fiction · YA

Book Review: Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin

Don’t we all go through book lists to make ourselves feel better? 30 New Books You Can’t Miss This Year! 10 YAs That Will Make You Cry! 23 Books That Will Murder You In Your Sleep If You Don’t Read Them Immediately!!!!! (Okay, maybe not that last one.) And I think a lot of us have been doing more adding to our TBRs than reading, whether that’s because we can’t focus as well right now (yes) or we just don’t have as much time to read at the moment (also yes). Browsing through one of those book lists was how I learned about Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019). The brief description said that the book was set during the Second World War and told a fictionalized tale of the Shanghai Jews, and my brain went, “…the what now???” This was something entirely new to me, and I had to know more.

Lilia and her family, circus performers, are set to flee the persecution of 1940 Warsaw when their plans go awry and Lilia’s mother gets separated from the rest of the family. Knowing that their lives are on the line, Lilia and her father and sister must continue their journey to China, hoping Mama will continue on behind them as they sail to Shanghai in search of a place they can live in safety. Shanghai is under Japanese occupation, but the Jewish community that has fled there is grateful for any place that will take them in. Existence there is bleak and difficult: jobs are almost non-existent, food is scarcer than that, hunger is a constant companion, and fears about the future and worry over whatever happened to Mama never end.

But there are small joys to be found amidst the heartbreak and fear. Lilia’s friendship with Wei, the Chinese boy employed to clean her school, is a bright spot in the darkness, and the connection she makes in a desperate search to make money for her family ends up resulting in an unexpected miracle. Lilia’s broken-up family is far from home, struggling to survive with every breath, but their story isn’t to be missed.

Y’all. This story is bleak. The poverty Lilia’s family suffers is enormous, to the point where you’ll feel something like survivor’s guilt if you eat while reading this. The conditions they live in are foul and oppressive, and they’re uncomfortable to read. It’s important to bear witness to this kind of historical pain, though, so don’t skip this one. Put it off for later if you need to, when reading may be easier, but put it on your TBR, because Lilia’s story is based on real Jews who fled to China during the brutality of Hitler’s regime. It’s a remarkable history I’d never known anything about, and I’m glad I know more now. It’s just not an easy read.

Lilia’s relationship with her little sister Naomi is sweet. Naomi is young but already highly delayed at the start of the story; the trauma the family endures doesn’t help, but Lilia’s care of her never wavers. And Lilia’s friendship and slight crush on Wei are adorable. There are plenty of tense moments in the story, however, including multiple deaths for a variety of reasons, and allusions to sexual assault. There’s also a deeply heavy scene near the end of the book that broke my heart as a mother, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It’s a painful, complex story, but one that deserves to be heard.

I’m learning better to balance out my reading this year, so I had to follow this one up with a lighter romance novel, but it’s definitely worth the read, especially if you’re into historical fiction. It’s YA but don’t let that stop you if that’s a genre you don’t normally read- Lilia’s problems are very much adult in nature, and Ms. DeWoskin’s masterful writing makes this a powerful, emotional story for readers of any age.

Visit Rachel DeWoskin’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

I am currently suffering from the wonderful problem of having all my books come in at once, and that problem began with the arrival of my library ebook copy of The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez (Forever, 2019). This book hadn’t been on my radar prior to this spring/summer, but as soon as I heard about it on an episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, I hit the want-to-read button and requested it from the library. There was a months-long wait; no problem, I thought, I have no problem virtually standing in line.

And then, of course, everything comes in months before, all at the same time. I’m not complaining…

Kristen is long distance dating a military man who’s due to get out in a matter of weeks and who will be moving in with her, but instead of being excited, she’s hardcore freaking out. How is he going to fit into her life? How will Tyler deal with her constant heavy, painful periods that have pushed her to having a hysterectomy soon? He’s not even the type of guy who feels comfortable making a run for tampons… Kristen’s not feeling great about their future, and then she meets Josh.

