Reading: September 2020

I anticipated that my reading would slow down as we progressed into fall. Helping my kiddo manage his school load, plus adding a grad-level writing class of my own, has meant less time devoted to whatever strikes my fancy.

However, there were also a couple of hits-and-misses that went back to the library, one forever (The Wedding Date) and one I might pick up again at a later date (Ask Again, Yes). And you’ll notice that of the five books I read this month, three I wasn’t sure about and yet enjoyed as I hung in there for the duration.

How do you decide when to stop and when to keep reading? Is there a book you’d recommend now that took more than one start to enjoy?

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

Rest in Power, RBG (3/15/33 – 9/18/20)

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute, fun, light. Plus girl power. Easy, entertaining reading.

Edited to say: I’m glad I started with this one. I didn’t realize this was #2 in a series, so I went back to read The Wedding Date…and promptly gave up because it had no plot.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan D. Chittister
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much wisdom! I first read this book more than a decade ago for a spiritual disciplines I took in seminary. I picked it up again since the pandemic erased my daily routines and I thought it could offer a much-needed perspective. Amazing that Benedict’s rule, written in sixth-century Italy to establish order among monastics, and Sister Joan’s meditations on it written 30 years ago, still have so much to say to life in 2020.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The early relationship between Lillian and Madison was so gross I almost gave up, classic rich-girl // poor-girl at boarding school nonsense; poor girl takes the fall and rich girl gets the good life she hasn’t worked for or deserved. But then, wow… I didn’t want this book to end.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What makes for a good fairy tale? And who deserves one?

This book grew on me. It’s light, fun, and culturally timely: a Black, queer girl growing into herself in a predominantly white Midwestern town. When I finished, I immediately texted the title to a friend I thought would enjoy it.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this one. It’s a fairly simple story, and the title character – at least at first glance – also seems a fairly simple guy. An Everyman, even a fool.

But it won the Pulitzer, so I suspected there had to be more to it. There is and, in the end, I loved Less – the character and the book.

Like this observation:

It is, after all, almost a miracle they are here. Not because they’ve survived the booze, the hashish, the migraines. Not that at all. It’s that they’ve survived everything in life, humiliations and disappointments and heartaches and missed opportunities, bad dads and bad jobs and bad sex and bad drugs, all the trips and mistakes and face-plants of life, to have made it to fifty and to have made it here: to this frosted-cake landscape, these mountains of gold, the little table they can now see sitting on the dune, set with olives and pita and glasses and wine chilling on ice, with the sun waiting more patiently than any camel for their arrival.

And each of these descriptions:

We all recognize grief in moments that should be celebrations; it is the salt in the pudding.

He looks up at a closed-circuit television to follow the fleeting romances between flights and gates…

It was nothing like he expected, the sun flirting with him among the trees and houses; the driver speeding along a crumbling road alongside which trash was piled as if washed there (and what first looked like a beach beside a river turned out to be an accretion of a million plastic bags, as a coral reef is an accretion of a million tiny animals); the endless series of shops, as if made from one continuous concrete barrier…

The boat ride is half an hour, during which Less sees leaping dolphins and flying fish skipping like stones over the water, as well as the floating mane of a jellyfish. He recalls an aquarium he visited as a boy, where, after enjoying a sea turtle that swam breaststroke like a dotty old aunt, he encountered a jellyfish, a pink frothing brainless negligeed monster pulsing in the water, and thought with a sob: We are not in this together.

He sees, in the lines around her mouth, the shadow of the smile all widows wear in private.

He is shown to a car as small, bland, and white as a hospital dessert…
…he takes the wheel of what basically feels like an enameled toaster…

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Reading: August 2020 Pt2

You guys, it’s serious… My right thumb swelled up. It hurts to bend it. I don’t remember bumping it on anything; could it be from practicing yoga? It has no visible bruising, but it shook so that I have to put it under my Kindle while I’m reading and use my left hand to swipe…to swipe?…I usually use my right thumb to swipe… Oh. My. Goodness! I DEVELOPED A REPETITIVE STRESS INJURY FROM SWIPING ON MY KINDLE.

