I know. Literally two months ago I talked about how I struggled to come up with a list of books that even include romances I love, but there has been a bit of a development so I’m back to talk about romance.
After finishing Act Your Age, Eve Brown, I was *ready* for some more romance books so I’ve been buying them even though I have about a million other books to read. I want to just share the romances I’ve acquired recently in the hopes that I can share with you what’s on my radar and maybe get some additional recommendations because I can’t stop thinking about romance books.
I got The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang at the end of February and I pretty much immediately read it. I didn’t love this one. I talk about it here, but I just had some issues with the hero, Michael, and how he treated Stella. I did really like the characters individually and the general writing so I went ahead and picked up the next book in the series, The Bride Test. I don’t know much about this book apart from the fact that it follows Michael’s autistic cousin, Khai. I’m nervous because I had some issues with TKQ but I still want to see more from Helen Hoang.
I also picked up Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade. I’ve never been into fanfiction or Game of Thrones-type things BUT I am intrigued to read a romance surrounding those things. Marcus is on a show and writes fanfiction about it while April is a plus-sized cosplayer and there is some online flirtation before things progress. I am hoping and excited for some positive fat rep in books, especially in the romance genre.
Another romance I picked up recently is The Bromance Book Clubby Lyssa Kay Adams. People kept recommending it to me on Instagram when I first started posting about contemporary romances so I finally picked it up. This is about a man going through marriage troubles and he joins a romance book club with some other men in his city to improve their relationships. I think this book sounds so cute and I appreciate that this book deals with a man trying to save his marriage. They have an established past and as someone who’s been in the same relationship for eleven years, I think I’ll relate to this one a little more than the others. I’ve heard great things about it but not so much about the rest of the books in the series so I’m not sure if I’ll read more after this first one but we’ll see!!
Lastly, I was browsing the Kindle daily deals, as one does, and saw The Hating Game by Sally Thorne on major sale. I know this is an office romance and the reviews I’ve seen from people I follow are either WONDERFUL or they HATE it. I’m always intrigued when there’s such a big divide with any book but I’m nervous since romance is so touch-and-go for me. This will honestly probably be the last one I pick up of these unless someone can convince me otherwise.
Those are the romance books I’ve picked up over the past couple of months and I am torn between marathoning them back to back and saving and savoring my new love for contemporary romance. I currently have my eye on The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon and will honestly probably buy it before the end of the week because I can’t stop thinking about it but do you have any other romance recommendations? It doesn’t have to be contemporary! I’m also interested in historical but I don’t know where to start because I’m nervous about the older ones and the dubious consent that sometimes pops up. Let me know your thoughts!
I guess my reading slump is kind of over because I feel like I flew through these next books! This time I’ll be talking about a memoir about a Black man who infiltrates the KKK, a coming-of-age story told in verse, and a whimsical classic. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Genre: Adult memoir
Trigger warnings include racism, racial slurs, and KKK imagery.
In 1978 the community of Colorado Springs, Colorado experienced a growth of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) membership. One man dared to challenge their effort and thwart attempts to take over the city, Police Detective Ron Stallworth. He launched an undercover investigation into the Klan, gained membership into the organization, briefly served as Duke’s bodyguard, and was eventually asked to be the leader of the Colorado Springs chapter. The irony of this investigation was that Stallworth is… A Black man. In the process he battled internal departmental politics to successfully pull off this “sting.” Black Klansman explains how he overcame these obstacles and accomplished this almost unbelievable unique achievement.
“Publicly he would not talk about hate but about heritage and history. He spawned a new racism for the right-wing masses, one that melded the antipathy to blacks and other minorities to general dissatisfaction with government and fear of an ever-changing complex world.”
One of the first things that struck me about this story is that it doesn’t take place in the American south. So many times we want to relegate that kind of hatred to the south but it’s everywhere; just pointing at the south is not the way to talk and think about racism. This story is particularly interesting because it gives so much insight into some of their recruitment tactics in the late 70’s as well as about the ways they tried to push their message. It wasn’t just cross burning and making themselves known by rallying; the people Stallworth was dealing with were active politically and either trying to register their members to vote or even running for office themselves. They also had a lot of ties to religion which is something interesting to consider. I also appreciated the conversations surrounding media coverage and how that gives their group a sense of validation. This was in the late 70s so just think about what the advent of social media means for them. Beyond the serious and intriguing insight this memoir gives, Stallworth finds ways to include humor to poke fun at their ideas and how others perceived them. This is a short, easy-to-understand memoir and I definitely recommend it if you’re interested in this topic.
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
“I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”
I picked up the audiobook for The Poet X while I was on a walk and needed something to listen to. I was immediately drawn into Acevedo’s voice and storytelling and couldn’t stop listening even after my walk was over. This is a short story but one that packs so much into it. I remember thinking that if I’d picked this up at my local library when I was a teenager, it would have been one of those that I checked out over and over again. I really appreciated the discussion about religion and women’s bodies. Xiomara is made to see her changing body as something that will bring her trouble and something she needs to pray about. Seeing her struggle particularly with this aspect of religion was something I don’t think I’ve seen explored in a YA book before. At the end of the story, Xiomara comes to her own conclusion about religion that I think is beautiful and something that would have really stuck with me growing up in the US south.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Release Date: November 1, 1865
Genre: Children’s fantasy classic
After a tumble down the rabbit hole, Alice finds herself far away from home in the absurd world of Wonderland. As mind-bending as it is delightful, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel is pure magic for young and old alike.
