Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

I loved every book in this list. May was such an excellent month for novels!

Under Currents by Nora Roberts

Queen Nora is back with a new novel about family and past trauma and the strength both can give you as an adult. She always delights with her cat-and-mouse tales of suspense and romance, but I feel Under Currents emphasizes her empathetic nature in her storytelling. As a result, her latest novel is more than just a suspenseful, sexy thriller but one that has heart. Never one to shy away from the dark and gruesome, Ms. Roberts takes it to the next level with the violence done to and performed by her characters, but she does so respectfully when warranted. This is not a voyeuristic dive into the seedy side of family relationships but rather a stark reminder that polish and shine can hide a multitude of hurts, and that it behooves us to pay attention and listen when approached. I am already a Nora Roberts superfan, having read almost everything she has ever written under her name, but Under Currents truly impressed me with the care she took telling this particular story.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

There are plenty of great partnerships in the world – Lewis and Clark, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Luckily, today, we have Amy and Jay, who together manage to write some of the most exciting and creative novels you will ever read. Their latest collaboration takes us back out into space with the wackiest crew imaginable, and their efforts make you feel as if you are experiencing science fiction for the very first time. The energy in Aurora Rising is unfailing, and their creativity knows no limits. The world that contains Aurora Academy is fully-fleshed, so much so that it is difficult to remember that the characters do not physically exist. The science behind their space travel makes sense, as do the threats to the galaxy. Amy and Jay are so good together that their stories read like science fact rather than fiction, and Aurora Rising is just one more example of that.

Finale by Stephanie Garber

I have been a fan of Stephanie Garber’s world since her first novel. Like all series endings though, there is worry that it will disappoint because how can a story remain just as good as it was in the first book? Thankfully, but not surprising given everything Ms. Garber builds and the freedom she gives her characters to make their own mistakes, Finale is a worthy finish for such a spectacular series. We get answers to long-held questions. We get to see the famous Fates in action. We get more drama, more magic, more political machinations, and more romance than we ever thought possible. We see Tella and Scarlett come into their own as women of strength and conviction. And romance. I did mention the romance. Swoon-worthy without becoming sickening, Finale delights in all aspects. I am sad to see this series come to an end, but I certainly hope that Ms. Garber is not entirely done with the world of Caraval. There appear to be so many stories still waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly is a fantastic storyteller, but Stepsister blew me away with its premise, its execution, and most of all, its message. Jennifer Donnelly takes the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella’s story and shows us what true beauty is. She shows us the importance of intelligence, self-worth, and independence. She celebrates everyone who has ever been called odd, weird, ugly, or awkward, and impresses the idea that there is no such thing as any of those adjectives. She highlights the importance of choice, that no one has a set path upon which they must tread, and that we can all change our fate to obtain the ending we want, not one dictated to us by society. It is such a well-told story, but the message. Oh, the message! Ms. Donnelly understands what it means to be on the fringes, and she does more than acknowledge us. She presents to us the world and tells us to shape it to our liking. Empowering doesn’t begin to cover the magnitude of her message.

The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda
Kaira Rouda certainly understands her way around psychopathology; her first novel showed us that much. With her second novel, she confirms that knowledge in a way that is both impressive and chilling. The characters she brings to life in The Favorite Daughter are realistic and the scenarios in which the entire cast finds themselves are what I would consider normal – on the surface at least. All this makes the truth behind the big mystery that much more disturbing. Ms. Rouda understands the surface calm of the pathological and the depths to which they will go to maintain that semblance of outward normality. The Favorite Daughter creeps up on you, lulling you into a false sense of calm before it bears its ugly truth. For a thriller, that is precisely how you want them to be. After two intense and addicting novels, I am fast becoming a fan of Kaira Rouda, even though I don’t know whether I want to shake Ms. Rouda’s hand should I meet her or run as far away as fast as I can.

Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik
In a month of fantastic novels, with debuts and series endings I have been waiting months to read, it still surprises me that my favorite book of the month, if not the entire year so far, is Erica Ferencik’s Into the Jungle. After all, I am not an outdoorsy person. I have no desire to step foot into the Amazon jungle or any jungle, let alone live there. I am arachnophobic and can barely stomach Aragog in the Harry Potter series. Nothing about South America interests me. Yet, I adored this novel about a young woman who drops everything to be with her new love as they move to a small village deep in the Amazon. Spiders who can kill chickens, jaguars who vanish like ghosts, tarantulas that drop from the ceiling, ants that cause more pain than a bullet – these should not be things about which I want to read. I devoured it all and wanted more. I was upset when the story ended. I wanted to experience more of this alien world, which Ms. Ferencik so masterfully captures. I wanted to get to know more about Omar’s life and his family. The ending just about broke my heart and left me gutted. I still have no desire to visit the Amazon, but, thanks to Ms. Ferencik’s writing, I feel like I experienced what Lily did, and that is enough for me.

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