Sometimes you just have to laugh! And, of course, there are much worse ways to handle life’s stresses than reading too much. What are you reading and enjoying? And how are you keeping up a sense of humor and laughing at yourself?

One more thought: two of these books’ titles begin with “Dear…” and those two plus one more all include writing letters to someone as a literary device. During this time when we’re not seeing as regularly, if at all, the people who once populated our days, why not send someone a letter through the mail? Sure, you could text or email, but who doesn’t love receiving something personal in the mail? Let someone know you’re thinking of them.

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

Deacon King Kong by James McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of the most uniquely vivid characters I’ve encountered in recent reads, and another mind-bending illustration of how our lives can be so incredibly intertwined even without our recognition of it.

“…and on it went, the whole business of the white man’s reality lumping together like a giant, lopsided snowball, the Great American Myth, the Big Apple, the Big Kahuna, the City That Never Sleeps, while the blacks and Latinos who cleaned the apartments and dragged out the trash and made the music and filled the jails with sorrow slept the sleep of the invisible and functioned as local color.”

“In those twenty minutes the war between the races, the Italians versus the Irish, was waged, the two representatives of the black souls of Europe, left in the dusty by the English, the French, the Germans, and later in America by the big boys in Manhattan, the Jews who forgot they were Jews, the Irish who forgot they were Irish, the Anglos who forgot they were human, who got together to make money in their big power meetings about the future, paving over the nobodies in the Bronx and Brooklyn by building highways that gutted their neighborhoods, leaving them to suffer at the hands of whoever came along, the big boys who forgot the war and the pogroms and the lives of the people who survived World War I and World War II sacrificing blood and guts for their America, so they could work with the banks and the city and state to slap expressways in the middle of thriving neighborhoods and send the powerless suckers who believed in the American dream scrambling to the suburbs because they, the big boys, wanted a bigger percentage.”

“They stared at her with that look, that projects look: the sadness, the suspicion, the weariness, the knowledge that came from living a special misery in a world of misery.”

“…all living the New York dream in the Cause Houses, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, a gigantic copper reminder that this city was a grinding factory that diced the poor man’s dreams worse than any cotton gin or sugarcane field from the old country.”

“But then, she thought, every once in a while there’s a glimmer of hope. Just a blip on the horizon, a whack on the nose of the giant that set him back on his heels or to the canvas, something that said, ‘Guess what, you so-and-so, I am God’s child. And I. Am. Still. Here.”

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love! This precious book was so perfectly written that it was like watching a movie, or a really well-done TV series, play out on the page. I binge-read it over a few days and then cried when it ended. The only time I needed to put it down was when I realized I was so fully identifying with Edward that I might actually be feeling his depression (after all, I was reading in bed with coffee on a Saturday morning, that became a Saturday afternoon… I needed to get up and move).

“He wants to know what to do.”
“She taps the center of his hand. ‘That’s easy. The same thing we all must do. Take stock of who we are, and what we have, and then use it for good.'”

“‘What happened is baked into your bones, Edward. It lives under your skin. It’s not going away. It’s part of you and will be part of you every moment until you die. What you’ve been working on, since the first time I met you, is learning to live with that.'”

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book during a week of protests regarding another cop-involved shooting of a Black man and then a white teenager shooting 3 protestors in Kenosha, WI… Let’s say it was timely and I felt angry, sad, confused, heartbroken, challenged. I appreciate that, as the author tried to work out her own questions and feelings about the devastating state of race relations in America, she provided a well-rounded picture of its complexities.

“It’s like I’m trying to climb a mountain, but I’ve got one fool trying to shove me down so I won’t be on his level, and another fool tugging at my leg, trying to pull me to the ground he refuses to leave.”

“What do I do when my very identity is being mocked by people who refuse to admit there’s a problem?”