“If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.”
I picked this audiobook up because I was at a point where I needed a ton of audiobooks while I was working. This was a re-read for me as I’ve read this story countless times before but I always enjoy coming back to it. It’s probably the definition of whimsical and it’s certainly nonsensical but much like with Oz, I like seeing who or what Alice will encounter next. I particularly love the scene where she’s stuck in the house and the White Rabbit has to get Bill to help. That’s one of my favorite parts of the first Disney film, as well. My other favorite part of the film isn’t included in the book but I’ll share it below. I don’t remember having read the second part of this story before (though I might have as a small child) but I am excited to listen to it the next time I need a quick audiobook.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!
Because I’m doing recent reads every week or so, it doesn’t make sense to do full wrap-ups the way I used to but I do want to have a place to reflect on the month overall so I’m going to start talking about some of my favorite things each month. I’ll start with books but I also want to talk about hobbies, movies, music, TV, etc. I had a MUCH better reading month than I did last month and it was just a better month in general so I have a bit I want to talk about.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers really took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, mostly because I thought it was going to be more romance-focused than it was. The romance the main character, Grace has with her new wife who she doesn’t know, is just part of a larger journey. Grace’s struggle to find her place and what makes her happy was something that really resonated with me. I just finished grad school and I found myself crying while listening to Grace explain the fear she felt about trying to do something important and prove she’s successful after finishing her degree. I also really related to Grace’s fear of really talking to her father. That’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life and it’s nice to see her dive into that aspect of her life. I’ve never truly connected with a character like I did with Grace and I was so surprised with what this book brought me. I even made a journal spread for this book.
Right after I finished Honey Girl, I picked up The Final Revival of Opal & Nev. This was compared to Daisy Jones and the Six (one of my favs), and I knew I had to have it. This follows Opal, a Black woman from the US who meets Nev, a musician from the UK and their music career in the 70s. The vibes were immaculate, as the kids say and I really liked being immersed in this chaotic rock lifestyle. But this story was more than that. Dawnie Walton tackles topics such as being Black in music and journalism, and racism in those scenes. The conversation surrounding racism in rock music has really ramped up in the past year and there are so many people who want to believe that it isn’t a problem and it really is. Not to mention, rock music is rooted in Black culture and I’m enjoying books about rock music that acknowledge those roots. I’m planning to make a one-page spread about this book very soon.
The next book I want to spotlight is In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. This memoir about a a woman in an abusive, lesbian relationship has some of the best writing I’ve ever read. Machado doesn’t offer readers a linear memoir but instead offers short chapters that compare parts of her relationship to other things such as world-building, horror tropes, and even a choose-your-own-adventure story. I really felt like I was trying to make sense of what was happening along with the author and while this is a heartbreaking story, I really appreciated how it was delivered.
Last, I picked up Bunny by Mona Awad on a whim and I had SUCH a good time. I knew this was a weird book but I didn’t expect anything that happened. I share a name with the main character so that made certain scenes extra jarring to read. I haven’t written my full review for this book yet but I think the most enjoyable part of my reading experience was all of the theorizing you can do while reading it. I can read a thriller and just turn my brain off and not try to guess anything but when a book plays with my sense of reality in a BIG way like Bunny does, I have so much fun trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. I have some theories about this book and some of the themes Awad is trying to get at through this funny, gross, weird story but I want to think on it a bit more before I commit to anything.
The music I’ve been really listening to has been all over the place recently. I made a playlist of songs I’ve had on repeat this month but I feel like I’m really exposing my taste here. Be warned, there’s everything from Hank Williams Sr. to Janis Joplin, to BLACKPINK, to Machine Gun Kelly + CORPSE here so maybe you’ll hate it all but maybe there will be something you’ll love too. I embedded it at the end of this post if you want to check it out since I hate how it looks in the middle of a blog post. I also made this playlist of songs from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev if you’re interested!
I only watched one new thing this month and I don’t know how I feel about it. I was in the mood for romance and I was scrolling Netflix and I watched Bridgerton. All of it. In less than twenty-four hours. I couldn’t stop watching it. I loved the costumes, the music, the chemistry, the DRAMA. Simon! Anthony and Colin! Eloise and Penelope! Wonderful. But I didn’t like Daphne after a certain event with some dubious consent about halfway through the show. I don’t want to spoil anything but her actions are appalling and irredeemable and I spent the rest of the show being angry with her and the situation. I think back on this show with so many mixed feelings and I’ve been seeking out some other people talking about it that specifically mention the event I had trouble with but I still don’t really understand why it was portrayed the way it was but I also understand they were working from a source material. I feel like I’m rambling but if you’ve watched this show, I’d love to discuss it with you because I put my thoughts on the backburner for a while and now they’re all resurfacing.
