fiction · YA

Just Visiting- Dahlia Adler

Making my way through my TBR!

Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (Spencer Hill Contemporary, 2015) is the second book I’ve read this year by Ms. Adler, the first being Behind the Scenes (whose sequel I will get to! I haven’t forgotten it!). I enjoyed Ms. Adler’s interview on an episode of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast so much that I put two of her books on my TBR, and Just Visiting is the second. It’s been rare for me in the past to read the same author multiple times in a year- I’m more the kind of gal who likes to shake things up and make sure I read a wide variety of writers, but I enjoyed her style so much that I was thrilled to jump back in to another one of her worlds.

As best friends, Reagan and Victoria couldn’t be more different. Victoria, who is Mexican-American, lives a fairly comfortable middle-class life with her clearly-in-love college professor parents. Reagan lives in a trashy trailer park and works a full-time job to help her ne’er-do-well parents pay the bills (and even when she hands over money, it’s never certain the lights will actually stay on). Both girls have big dreams to leave their small Kansas hometown behind, but for very different reasons.

A weekend college visit gives Victoria a taste of the sorority life she’s been craving, and Reagan meets a boy who opens her eyes to the possibility of love after having her heart shredded by her controlling jerk of an ex. But choosing a college isn’t easy, especially when you’re still figuring out who you are and who you want to become. Reagan and Victoria will learn some hard lessons about being true to who they are, even if it means letting go a little.

Just Visiting is another winner from Dahlia Adler. I’m not quite as deep into the YA scene as I once was, but she’s absolutely got her fingers on the pulse of teenagers today, especially in terms of dialogue and emotions. Seventeen is a rough age, the pressures heaped on kids today are unreal, and Ms. Adler nails all of it in Victoria’s struggle to define herself and decide her future, and in Reagan’s world-weary sense of responsibility and desperation to begin living life solely on her terms.

Reagan as a character is deep, raw, and painful to read. Nearly every adult around her has failed her badly, in pretty much every way (and I’m not counting poverty; poverty isn’t necessarily a failing, just a circumstance. There are, unfortunately, far too many people who work full-time and still can’t make ends meet), leaving her drained and mature beyond her years. Her determination to better her life and leave her desolate hometown and irresponsible parents behind is admirable, but it’s her broken heart, along with her pain of being tormented by her classmates, that I think is most relatable. Though he never makes an actual appearance, her ex-boyfriend (along with his family, and Reagan’s parents) is a huge piece of crap (and there’s mention of birth control sabotage on his part here, so beware if that’s a subject that’s upsetting to you), and Reagan is so deeply wounded in so many ways that her distress is nearly tangible. Ms. Adler really does an amazing job of showing teen determination in the face of serious adversity.

Victoria is the breather we need after Reagan’s pain. Though she comes with an uncomfortable backstory of her own, her supportive family and friendship with Reagan have negated the majority of ill affects and she dreams of a future filled with parties and sororities where she’ll finally fit in with the crowd like she’s always wanted. Her entire family is serious #goals, especially her Deaf mother (with whom Victoria communicates in ASL, which I LOVE! I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book with just a random Deaf character who isn’t there to show us How Deaf People Live, or How To Overcome Disability- can you tell I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, where books with characters who had a disability were Very Special Lessons? Ugh. Victoria’s mom is just a regular college professor who just happens to be Deaf, along with being super-loving and supportive. HIGH FIVE, MS. ADLER!!!), her long-distance abuela, who I don’t think ever actually shows up in person, but who Victoria references so much that I feel like I know her now too, and her brother Javi, who, though he’s off with the Peace Corps, still manages to stay involved in his little sister’s life. Victoria struggles with knowing what she wants to do and also with wanting to make everyone else happy, something that I think almost everyone can relate to. She’s all of us, with maybe better fashion sense- or maybe that last part is just me. 😉

This is a book about deep, serious friendship, about making decisions that speak to who we truly are as a person, about setting goals and working for them no matter what it takes, about what we shouldn’t have to do but sometimes still do anyway, about the power of friendship and about learning- who we are, what we need, what’s best for each of us. It’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking, and at times, if you’re a decent person and a good human being, you’ll want to kick a few of the terrible small-town side characters somewhere where it’ll count, deeply. (And far from straying towards caricature, Ms. Adler really hits the nail on the head with how awful they are. I’ve known people like that, and…yeah.)

