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Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – April 2024

New book reviews of Interesting Facts about Space, The Many Lives of Mama Love, Just for the Summer, Annie Bot, James, The Murder After the Night Before, Happily Never After, and Dust Child.

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What an incredible month of reading April was! I’m not even sure how I got through all of these, because the month itself was crazy busy (anyone else get completely overwhelmed by everything that’s squeezed into the last two months of school?).

I think that speaks to how easy these were to dive into; books were truly a respite from the chaotic calendar. There are so many great book options for spring and summer reading, from romance to thought-provoking sci-fi, memoir to fast-paced mystery, and thoughtful classic retellings and historical fiction.

I’m hopeful that this trend of excellent reads continues through spring and summer, especially as I get ready to spend more time reading (and listening) outside.

What have you been reading lately?


Interesting Facts About Space by Emily Austin

Interesting Facts About Space

Author: Emily Austin
Publish Date: January 30, 2024
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Enid lives a fairly solitary life, aside from the array of women she meets up with from dating apps. She’s content with listening to her true crime podcasts, sharing her favorite space facts with her mom (which helps to regulate them both), and wonder about her fears of bald men and intruders. Her fears seem founded when someone breaks into her home, and her paranoia spirals. She is perplexed by her estranged half-sisters’ interest in a relationship with her after their father’s death. Her paranoia and awkwardness grow and she wonders what could be wrong with her.

Enid is a complex character who is a little hard to pin down—and that’s the point. She can’t pin herself down either. Although this was written with a pretty light tone, it covers serious topics like mental health, loneliness, and hidden trauma. Enid is also hard of hearing, and I love how this aspect of her was woven into the story and illustrated the difficulties that people with such invisible disabilities can face.

The Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin

The Many Lives of Mama Love

Author: Lara Love Hardin
Publish Date: August 1, 2023
Source: Book of the Month Club
Genres: Nonfiction

Lara Love Hardin hit rock bottom when she was arrested and convicted of 32 felonies. Behind her picture-perfect life, she had a secret: she was addicted to drugs and stealing her neighbors’ credit cards. Jail is foreign, but also familiar, in many ways, to the PTA politics she knew. She wrestles with recovery and soon becomes “Mama Love” to the young and lost behind bars, navigating the invisible rules and power structures among both inmates and jail personnel. After her release, she desperately navigates the impossible probation system, trying to keep custody of her son and make a life for them. She joins a small publishing company and becomes a ghostwriter, inventing a new life for herself while adopting the personas of others to write their stories.

Hardin’s journey is hopeful–she deals with a lot and comes out better on the other side. But it’s also revealing and discouraging, mostly because the journey to success feels unavailable to most of her fellow inmates. Though she struggled financially, her relative privilege as a white, educated, former upper-middle-class woman helped her navigate the roadblocks that seemed purpose-designed for her failure. Most of the others–poor, young, women of color–would not have the wherewithal or resources to do the same. While her personal journey is inspiring, what sticks with me is how it indicts the system as a whole.

Just for the Summer by Abby Jimenez

Just for the Summer

Author: Abby Jimenez
Publish Date: April 2, 2024
Source: Book of the Month Club
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Emma and her friend Maddy are traveling nurses, moving to new places every few months and never settling anywhere. It suits Emma fine. When she reads a post from a man who says the women he dates always find “the one” after they break up, she responds on a whim and says the same is true for her. They begin texting and she feels pulled to go to Minnesota, where he lives. They agree to date for a short time, with the idea that they will each then meet their “one” after they break up. It’s a fun summer plan, but it goes sideways when they start to have real feelings. And Justin has complications that Emma is not ready to take on, while Emma’s past makes her just want to run.

This is the third in Jimenez’s Part of Your World series, though each book stands alone (the second one is Yours Truly). I love all of Jimenez’s books–this one maybe a little less than the previous two, probably because the characters are younger. But Jimenez is amazing at giving her characters real issues to deal with. There aren’t easy answers here, for either Justin or Emma, and this really isn’t a rom-com. It has all the sweetness and banter of a good romance, with the depth that makes Jimenez one of the very best of modern romance authors.

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Books to Read: April '24 Reviews


Annie Bot by Sierra Greer

Annie Bot

Author: Sierra Greer
Publish Date: March 19, 2024
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Annie is an AI bot that was created to be Doug’s perfect girlfriend. She serves his every need, physical and emotional, and is designed to adhere to his demands and do everything possible to make him happy. But the more Annie learns, the more human she becomes, and she starts to realize that she might want a life outside of what Doug dictates for her.

