Book of the Month At A Glance- May 2021

Posted May 2, 2021 by stuckint in Book Subscriptions, BOTM / 4 Comments

Hello everyone and welcome to another At A Glance post, a monthly post where I try to provide insight into Book of the Month’s monthly book selections so you can spend less time deciding and more time reading.

Maybe it was because April’s picks were so amazing but I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed this month. I got the sense that Book of the Month tried to offer “light” and “summery” reads and that translated into a bunch of contemporary fiction novels. I feel like there were so many May books coming out to choose from. I am excited to try some books outside of my comfort zone and hope my post helps you find a book you’ll love too!

As always, if there is some thing I am not including in these posts that you would love to see just reach out and let me know! I do this post for all of you and want it to be as helpful as possible.

Main Picks

Things We Lost To The Water by Eric Nguyen (Historical Fiction)

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on May 4, 2021
Pages: 304

A stunning debut novel about an immigrant Vietnamese family who settles in New Orleans and struggles to remain connected to one another as their lives are inextricably reshaped.

When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she is jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband, Cong, who remains in Vietnam. As she and her boys begin to settle in to life in America, she continues to send letters and tapes back to Cong, hopeful that they will be reunited and her children will grow up with a father.
But with time, Huong realizes she will never see her husband again. While she copes with this loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh grow up in their absent father's shadow, haunted by a man and a country trapped in their memory and imagination. As they push forward, the three adapt to life in America in different ways: Huong takes up with a Vietnamese car salesman who is also new in town; Tuan tries to connect with his heritage by joining a local Vietnamese gang; and Binh, now going by Ben, embraces his adopted homeland and his burgeoning sexuality. Their search for identity--as individuals and as a family--threatens to tear them apart. But then disaster strikes the city they now call home, and they must find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them.

Nguyen’s debut is a gem of a novel. It follows a Vietnamese family, divided by immigration, whose story spans decades: beginning in 1979 when they arrive in the US for the next twenty-six years. Beautifully written, it explores the diverse ways Hoang and her two children adapt and change in a new life and world where they are frequently viewed as other. Early reviewers have praised Nguyen for his gorgeous prose as the author paints lives of each of the three family members. The reader is given a glimpse into their lives as they escape the turbulent storms of Vietnam, only to face the horrendous disasters of New Orleans, including Hurricane Katrina. This evocative story examines issues of family, class, marriage and immigration. It fits right in with past Book of the Month picks like The Bad Muslim Discount and Behold the Dreamers. Reviews of Things We Lost to the Water are largely positive, with consistent criticisms surrounding the pacing of the story and the development of its characters. However, from what I can tell, this book is a shoe in for anyone looking for a solid immigration story to diversify their bookshelf and their reading. 

How Lucky by Will Leitch (Contemporary Fiction)

How Lucky by Will Leitch
Published by Harper on May 11, 2021
Pages: 304

“A fantastic novel. . . . You are going to like this a lot.”—Stephen King
For readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Nothing to See Here, a first novel as suspenseful and funny as it is moving, the unforgettable story of a fiercely resilient young man grappling with a physical disability, and his efforts to solve a mystery unfolding right outside his door. 
Daniel leads a rich life in the university town of Athens, Georgia.  He’s got a couple close friends, a steady paycheck working for a regional airline, and of course, for a few glorious days each Fall, college football tailgates. He considers himself to be a mostly lucky guy—despite the fact that he’s suffered from a debilitating disease since he was a small child, one that has left him unable to speak or to move without a wheelchair. 
Largely confined to his home, Daniel spends the hours he’s not online communicating with irate air travelers observing his neighborhood from his front porch. One young woman passes by so frequently that spotting her out the window has almost become part of his daily routine. Until the day he’s almost sure he sees her being kidnapped. 

Will Leitch’s latest novel is described as simultaneously suspenseful and humorous. With its blurb from Stephen King and Nothing to See Here author Kevin Wilson, it promises to be a solid hybrid of the two aurhor’s styles. Our protagonist is Daniel, who has lived with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which has confined him to a wheelchair since his youth. Daniel spends most of his time working customer service and people watching from his window. At the heart of the novel, alongside Daniel’s charm and Leitch’s engrossing style, is a mystery of a missing woman. Like the other books on this list, the praises for Leitch’s novel are extensive but one of my favorite descriptions of the book was taken from a reviewer who described it as “If Fredrick Backman wrote The Girl on the Train.” Daniel decides he’s going to take matters into his own hands and investigate an alleged kidnapping. If you love past Book of the Month selections like Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Anxious People, you won’t want to miss this one. The only complaints I’ve been able to find about the story was that there was not enough action. However, from what I can tell, if you want a heartwarming tale about friendship with a little mystery thrown in, How Lucky must be in your box!

