5 Books Better on Audio to Add to Your TBR

Disclosure: Some of the links in this list for books better on audio are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

5 books better on audio
5 Books Better on Audio

As much as bookworms love to take in words with their eyes, sometimes listening to the story is better. It brings back the nostalgia of being read to as a child and keeps up the oral tradition of storytelling. Here are five books better on audio with great narrators.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Hawkins’s best-selling mystery thriller is narrated by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher. Mysteries make the best audiobooks. They’re written with a creepy atmosphere that evokes images of sitting around a campfire telling tales. Corbett’s, Brealey’s and Fisher’s voice acting give each of the main characters a distinct voice. The listener always knows who is talking.

World War Z by Max Brooks

This creative exploration of the zombie apocalypse is told through a series of interviews with survivors. It features a full cast in audio form, including Simon Pegg and Mark Hamill. Its style makes it among the books better on audio because its format takes on a documentary quality. It’s made for voice actors.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

Christian Coulson’s narration brings the main character’s voice – Henry “Monty” Montague – to life in the most delightful way. He brings Monty’s sarcasm and wit to the forefront in a way that reading the words on the page does not suffice. Readers will get caught up in the queer romance as well with Coulson’s dulcet tones.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Another star-studded voice cast, Saunders’s moving tale includes the likes of Lena Dunham, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and Julian Moore, among others. The full-cast narration brings to life historical figures and fictional characters alike to create a rich story made for listening.

Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Memoirs make for books better on audio, especially when narrated by the authors themselves. Regardless of politics, many have agreed that former President Obama’s voice commands an audience. Those who heard him speak couldn’t help but listen. The same holds true for his memoir as he reads from his writings on race and family.

If you don’t quite like audiobooks, that’s ok! You can still pick up a copy of these great books here.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp Hear Our Voices book tour banner
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, Hear Our Voices Book Tour

Thanks to NetGalley and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for an ARC of this wonderful novel. What an absolute delight reading it, including all the overwhelming emotions. It’s an aptly named book, as the story does fall somewhere in between the two.

I would like to disclose at this time this is not exactly an Own Voices book review. Because it said Latinx representation, I assumed that meant an amalgamation of different cultures would appear in the book aside from Mexican-American. However, the story solidly depicts the Mexican-American/Chicanx community. While I did find many similarities between my experiences and the character’s, we do not hail from the same community.

Summary of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Pen Prado loves working at Nacho’s Tacos, her father’s restaurant, alongside her family. She dreams of opening her own pastelería next to his restaurant some day. Those dreams come crashing down when she reveals the truth to her family: she hasn’t been going to school like she said she was. Her father fires her from the restaurant and she chooses to move out rather than stay at home and go to school. Pen discovers who she truly is and her place in the world.

Xander comes to Nacho’s Tacos seeking a job and refuge. He lives undocumented with his grandfather, having been left by his father and mother as a child. He’s looking for a sense of family, including his estranged father, but it might come at a cost. Worse, the neighborhood crook who preys on desperate small businesses and families, J.P., has him in his sights. Together with Pen, he must find out how to save the place he thinks of as home.


Pen and Xander are electric, both on their own and together. Readers will easily fall in love with these kids as they navigate growing pains and fight for their community. It’s hard to talk about the characters individually, as they are so interconnected with one another and their families. This makes Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet realistic and relatable. Every character is their own person but inextricably tangled with their culture and community.

The relationships feel organic and real. Pen’s role as the little sister to Angel, her more reckless big brother, rings true. Likewise, her bond with Chloe, her best friend, shows the strength and love between two women who become sisters. The whole cast of characters at the restaurant felt like a genuine family. They bickered and played pranks on one another. They also came together and had one another’s backs when it came down to fighting J.P.’s scare tactics.

Depictions of Mental Health Issues

Kemp does a phenomenal job of showcasing Pen’s struggles with depression. When she tries to hold it all in, the atmosphere suffocates you alongside her. As she finds the strength to pull through her depressive episodes, you feel the world opening up right beside her. Throughout every moment Pen deals with her mental illness, the reader feels it with her. Kemp’s writing does an amazing job of creating that mood without being didactic.


Kemp’s writing creates a lush and vibrant setting throughout. Her writing takes full advantage of all the senses, bringing to life every scent, sound, taste, feeling, and sight. It perfectly reflects the food and what it means to the characters. Fair warning, you will get hungry while reading, so I suggest keeping a snack in hand.

She also perfectly weaves the themes of the story throughout the plot and through character development. She does not shy away from the uglier parts of healing from trauma. But she always shines a light of hope through the characters and their language. The end of the novel doesn’t wrap up neatly, but it leaves a sense of promise for the future.

Rating of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Hands down, this book deserves 5 out of 5 stars. From the story to the characters to the writing, the whole thing is perfect.

Get a copy here!

Essay Collections to Make You a Smarter Person

Disclosure: Some of the links in this booklist of essay collections are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

6 essay collections to make you smarter
Essay collections to make you smarter

Essay collections combine creativity and academic language to make smart, fun-to-read pieces. They help readers step into another’s shoes and experience the world as they do. Furthermore, like short story collections, they’re easy to read in chunks.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Jamison discusses and analyzes empathy from several angles, such as womanhood and as an observer of those suffering from improbable maladies. These essays challenge readers to understand the line between empathy and tragedy voyeurism.

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

This collection follows the likes of Roxane Gay and bell hooks. McMillan Cottom discusses subjects such as race, money, beauty, and more. The author puts at the forefront what it means to be thick – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Wang gives an intimate look into living with mental and chronic illness. The candid discussion of living with schizophrenia helps create a better understanding of an often misrepresented condition.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

Young’s memoir as a book of essays explores what it means to be a black man in white America. Though it delves into heavy themes of race, Young does so with a humorous touch. Even when it seems the stories become harder and harder to carry.

Shapes of Native Nonfiction ed. by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton

Editors Washuta and Warburton gathered works from 27 Native writers. It contains pieces by writers across the tribes of Turtle Island. Furthermore, this diverse collection of perspectives holds as one of the best nonfiction essay collections.

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

From award-winning poet, Claudia Rankine, comes a collection filled with lyrical precision. Published in the era of the Bush administration, Rankine explores themes of race, terrorism, politics, and more.

Find the books on this list here.

Short Story Collections to Get You Through Your Reading Slump

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book list of short story collections are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

7 short story collections

Collections of short stories often fulfill that reading itch without the long commitment of a novel. You can pick up a story, read it to completion, and then put the book down without losing the thread. Check out these collections of short stories to cushion your reading.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado bends and breaks genre rules. In doing so, she creates stories that blur the lines between horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Each story also explores the violence often experienced by women and their bodies through various lenses.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Liu’s collection is lauded as one of the best short fiction books. It also contains a combination of futuristic science fiction with fantastic myths from Japanese culture. Moreover, these stories explore what it means to be human through narratives of AI, robotics, legendary creatures, and more.

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
Berlin’s short story collection blends humor, wit, and gut-wrenching emotion. It tells the stories that happen in settings often found behind the scenes in our everyday lives. These are quiet stories of average people leading average lives, but the way they are told is anything but average.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
From the award-winning author of The Sympathizer comes a short story collection filled with the trials and struggles of being an immigrant. These stories are rich, complex, and so well written it’s impossible to put down.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
In Lahiri’s short stories, her characters delve into an exploration of identity. They investigate everything from their ancestors’ Indian heritage to their own American upbringing, for example. It’s a collection of poignant stories that deftly maneuver through the question of cultural identity between generations.

The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories by Rion Amilcar Scott
This collection of short stories strings together tales of various residents of Cross River. The leaders of the only successful slave revolt of the mid-nineteenth century established the town. Moreover, Scott’s debut short story collection is a must-read in today’s world of turmoil.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Carter tackles familiar fairy tales and legends in one of the best short story collections of the last century. She tells the stories in this collection with dark and sensual twists that will leave readers wanting more.

Pick up a copy of each of these collections here.

Indigenous Authors Books to Read

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book list of indigenous authors are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

indigenous authors book list

This reading list of indigenous authors will give you plenty to refill your shelves. It includes books like stirring contemporary fiction and contemplative memoirs . Additionally, it’s always a good time to diversify your bookshelves and TBR to expand your horizons.