Josh is the station’s newest firefighter, best friend to Kristen’s best friend’s fiancé (got that?). After their meet-cute fender bender, sparks fly between them and Josh is in, but Kristen, determined to be faithful to Tyler, keeps him at arms’ length…especially after he talks about wanting a ton of kids. That’s not something she’ll ever be able to give anyone, and thus there’s not even the slimmest chance, even if she were single. Which she isn’t.

But things keep heating up between them, and when the universe yanks away the final barrier, Kristen finds herself in Josh’s arms. It’s everything she could have dreamed of, but how could she be so selfish as to deprive Josh of what he wants most in this world? When tragedy strikes, they’ll have to figure out where each of them stand, and how to move forward in a world where everything has changed.

Wow, are reviews ever mixed on this one! While I enjoyed the book, I totally understand why.

Kristen. She’s bold, brash, in-your-face, doesn’t take crap from anyone…except her overbearing, dragon-lady of a mother. She’s been managing a long-distance relationship with Tyler the Marine for the past two years. She runs her own business designing clothing and items like stairs and doghouses for small dogs. She’s always there for her best friend Sloan, and at 26, fibroids and extremely heavy, painful periods that last for weeks on end are pushing her to a partial hysterectomy. She won’t be able to have kids, something that doesn’t seem to bother her too much until she meets Josh, Sloan’s fiancé’s best friend. The attraction between Kristen and Josh is strong from the beginning, but when he starts talking about wanting a whole passel of biological kids, Kristen knows there’s no hope there, not even if she were single.

Kristen’s inability to talk to Josh about her upcoming hysterectomy is the key problem in this story. If she had been open and honest from the beginning and laid out the facts- I’m having surgery in a few months to remove my uterus- it would have spared everyone a lot of drama. Instead, she choses to avoid that conversation entirely. I see a lot in writing circles on Twitter and in books on writing that if the problems in your book can be solved by a single conversation, your plot isn’t strong enough, but I think Ms. Jimenez’s writing in this story is strong enough and her characters are complex enough that they’re able to carry the book despite this.

Infertility is a huge theme in this book- Kristen’s acceptance of and struggle with it (because both can be true at the same time). It seems like a lot of readers didn’t enjoy the ending; I’m on the fence about it. I understand why the author wrote it the way she did, it’s not entirely unheard of and I know a handful of people who have experienced something similar, but it can also be a giant slap in the face to people in Kristen’s shoes. If you’re struggling with infertility, have struggled in the past, or love someone going through these struggles, this may not be the book for you.

Josh as a hero is pretty great. He unknowingly puts his foot in his mouth about wanting biological kids, pushing Kristen to clam up about her upcoming surgery, but he’s swoon-worthy as a love interest, always looking out for Kristen and taking care of her and anticipating her needs. It’s Kristen’s upbringing at the hands of her demon mother that has rendered her unable to believe that she’s worthy of such care that forces her down the road of problem-avoidance, a detail that I think deserved a little more attention throughout the story, but Josh handles this admirably.

However, I didn’t care for how often Josh veers into ‘she’s not like other girls’ territory with Kristen; he never outright says it, but it comes dangerously close and that made me uneasy. I had thought romance was past that by now, but apparently not?

That said, I did like this. Josh and Kristen are fun together, and their chemistry is off the charts. There’s a major content warning for sudden death, though; if you’re struggling with grief, wait until you’re feeling stronger and ready to read about this topic before picking up this book. These chapters felt like a punch to the gut for me, so I can only imagine how much they would affect someone whose pain is fresh and raw. Take care of yourself.

I enjoyed The Friend Zone enough that I already have its follow-up, The Happy Ever After Playlist, on hold at the library. And that’ll probably come in in about ten seconds…

Visit Abby Jimenez’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

Holy timely read, blogger friends!

I have no idea how this book ended up on my TBR list or where it came from; usually I have some sort of idea, whether I found it through someone else’s blog, a book list, a reading group suggestion, etc., but I have zero clue where No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook, 2018) came from. But that’s okay. It’s an emotionally complex book that gets right to the heart of so many of the struggles we’re seeing play out before our eyes right now.

