sisters are made unique enough that their own storylines are easy to distinguish. In addition, the story is told quite linearly, with each sister picking up pretty much where the last left off, making it easy to follow and come back to after a break without need of much of a refresher. 


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Cilka's Journey

Author: Heather Morris
Category: Adult
Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: ARC Paperback
Published: October 2019
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy readability rating: 7/10

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Summary: Based on a true story, Cilka’s Journey is the follow-up story to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, detailing the life and events of one of the previous novel’s supporting characters, Cilka Klein. (After the first book, many readers wanted to know, "What happened to Cilka?") Sent to Auschwitz at just sixteen-years-old, Cilka is, for three years, sexually abused by the camp commandant. When Auschwitz is liberated, she is sent to a Siberian prison camp by the Russians for having been a collaborator, since she slept with the enemy, and suspected spy, as she knows multiple languages. But when she meets a kind female doctor in the prison’s hospital, Cilka finds new life in caring for patients in the most brutal conditions. This book tells the story of a true survivor.

Review: If you loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz (which I did), you will love Cilka’s Journey every bit as much, if not more (Note: You do not need to have read the first book to read the second. While Tattooistdoes provide a great deal of information which makes Cilka’s Journey more easily and readily consumable, Cilka’s Journey provides enough background to make the book a stand-alone success). Morris’ writing is just as powerful and poignant in this second book. The reader interacts with several of the same characters through flashbacks and Cilka’s memories. One major difference between the two, however, is the main character’s gender. As the Tattooist’s protagonist was male, the main story was of the male experience. But Cilka’s Journey is told from the female perspective and therefore provides a deeper look at the female experience both in the concentration camp and the prison (I must warn that this does mean a great deal of focus on the sexual abuse and brutality that women suffered in these places). I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz directly before, and in preparation for, reading Cilka’s Journey. I would advise others to take a bit of a break between the two to allow for a rest from such tragic and brutal stories. But, none-the-less, I found this book fascinating. I have read numerous stories about prisoners of the concentration camps, but I have read very little about the lives of those who survived after they left the camps. This is a tragic and heroic story of a woman who made it through the horrors of the Holocaust only to face further torture at the hands of the Russians once the war was over. Morris has created a beautiful memorial for Cilka and all woman like her in this book.

Mommy Readability Rating: This is a tough book to get through, purely based on the heart-breaking subject matter. From a mother’s point of view, one aspect of the book I found particularly interesting was the storyline focusing on the prison’s maternity ward and what happened to women who gave birth in the prison as well as the babies they give birth to. The story is quite consuming and you can definitely lose yourself for hours reading this book. It gets quite graphic and dark, for obvious reasons, but the pacing is good and chapters are relatively short with plenty of points which allow for breaks from reading. This is definitely not an audiobook to play in the car with young children listening.

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Daisy Jones and The Six

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Category: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Audio book (Audible)
Published: March 2019
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10

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Summary: Daisy Jones is a rising rock star in L.A. in the late sixties. The Six are a band, led by Billy Dunne, on the verge of unparalleled fame. Their producer quickly realizes that putting Daisy and the band together could make Rock & Roll history. What follows is the ultimate story of 1970s sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll. Told in interview format, each band member, and others who were closely related to the band, tell the story of Daisy Jones & The Six’s rise, stardom, and eventual end.

Review: I listened to this book in the Audible format (because sometimes audio books are the only way to get reading done with children around). When I first started listening, I had to go back and confirm that this was indeed fiction. The story just felt so real, as if it was a recording of a VH1 “Behind the Music” episode. Reid creates such strong characters, each with a very unique voice, and, with her vivid descriptions, makes the time and place of the story come alive. I felt so invested in every single character and all of their individual journeys. Reid is quite proficient at making some rather awful people feel worthy of our sympathy. Each character is so real, sometimes the hero and sometimes the villain, and Reid explores that balance with great skill. I highly recommend listening to this story as an audio book as the actors who play the different parts are remarkable, adding so much to the story through their performances. However, I do plan to read this book in print soon as I am very intrigued to see how the author executed the story in that format.

