Reading: July 2020 Pt2

I normally read a lot on vacation, and this year I didn’t even have to pack and travel to accomplish that “more than usual” book consumption. Staying home I had more time than ever!

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently.

image by Risa Rodil, risarodil.com

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…even though the Church I love has been the oppressor as often as it has been the champion of the oppressed, I can’t let go of my belief in Church–in a universal body of belonging, in a community that reaches toward love in a world so often filled with hate.”

If you are a white Christian, do I have a book to recommend to you! Brown has written from her heart and her head, from her experience, from her place in the shadow of hope. Sit with this one. Listen hard. Drop your defenses. Take notes. Ponder and pray. Then commit to do something to work toward change.

Jesus gave the Church the ministry of reconciliation–not just people to God, or Jew to Gentile, not even just Black and white, but reconciliation between all people in the sight of the God who loves everyone of us. We can do better. Let’s do better.

How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News by Peter Enns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…the Bible holds out for us an invitation to join an ancient, well-traveled and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it” (p10).

This book busts to pieces that old cliche: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Because we have to ask: What does the Bible actually say? It said something to an ancient people, but we are not them. So what does it say to us, today, wherever we are? Not just the meaning of the written words on the page, but the intended wisdom behind those words read with the Holy Spirit who is wisdom.

Honestly, this concept shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who has ever heard a sermon preached, because pastors and scholars have long been interpreting what the Bible means for us today. Or to anyone who has noticed a contradiction or differences between the stories about Jesus in the four gospels. Enns points to examples within the Bible itself where the biblical authors were already interpreting the Bible as they had it, for example, how should God’s people worship God during the exile when they couldn’t worship in the Temple? Another example: Paul reinterpreting the Law post-resurrection.

This is great news, because it means the Bible isn’t static but a living book of wisdom. It makes the Bible even more exciting. And Enns brings his great sense of humor to his writing – a breath of fresh air in biblical scholarship.

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My son and I read aloud The One and Only Ivan when he was in elementary school. We both loved it, so how could I not read her follow-up about Bob? (Kiddo is now in high school, so we’re sadly no longer reading aloud together). As a dog-mom to three rescue dogs, as an animal lover and frequent zoo visitor, I enjoyed this book, too. It would be a great discussion started for adults and kids to talk about how we treat animals, how to forgive yourself and others, and what it looks like to be afraid and brave at the same time.

“Humans love it when we get silly. I think they’re so weighed down by people problems that sometimes they need to be reminded what happy looks like.”

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Book of Longings is the fictional account of Ana, a strong woman with a largeness inside her to be a voice, to fill others’ ears with the words she writes from the holy of holies inside her. She is also the wife of Jesus.

I wasn’t sure I could go there with a married Jesus; it doesn’t offend scripturally, but it sure bucks tradition. Kidd writes in her author’s notes that she recognized the audacity of the goal in writing this story. But the story is fully Ana’s, and the author’s words are so gorgeously entwined that they caught me up.

Truly, I loved this book. I got angry at the injustices women have faced, then and now. I enjoyed the way scriptural characters and incidents were depicted with new light. Alongside Ana, I fell in love with a human Jesus whose humanity often gets lost in the religious focus on His divinity. I wept while He died in a way that, with its familiarity, I don’t weep nearly enough when I read the Bible.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Even though it was predictable, I wanted to like this one. Lara Jean was a relatable character, smart and funny with weaknesses that both set her apart and that she knows she needs to work on. But I didn’t like the ending at all. I know it’s book 1 of 3, but really, it needed a better ending.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Collins’ best book yet and, sadly, so currently relevant.

What do we believe about the essence of human nature? Are human beings essentially good or evil? Do they need to be controlled by social contract to prevent a devolution into chaos? What defines or distinguishes those in power from those who must be controlled? And how do our beliefs about human nature affect our actions? More importantly, how society will be structured?

I couldn’t put this one down. It was fascinating to meet young Coriolanus Snow, to watch how his early life experiences shaped him, to see who had influence in his life and how he could be manipulated, as well as how he manipulated others. Snow lands on top, indeed.