Jen is a newly adoptive mother and she’s struggling. Her (adopted) seven year-old daughter, who has only recently come home from Liberia, is, unsurprisingly, having trouble adjusting to life in a new country with a white family, and Jen, who has wanted nothing more than to be a mother her entire life, is shocked to find that the bonding process isn’t instantaneous. Camille’s picture-perfect life is unraveling at the seams: her oldest daughter barely speaks to her, something’s up with her husband, and the uproar over a primarily Black school sending its students to her children’s mostly white school isn’t painting her in the greatest of lights thanks to her own bad behavior. Anaya has just gotten a job as the new second grade teacher at said white school, but her teenage brother’s transfer to the high school and the stress of being Black in a sea of white faces who don’t necessarily understand her and who don’t want to try is testing her faith and strength.

Tensions are sky-high throughout the year as the town grapples with issues that shouldn’t even be issues and old attitudes are brought to light and found- by most people, but not all- deeply unflattering. The novel comes to a head at the annual 5K, where everyone will be forced to come together in a tragedy that could have easily been avoided.

WHEW. This book is an emotional powerhouse. Katie Ganshert perfectly nails so many of the complex emotions that go into making flawed characters. Camille’s racism isn’t necessarily outwardly malicious, but by refusing to listen and avoiding deep self-examination, she becomes a perfect Karen, concerned only with what affects her and her family. Anaya is determined but wounded and exhausted, states that become more and more clear as to why- not just for outward reasons- as her story unfolds. And Jen. Ohhhhhh, I understood Jen so well, and Ms. Ganshert has illustrated in her something that isn’t talked about enough.

Jen pictured motherhood as lots of snuggles and cuddles and an instant bond with her daughter, despite understanding that it would be work raising a child who had spent her earliest years surrounded by loss and trauma. Her reality was struggling to bond with a child who didn’t quite feel like hers, even though she wanted her to, so badly. I get that. Though my daughter is mine biologically, it took much, much longer for me to feel that deep soul-bond with her, much longer than I was expecting, and it made parenting her difficult in the early days of her life (and we weren’t even dealing with trauma and loss and all the many things adoptive parents know to expect! Although my massive sleep deprivation, to the point where I was hallucinating, didn’t help…). The parenting manuals don’t discuss this enough; they talk of bonding as immediate or as happening soon after birth; they don’t discuss what happens or what parents are supposed to do when it takes longer than that, which leaves parents like Jen and me (during the time that was happening to me), feeling lost and scared and resentful. I applaud Katie Ganshert for bringing this delicate issue to light and giving parents like me a chance to see ourselves and see that we’re not terrible people, that this is just part of what parenting can look like.

Camille’s growth throughout the novel is commendable; her growth stems from the tragedies and challenges her family faces throughout the year (and other near-misses), and her eventual learning to look outward and apply what she learns inward. Will readers see themselves in her? I hope so, because there are far too many people out there who need to.

Anaya is strength and conviction and determination; her family- her mother in particular- is so well-crafted. There’s a speech her mother gives her near the end of the book on forgiveness that had me rereading the paragraph several times; do not miss this. It’s perfection.

Content warnings exist for racism, both blatant and the kind that’s more inconspicuous but just as harmful, death of a parent, and allusions to what likely constitutes rape (where a drunken character is taken advantage of by one that didn’t seem drunk or as drunk). All the characters in the book seem to be practicing Christians (to some degree), and while their faith is discussed and put into practice (and some have labelled this novel as Christian fiction), it never comes across as the author having an agenda, only as something by which those characters live and base their morals on. Ms. Ganshert isn’t proselytizing or advertising here, only describing her characters’ commitment to or failure to live up to certain ideals, something which I appreciated.

This is a wonderful, timely book, one that I’m glad I read, and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author who not only has her finger on the pulse of America, but who is able to translate her observations into a deeply-felt novel that will tug at your heart and hopefully have you examining your attitudes towards a number of important issues.

