Anna’s April Wrap Up

I read some truly great books in April! I don’t have a negative thing to say about any of them.

If I Had Your Face-Follows the interconnected lives of four women. Largely about the impossible beauty standards of women, especially in Korean culture.

Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders– The story of two women and lovers who were murdered and the fight for justice around their deaths. A scary realization that even our national parks aren’t a safe place to be a woman.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St.John Mandel’s newest book is just as amazing as everyone is saying it is. You won’t know what’s truly going on until the end, and I loved the touch of scifi. 

Audiobooks:

A Far Wilder Magic– Cozy magic with just enough small town politics and romance. My second Alison Saft book of the year. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

The Push– the best thriller I’ve read this year. This will make you terrified to be a parent.

Review: Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly is a sharp, vignette-style novella that follows a young, black, and unnamed protagonist who is disillusioned by her life. On the surface, she is living the dream: she’s making good money at her job at a bank, she recently bought her own apartment, and she’s in a relationship. But underneath, she feels like she’s performing in every aspect of her life. She’s also hiding a dark secret.

If you like slow, literary, and character-driven stories with commentary on race, class, and the corporate world, you should think about picking up Assembly. It really feels like the unraveling of life that’s perfect on the surface. In my opinion it was a little too short and I wanted to learn more about the protagonist, but it will make you think about a lot of societal issues and evaluate your own life and choices.

I’d love recommendations for other culturally relevant, slim fiction like this one!

Review: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Anna: Fun fact, I took this picture with my husband’s phone because I lost mine playing with my dog in the snow and then found it a week later (and somehow it still works)!

Small Things Like These is a short, satisfying novella about doing the right thing. This was the perfect book to read in the snow- it’s set in the days leading up to Christmas in a small town in Ireland. Bill Furlong is a coal merchant, and he’s hardworking, respected, and essential to the town. He loves his wife and five daughters and is proud of the life he’s built for him. But when delivering coal, he discovers a dark secret hidden in the town’s covenant and his whole worldview is challenged.  

This book is about how difficult it can be to make one small decision that you know to be the right one when everyone around you encourages you to ignore it. It’s about the hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christians yet do horrible things, and about the Catholic church’s complete control over a community.

Maybe this book is a little predictable, but it’ll give you exactly what you want from it.

Review: Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Anna: Starting 2022 strong! I loved this book.

Irene and her best friend, Luce, live in a small town in North Carolina. They work as servers and have been sober for nearly a year. But that night, something happens with Luce’s boyfriend, Wilky, that sends them spiraling back into using. The narrative is structured by a dual timeline, so we get to go back see their entire journey with addiction from the start, including the big breaking point that made them first became sober.

Bewilderness is a dark story about substance abuse, addiction, and the cycles of addiction. On the surface this is an important, cautionary tale: addiction kills. But at its core it’s about the complex friendship between Irene and Luce, and how their relationship changes and is tested over the years. And the writing is beautiful. Bewilderness is perfectly paced, it’s heartbreaking, and I couldn’t put it down. If you liked Marlena by Julie Buntin, I think you should check this one out. 

I also learned so much about addiction, the path to sobriety, and just how hard it is to stay clean. I encourage you to check out Karen Tucker’s website and read some of her interviews to learn more.

Trigger warnings: Addiction & drug use 

Pub day spotlight: The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

Anna: Happy publication day to The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donahue! Thank you @algonquinbooks for sending me an arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Set in a boarding school in an old Victorian house in Ireland, scholarship student Louisa quickly becomes enamored by classmate Victoria and their charismatic art teacher, Mr. Lavelle. Louisa struggles to fit in with her rich classmates, but as she becomes closer to Victoria and Mr. Lavelle, something even darker is underfoot. 

25 years later, an unnamed journalist investigates Louisa’s disappearance. It’s widely accepted that Louisa willingly ran away with Mr. Lavelle, but as the journalist becomes more entangled with the case, it’s clear something much worse happened.


The Temple House Vanishing evokes major My Dark Vanessa and The Likeness vibes. This is a quick, smart, and atmospheric read that explores love, friendship, obsession, race, class, and the ways in which men in positions of power take advantage of young women. I did find the perspective from the journalist a little lacking and would have liked more character development there. We learn little about her own life, besides that she grew up on Louisa’s street and Louisa once babysat her. The only thing we know is that she is a workaholic. I thought something might happen with her intern, who gets a lot of dialogue, but that turns out to be a dead-end in the plot. Then there is also an artistic choice in the epilogue involving a ghost that I found a little strange and a bit cheesy.

But overall, I can’t say no to a spooky boarding school mystery, and this is another one of those.

Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Anna: If you’re looking for an emotional coming-of-age story I highly recommend Betty. Set in Appalachian Ohio, Betty and her five siblings live with their mother and Cherokee father in a dilapidated house surrounded by racism, poverty, and family secrets. This is also fiercely feminist novel, which I love. 

Betty is about sisterly love, nature, and cycles of trauma and abuse in families. When she is eleven, Betty discovers a deadly family secret that shapes the course of her life. Despite the difficult themes, this book is beautifully and lyrically written. Betty’s dad, Landon, and his storytelling the love of nature he encourages in his children are a driving force of the novel. Her mom, on the other hand, is violent and unpredictable, a product of years of being the victim of violence herself.

This is also an own-voices story, as Tiffany McDaniel is the descendants of Cherokee ancestors, and the characters in Betty are fictional accounts of real family members

Major trigger warning for sexual violence 

VERDICT: 4.5 stars

Review: Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong

Anna: Why do we read? For entertainment, yes, but part of that enjoyment comes from the thrill of briefly living in and therefore learning about an experience that’s not your own. My favorite books as a kid featured fantasy worlds like Hogwarts and Narnia. As a mature reader, I still find myself reaching for different worlds, but I’m less interested in fantasy. I’m more interesting in learning about the every day lives of other people around the world.

That being said, when I kept hearing about Disability Visibility I realized there was a huge gap in my reading experience.

Disability Visibility is an essay collection edited by the activist Alice Wong. I do not identify as a disabled person, so please take my words with a grain of salt. But this book came highly rated and recommended by disabled people in the bookish community.

This book gives space to an amazing amount of different voices. The essays are about prejudice, misrepresentation in the media, accessibility, advocacy, and perhaps most importantly, just being a disabled person.

This collection also got me thinking about just how many “first person” narratives I’ve really read about disability, both fiction and nonfiction. It’s no new thing that disability has long been misrepresented in the media, especially in the issue of own voices representation. As a teenager I, unfortunately, consumed what I now call “trauma porn”, which romanticized illness and disability and killed off characters, promoting the harmful ideas that disabled bodies are better off dead. This included The Fault in our Stars and Me Before You, the movie adaptation of which casted an able-bodied actor for the role of a quadriplegic.

Now, I try to research authors before reading books, to make sure I read own voices stories. We also like to think that we’re slowly moving toward a more accepting and accessible society. I know that being an ally is more than slapping closed captions on my Instagram stories and reading just one book about disability. But I hope this is just the beginning of my disability reading and learning journey.

Anna’s January Wrap Up

Between continuing to distance from others and the wintery weather, my reading was a major comfort and escape this month. I’m also happy with the diverse genres and authors I was able to read this month. I read two nonfiction books (one memoir and one cookbook), and two books by Indigenous authors, both of which work in favor of my 2021 reading goals. Here’s what I read: 

The Woman in White: Started off the year with an atmospheric, satisfying classic mystery. 

Elatsoe: Spooky magical YA by an Indigenious author. My only criticism is that this read VERY young to me. 

Moon of the Crusted Snow: actually a literary dystopian as promised (unlike Migrations) Written by an Indigenous author.

Migrations: The low point of my reading month. Do not recommend this one. Read my review.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: This made-to-be-read cookbook changes the food game! Check out my review.   

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search (audiobook; not pictured); A heartbreaking memoir about the author’s mother’s murder. Also a criticism of the explorative nature of true crime as a genre. 

Review: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

book with river behind it

VERDICT: 2 stars

Trigger warnings: Suicide, Sexual Assault

I’ve wanted to read Migrations since before its release. It has great ratings on Goodreads, which proves that you need to take ratings with a grain of salt. I did, however, see a 1 star review from a trusted reviewer. Because of the dystopian aspect, I wanted to read this for myself.

I was disappointed. 

The actual style of the writing is the only thing I liked about this book. It’s lyrical yet concise. But there are glaring holes in the world building and the plot. Then there’s the biggest problem-Franny.

Migrations alternates between two timelines: the past and present. In the present, almost all animals have gone extinct in the world. There aren’t many fish left, and people who still fish are hated. Franny worms her way onto a fishing ship to follow the last migration of Arctic Terns. She tells the captain she is an orithinogist, and that she thinks the Arctic terns will lead them to fish. She is right, for the most part, so she stays on the boat.

