Friday, March 26, 2021

Book Reviews - Reframed Feels

Again, I'm not quite sure how to group this quartet together. Really what comes to mind is that they all had some kind of feels, and they also all told stories in a bit of a unique way? Sure, Andrea. Read on, I promise my reviews are better than this introduction.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey was an interesting memoir. I always find memoirs hard to write about because I'm really critiquing the way someone talks about their own life. I mean, who am I to judge about how someone chooses to do this? I think what I learned most about Mariah was the difficulties of her childhood. This was hard stuff to read, and I appreciated how she showed the connections of this time to her music. For the stuff about her marriages and fame in general, I maybe wanted more, but again, totally her call? It strangely did make me want to see Glitter as I've never actually watched. I know, I know, but I feel like I need the context. All in all, I don't feel like I fully know the meaning of Mariah Carey as the title indicates, but I do have her perspective on a variety of things which helps. 

Hood Feminism: Notes from a Woman That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall was phenomenal. It should be required reading, and I personally should have read this sooner! It's been on my list for awhile, and when I heard the author on NPR, I decided there was no more waiting, and I needed to read this now. This is an exploration of what feminism leaves out and why that's a problem. Gender equity isn't just about gender equity, rather there are a number of issues that need to be part of the conversation around the push for systemic change. Each chapter of the book explores a different one of these issues and specifically how they impact women, especially women of color, and then makes the case why this matters. Throughout, I learned so much. Of all the chapters, I would say the one about food insecurity has stuck with me the most. I have plans already to revisit this one as it opened my mind to so many issues that I need to be not only informed about, but to advocate for.

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly is the third in the Lilac Girls series. Although it's part of a trilogy, reading the first two books isn't needed to follow this one. Much like the first in the series which I have read, there are three storylines. Two of them are more protagonist-y, while the other is clearly an antagonist. This book is set in the Civil War. One of the women is a Union nurse, another is a slave on a plantation, and the third is the wife of a plantation and slave owner. As it happens in Lilac Girls, the three stories have intersections throughout to really tell the story of the war. It's definitely an emotional ride, and there is a lot of pain in the stories of these women to the point that it is a really difficult read at times. That said, it's also important to know and remember and understand that pain in history and the impacts that can still show up today. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this soon to be released novel. 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano was just an absolutely beautiful book. The story is about a young boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. In the crash, he has lost his entire family, so he is navigating his new normal. The story focuses on his grief and how he navigates life with his aunt and uncle. The story is also about the plane's passengers, and it explains who many of the passengers were and what they were carrying with them on that tragic day. I won't explain the end because that's part of the story, but I have to say I was in tears by the end with the way all the stories come together. It was just breathtaking and wonderful and had me all up in my feels - Honestly, the whole damn book did, and that's what makes it worth reading.

Onto the next ones!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Ordinary Days

(Stack of books I have read, but haven't yet shared.)

Y'all, I'll be honest that this post has been stewing in my head for weeks. I've had many thoughts on the focus, and I just keep not writing it. So now here I sit, I'm going to just start typing words, and we'll see where we land.

Things are hard right now. I know, I know, I'm stating an obvious for so many humans, including me. But I didn't let myself name this as I needed to for a long time. I'm saying this now, and I'm processing what this means for me.

As a secret to no one, I love reading. My feeds regularly have the books I've been reading - except that hasn't been the case for the last two months. If you've ever heard me talk self-care, you've likely heard me say that I track what I read as a way to check-in with me. When there are gaps of times when I haven't read anything, it's my sign that things might not be so great. February was that. I also looked back and realized that when I was reading I wasn't enjoying it. I honestly had gotten to this place where I was reading for process and not really connected with anything I'd finished. While ruts aren't atypical, what I found as I looked back was the majority of what I had read just wasn't my jam. Truthfully, it was quite a jarring set of revelations.

After figuring out what was going on, I had to really think about why this had happened. Where had things gone off-course? Reading is what I do, so how could I mess this up?