Visit Katie Ganshert’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

graphic novel

Book Review: Bingo Love by Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge

I think Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae (Inclusive Press, 2017) came to my TBR via a suggestion from a reading challenge that I’m no longer participating in, but it looked so sweet that I couldn’t pass it up! Plus I’m always up for a good love story, and in graphic novel form? LOVE IT. My library had a copy on the teen shelves, so I bustled on over and added it to my stack of books during my latest trip (the library is now open for regular browsing, though the number of people allowed in at one time is limited and you can only stay an hour. Not a problem for me, as I always go in with a list and am usually out by the time 30 minutes has passed).

Hazel Johnson’s life changes the day Mari McCray moves to town. Quickly becoming best friends, Hazel soon realizes she feels more than friendship for Mari, but it’s 1963 and these things just aren’t talked about, especially in their Black community. It doesn’t take long after their first shared kisses before their secret is discovered and their families tear them apart. Years later, after both women have spent a lifetime being married and raising families, a chance reunification brings them right back to the love they discovered years ago, forcing them and everyone they know to examine what they believe love really is.

SWEEEEEEEEEET story with an awful, awful lot of heartbreak in it. Bingo Love tells the story of (I believe) the authors’ grandmothers, how they found, lost, then found each other again. At 92 pages, it’s a quick read, but it’s the kind of story that sticks with you, of love that never forgets, never dies, no matter who tries to snuff it out. It’s the story of the kind of courage it takes to upend your life in order to be true to who you are and to live with conviction and purpose. It’s history, the kind that we’re, hopefully, beginning to move past, with the hope that Hazel and Mari’s pain doesn’t need to be repeated again and again among other couples. What should be repeated, however, is their joy in one another.

Utterly lovely read.

Follow Tee Franklin on Twitter and visit her website here.

Follow Jenn St-Onge on Twitter and visit her website here.

nonfiction

Book Review: The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

I was cooking dinner with NPR on the radio on the afternoon of April 15, 2013, when news began to come across about an explosion at the Boston Marathon. I chopped, sauteed, and stirred while listening, horrified, wondering what on earth was happening to the country that something like this was taking place. Like everyone else, I followed the story breathlessly until one of the accused bombers was captured after a massive manhunt that shut down Boston four days later (and yet, somehow, no one whined about their freedom and their right to roam the streets when they were asked to stay in their homes then…). The story was terrifying and strange, and I knew I needed to learn more about it when I learned of the existence of The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen (Penguin, 2015).

Ms. Gessen recounts the tumultuous family history of Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers accused (Dhzokhar convicted; Tamerlan was killed beforehand) of the Boston Marathon bombing. Their Chechen ancestry had their family constantly on the move between Russian federation countries, never feeling welcome, never finding the successful life they craved, until finally, they came to the United States, a country that didn’t necessarily work hard to welcome them and to which they had a difficult time adapting.

The brothers’ stories are nebulous. Upon learning that they were the accused whom the FBI was searching, friends were aghast, incredulous: there was no outward sign from either of the two young men that they were capable of or even interested in doing something like this. But apparently this is more akin to what a terrorist really looks like; the myth of the young man who has been radicalized by one or more sources doesn’t actually line up with what most terrorism experts have observed. The picture Ms. Gessen paints is one far more complex than what I ever caught on the bits and snippets on the radio, a story that is heavy, depressing, and full of more questions than answers.

To what extent should immigrant families assimilate? How should they go about doing so, and who makes the decisions about which traditions, which attitudes, which practices, to abandon? What is America’s responsibility to people who become citizens? Does a person’s birthplace determine their susceptibility to terrorism or crime? Should your ancestry place you on a watch list, and is it okay for the FBI to attempt to initiate entrapment with those people on that list? Who gets to write the warning signs that point out would-be terrorists, and which list of signs should be followed?

Ms. Gessen raises a lot of questions about corruption amongst the government agencies that followed the Tsarnaevs both before and after, which I knew little about before reading this. Like I said, this is obviously a deeply complex story, one which probably goes even deeper than the information available to the public from any source. The utter tragedy that was the Boston Marathon in 2013 extends further than I knew, goes back ages, has its roots in political struggles far outside the borders of the US, and is a stark example of the ripple effect of those struggles. It’s a depressing story, of lives damaged, ruined, and ended, none of which had to happen, and which maybe could have been prevented if humanity learned to work out their problems instead of taking them out on other humans.

