graphic memoir · graphic nonfiction · graphic novel

Three graphic novels!!!

I love graphic novels and memoirs, and I’ve been having fun enjoying the ones that have come up on my TBR lately. They’re a quick read, but the art makes the story really come alive. I find it difficult to review them, though; I’m not much on the technical parts of art, so I can’t really discuss those, and it feels like a huge omission to leave that out. But I was able to grab a few graphic novels from the library lately, and I figured I’d give them a quick mention here.

First up is the creepy true story, Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell (Albatross Funnybooks, 2021). Most of us are familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho; the character Norman Bates and his crimes were based on Ed Gein, a native of Plainfield, Wisconsin. His crimes changed the face of American horror forever; in the years before Gein’s crimes were discovered,  scary movies in the US usually centered around creatures from other planets. Gein’s house of horrors launched the birth of slasher films, an era that’s still ongoing.

Schechter and Powell tell the story of Ed Gein’s life: his abusive, controlling, overpowering, hyper-religious mother, who worked hard to create him exactly how she wanted him; his inability to become a fully independent adult; the town’s basic acceptance of the man they considered a little odd; the shocking discovery of what he’d been doing in that house all those years after his mother had died. Even if you think you know the full story, odds are there’s something in here you didn’t, and the two authors base their telling almost entirely on primary sources. This is creepy, but fascinating!

Next up, It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot (Orion, 2016). A funny book about depression? A funny illustrated book about depression? Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??? It exists, and it’s so worth the read.

Ruby Elliot has struggled for years with depression, the kind that makes it hard to even get up off the crumb-filled couch you have your face mashed into. The kind where your brain is constantly telling you what a worthless toad you are, so why bother. And in this graphic memoir, she illustrates exactly what her depression looks and feels like. And somehow, she manages to not only do it, but do it with a sense of humor.

I laughed out loud so many times, both from genuinely finding Ms. Elliot’s writing and illustrations funny, and because she just gets it so well. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life, and I was able to relate to so much of this book. It was a truly enjoyable read and a gentle, yet strong treatment of what’s normally a tough subject.

And then there’s Trashed by Derf Backderf (Harry N. Abrams, 2015). I really enjoyed Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer, and this was no different. While this graphic novel is indeed fiction, it’s based on his experiences as a garbageman. The story follows a young man who’s been hired on with his city’s sanitation department and gets into all aspects of the job (how disgusting it is, what complete jerks the ‘customers’ are, the pranks and hijinks between the workers). Interspersed with the story are facts and information about trash, trash collection, and the massive problem that is trash, both in the US and around the world. Totally enjoyable read that will make you think about not only what you dispose of, but HOW you dispose of it.

And that’s it! What are some great graphic novels that you’ve read recently???

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Mini reviews

A whole bunch of mini-reviews!

Okay, so somehow, in all my binge reading to escape from reality, I managed to get a little bit behind on my reviews! Happens to the best of us; sometimes life just gets in the way. So here I am with a little catch-up post to get me back on track. Welcome to Stephanie’s mini-reviews!

How to Find What You’re Not Looking For

by

Veera Hiranandani

Lovely late middle-grade-to-early-YA historical (could really go either way; at my library, it’s shelved in the YA section) set in 1967, narrated by the younger daughter of a Jewish family living in the New York suburbs. Ariel struggles in school and likely has some undiagnosed learning disabilities (a key point in the plot), but her beloved older sister Leah is her rock, helping her with homework and understanding the changing world around her. But when Leah’s relationship with Raj, a Hindu student, causes their parents to lose it, Ariel finds herself without her sister in her life, possibly for good.

Well-written historical that brings in so many of the elements that made the sixties such a fascinating time in history, and the blending of Jewish and Indian cultures makes for a really lovely read.

How the Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America

by

Priya Fielding-Singh

Phew. Sociologist and ethnographer Fielding-Singh followed American families, some of them closely and for an extended period of time, in order to better observe what they ate, and why. What she learned went against the grain of what we’ve all learned about diets in America (food deserts aren’t as much of a problem as we suspected, for one, and poor parents often give in to buying junk food for their kids because it’s one of the few circumstances they CAN say yes to). Black families, white families, poor families, middle class, upper class, they’re all represented here, and the differences and similarities are intriguing. Super good book.

