The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Pregnancy is a taboo subject alongside conception in today’s society. Even though this is something that people go through on a daily basis, anything surrounding pregnancy is seen as something to be kept hidden and not talked about. Joanne Ramos takes this topic and expands upon it in her debut novel.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos feeds upon the desire of wealthy women to have a baby, but still be able to keep their figure, work full time, and not have to rely on a partner to have a baby. Mae Yu, an ambitious businesswoman looking to find her way in the business world, proposes a new plan to give these women what they want: Golden Oaks. Golden Oaks is a luxury retreat nestled, and somewhat hidden away, in New York’s Hudson Valley. This retreat caters to basically every woman’s pregnancy need: massages, personal trainers, meals catered to their exact nutritional needs, and a community of pregnant women going through the exact same process that they are. Sounds perfect, right? There has to be a hidden secretive side at Golden Oaks and sure enough it starts to surface.

The women at Golden Oaks aren’t just regular surrogates: they are ‘Hosts’ at ‘The Farm’ as they call themselves and Golden Oaks. These hosts are promised a very large, lucrative payday when they deliver their children for the clients. The downside: they are trapped at Golden Oaks for the full nine months, they cannot leave the grounds, their movements are monitored 24/7, and they are completely cut off from their former lives. Sure, they have access to computers and video chats with their families and friends, but those calls are monitored and visitors are not allowed. Despite all these restrictions, and partly because they are not disclosed up front when hosts are brought to Golden Oaks, some residents choose to dedicate their lives to the Farm and carry multiple babies for the same women.

Struggling to provide for her daughter, Jane is having trouble holding down a job. When she hears of Golden Oaks through another family member, Jane soon finds herself signing up to carry someone else’s baby, despite the fact that she has a very young daughter at home. Jane, a young immigrant from the Philippines just trying to find a better life, commits to being a ‘Host’ at Golden Oaks and finds her new life to be structured in a way that makes her uncomfortable. As she begins to doubt her choices and wants to go back to her former life, Jane realizes that she must reconnect with her family on the outside. Facing the possibility that she could lose the fee she was promised with the safe and healthy delivery of the child she is carrying, Jane is forced to go to the extremes to get what she wants.

This novel forces readers to question what we consider to be motherhood and all the messy moral, monetary, and reproductive questions that circle the ability to get pregnant. The topic of what women are willing to do to become mothers and how far businesses are willing to go in order to help them happily fulfill their futures is a major component of this book. Give this book a read (or listen) and let me know what you think!


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That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron

If you could read a book and get a glimpse into another society, would you? By reading fiction books, I will often find a topic that intrigues me that will then push me to read a nonfiction book about the same topic. It’s an enjoyable cycle! Historical fiction is one of the biggest genres that leads me to nonfiction books. I love fact-checking the fiction book to see how closely the author wrote to what happened in real life. Historical fiction that focuses on remarkable women is one of my favorites. Stephanie Barron’s latest works falls under this category.

That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron chronicles the life of one of history’s most remarkable, controversial, and influential women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome. Jennie was born in Brooklyn to a prosperous American financier father and a mother with high social ambitions for both herself and her daughters. Eventually ending up in Europe with her mother and siblings after a scandal rocked her parents, Jennie realizes that she is responsible for securing her own destiny. Jennie is wealthy, privileged, and raised by her father to be fiercely independent. The moment she landed in Victorian England, Jennie and her family took the area by storm.

Jennie runs into Lord Randolph Churchill at a party and decides she wants to marry him when she is just nineteen years old. The shocker? They have only known each other for three days when Jennie decides to marry him. Once they are married, she is instantly swept into a crazy whirlwind of British politics and the social climbers that surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Jennie is now the new Lady Randolph Churchill, a brash American woman who thinks for herself and is careless of English society rules. She becomes a London sensation, traveling without her husband to Marlborough House and gathering admirers and critics along the way. Since Jennie knows about politics and is also a gifted piano player, she uses her talents to begin shaping her husband’s rise in Parliament. Jennie is also widely known as the mother of Winston Churchill. She uses her talents to help navigate Winston’s journey into manhood. He had a difficult childhood, but Jennie made sure to be at his side.