This could make a good book club pick. Unlikely, but I would also suggest it as an optional extra credit assignment for high school students.



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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: July 2020 pt1

Nothing like a global pandemic to shut down summer travel!

During a typical summer, we would spend a week on the Monterey coast. We would probably also get away for some camping or to visit family. Guy and Q16 had reservations for a Scout bike trek in Maui, and Q would also have gone to Scout camp. Well, not this year.

Courtesy of generous friends who booked a small condo in Tahoe they were unable to use, we spent three nights away…except I was still on crutches. No hiking along lake-view mountain trails for me. You know what I did instead. That’s right, I read! Good thing, as Quindlen points out in the quote below, that books are both the destination and the journey, the means of travel and home itself.

Below are my thoughts on the books I’ve read so far this month. Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a beautiful book! And yet, my overarching emotion while reading was sadness, utter heartbreak for Desiree and Stella, mostly for Stella.

I caught a short review in O Magazine when I was about 2/3’s done with the book that said this is a novelized version of The Great Migration. Maybe I’d heard those words, but I didn’t understand them. Google helped me out.

Did you know that between 1916-1970, 6 million Black people left the American South for the Northeast, Midwest and West, “one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history”? I didn’t. Another thing the history books didn’t teach us.

And HBO bought the rights to make it a series. Hooray! Definitely one to watch, but read the book first.

The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone tackles a classic to dig deeper and reinterpret it for a new generation, when they do the source material justice and create something beautiful and beautifully new from it, I am here for it. The Book of V. is all that.

Note: If you are an easily offended Christian or Jew who doesn’t want anyone to play with your scriptures, this is not your book. I’m a devoted Christian willing to hold loosely that Solomon intended to write something new; it’s art, not divine inspiration, obviously different.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I needed a reading palate cleanser, something super light to read before bed. It’s the kind of book I would have read with my kids in elementary school, maybe 3rd grade, though the characters are in middle school. The takeaway: be kind to everyone, and take small risks to enjoy life more.

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“I finally clearly know who I am and how I was made, how I thrive and what I’m here for, what I believe and what I care about, and I’m not afraid to walk in that, even when it doesn’t fit the mold. I am finally the exact same on the outside as I actually am on the inside without posturing, posing, or pretending.”

The theme is integrity–being fully and fabulously yourself no matter what. And Jen makes a great cheerleader for women. I took some notes, and I have some work to do (as we all do). From the outset, Jen cautions her readers (women) that some chapters will hit us squarely in the feels and others won’t, that some will hit us at growth points and others we’ll already have under control. True in my reading experience.

I read the Kindle edition, and I hope it’s just that, but I found myself regularly distracted by typos.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.”

Morrison’s first novel. Imperfect, beautiful, devastating. Having read in the forward that her intent was to explore “the social and domestic aggression that could cause a child to literally fall apart” without demonizing the characters who trashed her, I wasn’t sure I could continue. I did, though, and it broke my heart. Some parts are so uncomfortable and still ring so true.

I gave it a 2 star rating because of its imperfections and because this is not a book to lightly recommend (though let’s be honest, an armchair reviewer like me giving any rating to an author of such prowess and grace as Toni Morrison? Ridiculous). It’s not for the faint of heart. Beloved and Sula are both so much better, so don’t start with this one if you’re unfamiliar with her canon.

“The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late.”

Let it not ever be too late!

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay
Anna Quindlen quote from StorytaleDecor on Etsy

Sorry, Not Sorry

We were on vacation, lounging about as appropriate. The teen had fallen back asleep on our bed where he had retreated to get some alone-time from the parentals. Guy and I were reading quietly side-by-side in the living room with the patio door open to allow the breeze to circulate, and wind through the quivering aspen leaves sounded like water flowing in a stream. Lovely. Relaxing.

Into this quiet scene I suddenly snorted laughter. Something in my book caught me uproariously funny and my outburst caught me by surprise. Though Guy didn’t react at all, under my breath I whispered, “Sorry.”

