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The Book Beat - August 18, 2021

Hello, book friends! Long time, no blog!

Where have I been? I'll be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed with work, kids, summer vacations, Covid concerns, cleaning, three words, life in 2021. Unfortunately, writing this blog was pushed down the priority list and, to be completely honest, I experienced some writer's block, so I ended up reading a ton since reading has always been the inspiration for the growth of my own writing skills. I apologize for the delay. I love writing these blog posts and if they were the only writing I had to do, I would do it daily. It's so much fun...sharing book news, book recs, book reviews and celebrating books with you. I'm glad to be back!

The good news is I have read and listened to quite a few books! So what I'm going to do below is share a few book news stories with you, finish up the Pride Month feature I left only half done, and then give reviews of all the books and audiobooks I've read/listened to in the last two months (22 total!). I was thrilled to hit my 60-book @GoodReads goal for 2021 earlier than December 31st!

I hope you've had a great summer, filled with family, fun, health, and good books. Now, onto my first and favorite book news story of the summer!

Book-Budget Must-Buy!

Forever More by Gloria Duke

For years, I've been sharing the romance-writing-convention-going and writing-retreat adventures of my BFF Gloria and I. Well, she just snagged herself a two-book publishing deal! WOW. I don't say "wow," because I'm shocked...she's a great writer and after winning two Golden Leaf awards for unpublished writers at the New Jersey Romance Writer's Conference, I knew it was only a matter of time. Plus, I've read Forever More and it's amazing! I say "wow," because I am in awe of her discipline (Me: Those who can't finish their own books write about books!) and talent. I'm so excited for her. I will keep you all posted on when this book will be out, but for now, get ready. I know you're going to love it. Congrats, my dear friend! When people you love succeed, it restores your faith in the humanity and decency in this world. That might sound overly dramatic, but in this case, it's 100% true.

Me with the soon-to-be published author!

I Feel Seen!

Speaking of not writing, this fun article shares what some famous writers have said about their writing schedules and how procrastination might be an important part of the writing process. Yay?! I do feel great that I'm not the only one who procrastinates, but these writers have figured out the trick of actually getting a whole (good) book written. I'm jealous!

Prince Harry Has His Say

I'm saving up an Audible credit, because Prince Harry reading his own memoir will be a book that MUST be listened to! That accent! About his memoir, coming in late 2022, Harry says, "I'm writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become." He's ready to dish, ya'll! And I, for one, can't wait.

Pride Month Finale!

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I listened to this memoir on audio. It was intoxicating and terrifying. Carmen reads it and recounts her harrowing personal experience with psychological abuse in a queer relationship. She takes this discussion even further by exploring the lack of queer representation in literature, movies, etc., particularly in regards to domestic violence and partner abuse, both physical and psychological. I found it valuable in educating me about her specific experience but also how emotional/psychological abuse is not merely confined to heterosexual relationships. She's candid and does a great job putting her personal experience into a larger and, at times, mystical context that's not often written/talked about. It's raw and engrossing.

Interestingly enough, this book was one that was just banned from being listed on reading lists or included in the high-school classrooms of the Leander Independent School District in Texas. More info about that here. As I've always said in this blog, limiting young adults' exposure to the voices and experiences of marginalized communities by banning books is unacceptable--to this bookworm who abhors censorship. You don't want your kids reading something? Fine. Don't let them read it. But taking books off of general lists for teens--books that can educate and enlighten our next generations--does not allow them the space to do the thing that has defined my life...Read ➡️ Learn ➡️ Grow.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I listened to this audiobook and loved it! I had just finished Stephen Fry's Mythos (review below) on audio, so I knew a bit about Achilles, but I didn't know about the stories (Shakespeare being one) that interpret the myths to cast him as the male lover of Patroclus. According to Homer's Iliad, Patroclus was Achilles's childhood friend and close wartime companion.

Romantic, epic, and emotional, this book imagines the original meeting of Achilles and Patroclus and how their childhood friendship grew into this deeper relationship that takes them all the way to the Trojan War. Frazer Douglas did an amazing job narrating it, especially the raspy voice of Achilles' sea nymph mom, Thetis. Highly recommend!

Review-A-Palooza! 22 Book Reviews!

Some are long, some are short (I've repurposed some of the reviews I've put on my Bookstagram here).

For the shorter ones: The heart marks what I loved about the book and the "eh" face speaks to what I didn't care for. All in all, a collection of GREAT books. Fiction. Nonfiction. Memoir. Romance. It's been a great summer for reading!