“That idiot ‘pundit’ would rather believe you and Manny were thugs than believe a twenty-year veteran cop made a snap judgment based on skin color. He identifies with the cop. If the cop is capable of murder, it means he’s capable of the same. He can’t accept that…. They need to believe you’re a bad guy who got what he deserved in order for their world to keep spinning the way it always has.”

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?”

It Is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“It is wood, it is stone. It is the end of the road.
“It is life, it is sun. It is night, it is death.”

Beautifully written, this book is like a fever dream: out of place, foreign, characters floating in and out and doing god knows what for god knows what reason. Thing is, I didn’t like a single character in this book. Every one of them bugged the crud out of me.

“He imagined that in the U.S. democracy prevailed, not like the corrupt politicians in Brazil who embezzled government money, or the police officers who shot innocent people on the street.”

“I had caught a glimmer of myself as someone who dug into her life with teeth and let the juice run down her chin. It was worth it to feel sticky afterward, but it wasn’t worth it to lose you.”

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed other books by Waxman, I was thrilled to pick up another one. This one, however, is so emotionally on-point as it describes a relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter during a spring break college tour, so immediately relatable (my sons are in college/high school) that it became hard to read. It would make for a great mother-daughter book club for daughters in the beginning of high school, or for moms well beyond the drama of having launched their kids.

“Why do adults talk such shit about mindfulness and living in the moment, and at the same time point us all in the same direction and tell us to run as fast as we can to get ahead? Do this, you’ll be able to level up to a good high school, do this, you’ll be able to get into a good college where, if you work hard, you’ll be able to get a good job, where you can work harder and get a better job. When are we supposed to start actually living?”



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Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Reading: August 2020 Pt1

In January I set a goal through the Goodreads reading challenge to read 55 books this year. Reading four to five books each month seemed doable. Not a pushing-myself challenge, but something to keep me on track.

Here it is mid-August and I have completed the challenge: I’ve read 55 books, with more in progress, more in my to-read stack, more coming each week from the library straight to my Kindle.

Now that the kiddo is back in school (distance learning via Zoom) and I’ve registered to take a graduate course myself, plus some actual paid work coming my way soon, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up this pace. But we’ll see… I’m guessing I’ll get close to 90 books by the end of this year, and that will be one Great Big Good Thing about this otherwise off-kilter year.

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.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful memoir in verse, tracing Woodson’s life from birth (legend has it that the Woodsons are descendants of Thomas Jefferson) to adulthood. Remarkably, she has dyslexia and still words fascinate her and help her find her place in the world – from her earliest days of learning to write a “J,” to toting around a composition book, to discovering people like her in “easy” picture books, to memorizing stories because they flow like air in her lungs, to writing her own stories. It took me a while to read as I chewed the poetry in small bites.

“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands.”

“How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again.”

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pete: “It’s just rock ‘n’ roll. None of this really matters.”

At first I agreed with Pete. This whole book is rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of drama over nothing. But it’s entertaining, and of course it’s about people – their dreams and relationships and motivations. And in the end, I loved them.

Billy (about Daisy): “She had written something that felt like I could have written it, except I knew I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have come up with something like that. Which is what we all want from art, isn’t it? When someone pins down something that feels like it lives inside us? Take a piece of your heart out and shows it to you? It’s like they are introducing you to a part of yourself.”

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Clever, entertaining, weird. But problematic. Set in 1950’s Mexico, the language reads too contemporary and I found that jarring. Somewhat predictable, I anticipated half of the reason for the drama early on. And I’m not convinced about the relationship at the end.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the unique misfit-ness of the characters – lonely deaf girl, shy Filipino boy, spiritualist girl with sidekick young sister, and the stereotypical bully (with enough backstory to make him sympathetic). And Filipino grandma with dream-insight and ancient tales that bear on reality.

But I wanted more. It was okay, but not what I typically expect from Newbery.