The Brothers paints the picture of a tragedy so twisted and tangled that it’s hard to sum it up in just a short review, and I’m sure the story will continue to unfold as the years roll on. My heart breaks for the people who were hurt or killed at the race, and for those who lost loved ones, and likewise, I’m saddened by the loss of potential of the two young men who could have used their lives in a positive way had so many circumstances been different.

Follow Masha Gessen on Twitter.

Uncategorized

Book Review: Chasing Echoes by Dan Goldman and George Schall

Graphic novel time! I learned about Chasing Echoes by Dan Goldman and George Schall (Humanoids, 2019) from some sort of book list earlier this year, and the premise had me adding it to my TBR list (along with the fact that it was available at my library! Interlibrary loan still isn’t fully functional, and I’m not entirely sure if the other libraries in the area are back to allowing residents from out of town check out their materials yet. I’m just glad they’re open at all and am working my way through my TBR items that are available locally, trying to wait it out until things are back to whatever normal looks like after this is over…).

The story starts out with Malka, a youngish mother who’s obviously struggling with her life. She’s being evicted, her son has announced he’s going to live with his dad, and her daughter says she wants to follow suit when she’s old enough. Meanwhile, Malka’s extended family is off on an extended trip to Poland to try to track down the family history there that was destroyed by the Holocaust. Malka, who has positioned herself as the family historian who has kept records and worked to make connections between all the papers she’s managed to track down, hasn’t been invited, but a late-night Ambien-fueled plane ticket purchase by a relative has her scrambling to make it to the airport in time the next day. Suffice it to say, a lot of people in the family aren’t happy about this.

The trip exposes a lot of cracks and differences among the family, including the differences in how they each relate to Judaism, and illustrates the strain of generational trauma, along with the antisemitism that still rages in parts of Europe. The family struggles to pinpoint the location of the mill owned by their ancestors before the war and deal with the pain caused by having lost so much. In doing so, they grow closer, learn to understand and relate to each other a little better- even Malka!- but never lose their boisterous, outgoing, argumentative vibe.

Chasing Echoes is haunting, painful, wistful, and warm all at once, with plenty of measures of snarky humor thrown in for balance. The scenes in Auschwitz, especially when the family members are viewing the piles of hair, teeth, shoes, and eyeglasses were difficult; I had to put the book down for a few minutes and sit with that. Even now, the memory of those panels is harrowing and hits me right in the stomach and chest. That hair, those teeth, were people. Those eyeglasses, each pair was specifically made for one person: one person who sat in a chair, who looked into the optometrist’s equipment, who slid those glasses onto the bridge of their nose, and then that person was murdered. I’ve got tears in my eyes as I type this; there’s a heaviness here that if you’re not in a good place to handle, you may want to wait until you can, but don’t skip it if you can manage at all. These kinds of stories are important.

I enjoyed Malka’s growth and the change in how some of her family members viewed her over the course of their trip to Poland. This was a great example that a family doesn’t have to be perfect and can even have some pretty big rifts but can still function (even in dysfunction!) as a family. Chasing Echoes is a quick read, but it leaves an impression.

Follow Dan Goldman on Twitter, and visit him at Kinjin Story Lab.

Visit George Schall’s website and follow him on Twitter.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

For the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, I needed a book recommended by my favorite blog, vlog, podcast, or online book club, and what a perfect time to pick up Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (Avon, 2020), who had popped up on an episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books that I had *so* enjoyed. She’s smart, funny, witty, and such a joy to listen to; she tells great stories, has an amazing laugh, and I seriously live for the episodes when Sarah from Smart Bitches has her on. I read Ms. Rai’s The Right Swipe last year; I enjoyed it, though it was a little harder for me to relate to Rhiannon’s driven sense of ambition (I’m, uh, way more laid back and go-with-the-flow!). I enjoyed her writing style, though, and was eager to read more from her. And lo and behold, Girl Gone Viral was available via my library’s ebooks with NO WAIT. It felt like I’d won the lottery when I hit that check out button.

