Book Club Review: “Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is retellings and reimagings.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix” by Aminah Mae Safi

Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Retelling/Reimagining: Robin Hood

Book Description: Jerusalem, 1192. The Third Crusade rages on. Rahma al-Hud loyally followed her elder sister Zeena into the war over the Holy Land, but now that the Faranji invaders have gotten reinforcements from Richard the Lionheart, all she wants to do is get herself and her sister home alive.

But Zeena, a soldier of honor at heart, refuses to give up the fight while Jerusalem remains in danger of falling back into the hands of the false Queen Isabella. And so, Rahma has no choice but to take on one final mission with her sister.

On their journey to Jerusalem, Rahma and Zeena come across a motley collection of fellow travelers—including a kind-hearted Mongolian warrior, an eccentric Andalusian scientist, a frustratingly handsome spy with a connection to Rahma’s childhood, and an unfortunate English chaplain abandoned behind enemy lines. The teens all find solace, purpose and camaraderie—as well as a healthy bit of mischief—in each other’s company.

But their travels soon bring them into the orbit of Queen Isabella herself, whose plans to re-seize power in Jerusalem would only guarantee further war and strife in the Holy Land for years to come. And so it falls to the merry band of misfits to use every scrap of cunning and wit (and not a small amount of thievery) to foil the usurper queen and perhaps finally restore peace to the land.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was very happy that book club decided to do a Re-imaginings and Remixes theme for this new session, as I like seeing the way that authors will recreate classic characters and settings with new twists and turns. But, because of course this had to happen, we started with a story whose source material I am patently unfamiliar with. Yeah, I never got much into Robin Hood, outside of the Disney version, Mel Brooks’s film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, and one viewing of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” with two college friends who were as obsessed with Alan Rickman as I was. So I went into “Travelers Along the Way” knowing full well I was going to be potentially adrift without knowledge of source material. Which meant that author Aminah Mae Safi had a heftier job to do due to my unfamiliarity.

I’m happy to report that even without a foundational knowledge beyond a sexy fox, a spoof, and Bryan Adams, I was very into “Travelers Along the Way”. I really enjoyed all of the characters as we gathered them up and got to know them, and I enjoyed trying to figure out who was supposed to be whom (though I did have to ask more knowing people in book club, i.e. Serena, who a few of the counterparts were). I think that my favorite aspect of this was how both Rahma and Zeena have such different personalities and opinions on how they should be proceeding, and how they butt heads but still care deeply for each other, even if there is undercurrents of tension between them. I especially liked how by gender bending the characters AND giving it the POV of the OTHER side of the Crusades that Robin Hood wasn’t really dealing with in a tangible way that we got a glimpse into just how fucked everything was for the common people in the Holy Land, especially women. And finally, I enjoyed how Safi gave us not only insights into the main group of characters who were the Robin Hoo equivalents, but also into the minds and motivations of the warring figureheads, be it King Richard, Queen Isabella, or Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. I didn’t feel like we waded into any problematic areas by getting into their minds a little bit, but it did show the deep, deep complexities that came with this truly awful and violent conflict.

Overall, I enjoyed this one! I don’t have much to compare it to, source content wise, but it was a fun listen and it was a well done re-imagining!

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve read and watched a lot of versions of “Robin Hood.” My sister and I, predictably, loved “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” when we were younger, mostly because we had a crush on Carey Elwes, of course. My devotion to the tale even extended to watching the horrendous Russell Crowe adaptation that came out in 2010. Thank goodness this version is way, way better than that one!

There was a lot to like about this version of the classic tale. For one thing, I think it was really interesting to change the setting from England to the Middle East. I have to say, I’m not overly familiar with this period of time or the actual strategy and political mechanizations at work in the Middle East during the Crusades. This is a fairly short book with a lot to pack in, but I was impressed by what we got as far as the dynamics all swirling around at once during this period of time. Particularly, I thought it was interesting how the author delved into the three major religions that all hold Jerusalem as a sacred city and how this causes constant tension for all involved.

I also really liked the gender-swapping of all the characters. And boy, there were a lot of characters. But, again, especially for a rather short story, I was impressed by how well I felt like I knew every one of the “merry men/women” that made of the band of thieves. They were slowly introduced over the course of the story, but even with some of the later characters that came onto the scene, I felt like I cared about them all. Of course, I had favorites, like our main character and her fiery sister Zeena. I really liked the exploration of their sibling dynamic, and much of the love and frustration all felt very real and sympathetic.

I do wish we had seen a bit more of Rahma’s famed abilities with a bow and arrow. We hear a lot about it, but we don’t really see it much on the page until pretty close to the end of the novel. That said, I liked how the author worked in the green hood and other classic aspects of the Robin Hood tale. Overall, I definitely recommend this book to all Robin Hood fans!

Kate’s Rating 8: An intriguing re-imagining of “Robin Hood” that looks to a very different situation regarding the conflict at the heart of the original tale.

Serena’s Rating 8: A really clever reimaging of the classic tale with enough to make it familiar but a lot of new takes on characters and setting.