Before I went too far into this exploration, I gave myself some grace. I/we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and nothing is normal. I feel like everyone has had these peaks and valleys, and mine just came late in the game. 

Second, I took the time to really understand what was going on. I returned to why I started sharing what I was reading in the first place. Y'all should know that for a long time I was afraid to share these regular updates with the masses. And then I faced that fear, started posting reviews/pictures of quartets, and people were a fan. I've loved how people have told me they've found their way to books because of what I had read/shared. I've loved when people ask me directly for recommendations, and I also love when people share their recommendations with me. I didn't need to overthink a solution to where I was/am, rather I just need to get back to why I started. 

Also, I've realized I need to post in a way that makes sense to me. Honestly, I think I let the stress of comparison and likes and all the social media things consumed me. I loved this process so much more when it was what I wanted to do. I'm really not sure how that pressure hit me like I did, but that grace I decided to give myself means I don't have to analyze that extensively. I can say it just is and keep on moving.

Really what happened is that I let this joy become ordinary. I let my light become dull. I started going through the motions, and it was not fun.

I was thinking about this all as a greater experience in the experience that has been the last year. From the beginning, I have drawn the line that this is not a learning opportunity. I don't want to have some post about all the things I learned in this time. Because honestly, a lot of times I'm just trying to get through the day. A lot of times I'm dreaming of what cannot be. Look y'all, I've been a rule follower my whole life, and I am still very much that person. It has been an impossible challenge to emotionally navigate how it feels to be so impacted by the lack of rule following. A year later, I have no good coping mechanism for that other than having a good cry every so often.

More than anything, I ache for the normal of ordinary days. I yearn for the choices of a normal day. I want reading to be something I do, not everything. I also want to wander libraries and to sit at local coffee shops with books and to again just do normal book-ish things - normal everythings. I know it's coming, but also I still miss it. I have found that I have to let hope for what is to be exist in the same space as the grief of what hasn't been able to be. There aren't any easy answers for me, and again, I give myself the grace that this is just how it has to be.

I say this piece to really say that this reading thing was a sub-rut that was part of a greater rut.

So I'm going to get back to posting reviews and books. I did about all the books I've read in the rut that were just okay - It was a process, kind of like a book report on assigned reading, but I made it through. And from here, I'm more intentionally making choices of what I read. There is a method to this, and it's my method, and that's okay.

More than anything, I needed to put this out of my brain and into words. Maybe it has a flow, maybe it doesn't, but this is how life is right now. 

Here's hoping for more ordinary days soon. . .whatever that might be.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Book Reviews - Books That Stick With You

Unsurprisingly, I'm back with another round of reviews. This round was heavy on the kind of books that stick with you long after you're done reading, as well as the books you are likely to revisit again (and again).

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler was a delight of a YA romance. The story focuses on Lara. Lara has had a longstanding crush on Chase, the popular, handsome athlete (who is not a jerk - worth noting because that's not always the case in stories like this/IRL), and he's now interested in her. This is just what Lara has wanted for years. Except Lara had a very unexpected summer of romance with Jasmine. And then, AND THEN, Jasmine shows up at her school. Now Lara has some tough choices to make to figure out what she really and truly wants. Y'all, this was a really well done account of high school. It even gave me some throwback feels of my own high school days which I don't always love, but in this case, it speaks to how well it was able to craft a real story. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this May 2021 release!

Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was so powerful and amazing. This author is absolutely incredible when it comes to historical fiction. This story centers on the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. With this, it really hones in on what the human experience of this time was like. The story focuses on Elsa. The book begins with her life taking an unexpected turn. What follows is then the story of the hard decisions she has to make for herself and her family throughout this time. No choice is easy, and this is an incredibly emotional read. However, that pain is important in understanding the reality of what this time was like. I learned so much through the way this story was told. There was incredible care given to building a plot that really conveyed just how hard this time was. Elsa was also an amazing character. The way she and her story evolves is what really drew me in as I was so rooting for her and all she encountered. This is a story that will absolutely draw you in, hit you in the feels, and stick with you long after you're done reading.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown was fantastic - obviously. It'd been a minute (or seven years) since I last read it, so I was way overdue to revisit this one. This is just a wonderful reflection on the importance and power of vulnerability. There's just a way that Brene explains things that just resonates with me. The last time I read this I borrowed the book from a friend. I'm very happy to now have a copy where I've been able to mark my favorite stuff that I can revisit. There are just so many messages that spoke to me for night now, but also all of the times. I am so thankful for the work and wisdom she provides in giving voice to such important topics.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better While Person by Frederick Joseph was outstanding. The author uses his own experiences (which are honest and emotional) to explain different topics around racism. Within the stories, he takes the time to educate on what is actually happening. With this, he uses specific terms (and includes an incredible glossary at the back) to explore the reality of situations he has found himself in. The power in this is that these aren't just abstract concepts, but lived experiences. With each story, he also has an interview/reflection with someone to further explore the chapter's focus. While this is a YA read, it is definitely a solid read for humans of all ages.

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Feels Central

There isn't really a common thread in this round, so I'm not going to try. I will say that two of these were so freaking packed with feels. There are worth the read, and they're going to stick with you long after you're done reading.

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews was one heckuva twisty thrilling ride. Florence aspires to be an author, but hasn't found her big break just yet. Then, an amazing opportunity comes her way. Florence has the chance to be the assistant to the mysterious Maud Dixon. Maud's work is well-known, but no one knows who she actually is. Helen (aka Maud) and Florence are on a book research trip when tragedy happens. Florence wakes up in hospital alone. It appears Helen has been killed, and Florence now has the opportunity of a lifetime. Given the secrecy of Maud Dixon, Florence could finally be the author she has dreamed of being. However, this decision is not as easy as it seems, and there are some big challenges ahead as Florence takes on the charade. This was a clever premise, and another thriller that kept me turning those pages because I needed to know how it all ended up for Florence/Maud. Thanks to NetGalley for the early look at this recent release!

Beartown by Fredrik Backman was a book I have simply waited too long to read. It's absolutely beautiful and captivating and heartbreaking and just all the things you hope a book will be. The story centers on a hockey team in a small town. Hockey is baked into the town's identity, and the story explores what this connection means, especially when a traumatic event occurs. As Backman books tend to do, it was the characters in this one for me. They were so wonderfully written, and the way their stories each unfolded, both with joy and pain, just drew me into the town. This was one of those books that sucked me in from its first pages, and it did not let me go until the last sentence. The good news is that there is a sequel. I'm not sure what that experience will be like, but I can tell y'all that this book is one you must have in your life. 

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji was a fascinating exploration of how bias plays into our lives each and every day. Rather than being a "call out" of behavior, it explores how this shows up and why this matters. It is very much grounded in research and understanding what science can tell us about why we act the way we do. It is also one of those books that I want/need to go back and revisit the key points to really digest the concepts and understand how this is showing up not only in others, but in me, too. 

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is an incredibly emotional, powerful and tragic read. The story focuses on three generations of Arab-American women. Deya has grown up without her mother, Isra. She has been told her parents were tragically killed in a car accident when she was young. However, she discovers some correspondence that makes it seem this isn't what actually happened. The story then goes between Isra and Deya's. In Isra's story, it's how she entered into her marriage and what came next. In Deya's story, it's her quest to find the truth. This is a story of a culture of silence, incredible secrets, and important revelations of the truth. It is a book that has stayed with me and will stay with me. It is full of so much pain, but there is also such power in the truth that is told. 