My hobbies suffered again this month. I’ve literally just been reading and listening to music (and grading) but I did go on quite a few walks since the weather is getting better. I’ve really enjoyed long walks in the afternoon to break up my work. I also had lunch outside early this week and I hope I can keep doing that in April. I know it might be boring to say that “outside” is my hobby right now but that’s just where I’m at. Walking and listening to audiobooks has been such a relaxing time and is something I’m always looking forward to. I’ve been using Scribd and if anyone wants to try it, here’s my referral code to get 60 days free (for transparency, I get a free month).
So what have you been enjoying this month? Don’t forget to check out my playlist for March!
I know this isn’t my normal type of post but I wanted to reflect a little on how I’ve been doing recently now that I’ve been teaching college English from home for an entire year. If you’re not interested in this type of post, I hope I catch you next time but if you are interested, hello!
I have been in an actual classroom four times in the past year and while I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to stay home and stay safe, it’s been ROUGH. Much of my teaching strategy involves putting students in groups to break down concepts and information, or practice applying concepts together and report back. I really enjoying seeing how they think and how they both understand and communicate information and it’s absolutely my favorite part of my job. I’ve been so sad not to really have that.
Being online means that I have to create way more small practice assignments that they would normally do in the classroom so I’m spending WAY more time grading than I normally would. That’s probably a lot of teacher’s, instructor’s, professor’s, least favorite part of the job and that feels like all I do.
A month or two ago, I got really sad because I am a contracted worker and it’s never certain if I’ll have classes in the upcoming semester and this thought crossed my mind – what if I don’t get to go back to the classroom again? I wanted to cry. I didn’t want my last year teaching college English to be so sad.
I recently found out that it looks like I’ll be back in person with three small classes starting mid-August and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to do what I love again. It does mean I’ll be spending the summer redesigning my 101 courses and figuring out what I want to do when we return but it’s so much better than the prospect of having to either look at black squares on Zoom or no one at all.
I know this will probably be the busiest I’ve been since I’ve started this blog and that’s intimidating to a certain degree but I want to still be active here in some capacity.
I’ve talked a bit about how changing teaching modalities has impacted my mental health but I want to talk about some other things I’ve been struggling with recently. I do want to go ahead and provide some trigger warnings for disordered eating and skin picking so if that’s something you’re not able to or don’t want to read about, I’ll catch you in my next post!
Having actual conversations with people I know about food stresses me out because I know that I don’t eat regularly. For MONTHS I would just eat a nutrigrain bar and a handful of chips in the mid-morning and then some crackers or something small in the late afternoon. I’d then go on to eat a fairly regular dinner. This is a cycle I keep falling into while I’m working from home probably because I don’t have real indicators of when to eat. Sometimes, I can have a week or so where I eat two meals (breakfast and dinner OR lunch and dinner) each day and I get really excited but then fall back into poor habits. I know I’ve probably talked about this here before but I just wanted to bring it back up because it continues to be an issue. I am exercising three days a week, most weeks but still eating this way and lately I’m realizing that my protein is lacking because I get exhausted and then wake up and crave beef which is really annoying because I don’t like to eat beef that often. I’m still trying to work through this and be more aware of my habits but it’s really difficult to stay on track especially because I think I’ve lost touch with my hunger cues. I don’t realize I’m hungry until I’m weak or shaking and then I’ll eat something. I have to really psych myself up to each a meal during the day when I’m alone and I wish it wasn’t like that. I’m at a loss.
On a more positive note, I think my skin picking is under control. For the past 10 or 11 months, I’ve had issues where my scalp would be really dry and then I’d pick all the skin off until it was inflamed and gross. Not great. I didn’t know how to stop even when it was painful. I finally had this memory of an over-the-counter shampoo my mom got me when I was a child that helped with my scalp. Here’s a link if you’re wondering. It can be expensive depending on what you’re used to paying for shampoo but I kid you not, two washes and I haven’t picked my scalp once. It’s such a relief to get that situation under control.
I know this is A LOT of information but I recently discovered a lot of other people were having scalp issues and I talked about it with some people on Instagram and it was comforting to hear other people do this and to share remedies/relief tips so I figured I share a bit of what’s going on with me here in case anyone else has been struggling.
This was a bit different and personal but I just wanted to share some things that I’ve been thinking about recently. How are you guys? What’s life looking like a year into this chaos?
It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about a problematic book in a children’s series, a contemporary romance I have mixed feelings about, and a continuation of a fun fantasy series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Release Date: 1913
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Trigger warnings include racism.
Forced to venture out of the dark forest, Unc Nunkie and Ojo the Unlucky call on the Crooked Magician, who introduces them to his latest creation: a living girl made out of patchwork quilts and cotton stuffing. But when an accident leaves beloved Unc Nunkie a motionless statue, it is up to Ojo to save him. In his search for the magic ingredients that will restore his uncle to life, Ojo is joined by the Patchwork Girl and by the conceited Glass Cat, who boasts of her hard ruby heart, the resourceful Shaggy Man, and the lovable block-headed Woozy, whose tail hairs are just one of the things Ojo needs to rescue Une Nunkie.
