Monday, February 27, 2017

It's Monday again. How is everyone doing?

Hello ladies and gentlemen! How are things?

We had a typically busy week here with a little switch in our weekend. My husband was the guest preacher at the church that we grew up in. It was fun having my kids in Sunday School with the teachers who taught me and I loved singing with a long-time friend. This week, D has Read Across America week and I'm doing my best to potty train BG. Please send all prayers, good wishes, and bottles of wine to our house.

What have I been reading this week? I finished Madeleine L'Engle's Camilla, which is about a girl realizing the failings of her parents and falling in love for the first time. Then I read Ann Voskamp's new book The Broken WayI raced through The Bear and the Nightingale, which is perfect for a long weekend.

Next up for me is J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. I'm listening to Daniel Jose Older's Shadowshaper. It was finally my turn in the library queue and I'm enjoying it so far!

What are you reading this week?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Audiobook Mini-Reviews: The Book of Unknown Americans and Brown Girl Dreaming

When their daughter Maribel has a terrible accident, Arturo and Alma make the difficult decision to move to America to get her the best possible care. The Rivera family moves into an apartment complex with residents from Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Panama. Maribel soon becomes friend with Mayor Toro, a boy who sees her as just beautiful and not someone who sometimes becomes confused or loses her train of thought. Just as the Riveras begin to settle into their new life and Maribel and Mayor see the start of a romance, things begin to fall apart with devastating and irreversible consequences.

This book was fantastic in so many ways. I loved the universal story of parents trying to make the best life possible for their child and young love, and I loved the specificity of Henriquez writing vignettes from many people in the apartment complex that describe their journeys to America. The Book of Unknown Americans is a full cast audiobook, which means you get a different narrator for each character. This was an inspired choice and it made the lives and stories of each person you meet seem real. I highly recommend listening to this book if you want to read it.

The Book of Unknown Americans
By Christina Henriquez
Penguin Random House June 2014
9 hours, 12 minutes
From my library

Jacqueline Woodson's childhood spanned the 1960s and 1970s all the way from New York City to South Carolina. In Brown Girl Dreaming, she tells her story in verse as she remembers frequent moves, a childhood that was both idyllic and troubled, and her growing realization that she was meant to be a writer.

This book is one of the few that manages to effortlessly blend a specific moment in American history with a universal story about growing up. It's a book that is marketed as middle grade, but it is resonating deeply with readers of all ages. Woodson reads her own book and you can hear her wryly remembering moments of humor and the grief she still carries from the tough times. While many readers adored this as an audiobook, I think I would have been better off reading it in print. It's tough to fully appreciate the writing when your experience is interrupted by a kid's request or the oven timer going off. In spite of this, I can appreciate why it is both important and much beloved and I will certainly remember this book for my kids to read.

Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin Random House August 2014
3 hours, 55 minutes
From my library

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: Difficult Women

Roxane Gay is an author who is revered for her novel An Untamed State, as well as her essay collection Bad Feminist. This is her first major short story collection and it is just as powerful as her other writing.  

These stories feature women in a variety of situations, but each one of them is dark and heart-wrenching. The first follows a pair of sisters united by childhood trauma and willing to do whatever is necessary for their sibling's safety and well-being. The title story is one the most powerful, as we see one woman's life through tiny vignettes as she makes a life for herself, protects herself with anger and exercise and car keys, and raises her son. Our unnamed protagonist is described as loose, frigid, and crazy at various points and there is an unavoidable feeling that she is fighting a battle she cannot win.

Some have a touch of magical realism, like the story of a woman who is followed by water wherever she goes. Others are all reality; in Florida, Gay takes us behind the closed doors of an exclusive gated community where the long-time residents try to hold onto their power and prestige, a new resident wonders if she will ever belong, and a fitness instructor pretends she isn't bothered by the way the residents treat her.

These tales are dark and violent and full of sex and anger and loss. The women in these stories are not necessarily difficult by nature; many of them become "difficult" because of the traumas they have encountered. Short story collections can often by uneven, but this one is incredible from the first story to the last page.

Difficult Women
By Roxane Gay
Grove Press January 2017
260 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's Monday and it's a long weekend!

Hi everybody! How was your week?

I am really hoping that I remember that D has no school tomorrow. I'm not great at remembering those days off for the smaller holidays like President's Day. It's been a pretty good week around here. D had a solo sleepover with his grandparents and the beautiful warm weather over the weekend was a lovely surprise. It's always great when you can send the kids out the back door and let them play all afternoon. Reading in a hammock in the sun isn't terrible either.

This week, I read Do Not Say We Have Nothing. It's gorgeously written and it requires some serious attention on your part because it's a long book with a lot going on. Then I read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. It taught me about apartheid and South African history, made my heart ache a bit, and actually made me laugh out loud. What more could you want?


Now I'm reading Madeleine L'Engle's Camilla as part of my effort to read everything she wrote.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: This Is Where You Belong

Melody Warnick, like many people, was a frequent mover. After settling into her fifth home in just a few years, she wondered what it would take to make this place feel like home. Warnick begins researching what makes people love their towns and then embarks on a set of experiments to fall in love with Blacksburg, Virginia. Can shopping local, marching in a parade, or inviting her neighbors over make this a place where her family will want to stay?

I was really excited to pick this book up. We moved four times in the first five years of my son's life. Now that we've been in our current town for a few years, I feel like we should have more of a sense of community. We live adjacent to a private high school, and most of our neighbors are close-knit faculty members who aren't knocking at our door to invite us over for a barbecue. I was eager to find some ways to feel more connected to our town.

Melody Warnick has a warm and personable writing style. You don't feel like she's looking down her nose at you because she has walked in your shoes. Each chapter seems to be a good balance of research, interviews with other people, and her own experiences. She writes candidly about her efforts, both good and bad, and even gives readers a handy checklist at the end of each chapter. Instead of just relating the stories of doing random acts of kindness on her birthday and volunteering at a local indie movie theater, she advises readers to find things that break their heart and use that as a starting point for volunteering. 

While this book does provide many specific actions you can take to love the place you live, the moral of the story is that a place feels likes home when you love it. Love of a place is equivalent to how much you invest in its success, so Melody Warnick and her readers (maybe even this one) will be refocusing their efforts to attend a local festival, join a CSA, and even eat a meal with their neighbors.

This Is Where You Belong
By Melody Warnick
Viking June 2016
320 pages
From the library

Sunday, February 12, 2017

It's Monday. Happy (almost) Valentine's Day!

Hello bookish friends! Everyone hanging in there?

It's been the usual amount of crazy around here, but husband and I did manage to get a kids-free dinner thanks to a Parents Night Out at our church. I have been confused about what day it is since Thursday, when D had a snow day.

This week, I read (and really liked) Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. Then I read Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It was interesting to me because you can see so much of the groundwork for Life After Life. I also finished reading Faithfully Feminist. I've been reading a couple of essays each day for a few weeks.

Now I'm reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Have any of you read it?

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: The Mothers

Nadia is searching for traces of her dead mother everywhere. Her father doesn't want to talk about her so Nadia seeks answers at Upper Room Church, which was the last place anyone saw her mother alive. She finds some solace with Luke, the pastor's son, and Audrey, a new friend. But Nadia soon finds herself pregnant and the choices that she and Luke make will have repercussions for years for themselves, their families, and their church.

The Mothers has been the recipient of a lot of literary buzz this year, particularly because it is Brit Bennett's debut novel. The title refers not just to the mothers of our protagonists, who have let them down, kept information from them, and abandoned them. It also refers to a Greek chorus of sorts that is made up of the mothers and grandmothers of the church. These mothers ruminate on the joys and sorrows of their congregation, as well as the things they warned the younger generations about and the things that they failed to see.

In some ways, this is an examination of the ways our relationships change as we get older: we fall in or out of love, our friendships drift apart or become stronger, we find ourselves wanting to go back home often or never. I loved that one of the strongest parts of the novel was the friendship between Nadia and Audrey. We get to witness the unlikely beginning and see how both women make their friendship stronger and put other things before it.

This novel succeeds at being a book that is full of current issues, but is never defined by them. As a black girl, Nadia can't escape the reach of both racism and sexism as her family, her community, and the world at large are determined to interfere with her life and choices. Brit Bennett has written a wonderful novel on so many levels and I am thrilled as a reader that we have a lifetime of her work to look forward to.

The Mothers
By Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books October 2016
278 pages
From the library

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It's Monday. Can we get a different week, please?

What a week. I find myself feeling particularly weary. Parenting has been a bit, well, challenging this week. People seem to be particularly nasty and careless lately. I feel like we could all use a little bit of kindness and a few easy days right about now.

Anyway, let's talk books! I read The Wicked City, a novel about a modern woman's connection to a 1920s speakeasy. I finished out the week with Uprootedwhich I have been meaning to read for way too long.

I'm still reading Faithfully Feminista collection of essays about Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women who make space for feminism within their faith. I like reading essay collections, but I usually find myself needing some faster reading to go with it, so I'm reading Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

January Wrap-Up

So January's over? It's certainly been an interesting few weeks of 2017.

In the midst of the crazy, there has certainly been some good, though. Snuggles from adorable three year olds. Big conversations with a certain nine year old. Laughing and weeping through a Broadway show. Having all of my sisters in the same place. Seeing my best friend and BG's namesake.

What I Read/Reviewed:
I'm off to a good start book-wise. As of today, I've read 13 books this year. I reviewed five books during January. Three were for review and two were from the library. I am still reading my own books, but I just don't feel as much impetus to review them if I don't desperately need to write about them! I'm going with Michael Chabon's Moonglow for favorite January book and, quite possibly, a favorite for the year.


