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

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

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay