reading life

Catching my breath…

It’s been a rough few weeks around these parts. My daughter has basically been sick in some form or another since the end of March, and my body finally gave up the fight last week and succumbed to the current form of crud that she’s suffering, leaving me with a combo ear/sinus infection, which made me feel like I’ve been kicked in the face. After a few days on antibiotics, it’s improving, but I still have some face/head pain and a cough, and I’m still worn the heck out.

That’s not to say that I’m not reading- being sick has actually been pretty good for reading. But I’m like four reviews behind, and I have a review book I need to get a post up for, plus another post for someone else, and that’s not counting the 238423794832 things I do and have to do in my daily life (I’ll be mowing the lawn again this weekend, for example, and cleaning the entire house because we have family coming over for lunch one of the days).

So I’m going to skip writing reviews for those four books (library books that I’ve read on my own, not review books. I would never skip out on those!) and hopefully work on those other two posts this weekend instead. Next week is a little more calm, the kids are done with school for the summer, and there should be less running around for me, so things will be a little more relaxed (in theory!), and I’ll start up writing reviews for what I read then.

We all need to throw in the towel sometimes. I just need to pause, catch my breath a little (in between the coughing fits, of course), and then get back on track.

What do you do when you get overwhelmed with life? How do you keep your blogging on track? Do you review every single book you read, or do you skip some here and there?

nonfiction

Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels- Sarah Wendell

Ahhhh, love. And books about love. Aren’t they both grand? And no one knows books about love better than Sarah Wendell, the woman behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. If you’ve never checked them out, don’t let the name fool you: this is a site about feminism, female empowerment, and encouraging and promoting the best of ourselves and our sisters, all under the guise of kissing books (and I love it all!). I’ve been listening to the podcast for two months now, slowly (I start it up as I get into bed, and then the next night, I start it again where I fell asleep…A single episode sometimes takes a few days!), I enjoy their cover snark posts, their reviews, their sense of humor and their ability to snark on anything, and I’ve learned so much from them. Years ago, I read and enjoyed Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, and so I knew I’d also love Ms. Wendell’s Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels.

Straight off, this is a love letter to the genre. It’s a book that emphasizes everything good about romance novels, from empowering women to take charge of their own lives and destinies, to helping women understand what they do and don’t want in a romantic partner. There are so many myths out there about romance books- that they raise women’s expectations in an unrealistic manner (trust us, we all know we’re not getting a mullet-haired, open-shirted, kilt-wearing beefcake whose abs have more waves and ripples than the Pacific, to bend us backwards for an almost-kiss in the moonlight with a snow-capped mountain in the background), that they’re so formulaic and predictable ANYONE could write them (the people who say this never seem to have author credits to their name, nor can they name any romance novels that they’ve read), etc, but Ms. Wendell blasts these myths out of the water with real-life examples from both readers and authors. It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s moving and inspiring, and I added a few books to my TBR list because of it. (And the podcast. Dear God, that podcast has added SO much to my TBR. I woke up the other morning around 4 am with the podcast still going in my ear, just in time to hear the guest talk about a book she recently loved and it was 100% right up my alley, and I added it to my Goodreads list at that very moment, in the dark, at 4 am. It’s a dangerous listen for the TBR!)

If you write romance or write books or stories with any kind of romantic element in it, you NEED to read this book. Trust me. There is SO much good advice in here when it comes to writing the kinds of healthy, realistic relationships that readers want in their books. I spent a lot of time reading this nodding my head, then staring off in the distance to think of how I was handling whatever issue was being discussed in my current WIP (on which I’m rarely able to W, because my daughter is engaged in an all-day-long monologue, broken up only by her need to have 27483274932 questions answered, and I’ve tried, but it’s utterly impossible to write when she’s here, so come August, I’ll hopefully get some writing done when she’s off to school!)

I definitely enjoyed the advice from the romance authors, but what stood out the most to me were the sections where the readers chimed in with the things they learned from the books they read: “That kind of hero makes for a good read, but I wouldn’t be able to stand him in real life,” “When the heroine was acting like that, I realized I do that too, and I immediately began to change my behavior,” and “It helped me to understand that I’m worthy of being treated better than I had been in my previous relationships” are all epiphanies that dawned on romance readers while they had their noses buried in a book. Who says you can’t learn anything from romance???

Everything I Learned About Love I Learned from Romance Novels is a fun, insightful look into a genre that has been demeaned since its inception but still marches on strong and never backs down. I for one am seriously glad that it does not, and I very much look forward to whatever Sarah Wendell offers us next, because her keen observations on the romance genre always strike the perfect chord with me.

Visit Smart Bitches, Trashy Books here.

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday May 29, 2019

Today was my weekly grocery shopping day, so that means it’s time for another WWW Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Thanks for hosting, Sam!

(Also, I just remembered it’s WWW Wednesday. Just as my daughter started to recover from what was eventually diagnosed as a sinus infection, I started my downhill slide and ended up coming home from the doctor with two prescriptions yesterday. The three day weekend was no fun, and it’s been a looooooooooooooooong few weeks around here. I’m SO far behind on blog-related stuff, so if I owe you a post, I WILL get to it; I haven’t forgotten anything, I’m just sick and in pain. Anyhoo.)

WWW Wednesday is a superfun bookish meme all about answering three bookish questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Let’s get this party started!

What are you currently reading?

I’m a little over halfway through The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson. The author had found herself drawn to Islam in college and ended up converting on a plane on her way to working as a teacher in Cairo. After a little bit of difficulty getting into this, I found my bearing and am really enjoying seeing Cairo and Islam through her eyes.

What did you recently finish reading?

This weekend, I finished Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell, she of the fabulous Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. After that, I plowed through This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins. I enjoyed both of them, though for very different reasons, and I still need to get my reviews written up. Being sick has slooooooooowed meeeeeeeeeee dooooowwwwwwwwn. 😦

What do you think you’ll read next?

Up next, I have two graphic novels, which I always enjoy. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. Both are straight from my TBR and I’m very much looking forward to reading both of them.

And that’s it! Hopefully by the next WWW Wednesday, I’ll be feeling more human, instead of feeling like I’ve been kicked in the face, because that’s apparently the thing with a sinus/double ear infection. (And if not, I may take a chainsaw to my own head…)

Happy reading, friends! What have you been reading this week???

nonfiction

Breaking Free: How I Escaped My Father- Warren Jeffs- Polygamy, and the FLDS Cult- Rachel Jeffs

Gather ’round, friends, it’s cult time again!

If you’re new here, hi, my name is Stephanie and I’m deeply fascinated by all things cults and closed or insular groups (religious or otherwise, although adding in the religious factor does make the topic way more intriguing for me). I’ve got a document on my computer titled ‘Cult Books’ (although to be fair, some of the books on the list are just ‘I left this religion and here’s my story’ books, which I find equally interesting), and I whip it out and wave it at just about anyone who expresses even a vague interest in cults.

Because that’s a normal thing to do. Totally.

So when I came across Breaking Free: How I Escaped My Father- Warren Jeffs- Polygamy, and the FLDS Cult by Rachel Jeffs (HarperLuxe, 2017) last summer, I had to add it to my TBR, because duh. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, has long been a horror-filled obsession of mine; it’s not the polygamy that interests me (I mean, it does, but it’s not the main factor), but more the secretive nature of the group, its customs and mores that differ from the way you and I live. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, has been in the news for being the human version of a toxic waste spill almost all my adult life, and while I didn’t think I could find him even more despicable, Rachel Jeffs has proved me wrong.

First off, MAJOR content warnings for this book. Warren Jeffs is a molesting piece of crap, and while Ms. Jeffs never veers into graphic description of the sexual abuse she suffered at his hands, neither does she back down from exposing exactly what he did to her. (And it wasn’t just girls, either, as Brent Jeffs, nephew of Warren, bravely pointed out in his memoir Lost Boy, co-written with Maia Szalavitz.) If this is something you’re not able to read about without experiencing distress, be kind to yourself and choose something that lets you breathe easier.

Breaking Free is Rachel Jeffs’ life story in the FLDS. She was the daughter of Warren Jeffs and his second wife Barbara Barlow (her sister Annette also married Jeffs; their parents, Rachel’s grandparents, were not happy about their daughters not being able to chose their own husbands and subsequently left the FLDS…leaving their daughters behind…). If you’ve read other accounts of life in this group, her tale is fairly typical: unaffectionate and overworked mothers, an abundance of siblings, never enough food, jealous sister wives taking out their anger on the hated wife’s children, terrible illnesses and near-fatal accidents treated with herbs and prayer. Rachel was eight years old when her father began molesting her; this abuse stretched on for years. At one point, she told her mother, who marched off to speak with Warren; the matter was never spoken of again, and the abuse continued.

Although Rachel stopped attending school after eighth grade, at age fifteen, she taught third grade at the Jeffs Academy in Short Creek- for no pay, of course. And at age 18, her father married her off to a man with two other wives. Rachel didn’t want to be married, but in the FLDS, women suffer from an extreme lack of agency. She was fortunate that Rich, her husband, was a decent guy whom she eventually came to love and who never forced her to do anything she wasn’t ready for. So many women in this group aren’t so lucky.

Warren’s control over the group expanded exponentially. While I was aware of his increasingly bizarre rules and restrictions (laughter is a sin! Parents aren’t allowed to hug their children!), I hadn’t known much about how he kept his followers always living on the edge, constantly moving them around and separating families (some permanently) as punishment for often minor (or even imaginary) infractions. Before his eventual cross-country game of hide and seek with the Feds, followed by life in prison, he became even more sexually creepy, implementing something he called ‘the New Law of Sarah, which allowed him to have multiple naked wives with him at one time, all in the name of God, to give him “heavenly comfort” as he solemnly atoned for the sins of the people. This law required the women to sexually touch and excite each other as well as Father with the promise that they were all working together for Father’s benefit as ‘God’s servant.‘” For a person who preached that even thinking of the opposite sex before marriage was a sin, it’s awfully convenient how a quick ceremony can turn hordes of women (Ms. Jeffs counts his wives, some as young as twelve years old, at at least 78) into his own personal harem. This is horrifying.

It’s not until Jeffs, exerting his draconian control even from behind bars, separates Rachel from her husband and children multiple times, for long periods of time, that she begins to consider that life on the outside may have something to offer. Rachel fled with her five children to her grandparents’ (the ones who left the FLDS, remember them?) in Centennial; they were still polygamous but not FLDS. With their help, and the aid of an organization called Holding Out HELP, Rachel Jeffs was finally able to break free from the community that had caused her so much pain.

There’s no co-author mentioned, and I’m going to assume that this isn’t ghostwritten. That said, having been subjected to the FLDS brand of education and barred from reading anything but FLDS religious material and the books she was able to sneak, Ms. Jeffs tells her story in an engaging and intriguing manner. Her writing style puts you right there with her, surrounded by sister wives in pastel dresses. Not all of her story is unhappy; she writes of the good times she had with her sisters and sometimes even her sister wives, and speaks happily of many aspects of her childhood, including her skill at playing the violin (which would eventually help her to earn money after her escape. Practice those instruments, kids!). Breaking Free does go a little deeper into the nightmare that was living under the control of Warren Jeffs, so if you’re at all interested in cults or the FLDS, you don’t want to miss this one.

Ms. Jeffs is more than just a victim of her father and the predatory culture in which she was raised, and I admire her courage, strength, and ability to change when she realized the need. Not everyone, not even in regular society, can do that, and I find her growth inspiring. I’m so glad she’s been able to move beyond her past (with all of her children by her side) in order to live a more authentic, free life and to share her story with the rest of the world. I only wish I had that kind of courage.

Follow Rachel Jeffs on Twitter.