Just Visiting is just a great example of the YA genre. I’m still riding the Dahlia Adler Fan Train after finishing it. 🙂

Visit Dahlia Adler’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

The Sparrow Sisters- Ellen Herrick

I am “My first job was in a video rental store” years old, and one of my favorite movies to check out and watch over and over again was Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. It was when I was reading the back of the box when I learned that it was based on a book (and, I’m not even kidding, sixteen year-old me went on a spree through the store, making a list of all the movies that I loved that were based on books, and then checking them all out from the library next door. Why no, I was NOT popular in high school, why do you ask?) Although they differ greatly, I’ve always loved both the movie and the book by Alice Hoffman, and so when I learned about The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2015), I knew I had to read it.

The Sparrow sisters are practically an institution in their tiny New England town of Granite Point, where they run a garden that blossoms nearly year round and entirely out of season. Patience, the youngest sister, can cure what ails you, mixing up her remedies in blue glass bottles tucked away by the women of the town (and sometimes the men, too). Their family has been part of the town and its history since history began, but the delicate balance between the slightly eccentric and seemingly magical sisters and the stodgy, gossipy locals is upset when Henry Carlyle, injured war veteran, becomes the new town doctor. His fascination with Patience and her unscientific manner of healing the townsfolk sets off a chain of events that leaves a child dead, Patience on trial, and the weather in an upheaval. Granite Point is finally on the national map, but not in a way anyone ever wanted to be.

The Sparrow Sisters had some serious shoes to fill with its comparison to Practical Magic, and for me, it didn’t fill them. The magical realism in this novel felt extremely forced and not at all nuanced as it did in Practical Magic (or, for that matter, in Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which I also enjoyed). The townspeople are both suspicious of the sisters and Patience’s abilities, yet they never question how the garden manages to grow out-of-season fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and they all know to sniff Patience in order to ascertain her mood (different flower scents mean different feelings, and she apparently just emits them?). I enjoy magical realism and reading stories set in our world but where small acts of magic are possible, but the magic here didn’t feel like it came naturally to Patience; it felt as though it were heaped upon her in place of a personality (and constantly getting snippy with people does not count as a personality, either). Multiple times, it felt like I was being slapped in the face while the author screamed, “Look at how full of magic Patience is! She smells like herbs and flowers, it’s so whimsical! ISN’T THIS AMAZING?”, and that’s not what I’m looking for in a book. I’d rather make slow discoveries via rich writing that hints around a character’s supernatural abilities, and that’s not what this book was, at all.

The trial comes about when someone Patience cares deeply for takes a deadly plant from her garden and dies after ingesting it, and she’s accused of killing them. The story fell apart for me at that point, because Patience was well aware of that plant and how it could kill, and she was also aware of how literally that particular person took things. Knowing all of this, I felt as though she would have taken better care to keep that particular person safe around and from this plant, and thus, the major conflict of the story didn’t work for me, either.

The writing style strayed toward ‘choppy’ as well, which at times came from overuse of ‘subject-verb, subject-verb, subject-verb’ in too many sentences in a row. When it comes to good writing, varying sentence structure makes a huge difference in the flow of a story, and this absolutely missed the mark on that for me.

Sadly, The Sparrow Sisters lacked the charm that Practical Magic and Garden Spells held for me. There’s a second book in the series, but I have zero interest in spending more time with these characters, and so I’ll look elsewhere to get my next fix of magical realism.

Visit Ellen Herrick’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing- Lorraine Johnson

So, remember when I said in August’s Monthly Roundup that my TBR blew up thanks to adding a bunch of books on urban farming? City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing by Lorraine Johnson (Greystone Books, 2010) is one of those books (and I believe the list that I dug it up from was here on Goodreads, if you’re interested in searching for other books on permaculture and homesteading). It just so happened that my library had a copy, so into the stack it went a few weeks ago when I was there, searching for books ON MY OWN. I’m still jazzed to have uninterrupted time to myself while my daughter’s in school; one of these days, I’ll even go- dare I say it?- browse the library bookshelves with no particular book in mind. That’s it, just browsing in hopes of stumbling upon my next great read. It’s been years since I was able to just go browse at a leisurely pace; I’ve had an exact list, complete with call numbers, in hand on every library visit for years!

Lorraine Johnson covers a lot of bases about urban farming in this book, including the fact that city farms actually end up being more productive- yes, MORE- than country farms, for multiple reasons. While growing your own food isn’t anything new (and she covers this by recounting a bit of the history of gardening, including the victory gardens of World War II), the ever-expanding popularity of farming in the city is, and thanks to gardeners and teachers and agitators, it’s growing more mainstream each year.