Mommy Readability Rating: As an audio book, this is such a fun and easy listen (I say fun, although it does get quite dark at points). While the sections are long, they are broken up into individual characters’ tellings, creating adjustable stopping points. It is a very linear story, and so it is easy to follow the story. I would warn, however, due to language and content, this is not the best audio book to play in the car with the kids listening.

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The Dearly Beloved

Author: Cara Wall
Category: Adult
Genre: Domestic Fiction
Pages: 338 Pages
Format: ARC Paperback
Published: August 13, 2019
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy readability rating: 8/10

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Summary: Charles is a priest whose wife doesn’t believe in God. James is a priest whose wife believes in God more than he. When the two men are called to lead the Third Presbyterian Church together, the couples find their lives tied together and torn apart. The story follows both couples through their courtship and marriage and the unlikely friendships that build between the four. For decades, each one serves the church in their own way as they struggle with love, friendship, commitment, forgiveness, and, above all, faith. The Dearly Beloved explores the ways we search for meaning in our life and the unlikely places we find it.

Review: The Dearly Beloved is the first book I have read in a while that really made me consider some of my personal beliefs. It was not preachy in any way, but opened up questions in my mind that made me explore my own ideas of faith, spirituality, and reason. Whether you believe in God or not, Wall has delivered a very thought-provoking story. This is in no way a Christian or religious book. It is a story of life and the journey we all take through the secular world, with the setting just happening to be focused on a church. Wall expertly portrays the intimate lives of these two couples, causing the reader to become fully invested in the outcomes of all the characters. Each one is so honest and real, with their own faults that make you love and understand them more. Wall’s story is beautiful and heartbreaking and utterly important. I will definitely be reading this again.

Mommy Readability Rating: I found this book to have a bit of a slow start, but after the first few chapters, I was hooked. Some of the chapters are a bit on the longer side, but there are plenty of section breaks to allow for a pause in reading. This is a story you really want to pay attention to and so I recommend reading during naptimes or after the kids have gone to bed for the night.

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Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng
Category: Adult
Genre: Family Drama
Pages: 304 Pages
Format: Audiobook (Audible)
Published: June 2014
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy readability rating: 7/10

(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)

Summary: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Review: Everything I Never Told Youis a beautifully written story about family tragedy, the events that follow, and the effort it takes to understand those that you think you know best. It also explores the ideas of being different and the various meanings that can have for an individual. I know that this is not a new book, but it's a great one. I had previously read Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and was hoping that this book’s writing would live up to the excellence of that book. I was not disappointed. Ng is an expert at creating full, real characters, getting to the core of who they are and how they feel. She writes a teenage girl as well as she does a grown man and even perfectly depicts the emotions and world view of a young child. This book is the ultimate picture of a family, with all of its realities and imperfections. But even through the sadness of it all, Ng is able to write in a way that the reader is left with hope. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys this kind of story and I look forward to whatever Ng writes next.

Mommy Readability Rating: The low Mommy Readability Rating for this book comes purely from the rough, emotional subject matter. As I listened to this book, rather than reading a physical copy, I am not aware of the written pacing. But if it’s like the audio version, there were plenty of places to pause and take breaks for when you have only short amounts of time to read. There is a lot of time jumping from present to past, however, which can make returns to the story a bit tough when you don’t have the pages in front of you to refresh your memory.

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The Handmaid's Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood
Category: Adult
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 339 Pages
Format: Paperback
Published: 1985
Book rating: 10/10
Mommy readability rating: 7/10

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Summary: In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. The result is the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enslaves the few remaining fertile women. Offred is one of these, a Handmaid bound to produce children for one of Gilead’s commanders. Deprived of her husband, her child, her freedom, and even her own name, Offred clings to her memories and her will to survive. At once a scathing satire, an ominous warning, and a tour de force of narrative suspense, The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic.