Still...just wait until this fall. Our bookshelves overflow...seriously! There are so many amazing-sounding books to look forward to!

Audiobook Reviews

🎧 Yearbook by Seth Rogen - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Seth Rogen shares stories from both his childhood and years in Hollywood that are funny, self-deprecating, interesting, and eye-opening. As you’d expect from a guy who owns a cannibis company, there’s a lot of talk about weed, but this book has so much heart beneath the humor.

Seth started doing standup at just 14, so he’s definitely seen and done a lot and has put in the work to earn his success. While very successful, he doesn’t seem to be arrogant or full of himself. He comments repeatedly about his struggles with body image, his tough relationship with his grandparents, and his interactions with super-rich eccentrics in Hollywood (oh, George Lucas, no!). I loved it from start to finish and it made the hated chore of weeding much more fun. So much fun that my neighbor came over to check on why I was laughing out loud. 🤣

Also, do the audio if you can. I borrowed it from #LibbyApp. Seth gets his friends to read the dialogue of the friends/characters in the book. I noticed Jason Alexander playing his ex-manager and whoever did the Nic Cage voice (it couldn’t possibly be Nic Cage…when you hear the story you’ll understand why!) did an amazing job. Plus, people like Tommy Chong and Jason Segel do their actual dialogue. It makes listening to it even more engaging. I got the hardcover too, and the “review” from Seth’s mom on the back and the cool cover are worth the price alone. If you need a few hours of laughs, read/listen to this book. It’s terrific!

🎧 The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

❤️: This story of life and death hit me in the heart and never let go. Charming, sweet, and hopeful. The narration is fab, too.

😕: Was Rose too precocious? Maybe.

🎧 Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

❤️: Ashley is extraordinarily candid—about her weirdness as a child, her mother’s cruelty & especially the horrific sexual assault she experienced as a teen. I ached for her tragedies and cheered her ultimate triumphs.

😕: I wanted more information about her current relationships with her parents.

🎧 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

❤️: Tom Hanks’ narration was top-notch! I also loved this twist on the classic fairytale story. It shows this family and their connection to their house in its distinct complexity. Ann Patchett can be hit or miss for me, but this book was definitely a hit.

😕: Told from Danny’s POV, I would have loved to get more into Maeve’s head.

🎧 Mythos by Stephen Fry - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

❤️: Stephen made the convoluted family trees and stories of Greek myth engaging AND hilarious. His commentary, especially when he calls out the ridiculousness of some of the Gods, had me laughing out loud many times.

😕: As much as I loved it, the repetition of the themes (Zeus impregnates many MANY women besides his wife, Hera) caused my attention to wane at the end, even with Stephen's theatric telling capabilities.

🎧 One Life by Megan Rapinoe - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

❤️: Megan's passionately unapologetic about her talent and her social justice work/actions, even in the face of adversity and critique. I really enjoyed listening to how she grew up to be the soccer star she is, and how she's working to grow as a person AND fight so female soccer players make as much as men.

😕: I can't help it—I judge all memoirs against the superb Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. As engaging as Megan's life was/is, this one didn't hit that level of amazingness.

🎧 Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

❤️: Brandi's trajectory from a poor yet music-filled childhood in Seattle to her life as the gay wife/mother of two children and a Grammy-award-winning artist and producer is emotional and vividly honest. I especially enjoyed her speaking to how she reconciles her deep Christian faith with the religion's disavowal of the legitimacy of her sexuality. Extra kudos for each chapter of the audiobook ending in a song relevant to the prose.

😕: Again, not on par with Trevor's memoir, but still surprisingly engrossing.

🎧 The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Part memoir, part Biblical interpretation, this book tells the story of how Beth and her husband, a youth pastor in a Southern Baptist Church, were kicked out of their longtime congregation for challenging the church's tenet of "male headship," or that a woman's role in family, church and life, as defined by the Gospel, is a submissive one. Women must prioritize children and the home over a career and defer to their husbands and male pastors, at both home and in church. Women are also not allowed to teach anyone in the congregation except girls/women and are not allowed to be church leaders or pastors.

This experience leads Dr. Barr, a Medieval scholar/historian and college professor, to use both Biblical and historical texts to support her thesis: That the Bible doesn't call for women to be submissive to men, the secular culture of patriarchy does (a culture that's been around from before Christ to now). She explores how the handful of lines of scripture that are interpreted as preaching the submissive concept of "biblical womanhood" are interpreted incorrectly. If the church claims to be "divine" and "above" secular concepts, it shouldn't debase itself by falling prey to the fallacious system of patriarchy.