Ms. Johnson takes the reader on garden visits to Detroit, Toronto, Guelph, Chicago and beyond, visiting cement slabs covered in containers bursting with tomatoes, balconies dripping with herbs, tiny backyards that house a handful of chickens, and boulevards planted with beans. It’s not always easy, or even legal: plenty of cities have had to be talked into the benefit of growing food (both in public and privately owned property- I’m sure you’ve heard stories of home owner associations who don’t allow gardens or clotheslines, and some cities have hosted angry town hall meetings where people protest apple trees, even when groups are volunteering to do all the harvest and donate the apples to a food pantry. What a thing to to get angry about…), and fights still go on all over the world about this. It’s even local to me: a few towns over, a city banned the presence of hoop greenhouses in residents’ backyards (I find this incredibly stupid, but this is a REALLY snobby town, so. Local groups aren’t giving up, though, so stay tuned!) There are so many interesting stories and so much great information in this book about what growing your own food in the city looks like or could look like if we just open our minds about what our surroundings are supposed to look like.

The sections about gardening as a form of food security really struck me as deeply practical; Ms. Johnson quotes one source that states that Americans no longer grow enough fruit to serve everyone their recommended servings per day, which is…unsettling at best. All it takes is a small disruption in the food supply chain, which could happen due to weather, an accident, crop failure, *huge sigh here* politics, and suddenly, we’re out of dietary staples. While I don’t quite have a full year of food on hand, I do keep a well-stocked pantry that would leave us okay for a few months, but books like these make me well aware of the need to produce more of what my family needs on my own quarter-acre, and we’re planning on it (we planted one of our cherry trees the other day! As per our local arboretum’s suggestion, the other will spend the winter at my mom’s house, safe from my cats, and that way, we’ll have a backup if the one we planted doesn’t last through any of our heavier snows. Currently, we have an apple tree, a plum tree, and now a cherry, none yet fruiting, and most likely we’ve got years to wait). We’ve got three butternut squash on the counter right now, grown in our backyard, along with two small tomatoes- our tomatoes did terrible this year, but that seems to be the norm for around here. Just a bad year for tomatoes, I guess. We do have a few kale leaves sprouting in our new front yard garden patch, though!

My only beef with this book is with ME- why do I always pick fall and winter to read gardening books??? They make me want to plant ALL THE THINGS and I found City Farmer so inspirational. If so many people can grow so much more, in spaces so much smaller than what I have, I need to get a move on- and I will…once it’s actual planting season. Until then, I’ll plan and dream and read on.

For a short bio on Lorraine Johnson, click here.

memoir · nonfiction

Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian- Jill Grunenwald

When I went searching through my library’s online card catalog for Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard by Laura Bates, I came across another book that hadn’t hit the shelves yet but was available to request, and so I did. Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald (Skyhorse, 2019) ticked so many of my pet subject boxes: prisons, libraries, reading, reading in prison, prison libraries, books about reading. I wasn’t the only one in line, though, so I ended up waiting for probably around six weeks or so before I received the email to come and pick up my book. (Who ARE you other local readers? We could be such good friends!)

Fresh out of library school at a time when the economy stank more than a swampy landfill baking in the August sun, Jill Grunenwald applies for job after job and receives nothing, until the day she applies for a job as a librarian in a correctional facility. The ad is so vaguely worded that Jill doesn’t realize she was applying to work in a prison until later. As it stands, her first days on the job are marked by deep anxiety- what on earth is she doing as a prison librarian?

The job takes all of Jill’s wits and more; while her facility is minimum-security, there are still men who will take advantage of anything they can. Public masturbation is indeed a thing in prison (not just for public transportation anymore! Ugh); librarian-signed permission letters aren’t enough to make it okay for an inmate to take safety scissors back to his cell; breaking your elbow while rollerblading is NOT conducive to safety while working behind bars. There are good days and bad days, little wins and setbacks. Being a prison librarian is a unique job, and Jill shares the ups and downs in the pages of this memoir.

So.