As they travel to the Emerald City, home of the wise and powerful Ozma, they meet Dorothy, the kind and sensible girl from Kansas; the gallant Scarecrow; and, of course, Toto. But no one proves more loyal than the spirited Patchwork Girl, who, although she was brought to life as a servant, is determined to see the wide world for herself.
“But I have noticed that those who continually dread ill luck and fear it will overtake them, have no time to take advantage of any good fortune that comes their way.”
While I like the idea of a story where the characters are on a quest to collect things in order to save people, the characters really let me down in this one. I’ve always been a big fan of the characters and beings Baum creates but this one just wasn’t it. The first half of the book is spent with a new cast of characters and almost all of them were annoying. There is a glass cat that is particularly irritating. Later on, we see some more familiar characters including my guy, the Shaggy Man, but it was too late. I do think there are some interesting things going on here as far as thinking about the ideals of Oz; I am particularly interested in the story opening with people who don’t have enough food because that just isn’t something I expected to happen in a place like Oz. I also thought a lot about the Patchwork Girl and the fact that she was brought to life in order to be a servant for the family who created her. I don’t want to spoil the ending so I can’t say more but something happens with that. Lastly, I can’t talk about this book and not talk about the racist depiction of what is likely the Khoekhoe people from southern Africa. They don’t play a major role in the story but do prove to be a minor obstacle to the main plot. I can’t say I was surprised to see it given when it was written. It reminded me of a less intense version of what was going on in the last book in the Narnia series. Overall, the worst in the series so far.
A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.
Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.
It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…
Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…
“When you love someone, you fight for them in every way you know how.”
I’m not sure how I felt about this book so I am going to break this review into things I enjoyed and things I felt unsure about.
Like: The start isn’t slow. By chapter two or three it already feels like things are going where some romances feel like they take a bit to hook me. I also liked the love interest, Michael, in regards to the dynamic he has with his family. He has an interesting past with his father and some things going on with his mother and that was engaging to read about. I also really liked the relationship he had with his sisters. They were so funny and comfortable with each other. There were also interactions between him and Stella that were very sweet. I also enjoyed being in Stella’s head. Learning about how she thinks especially when it comes to her work was fun.
Didn’t like so much: Sometimes Michael felt pushy. Stella wanted help learning things but it felt like Michael sometimes would brush her discomfort aside and just continue. This, of course, wasn’t all the time and I don’t think the consent was dubious but it felt like she was uncomfortable and then just wasn’t really suddenly. There are also some jealousy issues with Michael and I just didn’t like it at all. I don’t want to say too much but he was very jealous and pushy towards to end to try and win Stella back. I didn’t like reading those scenes at all. I have also seen some discourse about the autism rep as far as Stella just magically being “better” around Michael and while I can’t speak about this as I’m not part of the community, I would urge you to check out some own voices reviewers before or after going into this one because it’s something we should be aware of when discussing this particular book.
“Hercules, huh? Percy frowned. “That guy was like the Starbucks of Ancient Greece. Everywhere you turn–there he is.”
I feel like this third book in the Heroes of Olympus series is really where things start to take off. I really loved seeing this group of demigods take on such a big quest. The fact that they had to figure out how to work together in pretty dire circumstances really heightened the tension. I also think this book really allowed us to get to know Annabeth more than we have in the past. She has definitely had moments to shine in the last series but here, I was incredibly impressed with her as a character. I only have two books left in this series before I jump into the Kane Chronicles and I’m really excited to see where this is going to go.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!
When I first joined the book community, I put a lot of stock in star ratings and I felt like it was such a big part of people’s book reviews. But as I’ve been consuming book content and making book content for almost a year now, I have some thoughts about star ratings that I’d like to talk about. If you’re looking for definitive opinions and answers, this isn’t the blog post for you because I’m still really trying to think through my feelings but maybe we can have a dialogue about ratings and their usefulness.
I want to begin by talking about where I really find and acknowledge star ratings as useful. First, and most importantly, these ratings are important from a marketing standpoint and really helps the author to get people talking about their books. If you go somewhere such as Goodreads or Amazon and see the average rating is low or high, you might feel a certain way about the book. This is particularly important for books written by marginalized authors since it can already be a struggle for them to have the same marketing resources and publishing opportunities as white, straight, able-bodied, cis authors. High ratings can really help them not only get their current book in front of more people but it can also help with their future opportunities and endeavors.
I also think that star ratings can be a good initial indicator of whether or not you will enjoy a book. If everyone is giving a book five stars, that might be a good indicator that there’s some sort of universal appeal. On the other hand, if people are giving a book one or two stars left and right, that might indicate that you should look into why this is the case.
But here’s where things get a little more complicated for me – What about those middle-of-the-road books? What about those books that had equally positive and negative aspects? In order to fully explain what I mean here, I want to talk through my process of reading and rating The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. If you don’t know, this isa romance book based on Pretty Woman with an autistic main character. For probably the first half of this book or maybe even more, I loved this book. I was having such a great time and couldn’t put it down. But as the story progressed, I started noticing some things that gave me pause. These things primarily regarded the love interest, Michael. He is hired by the main character, Stella, to help her practice sex and dating so that she feels confident in those things. Sometimes Stella would express discomfort with what Michael proposed but he would push forward anyway and Stella did, ultimately, enjoy it. This gave me pause but I really started thinking about it more towards the end of the book when Michael displayed some serious jealousy.