I really enjoyed listening to Dr. Barr's historical and Biblical assessments. Frankly, I had no clue male headship and the subjugation of women were so prevalent in evangelical Christian spheres. I'm glad she's using her wealth of Biblical and historical knowledge to combat this system.

🎧 Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book is a revelation. Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Wilkerson explores how India's caste system—a rigid social hierarchy that determines who has power and who doesn't—is also present in racial form in America, but in a much more subtle yet pervasive way. Using real stories about real people—Wilkerson herself, Martin Luther King, Jr., Willie James Howard, etc.—she shows how the American caste system has been hidden yet prevalent from the start of the New World and how it continues to adversely affect our nation in a myriad of ways, from health care to culture to politics.

I loved this book. It should be in every high-school curriculum in the country. It's that informative and does an amazing job putting American history in context with continued delineations (and consequences) of caste in our country. Wilkerson is a master at describing dense historical and scholarly ideas in layman's terms and keeping the discussion thoroughly engaging. The big and little historial facts she imparts range from eye-opening to astounding. Some news-to-me ones: The Nazis studied the racial system in America to inform how they would go about persecuting Jews. The litany of lynchings and violence towards Black people in the Jim Crow South went mostly unchallenged and were utterly horrific. The baseball career that Black pitcher Satchel Page Wilkerson herself was denied access to an interviewee because he could not believe that she, a Black woman, worked for The New York Times. The genesis of inoculation being brought to America by an enslaved man from Africa.

Wilkerson doesn't just share all this and then just end the book. She offers suggestions on how our country can honestly and effectively address its inherent caste system and work towards a community that embraces its universal humanity. Highly (highly) recommend for all.

Book Reviews

📗 How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I've been on a nonfiction kick lately related to social justice issues and just a general hope to learn more about history. It makes me think of when I was the dork in college highlighting almost everything on the page just to try to soak up and remember all I didn't know or had learned before and forgotten. I love reading to learn and, after learning, working to change my perspective/ideas to be more informed, present, and honest.

This amazing book took me a few weeks to get through, but with reading and re-reading and page-flagging and note-taking...well, let's just say it's chockful of information, while also being wonderfully written.

Clint, a journalist for The Atlantic, visits six locales in the U.S. and Goree Island in Senegal to see how (or if) each place is reconciling its past association with slavery. This includes New York City, Blandford Cemetery in VA (a confederate soldier cemetery created by the Daughters of the Confederacy), Angola Prison (the largest maximum security prison in the U.S. that sits on land that used to house a plantation), The Monticello Plantation, The Whitney Plantation, and Galveston Island in TX (where the Juneteenth proclamation was originally read).

He gives the true (and sometimes shocking) history of the location, describes (in beautiful prose) how it looks, speaks to curators/tour guides/other tour attendees/etc., and honestly shares his reflections on the spot as a Black man whose ancestors were enslaved or lived through racial discrimination/segregation in the early/mid 1900s.

He doesn't pull punches when sharing how some of these places downplay or ignore their past association with slavery or seem to believe and espouse inaccurate depictions of American history. Especially poignant is the final chapter where he interviews his own grandparents about their ancestors who were slaves and how they themselves lived during segregation. It's enlightening and essential. Highly recommend!

📘 Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Oh, I liked this one! The Riva siblings, four adults who are the kids of June and the famous musician, Mickey Riva, are dealing with various stresses in their lives. Yet their close relationships with each other are threatened by family secrets that come to the surface at the yearly party at recently separated Nina's Malibu mansion. Reid, doing what she does best, gives us a frothy, escapist story about the rich and famous that entertains as it harkens to real-life issues that affect us all, money and fame or not. It's not as great as Daisy or Evelyn Hugo, but it's still good.

📕Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

While at times slow, this story will still keep you interested based on the subject matter alone. Mary Deerfield lives in Boston in 1662 and is married to a violence-prone drunk named Thomas, who drives a three-pronged "fork" into her hand. She initiates divorce proceedings (unheard of at the time), but the religious notions of patriarchy and the fear of the devil lurking in every corner (especially a three-pronged fork!) influence the proceedings and Mary's fate. I enjoyed this one! You'll root for Mary every step of the way.