Book Club Questions

  1. How familiar were you with other versions of the Robin Hood story before reading this one? How does this stack up to any others you’ve read/seen?
  2. As a reimaging of the original story, many of the characters appear very different here then they do in their traditional form. Were you able to identify most of the characters with their counterparts? Were there any that you felt were particularly successful/unsuccessful reimagings?
  3. The version of Robin Hood is still set during the Crusades, however it changes the location from England to the Middle East, particularly the cities around Jerusalem. How much did you know about this period of time before reading this? Was there anything that stood out to you about how it was portrayed here?
  4. There are a few interludes in this story told from other characters’ perspectives. What did you think of these chapters? What did they add to the story or did they distract you from the primary plot?
  5. Our bookclub had a lot of fun going over the chapter titles. Did you notice these? Did you have any favorites?

Reader’s Advisory

“Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix” is included on the Goodreads lists Gender Flip and Books That Are Perfect for Assassin’s Creed Fans.

Next Book Club Pick: “The Poison Heart” by Kalynn Bayron

Book Club Review: “Interpreter of Maladies”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book with AAPI main characters.

Book Description: Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.

Kate’s Thoughts

It’s not often that book club takes on a literary tale, so this time around we were stretching our limits with Jhumpa Lahiri’s well beloved short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies”. I’m someone who does try to tackle literary fiction every once in awhile, and this had been on my list, so I was excited to finally check it out, short stories aside. As we all know, short stories and I don’t always get along, but I like to think that I am game when it comes to book club! And overall I definitely appreciated the acclaim this book has, and how important it was when it first came out.

As always, I will focus on the stories I liked best. The first one that really stood out to me was “When Mr. Pizada Came to Dine”. This one is told from the perspective of a little girl whose family opens up their dinner table to a man named Mr. Pirzada, who is in the U.S. for research and away from his wife and daughters who are still in Pakistan. As our narrator gets closer to Mr. Pirzada, she learns about the conflict he left at home, as well the divides between India and Pakistan, and the Civil War and ongoing conflict going on between Pakistan and India that leaves Mr. Pirzada wondering how his family is doing. This one is through the eyes of a child, but definitely conveys the emotional conflict that the family friend is going through, as well as conveying a coming of age understanding about a life that she has never known, but is happening across the world. I was very invested in Mr. Pirzada and his family, and thought that the emotional beats were well achieved. The other story that really stood out was “This Blessed House”, which is the story of Sanjeev and Twinkle, newlyweds who are settling into their new home in Connecticut. As they look through the house they keep finding Catholic symbols and objects, and while Twinkle is tickled, Sanjeev is more and more frustrated with her fixation. I thought this one had some very funny moments, but I also liked the examination of a newly married couple who are still getting to know each other, and perhaps realizing each other’s foibles.

There were other well done stories in this collection, and I found Lahiri’s writing style and gifts for imagery to be stark and very engaging. It has a lot of difficult themes, from family strife to racism to trauma and loss, but they all come together in the end to make a well realized and melancholy collection of experiences of Indian Americans from all backgrounds and back stories. While I still have a hard time with short story collections based on my own personal biases wtih the format, I thought that “Interpreter of Maladies” did a really good job of stringing them together even without making direction connections. I’m glad that we tackled it, because it gave me the push to actually check it out!

Rating 8: A well written and melancholy collection of stories about love, loss, culture, and identity, “Interpreter of Maladies” is lyrical and powerful.

Book Club Questions

  1. Do you have a favorite story in this collection? What was it about that story you liked?
  2. This book has a lot of themes involving love and marriage. What were your thoughts on the different romantic relationships in the various stories?
  3. The immigration theme in this book has a focus on struggle and difficulties to adjust to a new culture and home. Do you think that a lens of struggle is seen as much in stories about the immigrant experience these days as opposed to twenty years ago?
  4. What did you think of the writing style in this book? Did you feel that it connected the stories together well?
  5. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“Interpreter of Maladies” is included on the Goodreads lists “South Asian Fiction by Women”, and “Immigrant Voices (Fiction)”.

Next Book Club Pick: “Travellers Along the Way” by Aminah Mae Safi

Book Club Review: “In a Midnight Wood”


This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “In a Midnight Wood” by Ellen Hart

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A cozy mystery.

Book Description: Beloved heroine Jane Lawless finds that some secrets don’t stay buried forever in Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Ellen Hart’s In a Midnight Wood, the 27th mystery in this cultishly popular series.

Minnesota private investigator Jane Lawless is headed to the small town of Castle Lake for a little getaway. She and Cordelia plan to visit an old friend, participate in an arts festival, and look into a cold case that has recently come on Jane’s radar–thanks to a podcast Jane is now involved in which looks into Minnesota cold cases.

In Castle Lake, a high school senior named Sam went missing in 1999. Everyone thought he ran away, though the town rumor mill has always claimed the father killed him. In present day, within a week of his 20th high school reunion, Sam’s remains are found. People who knew Sam, and those around him, will be in town for the much anticipated reunion. It’s up to Jane to sort friend from foe, before it’s too late.

Kate’s Thoughts

Outside of the “Tita Rosie Kitchen Mysteries”, I don’t really do many ‘cozy mysteries’ when it comes to the litany of mystery sub genres. I’ve dabbled here and there, but it’s not really my thing. But Book Club is always making me challenge myself, and when it was a cozy mystery prompt, I went in with an open mind. Oddly enough, even though I’ve worked for multiple public library systems in Minnesota, I had never heard of local author Ellen Hart or her character Jane Lawless, so “In a Midnight Wood” was completely new to me as a title and series. I had no idea what to expect in terms of specifics, but had some preconceived notions based on the sub genre, and I was, mostly correct.