While looking through these reviews, I found some discourse regarding Stella having her anxiety surrounding sex and dating being seduced out of her by Michael. A huge part of why Stella is so nervous in these situations is because of her autism; she’s afraid of saying and doing the wrong things because she can’t read social cues like neurotypical people can.
I couldn’t write a review without bringing this to people’s attention so how do I give this book a fair star-rating? My hope is that people will read the entire review and not just look at my star-rating and keep scrolling, but we know that’s not the case, generally. I also don’t want to give this book a middle-ground rating balancing out my enjoyment and concerns when it definitely has the potential to harm some people in the autism community. On the other hand, many people do commend this for the autism rep and the fact that Helen Hoang wrote this around the time she received her own diagnosis. A star rating isn’t going to encompass the conversation that should be had when talking about this book. It won’t even come close, but as discussed at the beginning of this post, numbers can be really helpful for marginalized authors.
I’m not condoning high ratings just because someone is in a marginalized group and writing about marginalized characters, but I did enjoy so much of this book and don’t want to rate it super low because of the last quarter of the book. So how do I give this book a fair star rating? I can’t. On Goodreads, I gave it a three stars and hope people will read my reasoning behind the rating.
While The Kiss Quotient might be an extreme example of me having mixed feelings about a book, it does happen sometimes and it displays elements of other issues I come across when rating and reviewing a book. On my IG account and my recent reads posts here, I have gotten away from using star ratings, completely. I use the CAWPILE system to establish an initial rating but I don’t think any system can fully encompass the complex feelings I have for many books. Sometimes it can and that’s great but it just doesn’t always work out.
Basically, I’m really confused and torn as to what to do when it comes to rating. I know that I might be overthinking everything but I majored in English twice so that’s just how it works in this brain. How do you decide what to rate a book? Is it a gut feeling? Do you have certain criteria? What are they? Help.
Sorry I didn’t have a new blog post up on Sunday. It’s midterm season and I’m behind on literally everything in my life but I hop to have a post up this weekend talking about star ratings and just rating books in general. In the meantime, I hope you’re not too sad to see another wrap-up from me!
It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about a contemporary romance that made me cry on more than one occasion, a historical fiction surrounding 60s and 70s rock, and a memoir that explores abuse in lesbian relationships via an interesting writing style. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
A refreshingly timely and relatable debut novel about a young woman whose life plans fall apart when she meets her wife.
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.
In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.
“I wanted to be the best, even it if meant working myself into the ground. Even if it meant breaking my back to prove I deserved a seat at a table I had no desire to sit at.”
Books don’t often make me actually cry but as I was listening to the audio on my walks at the park, I felt myself tearing up more than once. I just finished what’s most likely my last degree during a pandemic so I definitely relate to that “what’s next?” struggle. I also enjoyed seeing Grace have to really think about what being the best and success even mean for her. I definitely have an idea of what being successful means but sometimes that’s not healthy or attainable without sacrificing health and relationships and that’s something that should be talked about more. Speaking of relationships, I really loved the relationships in this book. The friendships really stood out and it was great to see all the support Grace had from her friends. The romance with the woman Grace married was also so interesting to watch develop over time. It wasn’t easy and I appreciated seeing the dynamic between people who are married but don’t know each other. Lastly, I want to talk about the relationship between Grace and her father. It’s strained and she feels scared to really talk to him and TALK ABOUT RELATABLE. Their dynamic had me in tears and doing a lot of thinking about my own life.
This book also has phenomenal queer rep with so many characters and a positive, realistic portrayal of therapy and those were really the icing on the cake that is already such a great story. I highly recommend it.
A poignant fictional oral history of the beloved rock ‘n’ roll duo who shot to fame in the 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
“Oh, honey,” she says. “How we gon’ get anywhere, with you dreaming so small?”
*I was provided an ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.*
One of my first thoughts while reading this book was that a documentary-style movie or series about this would be phenomenal. I love watching documentaries about music regardless of the genre and this book certainly scratched that itch. I really enjoyed that this story shows parallels between Opal and the journalist, Sunny. They are both fighting to tell stories that are important to them in their fields. I also think that Walton does a great job at drawing from real music history. There is a scene where a riot breaks out at a music showcase and I was reminded of the heartbreaking events of the Altamont festival in 1969 where a Black man was killed at a Rolling Stones show where the Hell’s Angels acted as security. As soon as I made that connection, the author actually references it in a footnote and that was nice to see. There is a twist at the end of part one that really had me infuriated and gripped to find out what would happen next. Walton does a great job at capturing what I imagine the rock music industry was like during the 60s and 70s. I HATED the head of the record label, Howie; he was so money hungry that it didn’t matter who got hurt in the process. There is also a plotline that is happening in more modern times that I think is very interesting. There is a festival during that time and the way the beginning is described really made me miss concerts more than I already have been in the past year. She also nods to the groups of concertgoers who end up at places like the Waffle House after shows and that made me smile considering that’s exactly where I ended up after my last concert (Blink-182).