Check out her Facebook page here.

fiction · YA

Behind the Scenes (Daylight Falls #1)- Dahlia Adler

Everywhere I go, I seem to find new-to-me authors that end up on my ever-expanding TBR list, and it was an episode of Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast that clued me in to the awesomeness that is Dahlia Adler. I don’t think Ms. Adler had uttered more than three sentences before I was grabbing my phone, opening my Goodreads app, and punching the ‘Want to Read’ button (literally punching, hard. I meant business). There’s something seriously infectious about her humor, her charm, the way she talks about writing and her job and life, and I knew that anything she wrote, I was going to enjoy.

And I was right! My library has a few of her books in its collection, but the first one that came up in my library’s catalog was Behind the Scenes (Daylight Falls #1) (Spencer Hill Contemporary, 2014), and I checked out an ebook and settled down to read.

It’s senior year and Ally has a LOT going on. She’s already been accepted into Columbia, college of her dreams, but there’s a massive snag: her dad’s looking-like-it’s-terminal cancer is costing the family so much that continuing her education in New York might have to stay the stuff of dreams. A part-time job flipping burgers isn’t going to come close to paying for tuition, but Ally’s got friends in high places: her lifelong best friend, teen actress Vanessa Park, has just been cast as the female lead in what could be TV’s hottest teen dramedy, and she’s more than happy to pay Ally to work as her assistant. Ally agrees to this; she’s never been interested in Hollywood, but she needs the money and it’ll give her a chance to hang with her bestie.

What Ally’s not expecting is Van’s MEGAHOT costar, Liam Holloway. She knew he’d be there, but she didn’t think he’d be THAT hot in person…or that normal…or that…into her??? How could he be, when he’s so Hollywood, and Ally’s so not? Just as their relationship is starting to blossom, the show’s producer (I *think* it was?) comes up with the idea to have Liam and Van pretend to date in order to drum up publicity, and while Ally hates everything about the idea, she knows it’s the best thing for her friends’ careers. She can handle being Liam’s secret girlfriend while he and Van pretend in public…but for how long?

Superhot celebrity falling in love with a regular person: it’s my favorite trope of all time, and OMG, Liam is a thousand kinds of adorable. Ms. Adler has written a totally swoonworthy character and I’m trying to figure out who I can write to to demand that time be turned back and we are all issued our own Liam Holloway as teenagers, he was just that wonderful (he may go on my list of Best Swoonworthy Male Characters EVAR, next to Levi from Fangirl).

Ally, poor Ally. For someone so obviously intelligent (already accepted to Columbia, at home studying on Friday nights, AP classes out the wazoo), she lacked confidence in herself and struggled so much with trusting Liam and Vanessa. In any other character, I think her trust issues *might* have been annoying, considering how much she was hot/cold, back and forth with Liam, but she was someone who had been close to but not a part of Hollywood her whole life via Van. She’d seen how fake people could be, how many times Van had gotten hurt in the past, and she already knew to be wary around anyone in the industry. Add to that the stress of watching her father dying day by day, trying to support her mother and sister through it all, worrying about how she’d manage to pay for school and how she’d be able to be away from what would be left of her family…yeah, pretty much anyone would be flailing and freaking out at that point. It was easy to see where her constant whirlwind of panic was coming from, and I thought Ms. Adler handled that exceptionally well.

I’m not much of a series reader, but I’m definitely going to read #2 in this series, Under the Lights, which focuses on Van and Josh Chester, Liam’s bad-boy buddy. It’s a dual POV, which I LOVE (Behind the Scenes is narrated solely by Ally), and Ms. Adler has created a world in which I will happily and enthusiastically spend more time in, and characters that I’m looking forward to hanging out with again.

Two thumbs up from me, and I’m extremely happy that I discovered Dahlia Adler!

Visit Dahlia Adler’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

History of Wolves- Emily Fridlund

Every once in a while, you add a book to your TBR based on some glowing recommendations. You read it and finish the book, going, “Was it me? Am I just not smart enough to understand this book?” That was History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Grove Atlantic, 2017) for me.