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice and Freedom

by

Brittany K. Barnett

WHOA, this is a great book!!! Ms. Barnett is a lawyer who started out in business, but who became involved in pro-bono work for Black people steamrolled by the war on drugs. Fighting to lessen unjust sentences and free people from lengthy prison sentences for crimes that they weren’t actually involved in became her heartsong, and this memoir exposes the absolutely filthy outcome of the American war on drugs: lives ruined, families torn apart, and lifetimes of human potential thrown out like trash. Brittany K. Barnett is a modern-day hero, and you shouldn’t miss this book. Her hard work and determination are inspiring, but the fact that she has to work so damn hard to right such hideous injustice that doesn’t have to exist is enraging. A remarkable book by a remarkable woman.

Parenting with Love and Logic

by

Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay

As recommended by my daughter’s counselor. A thoughtful book on parenting techniques that make kids responsible for their own behavior and the consequences that stem forth from it. I’m already seeing results and wish I would’ve picked this up years ago. Highly recommended if you’ve got a kid that likes to fight you over every. little. thing. like I do.

Illegal

by

Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin

Stunning graphic novel depicting the story of a young boy from Niger who leaves his village to search for his sister, who left quite a while ago, and his brother, who took off in search for her. His travels find him homeless, hungry, running from danger, and in terrible situations with bad people in the desert. Its ending is similar to many of the stories we’ve seen on the news; don’t turn away from this fictionalized account of real-life trauma suffered by so many.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music History

by

Michael Miller

Read as part of my personal Read Harder challenge. Interesting overview of the history of music. Mostly focused on Western music, but there is a little in there on Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (whew, their rhythms are complicated for this lazy western brain!). Not the most interesting book I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed learning about the various movements in classical music history, especially.

The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun and Creative Learning Activities for Kids Ages 3-12

by

Linda Dobson

Out of date, and by that, I mean it’s straight up like, “Ooh, did you know that if you have a computer, you can get access to a LOT of information via the internet??? There’s this one site called Google…” I had this on my shelf from the days of homeschooling my son and read through it a bit at a time to get some fresh ideas for my daughter this year, and I did walk away with some. Pretty sure there are newer homeschooling books out there that may be a little more fresh in terms of content.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

by

Richard Rothstein

This was never going to get a full review from me, because (and I have zero problems admitting this) I’m not smart enough. This is really an incredible book that shows many of the ways the United States screwed Black and brown folks out of real estate ownership and thus out of generational wealth. It didn’t have to be the on-paper, passed-by-Congress law in order for it to work exactly as if it were, and the effects were exactly the same – and it’s still going on today. This is a damning book and should make every American shake their heads in disgust and fight for a better, more just world. This is also a really tough read; it’s highly academic, and I wound up cutting it down to fifty pages a day because it was a little tough for me to follow otherwise. It’ll give your brain a workout, as well as make you furious.

Guts

by

Raina Telgemeier

I grabbed my daughter’s copy of this this past week. Raina’s graphic memoirs are a huge hit with the younger crowd, and it’s so easy to see why. Guts tells the story of her middle school anxiety, what it looked and felt like, and how she, with the help of her parents and counselor, dealt with it. This is a great read for all kids, not just those suffering from anxiety. It’s important for everyone to understand how common anxiety is, what it looks like, and what to do when someone you know or love is dealing with it.

The Complete Maus

by

Art Spiegelman

My husband ordered a copy of this back when places in Tennessee were trying to get it banned because they’re giant morons. Maus tells the story of Mr. Spiegelman’s father, a Holocaust survivor, depicting the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. The story flips back and forth between Art interviewing his father and in Europe both before and during the war. This is a quick read, but it’s heavy, and there’s nothing bannable about it.

The Weight of Ink

by

Rachel Kadish

This was a cool one! Historical fiction interspersed with modern-day. Documents from the 1660’s have been discovered in a house in England, and an unlikely research team has shown up to begin translating the documents, which came from a rabbi of some historical renown. But the story goes much deeper than that, involving love, intrigue, hidden studies and forbidden learning, Jewish culture after the Inquisition and expulsion from Spain, and the Plague. I read this one at the suggestion of my Jewish women’s book group, and while it’s outside my normal reading boundaries, I really enjoyed this one. If you like historical fiction in general, this is probably right up your alley.

And that’s it! I generally dislike doing these mass mini-review posts; books deserve their own posts, but I’m just one person and I only have so many hours in the day. Hopefully you don’t mind too much, and maybe you’ve even found something of interest here. : )

Mini reviews

A catch-up post of mini-reviews!