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (Domestic Suspense)

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
on May 4, 2021
Pages: 320

We all have stories we never tell.Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her.
Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.
As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.
Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

Dave’s first foray into the mystery genre should not be perceived as an edge of your seat, nail biting, thriller. In a nutshell, The Last Thing He Told Me is the story of a man living a lie and the struggle of the wife and daughter he leaves behind to understand who he was and why he disappeared. But the novel is more than just a mystery as it follows the growing relationship between Hannah, our protagonist and Bailey, her step daughter, while they set out to understand Owen and his identity. The character driven, domestic suspense novel is described by reviewers across the board as a slow paced family drama with mystery elements. Some reviewers liked the slower pace, while others were a bit disappointed because they were expecting the novel to be more of a thriller. I think if you have enjoyed slower mysteries like When the Stars Go Dark and Long Bright River, The Last Thing He Told Me will be a good pick for you.

Impostor Syndrome by Kathy Wang (Litimpoerary Suspense)

Impostor Syndrome by Kathy Wang
Published by Custom House on May 25, 2021
Pages: 368

A sharp and prescient novel about women in the workplace, the power of Big Tech, and the looming threat of foreign espionage from Kathy Wang, “a skilled satirist of the northern California dream” (Harper’s Bazaar)
In 2006 Julia Lerner is living in Moscow, a recent university graduate in computer science, when she’s recruited by Russia’s largest intelligence agency. By 2018 she’s in Silicon Valley as COO of Tangerine, one of America’s most famous technology companies. In between her executive management (make offers to promising startups, crush them and copy their features if they refuse); self promotion (check out her latest op-ed in the WSJ, on Work/Life Balance 2.0); and work in gender equality (transfer the most annoying females from her team), she funnels intelligence back to the motherland. But now Russia's asking for more, and Julia’s getting nervous.
Alice is a first generation Chinese American whose parents are delighted she’s working at Tangerine (such a successful company!). Too bad she’s slogging away in the lower echelons, recently dumped, and now sharing her expensive two-bedroom apartment with her cousin Cheri, a perennial “founder’s girlfriend”. One afternoon, while performing a server check, Alice discovers some unusual activity, and now she’s burdened with two powerful but distressing suspicions: Tangerine’s privacy settings aren’t as rigorous as the company claims they are, and the person abusing this loophole might be Julia Lerner herself. 
The closer Alice gets to Julia, the more Julia questions her own loyalties. Russia may have placed her in the Valley, but she's the one who built her career; isn’t she entitled to protect the lifestyle she’s earned? Part page-turning cat-and-mouse chase, part sharp and hilarious satire, Impostor Syndrome is a shrewdly-observed examination of women in tech, Silicon Valley hubris, and the rarely fulfilled but ever-attractive promise of the American Dream.

Out of all the books on this list, I am most excited about Impostor Syndrome by Kathy Wang. Not only because it’s a workplace thriller that examines women in tech, but the play on the title makes me think that there is more going on in the story. In fact,, according to reviewers, Impostor Syndrome is as much about women in tech as it is sharp observations regarding the ways women navigate their roles in the workplaces and how they adapt and react to those around them. A lot of reviewers reported feeling sympathetic to Julia, as she wrestles with her loyalties to Russia and her desire to keep the life she’s built and earned. Then there is Alice, a chinese American who works at Tangerine. As the two women get closer the lives they’ve led and the personas they’ve constructed begin to unravel. It’s not a spoiler, but Impostor Syndrome is also a spy novel which I think will lend an interesting dynamic to the book. I recently read Red Widow by Alma Katsu and the two titles strike as me somewhat similar, even if Katsu’s novel was about the CIA and Impostor Syndrome features a Russian spy working in Silicon Valley. The biggest complaint from reviewers was the lack of answers by the end of the story. But most readers found Impostor Syndrome compulsively readable and a real page turner.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (Fantasy)

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Published by Flatiron Books on May 4, 2021
Pages: 320

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur - Minos's greatest shame and Ariadne's brother - demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods - drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne's decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover's ambition?
Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCE, A SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.