Madeline lives way out in the woods of Northern Minnesota. It’s an isolated life with her parents (who might not actually be her parents?), especially since she’d grown up surrounded by the members of the Christian cult her parents had once participated in. Madeline’s life is school, chores, her dogs, the lake, the woods…and that’s it. Until Mr. Greierson, a teacher who ends up being marked as a pedophile, appears at her school. Madeline develops what ends up being a lifelong obsession with both Mr. Greierson and Lily, a fellow student whose involvement with Mr. Greierson is never really clarified.

What really sets the story in motion is the appearance of a new family, the Gardners, in the house across the lake. Patra and her son Paul are staying there while her husband Leo, a supposedly brilliant astronomer, is doing work in Hawaii. Patra, to whom Madeline introduces herself as Linda (for reasons that are also never clarified), enlists the young teenager to babysit Paul, and Madeline/Linda develops a strange attachment to this family as well. But all is not well with the Gardners, as we see in snips and flashes early on in this non-linear story; a death and a trial are looming large in everyone’s future.

This was so…strange. At first, I wasn’t sure of how reliable a narrator Madeline/Linda was. She was a bizarre character who, at the very least, lacked a large range of social skills, possibly because of having been raised in the cult- due to the non-linear story structure (which I didn’t care for at all), bits about the cult background only appeared here and there and it wasn’t fully expanded upon, so I was left feeling empty about that. Her peculiar behavior towards pretty much every single character in this book, with the exception of Paul, kept me squinting at my kindle. Her obsession with Mr. Greierson, who ended up being caught with a bunch of child pornography in a box in his bathroom, stretched on far into her adulthood and, at least for me, didn’t add much to the story, other than to reinforce that there was something completely off about her. And was she planning on killing Lily at one point? Was that was that was? I was seriously confused about so much in this book.

What I did enjoy was the seeming contrast between Leo’s ‘genius’ (Madeline/Linda didn’t find him impressive, for what that’s worth) and his steadfast devotion to Christian Science, the religion he was raised in. Even though he was a scientist (in the literal sense of the word), Leo remained committed to the idea that his son’s illness wasn’t real in the face of conflicting evidence. Sadly, this isn’t uncommon; an excellent book that expands on this topic (and will help you understand the outcome of the trial, if you’ve read this or are planning to) is Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlich. It’s anger-inducing, especially in regards to the laws that allow religious-based child neglect (and the people who fight so hard to keep those laws in place while children suffer and die), but it’s a hugely important book that I don’t think has gotten enough attention. It’s one of those books that has a permanent place on my shelves. Leo’s ability to draw Patra into his beliefs, even though she wasn’t as dogged as he was, was…chilling, to say the least, but I suppose that’s where the naiveté everyone talked about in regards to Patra came into play.

So this book? Strange. I didn’t care for its non-linear structure (sooooooooo many times, after yet another zillion pages’ worth of description of the events leading up to The Event, I was mentally screaming at my kindle, ‘JUST GET TO THE POINT! GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY!’); I didn’t find the narrator at all sympathetic, relatable, likable, or interesting; and I felt as though I never quite understood what the author was attempting. Knowing that this was on the list for the Man Booker Prize shortlist for 2017 made me feel…like I wasn’t smart enough to get this book. Like I was missing some crucial part of my brain that would’ve helped me to understand why this was a piece of literature to be celebrated. I understand things like, say, Lolita; I see the value in telling ugly stories in a beautiful way. I didn’t get this particular book, though, and it left me with the feeling that somewhere, there are a bunch of champagne-sipping highbrow professors and literary critics who are mocking my lack of understanding and ability to think critically about this book.

Did you read this? Stacey from Unruly Reader mentioned she couldn’t get into it either, which makes me feel a little better that I’m not the only one! If you loved it or weren’t a fan, I want to hear your thoughts. What do you do when you come across books that you just don’t get?