Reading Behind Bars is worth a read alone for the subject matter (and if you’re interested, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg is probably right up your alley as well). Working a non-security position at a prison is pretty interesting, and the ins and outs of the protocols Ms. Grunenwald had to follow in order to maintain safety standards for both herself and the inmates added a little flavor to the story…at first. And then the repetition began to feel pedantic and tiresome. What the memoir lacks is a more personal touch, of how the author grew and changed and was changed by her experiences in the prison. I didn’t feel like I knew her any better by the last page (although I liked her; she totally seems like the kind of person I’d love to hang out with!), nor did I get a true sense of what her time at the prison meant to her, and I would have liked to.

I did enjoy reading about about how she needed to update the entire (and non-existent, when she arrived) online book catalog, along with entering the enormous stacks of donated books. While she was outlining what a horrible amount of work it would be, and such drudgery, I was practically salivating over the prospect (I had to do something similar with the entire catalog of movies in the video rental store I worked in as a teenager. WHY YES, I AM OLD, THANK YOU. Another teenage employee and I tackled the project and got it done in a ridiculously short amount of time, and I enjoyed every last second of it). Personally, I would have enjoyed reading more about this project and any other efforts she made to improve the library, especially since I think it’s fairly well-known that prison libraries aren’t exactly a priority for the institutions that house them (and lately, prisons have been making the news for removing books; you can read about one such case here; I’ll be over here with my blood boiling).

Speaking of which, another section I liked was her discussion over her discomfort of the constant censorship of material in prison; I could entirely relate to and understand that. I may not agree with certain books and some subject matter, but I would never try to stop anyone from reading them, and I can imagine that being required to do that by one’s employer would start to itch like a too-tight wool sweater before long. These too are sections that make the book worth a read. I’ve come across some interesting discussions about this on Library Twitter (I really do love libraries in every form!), so if you haven’t delved into censorship as a topic of study, Ms. Grunenwald lays out some fabulous examples that will hopefully get the hamster in your head racing in its wheel, so that you’ll be as incredulous as I am that prison libraries are out there banning Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. WTAF.

Anyway, while this wasn’t exactly the book I was hoping it would be, I still enjoyed it for the look it gave me into a place I’ll (hopefully!) never be- definitely not as a librarian, because I can’t afford school and my crummy back makes me the world’s largest liability, and hopefully never as an inmate!

Visit Jill Grunenwald’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Opposite of Always- Justin A. Reynolds

Another book that came from the recommendation of a fellow book blogger, and another book down from my TBR! This was checked out from the library ALL. SUMMER. LONG (you go, local kids!!!), but now that they’re back in school, Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2019) was back on the shelf and subsequently in my enormous heap of library books.

Jack King is the king of Almost, never quite reaching his goal no matter how hard he tries. Years of longing after his best female friend, who is (conveniently? inconveniently) dating his best male friend, have, however, been entirely wiped out by Jack’s attendance at a party during his college visit. There, he meets Kate, with whom he shares an immediate and nearly tangible connection. Hoping to leave ‘almost’ in the dust, Jack begins a slow, easy relationship with Kate, but of course nothing could be that simple.

It turns out that Kate’s sick- really sick- and suddenly, with a speed that Jack can barely comprehend, she’s dead. It’s almost more than Jack can take- until all at once, he’s thrown back in time to the night that he and Kate met. Can he prevent her death? Is that what he’s supposed to do? Or could his best friends, Franny and Jillian, need a little help too? It’s Groundhog Day for the YA set as Jack battles time, over and over again, to finally ditch that King of Always mantle.

If you enjoy that classic Bill Murray film, or even if you’ve ever wished you could have a do-over, this book is worth looking into. Jack is extremely likable as a character; he never quite measures up to what he truly wants to be, and I think that’s something that so many of us can relate to, no matter what our age. His relationships with his best friends are endearing and supportive- we’re talking serious friend goals here (with the exception, of course, the timeline where Jack makes a few decisions that affect Franny negatively, but to his credit, he learns from this), and his commitment to Kate undeniable. The supporting adult cast is also really amazing. Jack’s parents are older and are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary during the story, and while Jack on occasion gets grossed out by their physical affection, it’s obvious that he appreciates what their long-lasting love has given him. Franny (short for Francisco) lives with his abuela, who is a pillar of support, and even his mostly-deadbeat, fresh-out-of-prison father has an admirable character arc throughout the course of the book. Mr. Reynolds really hit a grand slam here in showing how much change is possible, even for adults who have been hardened by time and circumstance.