Phew.

It’s been a month!

With school starting back up (STRESSSTRESSSTRESS), the house projects I’ve been working on, my back flaring up AGAIN, and bunch of other stuff, I haven’t had much time to read, let alone time to blog. I apologize! I hate doing these catch-up posts; books deserve their own full reviews, but life happens and sometimes I just get too busy. But small reviews are better than no reviews, right? I can at least do that. 😊

Here’s what I’ve been reading the past few weeks.

Flunk.Start: Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology by Sands Hall (Counterpoint, 2018). I’m not huge on reading ex-Scientology memoirs- I still do from time to time, but I don’t find Scientology as fascinating as other religions. To me, it’s just so…boring. Clinical. Soulless. Ms. Hall spent a decade mostly in Scientology (though not super, super committed, it was still a huge part of her life), until she left and had to come to terms with the time she spent there. Lots of heavy emotion here, especially dealing with a disabling accident her brother suffered. There’s not a ton of detail, and Ms. Hall left Scientology pre-Internet, so the story is quite different than if she had recently left, but it’s still an interesting read.

Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have by Tatiana Schlossberg (Grand Central Publishing, 2019). If you like science writing with a dry, sarcastic edge, this is your book! You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, where a butterfly flaps its wings in China and causes a monsoon on the other side of the world. This effect is true for environmental effects. You stream a video in Sheboygan; it contributes to a power surge in Virginia Beach. You buy a dress in south Florida; it contributes to the desertification of Mongolia, gives a job to someone in Viet Nam, and contributes to an oil spill in the South Pacific. The same goes for that salmon you ate last night, the car you drive to work every day, and how long you keep the lights on and run your air conditioner. Everything is connected and Ms. Schlossberg will show you how (and keep you laughing with her witty asides!).

This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe As a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew (Little, Brown, and Company, 2003). This has been on my list for ages, and with the High Holidays fast approaching, I knew it was time to finally read it. This is a book about going deeper in our lives, our thoughts, about taking a good, hard look at ourselves (which is what we Jews are supposed to do at this time of year!), apologizing for the things we’ve done wrong and making them right, and examining who we are and who we should be, and how we get there. It’s a deep, thought-provoking book, one that I wouldn’t mind owning and rereading every year at this time. (And if you have a rabbi, cantor, or Jewish professional in your life, be kind at this time of year. They’re extremely busy and overworked! Don’t bother them until after Sukkot. 😉 )

And my daughter and I finished two books, but I’ll talk about those in the monthly roundup post. Sorry to post and run, but my goodness, things are crazy lately!!!

Mini reviews

A Collection of Mini-Reviews!

You ever get a little behind in things?

It’s been a month around here. Several months, in fact, and the past two weeks have been rough. Chronic pain can be unpredictable, except when it’s not- looking forward to something? INSTANT FLARE. And such was my daughter’s spring break, which I’d been looking forward to for months. Not that we were going anywhere, but it was an entire week where she didn’t have to log into virtual school, I didn’t have to supervise (“Sit up, you’re not in the camera.” “Are you even doing this?” “DID YOU HEAR WHAT YOUR TEACHER SAID? WRITE IT DOWN SO HELP ME GOD!!!”), and I would have a whole week long to actually get stuff done around the house instead of having to constantly threaten an almost-seven-year-old all day long. *tears hair out* Which of course means that my back, which was already not doing well, went full speed ahead into one of the worst flares I’ve had in my life (not *the* worst, but probably the second). It was so bad that not only was moving around incredibly difficult, I wasn’t even able to sit upright.

That’s right. That spring break, where I planned to get so much done? I spent all of it lying in bed, trying to keep my already cooped-up kiddo entertained that way.

Yeah. I don’t get paid enough for this.

After multiple doctor appointments and what basically amounted to a wheelbarrow of medication, the flare is finally mostly under control and I can do fun things like sit in a chair without feeling like my pelvic bone is electrocuting me to death. I also had another MRI and have yet another consult with the spine doc at the end of the month (not expecting him to be able to do anything for me; no one ever really seems like they can). But I’m a little behind in reviews, so I’m going to do a catch-up post of mini-reviews here to maintain my sanity, because it’s barely there as it is!

Mini-reviews, right ahead!