While Book of the Month classified this debut as fantasy I would describe it as historical fiction and mythology. As someone who studied Classics in Graduate School, I love retellings of Greek and Roman mythology and of course, added this standalone to my box. Saint’s reimagining of the story of Ariadne features a heroine whose desire for her future does not quite match up to what is expected. We are also privy to the story of Ariadne’s sister Phaedra. The book is interspersed with the classic mythological tales. Mythology aside, Ariadne is a story of suffering, struggle and finding one’s voice. It’s perfect for fans of Madeline Miller or who wanted more from past selections like The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Its a story about overthrowing the patriarchy, understanding the pantheon of the gods and their cruelty, as well as forging one’s own path. While some might be deterred because of the books roots in Greek mythology I think the themes mentioned above should endear it to the most skeptical among us. If you are going to travel outside of your comfort zone, I cannot think of a book more deserving of the risk.

Add Ons

The Girl With Stars In Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod (Contemporary/Romance)

The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 4, 2021
Pages: 464

They say the road to stardom is paved with broken dreams.
Growing up, Antonia "Toni" Bennett's guitar was her only companion...until she met Sebastian Quick. Seb was a little older, a lot wiser, and he became Toni's way out, promising they'd escape their small town together. Then Seb turned eighteen and split without looking back.
Now, Toni B is all grown up and making a name for herself in Philadelphia's indie rock scene. When a friend suggests she try out for the hottest new band in the country, she decides to take a chance. She's in for a surprise when one of the decision-makers turns out to be none other than Seb. Toni can handle it. No problem. Or it wouldn't be if Seb didn't still hold a piece of her heart, not to mention the key to her future.

Book of the Month categorized this one as a contemporary but it’s definitely a romance as well. It features a second chance, friends to lovers relationship set against the backdrop of the indie rock scene in Philadelphia. Our main character is Toni Bennett, who has experienced her share of struggles in life, but most pertinent to the plot of the novel is the breakup with her longtime childhood friend and boyfriend Sebastian. When Toni finds herself trying out for one of the hottest bands in the country, she once again comes face to face with Seb. While I don’t think you should expect another Daisy Jones and the Six in terms of style, it does fit Reid’s novel in terms of the author’s way with music. Additionally, if you like stories featuring actualized dreams, characters with complicated pasts, found family, music or beautiful prose, you definitely want want to pick this one up. Reviewers’ big complaint was the lack of romance on the page at the beginning of the novel, but if you are on the fence about it, I say go for it!

Anna K Away by Jenny Lee (YA Contemporary)

Anna K: Away (Anna K, #2) by Jenny Lee
Published by Flatiron Books on April 27, 2021
Pages: 304

It’s Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl! Anna K Away follows the fabulous cast of characters from Anna K over the course of the next summer, when new freedoms lead to life-changing adventures, risks, and self-discovery.
How the mighty have fallen. Anna K, once the golden girl of Greenwich, CT, and New York City, has been brought low by a scandalous sex tape and the tragic death of her first love, Alexia Vronsky. At the beginning of the summer, her father takes her to the other side of the world, to connect with his family in South Korea and hide her away. Is Anna in exile? Or could this be her chance to figure out who she really is?
Back in the U.S., Lolly has forgiven Steven for cheating on her, and their relationship feels stronger than ever. But when Lolly meets a boy at her beloved theater camp, she has to ask herself how well Steven will ever really know her. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, everything between Kimmie and her new boyfriend, Dustin, is easy—except when it comes to finally having sex. And Bea escapes to LA, running away from her grief at her beloved cousin’s death, until a beautiful stranger steals her heart. Is Bea ready to finally forgive Anna, and let herself truly fall in love for the very first time?
Set over the course of one unforgettable summer, Jenny Lee's Anna K Away is full of the risk, joy, heartbreak, and adventure that mark the three months between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next.

This sequel to Anna K by Jenny Lee was a bit of a surprise, even if I did include it on a predictions list for April. The sequel picks up right where Anna K left off, following Anna K as well as her family and friends over the course of the subsequent summer. If you adored Anna K, reviewers overwhelming concur that you will enjoy Anna K Away. The sequel appears to be slower to start but is also just as smart, witty and fun as the first with as much heartbreak, drama, and gossip as Anna K. As far as sequels go, Anna K Away is a solid continuation of the story, even if it lacks some of the Anna Karenina easter eggs of it’s predecessor. I would say if you are looking for a light read to get lost in poolside this summer, look no further!