I love the concept of short-distance time travel, as well as repeated days and situations. While Bill Murphy kept waking up on the same day at the end of every day, Jack lives out a period of four months, time and time again, in order to get everything right- and there’s even a time when he goes FULL Bill Murray and kind of throws his hands up and does basically everything wrong, which I seriously loved. This is the only sci-fi element of the whole story, and it was so enjoyable to read.

And I can’t finish this review without mentioning how much I enjoyed a book with an entirely non-white main cast. (I’m trying to think of any side characters who were mentioned as being white, and none are coming to mind. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong and I’ll amend this post!) The skin color or ancestry of the characters isn’t necessarily a focus of the story; it’s just part of who they are, and these are just black characters living their lives (lives steeped in time travel, of course!). The only other book I can think of that I’ve read that can claim an all (or mostly) black cast of characters is The Gift Giver by Joyce Hansen (again, please feel free to correct me in the comments if you’ve read this book and I’m wrong; it’s been a few years since my last reread of this, but from what I recall, the cast was mostly black), which I read repeatedly and loved as a child. Would Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins count here? I can’t remember if there were any named white characters in that story. Reading over my review of that book makes me want to read more from Ms. Bev! I digress… The books differ in that The Gift Giver takes place in the Bronx, amongst families who are struggling financially, whereas in Opposite of Always, these are just middle class black families living their lives. While Franny’s abuela works multiple jobs and is often late to his games because of this, it’s never focused on heavily, and it’s a nice change from so many of the books published when I was young, which strayed heavily into ‘The Dangers of a Single Story‘ territory whenever a non-white character showed up. A book like Opposite of Always is a huge deal just for its cast alone, and it makes my heart sing to know that it’s been so popular.

So, to recap: YA. Time travel with a Groundhog Day-bent. Romance. Saving the girl. Saving friends. Making things right and getting chance after chance to do it. A cast of characters that makes this book stand out. Sharp, snappy writing with a sense of humor and captivating characters. What’s not to love? Don’t let the size fool you; this heavy tome will have you flipping pages like the wind, desperate to know if Jack ever manages to work things out. And if you’re into reading books before the movie comes out, GET ON THIS TRAIN NOW, BECAUSE THEY’RE MAKING A MOVIE OUT OF IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Visit Justin A. Reynolds’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World- Melinda Gates

I’m struggling to remember where I heard about this book. If memory serves me correctly (and it doesn’t always these days!), I think I first heard about The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates (Flatiron Books, 2019) from an episode of the BookRiot podcast All the Books!, but I’m not entirely certain. It was the comparison to Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide that had me running to add it to my TBR. If you’ve read Half the Sky, this is an astute comparison; if you haven’t, go ahead and add it to your TBR right now, along with The Moment of Lift, because both are five-star books for me.

Melinda Gates is probably best known for being married to Microsoft’s principal founder Bill Gates, and for co-founding their private foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which does amazing work around the world to alleviate poverty, but before she married Bill, she worked as a manager at Microsoft and was (and still is!) passionate about getting more girls and women into STEM careers. Becoming a stronger voice in the foundation wasn’t an easy choice for her, due to her shyness, but after traveling and learning from women all around the world, Melinda realized that that was exactly what she needed to do.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so much money that, I remember learning years ago, they can’t actually give it away fast enough, and part of this is because they take their time making sure that they’re giving in a sustainable way, to projects that help the receivers grow and be able to produce on their own, instead of just throwing money at a problem (and thus being more harmful to an area when the money suddenly dries up). But what Mrs. Gates has learned from her travels, from women all around the world, some of whom live in the most dire circumstances imaginable, she shares in this book, and so much of what she’s written here resonated deeply with me. Her thoughts about human nature- sometimes our basest nature- are profound and beautiful, and I copied down two pages worth of notes and quotes.

For example, her claim that ‘there is no morality without empathy’ put into words something I’ve always felt very deeply, but never really had the wording to describe. She goes on to say:

“Morality is loving your neighbor as yourself, which comes from seeing your neighbor as yourself, which means trying to ease your neighbor’s burdens- not add to them.”

Two other paragraphs that struck a deep chord with me:

“It’s often surprisingly easy to find bias, if you look. Who was omitted or disempowered or disadvantaged when the cultural practice was formed? Who didn’t have a voice? Who wasn’t asked their view? Who got the least share of the power and the largest share of the pain? How can we fill in the blind spots and reverse the bias?

Tradition without discussion kills moral progress. If you’re handed a tradition and decide not to talk about it- just do it- then you’re letting people from the past tell you what to do. It kills the chance to see the blind spots in the tradition- and moral blind spots always take the form of excluding others and ignoring their pain.”