I was less interested in the questions of AI and sentience in this novel than I was in Doug’s treatment of Annie and his reasons for having her. He wanted the ability to own, control, shape, punish, and isolate her, and it’s reflective of what some men want in their relationships with real women. It was incredibly disturbing to read, and Annie reacted in much the same way as real women–confusion, trying everything she could to continue pleasing him, deferring to him, and trying to find small ways to assert her own individuality and independence. This was complicated by her being programmed to please him–analogous to the “programming” that real people in abusive relationships experience. This is definitely more than a cautionary tale about AI and there are a lot of angles worth considering.

James by Percival Everett


Author: Percival Everett
Publish Date: March 19, 2024
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Historical Fiction

After decades of endless readings and analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Percival Everett gives us a new perspective: that of Jim, the enslaved man who escapes with Huck after he learns he is to be sold and separated from his wife and daughter. While we so often think of Huck Finn’s story as an adventure (with admittedly dark origins for Huck as well), for Jim it is a life-and-death journey. We learn of his intelligence, deep interest in philosophy, and the ways that he and other enslaved people adjust their language and behavior to survive and accommodate the white people who oppress them. Huck is rightly reframed as a mere child who Jim feels protective of but can actually do little to protect.

I don’t actually like retellings of classic novels (think modern versions of Jane Austen), but I do like novels told from the perspective of other characters (another that I enjoyed is March by Geraldine Brooks, which tells of the story of the father from Little Women). This one more closely adheres to the narrative we’re familiar with, while giving James a voice and agency. I would have liked to reread Huck Finn before starting this, so I recommend that if you have the opportunity. Nonetheless, the story is familiar and this new perspective isn’t just incredible, but feels necessary.

The Murder After the Night Before by Katy Brent

The Murder After the Night Before

Author: Katy Brent
Publish Date: February 1, 2024
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

Molly has woken up with a hangover and a strange man in her bed. She soon learns that she’s trending on social media for a video of her performing a sex act in the street. As she stumbles through the horrible day, she finds Posey, her best friend and roommate, dead in the bathtub. The police determine that it’s an accident, but the more she investigates, the more she’s convinced it isn’t. But that video means her credibility is shot, so she needs to get real proof.

Brent also wrote How to Kill Men and Get Away with It, which I found over the top and unnecessarily gruesome. This one is more plausible (and lacks the graphic violence), but still a bit uneven in character development, though it’s a fast-paced read. I think Brent has something to say about violence against women–as well as the ways women are doubted and underestimated–and if she brings those sensibilities and the same wry tone, I expect some entertaining and impactful books in the future.

Happily Never After by Lynn Painter

Happily Never After

Author: Lynn Painter
Publish Date: March 12, 2024
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Genres: Romance

When Sophie needs to call off her wedding but can’t do it herself, she turns to a professional wedding objector. Max has fallen into the odd job of objecting at people’s weddings when they need it, and once her own disaster of a wedding is over, Sophie is intrigued. She starts working with him and soon the sparks are flying. But since neither of them believe in love, it couldn’t possibly be anything more than chemistry–right?

This was cute and entertaining, if not especially memorable. The premise was a little silly and the will-they/won’t-they stakes weren’t too high. But I enjoyed the characters enough to keep listening until the happily ever after, and sometimes, that’s all you need from a romance audiobook.

Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Dust Child

Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Publish Date: 2023
Genres: Historical Fiction

Past and present meet in this novel that takes us back to the Vietnam War, when two sisters work as bar girls to send money home to their parents. One of them falls for a GI named Dan–and she eventually becomes pregnant. Decades later, Dan returns with his wife, hoping to find the woman and child he left behind. Meanwhile, a Vietnamese man searches for some proof that his father was a Black American soldier, so he can find a way to America and a better life.

A poignant look at the effects of the Vietnam War, mostly outside of the fighting, and how they last for decades and across generations.

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One Comment

  1. Hello Allison,
    I am so pleased that you are reading again. I too have my reading “mojo” back again – thank heavens!
    I’ve read the following in the past month:
    1. Once there were wolves – Charlotte McConaghy – wow; very very different; but an incredible story and linked to the need to re-introduce predators to the wild to sustain our earth
    2. A terrible kindness – Jo Browning Wroe – I put off reading this (not wanting to read about the Aberfan disaster and embalming when I was not in a good place) but it was very good – cannot agree with The Guardian’s scathing review
    3. The berry pickers – Amanda Peters – highly recommended; about a young Indian girl who is “kidnapped” and her ties to her family
    4. The invincible Ms Crust – Penny Haw – the story of the first female vet – written by a South African authoress; at times quite factual, but still very very interesting
    5. Shadow Flicker – Melissa Volker – also a South African author, and who was at school with me; set in my home town of St Francis Bay, South Africa and about the relationship between a vet and a climate change activist, rooting for wind farms.

    All the best for a great month of reading in May!

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