As the Churchill family becomes more influential, scandal and tragedy begin to strike them. Jennie has had lovers besides her husband, but none mean as much to her as Count Charles Kinsky. Kinsky is a man who loves horses like she does  and passionately loves Jennie the way her husband can’t. Once Bertie, Prince of Wales, catches wind of their affair, Jennie is forced to rethink their love as she quickly realizes just how much her every move is judged in public. She must decide how to balance duty and desire, a choice which has consequences that ripple across the Atlantic. Jennie’s decision takes her to a new level of scandal as her children’s lives and all of those around her are greatly affected. This novel is a loving portrait of a woman who helped shape the Churchill era. Jennie’s legacy may be of a difficult and scandalous woman, but the balancing act she works out between obligation, desire, duty, love, and freedom is a testament to the soul of a woman who through sheer force of will was able to alter the course of history.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.

Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.

This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.


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Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak

In college, I read primarily romance novels, but now that I work in a library surrounded by an infinite number of books, I find that I’m straying away from those old comforts. In an effort to reintroduce myself to romance novels, I have been reading a lot of ‘romantic suspense’ by Sandra Brown and other authors. I recently found Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak and decided to give this romantic suspense author a try.

Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak tells the story of how far one woman is willing to go to dig up her family’s dark secrets. Sloane McBride’s mother disappeared when she was five. Something happened to her mother the night she left, but no one wants to talk about it. Sloane was in the house the night her mom left and heard some things that she believes could have to do with her mother’s disappearance. Sloane heard her parents arguing and the things they were talking about made her skin crawl. In the midst of their arguing, a thump reverberated throughout the house. After that noise, the house went completely quiet. The next morning, Sloane discovered that her mother was gone. According to her father, her mother left and was never coming back.

Her father insisted that her mother just up and left, a situation that doesn’t sit well with Sloane given what she overheard that night and the fact that her mother was very loving and devoted to her two children. After their mother left, Sloane and her brother are raised by their strict and domineering father in their small Texas hometown. Desperate to escape, Sloane moves out of the town as soon as she turns eighteen and eventually ends up working as a model in New York. Despite all the distance between Texas and New York, Sloane is still haunted by what could have happened to her mother.

Thinking herself strong enough to stand up to her father and brother now that she has been away for ten years, Sloane decides to head back to Texas to finally find out the truth of what happened to her mother. Returning to this small town means that Sloane has to deal with her jilted ex-boyfriend, an angry best friend, a disappointed brother, and a father who will do anything to keep her from finding the truth. The more Sloane digs into her mother’s disappearance, the more dark family secrets she uncovers. As she learns more about what happened, Sloane is left to wonder how much of a coverup went into hiding what happened to her mother and just how each person she is investigating fits into this mysterious puzzle.


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A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a writer that never fails me. I know when I pick up one of her books, there’s a very good chance I will enjoy it. I recently finished her newest book, A Spark of Light, and found myself hooked from beginning to end. I seldom recommend you read a book over listening to it, but for this book, I recommend doing just that. My reason? This book is told backwards. If you have a somewhat short attention span(like I do), you might miss the verbal announcement of when they go to a different hour.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult takes on provocative issues in this book. Picoult shows that each issue presented needs alternate viewpoints in order to see the full truth. Trigger warning: this book deals with topics of abortion, gun violence, racism, and mentions rape and incest. These topics are all timely, presented equally, and are certainly worthy of debate in any society.

Morning begins like any other at the Center. Staff open the women’s reproductive health services clinic to a wide variety of people who need care. Whether you need abortions, birth control, cancer screenings, wellness checks, etc., the Center is there to help. The fact that the Center even exists is controversial, with demonstrators barricading the road and building every day trying to derail, confuse, and degrade the people who need the Center’s help.

Everything comes to a screeching halt when a single protestor makes his way into the Center armed with a gun and takes everyone hostage. Seeing events unfold from the viewpoints of staff, visitors, and patients allows readers to better understand their reasons for behaving the way they do. Unraveling the day backward hour by hour, this novel starts at the tensest moment with Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, negotiating for the release of all inside the Center. The gunman, negotiator, doctors, nurses, and women who have come to the Center have their lives examined as we start at their lowest point and move back.