Visit Emily Fridlund’s website here.

nonfiction

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster- Svetlana Alexievich

I was five when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place, which is apparently young enough to not have formed any memories of the event (much like the Challenger disaster from earlier that year; I have no memory of that either). I don’t remember learning anything about it in grade or high school, other than maybe a brief mention. I vaguely understood what had happened and the implications of the disaster, and when I came upon a website filled with photos by a woman who had ridden her motorcycle through the mostly-abandoned-but-still-radioactive areas surrounding the plant, I was fascinated. There’s this huge swath of contaminated land, inhabited only by a few hardy (and foolhardy) souls, where animals (whose state of health isn’t really known) roam freely into long-abandoned buildings and tables remain still set for dinner. Whoa. It was with these photos in mind that I added Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich (Picador, 2006) to my TBR after reading a review from a fellow blogger.

Voices from Chernobyl is a collection of monologues taken from interviews by survivors of Chernobyl: widows of liquidators and other men forced into service in the aftermath of the blast; men who worked at the plant site in various capacities, some who knew enough to know that the government was lying to the people about the dangers of the radiation; people who have come back to live on forbidden land; people who have sick children; people whose children have died. Long, long paragraphs of grief and anguish, of anger and the inability to comprehend how this could have happened, and sometimes the admission of how different their society was when the disaster took place (the interviews were collected in 1996).

This is a good example of an amazing book that didn’t work for me personally. I was expecting there to be more background on the disaster, on the Communist society the interviewees lived in at the time and the government that was so willing to hide the scope of the danger, on the history of the area and what daily life looked like in these now mostly-abandoned areas before they were evacuated. There was a very brief introduction, and then the book dove right into the monologues with zero background information on the person being interviewed, just a name and sometimes an occupation, if it was relevant to their interview. That was it. So many monologues kept referencing ‘the war,’ and sadly, my history education outside of learning about the American revolution 23478932749832 times kind of stank, and it took me a little bit of mental groping to remember the Soviet-Afghan War (it’s never called this during the book, just ‘the war,’ with a few references to “I was in Afghanistan,” which is what finally jogged my foggy memory. I have a book of Russian history in the basement; I’m going to have to see if it’s new enough that this war is covered in it…) My background in everything surrounding the Chernobyl disaster is so lacking that while I did learn *some* things as I read this, the monologues enough weren’t enough to fill in the gaps for me.

And thus, I need book recommendations! Have you read anything about Chernobyl? Can you recommend anything more comprehensive that will help enlighten me more on this tragedy? I’d really love to learn more and not feel quite so lacking in this area.

memoir

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir- Nicole Chung

I’ve always been fascinated by adoption, from all perspectives: the adoptive parents, the adopted child, the biological parents. It’s such a deeply emotional process from all angles, and hearing about Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir (Catapult, 2018) from another book blogger sent me running to hit the ‘Want to Read’ button on Goodreads. Luckily, my library had a copy. (I love my library. Have I ever mentioned that before?)

Nicole Chung always knew she was adopted. It’s not like she could hide it, being the Korean child of two white parents. Growing up, her parents told her the story of her adoption anytime she asked: Nicole was born premature and her first parents, new immigrants to the country, couldn’t afford the medical bills and placed her for adoption. Within days, Nicole was home with her new family, who adored her and treasured her and, in their words, weren’t prepared for a child as intense and studious as she was. Growing up in a white family, in a white school, in a very white town, was harder than she let on to her parents; she experienced racism and bullying from a young age, even within her own extended family, but she stayed quiet about it, not wanting to upset her parents, who tried hard but could never fully understand.

It wasn’t until she became pregnant with her first child that Nicole decided to reach out and begin searching for the family who had placed her for adoption, and what she found went far beyond than the story she and her parents had accepted as truth. What follows after she finds her family is far deeper, far more painful and beautiful than she’d been expecting. There are no happy endings or neatly wrapped conclusions, just a sense of both sadness and wonder at the emotional intensity of what adoption and family truly are.