“In a Midnight Wood” has a lot of really charming elements to it. The most obvious are our main character Jane and her ride or die best friend Cordelia. I really enjoyed their friendship and they way they interacted with each other, and I liked that we were getting a story about two aging lesbian best friends who have each other’s backs, but also call each other out on their nonsense. While I was jumping into a series 20+ books in, I still felt like I got to know Jane and Cordelia and who they were as people in spite of the fact I have missed OODLES of backstory. I also, being a Minnesotan, really liked the Minnesota setting in the fictional town of Castle Lake. It just felt like an outstate Minnesota town, with the insular community, the main street area with beloved local businesses, and the descriptions of chain of lakes food specialties, from burger joints to mentions of some favorite local beers (Grain Belt forever!)

On the flip side, the mystery and plot itself was fairly generic and run of the mill. I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, and the beats of twists and red herrings and reveals were fairly easy to spot. It also felt a little out of time in some ways, as the mystery at hand involves people who graduated in 1999, but as adults sound less like elder millennials and a bit older than that. And finally, and this is purely reflective of the choice we as a book club made and not on the book itself, jumping into a long running series twenty plus books in may have been a bit of a mistake. Not one that derailed the experience or anything! But there were definitely references to past characters long gone that seemed meaningful, but were meaningless to me as a reader with no context.

Overall, “In a Midnight Wood” was an entertaining choice for Book Club. I don’t think I’m going to tackle the series as a whole, but it made for a good discussion.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked Jane and her friend Cordelia, and I loved the Minnesota references and location, but the mystery itself was pretty run of the mill. And jumping into a series 20+ books in was probably a mistake.

Book Club Questions

  1. Have you read any cozy mysteries before this book? If so, how does this one fit the genre and what did you think of it within said genre? If not, do you think you’d read others?
  2. What did you think of the setting that Hart created? Did the town and the people there engage your interest?
  3. This series started in the late 1980s and has been going on ever since. If you haven’t read this series, how do you imagine it has changed as time has gone on, and if you have, what have you noticed about the changes in the characters and their journeys?
  4. Do you think you will continue on in this series, be it going back to the beginning, or picking and choosing plots that sound interesting to you?
  5. Jane has her own true crime podcast. Do you listen to any podcasts, true crime or otherwise?
  6. There are a lot of awesome bits about food in this book. Did any of the foods stand out to you as something you’d want to eat?

Reader’s Advisory

“In a Midnight Wood” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists that I could find, but it would probably fit in on “Small Towns With Secrets”.

Book Club Review: “Old Man’s War”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Publishing Info: Tor Books, December 2005

Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book set on a ship

Book Description: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

Kate’s Thoughts

I will be the first to admit that when I saw that this book was the choice for our Book Club, I groaned. Not only was it Science Fiction, one of my less liked genres, it was also MILITARY fiction, ANOTHER of my less liked genres. But having had good experiences with John Scalzi in the past, I downloaded the audiobook, set it on 1.5x speed, and decided to listen to it while going on a long trip up north, so that I could be a captive audience of sorts. And you know what? I did not dislike this book in the way that I thought I would!

Don’t misunderstand me; I still had a hard time with the science fiction, and I still didn’t like the military themes (and even though the colonialism in this book wasn’t super cut and dry in the morality of it within this universe and circumstance, I still was a little put off by it). But there were a few things I did really like. For one, it reminded me of “Starship Troopers” in a lot of ways, a sci-fi film I do really enjoy. For another, there are themes of a non-human being having to learn to be human/connect with the human that they themselves have kind of inhabited, which is SUCH a favorite trope of mine (Hello “Starman” and Illyria from “Angel”! I love you both so much!). And finally, and the moment that made me go from ‘eh, this is okay’ to ‘HOLY SHIT THIS IS SUDDENLY AMAZING?!’, we have Master Sgt Ruiz. The trash talking, belittling, no nonsense and SO GODDAMN FUNNY sergeant that our main character John Perry has to answer to. Everything about this character had me howling with laughter as I drove up through the North Woods. Everything.

So, I was anticipating a miss and ended up really liking “Old Man’s War”! I don’t think I’m going to continue the series, but this first book was enjoyable.

Serena’s Thoughts

Science fiction is solidly within my genre preferences. And, let’s admit it, a lot of science fiction has cross-over with military fiction, so fans of the former generally are ok to some extent with the latter. I’ve also read some good military fantasy fiction and enjoyed that as well. Probably for similar reasons as Kate, I would likely struggle with military fiction written in our modern, very real world (the weird fetishization of it seen in things like the NFL comes to mind). But I do think that fantasy/science fiction allows readers to explore aspects of military fiction in interesting ways. In these imaginary realms, the author is freed of some of the pat positions and previously established understandings of the military and warfare that a reader brings with them. Instead, the author can freely explore the much more complicated history, morality, and purpose of a military force and the types of conflict they can find themselves in. It’s too easy in our modern understanding to look at such things and come up with simple, comfortable, black and white, right and wrong decisions. Books like this force readers to challenge their own positions and tackle complicated questions that don’t leave us comfortably assured of what the right answer is. Through this exercise, I’ve found that books like this accomplish one of the most unique and powerful abilities that reading brings by exposing readers to ideas, peoples, circumstances that they wouldn’t possibly experience in their ordinary life.

So, too, I found the colonization topic to be interesting as well. Again, there are no easy answers here and readers are not allowed to fall back on easy “good” or “evil” understandings of what is happening. Scalzi walks the story through some landmine-filled topics. And through his character, a very human, very sympathetic man, the reader must also grapple with the world that Scalzi is presenting and what, if anything, may be applicable to how we understand human nature, our history and our future.