We are introduced to Franny’s tumultuous childhood in Ireland. Her mom disappeared when she was young, and she lived with her father’s mother in Australia. Back in Ireland, Franny sits in on at University and meets the love of her life- Insta love style. She and Niall marry immediately, but very quickly it’s a struggle for Franny to stay. 

Franny is the most unlikable narrator I have ever encountered. There is nothing redeeming about her. She is so chaotic that she’s not even a believable character. And the author’s excuse for her behavior? She’s a “wanderer”. She’s unable to stay in one place. Why? It’s in her blood.

SPOILERS: Franny’s defining character trait is violence. She sleepwalks and attempts to strangle Niall in her sleep. She’s in jail for  murder, and it’s unclear if it was on purposeful or not. She also managed to kill two more people over the course of the present narrative. And yet. Franny is a wonderful swimmer and saves multiple people from drowning over the course of the story as well. Her character is completely unpredictable but predisposed to destroy and leave. 

In the past, we know that Franny served time in prison. It’s eventually revealed why. She (accidently?) rammed headfirst into another car, killing Niall and the woman in the other car. Franny claims she did it on purpose. Then she reveals that she saw an owl, which distracted her from the road. Franny is an unreliable narrator, so we don’t really know. Which brings me to my next point. 

Niall, Franny’s husband, is seemingly okay with the fact that Franny will just leave him when she feels she has to. By the end, we are made to understand their relationship is like this-Franny is a wild thing, possibly a bird, possibly something else. She is untamed. Niall is a scientist and by trapping Franny, he’s able to study her closely. But Franny, being a wild thing, kills him in the end.

Franny succeeds(?) in following the birds to their last migration. destroying everything else around her in the process. She plans to spread Niall’s ashes into the sea there. She also plans on killing herself. She spreads the ashes, and then submerges herself, fully intending to end it. But she doesn’t. The book ends with her being released from prison for the second time of her life. Her dad, who has never been part of her life and who is a convicted killer herself, is waiting to pick her up. They drive off together.

Then there’s the complete and utter lack of worldbuilding. This is apparently set in the not-so-far future in which climate change and human behavior has made most animals in the world extinct. For some reason, fishermen have received the bulk of the blame for this act (maybe because there are still some fish in the ocean? It’s not very well explained). This could have been such a rich world and the extinction of the animals could have added another layer to Franny’s story. Instead, the state of the world is barely acknowledged throughout the story. 

Overall: With more developed worldbuilding, maybe I could have forgiven some of Franny’s erratic behavior in this book. Or maybe not. Either way, I don’t recommend reading this. Migration’s book description first reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni. After reading Migrations, they can’t be compared. Save yourself the pain and read the Lightkeepers instead. 

Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

book: the overstory

Anna: Verdict: 3.5/5 books

The Overstory follows the lives of several characters who eventually come together. I found myself wondering how in the world these characters and their stories would connect, which is what motivated me to keep reading. There’s one thing all the characters have in common: their love of trees. 

Perhaps like the growth of trees, this is a dense, slow book that’s overwritten at points. It could have been cut by a good 200 pages or so. There’s a lot going on in a forest, and Powers attempts to comment on all of it. 

The beginning- which reads like short stories- is a study and introduction of each character. I like this part of the book best, because I generally enjoy character studies and not a lot of plot. One of the most impressive parts of this book is that all the characters and their stories do become. 

The way that Powers writes about trees is beautiful. I try not to read a lot of reviews before writing my own, but I did peek at some for The Overstory. One Goodreads reviewer called this “tree porn.” Tree porn this certainly is, and I’m blown away by the understanding and research Powers displays on biology and earth science, tree species, and the complexities of environmental activism. I’ve never thought much about terrorism as activism, which is one of the environmental avenues explored in this book. The question of why plant lives are less important than human lives is one of the most interesting themes here, but there’s so much else going on that I think it gets a little lost.

I also didn’t love the ending. I think Powers killed off characters for the sake of not knowing what else to do. Much like the long stories in the beginning, a drawn out ending followed the interlocking narratives in the middle.

Overall, The Overstory, is a massive, detailed, and flashy experiment on trees. I wanted to spend more time in the activism part of the story, which instead fell short (literally) in comparison to the rest. I’m happy I read this, but truthfully I probably won’t read any Richard Powers again.