Boyfriend Material

by Alexis Hall

(Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020)

Cute little M/M, opposites-attract, fake dating romance. Luc is a ne’er-do-well child of aging celebrities; his job depends on not screwing up at the non-profit’s major fundraiser for the year, and it would help if he had a respectable boyfriend. Enter Oliver, upper-class, buttoned-to-the-top barrister who could also stand to be seen dating someone for his parents’ anniversary party. It’s a perfect match, in more ways than one.

I didn’t find this super exciting, but it was a pleasant-enough read. Luc wasn’t really a hugely likeable character to start out with, so it was interesting to watch him grow throughout the course of the story and see how the author treated that. There was a family story arc here that felt deeply realistic, more so than other estranged-parent-returns storylines in other books, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

Once Upon a Bad Boy (Sometimes in Love #3)

by Melonie Johnson

(St. Martin’s Press, 2019)

Cutesy romance about Sadie, an actress on the verge of hitting it big in her first leading lady role, and Bo, the stunt coordinator in charge of keeping Sadie safe. The two of them had been a couple as teenagers, deeply in love, but ten years have passed, and things are…complicated. Can the two figure things out and find their way back to each other?

A fun distraction. I loved that it was set in Chicago- seriously, not enough stories are set in this area; it’s a great place!- and that, while not a major feature of the story, so many of the characters were Jewish. An excellent combination. 😊

Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice

by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow

(Vendome Press, 2009)

 So, during the nightmare hellscape that was Europe during the 1930’s and 40’s, Jewish people were forced to “sell” all their property, including artwork, or had it outright taken from them because Germany and its territories needed to be “Aryanized.” *insert barfing noises here* And, of course, after the war, most places were like, “Us? Do something wrong? *GASP* But it was LEGAL back then, so really, that stuff actually truly belongs to us now, kthnxbai.” Sometimes, through legal means, people- or their surviving family members- had their stolen artwork returned to them. Usually, they didn’t, and this book tells the stories of some of the families who lost art collections they’d spent their entire lives building.

This book makes me feel extremely suspicious of even the biggest, most well-known art museums. So many places exhibit stolen art- art that they know was stolen, that they know was sold by force or under duress, and their attitude to that is, “Eh, not our problem.” I like art. I like looking at it, I enjoy learning about it, I sometimes enjoy making it, but…I’ve lost a lot of respect for art museums as a whole because of this book. If I found out that something I’d bought that had previous owners had been stolen from someone who lost everything- maybe even their life- I couldn’t in good conscience keep that object, and I can’t respect anyone who would. Excellent book that tells a deeply disturbing story of the art world’s lack of ethics.

What They Saved: Memories of a Jewish Past

by Nancy K. Miller

(University of Nebraska Press, 2011)

Memoir of a woman doing research on her Jewish family, à la The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn, though lacking that memoir’s direction and panache.

And that’s it for now! I’m really loving the book of short stories I’m reading now, so I’ll definitely get a single review up for that once I’m finished with it. I hate getting behind, but with that nasty pain flare, it was inevitable (it’s surprisingly difficult to operate a computer when you can’t sit up). It’s good to be back on track! 😊

Catch-up post

A catch-up post full of mini-reviews!

Eek! You ever have months where blogging just gets away from you? This was one of those months. It’s hard cramming in everything I need to get done every day, and sometimes at night I just want to collapse and not think anymore. And thus we have here a post to catch up on all the books I missed out on blogging about. I hate doing these; each book deserves its own post, but such is life, especially these days.

Ready? Let’s do this!

I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer (yes, she’s Jonathan Safran Foer’s mother) was a book I grabbed during my first library appointment, on the New Books shelf. She writes of the story of searching for the family she lost in the Holocaust, of online searches, long-distance phone calls, dusty paperwork, and lengthy plane rides to visit the site of the villages where her family once walked. It’s moving, heartbreaking, and almost miraculous at times, especially when you see the picture of her family after reading all that had been done to ensure that they wouldn’t exist.

I just happened upon Hostage by Guy Delisle, whom I’ve enjoyed in the past, at that same library trip- literally just walked by the shelf this was on, on my way to searching for something else, and this leapt out at me. He tells the true story of a man working for Doctors Without Borders when he was kidnapped in the Caucasus region and held hostage for three months. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a man chained to a radiator for that length of period would make for an engaging graphic novel, but Delisle’s sparse style makes this book an absolute page-turner.