In story after story from women around the world, Mrs. Gates shows examples of how bias and the base human need to create outsiders in order to falsely empower ourselves can be overcome through education and understanding (though it might not be as simple as it first seems, in many cases). The Moment of Lift is a book that will have you examining your own biases and thinking deeply about what you can do to make yourself, your community, this world, a better place- for women, and not just for women, but because when we empower women, we empower everyone. Equality benefits every member of society, and Mrs. Gates shows this throughout the book in powerful examples.

This is a book I feel like I could reread over and over again throughout my life, and maybe I should, as a constant reminder to always check my biases and to always work to be more inclusive, not less. The Moment of Lift is beauty and wonder, along with tears and heartbreak (there are plenty of devastating stories, including stories of rape, child death, and child marriage), but with the message that pushes the reader to strive for growth and the creation of a better world. If you read one nonfiction book this year, let it be this one.

Visit Melinda Gates’s website for The Moment of Lift here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

The Suburban Micro-Farm- Amy Stross

I’m not a country girl whatsoever. I admire the people who leave it all behind and go live on the farm of their dreams out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not for me. I grew up in a smallish town and I start feeling claustrophobic when I’m anywhere with less civilization than that small town (which is still pretty small). I am, however, a huge fan of permaculture and making the best use of what growing space one has, and so on my spree of putting gardening and homesteading books on my TBR, I added The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross (Twisted Creek Press, 2018) and immediately requested it from the library. Amy Stross knows what she’s talking about; along with having worked as a landscape gardener and a CSA manager and being certified in permaculture, she runs a blog called Tenth Acre Farm about her own suburban homestead, handing out tips and ideas about permaculture gardening in the suburbs like candy at a parade.

The Suburban Micro-Farm is a gorgeous book, crammed full of beautiful photographs of flowers, vegetables, fruit, and landscape, right alongside information about what permaculture is and how we who live in the suburbs can turn our lawns and what we previously thought of as unusable areas, into productive gardening zones that cut our food bills, provide plants and shade for pollinators and other native creatures, and turn our boring lawns into beautiful, generative farmland. If you’re ready to move beyond the rain barrel, Ms. Stross has plans for rain gardens, if that’s something that suits your property, and she offers up ideas for everything from container gardening to raised beds to shady spaces to wide expanses of lawn. There’s literally something in here for everyone who’s looking to turn every inch of their property from something that consumes into something that produces.

This book really got me thinking about better usage of the land we live on, and we’ve already started with some work that will hopefully improve it and set us down the path to growing more of our own produce (and I have more work to do as soon as this heat wave passes! I’m not spending hours out there in 89 degree heat…). I love that she’s not afraid to admit that she’s made mistakes in the past and that sometimes it just takes trial and error to find what grows best on your own particular property. Her message of ‘try to figure out what went wrong; figure out what you need to solve the problem; sometimes you just have to try again next year’ really resonated with me; it helps my perfectionist tendencies to hear someone with far more experience and expertise to say that not only is it okay to screw up, it’s expected, and it’s not a big deal. We can always fix it next season.

If you dream of turning your home into a homestead and your lawn into a lush garden exploding with gorgeous produce, you need this book. It’s one I’m considering actually buying, because it’s that good of a reference. Ms. Moss introduced me to quite a few new concepts, including that of a tree guild, which intrigued me, as we have a baby apple and a baby plum tree that we planted last year, along with two tiny cherry trees that we sprouted from pits (this isn’t as simple as, say, sprouting a bean; it involved freezing the pit in sub-zero temperatures for a time!). I love those trees and want them to be as productive and healthy as possible, so this is something I’ll definitely put to use!

Grow food, not lawns. It’s a fabulous concept, and hopefully in a few years, I’ll be participating in it more!

Visit Amy Stross’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger- Rebecca Traister

Women’s anger- whether it be about inequality in its multitudinous forms, sexual assault, or our current rocky political landscape- has been making headlines for quite a while now, and for good reason. Most of the women I know are pretty angry about a lot of things these days, and I’m right there with them, so when I heard about Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (Simon & Schuster, 2018), I knew I had to read it. One of the reasons I read so much is so that I’m always learning, always checking myself and my biases, always looking for ways to improve myself. Maybe reading this would help me feel so not alone in the anger and disgust that has become a constant companion these days.