Review: I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, it having been around precisely for the entirety of my life and my never having read it. However, in preparation for reading Atwood’s new book, The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, I knew I needed to read this one first. And I am glad I gave myself enough time to take a break from the world of Gilead before having to return for my book club read next month. I have never read such a terrifying story that was written so beautifully. And I think the terrifying nature of the story is all the stronger in light of today’s current events. The book is frightening for its absolute possibility. If I had read this a decade ago, I would have found it troubling, but still an imagined impossibility. Today, I’m not sure. Atwood created a world so real that the reader finds themselves trapped in her setting, connected to the characters from the very first scene, and worried for their outcome. And the foundation of that story is writing that is simply exquisite. I only wish that I had read this book earlier so that I could have read it multiple times by now. There is so much to explore in this book and my future readings will consist of a complete savoring of Atwood’s language and imagery. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to explore the beauty of language. I know that there is now a show based on this novel (and by all accounts, the first season follows the book and finishes where it finishes, while the later seasons take on new stories set in Gilead), however I have no desire to watch it. The images and stories The Handmaid’s Tale left in my mind were vividly sufficient. For now, I am trying to recover and view the world in a positive, hopeful light, before returning to Gilead.

Mommy Readability Rating: This book is beautifully written and it is easy to get completely absorbed in Atwood’s descriptions. This is, however, a book to read just little bits at a time. The subject matter is so overwhelming that I needed constant breaks. And, being a mother and having gone through pregnancy and birth, there are many things within this book that struck my emotional core. Fair warning, this is a tough one, but a definite must-read.

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The Huntress

Author: Kate Quinn  

Category: Adult 

Genre: Historical Fiction 

Pages: 531 

Format: Hardcover 

Published: February 2019  

Book rating: 8/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 8/10   


(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)  


Summary: Nina and Ian are both haunted by their time in WW2. She as a pilot in the all-female Night Witches of the Soviet Union, he as a British war correspondent. After the war, they team up to track down the Nazi murderess known at The Huntress. Meanwhile, in Boston, 17-year-old Jordan is working towards becoming a photographer when her bachelor father brings home a new wife. The more Jordan learns about her mysterious new step-mother, the more suspicious she becomes that something sinister is happening. The war has left dark secrets in everyone’s past. But what happens when the past comes to find you?  


Review: Add this to the list of great WW2 era books that have already come out this year. (And in an interesting connection to my earlier WW2 read, The Only Woman in the Room, there is even a mention of Hedy Lamarr on page 17!) The story begins with a woman on the run. But who is this woman? And are we supposed to be on her side or on the side of those hunting her? That is followed by a news article written about The Huntress, a murdering Nazi who did beyond awful things during the war. And with that, you’re pulled into this intriguing tale of war, murder, and the aftermath. Told in alternative perspectives, with chapters focusing on Ian, Nina, or Jordan, the reader is left to start piecing together how all these stories will intersect. And you do, pretty early on. And that’s the one negative I found about this book. It is a long book. A very long book. And, unfortunately, really longer than it needs to be. About halfway through, I figured out who was who and what was what and spent the next hundred pages just waiting for the characters to figure it out too. Granted, Quinn spent that time adding some fantastic detail and interesting plot points, but in the back of my mind I was just wanting her to hurry up and get to the part that I knew was coming. There were missed encounters and ignored dialogue which, you knew what the author was trying to do, but was still a bit frustrating. I will say though, when it finally happened, it did so in a way that I didn’t guess it would, which was a twist I really appreciated. In addition, I really enjoyed Quinn’s writing. So much so that I have already ordered her previous book, The Alice Network, and am very much looking forward to reading it.  


Mommy Readability Rating: Warning, as I said, and in case you haven’t looked at the page count, this is a long book. And, for the previously stated reason, can feel a bit slow when you’re waiting for a particular event to happen. But the chapters are relatively short, making it easy to read in small chunks, and the writing is quite good, which really pulls you through the story. This is one that can be read during naptimes, after bedtimes, and even when the kids are playing on their own. 


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I Know Who You Are

Author: Alice Feeney
Category: Adult
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Pages: 288 Pages
Format: Hardcover
Published: April 2019
Book rating: 8/10
Mommy readability rating: 9/10

(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)

Summary: When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is―but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

Review: Halfway through, I thought I had it all figured out. Up until the last twenty pages, I thought I figured it out. Boy was I wrong. Feeney works in a twist that seems unbelievable, but totally works. It leaves the reader completely shocked, without feeling fooled. This is an interesting story, following two separate timelines that eventually converge. I found myself pulled through this book quite quickly, wanting to know with each turn of the page what happens next. Feeney does a great job making her main character quite relatable while also making the reader slightly uncomfortable with the situation she’s put her in. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a good psychological thriller.