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Namdev Shahani is a memoir of her family’s experience in America: surviving as undocumented immigrants, the greencards that helped secure their status, and the things that happened that showed them how quickly it could all go up in smoke. If you haven’t read much about the nightmare of the immigration process in the US, this might be a good place to start. If her family’s story had happened today, I don’t think the outcome would have worked out so well (although *worked out well* is relative here) and that hurt my heart for all the families struggling with these kinds of situations right now, but Ms. Shahani tells her story so smoothly, it nearly reads like a novel. I’d love to hear her speak one day.

I’d avoided reading Roomies by Christina Lauren for a while, but I needed something on the lighter side during my last trip to the library and since they’re a favorite of mine, I grabbed this. Roomies tells the story of Holland, who discovers the perfect musician for her uncle’s Broadway performance, only to find that Calvin, the Julliard-trained street busker, is Irish and here illegally. In order to help her uncle and feel like she’s really contributing to the theater (where she also works), she marries Calvin to help him obtain a greencard, but of course it’s all a bit more complicated than that. I avoided this one for a bit because I felt, and still kind of feel, that it’s a little tone-deaf in light of the horrific things the US is doing to undocumented people these days, and the book never mentions any of that (mostly because, I assume, it was written before all this came to light?). The book itself is extremely well-written and I very much enjoyed both the romance and Holland learning to be her own person and design her own course in life. If you can separate this story from the disgusting reality of what happens to brown people when they’re discovered to be here without papers, it’s a great read, but it’s painful when you’re aware of the realities versus the privilege Calvin had, both due to the color of his skin and his connections once he was brought into Holland’s circle. Excellent writing, great love story, hard to square with reality.

Another Christina Lauren novel for my lighter reading enjoyment. I didn’t like Twice in a Blue Moon as much I liked Roomies. It tells the story of Tate, the daughter of one of the most famous actors in Hollywood. She’s had no contact with her dad in ten years and no one knows where she went. She spills her secrets to Sam, a boy she meets on a trip to London with her grandmother. She and Sam are falling in love and it’s something major, something special…until he betrays her. Fourteen years later, Tate is one of the most famous actresses in the world, and the screenwriter of her new project is, of course, none other than Sam, whom she hasn’t seen since London. Messy? Oh yes. Liked it, but didn’t love it; I felt like Tate and Sam didn’t have quite the same chemistry as Holland and Calvin did, but it was an okay read.

And that’s it! All caught up. It wasn’t quite as many books as I had thought. I’ll do my best to update on a regular basis next month!!!

Mini reviews

Mini-reviews! (Yet another catch-up post.)

Hello, hello! It’s time for another post of mini-reviews, because my weeks are so full of homeschooling, cooking, and cleaning, that I can’t manage to get anything else written (with the exception of yesterday’s post excoriating It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, because that absolutely had to be done). Imma get all this out here in one post, just to see if I can catch up a little bit. I’m mostly only reading at night time right now after my daughter goes to bed, so maybe this will help get me back on track (she says optimistically). Let’s do this!

The History of Love by Nicola Krauss (Norton, 2005) tells the story of Alma Singer, a teenager who is struggling with the death of her father, her distant mother, her younger but over-the-top religious brother, and the mystery of the book her mother is translating, which is where Alma’s name came from. Leo Gursky is an elderly immigrant who, sixty years later, still can’t stop thinking about the girl he loved back in the old country, the one who inspired the greatest thing he’d ever written. There are twists and shocking conclusions, and what happened with Leo’s book is pretty appalling. This was way more literary than I normally venture, and for me, it was just okay.

Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner (Knopf, 2015) is a wonderful book about some fairly universal human truths viewed through the lens of Rabbi Kushner’s Conservative Judaism. Clocking in at only 171 pages, the book is small, but the content is huge, with a lot of discussion of how authentic faith translates into action that improves the world for everyone, and how doubt and searching can and absolutely should be a part of everyone’s faith. There’s a lot of wisdom packed into this book, as there are in all of Rabbi Kushner’s books, and eventually I’d like to read them all. This was my third of his, I believe.

You may be familiar with Anita Diamant’s other works; she’s probably best known for The Red Tent, the story of the wives of the Biblical Jacob and his daughter Dinah. (We’re also using her Living a Jewish Life in my Intro to Judaism course, which is still taking place on Zoom!) Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith (Scribner, 2003) is a collection of her articles, essays, and writings about her life, her family, her religious practice. She writes eloquently about the realities and the struggles of marriage and parenthood and the ups and downs of being an active member of a close-knit religious community. I really enjoyed the essay about her dreams of opening a liberal mikvah (Jewish ritual bath), and am pleased for her that that dream has become a reality; she’s a founding president of Mayyim Hayyim outside of Boston. This was a pleasant, calming read.