Each person with ties to the Center is equally fascinating. A police hostage negotiator is trying to work when his phone vibrates and his heart stops. His teenage daughter and his older sister are trapped in the clinic alongside a pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, a doctor working seemingly in opposition to his faith, a nurse attempting to calm her panic to save a wounded woman, a young woman there to end a pregnancy, an older woman who needs help understanding some devastating news she received, and the armed hostage taker who just wants someone to listen to what he has to say.

Even though this novel is told backward, the story unravels naturally as each characters’ lives are slowly peeled away. Readers are privy to the complexities involved in trying to balance the right to life with the right to choose as the reasonings for each person’s trip to the Center is slowly revealed.


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Vox by Christina Dalcher

This book was all over reading lists before it even came out. When Vox was released, the hype grew even bigger. What I discovered when reading reviews of this book was that people either really loved or didn’t like it. I firmly fall in the ‘love it’ category and I hope you all like it as well.

Vox by Christina Dalcher runs in a similar vein of The Handmaid’s Tale as another example of a specific segment of the population being silenced/put into service by a different group. While reading this book, I noticed that I was growing increasingly agitated at the restrictions placed on women.

Jean McLellan is a cognitive linguist. Happily married with four children, Jean lives a pleasant life. Her husband Patrick is the science advisor to the President and seems to have an inside track to what’s happening. With the rise of the ‘Pure’ religious movement, Jean quickly realizes her basic freedoms are starting to be taken away. When the ‘Pure’ movement succeeds in infiltrating the government, Jean knows she’s in trouble.  She saw the signs, but failed to respond appropriately. Women representation in government is decreasing, the ‘pure’ religion is gaining traction, and female freedoms are being lost at an increasing rate. Jean did nothing. Her friends and family warned her and pleaded with her to do something, but Jean continuously believed that America would never go very far. She was wrong.

One day, all women were fitted with a bracelet snapped around their wrist that worked as a word counter. This permanent bracelet limited them to 100 words per day. 100! ALL DAY! That’s it. Don’t even try to go over 100 because each over will result in severe consequences. The ‘pure’ movement controls all. Religion has a higher say than science. As a result, Jean, as a linguist specialist, is very worried about what would happen to women the longer they are silenced and limited to 100 words.

Having somewhat adjusted to this horrible new normal, Jean is startled when she is approached by the President’s men saying her professional services are required. Meeting with the powers that be, Jean is told that the President’s brother has suffered a severe brain injury that impacts his ability to use language. Jean, plus some of her previous work colleagues, are needed to research a way to help him. Obviously Jean leverages her unique skill set to negotiate a deal in her favor. Jean is now in a position to help the female population, but has to do so sneakily. Complications ensue (obviously). Once Jean is reunited with her previous colleagues, they must race against time to solve the problem presented. Jean’s past plays a large role in her decision to behave the way she does with the overall message in the book being: use your voice before they take it away.


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Tailspin by Sandra Brown

There are some authors that I know I can pick up a book by and not be disappointed with what they wrote. Sandra Brown is one of them. Her books spin thrilling stories of romance and suspense that keep me wanting more from beginning to end. Brown’s novel Tailspin was my latest read/listen and I finished it in two days!

Tailspin is the riveting story of Rye Mallett and Dr. Brynn O’Neal. Mallett is known as a ‘freight dog’, a pilot who can be called to fly anywhere in the  world at anytime of day in any weather. Mallett is put to the test when he is called last minute to make a flight during stormy weather in order to deliver a black padlocked box to a demanding client. With his background as a fighter pilot in Afghanistan, not much scares Mallett and he isn’t going to let the weather hold him back, even though all the airports are grounded and no other pilot would even think of flying in that weather.

Despite a rough flight, Mallett makes it to the small somewhat dangerous runway where he is to meet the doctor charged with picking up his precious mysterious cargo. Coming in for a landing, something happens to Mallett that results in a near crash. After getting off the plane, Mallett has a run-in with Dr. Brynn O’Neal, who is not the doctor that he was expecting.