And then I looked up, startled again by my reaction. I said, “No, I’m not. I am not sorry for laughing out loud. I will not apologize for finding my book funny or laughing in response. What a ridiculous apology! I’m not sorry.”

Bless this patient man accustomed to my off-topic outpourings, he laughed with me. He agreed, definitely no need to apologize for laughing.

What the heck? I.apologized.for.laughing!

Why was it such an instinctual response to apologize for making a sound and interrupting the silence? It’s not like we were in a library where, after long years of practice, instinct would have kicked in to stifle the laugh in the first place.

I suspect it has to do with the notion that women should apologize for interrupting, for speaking up, taking up space, sheesh, for existing. You’ve noticed it, right? Women apologize for everything. We are constantly saying, “I’m sorry.”

Jen Hatmaker explains: “I didn’t recognize the small box reserved for me until I showed up expecting to fill the whole room…. This culture is rabid to tell women how much oxygen they can use, space they can take, tables they can join, opinions they are allowed. Code words abound to signal when a woman has stepped too far: hysterical, bitchy, bossy, aggressive. (The man versions of these words are: energetic, strong, decisive, assertive, because ‘bossy men’ are just called ‘leaders.’) Women have always struggled for a credible place at the table” (from her new book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire).

Of course, apologies become necessary when we’ve thoughtlessly intruded on someone’s feelings, on their rights or bodies or property. We should apologize when we shoot off a hurtful knee-jerk reaction rather than a thoughtful response. Most of us need to reign ourselves in from time to time and when we don’t we should absolutely offer an intentional apology.

But today I am committing to myself again: I’m done with meaningless apologies. I am not going to apologize for having an opinion. For speaking up. For living in my body. For being who I am, with my thoughts and big feelings and dreams, for taking up space, for putting myself out there. I am not going to apologize for laughing, even if it interrupts your quiet time.

Who’s with me?

Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Reading: June 2020

In May I finally got around to reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The song the Oompa-Loompas sing in response to TV-obsessed Mike Teavee shrinking when he is the first human “sent by television” caught my attention:

How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster [TV] was invented?
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY…USED…TO…READ!

The Oompa-Loompas sing on, describing every manor of book…fine fantastic tales of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales. Read, read, read!

I’d describe quarantine life as a mix of family, productivity, and downtime that includes plenty of time for both TV and books. We’ve been binging Top Chef and I’m watching Big Little Lies Season 2 for the second time (I can’t get enough of the Monterey Coast, beachy views I ought to experience first-hand on our annual family vacation) and catching up on movies, more screen time than normal for sure, but that still leaves more time for reading than normal. It’s a balance.

Here are my thoughts on this month’s round up. Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is quite a feat: long, smart, quiet, thoughtful, witty, content and restless, endearing… And while it would be good at any time, it also offers timely insights for quarantine since the main character has been “exiled” to life inside a Moscow luxury hotel.

“…imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness.”

“Having acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worth considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement.”

“For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

“…our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity–a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novel had so much going for it, but needed to be about 100 pages shorter with another solid editorial pass and perhaps a different structure. It meandered too slowly and too far afield. Moyes has a gift for developing strong and (mostly) likeable characters which is what kept me reading. Except in this case, Suzanna was not likeable. I’m convinced she was supposed to read as pained and complicated, but as she came across like a petulant child, it made it hard to relate with her. Cleaning up the overall story line would have helped readers understand and like Suzanna which would have helped the book as a whole.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting look at Black and white relationships with self, friends, lovers, and employers, all packed into an entertaining novel that hits close to home in current relevance. Two white adults who share a complicated history take sides regarding a young Black woman after she has a difficult encounter with a store security guard while babysitting a white toddler. Takeaway: the only opinion that matters to your life is your own; no one else gets a definitive say unless you allow it.

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Race, poverty, inadequate legal assistance, and prosecutorial indifference to innocence conspired to create a textbook example of injustice. I can’t think of a case that more urgently dramatizes the need for reform than what has happened to Anthony Ray Hinton.” –Bryan Stevenson

Read. This. Book. What a tragedy that Hinton spent 30 years on Death Row for crimes he didn’t commit. Judicial and prison reform are necessary in the US right now.