Women’s anger has never been fully accepted in western society, and in the US, it’s mostly been brushed off, ignored, laughed at, and silenced, but throughout history, despite being denied equal pay, equal rights, the right to vote, the right to control her own fertility, even the right to obtain her own credit card or own property, women’s anger has been effective at initiating social change time and time again (and STILL we’re not taken seriously, wtf). Ms. Traister covers some of these incidents, but the bigger focus of the book remains on more modern issues.

Good and Mad focuses a lot on the outcome and aftermath of the 2016 elections and all the many, many issues raised because of them, and also the positive things that have come out of this anger. One of the benefits of our collective anger is that so many more women have become more politically activee and have run and are running for government office in unprecedented numbers (it’s about time!!!), and her portrayals of all the women who have found an outlet for their anger in political work is empowering.

Women’s anger has made clear, too, that we have a long, long way to go on racial equality in this country, and Ms. Traister gives space at the table to women of color who are fed up with not being heard by white women, especially those white women who benefit from the patriarchy and by doing so are happy to let women of color suffer (and I was very glad to see it; more intersectionality in all things, please!). I’ve seen this far too often online; we all need to do a better job of listening to each other, and especially listening and learning from women of color. When they say something is harmful to them, believe them and work to change your ways. It’s easy to get defensive and claim you didn’t mean anything by what you said, but it’s better to apologize, learn why what you said or did was wrong, and work to change your behavior. It’s the only way we’ll evolve as human beings, and it’s so, so necessary.

What I learned, and appreciated learning, most from Good and Mad is that our anger, women’s anger, isn’t unhealthy. It’s a valid emotion; it’s the system that insists we must oppress it for someone else’s benefit and comfort, and while I enjoy making life pleasant for those I love, I don’t need to make the world pleasant for those who don’t see me as an equal. Ms. Traister’s work has definitely inspired me to keep my anger burning in a productive way.

(And, just as a side note- check out the Goodreads reviews for this. Women AND men are reviewing it positively! In my review of All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers & the Myth of Equal Partnership by Darcy Lockman, I noted how a friend had pointed out that only women were reviewing the book. When I scrolled down through the reviews of Good and Mad, my eyes nearly popped out to see the first handful of reviews were by men! Amazing!)

Visit Rebecca Traister’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of Those Who Survived- Andrew Wilson

Another book on the Titanic, added to my list after our trip to the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri, this past summer (and the museum is mentioned in the book!). I’m the type of person who, when I get interested in a subject, I often tend to read about that subject until I’m sick of it, so I’m trying to pace myself more with the Titanic; I think I only added two books to my TBR when I went searching post-vacation. Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraodinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson (Simon & Schuster, 2011), however, was exactly what I was looking for in a book. I’ll explain.

Almost every book on the Titanic disaster recaps the early days of the ship and the dreadfulness of the iceberg crash and subsequent sinking, and Shadow of the Titanic is no different in that regard. It begins, in fact, with an absolutely terrifying description of the sounds survivors heard as the ship itself went down, the crashing and banging of pianos and tables and dishes as they tumbled through the ship or fell overboard, the groan of the ship as it broke apart, and the terrible screaming of people as they jumped or fell to certain death in twenty-eight degree water. One survivor admitted to never being able to take his sons to a baseball game, because the roar of the crowd reminded him too much of what he heard as the Ship of Dreams sank. Where this book diverges, though, is by following select survivors throughout their lives and pinpointing how their experiences as Titanic survivors affected them. This isn’t a book about the ship, it’s a book about the people who, against the odds, lived through this disaster.

And Mr. Wilson doesn’t just follow their lives immediately after their return to dry land; for the survivors profiled in this book, he devotes entire sections that cover their whole lives, including how they ended up on the Titanic in the first place, and then recounting their lives, the highlights and the lowest of lows, until their deaths. Spread throughout is more information about the Titanic, and how its aftermath affected culture and history around the world.

I found this book deeply fascinating, both in its presentation of information that I previously hadn’t known, and in how varied survivors’ reactions to what they’d been through could be. It seemed as though most of them suffered from what we know today as PTSD, but for which there was really no term for back then, and anyway, society didn’t much allow for anyone to talk about those kinds of things. People were just expected to pick up and move on with their lives fairly immediately, and some did this with more grace than others (for lack of a better term; I would’ve been an entire mess, and quite a few people were, including at least one woman who spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium). There were a handful of suicides, some terrible stories of widows arriving back to land to find that their husbands had left them deeply in debt, women who had lost both husband and sons, and people who never seemed to be able to get their lives back on track afterwards. There were people who wound up making a living off of being a survivor and others who couldn’t bear to talk about it (and who forbid others around them to talk about it as well). It really runs the gamut, and there’s no singular profile of a Titanic survivor; Shadow of the Titanic makes that very clear.