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Wagamese is a native of Canada and offers a novel filled with complicated father-son relationships, as well as man’s struggle to survive nature and the power of healing. This novel is a prime example of indigenous literature. It follows 16-year-old protagonist Franklin Starlight as he answers the call to see his father and make amends.

Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis

Wallis makes her mark among indigenous authors. The story takes inspiration from legends passed down for generations among the Gwich’in Athabascan tribe. The book tells the story of two elderly women abandoned by their tribe left to survive the brutal winter on their own or die trying.

There There by Tommy Orange

This contemporary novel by Tommy Orange appears often in many book lists with indigenous characters. Orange, an Arapaho of the Cheyenne tribe, tells a multigenerational story that follows several family members coming together at the Big Oakland Powwow, each for their own reasons.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa, is one of the most well-known First Nations’ writers. She explores her mother’s Ojibwe heritage coupled with the story of a young man as he comes of age. All this after a traumatic experience that turns his family upside down.

Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder

Winder, a native of the Duckwater Shoshone, delivers a poignant collection of poems that tug at the heart. Moreover, these poems explore the symbiotic nature of pain and joy. She does it all through an analytical lens focused on the parts of a gun and its role in colonization.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Kimmerer is a botanist trained to look at nature through a scientific lens. She is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. As such she understands the healing power of plants through a cultural perspective often overlooked in the sciences. This nonfiction book bridges the gap between modern science and the ancient practices of indigenous people.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Robinson, a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, combines magical realism with mystery. She creates a mesmerizing coming-of-age tale. Lisamarie investigates the tragic death of her brother while running from her own ghosts and questioning her childhood memories.

Find most of these titles here.

Fat Chance Charlie Vega Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Fat Chance, Charlie Vega are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

Fat Chance Charlie Vega Hear Our Voices Book Tour

I was graced with an ARC of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado thanks to Hear Our Voices Book Tours. This post is part of the book tour (you can find a link to the rest of the tour posts in the banner above).

Content Warning: Mentions of fatphobia

OwnVoices Reflection of Fat Chance Charlie Vega

When this novel came across my radar, I knew I needed to read it immediately. A fat, Puerto Rican girl with the last name Vega (my mom’s maiden name). How could I not?! And I’m so glad I did. For the HOV tour, I opted to create an OwnVoices reflection.

From the moment I saw the cover, I knew this was a story written for me. A tan girl with round face, dark, wavy hair and glasses, she looks exactly like I did in high school. Albeit, more confident. As I read the novel, I felt Charlie so deep in my bones. Playing tough and confident on the outside, while secretly living in shame and self-doubt. The way she constantly compares herself to her best friend and thinks she comes in second hit so close to home.

I’ve spent a lifetime combatting the fatphobia on all fronts – internally and externally. I just turned 30 and to this day I still waffle back and forth between finding happiness in who I am and misery in wanting to be a better version of myself. So much of it stems from defiance of societal standards but longing for social acceptance.

I may be much older than the target demographic of this book, but Charlie’s story made me feel seen. And I know she’s going to make so many other girls like me and her feel seen, too. I’m so glad fat, Puerto Rican high school girls today will have her, always in their corner.

Summary of Fat Chance Charlie Vega

Charlie just wants to come first to someone. She feels like she’s always coming second, especially to her best friend. As she goes on a journey of self-acceptance and learns to love hersef, she comes to realize she already does come first for so many. Most importantly, she learns she must come first for herself.


Charlie Vega is Puerto Rican. Smart. A talented writer. And fat. As the Goodreads blurb states, “some people have a problem with that last one.” It’s true, Charlie is all these things, but she’s so much more. She’s confident and insecure, tough and vulnerable, a champion for and capable of hurting others. In short, she’s a human being. But she’s constantly working toward self-acceptance and acceptance of others.

Our main character has a strained relationship with her mom, who frankly, is emotionally abusive. It would have been easy to create a parental character the readers could hate. But Maldonado’s writing is deft and makes Charlie’s mom nuanced. In fact, all the characters contain multitudes. Charlie’s best friend Amelia supports and encourages Charlie to believe in herself. But she’s also capable of letting anger and jealousy get the best of her.