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (Science Fiction)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Pages: 496

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission--and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian--while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

I’ll admit, I added Weir’s latest novel to my box so quickly when I saw it available as an add on. I have seen a lot of people concerned about enjoying Project Hail Mary after disliking Artemis. I, as well as a plethora of reviewers, want to assure concerned individuals that Project Hail Mary is much more like The Martian than Artemis. Our protagonist is amnesia-ridden Ryland Grace, who wakes up on a ship with only two corpses for company and a mission to save the world that he does not remember accepting or how to successfully carry out. Containing familiar elements of science, survival and wit, Weir’s latest is not to be missed, especially for fans of previous Book of the Month authors Blake Crouch and Ernest Cline. The narrative jumps back and forth between the events that led to Ryland’s amnesia and the present, where he works to figure out exactly what his mission and the steps he must take to complete it. The reviews for Project Hail Mary are overwhelmingly positive, with the biggest complaint relating to the info dump of science that some readers found a bit too complex. The consensus, Project Hail Mary is leaps and bounds better than Artemis and on par with The Martian. I cannot wait to read it!

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friesland (Contemporary Fiction)

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland
Published by Berkley Books on May 18, 2021
Pages: 384

A family reunion for the ages when two clans convene for the summer at their beloved getaway in the Catskills--perfect for fans of Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel--from the acclaimed author of The Floating Feldmans. In its heyday, The Golden Hotel was the crown jewel of the hotter-than-hot Catskills vacation scene. For more than sixty years, the Goldman and Weingold families - best friends and business partners - have presided over this glamorous resort which served as a second home for well-heeled guests and celebrities. But the Catskills are not what they used to be - and neither is the relationship between the Goldmans and the Weingolds. As the facilities and management begin to fall apart, a tempting offer to sell forces the two families together again to make a heart-wrenching decision. Can they save their beloved Golden or is it too late?
Long-buried secrets emerge, new dramas and financial scandal erupt, and everyone from the traditional grandparents to the millennial grandchildren wants a say in the hotel's future. Business and pleasure clash in this fast-paced, hilarious, nostalgia-filled story, where the hotel owners rediscover the magic of a bygone era of nonstop fun even as they grapple with what may be their last resort.

Friesland’s latest novel is. Dirty Dancing-esque story set an a nostalgic hotel where generations of two families converge in an effort to save it from being sold off to anyone outside the family. The problem, everyone wants a say and what follows is plenty of drama and laugh out loud shenanigans. While Patrick Swayze makes no appearances, there is plenty to love about this beach read! From hidden secrets to financial scandals it worth a read if you adore relationship fiction. Reviewers are raving about this family reunion style novel. Prepare for dysfunction and the chaos that comes when you shove clashing personalities into the same space, all with a common goal. The other comp being tossed around with this novel is The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel. Like Anna K Away, this is another perfect beach read, a book that can transport you to another place and another time.

Diversity Breakdown

I think Book of the Month could have done better this month, especially where LGBTQIA+ authors are concerned. They are consistently featuring authors of color, which is nice to see. Hopefully they continue to improve.

  • Authors of Color: 4/9- 45%
  • Female Authors: 6/9- 60%
  • LGBTQIA+: 1/9- 10%
  • Repeat Authors: 3/9 - 30%
  • Debut Novels: 2/9 - 20%

In My Box This Month:

Box 1

Box 2

What About You?

What did you add to your box this month? What do you think of my picks? Let me know in the comments!

4 responses to “Book of the Month At A Glance- May 2021

  1. Deepika

    I was super excited about the books this month. I’ve paused my second account for a while, so the three books I picked were perfect for me 🙂 I got Ariadne, How Lucky, and Project Hail Mary.

  2. Jenava

    I wished some more of your predictions made it into BOTM but will have to get them elsewhere. I chose Things we lost to the Water for my pick and I plan to trade with friends who chose Imposter Syndrome and Lucky You. Also think I’ll get Golden Hotel on Audible for a light read.

  3. Southern Librarian

    I was highly pleased with this month’s selections and add-ons, but I will definitely be looking into getting How Lucky next month. I got The Last Thing He Told Me, Impostor Syndrome, and Project Hail Mary.

  4. Lesa

    For my May pick I chose Ariadne and added Piranesi and When the Stars Go Dark. Next month I plan to add Things We Lost to the Water and Last Summer at the Golden Hotel. Maybe I need a second account! 🙂

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