Katrina King is more than a bit of a recluse, but she’s working on it. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, and PTSD have steered her life for years, but she’s been working with a therapist and doing everything she can to take back control, and step by step, she’s making it work, adding places outside her home she can travel to. What’s not working is her mad, unrequited crush on her bodyguard, Jasvinder. He’s perfect, beautiful, everything she could ever dream of wanting in a man, and she’s like 99.7% sure he views her as just a client. Sigh. When a photo of Katrina and another customer at a cafe, complete with speculative Twitter thread, goes viral, Jasvinder takes Katrina to hide out at his family farm where she can be safe from the prying eyes of the world and from the people in her past who don’t have the best intentions.

At the farm, Jasvinder’s long-avoided family drama is front-and-center, as are his feelings for the woman he’s been protecting for years. He’s in serious, serious love, but how can he admit that without sounding like a creep? As his past elbows its way forward, his family situation needs immediate attention, and he and Katrina begin to grow closer. But it’s their mutual growth that feeds their mutual attraction…maybe going viral isn’t the worst thing that could have happened…

LOVED. THIS. SO. MUCH. I got Katrina. I could relate. She’s determined and driven like Rhiannon, but in a quieter way, and what really spoke to me was her panic disorder and agoraphobia, both of which I’ve been diagnosed with. I was never as severely affected as she is, but I know the terror of being stricken with a panic attack in public, how scary and embarrassing it is. I’ve had to sit down on the floor while waiting in grocery lines (those used to be my worst places, the places most likely to cause a panic attack. Grocery stores are actually *really* common places for people to have panic attacks), which was really embarrassing at the time. I understood her needing to work to grow her list of places she could visit; I had to do the same, years ago, and there are *still* places that are hard for me to go on my own, but like Katrina, it’s something I try to work on and keep pushing myself. I don’t know that I’ve ever so fully related to a fictional character before. Alisha Rai has done a fabulous job at portraying a character with my exact same brain malfunction, and I’m impressed and grateful to see that so well-written and so expertly crafted and handled in fiction.

Jasvinder.

Jasvinder.

SWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON.

He’s a former Marine who struggles with PTSD and is dealing with something straight out of the headlines today, to which he reacts in completely understandable ways. He’s honorable, not wanting to overstep his boundaries with Katrina, but adorable in the ways that he loves her in secrecy. His love for and frustration with his family work together in such a realistic fashion; Ms. Rai nails family drama and the push/pull of navigating stressful relationships with family members over sensitive topics. Jas is seriously one of the most swoonworthy romance heroes I’ve read recently in contemporary romance, and I so enjoyed his chapters.

To sum it up, I adored this book. Loved Katrina, loved Jasvinder, loved their love story, loved Jasvinder’s dedicated, loving,opinionated family, loved his attempts to make new friends with Samson from The Right Swipe, loved Katrina’s friend group with Rhiannon and Jia (is Jia next???? OMG JIA IS NEXT AND I AM DYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYING! February is when this book is supposed to hit, and I for one am willing to fast-forward EVERYTHING to get there!!!). This was a lovely, lovely distraction from the mess of the outside world, and I didn’t want the book to end. Anyone know how to jump into the world of a book and never leave???

Visit Alisha Rai’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: July 2020

Hello, hello, and welcome to Pandemic Month 478274983249372, or so it feels! I’ve been fairly terrible about blogging this month, and I apologize. My brain is just exhausted and it’s been difficult trying to cram in everything I need to get done every day, so some things are falling by the wayside- seriously, you should see my laundry pile. YIKES.

We’re still hanging in there at the Only-Very-Occasionally-At-The-Library Household (I’ve made, I think, three trips to the library this month? It’s been awesome). We had a socially distanced picnic with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew; we let the kids run around but only when they were wearing masks (which they do with no complaints, unlike so many of the adults I see on FB, seriously, wtf guys, my daughter was running far enough and long enough to get sweaty while wearing a mask, I think you can handle it for a ten minute errand to pick up Old Spice deodorant at Walmart…), and that was pretty much our highlight of the month!