I also particularly liked a discussion on religion and culture that comes later in the book. Like many other good science fiction stories, it is an excellent look at how people attempt to graft their own understanding of morality, religion, and culture onto a foreign body. In these examples, the foreign bodies are literal aliens, so there are also very creative and interesting new religions and cultures at their heart. But the idea remains the same, regardless. This one I thought was particularly interesting, and, if anything, I wish the story had focused a bit more on this aspect of things. And (here’s where I really agree with Kate about military fiction) less on detailed descriptions of space battles and laser guns.

I’m also totally with Kate about the amazinginess that was Master Sgt Ruiz. I literally laughed out lout several times during his page time. Overall, this was much more my sort of thing than Kate’s, but I don’t think anyone who regularly reads this blog is surprised by that! I think the pacing was a bit strange, and the story would jump from one scene to another without much transition, but I enjoyed the themes and the characters of this book well enough. Science fiction readers will likely enjoy it!

Kate’s Rating 7: I enjoyed this more than I thought I would! A little “Starship Troopers”, a little ‘learning to be human’, and a hilarious drill sergeant made for a combination that worked for me.

Serena’s Rating 8: So full of action and set at a galloping pace, you almost forget to think about some of the challenging themes the book is digging into, but when you do, they are interesting, indeed.

Book Club Questions

  1. Does the future world and universe in this book seem believable and possible?
  2. What do you think is the motivation of the Colonial Union and Defense Force?
  3. What did you think of the humor in this book? Did it add to the reading experience? Take away from it?
  4. How did the themes of battle fatigue and feelings of inhumanity strike you?
  5. What alien races did you like best and what alien races were your least favorite?
  6. What were your thoughts on Jane Sagan and her character arc?
  7. Would you volunteer in the Colonial Union?

Reader’s Advisory

“Old Man’s War” is included on the Goodreads lists “Fantastic Future Warfare Novels”, and “Excellent Space Opera”.

Next Book Club Pick: “In a Midnight Wood” by Ellen Hart

Book Club Review: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”


This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow

Publishing Info: Redhook, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book with a misleading title

Book Description: In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Kate’s Thoughts

We’re back to a familiar statement from me during a Book Club post and discussion: I am not really a fantasy reader outside of a few specific exceptions, be it titles (“The Lord of the Rings”; “The Neverending Story”) or sub-genres (dark fantasy). So going into my review of “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”, you need to take all of this with a grain of salt. Maybe a teaspoon or two. I am almost never going to be able to vet a fantasy title super well because as a genre it’s not my bag, baby (a phrase that was tossed around in book club during the discussion).

What I will say about this book that I did like was the way that Harrow incorporated social issues of the time period into the book. We see the struggles of life in Edwardian-era England for not only women, but also women of color within a certain social stature. While January is somewhat shielded from some of this because of her placement with Locke, she is still kept in a gilded cage, and eventually put in an asylum under guise of hysteria when in actuality she is more inconvenient for Locke and his contemporaries when she becomes a perceived threat. And then once she is more outside of Locke’s ‘protection’ (you can’t REALLY call it that), her race is suddenly something she also has to contend with in a more direct and overt fashion. I also liked the way that Harrow addresses aspects of Imperialism and Colonialism through the character of Jane, a woman born in Africa who was being subjected to a missionary school, and eventually finds a door that helps her find freedom. And really, her door, where she encounters a world with a matriarchal cheetah society, was SUPER interesting! But we didn’t really get to see much of that. We didn’t get to see as many doors as I anticipated.

So yeah, I liked the social aspects of this book, as it’s great to see fantasy address these themes. But it’s still fantasy, which just isn’t my genre. So this is very much a ‘your mileage may vary’ situation.

Serena’s Thoughts

Don’t worry fantasy lovers! As the resident fantasy reader, I am happy to step up to vet titles in this genre. And, all told, I found a lot to like in this book. This is definitely one of those fantasy novels that leans heavily on subgenres like historical and literary fiction. While there is definite magic involved in the story and it is surely a portal fantasy, the pacing and overall feel of the book falls more in line with literary fantasy and historical fiction than anything else. As Kate mentioned, the book focuses a lot on the realities of life in this time period for both women and people of color. Even though there are fantastical doorways into different worlds, there is no magic wand to wave away the very real challenges facing many during this time.

The pacing of this book is also on the slower side, spending much more time developing the overall feel of the story and the realities that January is facing. But to balance this slower pace, the story is broken up into two primary stories: one that of January herself, and the second following another young woman born a few decades before January who also found doorways and used them to redirect the pathway laid before her. I really enjoyed the way these two stories came together. I was also surprised by a few twists and turns that were given a long the way. For all the dire circumstances and reality that makes up so much of January’s life, the story includes a hefty dose of hope right when things could begin to feel a bit too bleak.

Overall, I really liked this book. It’s definitely on the slower side and errs towards the lyrical over the action-packed. Like some book club members pointed out, for a book about a thousand doorways between worlds, the story spends most of its time in our old familiar world. But I think that worked for the balance that was being struck between fantasy story and a larger reflection on this period of history and its people.

Kate’s Review 6: It’s fantasy. I liked some of the social themes presented and the small tastes of some of the worlds. But it’s just not my genre.

Serena’s Review 8: A lyrical fantasy novel that makes up for its slower pacing with its lovely character work.