Mommy Readability Rating: This was a fairly quick and easy read. The chapters are short, providing for quick reading sections. The story, however, is quite compelling, often making it difficult to put the book down. I would warn that child abduction does occur in the story, which may be a trigger for some parents.

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#IMOMSOHARD

Author: Kristin Hensley & Jen Smedley
Category: Adult
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 270
Format: Hardcover
Published: April 2019
Book rating: 7.5/10
Mommy readability rating: 9/10

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Summary: Kristin and Jen bring the wit and humor of their #IMOMSOHARD brand to their first book that covers everything about motherhood, from their relationships with their husbands to pregnancy and birth to the realities of the post pregnancy body to the everyday struggles and joys of keeping tiny humans alive. Told in a collection of anecdotes, Kristin and Jen reach out to all moms with a high five, a hug, and a glass of wine.

Review: #IMOMSOHARD is a great brand and this book is a good taste of that brand. Kristin and Jen are just two normal, funny, very honest women who are sharing their truths about motherhood. It took me a while to finish this book, mainly because I just read little bits at a time. There was no overarching plot to get sucked into, forcing me to turn page after page, but rather amusing anecdotes that I could consume at my leisure. (Another reason…some days as a mom are so rough and tiring that when you finally have a moment to escape into a book, the last thing you want to do is read about another mom’s ups and downs.) But I am glad I took the time to read it. There were stories they told where I was very happy it wasn’t me, and others that were far too relatable. For the most part, the book was funny and I would imagine any mom could find at least a few relatable instances to chuckle about. However, the parts I struggled to enjoy were the moments when the authors really dug into the negativity of a situation. They claim to be all for their kids and for mothers everywhere, and their message is often quite positive, but occasionally there were portions of the book that strayed from that ideal. These were the parts I found difficult to get through. I do want to make clear, however, that I am not talking about their sections on mental health and self-care. I felt, in these areas, their message was honest and needed when talking about the realities of motherhood. Overall, an enjoyable read. Moms, grab a glass of wine, put your feet up, and enjoy a story or two from #IMOMSOHARD.

Mommy Readability Rating: The stories are broken out into themed sections with Kristin and Jen contributing to each one. The sections are relatively short and easy to get through. You can read a whole section at a time, or for even shorter reading sessions, just read either Jen or Kristin’s part. It may be a book you want to stay away from when you’ve had a tough mom day, or the perfect thing in which to find solace and sisterhood.

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Lost and Wanted

Author: Nell Freudenberger

Category: Adult 

Genre: Fi-Sci 

Pages: 336 

Format: Hardcover 

Published: April 2019 

Book rating: 7/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10  


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Summary: A phone call from a friend who just died sends Helen Clapp, physicist and single mother, on the search for answers. Answers about her friend, answers about her own academic work, about a lost love, her son, and the relationships and world growing and changing around her.  


Review: Lost and Wanted grabs the reader, albeit lightly, from the very first chapter. The narrator, Helen, gets a phone call from a friend who she soon finds out was already dead at the time. It’s an interesting premise and one that gives the reader many questions that need answers. From the beginning, we understand that this will be a story rooted in science, as the narrator is a physicist and much of her life revolves around her work. This book is one of a growing trend of Fi-Sci. Not Science Fiction, but rather fiction set in the contemporary scientific world. As I read, I kept wondering whether the science that Helen and her colleagues were working on would come to be an integral part of the plot. Instead, it simply continued as the background upon which this story of life played out. So, while this story very much appeals to those interested in science, and the sections that focus on the recent goings on of physics (particularly astrophysics and the detection of gravitational waves) are quite interesting, you can still enjoy the story if you don’t fall into this category. If you’re looking for a book that is all wrapped up in a neat little bow, this is not one of those. After finishing, I was left somewhat lost and wanting. But the more I thought about it, I realized that was the point. The book is about life, and that’s life. It doesn’t always provide polished closure. It is what it is and that’s what Freudenberger shows quite well in this book. It is a story about the relationship between past and present and what these mean for the future, both in life and science.  