Maldonado did an excellent job in creating fully fleshed characters. There are no sinners and saints. These are simply complicated, imperfect people constantly trying to do their best and sometimes falling short. She does a careful balancing act of acknowledging that however unintentional, problematic behavior is not condoned. But she never condemns her characters either, instead allowing them the grace to forgive one another for their transgressions.


The story centers around a main character in love with romance and finding her own happy ending. She’s also passionate about fashion and closely follows the fatshion hashtag on social media. Charlie talks a big game of challenging beauty standards, but she still struggles with accepting it within herself many times. It’s what makes her so compelling.

Through her roller coaster ride, she ends up accepting an invitation from her crush Cal to a big deal dance in their town. Except, it wasn’t really an invitation for her; Cal used her to try to get to Amelia. This narrative point was predictable as the reader could see this coming based on Charlie’s checking out during the conversation. But I did appreciate that when the cringe moment came, it wasn’t as publicly humiliating as these moments are often depicted.

Based on how much time was spent on the Charlie/Cal storyline, it seemed like this would be the main conflict of the book. But when Brian comes into the picture and becomes Charlie’s first boyfriend, it takes the narrative on a whole different path. While I enjoyed the Brian portion of the story much more, it did leave the novel feeling unbalanced. However, the character dynamics and HEA helped offset the pacing issues enough to make it a most enjoyable story.

Get a copy of Fat Chance Charlie Vega here!

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for The Fifth Season are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

My best friend read the whole Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin a while back and she’s been begging me to read the books so I can scream alongside her. I finally got around to reading The Fifth Season for a book club I found on Instagram and oh. my. god. It might be too on the nose, but I was shooketh.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin


In Jemisin’s world, the Earth constantly undergoes apocalypses. Every fifth season kicks off with a cataclysmic, natural disaster. Some comms survive while others don’t. Through it all are the orogenes: individuals with special powers that allow them to manipulate the Earth’s energy. They can help quell quakes, shift land, feel fault lines, etc. It’s honestly hard to give a proper summary of The Fifth Season without delving into the other aspects of the novel, so let’s get into it.


Damaya is found by a Guardian, Schaffa, who shows her kindness at first. She’s eager for warmth as her family reported her to the Fulcrum, the school for orogenes. But Schaffa’s love and affection comes with conditions. He quickly shows Damaya that when she disobeys him, he will hurt her. He tells her he does it out of love, and she believes him, because she is a child starved for love. The dynamic between them clearly illustrates an abusive relationship.

Syenite is a sarcastic young woman sent to complete a mission with a ten-ringer (the highest level for orogenes) named Alabaster. They get to a rocky start, but soon Alabaster opens Syenite’s eyes to the truth of the Fulcrum and the world. Their relationship leads Syenite to question what the Fulcrum taught her and her place in the world.

Together, Syenite and Alabaster face and evade adversaries and eventually leave the Fulcrum. They end up on an island with a community that lives on the fringes of society and end up in a polyamorous relationship with a pirate named Innon. This is one of the great examples of how Jemisin’s writing naturally incorporates nontraditional relationships and normalizes sexual fluidity.

The book starts with Essun’s narrative (the you POV) as she mourns her dead son, killed by her husband. She embarks on a journey to seek him out as he stole their daughter away too. Along the way she meets Hoa and Tonkee, unlikely allies that reveal the world is not what she thought.

Jemisin makes the reader care about the characters, no matter how small a part they play or how short a time they appear. There’s also a sense of excitement when many of the characters come full circle as she brings their stories together.

The Fifth Season World Building

Jemisin’s novel hinges on the world building. While action sequences take place, they don’t drive the story. The details of the way orogeny works captivate and fascinate. The way orogenes are viewed and treated in this world act as a direct metaphor for the enslavement and treatment of BIPOC in real life. Society even has a derogatory term for orogenes – rogga.