📘 The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam - ⭐⭐⭐

I really wanted to like this one, but it fell short for me. Teased as a fictional take on a Zuckerberg-type marriage between a God-like startup man and his coder wife who's the brains behind it all, it seemed to cheat in the end and wrap everything up in a too-tidy bow. Did Asha truly triumph over misogyny or did circumstance fuel her rise? It was left too open-ended. Love the cover, though!

📕Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book starts with a quote from Dirty Dancing, so I knew I was in for a treat. An emotional, family-centered story about two families that own a Catskills resort on its last legs. How the new generation interacts with the old generation is realistic and fun. It's a great summer book. Escapist, but also built on real-life feelings/issues. And look at the gorgeous cover! This one has major Mrs. Maisel vibes.

📗 Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read this book as part of my church book club and really enjoyed it. Rachel's down-to-Earth and humble questioning of the church, its teachings and actions, and its interpretations of the Bible were real, honest, and, in my mind, reminiscent of the struggles many Christians have with the church and their faith today (e.g. me). She's funny, self-deprecating, and real. It's such a damn shame she passed away at 45 and deprived us all of her much-needed voice. If you're Christian and struggling with your faith, especially at time when some Christian spheres seem to be actively working against humanity, read this book.

📕 If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This delightful retelling of the classic Cinderella story is swoony, fun, clever, and body-positive. I loved every page of it!

Cindy Eleanor Woods (Love it, Legally Blonde fans!) is a plus-sized shoe fanatic who barely graduated from fashion design school after her father unexpectedly died. She heads back to the West Coast to live with her (refreshingly) nice and loving stepmother, stepsisters, and step-triplets. On the plane ride home, she clicks with Henry, a Prince Charming-type guy. Little does she know, he ends up being the bachelor on the reality TV show, Before Midnight, that her stepmother runs AND that she just became the latest contestant on. Cindy has to battle pushy producers, behind-the-scenes machinations, catty other contestants, and the mockery AND adoration that comes with being a viral sensation for being the first plus-sized contestant on the show.

I was grinning ear-to-ear when I finished reading this book. It’s by Julie Murphy, the best-selling author of inclusive books like Dumplin’ and Pumpkin. She has ANOTHER hit on her hands with this sweet tale.

This is the perfect summer read...for the romance, the body-positive joy that is Cindy, and a truly distinct retelling of the classic fairytale. Plus, the shoes sound AH-mazing!

📘 We are the Brennans by Tracey Lange - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This family drama centers on the Brennans, an Irish Catholic family who owns a pub in New York. When the youngest, daughter Sunday, ends up back in New York after getting hurt in a DUI in Los Angeles, the reason she abruptly left five years ago keeps her family members guessing. As the future of the pub is threatened by a man from Sunday's past, the family reveals secrets long buried, while also figuring out how to work together to keep the pub running. I enjoyed this twisty drama that kept me guessing and had endearing, engaging characters.

eGalley Book Reviews

👍🏻 Much thanks to @NetGalley and @this_is_edelweiss for the free eGalleys in exchange for honest reviews.

📱 Site Fidelity by Claire Boyles - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author Claire Boyles has been a farmer and teacher, but throughout it all, she yearned to write. This novel is her debut collection of short stories.

An intimate exploration of the lives and livelihoods of all-too-human people living in the American West (Colorado in particular), this collection is vivid, in both its depictions of the human emotions that define the characters and the beauty of the land that they call home.

The stories converge around a general theme: The earthy existence for humans is both a struggle with their fellow humans (and the nature of emotions—both good and bad—that that entails) and with their environment, which is made particularly difficult thanks to man-made governmental and political issues that disrupt that natural connection. Each story explores an environmental justice issue—water laws, fracking, endangered species, etc.—within the confines of characters struggling to make sense of their lives and the people in them. The idea of “site fidelity” is a concept of animals staying in, or habitually returning to, a certain area. The characters in these stories experience the same pull. They love their families and the land they call home, even as they hurt, challenge them, and break their hearts again and again.

While all the stories were gorgeously written and emotionally resonant, I especially enjoyed the interconnected stories that followed three sisters through various stages in their—and their families’—lives. In “Sister Agnes Mary in the Spring of 2012,” Sister questions her relationship with her priest and God, while trying to stop a fracking operation from going up near a children’s playground. Her sister, Ruth, delivers her own baby in “Alto Cumulus Standing Lenticulars,” while also questioning whether to leave her absent husband and pursue the career she longs for. The third sister Mano, gets her story in “Early Morning Systems,” where she must decide how much of an activist for environmental justice she wants to be, while sussing through her messy love life. Learning about these women’s lives—and their complex yet real relationships with each other—was a novella of sorts in-and-of-itself and thoroughly engrossing.

