Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
Who’s ready for summer?
May always feels like a big dividing line in my reading year, separating the school year reading from summer reading. With the influx of activities required at the end of any school year, May is always a hard reading month for me. Between soccer and the last this and the last that, my reading time always takes a beating.
Still, I was able to fit in some great reads this month. I focused on finishing off my hardcover new releases before my big summer trip. That way, I only need to bring my Kindle with me as I road trip across the United States.
So here’s a look at what I’ve been reading lately. As always, I’d love to hear about your recent reads in the comments!
May Reading List
Holly Black debuted her first adult fantasy book about a world of shadow magic. For a cost, shadows can be altered for beauty or power, but the secrets of magic are closely guarded. Living on the margins of society, Charlie Hall is a bartender trying to escape her former life as a con artist, a past she desperately wants to hide from her boyfriend, Vince. When a figure from her past returns, Charlie is dragged back into the magical underground market for magic texts in this new modern dark fantasy series.
Book of Night debuts a gritty version of Western Massachusetts, with complicated shadow magic that was often difficult to follow. Although technically an adult fantasy book, Book of Night reads just like a young adult fantasy, with protagonists perfectly posed to develop their own fandom. Yet, I struggled my way through the narrative, confused by the magical world and bored by the lifeless storytelling that plagued the entire novel, but especially the first half.
Journalist Cecily Wong has given up everything to join famous mountaineer Charles McVeigh on his record-breaking climb of Mt. Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak in the world. When a climber dies in a freak accident, Cecily worries the expedition might have to turn back. Then a second climber dies, and Cecily wonders if, instead of blaming the deaths on altitude sickness, she’s trapped high in the mountains with a killer.
You can tell that McCulloch has actually summited Mt. Manaslu because her descriptions of high altitude climbing felt intensely real. I loved that Cecily was a relatable beginning climber caught up in an adventure that pushed her to her limits. The mystery itself was overly complicated and a bit disappointing, but I still think this is a fun read for anyone looking for an adventure.
After her canceled wedding, Laurie Sassalyn returns to her Maine hometown to settle her great-aunt’s estate. Digging through her aunt’s house, Laurie is surprised to find an old love letter with a strange signoff and a gorgeous carved wooden duck. When the duck disappears under suspicious circumstances, Laurie dives into her great-aunt’s secrets and discovers what it means to make a life for yourself.
Flying Solo is a cute summer romance about discovering yourself in your midlife full of silly hijinx as Laurie fights to get back her aunt’s duck with the help of old friends and a handsome ex-boyfriend. Holmes’s story heavily relies on the concept of an alternate happily ever after, showcasing that marriage is not for everyone.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Ballantine Books through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Elizabeth Zott has always defied stereotyping, especially as the only woman chemist at the Hastings Research Institute in the 1960s. After falling in love with another chemist who sees her for who she is, life throws her a curveball. Now as a single mom, she unexpectedly finds herself the host of a tv cooking show. When Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking charms her audience, the women who watch her begin to question the status quo in their own lives, making Elizabeth a target of those who find the change unwelcome.
At first, I ignored the popular buzz around Lessons in Chemistry, thinking it would be your stereotypical historical romance. To my surprise, I found the book has a love story but isn’t a romance. Instead, Garmus presents an engrossing progressive historical fiction read with heartfelt depth and a searing look at sex discrimination in the past (and today).
When Emma falls seriously ill, her husband Leo begins to research her life for her obituary. The more he digs into his wife’s past, the more he realizes everything she told him about herself is a lie, including her name. Now Emma must convince Leo that he really does know her, but first she must tell him about the other love of her life.
Despite all the buzz around Rosie Walsh’s latest novel (including a Good Morning America book club selection), I was disappointed with The Love of My Life. Don’t get me wrong. Emma’s story is extremely poignant and memorable. However, the first half of the novel constantly hinted at the “big secret,” which was more of an annoyance than a hook. Although this slow-burn domestic drama picked up in the middle, the ending slowed back down, making the pacing seem all off.