This book is a refreshing look at rock music that acknowledges its true roots and doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of the scene regarding racism and I will definitely be on the lookout for more books, fictional or otherwise, that truly dive into the history of rock music and really give credit where credit is due.
OH! I almost forgot to add this playlist I made based on the songs directly mentioned in Opal & Nev. While I was creating it, I found this playlist that’s made by the author so definitely check that out as well.
For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.
“This is what I keep returning to: how people decide who is or is not an unreliable narrator. And after that decision has been made, what do we do with people who attempt to construct their own vision of justice?”
Apart from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir, Fun Home, this is the best and most unique memoir I’ve ever read. While the subject matter is difficult to read about, I found myself wanting to know how the story would be told in the next chapter. Very close to the beginning of the book, Machado discusses archives and who decides what gets remembered and how it is remembered. This discussion is then tied to abuse in queer relationships. Since grad school, I’ve been really interested in archives and who/how they are created so this was such an interesting way to think about this type of story. The narrative itself is broken into short chapters and reminds me of books I’ve read about pop culture studies where it’s broken down topic by topic. For example, there’s a chapter called ‘Dream House as World Building” and talks about the fact that abusers often isolate their victims and compares that to letting an isolated setting be a huge part of the story. There is also a chapter that operates like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and it’s absolutely heartbreaking because there’s no way to get a happy ending. As far as the subject matter itself, definitely check out trigger warnings and make sure you’re in an okay place because there were some times I had to stop and focus on my breathing. Machado does a great job at capturing and conveying the slow progression of abuse while adding the nuance of this happening in a relationship between two women with some of the best writing I’ve ever read.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!
It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about a presidential memoir, a lengthy epic fantasy with sapphics and dragons, and a historical fiction set in late 1400s England. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making, from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.
In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.
Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office. Click here to continue.
“Perhaps most troubling of all, our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis—a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be; a crisis that has left the body politic divided, angry, and mistrustful, and has allowed for an ongoing breach of institutional norms, procedural safeguards, and the adherence to basic facts that both Republicans and Democrats once took for granted.”
I don’t know how to review this so I just want to talk about some thoughts I had while listening to this audiobook. First, I truly believe audio is the way to go. I don’t think I would have finished it without listening to the audio or it would have just taken me a lot longer to get through. Some parts simply were a little dry. That being said, this memoir made me really have to confront some frustrations I have with American politics that I knew but don’t particularly enjoy thinking about. It can all be summed up fairly simply as political strategy vs. doing what you truly believe. The games that are involved in politics in order to maintain or advance someone’s political career really get in the way so much of the time. And yes, I knew this was a thing but listening to hours of concrete examples really can make you frustrated. That’s not to say that this book was just a doom and gloom fest. I think Obama mixes in some stories that are hopeful and heartfelt and sometimes, just really funny in with the more serious aspects and that really helped keep me going. I especially liked hearing him speak about his family and the balance (or lack of) between being a father, son, husband, etc., and being the president during an economic crisis (among other things). This is also just a minor thing I noticed but the way he speaks about people who disagree with him largely with either respect or at least neutrality is a HUGE contrast to what we’ve been seeing the past five years or so and that was interesting to think about, as well.
A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door. Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tane has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
“Piety can turn the power-hungry into monsters,’ Ead said. ‘They can twist any teaching to justify their actions.”
This book is LONG and I’ve been intimidated by it for a while not only because of the length but because I am still learning what I do and don’t enjoy when it comes to fantasy. My foray into this world was definitely successful. First and foremost, I loved the characters. Tane and Truyde were among my favorites. I think they both were so complex and my feelings about them were constantly challenged and changing (especially Truyde). I will warn you, the deaths in this book are heartbreaking and sometimes pretty brutal. There were nights I found myself sitting in bed, jaw dropped, rereading the deaths because I couldn’t believe what happened. While this book is long, I don’t think many words were wasted. There was one obstacle towards the end that I could have done without but overall, I think the length is necessary which isn’t true for every long book I’ve read. That being said, there were some places where I felt the writing was a little dry. I’ve found that a lot of European-based adult fantasy can be that way. This means I have to be in a very specific mood to pick up those types of books and it’s nothing against this one in particular.
As far as my personal journey with fantasy, I am in a place where I know the whole “white men in high/epic fantasy doing things” genre is usually my thing but Priory has shown me that a more female-centered approach can certainly work for me. I also know that I want to start exploring more fantasy by people of color that isn’t set in or inspired by European settings and/or societies. I adored The Broken Earth Trilogy and on the YA side of things, I’m hoping to pick up The Gilded Ones soon.
Princess of Thorns by Saga Hillbom
Release Date: March 1, 2021
Genre: Adult historical fiction
Trigger warnings include: death of loved ones including a child, abuse by a partner, hanging
1483, Westminster. The bells toll for the dead king, Edward IV, while his rivaling nobles grasp for power. His daughter Cecily can only watch as England is plunged into chaos, torn between her loyalties to her headstrong mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her favourite uncle, Richard of Gloucester. When Elizabeth schemes to secure her own son on the throne that Richard lays claim to, Cecily and her siblings become pawns in a perilous game.