This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who has adopted internationally, adopted a child of a racial background different from their own, or who is considering doing so. Ms. Chung doesn’t hold back when it comes to her feelings on growing up the only Asian face in a sea of whiteness, and I learned so much from her experiences (mostly about how horrible kids- and adults! ADULTS, WTF- can be). The things people would say around her, even her own family members, are shocking and appalling (and sadly, not hugely different from things I’ve heard from some family members. I’m usually quick to call it out, although I still feel bad about one conversation I didn’t get a chance to burst into like the Kool-Aid Man last Christmas- maybe two Christmases ago?- when I was distracted by my daughter). Even those who have been touched by domestic adoption will find this memoir enlightening. My sister-in-law, herself an adoptive parent, has said many times in regards to adopting her son, “The best day of your life is the worst day of theirs,” meaning you’re gaining a longed-for child, when the child is losing their birth family, their culture, their language, their history, and everything else that can be lost when someone leaves one family and joins another. Ms. Chung touches on every single one of these points and shows how they affected her both growing up and as an adult.

This is a moving, raw, painful, yet still joyful memoir, full of discovery and wonder, healing and grief, written with such honesty that I felt every single word. I deeply admire anyone who can bring their wounds to the sunlight in such a beautiful and heartfelt manner as Ms. Chung has. All You Can Ever Know is crammed full of just about every emotion you can imagine, from sorrow to joy to anger, catharsis in literary form even if adoption isn’t part of your own story. I know that I still have so much to learn, but I feel like this helped me understand at least a little more about the ways that adoptees can struggle (and not all do, as Ms. Chung is quick to point out) with not resembling their parents and not knowing the entirety of their backgrounds and their biological family’s stories.

Have you read this? Has adoption touched your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book and this topic, and if you’ve read other books like it.

(And once again, my apologies if this review isn’t up to my usual standards. My daughter has been sick AGAIN- third time since the last weekend in March- and the doctor diagnosed her with a sinus infection on Monday. She’s on meds and on the mend, but after a week of wiping her never-ending river of snot and catching her coughed-so-hard-she-threw-up vomit in my hands, I’m sick as well. #momlife)

Visit Nicole Chung’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday May 22, 2019

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means! *drumroll* It’s WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Hello, Sam!

WWW Wednesday is a super fun meme, all about answering three bookish questions.

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

(I always read these in the same tone of voice as “What is airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” Just me?)

Let’s get started!

What are you currently reading?

I knew within mere seconds of hearing Dahlia Adler’s interview on an episode of Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast, that I wanted to read her books. She’s fun and funny and smart and bubbly and outgoing, and I actually sat up from lying down under the covers to put her books on my TBR list (which is no small deal, because sleep is something I take very, very seriously!). Behind the Scenes is one of those books, and I checked out an ebook from my library last night. I didn’t get much time to read it, but what I have read, I love so far!

What did you recently finish reading?

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (review to come; I’m behind on reviews and all things blogging due to being sick). This was…I’m not quite sure. I didn’t care for the structure or the narrator’s voice much, and the whole thing left me feeling like I’m not quite smart enough to understand this book. It didn’t quite work for me, but it was on the list for the Man Booker Prize a few years back, so it obviously worked for others!

What do you think you’ll read next?

My daughter and I stopped at the library after groceries (because that’s obviously what’s most important when you’re sick!!!) and I grabbed the stack above, straight off my TBR. I’m super, super excited about reading all of them, but I’m going to start off with Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell. I fall asleep every night with Ms. Wendell’s voice in my ear as I’m listening to Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast, and I adored her Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels when I read it years ago, so now is definitely the time to pick this book up.

And that’s it for this week! Hopefully I’ll get a crapload of time to read and enjoy all of these books, because I’ve got some good ones coming up!