Boyles uses evocative language to describe the land in all its beauty—and stark descriptions to reveal how its natural elegance can be marred by destructive humans and the systemic policies that threaten destruction. This was such a distinct theme/idea to build this collection around. You certainly can see Boyles' love of the land and her fellow humans shining through. Distinct, powerful writing!

📱 The Tragedy of Dane Riley by Kat Spears - ⭐⭐⭐

A YA book for ninth grade and up, this well-written and affecting book explores some pretty serious topics with realism, humor, and emotion. Dane Riley is a high school senior who's survived one suicide attempt and is contemplating it again as his depression gets worse with the unexpected death of his beloved father. Dane's livid that his mother has already moved on by allowing her new boyfriend, his father's best friend, Chuck, to move into the family home. Chuck's nasty son, Eric, goes to school with Dane and torments him. Dane's in love with his next-door neighbor, Ophelia, but doesn't know how to make his feelings known. Dane tries to numb his emotional pain by hanging out with his friends and smoking weed, but the lure of suicide continues to beckon. With allusions to Hamlet, this novel explores Dane's serious mental health struggles and the relationships he has with his family and friends. The frankness of this novel is laudable. I haven't read any of Spears' previous books, but her ability to realistically portray the actions, thoughts, and voices of disaffected teens has been highlighted in every other review I've read. I commend that in this novel, too. Dane's chats with his therapist and his mom, his texts to his Dad's old number, and his discussions with Ophelia and his friends were authentic and engrossing. Spears shows a deft ability to authentically portray all the characters (save Dane's mom--she seemed lacking) that are part of this complicated and serious situation. At the same time, these portrayals, particularly Dane, may have been too real for me. I absolutely appreciate it, but I felt the depths of Dane's anger, disillusionment, and emotional pain were explored at great length yet not balanced out by enough time spent on redemptive or cathartic moments. I know real life doesn't always wrap up in a bow, but I felt like too much was left unresolved at the end, especially the texts to his "Dad." That plot point in particular seemed to be built up just to fizzle out. The slight resolution to the entire story seemed rushed, too. Spears has a talent for writing teens, so I will definitely check out her other books. There's absolutely value and a need for serious young adult books like this; however, the exhausting emotional content in this one and its lack of a stronger resolution might be too overwhelming for some kids, particularly those who are dealing with similar mental struggles.

📱 Rock the Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein - ⭐⭐⭐

The sweet, fun summer read is the first fiction book from Beck Dorey-Stein, the author of From the Corner of the Oval, her memoir about being a stenographer in the Obama White House. I listened to Beck read that audiobook and enjoyed it. She's from my area (yay, PA!) and had an informative, exciting, and romantically intriguing story. In this book, childhood friends Kate, Ziggy, and Miles all end up back in their seaside hometown of Sea Point, NJ. All are experiencing upheavals in their lives and are searching for something to ease their troubles (emotional and situational). While they reconnect and try to reconcile their teenage dreams with their adult realities, they also fight against forces set on developing the town--and tearing apart the denizens of this charming seaside community. This book has the same confessional charm as Dorey-Stein's memoir, in that each of the main three characters are engaging, relatable, and complex. Also like her memoir, there's a bit of romantic intrigue, but it's not the driving force of the story. That force are the connections between these three friends and what has changed, both good and bad, since their teen years. While this one started out a bit slow, I became more invested in the storylines/characters as the novel picked up pace in the middle. Although it was well-written and the framework of a great summer beach book is here, I still felt like this book was missing the spark that would take it from good to great. The characterization of Kate was a bit uneven. She seems so cowardly and put-upon at the beginning--and every time she speaks about getting back together with Thomas--but when she meets Miles and shows her aptitude with not only her work but her sparring with him--she seems like a whole new character. I felt like her growth wasn't "shown" enough to warrant the change. Conversely, Ziggy was fully realized, especially his experience with the grief of losing his Dad. Miles had more layers that were peeled away with care, and I honestly didn't see the twist with his love life coming. All in all, this is an enjoyable, heartwarming, and breezy summer read. While it wasn't un-put-downable for me, it still had its charms and would certainly be a great choice to read while spending the day lounging on the sand.