Although the Library of Alexandria burned down centuries ago, the Alexandrian Society has always existed in secret, a vast repository of magic. When Libby graduates from a magical university, she hopes to never see her annoying co-valedictorian Nico again. But when Nico and Libby are both selected to compete for an exclusive fellowship with the Alexandrian Society, they join four other candidates vying for five open spots in one of the newest dark academia books.
At first, I was hooked by Blake’s compelling premise and the fun interplay between Nico and Libby. Yet, the further along I got in the narrative, the less I liked The Atlas Six. The book splits the story equally between the six candidates, which quickly became a problem because I detested half of them. Additionally, instead of building to a dramatic climax, the novel bores you to tears with an uninteresting lead-up devoted to the characters’ contemplation of a moral dilemma.
Julie Solomon, a business coach and creator of The Influencer Podcast, wants to empower women to make the impossible happen in their lives. Learn how to overcome your origin stories and throw away self-doubt to find the confidence you need to find your true purpose and push your goals further.
Although I love to read business books for women, I was not impressed with Get What You Want. Solomon worked so hard to only include original material that she missed out on showcasing her strengths to the reader. The first half of the book heavily focuses on mindset, yet Solomon doesn’t give specific examples or interesting anecdotes, so the advice goes in one ear and out the other. Near the end, she finally hints at concrete business advice about pitching that makes me think her courses are worth purchasing, but sadly I don’t think the book is.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
At Scholomance, a cutthroat school of magic, students are expected to graduate or die. The main rule: don’t ever walk the hallways alone for monsters lurk everywhere. A standoffish loner, El doesn’t have the advantages of the bigger cliches, but she does have a powerful magic that tends toward destruction. When she befriends the popular hero of the school, El must balance her survival with the survival of the other students in one of the best dark magic books out there.
Of the fantasy books I read this month, A Deadly Education was by far my favorite. My husband told me I had to try the “Dirty Harry Potter” series he was reading, and I quickly fell in love with Novik’s fantasy series. With top-notch world-building and a great premise, A Deadly Education blends the perfect mix of teenage angst and romance to make it a perfect YA series to read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book from my library.
Wanting to help their country during World War II, Grace Steele and Eliza Jones enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) to become one of the first class of women’s officers in the Army. Coming from the North, Grace and Eliza are not used to the segregated military and find they must be better than perfect as the first Black women in the service.
Inspired by the true story of the 688th Postal Battalion, Sisters in Arms was an interesting but forgettable historical fiction read. Alderson does give you an insightful look at racism in the military. However, the narrative didn’t have much action to push it along, leaving you underwhelmed with the story.
One ordinary day, 2-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandma on a park bench when the unimaginable happens. A loose brick falls from the windowsill above her head, striking her unconscious and leading to her death. Jayson Greene’s emotional memoir tells of the anguish he and his wife experienced during this horrible tragedy. Yet, even amid such agony, Greene recognizes that this will not be the end.
A story of finding hope and the power of love, Greene’s memoir is a heartbreaking look at the unimaginable pain of losing a child. Although not religious, the Greenes turned to spiritualism to help with their grief. At its most haunting, Greene describes Greta’s last days and the complicated feelings of having another child after Greta’s death.
As a graduate student in 1942, Eva fled Paris after her father, a Polish Jew, was arrested. Settling in a mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identities for Jewish children with the help of a Catholic priest and a handsome forger named Rémy. Falling in love with Rémy, she finds a way to record the children’s real names, and decades later, must come to terms with the betrayal of her resistance cell.
I feel like I’ve read so much World War II historical fiction that it’s hard to impress me anymore. Yet, I found The Book of Lost Names to be compulsively readable. Eva’s journey and struggles felt relatable while still bringing up deeper themes of identity and family expectations. Although not the most realistic or lyrical book, The Book of Lost Names hit the spot for a quick engrossing read with all the highs and lows of a fun period piece.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back next month to see which ones I read.
What books did you read in May?