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Short Stories and Long Thrills

Oh, hi. It's another round of books. There isn't much to offer as an introduction - Two of these were thrillers, and two were short stories. Cool.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie was quite the ride. This is only my second Agatha Christie (Why is this? I need to fix this y'all), and I just love her timeless storytelling. This story revolves around a murder on a train. Detective Hercule Poirot must figure out who is responsible by interviewing a slew of suspects. Each alibi initially appears to work, and there is no motive that is immediately clear. Then the detective does some work y'all! As the secrets came out and the truth was unraveled, the story was just so damn brilliant. Agatha Christie is truly the queen of thrillers, and I loved the ride (pun intended) this one took me on, especially one heckuva reveal!

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock was an incredible set of short stories. The difference in this collection is that there is a thread that connects one story to the next, and all of the stories included are then part of a larger overall story. I don't want to say too much because honestly the beauty and intrigue is in seeing those connections come to light. I will also say that many of these connections are through tragedy, so know that this is a story not only full of some twists and turns, but some pretty intense feelings. (Note: The book does have a content warning, and I would definitely suggest evaluating that before you dive in.) This was one of those books that absolutely drew me in so many ways - It was the plot above all else, but it was also just masterful storytelling. Thanks to NetGalley for an early look at this April 2021 release!

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks was a short story collection that was extremely well-written with words, but also just okay. The stories each had a typewriter involved somehow which was an interesting spin, and I just didn't really find anything truly hit me in the feels. This is frequently my struggle with short stories, so not a new challenge, and I just really missed this as I read. I kept reading, and I appreciated the unique premises of each story, AND I also just feel "meh" about the experience. 

Tell No One by Harlan Coben was a book I picked up because I just needed a reliable thriller. When I need that, Coben is often where I turn. This story focuses on David Beck who tragically lost his wife eight years earlier. In present day, it seems that she may still be alive, but that can't be true or can it? David decides to believe it could be true, and the case is opened again. As Coben novels do, this one had some great twists with one big mega-twist revealed at the end. It was told in a way that I also didn't guess what was going to go down which is the mark of an especially great thriller for me. 

Onto the next ones!

Book Reviews - Late to All the Parties

For this round of reads, I was just late to reading. It was two blog tours that didn't get posted on time, an ARC that has been out for a year, and an adaptation where I hadn't read the source material. All that mind this an interesting round. . .

Girlhood by Masuma Ahuja was a blog tour stop you can check out here.

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian was a blog tour stop you can check out here.

Providence by Max Barry is not a genre that I read ever. This is also an advanced copy from March 2020 that I'm just now getting to which is more about me than anything else. The start of the pandemic just wasn't a time I was ready to delve into exploring the discovery of alien life. Again, this is about me as a reader. Anyway. This story is about astronauts who are chosen to taken on a hostile alien force seven years after they were first encountered. Each astronaut is selected for the mission for a specific reason, AND each of these humans has their own "stuff" they bring to the mission. The story is about the aliens, but more than anything, it's about the people who have been tasked with taking on the mission. It's a lot of pressure to lead this work, and they feel this. It's good for me to read outside my normal zone every once in awhile, and I appreciated the angle this one took on in exploring what an alien encounter might look like in the (not so distant) future. 

Ladies of the House: A Modern Retelling of Sense and Sensibility by Lauren Edmondson was a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility. Here's the thing, y'all, I haven't read S&S, seen the movie, and am not actually familiar with the original story. With that base knowledge, I think I would have enjoyed this more as I could connect that adaptation with the source material. This context (or lack thereof) influenced my reading experience for sure. The story focuses on a family scandal. Senator Gregory Richardson has died . . . in the presence of his young mistress. Thirtysomething Daisy then returns home to help her mother and to help prepare the family estate to be sold as they are in financial ruin. As the story goes, more secrets are revealed about her father, and Daisy has to figure out how to keep the pieces together which is not an easy feat. I really felt like I was missing something not knowing S&S, and it also was an interesting story about what to do when family secrets bubble to the surface! Thanks to NetGalley for this early look at this recent release!

Onto the next ones!