The Yorkist dynasty that Cecily holds so dear soon faces another threat: the last Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor. Meanwhile, Cecily battles with envy towards her older sister, who is betrothed to Tudor.
The White Rose of York has turned its thorns inwards, and royal blood proves fatal…
Princess of Thorns is a sweeping tale of loyalty and treason, ambition and family bonds.
“There is a hefty dose of knowledge in her dark eyes, the result of a lifetime spend maneuvering as a woman through a political landscape torn to shreds by men.”
*I was sent an ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review*
I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction but have recently fallen out of it a bit but this story really sucked me back in and now I want more. Princess of Thorns has a phenomenal mix of giving historical context and information while crafting a story that allows me to form a connection with the characters, especially Cecily. I knew vaguely of the events during this time period so I knew some of the major political changes that would happen but, of course, I wasn’t sure exactly where this story was going. I kept going back and forth with my feelings about Cecily but I was desperately rooting for her to form a romance with a friend, Thomas. Their interactions were adorable and I felt so invested in their relationship. This story brings up tons of issues of the time but I was particularly compelled by the issues of class and of seeing how politics impacted women surrounding the inner circle. They knew what was going on but weren’t always able to be involved in the most direct way. That’s a topic I enjoyed exploring in my English degrees and this story renewed my interest. Lastly, I enjoyed the brief way Hillbom explores queerness during this time. It was a small moment but it was exciting to see. This book just came out last week so definitely check it out!
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!
I know we’ve all heard “the book is always better” but is it? A lot of times, the answer is definitely “yes.” I know I get this feeling in my stomach when I hear about a book I love being adapted into a movie or TV show and it sure isn’t excitement. I get nervous because I’m afraid they’ll leave out my favorite scene or character or the casting will be AWFUL or they’ll try to force it to be something it isn’t. But sometimes… I think the movie is just as good, if not better and today I want to talk about three times when I was pleasantly surprised.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t really watch movies anymore and am just not a *movie person* in general so these are just my opinions don’t attack me lol.
The first adaptation that comes to mind is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m not talking about The Hobbit because those films just didn’t hit for me but LOTR is a different story. I grew up watching these films and I’m sure that has something to do with my opinion but I reread the series this past year and I don’t think my feelings come entirely from a place of nostalgia. It’s clear that in writing this series, Tolkien’s number one goal was to build his own world. He isn’t afraid to spend pages describing the history of places the fellowship travels to and through. He gives so many details and so much description and while I admire the hard work Tolkien put into his writing, sometimes I find it hard to keep reading for long periods of time. I get distracted and sometimes, a little bored. There’s also the way the second and third books are structured that makes the reading process a bit different than what modern readers might be used to. We end up spending SO MUCH time with one set of characters and don’t hear from the others at all. We get glimpses of what they’re doing but it isn’t until much later that we do a rewind and get to spend time with the other group. It’s just not a structure I’m used to reading and it makes it difficult to get through at times. The films choose to jump back and forth between groups and it just makes the story feel more fast-paced and enjoyable.
This is not to say that I hate the books. I enjoyed reading this series and have a lot of respect for what Tolkien created. I certainly could never create something that complex. I also recognize it as having a huge role in the development of fantasy as a genre. I just think the films are much more accessible and fun.
The last two examples I want to talk about aren’t so much about thinking the adaptation is better but about me loving them equally. So that means we’re going to talk about Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I have mixed feelings about McEwan and his work but Atonement very well might be my favorite book of all time. It’s a WWII historical fiction that follows Briony Tallis after she accused the wrong man of a horrible crime and her journey to atone for that. The film, whose ending is slightly different and doesn’t work *quite* as well as the book’s ending, is overall just as great and I revisit it all the time. It’s difficult for me to explain why I love this story so much but I think it’s mostly down to the tragic romance. The man who was wrongly accused is, of course, separated from Briony’s older sister, his true love, and seeing what becomes of them just makes me so sad and if you’re new here, I like to consume sad media. It just really does it for me. The first time I read the book, I was shocked by the narrative twist towards the end and immediately had to text the only person I knew who had also read the book because I just needed to scream about it. I then went to watch the film which stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy 😍 and was equally wrapped up in the tragedy and romance. I expected to be totally disappointed but I wasn’t. And for someone, again, who doesn’t really watch movies, this is one I regularly revisit and I’m thinking it’s time for a re-watch (and maybe a re-read but I’m scared lol).
The last adaptation I want to talk about is A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Now before you think I’m about the say that the film starring Jim Carrey is a valid adaptation, just note that I have eyes and I’m talking about the Netflix show. I grew up reading A Series of Unfortunate Events as the books were released and they will always hold a special place in my heart so imagine how I felt when I saw the 2004 film in theaters. Did I laugh? Absolutely. Did I spend the entire car ride home telling my mom how they changed everything from the vibe to the story order? You bet. Naturally, I was incredibly nervous about the show but I did have a bit more hope seeing as they were going to spend time adapting every book into a couple of episodes. As I sat down with my partner to watch the series, I was still a little iffy about it but halfway through the first season, I was sold on it. I just think it’s a fun way to revisit the story I loved so much growing up and I definitely recommend it.