The language Jemisin created for this world stood out among the many incredible aspects. Many sci-fi books often create in-world slang and specific vocabulary. It doesn’t always make sense or flow organically. But Jemisin created a linguistic pattern so natural that it never felt like a foreign language for readers.

Education and history also play a major role in the world building. Every class in society receives their history and education from stonelore. This is reminiscent of the tablets of the 10 Commandments from the Christian Bible. When Alabaster tells Syenite some tablets have been destroyed or worn down, it indicates history is not as definitive as the schools teach. This creates a parallel to real life and the call for decolonizing our own education.

Rating The Fifth Season

This deserves a solid 5 out of 5 stars. An absolutely lush and mesmerizing world. Incredible writing. Dynamic characters and relationships. It has everything.

Find this book on my Bookshop.org list and other books I’ve reviewed.

Romance Novels For Non-Romance Readers

Disclosure: Some of the links in this list of romance novels are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

romance novels list

Readers who don’t like romance novels often cite the kitschy tropes that make them roll their eyes as the reason for hating them. Others simply aren’t looking for bodice-ripping books that delve into the characters’ sex lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like love stories. They just need to find the right ones. Here are six romance novels for people who hate romance novels.

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

The story of Damen the warrior hero who gets captured and sent to Prince Laurent, the royalty of his country’s enemy nation, will keep non-romance readers turning the page. It features LGBTQ+ romance, political intrigue and family betrayal.

Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown

The first in the Hub City series follows Emmylou as she pursues her dreams of rock stardom. But when she falls for the band’s guitarist Travis she puts her career on the line for a burning hot love. For people who think they don’t like romance, this book will keep them yearning for more.

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

This story is a retelling of the Aladdin fairytale, but with a twist. Zahra is the jinni in the lamp that must grant Aladdin’s three wishes. But the King of the Jinn offers her a chance at freedom. The cost? Betray Aladdin, whom she’s falling for. This young adult romance will appeal to the Disney lovers out there.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Jones combines literary prowess with an analysis of racial injustice in America through this bittersweet love story. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds in the South, both with burgeoning careers, when the unthinkable happens: Roy is sent to prison. This is the story of how a marriage works when one spouse is imprisoned and the other must carry on.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Evelyn Hugo is a reclusive movie star of the past, but when she finally decides to tell her story, she chooses an unknown magazine reporter, Monique Grant. The protagonist Evelyn is a Cuban-American woman who details her adventures from moving to L.A. in the 50s to the several spouses she procured along the way.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s novel follows butler Stevens as he leaves Darlington Hall to explore his past through his time in England. The book follows the protagonist as he interacts with the history of fascism and the two world wars. All the while, he never realizes the unspoken love between him and his housekeeper.

Find the books in this list at my Bookshop page.

Travel Poetry: Running With Zeus

We visited the Temple of Zeus in Olympia on my trip to Greece in 2019. It’s hard to believe I’m already coming up on two years since that vacation. I felt like a kid exploring those ruins. I was obsessed with Greek mythology in middle school.

Running With Zeus poem from Temple of Zeus, Olympia, Greece
Olympia, Greece (May 2019)

Funny though, Zeus was never one of my favorite gods. But of course, he’s the one everyone always hears about. Sure, the Disney version in Hercules was fine. Kind of funny and sympathetic in his love for his son. The myths’ version though? Always sounded like such a tool. And yet, standing at the temple erected in his honor at the Olympia ruins, I felt that audacity. I finally understood what it is about Zeus that makes him such a lasting figure.

Below is the full poem I wrote inspired by that moment, standing before the ruins of his temple.

Strap on the sandals and fly
down the lane toward the end
of the plain, that wide open green
left and right straight up into
baby blue sky. Run with the wind
as it calls out your name, promising
only glory and fame. Run with the gods
just out of their sight. Run through
the day and into the night. Run with
the thunder, run with the rain. Run
as though you’ll never feel pain.

Originally posted on my Instagram here.

Find more travel poetry here.

Not the Weirdest Plot Line This Year

As 2020 comes to an end I thought I’d share a little story I wrote for a prompt I did for a writing retreat I participated in with my friends. And since those mysterious monoliths started appearing everywhere, this felt right.


Image by Daniela Realpe from Pixabay