Book Club Questions

  1. What were your thoughts on January as a protagonist of this book? Did you connect with her as a main character?
  2. Did you find it to be a nice change of pace when the book would transition to the Adelaide story arc?
  3. Which side characters did you find the most compelling in this story? Were there any side worlds through the doors you liked reading about?
  4. What were your thoughts on how this book tackled and addressed various social aspects like imperialism, racism, and sexism?
  5. Were there any moments that stood out in particular in this novel?
  6. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Ten Thousand Doors of January” is on these Goodreads lists: Portal Fantasy Books and Best Books with a Month in the Title.

Next Book Club Book: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Book Club Review: “We Are Not Free”


This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “We Are Not Free” by Traci Chee

Publishing Info: HMH Books For Young Readers, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book that takes place during a war.

Book Description: “All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us. We are not free. But we are not alone.” 

We Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

Kate’s Thoughts

This was actually my Book Bingo prompt, and I wanted to think a little bit outside of the box when it came to picking a book that took place during a war. Partially because I’m not super interested in military themed fiction, and partially because I wanted to kind of wanted to stay away from pro-militaristic themes. It quickly occurred to me that I hadn’t yet read Traci Chee’s YA historical fiction “We Are Not Free”, a book about a number of Japanese-American teens who are incarcerated during World War II because of the United States Government’s despicable Executive Order 9066. I’ve reviewed a lot of recent novels about the Japanese American Incarceration on this blog, and found this to be the perfect opportunity. And boy, what a book, and what a great book club discussion.

Chee approaches this story through the eyes of numerous characters, each one getting their own chapter with different perspectives and sometimes writing styles, and each character engages with a different fact or theme of the Incarceration. At first I was a little daunted by the idea of so many characters, but Chee does a really good job of not only letting us get into their heads and get to know them, but also touches on so many aspects of the Incarceration this way. Instead of finding the characters to be maybe less complex due to the one chapter approach, I ended up really caring for all of them as they mention each other and as we get into their heads, allowing us to see how they are perceived by others, but also how they see themselves. They all feel very authentic in their voices, either in how they are reacting to their ordeal and their trauma, or even just in moments of them having very relatable teenage moments that go beyond the Incarceration, like teen love, or school issues, or moments of joy that can still be found in spite of everything.

But we also are able to explore a number of aspects of the Incarceration through these characters that may have been a bit overstuffed had it just been one or two. Chee skillfully tackles things like having to leave everything behind, the cultural divide between the non-Amercain (by force of the government) Issei vs their American Citizen children Nisei, the loyalty oath that was given as a choice to sign or not to sign (and why some may sign and others may not), and the experience of those who enlisted in the war to try and prove their loyalty to their country. And many more. The book doesn’t shy away from any of it, and finds the nuance and complexity in some things while being unflinchingly honest about others. It is such a valuable book in that way for anyone who wants to learn about the Incarceration, as it has relatable and enjoyable characters whom the reader will attach to, and will therein learn through. Our book club had some awesome conversations about this book, and I have no doubt that classrooms would as well.

I’m glad I finally read “We Are Not Free”, and glad that this cycle’s theme got me off my butt to finally do so. It’s highly recommended, and necessary, historical fiction.

Kate’s Review 9: Powerful, engrossing, enraging, and hopeful, “We Are Not Free” is a valuable tool to learn about the Japanese American Incarceration that is must read for those interested in the subject.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the structure of this novel? Did you like all the different perspectives? Why or why not?
  2. When did you first learn about the Incarceration? How was it approached when you did learn about it?
  3. Chee has an author’s note about the use of modern language sensibilities in this book? What were your thoughts on this choice?
  4. Did you have a chapter you liked best or that stood out from the others? What was it about that chapter that spoke to you?
  5. What were you thoughts on the way Chee portrayed the conflict between Nisei vs Issei in how they dealt with their ordeal?
  6. Do you think this would be a useful tool to teach the Incarceration to teenagers? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory

“We Are Not Free” is included on the Goodreads lists “Japanese American Internment in YA & Middle Grade Fiction”, and “Surviving in the Japanese Relocation Centers of WW2”.

Next Book Club Book: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow

Book Club Review: “Circe”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Circe” by Madeline Miller

Publishing Info: Little Brown and Company, April 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: a book with a map

Book Description: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child – not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was obsessed with Greek Mythology as a kid, so much so that I would be constantly checking out books of that topic from the library, or taking little extracurricular classes on the subject in my grade school (these classes were called ‘Minis’ and we could sign up for just about any topic). In high school I took a class on Greek mythology, and one of the books we read was “The Odyssey”, the well known tale of Odysseus trying to make his way home after the Trojan War. I didn’t REALLY care for the book, but I did love the time he spent on Aeaea with Circe, the witch who turns his men into pigs. When Serena picked “Circe” for book club I was happy for two reasons. The first is that I love Madeline Miller’s book “The Song of Achilles”. The second is that “Circe” had been sitting on my shelf ever since it first came out and this was the kick to the pants I needed to pick it up.

Much like “Song of Achilles”, Miller takes a well known Greek myth and character and delves into a backstory that fits the greater mythology while exploring more modern themes and notions. In this we get the backstory of Circe the witch, from her time as the child of a Titan and a nymph to her banishment to her desert island to her time with Odysseus and beyond, while also exploring her womanhood, her isolation, her thought process, and her traumas. We see her role in other parts of Greek Mythology, sometimes being a passive player and other times being very active, and so in turn see new perspectives on some of these stories. Who could make the Minotaur pitiful, or Medea a little more complicated, or Odysseus less heroic? Madeline Miller can, and it works perfectly through the eyes of Circe as she weathers her own storms and learns her own lessons.