If you’re interested in the Titanic, I highly recommend this book. It’s not exactly uplifting reading, but it’s an intriguing study in survivor psychology in the years after the Titanic sank and shouldn’t be missed if this is one of your pet subjects.

Visit Andrew Wilson’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

fiction

Daisy Jones & The Six- Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everywhere I turned this spring and summer, it seemed like everyone was reading Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine Books, 2019), and with good reason. Having grown up listening to my father’s classic rock music (he had, literally, thousands of CD’s when I was young, the best music collection I’ve ever seen), a fictionalized account of an up-and-coming rock group bringing in an up-and-coming singer-songwriter and collaborating to make one iconic album before self-destructing, told in interview format, sounded amazing. The only time the library had a copy available, I already had five or six (or more…) books at home, waiting to be read, and I couldn’t justify adding another to the pile, but lo and behold, it was my lucky day when a copy showed up on the Lucky Day shelf at the library a few weeks ago. I grabbed it and blew through the book in a few days.

The Six, a rock band headed by recovering (after a while!) addict Billy Dunne, is young, hungry, ambitious, and full of promise. Their first album did well and they toured successfully. They share their origin story, two brothers working together to form a band, pulling in friends and newcomers until they find their perfect sound, working together until they make it. But what really makes them shine is collaborating on a single with California wild child Daisy Jones. Daisy’s been known on the Sunset Strip since her early teen years; sex, drugs, more drugs, and rock stars have been her thing from the beginning, but she’s talented, in both singing and songwriting, in her own right. After some major deliberation, when their collaborative single skyrockets up the charts, she’s in the band, but it’s not without major, MAJOR drama.

She’s an addict while Billy fights every day to stay clean. She’s fire and ice, and Billy’s married with kids. She wants one thing, Billy wants another (and the rest of the band is an entirely different story). Daisy Jones and the Six go from one extreme to another, until it’s too much and the entire thing blows like a volcano. Their story, from exciting beginning to overly dramatic ending, isn’t one you’ll want to miss.

Daisy Jones & The Six is told in interview format, the entire thing. If you were around for VH1’s Behind the Music, it’s like watching an episode of that, but in book form, and it’s SO much fun. I adored that show, I adore rock history (I nearly died the day I was listening to NPR and they introduced their ‘rock historian,’ Ed Ward. I was like, “That’s a JOB??? How can I apply????”), and thus I adored this book. Taylor Jenkins Reid obviously loves all these same things and it shows in how much research she’s put into this book and how well she’s captured the zeitgeist of the 70’s, not only with music and drug references, but with speech patterns, clothing choices, behavior… So many times, I sat back, grinning at how well she nailed all of this.

I was so happy to see that she referenced Stevie Nicks in the acknowledgements; I had Daisy pegged as a Stevie Nicks-like character from the beginning of the book, based on her wild ways and her unique, husky singing voice. I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac in high school (everyone else was listening to grunge and alternative and I was over there blasting Rumours and every Jackson Browne album on my CD player), and Daisy’s story with The Six fit in so well with what I know of bands of that era. The constant drug use, the terrifying ups and downs of fame, the highs and lows of working with so many different personalities, all of whom are fighting for the spotlight; Taylor Reid Jenkins absolutely nails it all. From time to time, parts of it reminded me of Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, which is probably my favorite book of all time- it also follows a rock group through the 70’s, its origin and breakup, and the fallout it caused for each member, focusing mainly on the romance between one band member and another’s sister (which sounds trite, but it’s not). It’s a novel heavy with emotion, and while it’s a romance, it’s also very much centered on our sense of identity and what we need to keep it intact. I read it mostly as a romance when I first read it at 16; as I grew older, I came to understand the female MC’s feelings of suffocation so much more. It’s an amazing book, so for Daisy Jones & The Six to evoke nostalgia for that book is a testament to how wonderful Daisy and company really are as characters.

Such a great book; I’m so happy I finally got to read it. That Lucky Day shelf really came through for me!

Visit Taylor Jenkins Reid’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.