Let’s recap this month, shall we?

What I Read in July of 2020

  1. The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt

2. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

3. Billion Dollar Cowboy by Carolyn Brown

4. Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

5. Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman

6. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

7. I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer

8. Hostage by Guy Delisle

9. Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace by Masha Gessen

10. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Namdev Shahani

11. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Roomies by Christina Lauren

13. Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren

14. Closer by Alexa Riley (no review; listened to the audiobook as I exercised. More on this below)

Many of the books I didn’t review fully were included in my mini-review post here. Somehow, when I was writing that post, Ester and Ruzya got left off, so let’s include that right now. Masha Gessen writes the story of her grandmothers surviving World War II and Stalin’s regime in Poland and Russia. It’s a bleak story starring two strong, determined women. I have a few other books by Ms. Gessen on my TBR and I’m looking forward to seeing how her storytelling style translates when it comes to less personal stories. Great book; difficult to read at times (more because of my mental exhaustion than anything).

Not a bad month for reading, all around. I’m finding I have a tougher time focusing on nonfiction right now; I’ve got what I’ve been referring to as ‘pandemic brain,’ where I’m just exhausted and can’t take in information quite as well. I’ve got an information-dense book going on right now that I began in the middle of the month, but I’ve had to cut it down to reading 25 pages a day and reading something lighter at night because I’m just too worn out. Such are these strange times, I guess.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis REALLY irritated me. The ending was just… Have you read it? My husband was in the room as I read the last few pages aloud and even he was like, “WTF…” I don’t know how much of it my daughter really got, but we were super weirded out, and now we’re always joking about Susan, that nylon-wearing tart. SUCH a strange way to end a series, and my daughter and I are so glad to be done with it.

Five books marked off my reading challenge! Speaking of which…

Reading Challenge Updates

I’m close to being done! Check out these bad boys:

I’m currently reading a book recommended by Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, the podcast from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (plus I have another one on hold at the library!), so that’ll be checked off soon. I have a book by a journalist on hold as well; if it doesn’t come in after next month, I’ll maybe try to search for another one. And obviously I’m waiting to read a banned book, because Banned Books Week doesn’t come around until September. So, basically, lots of waiting going on around here. I’m glad to be mostly done with this, though I do miss the direction the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge gave me! 🙂

I’m holding off on the other challenges I was planning on participating in; my brain needs the break.

State of the Goodreads TBR

OY. 149 last month, 152 this month. Not a huge leap, but that’s because I knocked a few off of there this month, including Here We Are, Ester and Ruzya, How We Fight For Our Lives, and The Things a Brother Knows. I’m working on more, but I’ve strayed a few times because a lot of what’s on my TBR is heavier nonfiction and I simply cannot right this moment. Light and fluffy is winning.

Books I Acquired in July 2020

None!

Bookish Things I Did in July 2020

I’ve made three (I think) library appointments so far. It’s been awesome having new books around for my daughter. We’re doing about 3 hours of school per day, and a huge chunk of that is us reading together or me reading to her. We finished up the Molly series of American Girl books and have moved on to Kit; Molly’s sacrifices as a child growing up during World War II, and Kit’s struggles during the Great Depression have helped my daughter understand about sacrifice and working together for the common good. They’re excellent examples of why we stay at home, and why we wear masks in the rare instances when we have to be out in public. Reading these stories really illustrates these concepts for my daughter, and I’m really enjoying reading them with her.

We’ve also been reading a lot of stories of people who fought against injustice and worked to improve life for people (mostly in the US right now, but not all). Malala Yousafzai, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Anderson, Lena Horne, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Soujourner Truth, Billie Jean King, Jane Addams, Florence Mills, John Lewis, Gordon Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rube Goldberg, Rosa Parks. There are *so* many interesting and beautifully illustrated biographies out there for kids, and I’m really enjoying using them to show my daughter what courage, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work look like.

I feel so fortunate that the library has at least partially opened again. 🙂

Current Podcast Love

I’m finishing catching up newer episodes of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’ve listened to a few different episodes of a few different writing podcasts, but haven’t fallen in love with any of them yet (I used to love Writing Excuses, but as I usually listen to podcasts as I’m falling asleep, I need something just a little bit calmer! They’re hilarious!). I’ll keep hunting until I find one that appeals to me.

I also discovered Read Me Romance, a podcast hosted by Alexa Riley and Tessa Bailey (Alexa Riley is a team, like Christina Lauren, so this is actually three people!). The hosts chat for the first 10-20 minutes of the podcast, and the rest is an audiobook chapter or two from a romance novella (sometimes written by the hosts, sometimes other people). I’ve been listening both as I’m falling asleep and when I’m exercising, and it’s fun. 🙂

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold.

Real Life Stuff

Oof. What a month. It wasn’t busy, but the weight of all of this *gestures broadly at everything* has really started to bear down on me. The amount of people not taking this virus seriously- how did so many people graduate high school, COLLEGE, EVEN, and lack a third-grade understanding of science and basic, BASIC civics education?!?!?!? HOW??? HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A FUNCTIONING SOCIETY WITH THESE PEOPLE? I have truly lost every last bit of patience on social media and I’m not afraid to let my ire out these days. NO, COVID-19 isn’t the sniffles. NO, you cannot have your tax dollars back when your child graduates high school and you (so you think) no longer use the services of the public school system. NO, there’s not a magic cure for cancer that scientists don’t want you to know (do you think scientists don’t die of cancer???). I seriously cannot with these people anymore.

*deep breath*

Life goes on around here. I’m missing my family an awful lot these days, which adds to my frustration when people are out there being stupid- they’re being stupid and those of us taking this seriously are stuck staying away from our loved ones even longer. It’s like we’re being held hostage by the dumbest people out there, and it makes me angry and sad. I do my best to keep it together for my kids, though. My son is getting ready to start his classes with the community college- all online, thankfully; we’re referring to it as the University of the Holy Basement (the basement is where his computer is located). My daughter and I do school in the mornings; she has a video chat playdate with a friend’s daughter most afternoons. They play dolls and other various toys, and it’s so cute hearing them chatter to each other. She looks forward to it every day.

I’m writing or, I should say, I’m trying to write. I wrote about 6000 words this month, which is pretty good, putting my current WIP at just over 28,000 words. Some days even trying to come up with a single sentence is difficult and like swimming through a pit of mud; other days, I dash off a thousand words at a pop without think. Slow and steady wins the race, though. I’ll get there. 6000 words is awesome progress, being that I was stuck at 19,000 words for so. freaking. long!

So what happens in August?

My son will start college classes, fully remote. My daughter’s school will begin fully remote- which is excellent, because, as I told the school on the survey they sent out last month, if they didn’t have a fully remote option, we’d be pulling her and fully homeschooling until it was safe (I love and support our public schools, but I’m not risking my daughter’s life. I’m able to keep her home and school her at home, and thus she’d be one less kid in the stream. I absolutely feel like because I can keep her home, it’s my responsibility to society to keep her home). The school is apparently working on ways to get kids back in the building safely, but even then they said they’ll still be offering the option of remote learning, and we’ll take full advantage of that. I’m happy to do it completely myself, but it’ll be much easier to have the guidance of the school and she’ll have fewer gaps in her learning when it IS safe to go back (meaning, she’ll have learned the same things they have and stayed on the same track. Were I to homeschool her on my own, she may learn other things and not exactly what they have. It’d be the same thing as transferring from one school to another, if that makes sense!).

I also turn 40 this month. 😀 What a way to celebrate that milestone, amirite???

Anyway, hang in there, friends. If you’re outside the US, hopefully your country is handling the pandemic well and things are getting back to normal for you. If you’re in the US like me, well, hopefully you’re doing the best you can under such awful circumstances. You’re all in my heart. Be strong, be creative, fight against injustice wherever you see it, wear your mask, wash your hands, and keep socially distancing so we can get through this and I can see my mom and dad again. My kids miss their grandparents. Love to you all. Be safe, and have as lovely of an August as you can make it. ❤