You need not be a fan of Greek Mythology to pick up “Circe”, as the themes are broad and relatable as a woman who has been disenfranchised has to stake a claim to her ability to live her life and keep herself and her loved ones safe. It’s resonant and powerful and I really enjoyed it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve had “Circe” sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while also. That said, I also have “Song of Achilles” right there next to it. While I’ve heard great things, I’m just not up for all the tears! So it was an easy pick to just skip ahead to “Circe,” a tale that, while tragic at times, didn’t come with a foregone, ball bawl-worthy conclusion.

I can echo everything Kate said. I, too, very much enjoyed Greek mythology as a kid and teen. I didn’t have the same resources for taking classes on the subject, but I definitely gobbled up everything I could. Even with that being the case however, I haven’t re-familiarized myself with the pantheon or myths for quite some time, so reading this book, I can speak to the fact that it’s still approachable for those with less (or older) knowledge of the original stories. For one thing, I didn’t remember just how entwined some of these stories became. It was truly impressive how many various different myths, gods, heroes, and monsters the author was able to weave Circe’s story through and around.

Circe’s story was also very much one of power, especially the unique power of being a woman. It was an all inclusive exploration, not looking away from the restrictions placed on women with power but also acknowledging the specific destructive tendencies that some powerful women can turn to in a world that would limit their options. Circe’s own experience with her magic progress over literally centuries. And we see several examples of other powerful women working with their own forms of power and existence, both to good and bad outcomes. I also really liked the versions of womanhood we see through Circe’s life. We see a daughter, a sister, a lover, a mother, a friend. All tied within her own ongoing story of self-acceptance and growth.

I really liked this book. I think it’s the kind of story that has a lot of great cross-over appeal, likely to please fans from almost all genres.

Kate’s Rating 9 : A truly marvelous exploration of a notorious character of Greek Mythology, “Circe” gives the Witch of Aeaea a compelling backstory and some well done connections to other myths while taking on themes of womanhood, power, and resilience.

Serena’s Rating 10: Simply brilliant, a powerful re-imagination of a powerful female character who has existed largely on the sidelines of mythology.

Book Club Questions

  1. How familiar were you with the Greek myths that are touched on in this story? Particularly “The Odyssey” itself?
  2. Circe and her siblings all take very different paths in life. In what ways did their upbringings make them similar and in what ways did they differ? Why do you think they each chose the paths they did?
  3. This book has many themes revolving around women and power. What aspects of this theme stood out to you? How did Circe’s attitude towards her own power shift throughout the book?
  4. Circe come from a dysfunctional family. In what ways do we see this impact her choices when raising her son? Does she fall into any of the same traps? How do her choices compare to those she was raised with?
  5. What did you think of the portrayal of the various gods and titans we see in this story? Did they align with what you knew of these mythical beings from before? In what ways did they surprise you?

Reader’s Advisory

“Circe” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Books About Mythology and Awesome Women of the Ancient World.

Book Club Review: “Payback’s A Witch”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Payback’s A Witch” by Lana Harper

Publishing Info: Berkley, October 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Hometown Return

Book Description: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The L Word in this fresh, sizzling rom-com by Lana Harper.

Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.

But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.

On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in? But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?

Kate’s Thoughts

I was the book club member to finish off our Romance cycle, and I knew exactly what I wanted us to read when we decided on the theme this time around. I had my eye on “Payback’s a Witch” by Lana Harper around the time it came out, so this was the perfect opportunity. I picked it because I kind of like the whole ‘return to your hometown and discover/rediscover love’ trope, and this one has that, but also Sapphic Witches! How could I NOT pick it?

And for the most part I enjoyed it! I thought that Harper built and created a pretty well done mythology and background for the town of Thistle Grove and the magical people who live there, with a clear history and some clear systems in place. I liked how that combined with the small town politics of low key feuding families as well, and how that enters into our main plot as Emmy returns home to find that her ex has been cheating on Linden, her childhood best friend, with Talia Avramov, her childhood semi-crush, and they decide to prevent him from winning the big tournament that determines the family power in town. It’s rudimentary but that’s fine, because it flows well and is enjoyable as it all plays out.

In terms of characters, I thought that Emmy was fine, but I REALLY loved Talia, her love interest. She checks all my boxes: she’s cool, she’s snarky, she has a heart of gold under a biting exterior, and her family is the family that is basically the necromancing communicators with the dead. I MEAN COME ON! Emmy and Talia have pretty okay chemistry (admittedly there isn’t that much sexytimes in this book, as one member was quite irked by), and while some of their stumbling blocks are a bit silly a little conflict makes a romance more high stakes. And besides, two witches falling in love is always going to get high marks from me.

I enjoyed “Payback’s a Witch” and I absolutely intend to continue in the series! BRING ON MORE AVRAMOVS, PLEASE!