What are you reading this week???

fiction

Landline- Rainbow Rowell

I think I’ve mentioned this a time or nine million, but back at the beginning of 2017, I started to read down my atrociously high Goodreads TBR list. Through sheer will and with the aid of multiple libraries, I blew through almost 200 books from the list before I began weeding out books that no longer interested me from there. It was a worthy project, I read a ton of amazing books (and a few…not so amazing ones), but in the process, I basically ignored every other book out there that wasn’t on my list. So I was really surprised when I saw Landline by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) pop up on someone else’s blog. Rainbow Rowell has a book I haven’t heard of? How did I miss that???? (Oh yeah. Reading strictly from my TBR and not having been blogging at the time.) I was so deeply enamored by Fangirl that this book went immediately onto my list.

Georgie McCool has a dilemma. It’s a few days before Christmas; she, her husband, and the kids are supposed to be leaving to spend the holidays with Neal’s mother in Omaha, but Georgie’s dream project, the TV show she and her writing partner Seth have wanted to make happen for years, has a chance of becoming reality. Unfortunately, this reality requires Georgie and Seth to complete multiple scripts within a mere handful of days. Farewell, Christmas. Georgie tries to make Neal understand- this is her dream, what she’s worked for her entire life- but with barely a terse goodbye, he’s gone, and Georgie’s left feeling unsettled.

Plagued by a cell phone whose battery barely lets it function at all, Georgie’s calls to Neal all go unanswered, and despite her attempts to focus on script writing with Seth, not much is getting done. Desperate to make some sort of contact with the husband she fears she’s losing, she calls his mother’s house from her teenage bedroom, using the vintage landline phone she used when she was younger. To her surprise, it’s Neal that answers her: not the Neal of today, but Neal from the Christmas he proposed, back when they were just beginning and his father was still alive. Georgie can’t quite figure out what’s going on- is she crazy? Is it magic?- but whatever it is, it’s clear that this is her last chance to make things right.

Landline is about how complicated life and marriage/relationships can get. It’s about the difficulty in balancing work and family, about sacrifice and identity. Georgie is driven; she works long hours and loves her job, but often comes home tired and doesn’t have much left to give her family, especially her husband. Neal has been the stay-at-home parent since the birth of their first daughter and is a natural in the role, so much so that Georgie feels like a third wheel at times. It’s so, so easy for a couple to lose one another in the jumble of work, children, and regular life stress, and this book does a great job illustrating what a marriage looks like when that happens- bitterness, resentment, feeling left out.

I have to say, I didn’t love Neal. I didn’t find much about him or his personality attractive, and I didn’t quite get the appeal he held for Georgie. I also felt like their relationship was set up to fail right from the start. He hated California but married Georgie knowing that that’s where she’d have to live for her career? I get thinking that it wouldn’t be that bad in the beginning and things changing over time, but he was also hostile towards her partnership with Seth (which predated Georgie’s relationship with Neal) from the start as well. He also gave up his job, albeit one he didn’t like, in order to stay home with their children. Neal seemed to be dead-set on martyring himself, then complaining about the effects of doing so, and I found that aspect of his personality- which made up MOST of his personality- to be entirely disagreeable.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book. The premise of a magic telephone that can somehow call the past was great. Georgie’s career as a comedy and television writer was fascinating to me; her partnership with Seth was fun, and how Ms. Rowell portrayed the complexities of maintaining any kind of balance with your spouse once you throw children into the mix was dead-on. It’s hideously difficult, and if both partners aren’t actively working to maintain that connection, it’s as good as nonexistent. But Neal and his disagreeable personality and his dismissal of Georgie’s huge opportunity that had the audacity to come at an inconvenient time? That kind of soured a good portion of the book for me. Neal is no Levi from Fangirl, that’s for sure. (LEVI. *swooooooooooooooooon*)

So I definitely didn’t love this as much as I loved Ms. Rowell’s Fangirl, but those are huge shoes to fill, because I never wanted that book to end. She has two others I haven’t read (I’m not much interested in reading Carry On– not my thing, ironically, considering how much I LOVED Fangirl– but I do want to read Kindred Spirits and Almost Midnight).

Have you read Landline? I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly on Neal. Did you find him to be a more sympathetic character than I did?

Visit Rainbow Rowell’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.