Favorite Kid Books:
D is flying through the Pegasus and Wings of Fire series, while BG is insisting we never return the Missy's Super Duper Royal Deluxe books to the library.
  Picture Day (Missy's Super Duper Royal Deluxe, #1)  The Flame of Olympus  (Pegasus, #1)

Favorite posts:
I wrote about my favorite 2016 books, which you can read here. Like many book bloggers, I find that blogging is sometimes not getting much time and that's ok (go do your important stuff, people!). But I also want to keep blogging because I think reading books and talking about them are important things, right now and always.

What I've Been Watching:
Jane the Virgin. This Is Us. Sherlock. The Good Place. Most importantly, the glorious Miss Phryne Fisher. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is on Netflix and it will do your heart good.


What I'm Into:
1. Pretzel Rolls
Trust me, this is what your sandwich has been missing. A pretzel roll makes everything taste better, including buffalo chicken burgers and yes, I know this from personal experience.

2. Duolingo
My dad is Romanian, but we only spoke English in our house growing up. Duolingo just added Romanian and it's a great way to easily learn a language.  You only need a few moments each day and you can work right from your phone or  computer. If you are thinking about learning a language, this is a great way to do it!

What were you into during the month of January?

Grab button for What I'm Into

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mini-reviews: The Mother Letters and Moxyland

Amber and Seth Haines had three children in three years and Seth could see his wife was exhausted and frustrated by the million things that go into caring for small children every day. So he reached out to friends and writers to draft letters detailing the struggles and joy of being a mom. Each letter is encouraging and reminds mothers that we are not alone when we find a crayon in the dryer or can't figure out what to make for dinner (again) with a table full of picky eaters.

There is a whole market of books like this, where the writer (or writers) try to give encouragement to parents. Parenting is, as my mom likes to put it, "the hardest job you will ever love." It is exhausting on every single level, but this kind of book often comes across as trite and sappy in the face of very real struggles. Fortunately The Mother Letters manages to escape this, perhaps because it features so many women with different stories and writing styles. This would be a perfect gift to give to a new mom or one who has been parenting for many years. It's a wonderful book to have on your shelf to dip into at the end of a long day and remember that other moms have walked exactly where you are now. Make sure you pick up the print version, because the book itself  is beautiful!

The Mother Letters:
Sharing the Laughter, Joys, Struggles, and Hope
By Amber C. Haines and Seth Haines
Fleming H. Revel Company April 2016
192 pages
Read via Netgalley

It's 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa and citizens are increasingly controlled by a police state that operates through technology. Kendra has recently been injected with nanotechnology that makes her a walking, glowing billboard for a popular soft drink. Toby is a blogger who mouths off about the wealthy, while surrounding himself with luxury goods. Lerato works for a giant corporation, but she isn't sure she can stay loyal to their practices. Tendeka wants to protest against a corrupt government by encouraging local teens to vandalize their city. While they don't know each other at the opening of the book, their lives will soon intersect in surprising ways.

I have read and really loved (or been creeped out by?) other books by Lauren Beukes. She is such an imaginative writer. But this one fell a bit flat for me. Each character wants to fight the system that is oppressing them, but it's tough to keep reading a story where everything seems hopeless and the methods of the oppressed are often no better than those of the oppressor. Beukes certainly has interesting ideas here and added a new voice to dystopian writing, but it is easy to see how she has grown as an author from this book to her more recent novels The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters

By Lauren Beukes
Mulholland Books August 2016 (originally published 2008)
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review: The Wicked City

Ella Hawthorne flees her wealthy life after she finds her husband cheating. She moves into a Greenwich Village apartment where the residents hear mysterious jazz music late at night. The speakeasy that used to be next door was a frequent stop for Gin Kelly in 1924. She's a flapper who seems as if she doesn't care about anything or anyone. But Gin has some secrets: her stepfather is an infamous bootlegger and a Prohibition agent wants her to be a pawn in a dangerous game to bring down the entire operation.

Beatriz Williams is a much-beloved author and this is my first time reading a book of hers. She does a good job of managing dual storylines. I often find myself wishing to spend more time in one or the other, but both are engaging in The Wicked City. There are some nice parallels between the two stories as Ella leaves behind a relationship and expectations to find what she really wants, while Gin considers for the first time that it might be good to be needed.

From reading further about this book and its writer, it seems that Williams enjoys connecting her stories and characters. Devoted readers will be thrilled to see some familiar faces, but I wonder if some things were lost for this reader who didn't know the other back stories. There seemed to be quite a few people and story threads that were introduced only to be abandoned. I did read that this will be the first of at least two books, so perhaps they will get more page time in the second story. I also found that Gin was hard to get to know as a character. It's noted that she is gifted at turning on a different personality depending on who she is with and what situation she finds herself in. While this makes her fascinating, it is hard to really grasp who she is.

The Wicked City is a fun and fast-paced historical read that will immerse you in the dazzling possibility and dangers of New York City during the 1920s.

The Wicked City
By Beatriz Williams
William Morrow January 2017
384 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Want to learn more about this book? Visit Harper Collins here.
Want to read some more reviews? You can find the rest of the TLC Book Tour reviews here.