Serena’s Thoughts

I can basically repeat all of Kate’s thoughts and opinions, only tone down the excitement one slot for me. It was still a fun read, but I knew going in that it probably wasn’t going to be totally for me. I think partly because I’m the exact opposite of Kate in my romance trope preferences, with the “home town returnee rediscovers their ex/crush” theme being one of my less favorites. I just have a hard time with all the glossed up nostalgia over home-towns. I haven’t lived in mine for over twenty years now, but I do go back every year. And while I love visiting and have happy memories of the place, I also have no qualms in saying that if I met any of my exes or crushes from when I lived there, I’m sure they would be totally different people, just like I am now.

That said, Talia was an awesome love interest, so regardless of the the trope itself, she worked well as a partner for Emmy. Like Kate, I very much enjoyed her more than Emmy. I had a hard time taking Emmy too seriously, honestly, as I felt her reactions to leaving and then coming home to be overblown. I mean, your highschool ex cheated, like ten years ago, move on! Gain some self-respect and perspective as an adult!

I did like what we got for the magical elements as well. This was a more fun take of the magical families battling than the battle royale that I fairly recently read in “All of Us Villains.” The various families and there different styles of magic was very “four houses of Hogwarts,” but so many things in fantasy are derivative of the bigger titles that that can hardly be a complaint.

Overall, this was a fun quick read. For me, the main character held that book back the most, but she was made up for by her love interest. I probably won’t continue with the series, but fans of fantasy romance, especially those looking for a saphic romance should definitely check this one out.

Kate’s Rating 8: Super fun, super witchy, super creative. I really enjoyed this book and man oh MAN is Talia just the best.

Serena’s Rating 7: Purely subjective rating as this wasn’t really my type of book to begin with, but Talia and the magical houses were definite bonuses.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the town of Thistle Grove? Did you think it was well conceived?
  2. What were your thoughts on the magical systems and mythology in this book?
  3. Emmy left Thistle Grove with little intention to return, but when she did she made connections with people and places. If you don’t live in your home town anymore, how do you think it would be to return?
  4. Did you like the relationship between Emmy and Talia? What did or didn’t work for you?
  5. The four magical families who run Thistle Grove all have distinct magical abilities and connections. Which family would you want to be a part of?
  6. Were there any characters you’d want to follow in future books in the series?

Reader’s Advisory

“Payback’s a Witch” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sapphic Witchy, Ghostly Books”, and “Popsugar 2022 #16: A Book About Witches”.

Book Club Review: “The Roommate”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Roommate” by Rosie Danan

Publishing Info: Berkley, September 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Forced Proximity

Book Description: House Rules: Do your own dishes.
Knock before entering the bathroom.
Never look up your roommate online.

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

Kate’s Thoughts

I thought that this book had some good jumping off points for our book club discussion, which is good! But I think that part of that is because it seemed like it wasn’t overall well loved by our members. I fell into that camp as well. But I’ll start with what I did like, and there are two things that stand out for me. Firstly, I liked how this book tried to show that porn actors and actresses, and sex workers in general, are people who are doing a job and who deserve not to be dehumanized or stigmatized because of it. I liked that Josh enjoys his job, views it as a business that he excels at, and didn’t fall into any pitfalls of being shamed for his profession. Along with that, I liked that his acting partner and on again, off again girlfriend Naomi was ALSO a well thought out and interesting character, when she easily could have been used as a contrast to Clara and depicted in negative ways. Overall, I felt like Danan was doing her best to address sex positivity and the importance of remembering sex workers are people and deserve rights and respect, and not to be mistreated or shunned because of their profession. I also liked Naomi a lot as a character. As mentioned above, she isn’t used as a snide or antagonistic villain, and she was probably the most interesting character in the book.

I guess that kind of brings up the things that didn’t work as well. I thought that “The Roommate”, while setting out what it wanted to do, was kinda ho hum in other ways. Clara was fine as a main character, Josh was fine too, but neither of them were super interesting to me. I wasn’t terribly invested in their relationship, and I wasn’t terribly invested in the conflict that they met along the way. The sex scenes were serviceable and were written pretty well, but I didn’t get the kind of fun buildup I like in romance novels (however this is probably more about preference: like I’ve said in the past, I like a slow burn build up and a lot of cute and snarky banter).

I think that “The Roommate” does what it wants to do. I would have liked more oomph and chemistry between the main characters.

Serena’s Thoughts

Once again, I agree with everything Kate has already laid out. I think this book had lofty goals attempting to address sex positivity and destigmatize sex work. However, even here, I feel like the book brushed up alongside some of these issues but then didn’t really get into some of the real challenges. For example, there are a lot of factors that go into sex workers being forced into situations where they’re pushed back their comfort levels. Much of this has to do with power structures and stigmatization. However, here, we pretty much just had a “big bad” who, once dealt with, cleared the way to smooth sailing ahead. Likewise, Josh is conveniently not working when he meets Clara and then transition into a different role by the end of the book. So the author neatly sidesteps the issue of addressing sex workers who still work in the industry but are part of a committed, monogamous relationship.

Also, like Kate said, neither of the characters were particularly enthralling. I didn’t actively dislike either of them, but I never felt invested in their individual arcs or their romance as a couple. The “romance,” such as it was, felt more like falling in lust than falling in love. By the end, yes, they get there. But like Kate said, without the buildup, it’s harder to really feel any satisfaction when the romance is settled by the end of the book.