“Crying is good for the soul,” said Ruby softly. “It means something needs to be released. And if you don’t release the something, it just weighs you down until you can hardly move.”


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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

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: September 2019

Books come to us at a time and for a reason. I often pick up and put down a book  because our time hasn’t yet come. I am willing to jettison a book that offends me, whether because of the writing or the content; I don’t feel I have to finish every book I start (I used to), because life is too short to read bad books.

In this season of life, as fall has arrived and my sabbatical summer has ended, I’m reading mostly non-fiction about creativity and recreating my life. If you’re in a different season, likely we’re reading different things. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrator Chris Riddell took some of Neil Gaiman’s essays and, well, illustrated them. “Make Good Art” was the best essay, with a clarifying image: the goal of my art is like a mountain. So long as I am walking toward the mountain, I’m on the right path. Anything that takes me closer to the mountain, say yes to that. Anything that turns me away from the mountain is a no. Helpful.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DiscoveredShow Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn’t rocket science, but it is encouraging and helpful to those who create and want to be known for their creativity.

The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book for years but pulled it off the shelf to guide me through my summer’s sabbatical, having quit my career and needing to find my way (write my way, more precisely) into a new one. This book was so on point: each time I felt resistance in any area, she addressed it specifically. I plan to keep this book close at hand for regular encouragement.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed my New Year’s Eve 1984 walk with Lillian through her city, Manhattan. Each stop along the way led her to share stories from her life- about history, culture, friendship, women and work and family. Her engagement with strangers, always respectful, always interested, were the highlights of the evening.

I enjoyed it until I didn’t. She took such sideways turns… I limped along with her as she walked to midnight and beyond, but she seemed deflated. I wanted more for her.

“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking” (234).
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested” (238).

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals #1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I read it first when I was a 21-year-old college graduate, when the concepts of “ontology”- being-ness – and “chronology” vs. “kairos” – clock time vs. flow – were new to me and entirely formational. As a young adult, I was seeking how I would be in the world, and especially seeking those experiences that would take me out of time, like dinner parties with friends, reading a captivating book, walking on the beach, and using my expensive education and the skills I had (and would develop) to make a difference in the world.

Reading it again at almost 50 years old, I have a different, renewed, appreciation for what Madeleine wrote when she herself was 51 years old. So much of what she wrote in 1972 still feels relevant, even oddly prophetic.

“Creativity is an act of discovering…. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” (12-13)

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the CubeThe Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book would best be read by women in their 20’s, possibly before college graduation or soon thereafter. Since I’m not in that demographic, the best part of this book for me were the inspiring stories of women who followed their bliss into non-traditional careers.

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal BrandingPlatform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding by Cynthia Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No denying the world has changed. Everyone who spends any time on social media of any form has a platform, whether or not they know it, admit it, or care about it. Johnson is bold, an actor who becomes any character she wants to be to live the life she wants. She has a lot to teach, and this book contains practical advice and real-life illustrations to back it up. I didn’t always enjoy the book, and TBH, I’m more than a little overwhelmed by this new reality, but as they say, that’s life.

“So if everything is constantly changing and evolving, why do we become complacent and accept things as they are in the present? Acceptance…stops us from seeking change and challenging ourselves to grow.” (13)

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Reading: Nov-Dec 2018

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 44 books this year, same as last. Misleading, because there are at least 3 DNF’s and a short story or two. Still, it averages to about 4/month, and of course you have to sift through ordinary stones to find the gems. First, the latest round up, and then my 5-Stars of 2018…

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book feels intensely personal, each character so carefully enfleshed that I could recognize them walking down the street. The primary conflict, lived out in multiple story lines, revolves around the clean-cut, well-planned suburban lifestyle versus the creative and/or unconventional lifestyle. How many of us wonder about life might have been like on the road less traveled? Also, what does/should family look like, and more particularly, what does it mean to be a mother?

“Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare–a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug–and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.” (249)

“Sometimes, must when you think everything’s gone, you find a way….Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow….People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.” (295)

The Gospel of Trees: A MemoirThe Gospel of Trees: A Memoir by Apricot Irving
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF.