Brynn is a very dedicated doctor who is loyal to her patients, sometimes to a fault. She’s concerned with getting the contents of that black padlocked box to her patient within a strict forty-eight hour deadline. If that forty-eight hour deadline passes, the potential to save her patient’s life will expire.

Mallett doesn’t trust Brynn. Even though her intentions are noble, Mallett feels like there is something that Brynn is holding back. This doesn’t bother Brynn because she doesn’t trust Mallett either. Mallett is unpredictable and is an erratic variable that threatens to destroy Brynn’s forty-eight hour deadline. Despite their uneasiness towards each other, circumstances have necessitated that the two reluctantly team up. They are soon racing against the clock, different levels of law enforcement, and people who are willing to kill for the contents of that black box for a high-level client.


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The Power by Naomi Alderman

I’ve been searching for books about women empowerment. I found The Power by Naomi Alderman popping up on a lot of 2017 award lists and decided to give it a shot. This speculative fiction fantasy novel is an expertly written piece of alternative history with a strong woman empowerment component that also serves to discuss what would happen if women and men changed roles. I was thoroughly engaged from beginning to end.

The Power by Naomi Alderman, as I discussed before, is a work of fantasy/science fiction, that takes readers down a path of alternate reality and forces them to take a closer look at our world in slightly uncomfortable and surprising ways. All across the world, lives are changing as it is discovered that teenage girls and women (really all females) have a mysterious new physical power. This power comes from within and gives them the ability to cause horrifying pain and, if pushed far enough, death. These young women find that they have the ability to release skeins of electrical current out into the world. After discovering they have such massive power, the women begin to rise up, trying to awaken the power in other women who don’t have the power yet. As expected, the whole of society begins to fall apart with the sudden shift of power from men to women. No one is sure what to do as women all over the world are finally given the ability to stand up against their aggressors.

Not everyone is so out in the open and happy with the new power and structure order. Here is where readers really gain a glimpse into the lives of four key players in the new world order: Roxy, Mother Eve, Tunde, and Margot. While there are certainly many, many other characters in this novel, these four are highlighted and discussed the most as readers follow them and discover how they are dealing with the new power and the revolution at hand.

Roxy is a London girl from a tricky family who soon discovers that the skein inside of her gives her the power of a true warrior. With her new ability, she has the power to shake the world and be whoever she wants to be.

When her power came to be, Mother Eve was living as a foster child with two very religious parents who hid their true nature behind a self-contained wall. She ran away from home and became a symbol for change called Mother Eve.

Tunde is a rich Nigerian boy who, before the skeins were discovered, only worried about hanging around the family pool. After the power shift, he finds himself traveling the world searching for stories to put out to the press.

Margot is an American politician scrabbling for a rise of government power when the women with skeins began to come out. Margot’s family and her career drastically change when she realizes that her family has been personally affected by the skeins. She must decide how she wishes to present herself to the public as she contends with a government that doesn’t necessarily feel the same way that she does.

All four of these people have important and worthy roles to play as the world seems to shift from the old normal to the old normal. I enjoyed following each character’s journey and discovering the lengths that each is willing to go to as they work to get back on their feet in a world rocked by chaos, confusion, and seemingly never-ending change.


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It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover is a twisted love story that had more depth than I was expecting. This begins with Lily escaping back home after her father’s funeral. Lily grew up in a very small town in Maine where everyone thinks that they know everyone else’s business, but as readers are quick to realize, Lily’s whole family has deep dark secrets that she can’t seem to escape from no matter where she goes. Back in Boston after her father’s funeral, Lily hopes to settle back into the life that she has made for herself since she graduated from college.

As she’s struggling to regain her composure, Lily has a run-in with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid. Lily’s life all of a sudden seems perfect. Ok, maybe. Maybe Ryle seems a little bit too assertive and arrogant and a tad bit stubborn, but if you were a neurosurgeon still in training, working insanely busy days and doing VERY long surgeries wouldn’t you act the same way?! Despite his flaws, Ryle is brilliant, knows exactly what he wants, is sensitive, and even though he doesn’t want a relationship, he still has a soft spot for Lily. If he only could get over his complete aversion to relationships, Lily thinks he would be the perfect man.