Mommy Readability Rating: I gave this book a fairly high readability rating. Most chapters were relatively short and easy to get through. The story is told quite linearly with flashbacks kept well incorporated into the present timeline, so it’s not hard to jump back into reading and remember where you were. The language is light enough that it can be read without overly deep concentration. The scientific explanation bits are not so vital to the plot that a lack of full focus or absorbing would take away from the story.  


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Mrs. Everything

Author: Jennifer Weiner
Category: Adult
Genre: Historical Women’s Fiction
Pages: 464 Pages
Format: Hardcover
Published: June 2019
Book rating: 8.5/10
Mommy readability rating: 8/10

(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)

Summary: Jo and Bethie Kaufman are sisters growing up in the 1950s and 60s. Jo is the tomboy, forever disappointing her traditional mother, and Bethie is the pretty, feminine socialite. But as the years carry on, and tragedy strikes the family, and the girls individually, their lives seem to veer in directions no one could have imagined. Bethie takes off into the world of counterculture and Jo becomes the traditional housewife. But neither seem to be able to find their happiness or their place as a woman in the world. While it’s a book about two sisters, Mrs. Everything really explores what it means to be a woman and our relationships with ourselves and each other.

Review: This was such a beautiful story. Weiner does a great job at depicting the realities of life and avoiding the cliché. But, while I did really enjoy this book, the one thing that lowers the rating for me was the lack of agency by either of the main characters. Life just seems to happen to them and, while it is an eventful life, it is far into the story before either of them actually does anything to take control of her own circumstances. This may just be a reality of the times that Weiner is writing about, but it does get a bit frustrating for the reader. Also, I wonder why the author named her main characters Jo and Beth without any connection in the book to Little Women. Other than that, I found it an interesting and thought-provoking read. Who am I as a woman and who are we as the collective female population? Weiner explores all the aspects of womanhood, including shining a light on how awful we occasionally treat each other. Mrs. Everything does a brilliant job at exploring the steps we have taken in making a place for ourselves at the table while also showing us how far we still have to go.

Mommy Readability Rating: Fair warning, this is a long book, but for the most part, the sections are easily readable. A good read for after the kids are in bed. Also, if you happen to listen to this as an audiobook, there are several fairly graphic sex scenes that would not really be appropriate for little ears listening in the car.

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Normal People

Author: Sally Rooney 

Category: Adult 

Genre: Literary Fiction 

Pages: 288

Format: Audiobook (Audible) 

Published: April 2019 

Book rating: 6/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 6/10   


(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)  


Summary: Connell and Marianne have grown up together. In school, they were in very different social circles but they formed a relationship based on the fact that Connell’s mother worked for Marianne’s family. They grow closer and have an on again off again relationship throughout their college years. Both are looking for their place in life while struggling with mental illness and societal expectations.  


Review: If I was asked to describe Normal People in a single word, I would say “pointless”. I had seen multiple raving reviews about this book, and so I was eager to read it. I was, however, quite disappointed. Is Rooney an excellent writer? Yes. But you need more than good writing to make a good book and this one really didn’t have anything else. It’s the story of two people and how their relationship affects one another throughout their lives. But that’s it. Nothing really happens. To an aggravating extent, nothing happens. It’s one of those classic “will they or won’t they” situations and the author seems to have resolutely decided “Meh, maybe, I dunno.” Rooney just circles around and around, looping these two characters back on each other in an alternating fashion where literally nothing happens. The reader is left with emptiness at the end. No resolution, no hope, no idea of what purpose it was for which they just spent all that time reading. In addition, there are some very serious issues, particularly pertaining to mental health which just seemed to be brushed over or brushed aside. The idea that these things were “normal” was a bit troubling. As I listened to this book on Audible, the only part I really enjoyed of this “reading” experience was that I got to listen to an Irish accent for seven and a half hours (Rooney is an Irish writer and the whole story takes place in Ireland). As I said, Rooney is a good writer and so I would be open to reading another of her books in the future. I can only hope it might have more of a plot and purpose.  


Mommy Readability Rating: With such little reading time available, I would not recommend other moms read this book. There are far better stories to fill your time. If you do go ahead and read it though, and are listening to it as an audiobook as I did, I would warn that there is plenty of language and graphic sexual scenes that might not be the most appropriate for young ears to listen to. 


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