I wanted to like this book. The author is just a few years younger than me, and I wanted to learn first-hand what it was like to grow up in a missionary family serving in Haiti. I wanted to hear about whatever intentional or accidental impact they had, and that the Haitians had on them. I wanted to know how the experience affected their family and their faith.

Irving’s writing is passable, occasionally better than, but also humid-heat-dreamlike to such an extent that, more than once, I had trouble following her. I kept thinking that yes, she did have a story to tell, but that she needed a far better editor.

The library wanted their book back, and I couldn’t imagine picking back up where I’d left off. So I won’t.

The WifeThe Wife by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At only seven chapters and 218 pages, this short novel packs an epic wallop! I picked it up after learning that the movie (which I haven’t yet seen) was based on a book, written by the incredible Meg Wolitzer. I would love to hear her speak about what this writing process was like, a woman writing about a woman hiding her fierce talent behind a man’s ego.

You sound bitter, Bone would say.
That’s because I am, I would tell him.
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.
“Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.”
And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is. (184)

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend bought me the Gregor series when she discovered I liked The Hunger Games but hadn’t read Collins’s earlier books. These are fun, imaginative books. Engaging enough to keep my interest and great for a quick, entertaining read.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Underland Chronicles, #2)Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

ElevationElevation by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a horror fan. In fact, I stay well clear of that genre altogether, in books and movies. But having seen and appreciated the movie versions of King’s books Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, I thought I’d give this one a chance.

I’m glad I did. The book invites readers to consider: What would change in your life if you actively anticipated the day of your death and, instead of feeling sick, you felt better than ever? How would you prepare for the end, and how could you help make the world a slightly better place before you depart?

Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with StuffDecluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff by Dana K. White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed.

I read a lot of these books and my house is still way too cluttered. But this one had new light to shed on the piles.

Three take-aways:
Start with the visible-to-others areas (and in so doing I now have a decluttered kitchen bookshelf – win!)
Containers – not as in “I need more” but “the containers you already have limit what you keep.” As in, my house should have space to contain my life, not just my stuff. And my closet should contain my clothes; if it doesn’t, I have too many wearable items. Or (ouch), my bookshelf should contain my books (and a few knickknacks, like framed photos, etc); if my books don’t fit my shelving, I don’t need more shelving but fewer books.
What you reach for first is your fav. Before you put away the clean dishes or laundry, get rid of something still in the cupboard or drawer, since clearly the thing you used and cleaned is the thing you prefer.

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or WhateverThe Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been following Jamie’s Facebook page, and occasionally her blog, for years. She had left Costa Rica before I discovered her, and I was about to leave with my family for a three-month sabbatical. We both have a thing for Jesus, so we also share that in common. I knew what I might expect in this book, but I didn’t know I’d crack the cover in the morning and finish reading the book before dinner.

This is a good memoir, but it’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone. People inclined to dislike Jesus-followers, the Christian church, and missionaries probably shouldn’t bother. People inclined to defend the Church and the way missions have been done over centuries without question also shouldn’t bother.

But those who want a fresh take on all of the above–and who have an open mind (and aren’t overly bothered by sarcasm and swearing)–might truly appreciate this book. In fact, I am hoping others I know will read it so we can have a conversation about it.

“If our calling is who we are, not what we do, and our equipping is our practical capacity to serve others, then, based on who God created me to be and how He equipped me throughout my life, I think maybe I was drawn to Costa Rica for the express purpose of seeing how naivete and brokenness like my own have affected global missions and humanitarian aid, and then inviting whoever would listen into a difficult but necessary conversation about setting things right.” 183

My 5-Star Ratings for 2018:

The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Blood, Water, Paint, Joy McCullough
Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Monterey Bay, Lindsay Hatton
Educated, Tara Westover
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner
Refugee, Alan Gratz
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivy
Tell Me More, Kelly Corrigan

Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.