Flash forward some months and Lily finds herself bumping into Ryle again as she starts her new business. This second chance encounter ends with the discovery that both Lily and Ryle can’t get the other out of their heads. Ryle decides to make an exception to his ‘no-dating’ rule just for Lily, but Lily is left wondering why he had that rule in the first place.

Lily and Ryle’s new relationship, combined with Lily’s new business and Ryle’s crazy work schedule, leads Lily to reflect on her very first love – Atlas Corrigan. Besides being her first love, Atlas is a messy connection to her past that Lily was glad to escape. In her tumultuous past, Atlas was the one good thing that brightened up her depressing circumstances. Reading through old journals that she shoved in the back of her closet, Lily finds herself remembering things she wishes she could forget. She also keeps wondering while Atlas never came looking for her like he promised that he would. Lily believed they were kindred spirits and he was her protector.

As Lily and Ryle progress further into their relationship, Atlas suddenly reappears. This reappearance comes at a crucial time in Lily’s life and in her relationship with Ryle. Lily quickly finds everything she has worked with Ryle to build is threatened and is forced to think about what she really wants in life. Does she want to follow in her mother’s footsteps? Or break the cycle? Should she choose Ryle or Atlas? Or will she choose to put herself first?


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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I listened to this book on my last road trip and after I returned to work, I discovered that it was one of PBS’s Great American Reads! (Check out the Library for a display of these books or look online for a printable list of all 100 books. You can also vote for your favorite at any Davenport Library location.) I was already trying to read my way through as many of those books as I could,  so I was happy that I had stumbled upon Americanah  and that I could check this book off my list!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the story of race, identity, and struggling to find yourself both away from home and at home. Ifemelu and Obinze fell in love when they were very young, living in military-ruled Nigeria. Both Ifemelu and Obinze were attending a Nigerian university when a series of university strikes began. Without a solid education and no other real plans in motion, Ifemelu and Obinze decided to leave the country.

Ifemelu decides to leave Nigeria and head to America. She and Obinze work out a plan. Once he finishes school, he will leave Nigeria and come to her. In America, Ifemelu has academic success, but struggles to fit into black America. This novel wonderfully describes the African experience and how it differs between the USA, England, and Nigeria. Ifemelu may have found her way at an American university with academic success, but she struggles with understanding the differences between what is accepted in America vs what was/is accepted in Nigeria. To help her cope, Ifemelu decides to start a blog that talks about race issues in America. Obinze’s life is complicated in a different way. Not being able to head to America, he instead moves to England and ends up becoming an illegal immigrant. His journey is complicated like Ifemelu’s and he struggles to find himself amongst a country that wants to send him back home.

Flash forward years and Ifemelu and Obinze find themselves in the same country again, trying to deal with past resentments, hurt feelings, and denials. Their current lives are under scrutiny as they each try to juggle their foreign selves with accepted culture and identity standards in place in Nigeria. Reuniting in newly democratic Nigeria after years abroad, both Ifemelu and Obinze have issues to work through as they deal with their new selves, the new Nigeria, and the unique relationship/reunited passion between each other and their native homeland. Some issues are spoken, while others lie under the surface only called out when they directly influence others in the open. These cultural subtleties make up a vast swath of this book and the author is adept at bringing them to light. This is fiction with a message, yet the message is conveyed in an appealing and socially conscious way.

This book takes a deep look at race and immigration, specifically the intricacies of race and how that experience is different between the USA and Nigeria. In frequent conversations throughout this novel, readers are given a glimpse into what it means to be black in Africa and what it means to be black in the USA. The author takes readers on a tour of various countries as seen through the eyes of Ifemelu and Obinze. Their life stories play out over many years and many countries as they both struggle to find themselves amongst countries who value the same culture in different ways.

I recommend listening to this book. While it may take you a little bit to understand the accents like it took me, I ultimately felt like it was worthwhile. The accents allowed me to fully engage with the book and realize that I was gaining a glimpse into a culture entirely different from mine. When I finished listening to this book, I realized that if I had read a print copy, I would have lost the accents completely, would have probably given the characters an incorrect accent, or would have imagined the characters with only slight accents. There really is something positive to be said about listening to books with narrators who really know how to correctly portray the characters.


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