The 22 pages of names in small type at the end of the book, names of people currently sitting on Death Row, are heartbreaking.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Too long. At times, it felt interminable. I almost gave up several times before I hit ch12, when suddenly the dialogue, humor, and story all picked up. And then it flagged again. However, the ending felt satisfying, and when I went back to reread page 1, it all tied together with exactly the message you’d expect from Liz.

“The war had invested me with an understanding that life is both dangerous and fleeting, and thus there is no point in denying yourself pleasure or adventure while you are here…
“Anyway, at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time.
“After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

“The world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try to live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivian. Never will be. Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes, is what I think. And people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can.”

Beach Read by Emily Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much fun, even if its characters seldom trod on the titular beach. After a heavy few months, I needed a lark of a book and this sang the tune. Definitely one to stick in your beach tote!

From the author’s discussion guide: “Sometimes we lose the ability to create simply because we’re tired. We need to rest and recover. But other times, we can’t move forward because there are hard questions we have to ask first. Hurdles in our path we first have to jump or walls that need breaking down–interrogations demanding to be made.
“And when we’re brave enough to do so, we can make something beautiful. Something we didn’t know we were capable of before we began.”

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was fun, entertaining, and it tried to be meaningful and maybe that’s what dragged it down a star. It’s fine, but I’m not raving about it.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished reading this short yet dense book and I am scratching my head. It’s on the list of potential required books for my son’s upcoming junior year in high school English class. My son is 16yo, one year older than Coates’ son to whom the book is written as a letter. This is one heckuva letter for a teenager.

My biggest takeaway is that, even though we’re only a few years apart in age and we both grew up in America, Coates and I grew up in different worlds. Some passages, I had to let go of trying to understand and just let the feeling of otherness wash over me. I looked up lightly dropped references and even Google couldn’t help me – I knew I was supposed to recognize the references, or at least Google should have, but I think that was the point: I didn’t know the references because we come from different realities.

I took so many notes as there’s a lot to digest…

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A perfect summer read – light and thoughtful with a few twists.

Her descriptions of body positivity are spot on, like we expect from her but even better. And her grappling with society’s dependence on social media makes sense at this moment in time.

Above all, find your people – your real, loving and true people – and hold them close.


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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: May 2020 pt2

I’ve been planning another reading post for weeks, but I couldn’t anticipate how an upside-down world would spin off its axis yet again. In light of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, I’ve been pondering, praying, quiet, recognizing just how much I don’t know and that, while my voice is important and silence isn’t an option, my words are not the words we should be listening to.

Example: last week we watched The Lovebirds with Issa Rae and Kamail Nanjiani. Through comedic circumstances, they witness a murder. But they don’t go to the police.

I would call 911. I would expect the police to show up and listen carefully and respond effectively. I wondered out loud, “Why don’t they just go to the police?”

And then she says it, something like: “Police don’t believe people who look like us.”

Oh… Setting aside the obvious fact that this was a movie, isn’t getting the police involved still better than trying to solve the crime yourselves?

Maybe not. See George Floyd.

So I have renewed my commitment to listen. To learn. I began following several  Instagram accounts – @oshetamoore, @lisasharper, @austinchanning, all women because I am a woman – and I picked up a book from my shelf: The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is one of my all-time favorite life-changing books. It ought to be required reading for every American over the age of 15. Stevenson is the attorney who got Hinton off death row after he had served 30 years for murders he didn’t commit. So it’s high time I read Hinton’s story in his own words. Just Mercy was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, but the book blows the movie away.

Another book that helped me understand the complicated relationship between POC and the police: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s also a movie, one I enjoyed after reading the book.

How are you listening to POC? What books or resources do you recommend?

Now, the other books I’ve read recently…

I'd Give AnythingI’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have absolutely adored other books by this author, and this one wasn’t as good. People make mistakes, big and small, and we can forgive them and ourselves, move on and/or move forward. Life goes on. I liked it more at the end than I thought I would, but still not my fav of hers.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sweet and scintillating story of two people overcoming their self-constructed walls, once meant to ensure self-preservation, in order to fall in love. Note: graphic sex scenes (not my usual fare, but fun in context…).

Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkDaily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Skimmed because Currey didn’t include sufficient information to tell the reader what his subjects had contributed to the world. Another problem: I couldn’t discern an organizational strategy. Subjects aren’t listed in chronological or alphabetical order.

As he admits in the intro, Currey should have titled this book “Daily Routines.” The biggest take away is that there is no one size fits all, but rather, each person creates their own habits. In the book’s final entry, writer Bernard Malamud sums it up: “There’s no one way–there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place–you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time–not steal it–and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Charlie Bucket, #1)Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Of course I’ve seen both movies countless times (prefer the Gene Wilder version), but reading the book was so much fun I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it.

Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAINRadical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN by Tara Brach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I could remember who to thank for directing me to this life-changing book! RAIN is hard, important work, learning to Recognize my feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in my body, and Nurture my inner self. Let it RAIN!

Two images in particular have been helpful: the Golden Buddha disguised under the hardened clay/mud – we’re all golden underneath our coping mechanisms; and the lone snarling dog caught in the trap by the tree – when we recognize how others hurt, it enables compassion and helps us to understand/forgive.

As a life-long Christian, I feel like I received a crash-course in prayer that the Church never provided.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: May 2020 pt1

I normally post reading reviews once a month but we no longer live in “normal.” I’ve read more books in two weeks than in a typical month. Maybe I haven’t read more pages, though, since I’ve read several YA books, including a graphic novel. I love a good YA and even more so now in these upside-down times.

Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. Now is a perfect time to catch up on some new and old favorites!

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Human beings’ innate desire to live and to thrive even in the most difficult circumstances, and to find beauty therein, remains one of our most defining characteristics. Like the one tree that grows in the cement between tenement buildings in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, we are a resilient species. No wonder this book is a classic, such a *true* story, though the book’s length sometimes felt like a slog.

“What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?”
“The secret lies in the reading and the writing.”

“…the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination.”

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere–be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minutes. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

New Kid (New Kid, #1)New Kid by Jerry Craft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a geek for the Newbery Medal books, and New Kid is the 2020 Newbery Medal recipient – surprising for a graphic novel to win, but not truly surprising when you read it. The coming-of-age story is well-told, nuanced, with relatable characters struggling in real ways. And the art is beautiful to boot. A quick and worthy read.

Your Perfect YearYour Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the 2020 World Book Day free Amazon/Kindle downloads, this was a fun book to read and so good for shelter-in-place since it is light and life-affirming. Definitely chick-lit, with a slight touch of The Rosie Project in Jonathan’s awkward offensiveness. It challenges us to say “Yes!” to life, to take stock of what we enjoy/don’t, do more of what we love, do hard things when necessary, be kind, and watch our thoughts since they create our actions.

We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober LifeWe Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This “quit lit” memoir is really a story of becoming, of choosing to stop just being and rather become, of creating a life instead of simply existing. Drinking may not be your issue, but this book has something to say to anyone who wants more of life.

“This is how it is done–how anything is done. One moment, then the next, then the next. This is how this book is being written: I type this word, then this one, then this one. The words build sentences. The sentences build a paragraph. A book is impossible, but a word and then another word is not. A lifetime of sobriety was impossible, but a moment of sobriety was not. I was doing it, and I was doing it, and I was doing it again.”

“The truest story–the one that will always be trust–is that I am a human being, being human. Sometimes, I am my best self. Sometimes, not so much. But goddamn, I am trying to do better. I am always trying to do better. My guess is that you are, too.”

Merci Suárez Changes GearsMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2019 Newbery Medal winner

Merci is an 11yo Cuban-American living with her inter-generational family in Florida and dealing with the drama of attending (on scholarship) sixth grade at a private school while her beloved grandfather shows signs of progressing Alzheimer’s Disease. This was a sweet story, I like Merci as a character, but it didn’t rock my boat the way other Newbery winners have.