As I was writing this post, I started thinking about some other adaptations, primarily of classics so I might do another post later on with some of those ideas if people want to see it!
What about you? What adaptations do you think are just as good or even better than the book?
It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about an adult contemporary fiction about immigration, a YA contemporary with a thriller twist, and the conclusion to my new favorite series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Genre: Adult contemporary/literary fiction
Trigger warnings include: animal abuse, racism, violence, mention of forced sterilization, rape, loss of a loved one
For readers of Valeria Luiselli and Edwidge Danticat, an urgent and lyrical novel about a Colombian family fractured by deportation, offering an intimate perspective on an experience that so many have endured—and are enduring right now.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Colombia is a country devastated by half a century of violence. Elena and Mauro are teenagers when they meet, their blooming love an antidote to the mounting brutality of life in Bogotá. Once their first daughter is born, and facing grim economic prospects, they set their sights on the United States.
They travel to Houston and send wages back to Elena’s mother, all the while weighing whether to risk overstaying their tourist visas or to return to Bogotá. As their family expands, and they move again and again, their decision to ignore their exit dates plunges the young family into the precariousness of undocumented status, the threat of discovery menacing a life already strained. When Mauro is deported, Elena, now tasked with caring for their three small children, makes a difficult choice that will ease her burdens but splinter the family even further.
Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself the daughter of Colombian immigrants and a dual citizen, gives voice to Mauro and Elena, as well as their children, Karina, Nando, and Talia—each one navigating a divided existence, weighing their allegiance to the past, the future, to one another, and to themselves. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality for the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.
“She told them her mother was abroad and sent her back to Colombia when she was a baby. But this particular family condition was so common it couldn’t possibly be considered trauma.”
While this book is less than 200 pages, it tells a powerful and important story that I found myself wanting to take my time with and that I think will stick with me for a long time. I was most struck by Engel’s writing. She sometimes is very straightforward and sometimes takes a few pages to give readers some folklore or legends that paint a picture of Colombia and its people and that adds greater significance and context to what the characters are experiencing. There are certainly some heartbreaking moments with this family and the fact that Engel is able to show the complicated dynamics of a family separated in so few pages is amazing. Something that my eyes were especially opened to through this story is the ways so many programs and opportunities in the US set up for immigrants can pose such a risk to those same people and their families. By trying to enter that system, they are bringing attention to themselves and those around them and that increases the risk of splitting up their families even more. I can’t say much else since this book is so short but I do want to end this with some recommendations of books I thought of while reading this one: Native Country of the Heart by Cherrie Moraga & Create Dangerously by Edwidge Danticat. These recommendations are partly to do with themes but mostly to do with the writing style.
One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.
ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?
When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.
One of the good ones.
Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.
“I know that existing as a human on this Earth should be enough to deserve respect and justice. But it isn’t. Instead, we focus on those who we deem worthy, for whom we allow ourselves to feel the weight of their loss.”
*I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*
The only thing I knew about this book before going in was that it was pitched as “The Hate U Give meets Get Out” and that was enough to get me excited. I dropped everything as soon as I got a notification from Netgalley and found a compelling story and characters I really loved but aspects of the structure and writing didn’t work as much for me. I really liked the set-up of this story. Getting to know all the key players and their pasts that would become important later caught my attention and I especially enjoyed getting to know Kezi and her girlfriend. I also liked the multi-generational aspect of the story. You get to learn about Kezi’s family history and what sparked the road trip in the first place. There is also a mystery element that REALLY picks up in part three and was especially gripping. The ending provided some powerful commentary on how the media portrays Black people when they are killed and how they decide who is worth mourning – who is “one of the good ones” – and the impacts of those decisions.
The main aspect of the book that brought down my reading experience was down to transitions between scenes. Sometimes scenes would end and there was not really an indication we were moving to something else apart from a paragraph break and sometimes it took me a bit to realize what was happening. I would quickly get back on track but there were a few times when I felt like a couple of sentences might have been missing. I also felt like I wanted a little more from the ending. The peak of the action was very late in the story and then it was just over.
Overall, I still recommend this story as it deals with important themes of police brutality, who we decide is worth mourning, and what can happen when racism is passed down through generations. Even though I had some issues with the writing, I think the positives definitely outweigh any of that.
“But for a society build on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.”
About halfway through this book, I knew that this would be my favorite series and that I would do a journal spread commemorating it. The stakes were so high and I loved and cared about all of these characters and while a ton of world-building isn’t exactly something that interests me, the way Jemisin does it kept me hooked until the end. I have been on a journey trying to learn what I like in fantasy and am so thankful for this series existing and showing me what I enjoy. What I really appreciate about this series are all of the real-world themes Jemisin covers in this fantasy world. This story is very much about surviving but it also contains discussions of environmentalism, blood relations vs. found family, prejudices, and slavery and exploitation. I was constantly thinking about current events and because of the intersection between environmentalism and oppression, I started thinking about how climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color and there are so many other topics to think about in relation to this story and that is something that usually comes along with books that I consider to be favorites. I don’t think I’ll stop talking about this series for a while and I definitely recommend it if you’re into adult fantasy and want something a bit different and complex to try. I’ll certainly be reading Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy in the future.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!