📱 Mrs. March by Virginia Feito - ⭐⭐⭐.5

Ms. Feito's debut novel impresses with the intricately observed life of an upper-class woman living in New York City. Mrs. March, the wife of famed novelist George March, lives an ordered and precise life. Yet when she goes to her favorite patisserie to buy bread, the employee's question upends Mrs. March's curated existence. Is she the inspiration for the main character in her husband's latest literary smash? Is Mrs. March the prototype for a character who is a "whore?"

This moment sets Mrs. March on an increasingly paranoid path that devolves slowly, while still keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. Obsessed with the idea that her husband is hiding an inner life she is not privy to, she snoops in his office and finds an article about the murder and rape of a young woman in Maine. Is Mr. March the culprit? To her thinking, if he's sly enough to create a character based on his wife without her knowing, he's certainly capable of being a murderer.

Feito does a great job creating a compelling portrait of a woman experiencing a psychological break. Her descriptions of the specific look and actions of Mrs. March, from her purse to her mint green cloves to the random (and bizarre) thoughts she has are indispensable for building the image of a character whose appearance and upper-class lifestyle reflect the control that is crumbling, both physically and psychologically. As pertinent as the details of Mrs. March and her environment are, attributing the main narrative to this slow and methodical descent can get tedious to read at times, even with her increasingly nonsensical thoughts and actions. The ending was expected, yet I still enjoyed this extremely well-written and compelling story.

Even with its flaws, this is an ambitious and engaging debut. It's an original story and there's quite a few nods to famous thriller stories throughout, which are fun to find. Mrs. Feito is a great writer, and I'm excited to see what story she sets her talents on next.

📱 Songbirds by Christy Lefteri - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I loved Lefteri's first book, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, and have been looking forward to this one. Like Beekeeper, Lefteri uses her considerable writing talents to create a fictional narrative centered around a nonfiction injustice that exists in our world. Beekeeper focused on Syrian refugees trying to escape to England, while Songbirds is more specific. Through fiction it explores the real-life disappearance of domestic workers in Cyprus--workers who socially subjugated due to their status as migrants and domestic workers who have to work for pay--part of which goes to the employer.

Nisha left her home of Sri Lanka when her own daughter was two to work as a nanny for Petra, a wealthy widow living in Cyprus. Nisha's lover and Petra's upstairs tenant, Yiannis, is a man who, after being laid off, had to turn to poaching to make ends meet. Nisha uses his iPad to talk to her daughter in Sri Lanka and Petra has no clue her nanny and Yiannis are in a relationship. When Nisha disappears one night without her passport or other personal items, Petra and Yiannis become concerned. Nisha's disappearance sets Yiannis and Petra on paths of personal growth, while they try to find out what happened to her.

Through this search, the characters grow/change, with Petra especially (and through her, the reader) awakening to the subjugated lives of migrant domestic workers in Cyprus. Nisha leaves all she knows, including her own child, to work in Cyprus. She sends part of her pay home, but she also has to use some to pay back the employment agency for placing her in Petra's home. When Petra goes to the police about Nisha's disappearance, they're uninterested and do nothing to help . Flyers of Nisha are all over Cyprus but no one, aside from Petra, Yiannis, and other domestic workers, make an effort to find her.

Lefteri's prose is affecting, both emotionally and visually. The descriptions of the birds that Yiannis traps and the small details of the relationships between the main characters are presented delicately and beautifully. The echoes of real life that are presented here--the dismissiveness of police in regards to migrant workers, Petra's distanced relationship from her child, the horrific way some domestic workers are treated by their bosses--are devastating and may make the book too heavy for some readers. As well-written and engaging as the storylines and Lefteri's prose are, it's still a difficult subject and can, at times, be presented by Lefteri in a didactical sort of way. That doesn't mean the story shouldn't be told--it absolutely should--it just takes away from the theme of hope in the face of tragedy that runs through the novel.

Even with the heartbreaking subject matter and the occasional moralizing tone, I really liked this book. Quiet yet powerful, it concurrently broadened my knowledge about the life experiences of others in this world and mended my broken heart with themes of hope and solace. I'm thankful that Lefteri brought eloquence, humanity, and grace to this tough story.

30 (!!!!) Book Pics from My #Bookstagram!

And, that's all I wrote! I hope you pick up at least one of these books, since most were really good. We are so lucky to have so many good books available to read.

Next week, when I go back to a weekly posting schedule, I will post a Cover of the Week entry! But for now I'll post this happy book blogger pic and wish you a great week and happy reading!

I'm glad to be back!

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