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My son cleaned off his bookshelves during shelter-in-place and I decided to read some of the classics he’d stored in his room before deciding whether to move them to my shelves or eventually donate them. I love Matilda and The BFG. James was a quick read (started last night, finished this morning) but so odd. Dahl’s style rings through every word and image, and I had to wonder if he was writing today, would his books receive the same reception? Children are abused, neglected, or both… Maybe he was the literary precursor to Lemony Snicket and Miss Peregrine? Though this wasn’t my favorite, I appreciated the developed personalities of the characters and how they came together to form a well-rounded team.

As a writer/reader, this was my favorite bit of wordplay:
“…and all the time the water came pouring and roaring down upon them, bouncing and smashing and sloshing and slashing and swashing and swirling and surging and whirling and gurgling and gushing and rushing and rushing, and it was like being pinned down underneath the biggest waterfall in the world and not being able to get out. They couldn’t speak. They couldn’t see. They couldn’t breathe. And James Henry Trotter, holding on madly to one of the silk strings above the peach stem, told himself that this must surely be the end of everything at last. But then, just as suddenly as it had started, the deluge stopped.” (98)

Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I didn’t love James and the Giant Peach, and I remember not liking the few scenes I caught when my kids watched the movie eons ago, I set my expectations low for Fantastic Mr. Fox. In turn, it pleasantly surprised me. It’s plain ol’ fun! I can absolutely imagine reading this aloud with kids and then discussing both the farmers’ and the animals’ perspectives for a meaningful conversation. In fact, I’m sorry I missed that opportunity with my kids.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: April 2020

Entering our eighth week of shelter-in-place and I have been reading more. However, the pendulum swung from not reading as much as usual as SIP began to reading far too much, reading to avoid present circumstances.

Always slow to transition, I am slowly developing healthier rhythms. I’m finally sleeping most nights during mostly normal hours and life, while obviously uncertain, looks brighter. The spring sunlight on bursting blooms helps.

And I remain ever so grateful for my packed-to-the-limits bookshelves, and our online library system, so that no matter how long this season of life should last, I will never run out of reading material.

What are you reading?

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and LoveWhat Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love by Carole Radziwill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had never heard of the author or this book before a friend brought it to my doorstep.

Consequently, I almost gave it up. To start the narrative felt choppy until somewhere after her childhood it hit its stride. The author is also name-droppy, and since the only names I recognized were the Kennedys, I had no context for several key characters. I guess I’m just not a celebrity memoir fan.

The Madonnas of LeningradThe Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully life-affirming.

Even in the darkest of times–during war when people are freezing and starving to death, and when failing health steals our current reality and replaces it with long-ago memories–life’s beauties are available for those who choose to see.

I wanted a photo book to accompany the novel’s descriptions of the art, but instead had to use my imagination (and Google), though imagination hits straight at the heart of the book.

The Unexpected Joy of Being SoberThe Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like wine. I live 45 minutes from California’s famous wine growing regions in Napa and Sonoma. Until COVID-19, I worked at a wine bar.

And I’ve become aware of the growing trend of sober curiosity, of upscale mocktails, of dry bars. As a vegetarian, I know what it’s like to walk on the other side of the street from “everyone” else. I wanted to know more.

This book is a vulnerable personal memoir mixed with science and self-help. It’s raw and real, gritty and practical. I especially appreciated her section on mindfulness, or what to do with all the Big Feelings people drink to avoid.

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Formulaic and predictable, and still entertaining.

This bit felt prophetic:
“We are now perched on a strange cusp of history…a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and nothing is quite as we imagined. But uncertainty is always a precursor to sweeping change; transformation is always preceded by upheaval and fear. I urge you to place your faith in the human capacity for creativity and love, because these two forces, when combined, possess the power to illuminate any darkness.”

UntamedUntamed by Glennon Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women have been taught systemically to keep quiet and not take up space. Men have been taught to expect that from women. All of us have been taught to be suspicious of women who speak up and take up all the space they please. Because it’s in the air we breath, we don’t even recognize our bias. Glennon has written a beautiful memoir of what she’s learned in the last few years and how she’s living her best wild life.