Kate’s Rating 6: I feel like it sets out to do what it wants to do, and I liked the sex positivity. But overall it was kinda lackluster.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me. The romance lacked any real connection and while I liked some of the topics tackled, I think there were some other missed opportunities.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you think that the forced proximity trope in this story worked well within this context?
  2. Did this book subvert any romance tropes (forced proximity or not) in ways that you liked?
  3. Besides Naomi, were there any side characters that you would have liked to see more of? Any that you’d read another book about?
  4. What did you think of Clara and Josh’s business idea of porn that teaches about giving women pleasure during sex? Do you think there would be a market for it?
  5. What were your thoughts on how this book handled the themes of sex work and sex workers? Do you think it would make people think differently about sex work?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Roommate” is included on the Goodreads lists “Radical Romance”, and “My Favorite Trope”.

Next Book Club Book: “Payback’s a Witch” by Lana Harper

Book Club Review: “Beach Read”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Beach Read” by Emily Henry

Publishing Info: Berkley, May 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: We own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Romance Trope: Enemies to Lovers

Book Description: A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really. 

Serena’s Thoughts

I hardly ever read contemporary fiction. I almost never read “women’s fiction” (I’ll avoid the soapbox I have about that term, but ugh!). That being the case, I was a bit cautious going in to this bookclub pick seeing as it seemed to fit neatly under both of those genres. But I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: this is why bookclubs are so great! I ended up really enjoying this book, and I never would have discovered it if I had been left to my own devices!

There was quite a lot to like about this book. The romance, of course, is central to the story, and right off the bat, I was pretty invested in both of these characters and the relationship developing between the two of them. While I think January might have been a bit naïve about some of her encounters with Gus in college, we were all a bit dumb then, so I guess I’ll give her a pass. I really liked the idea of them attempting to write in each others genres as a way for their bond to slowly develop over a period of summers. It gave the author all the excuses she needed to throw the two together in various great situations.

I’ll also liked the exploration of the secondary plot, that of January learning to understand the life of her recently-deceased father and some of the hurtful choices he made that she only recently discovered. It was a really excellent look at the strange relationship that is built up between parents and children where it’s only when the child grows into an adult that they fully begin to understand that their parents are fully realized people too, complete with their own histories and flaws. The story is definitely tackling a more complicated and challenging aspect of the mistakes people make, but I think the author managed to do it in a way that didn’t overly villainize any of the people involved. Truly impressive!

Overall, I really liked this book. I’m definitely planning on checking out other books from her, including the one coming out very soon!

Kate’s Thoughts

I’m the person who is a bit more picky about the kind of romance fiction I read, and in general I am actually more inclined to pick up contemporary/’women’s’ fiction than one might expect. I don’t know if it was just the right moment in my year’s reading journey, or if it was the fact I do gravitate more towards the genre, but “Beach Read” really hit all the right notes for me! I honestly hadn’t really heard of this book or even Emily Henry outside of a mention here or there online (this is one of the downsides of no longer working my circulation position on a permanent basis; I’m not nearly as up to date on genres I don’t usually look for because I’m not processing holds or shelving as often as I used to be!). And now I have both bought her book “People We Meet on Vacation” AND have an eARC of “Book Lovers” on my Kindle. Consider me a fan.

Like Serena, I thought that Henry did a good job of setting up the perfect slow burn romance because of the setting, scenario, and circumstances our characters find themselves in. January is grappling with a personal loss and some unpleasant revelations that came with it, and Gus is dealing with writer’s block and his own life changes. They’re both wounded and raw, and it makes for some really fun snappy moments between them (though honestly January is more of the aggressor in this ‘enemies to lovers’ story). I really liked their banter, the dialogue flowing quickly and well and in a very entertaining way. It’s the kind of enemies to lovers story that doesn’t feel kinda weird as their animosity is mostly placed in mutual insecurity and stubbornness (though to be fair, I also love legit enemies to lovers stories when the footing is even. I was a HUGE Spuffy shipper back in the day because of this).

I also liked some of the darker things that Henry tackled, as it never really felt like it was out of place or hokey. The pain that January is dealing with in regards to her father and his personal choices/failings is palpable and understandable, and as for Augustus while we don’t really get as much insight into him, we do get to see some of the darker aspects of his work, specifically the cult aspect of this book he was intending to write. I was worried that Henry would make it a little bit overdramatic or even laughable, even in an unintentional way, but at the end of the day she pulls out the trauma and pain of this side group without making it derail the lovely and sweet story at hand. And it is lovely and sweet.

“Beach Read” was a lot of fun and very enjoyable! Like Serena I’m eager to see what else Henry has in store for the contemporary romance audience!

Serena’s Rating 9: Lives up to its name: a “beach read” that will make any contemporary romance lover aching for more!

Kate’s Rating 9: Charming, snappy, funny, and sweet, “Beach Read” kept me going and had me rooting for a happily ever after.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did we like and dislike about January and Augustus as our main characters? Did they break any stereotypes or tropes?
  2. What did you think of their debate about literary fiction vs romance/women’s fiction? What are your feelings on each genre?
  3. In this book there are mentions of how people sometimes use romance stories as a way to cope with more difficult realities. Do you find that a relatable practice?
  4. What were your thoughts on the side characters? Did anyone stand out in particular?
  5. What are your thoughts on the enemies to lovers trope that was used in this story?
  6. This book talks about happy endings versus ‘happy for nows’ in stories. Do you prefer a solid conclusion of a wrapped up romantic life? Or are more in process romance endings okay for you as a reader?
  7. Would you read more by Emily Henry?

Reader’s Advisory

“Beach Read” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Rom-Com Books”, and “Best Enemies to Lovers”.

Next Book Club Pick: “The Roommate” by Rosie Danan

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