Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy
Publisher/Year: Timber Press, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 243
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Douglas W. Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, sparked a national conversation about the link between healthy local ecosystems and human well-being. Nature’s Best Hope takes the next step, and outlines his vision for a home-based approach to conservation that turns our backyards into conservation corridors and wildlife habitats. Nature’s Best Hope is nature writing at its best–rooted in history, progressive in its advocacy, and above all, actionable and hopeful. By proposing practical measures that ordinary people can easily do, Tallamy gives us reason to believe that the planet can be preserved for future generations.

What I thought

Thank you to Timber Press for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I am, by and large, a reader primarily of fiction. However, every now and then I like to dip my toes into some nonfiction, particularly that surrounding topics of interest to me. I especially love reading new releases in my “field.” (My degree is in wildlife conservation.)

That being said you don’t need a degree to incorporate conservation into your own backyard, and you don’t need one to read this accessible little book. Consider me Doug Tallamy’s newest fan. I am really digging his idea for a grassroots approach to bringing biodiversity back into our yards. My husband and I bought our house last June, and I had hoped to work on the landscaping this spring. With everything going on right now, that’s looking more unlikely, but this book has given me something to look forward to as I excitedly (and a little obsessively) start researching ideas for my own yard. I wish I could put a copy of this book into all of my neighbors’ mailboxes (I’m looking at you, dude who started weekly mowing his lawn on FEBRUARY 29th–I live in PA for reference…my grass JUST turned green this past week.)

Environmentally, we are past the point of being able to rely on conservationists to “fix the environment.” Grab your copy of this and let’s get started together–each small step can help! Nature’s Best Hope is an invigorating, imperative read!

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher/Year: St. Martin’s Press, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 279
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door–an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over a historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today–What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?–as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

What I thought

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This book gave me some serious FEELINGS, which to me is a sign of a great book. I was very impressed with Therese Anne Fowler’s writing, and I will definitely be looking to read her previous works.

For being such a short novel, A Good Neighborhood truly packs a powerful punch. I fell in love with Fowler’s writing style–I thought this was a stylistically beautiful novel. I, for one, love when narrators break that fourth wall. It’s unique and something you don’t see too often, and I thought it totally worked here. It added to my sense of unease as I was reading, which made this book virtually impossible to put down.

I also love good character development, and while the characters here were a bit one-dimensional, I still felt like they were fleshed out enough to make me feel invested in their story. My favorite part of this story was the budding romance between Xavier and Juniper. Man, it’s been a while, but Fowler really hit the nail on the head in describing the nervousness and excitement of teenage first love. And then, on the reverse end of the spectrum, there was Brad, who is the worst possible example of a human being that I could imagine and who I frequently day dreamed about setting on fire. This book was a first for me in that it not only made me physically sick to my stomach, but it also made me actually GAG.

For the sake of not giving way the plot, suffice it to say that this book touches on a number of difficult and uncomfortable topics–race, class, the environment, politics, criminal justice, the prison system, religion, pedophilia, sex, you name it. My first inclination was to suggest that this felt a little gimmicky, but when I stepped back and thought about it, it feels less like a gimmick and more like an overwhelming reminder of the current state of the world we live in. The ending was heartbreaking and infuriating and, unfortunately, all too realistic.

A Good Neighborhood is a book that I know is going to stick with me for a while and is one that begs to be discussed. I’m very much looking forward to conversing with my fellow B&N book club members about this one!

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Publisher/Year: Flatiron Books, 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 394
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


También de este lado hay sueños.

On this side, too, there are dreams.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy–two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride La Bestia–trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something, But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

What I thought

What is there to say about this book that hasn’t been said? I read this as a member of Barnes & Noble Book Club, but also because with all of the controversy surrounding it, I wanted to read it myself to see what I’d think.

And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel. On one hand, I found this to be a beautifully written, compelling story that I know will stay with me for some time. I could feel that Jeanine Cummins poured her heart into this story.

But at the same time, I recognize that as a white woman who has lived in central PA my entire life, I have absolutely no right speaking to the authenticity of this narrative. For that reason, I urge you before you read this, do some research. Read reviews from the Latinx community. Seek out own voices authors. Pay attention, and listen to their perspectives.

I’m not going to tell you that you should read this book. I’m not going to tell you not to read this book. That’s up to you. What I am going to do is suggest that you take this chance to educate yourself on this issues surrounding this book and, in particular, the issues with the state of the publishing industry. If this book is good for anything besides its much-debated role as a work of fiction, it’s that it is leading to conversations on many levels that, as a country, we NEED to be having.

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West
Publisher/Year: Berkley, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 376
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Only the strong endure at Liston Heights High when students get swept up in the dramas and scandals erupting on campus around the school play….

When a devoted teacher comes under pressure for her progressive curriculum and a helicopter mom goes viral on social media, two women at odds with each other find themselves in similar predicaments, having to battle their way back from certain social ruin.

Isobel Johnson has spent her career at Liston Heights sidestepping the community’s high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voice mail accusing her of anti-Americanism and a liberal agenda, she’s in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Julia Abbott, obsessed with the casting of the school’s winter musical, makes an error in judgment that has far-reaching consequences for her entire family.

Brought together by the sting of public humiliation–and in response to a secret Facebook page created as an outlet for parent grievances–Isobel and Julia learn first-hand how entitlement and competition can go too far in an unforgettable debut novel that addresses parents behaving badly and teenagers speaking up–even against their own families.

What I thought

Thank you to Berkley for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I’ll be honest–going into this one, I was not completely sure that I was going to enjoy it. I can’t place a finger on why that was, but I did end up really enjoying it. I won’t say it was an absolute favorite or anything, but I would definitely recommend it.

Let me preface this review by saying that, as you all know, I have nothing against light and fluffy reads. They have their place for me, as a reader, and sometimes, you just need something that doesn’t require a whole lot of reader feedback. What I will say is that I notice I tend to be pleasantly surprised when I go into a book expecting something light and find an unanticipated depth to the story. This book was one of those. The story was full of drama, drama, drama, but I also found the chapters being told from multiple perspectives to be thought-provoking. We all have a tendency to get caught up in our perspectives, and all of the different viewpoints in this story actually made me pause and consider how often this tendency can lead to miscommunications and misunderstood feelings. Plus, I loved how that tied in with Isobel’s lessons on looking for multiple perspectives.

Speaking of those multiple perspectives, I found that the combination of each chapter being told by a different character and the fact that the chapters were so short really made the story breeze by for me. Between that and the entertainment factor of all of the drama, this story felt 100% believable in today’s day and age. Nothing that happened felt over-the-top or far-fetched.

When it comes down to it, I think the only reasons I could give as to why this book wasn’t a favorite for me are that 1) I’m just not sure that I’d want to go back and re-read it again and 2) I think that with all the references to the current day (i.e. political atmosphere, social media, helicopter parents), this book will feel dated fairly quickly.

With all that being said, I still really enjoyed this one, and I’d highly recommend it to fans of contemporary novels. It would also be great if you are looking for a quick read that’s highly entertaining with a touch of depth that could easily be read in a day or a weekend.