Favorite quotes:
“I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself. The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.”

“Brave does not mean feeling afraid and doing it anyway.
“Brave means living from the inside out. Brave means, in every uncertain moment, turning inward, feeling for the Knowing, and speaking it out loud.”

This one describes me to a T!
“I am a sensitive, introverted woman, which means that I love humanity but actual human beings are tricky for me. I love people but not in person. For example, I would die for you but not, like…meet you for coffee. I became a writer so I could stay at home alone in my pajamas, reading and writing about the importance of human connection and community. It is an almost perfect existence.”

Yes No Maybe SoYes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a couple of heavy reads, I wanted a YA to cleanse the palate and found this available for library download (thank God for library downloads during shelter-in-place!). It took a while to pick up, as at first I thought the authors had too much agenda. About halfway, though, I found myself hooked and from there it was a quick ride to a satisfying and not-too-neat finish.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: March 2020

One might reasonably expect that a bookish individual would, during a pandemic that requires shelter-in-place, escape into a stack of books. I am realizing, slowly, that all reasonable expectations might as well hurl themselves out of windows.

Harsh, but also sorta true. The world has spun off its axis and, while I’m mostly fine, there are moments, hours, days when nothing at all feels right. I could, I should, take advantage of this abundance of time to read, to write, to create. Instead, I tumble headlong down the black hole of social media. I start and stop various projects, leaving trails behind me. I read, just not as much as I could.

As this becomes the new normal, at least for now, I’m inching toward adjusting as well as one can. I’m reading more, finishing rather than merely starting projects. Appreciating both the sunny and rainy days as they come. Being gentle with myself and others.

How are you holding up? How are you filling the days? Perhaps I can offer some suggestions.

GoldGold by Chris Cleave
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cleave is an exceptional writer, stringing together words in gorgeous ways to tell engaging stories. I loved Little Bee. Gold was entertaining and I ripped through it, but it wasn’t nearly as compelling as his previous book.

The Garden of Small BeginningsThe Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I adore Abbi Waxman! This one wasn’t quite as good as The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, but it still grabbed me from the start and kept me engaged till the end. I have a brown thumb, and still this made me want to garden. Spring is here- let’s do this!

The Magician's AssistantThe Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the COVID-19 quarantine came down and I didn’t have sufficient library books, I combed through my shelves to find something I hadn’t read that could take my mind off current events. This fit the bill. It wasn’t as good as State of Wonder. Also slightly predictable, with an anti-climactic ending. Still, Week #1 of containment done and this helped.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning GodMiracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God by Sarah Bessey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve now read all of Sarah’s books and this is her best. Oh-so-vulnerable, gut-wrenching, thoughtful, loving… I cried with her all through Rome, and hope I will always keep the image of her heel-crushed tulips carefully woven into the Easter cross, right where they belong. Bravo, Sarah, for writing your journey so that we may be blessed through your suffering.

“…learn what it is to be an ordinary miracle” (202)

“May you be swept off your feet by the goodness and welcome of God, the ferocious love and friendship of Jesus, the delight and disruptions of the Holy Spirit. May you love because you were loved first” (211)

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry GirlsThe Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shelve this one under “the sins of the parents will be visited to the third generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).

During shelter-in-place, I’m learning to use my library’s online services. This book was available now to read on Kindle so I clicked on it. I’m glad I did. Fully developed characters, a compelling, multi-generational family story. So sad and yet hopeful.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: February 2020

Do you ever read the last page before you get to the end?

I do. All the time. I read 30-50 pages to get to know the characters, and then I need to know who will still be important at the end. Generally, I don’t understand the action so it doesn’t give much away. Although it did take the luster off Gone Girl.

A friend gifted me a Kindle edition of The Immortalists and I realized that reading on a Kindle keeps me from checking the ending before its time. Of course I could scroll ahead, but I don’t. I laughed at myself when I realized it made me itchy, being out of my reading routine, plus the irony of not knowing the ending from the beginning which directly connected with the plot line of The Immortalists, in which the main characters discover as children the date on which they would die- they knew the ending from the beginning.