I love Dahlia Adler, so I was excited to finally find a copy of His Hideous Heart (Flatiron Books, 2019) right before the library closed, a collection of thirteen retellings of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories by modern YA authors (including Ms. Adler). The stories are dark, dark, dark, but also beautifully inclusive; there are plenty of LGBT and non-white characters to give the stories a realistic feel. Though this may not be the best time to read something so dark- I really struggled to get through this, as I was reading it during our first week of being at home. If you enjoy Poe and horror in general, though, you’ll love this.

And there we go. I’m about to finish another book, but I’ll be able to get up a post on that, and I’ll have my usual monthly roundup in a few days, so I’ll talk more there about how we’re managing in this weird, weird time. Stay safe and healthy, friends!!!

Mini reviews

Four mini-reviews!

I generally don’t enjoy cramming a lot of book reviews into one post, but sometimes it’s necessary, or it’s the best option. And this time I’m not even doing it as a catch-up, even though I’m a little behind. I’ve been doing some extra reading for my Introduction to Judaism class, cramming in some Jewish fiction and non-fiction around the edges of the reading I need to do for class (which varies by amount per week, but there’s extra suggested reading, and you know I read all those articles too!), just to expand my knowledge base because I find it helpful and also because I just want to know everything about everything in the world- totally an attainable goal.

ANYHOODLE. Here are a few of the extras I’ve read the past few weeks!

The Best of Sholom Aleichem by Sholom Aleichem, edited by Irving Howe and Ruth R. Wisse. Sholom Aleichem is best known for his short stories about Tevye the dairyman, which were gathered and shaped into the musical Fiddler on the Roof (which I haven’t seen, but there’s a version of it available with Amazon Prime, so I’ll get to it one of these days!). His short stories, translated from the original Yiddish, give readers a glimpse into life in nineteenth-century Eastern European shtetls. There’s laughter, joy, family, poverty, hunger, fear… The wolf is always at the door, but why not enjoy yourselves while you can? His writing is so very slice-of-life; the telling of the story is more important than a distinct conclusion. I worried that would bother me, but surprisingly, it didn’t; Aleichem’s method of storytelling is more than enough to carry each selection in the book. I’m jealous of those who can read him in the original Yiddish, because from what I’ve read, the language is so very nuanced that any translation loses a lot. I’m counting this as a pick for The Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge prompt of a book in translation.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl,” the story’s byline yawns, but this graphic novel is anything but tired. Mirka, who dreams of fighting dragons, struggles to learn the feminine skills her stepmother wants her to, and keeps finding herself in odd situations- lassoing a homework-eating talking pig with a serious attitude problem, for example. And those feminine skills come in handy when she meets a troll, of all things. This book is creative and fun and deeply imaginative, and I’m going to have to keep my eyes peeled for the other books in the series at my library (looks like they’re checked out right now! I’m glad; they deserve to be popular!).

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt by Ken Krimstein. Hannah Arendt is a name that keeps coming up over and over again in my reading, so I picked up this graphic novel biography that covers a short period of her life. She was brilliant and complex and Krimstein presents some tough material in an easier-to-digest format. Two quotes in particular stuck out to me:

“As fire lives on oxygen, the oxygen of totalitarianism is untruth. Before totalitarian leaders can fit reality to their lies, their message is an unrelenting contempt for facts. They live by the belief that fact depends entirely on the power of the man who makes it up.”

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

I definitely want to read more about Hannah Arendt, but this feels like a good introduction.

The last 20-30 minutes of each Sunday night class is dedicated to learning the Hebrew alphabet, and I’ve never met a class I didn’t feel the need to go full on Hermione Granger in, so thanks to an extra-long interlibrary loan, I was able to work my way through Aleph Isn’t Tough: An Introduction to Hebrew for Adults by Linda Motzkin and Hara Person. This is the first language I’ve ever studied that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, so it was intimidating to begin, but this book is incredibly thorough, introducing only a few letters and vowels per chapter so that the learner isn’t overwhelmed. Right away, the authors have you reading and writing words, matching English sounds with their Hebrew equivalents, and listing words the reader (who is assumed to have at least a basic knowledge of Judaism) is probably familiar with (and I was!). I was able to sound out (and recognize!) some of the Hebrew words when the class went down and sat in the sanctuary the other night, both around the room and in the prayer book. If you’re looking for the best, most basic place to start learning the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph Isn’t Tough should definitely be your first stop.

And with that, I’m only two reviews behind! Graphic novels and short stories aren’t always the easiest for me to review (and then there’s the language book!), so I’m feeling okay about covering these four books with one single post. I enjoyed all of these- for very different reasons- and would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of them as well.

Happy reading, folks! 🙂

Mini reviews

Mini-reviews: Part II of Catching Up

Here we are again, folks! I’m catching up on reviews before the end of the year, and while I’d much rather that each book had its own individual post, sometimes we have to cram in our reviews any way we can. After this post, I’ll be caught back up, so that’ll be nice. (Until I’m behind again, which wouldn’t happen if people would stop needing me to do things other than read and blog…)

Let’s get this wrapped up!

The Chai Factor by Farah Heron (Harper Avenue, 2019). This is what I was reading when my hellacious migraine struck, so it took me longer than I wanted to get through. Amira Khan has moved back in with her grandmother, mother, and much younger sister to finish up her final paper for engineering grad school. She wasn’t expecting to have to share the basement with a barbershop quartet, nor was she expecting to get caught up in their drama. This is a lovely multicultural romance; Amira is Indian-Canadian and Muslim, and the book has a lot of great scenes that deal with issues from and which expose the reader to her particular community (and will have you scrambling to place an order from your favorite local Indian restaurant, because Ms. Heron’s constant mentions of food did exactly that for me. I’d rather eat Indian than any other cuisine in the world). Amira and Duncan’s relationship is super cute, and while Amira is kind of a prickly and defensive character, the reasons for that are entirely valid. I enjoyed this.

Before They Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson (teNeues, 2013). This is a stunning book of photography, with a little bit of text in multiple languages, about isolated cultures that are struggling to survive and exist as the world encroaches on them. The photos are intense and beautiful, showcasing different traditions of dress (and occasionally lack thereof; keep this in mind if you have curious children to whom you’re not ready to explain differences in genitalia and cultural expectations of who should keep what covered and when) and bodily decoration, as well as the landscapes, some of them daunting, where these groups each live. This is an utterly enormous book, to the point where it was somewhat painful to carry, so maybe have an extra set of arms or a wagon if you’re going to check this out of your local library.

Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman by Abby Chava Stein (Seal Press, 2019). Abby Chava Stein grew up in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, one of the most gender-segregated communities out there. Born a boy, she knew from a young age that she was actually a girl, but she received the message early on that acting anything other than what was considered typical for a boy in her community was unacceptable. She struggled her whole life, trying to cram herself into the role her community demanded of her, but ultimately made the decision to live as the person she is and not who others wanted her to be. This is a very life-affirming book; I was in awe of her strength, both to survive in such a constricting community for as long as she did, and for finally making the painful choice to leave. The book covers more of her early life, while only briefly alluding to how she left and what the aftermath of that looked like, so I’m extremely hopeful that there will be a follow-up memoir.

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon (Lake Union Publishing, 2019). A time travel romance set against the backdrop of Ireland’s struggle for independence from England in the 1920’s. I didn’t know much about this subject, so this was a delight, and I’m absolutely in awe of Ms. Harmon’s research skills. Ireland is as much of a character as anyone else in the novel, and I love that Michael Collins is a large presence in the book. This would make for a fabulous book club read; the romance is never explicit, and the focus of the novel is far more set on the historical aspects of the story and the complex emotional relationships between all of the characters, past and present. I’m very curious about Ms. Harmon’s other novels after reading this!

And that’s it! I’m now caught up and will *crosses fingers* hopefully stay that way, although no promises! The treadmill of life just keep speeding up and I can’t quite manage to keep up the pace…

Mini reviews

Mini-reviews: a catch-up post!!!

ARGH!!! I told myself I would never do this, but I’ve been a terrible mixture of swamped and exhausted lately. The migraine I had at the beginning of December had me feeling terrible for a week, and I’ve been running around like crazy trying to get things done for the holidays and by the end of the year (which of course means that my daughter is home sick today!). All that has put me so many reviews behind that there’s no way I’ll catch up by the end of the year, but I don’t want to ignore those books entirely. Thus, a mass post of tiny reviews!

Ready? Let’s get this post started.

Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji (Convergent Books, 2019). This was a beautiful, moving book. Dr. Virji had a pretty good life as a doctor in a big city, but with rural towns in dire need of medical professionals, he felt called to serve humanity and his fellow Americans by moving his family to rural Minnesota and setting up practice there. And in doing so, he found both a sense of home and fierce racism and bigotry.

This is an absolute must-read; Dr. Virji’s perspective is absolutely eye-opening on what Muslims face, especially when they’re the only Muslims in the area. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book and should definitely top your TBR list.

No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2003). Akilah and Victoria have been best friends for a few years. Akilah loves Victoria’s accent and her stories of world travel, but when Victoria comes back from her summer in Nigeria, something’s terribly wrong. She won’t smile, she won’t laugh, she won’t even speak to Akilah, who can’t figure out what she did wrong. Little by little, Akilah works to gain her friend’s trust again, only to find out that in Nigeria, Victoria’s family forced her to undergo female genital mutilation, and she’s been massively traumatized by it.

This is a middle grade novel and it’s devastating and unfortunately necessary. The author points out at the end that while this might seem like a too-sensitive subject to bring up to middle school-aged girls, it’s girls of those same ages that undergo genital mutilation, so yes, this is exactly the book for girls that age. This would make for a fabulous mother-daughter read, or a mother-daughter book club, especially one looking to expand cultural awareness and issues that affect women and girls the world over.

Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, edited by Hannah Faith Notess (Cascade Books, 2009). This is a collection of essays, written by various authors, on their varying experiences of growing up as evangelical Christians. Their experiences run the gamut; for some, it worked out well and they remained in the fold, and others found their connection with the sacred in other ways and in other places. I didn’t find this particularly riveting, to be honest, but it was a pleasant-enough weekend read.

To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking by Harold S. Kushner (Grand Central Publishing, 1994). This is a reread for me; I don’t often reread books, but it’s been a few years and I was curious as to how my perspective of it had changed. It’s a great primer if you’ve never read anything on Judaism before and are curious. The reread taught me that I still indeed enjoy this book very much; Rabbi Kushner has a lovely perspective on religion and God that I can often relate to. He’s probably best known for his bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which he wrote in the aftermath of his teenage son’s death from progeria. It’s also worth your time if you’re struggling with some of the darker aspects of life.

An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen (St. Martin’s Press, 2019). I’d tried one of Naomi Ragen’s novels years ago and ended up DNF’ing it, but this sounded interesting so I figured I’d try her again. Leah (called Lola by her flighty, hippie mother) is dissatisfied with all of her life and decides to leave everything behind and join an extremely insular ultraorthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Almost immediately, she begins helping in the home of Yaakov, a widower with five children (including a deeply angry teenage daughter), whose life has been upended after his wife’s untimely death. Even though they’ve never actually met, they start to fall in love, but their community and family aren’t so sure about this match.

The premise of this book sounded fascinating, but every single character in this book (minus maybe the grandmother, after a while) engaged in such singular black-and-white thinking that I was annoyed almost from the start. Things are either this way or that, and ZERO in-between. Leah, for all her pious leanings, treated her mother terribly and engaged in constant judgment of others whilst bemoaning that they were judging her. Yaakov was ready to toss his teenage daughter out like yesterday’s spoiled food; Leah’s mother was a mere parody of a person, and there are multiple shocking incidents of racism and an uncomfortable-at-best depiction of autism that are casually included by the author and that nearly made me drop the book. This book had such potential to be interesting, but I don’t feel like I can recommend it at all.

Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life- In Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There!) by Sarah Hurwitz (Spiegel & Grau, 2019). I absolutely adored this book. It’s brief parts memoir, but mostly more nonfiction about Judaism. There are a few write-ups and breakdowns of holidays and practices, but moreso it’s a theological discussion of the differing Jewish perspectives of what God is and isn’t, what that means and looks like in practice, and how belief doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. I deeply appreciated Ms. Hurwitz’s take on things; she presents ideas and thoughts about God that made a lot of sense to me. Some were her own; others came from current rabbis and rabbis throughout the ages. I took down multiple pages of notes from this book, and it gave me a lot to think about. Highly, highly recommended if you’re interested in reading about religion!

Okay, I’ll wrap this up here, so as to not make it a MEGAPOST that no one will read, and I’ll continue on with a second post of mini-reviews on Monday. Happy reading, friends! 🙂