Look Alive Out There

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I almost didn’t finish this one. Maybe it’s because Crosley is a New Yorker and I am a California girl, but the first two chapters felt aggressive and off-putting. I stumbled through a few more, and decided to commit when I got to a chapter about her deciding on a whim to climb Cotopaxi, a 20,000-foot active volcano outside Quito, Ecuador. Since my husband and son recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I know a few things about how to prepare yourself for this type of adventure. Crosley did nothing beyond hiring a guide, not even allowing herself time in Quito to acclimate to being above sea level. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t summit.

She can write, that’s for sure, and she’s willing to take some bold (stupid?) risks but her attempts at humor made her less rather than more attractive as a narrator. I’m glad I’m done with it, and I don’t expect to pick up her books again.

Where the Crawdads SingWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mesmerizing. I don’t know what a singing crawdad sounds like, but my brain buzzed with the heavy-hot song of cicadas as I read this beautiful book. It was a fascinating companion to The Giver of Stars, both about women who don’t fit in, who balk against cultural standards to live their own lives.

The Giver of StarsThe Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read Moyes’ Me Before You trilogy (enjoyed book 1 best),  this book came as a big surprise- it’s so different! Set in the US/Appalachian Mountains in 1930’s, it follows the Works Progress Administration Packhorse Librarians, women who road trails to remote areas to promote literacy. These brave women faced off against cultural mores, physical threats, and personal challenges to make the world a better place for themselves and those they served. A beautiful book.

I received a free copy of this book from Viking through a Goodreads giveaway.

Millenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest SelfMillenneagram: The Enneagram Guide for Discovering Your Truest, Baddest Self by Hannah Paasch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Foul-mouthed and funny, this might be the most helpful enneagram book I’ve read. I didn’t read every word, just sections relevant to me.

The ImmortalistsThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you could know the date on which you would die, would you want to?
If you did know, how would it affect your life?

I wouldn’t want to know, and this book confirmed that.

Told in five sections, an intro plus one for each of the four Gold children, this book examines life and death from various angles. And it’s an epic family saga to boot. It’s bold and smart and beautiful.

However, trigger warning: suicide.

“Life isn’t just about defying death… It’s also about defying yourself, about insisting on transformation. As long as you can transform, my friends, you cannot die” (130).

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: January 2020

Do you use Goodreads? Once upon a time, I made notes about books I’d read in a small notebook designated for that purpose. Goodreads is so much better, with images of the books, summaries, and access to others’ short reviews.

They also do a fun page at the end of the year that summarizes my reading for the year: how many pages I read in how many books, shortest and longest, the ones I liked most and least, and how their ratings measured up on Goodreads. See my results here.

My specific goal for this year is to read at least four books each month, for an overall total of 55 books. Yes, I know, that math doesn’t work, but I know that some months I will read less and others more, so I do expect to be able to exceed the four books per month.

Except I didn’t make it this month. I am currently reading my fourth book, Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley. That review will appear in next month’s reading post.

The Starless SeaThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love this book, a magical (“m-word”) ode to stories, to story lovers and story tellers. She even weaves in the storytelling involved in video games, a field with which I have little experience. I rarely reread, but the stories within stories and the connections between them that eventually become apparent deserve another go.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband and son decided to celebrate BIG birthdays by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. While they were away, I decided to take a virtual quest with Bill Bryson up the Appalachian Trail. I’m not a backpacker and this book confirmed my inclination to stay off tall mountain trails, but I enjoyed reading about his trek. I was surprised at how much I learned…not a simple memoir, he weaves history and natural science into almost every chapter.

Year of the MonkeyYear of the Monkey by Patti Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this as a giveaway from Alfred A. Knopf by entering a contest on Goodreads.

I have never read a book like this- memoir, poetic prose, tribute to lives well lived, dream… To be honest, I knew the name “Patti Smith,” knew that she was a musician, but I had to google to find out more about her. In fact, I had to google a lot of names and books and places to keep up with the narrative. Smith is clearly a super-smart cookie and creatively open to listening to the directions and whims of the universe. I admire that.

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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay