Recent Reads 10

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

Black Klansman

Release Date: May 13, 2014

Genre: Adult memoir

Pages: 191

Trigger warnings include racism, racial slurs, and KKK imagery.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Review

“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.

The Poey X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Genre: YA contemporary

Pages: 368

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Thoughts

“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

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Release Date: November 1, 1865

Genre: Children’s fantasy classic

Pages: 96

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Thoughts

“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!

March 2021 Favs

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.

Books

Honey Girl

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.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

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.

In the Dream House

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.

Music

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!

TV/Movies

Bridgerton

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.

Hobbies

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!

Recent Reads 9

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

Pages: 346

Trigger warnings include racism.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Review

“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.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Release Date: May 30, 2018

Genre: Adult contemporary romance

Pages: 314

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

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…

Brief Thoughts

“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.

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

Release Date: October 2, 2012

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy

Pages: 586

Goodreads Synopsis

Since this is the third in a series, here’s a link to the first book in this series and a link to the synopsis for this book.

Brief Thoughts

“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!

Recent Reads 8

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.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Release Date: February 23, 2021

Genre: Adult contemporary

Pages: 241

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Review

“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.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

Release Date: March 30, 2021

Genre: Adult historical fiction

Pages: 368

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Thoughts

“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.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Genre: Adult Memoir

Pages: 251

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Thoughts

“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!

Recent Reads 7

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 Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Release Date: November 17, 2020

Genre: Adult autobiography

Pages: 768

Trigger warnings include: racism, death, cancer, Islamophobia

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Review

“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.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Release Date: February 26, 2019

Genre: Adult fantasy

Pages: 830

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Thoughts

“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

Princess of Thorns by Saga Hillbom

Release Date: March 1, 2021

Genre: Adult historical fiction

Pages: 390

Trigger warnings include: death of loved ones including a child, abuse by a partner, hanging

Goodreads Synopsis

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.

Brief Thoughts

“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!

February 2021 Favs

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. To be transparent, it was not a great month for me. My mental health usually takes a dive in February and this time was no exception. I truly spent a lot of time just listening to music and unmotivated to do anything but I do have a few things I want to talk about.

Books

Even though I read significantly less this month than I did in previous months and so many of them were just okay, I still had two books that really stood out to me. They probably won’t surprise you if you’ve been reading my blog but I’m going to talk about them anyway.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

I was INCREDIBLY lucky to receive an ARC of Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert this month. I’ve loved this entire romance series and immediately dropped everything to read this ARC. Obviously, I don’t regret it. If you want a slightly cohesive review, click the link above but I just want to use this space to gush about the one book that made me truly have a fun time this month. I don’t usually read romance but now that I’ve finished this series, I’m looking for more. I couldn’t stop smiling while I was reading about this grumpy/sunshine couple going from annoyed to in love while working together in an English bed and breakfast. The banter was *chef’s kiss* and so was the steam! I went from unsure about Eve to really relating to her in the end and I’m thankful to Hibbert for taking me on that journey with a character. I also loved all the music references. I think I want to compile a playlist of all the mentioned songs just for fun, but I’m sure someone has already done that. The books in this series can be read as standalones so I definitely recommend picking this up when it comes out on March 9!

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

I’m also going to talk about N. K. Jemisin again this month. I read the final book in The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Stone Sky and I’m just going to say this is absolutely my favorite series of all time and I don’t see how anything can top it. This is one of the last books I finished this month and I haven’t written my official review yet so this might be unorganized but I’m always unorganized so what’s the difference? This is how to end a story. There was so much action and the stakes were so high; I couldn’t put it down. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful. 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. There is SO MUCH going on and so much to think about and I’d really love to read the entire series again because this is one of those stories where I’m certain I’ll get something else out of it every time I read it again. I can’t recommend this series enough if you’re in the mood for a truly clever fantasy that takes a bit of work but is DEFINITELY worth it.

Music

I’ve still been watching Arctic Monkeys concerts but there are some other songs in my rotation. First, I showed up a little late to the Ashnikko party. Her DEMIDEVIL album is so much fun and I just feel so hyped when I listen to it. Both “Daisy” and “Deal With It” are standouts and I highly recommend. I also found an acoustic cover of Ariana Grande’s “God is a Woman” and I didn’t know that I needed it but I did. I am considering making playlists in future months but I need to check my privacy settings because I don’t want to expose myself that much 😂

TV/Movies

The Muppet Show opening.

I’m still rewatching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia but I’m also watching The Muppet Show. I grew up with practically no internet and limited television so I was constantly watching the couple of Muppet Show VHS tapes we had at my grandma’s house. It definitely shaped a lot of my early music taste and I was thrilled to see it available to stream this month. I still think it’s such an innovative idea for a variety show that showcased celebrities of the time with a combination of comedy and musical numbers. Is it cheesy? Absolutely. Is it sometimes offensive? Unfortunately. While it isn’t perfect, I have fun revisiting episodes I had on VHS and seeing ones I’ve never seen before. So far, Paul Williams from the band, Three Dog Night is my favorite. His version of “An Old Fashioned Love Song” on the show is better than the original. That might be controversial. I don’t know. But here’s a link to a low-quality video of his performance where he sings the song with two muppet versions of himself.

The cast of Knives Out.

I don’t really consider myself a person who likes movies if I’m being honest. There are some that I like, of course but it takes a lot to get me to sit down and watch one. I do like Knives Out, though. Knives Out is sort of a long movie – over two hours. I’ve watched it twice, in full and didn’t scroll through a single app during it either time. It’s a compelling, funny, mystery where the twists don’t stop. Phenomenal. I rewatched this movie a few weeks ago with my partner since he’s never seen it and I had such a fun time seeing him react to all the twists. I’m chasing the feeling of this movie in book form and I’m not sure I’m going to find it.

Hobbies

I had a difficult time enjoying hobbies this month but I did do a few things with my free time outside of reading and watching things. I’ve started making aesthetic journal spreads to review my favorite books each month. I am having a ton of fun planning out spreads and putting things together. I haven’t done one for The Stone Sky yet but I did for Eve Brown and I really like how it turned out (see below).

I’ve also been playing a few videogames. I got the remaster of Super Mario 3D World for Switch. Before Mario Odyssey came out, this was my favorite Mario game of all time. I’ve been trying to make it last and not play through the whole thing in just a few weeks but I’m approaching the end of the main game because I spent a couple of afternoons unable to put it down. It’s such a fun time.

I also started a new cross-stitch project but it’s much more complicated than the one I did before so it’s taking me a bit more time to finish. I’m really excited to show off the final piece.

So what have you been enjoying this month?

Recent Reads 5

It’s time again for another round of recent reads! I know it’s been a while. I’ve been in such a slump and can’t seem to get it together but no matter! I’ve finally read three books so here we go. This time I’ll be talking about a middle grade classic fantasy, a stunning historical fiction, and the second book in a beloved middle-grade series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.

The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Release Date: 1910

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy

Pages: 160

Here’s a link to the synopsis for the first book in the series. I did this, not because of spoilers but because the Goodreads synopsis makes absolutely no sense.

Brief Review

“To be angry once in a while is really good fun, because it makes others so miserable. But to be angry morning, noon and night, as I am, grows monotonous and prevents my gaining any other pleasure in life.”

I have a lot of thoughts about this book. To start with, the author’s note made me smile because Baum talks about the kids who have sent him letters with ideas for his Oz books. As I was reading, I tried to guess what the kids might have suggested and I’m so sure that the school pills, pills you take to learn everything you need at school, were their idea. I also think this book is incredibly funny. The Nome King and the Whimsies particularly made me laugh out loud. This book also included some more anti-capitalist themes but he is sure to say that the way Oz works would only work in Oz. I wonder if Baum felt that way or if he was saying it to appease someone else. 

I also was pleased to see Baum playing with a narrative structure he hadn’t tried before in previous books. He went back and forth between the Nome King and Dorothy and I was excited to see how these plot lines came together but they just… didn’t really. The ending felt a little cheap. I also think the VERY end of the book had some anti-immigrant rhetoric and I was a bit confused? I don’t want to spoil anything but it was strange. Baum made the ending seem like this is the last book in the series but clearly there’s at least eight more to go so I’m interested to see what’s going to happen next.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Release Date: June 2, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction

Pages: 343

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins. 

Brief Thoughts

“When you married someone, you promised to love every person he would be. He promised to love every person she had been. And here they were, still trying, even though the past and the future were both mysteries.”

I feel like everyone’s heard about and probably even read The Vanishing Half and I’m late to the party but as someone who loves multi-generational family stories, I’m glad to be here now. It took me a bit to get used to the time jumps but once I was into it, I was hooked. I found myself thinking about the characters even when I wasn’t reading. I especially thought about one of the twins, Stella, and the mystery surrounding her in the first half of the book. There is a bit of a cliffhanger before one of the first big time jumps that had me ready to keep reading. The characters are definitely the strongest part of this book. Bennett took time and care with developing every single character. The twins and their daughters were certainly interesting to watch change and think throughout the story but the side characters were just as interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading about Reese and his experiences being trans. I also liked that Bennett didn’t provide us with a neat ending for every character. It felt more realistic that way. I have mentioned before my love of stories about strained family relationships that aren’t just tied up in a bow at the end and this does that well. Those wounds take time to heal and I love authors who understand and acknowledge it. Bennett’s in-depth and nuanced look at not only racism but colorism is something I think everyone should read.

Also, if you like the “two women who are close come from the same town but make different choices” aspect of this story, please pick up Sula by Toni Morrisson. 

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Release Date: October 4, 2011

Genre: Middle-grade Fantasy

Pages: 513

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

Since this is a series, here’s a link to the synopsis of the first book, and this one.

Brief Thoughts

“Life is only precious because it ends, kid.”

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and I wasn’t loving the first bit of this book. I liked learning about a new setting and group of people but there was a camp games type event that went on a bit too long for me. After that, though, the action really took off and I was invested. I think Riordan does a great job and slowly introducing more aspects of the characters’ personalities. I felt really attached to Hazel and Frank. I also think Riordan is great at writing endings that get you so excited to see what happens next in the series. If I wasn’t already a bit burned out from fantasy, I would have a hard time not going ahead and picking up the next book. Also, Nico is in this one and that made me happy.

What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!

Recent Reads 4

It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about a YA Fantasy that was a little *too* YA for me, a witchy graphic novel, and a manga adaptation of an intimidating classic. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.

Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

Release Date: October 20, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 352

Goodreads Synopsis

Cerys is safe in the kingdom of Aloriya.

Here there are no droughts, disease, or famine, and peace is everlasting. It has been this way for hundreds of years, since the first king made a bargain with the Lady who ruled the forest that borders the kingdom. But as Aloriya prospered, the woods grew dark, cursed, and forbidden. Cerys knows this all too well: when she was young, she barely escaped as the woods killed her friends and her mother. Now Cerys carries a small bit of the curse—the magic—in her blood, a reminder of the day she lost everything. The most danger she faces now, as a gardener’s daughter, is the annoying fox who stalks the royal gardens and won’t leave her alone.

As a new queen is crowned, however, things long hidden in the woods descend on the kingdom itself. Cerys is forced on the run, her only companions the small fox from the garden, a strange and powerful bear, and the magic in her veins. It’s up to her to find the legendary Lady of the Wilds and beg for a way to save her home. But the road is darker and more dangerous than she knows, and as secrets from the past are uncovered amid the teeth and roots of the forest, it’s going to take everything she has just to survive.

Brief Review

“I always thought that gardeners’ daughters couldn’t thrive where our roots didn’t grow. But maybe we were like dandelion tuffs.”

What I liked:

I really loved the atmosphere in this book. It’s definitely the strongest part for me. The creepy forest crawling with zombie-esque creatures cursed by the woods themselves really made for strong imagery that was fun to read about. The description of the main threat, the Ancient, also painted a creepy picture and I’d really like to see some fanart of him. I also like the softer side of the atmosphere. Cerys has magic that, among other things, allows her to use her blood to grow plants. Descriptions of a streak of moss or healing plants that seem to be cursed are both vivid and beautiful.

What I didn’t like:

Unfortunately, not much else about this worked for me. I think the pacing was a bit off. I kept zoning out and skimming especially in the middle section. I just wasn’t hooked. The ending was very exciting but was over so quickly; I wanted more of that energy. I also think this is a young YA book. That’s not the book’s fault – this just isn’t for me. I can’t say what really bothered me for the bulk of the book without spoiling it but I’ll just say there is some *very* specific about the romance that I just couldn’t get into. I do think this would be good for a younger audience especially if they’re new to fantasy.

Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries

Release Date: September 17, 2019

Genre: Fantasy graphic novel

Pages: 272

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

In the witch kingdom Hyalin, the strength of your magic is determined by the length of your hair. Those that are strong enough are conscripted by the Witch Guard, who enforce the law in peacetime and protect the land during war. However, those with hair judged too long are pronounced enemies of the kingdom, and annihilated. This is called a witch burning.

Witchy is a comic about the young witch Nyneve, who is haunted by the death of her father and the threat the Witch Guard poses to her own life. When conscription rolls around, Nyneve has a choice to make; join the institution complicit in her father’s death, or stand up for her ideals?

Witchy was nominated for the 2015 Ignatz for Outstanding Online Comic, the 2016 DINKy for Outstanding Web Comic, and the Danish “Pingprisen” for Best Online Series in 2017 and 2018. 

Brief Thoughts

If others pull you from the darkness, it’s because they believe your life is worth living. Don’t push them away because you don’t feel you deserve it.

I borrowed this beautiful graphic novel from a friend this month and loved spending a cozy afternoon in my reading corner diving into this story. To start, the artwork is phenomenal! The characters are so cute and expressive but the scenery is what really stands out to me. The color pallets are beautiful and calming; I spent so much time just looking at the art work. As far as the story, there were some places where it felt a little slow but I really loved seeing Nyneve interact with her friends and the people she meets later in the story. This story ends on a cliffhanger that looks like we will be following Nyneve’s friends for a while so I definitely plan to go to Ariel Slamet Ries’ tumblr to read more of the story.

Les Misérables: Manga Classics by Victor Hugo, adapted by Crystal Chan

Release Date: May 1, 2014

Genre: Classic, Manga

Pages: 345

Goodreads Synopsis

Victor Hugo’s classic novel of love & tragedy during the French Revolution is reborn in this fantastic new manga adaptation by Crystal S. Chan! In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole, agrees to care for a factory worker’s daughter. The decision changes their lives forever. “Les Miz” has been adapted for stage and screen, and loved around the world by millions of readers. The gorgeous art of SunNeko Lee brings to life the tragic stories of Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert, and the beautiful Fantine, in this epic Manga Classics production of Les Miserables!

Brief Thoughts

Love each other well and always. There is nothing else but that in the world: love for each other.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review!

Les Miserables is a story that has always fascinated me. I was first introduced to it via the musical and really wanted to read the book by Victor Hugo but was deterred by the size. It’s still on my list; one day I’ll tackle it but this manga adaptation held me over in the meantime and might have even given me an extra push to prioritize it this year. Since I haven’t read the source material, I can’t compare it to that but I can compare it to the musical and judge it as its own story.

Since this is a manga, I want to start with the artwork. The characters are so beautiful, particularly Cosette and Eponine and the scenery felt really fleshed out so I had a great feel for the atmosphere. There were a couple of times where the action was confusing to me, though. I wasn’t quite sure what happened in a scene with Fantine but it was explained on a later page. There was also a moment in a battle scene where I wasn’t quite sure what happened but overall, it didn’t hinder my understanding of the story.

The storytelling was also great for me. There were things I didn’t remember from the musical either because I forgot or because they are from the book only and that gave me something new to add to my understanding of Hugo’s work.She I’m also just inspired by the themes of religion, oppressive poverty, and revolution. It feels even more important that it did the first time I encountered the story given the current social and political climate.

Lastly, I want to talk about the treatment of Fantine in this story. I will go ahead and say MINOR SPOILERS ahead because that’s the only way to talk about this. I was curious how the manga would approach the fact that Fantine has to resort to prostitution for money. The art doesn’t show anything more than a man leaving Fantine under a blanket and leaving money but it is enough so that readers know what happened without it being too jarring for readers. I thought it was handled well. One thing I want to bring up, though is later when Fantine is in court for prostitution. She describes herself as a “bad girl” which is probably a sentiment expressed in the novel given the religious overtones. From a modern lens this becomes an issue regarding the stigma around sex work so that is something to think about.

What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!

January 2021 Favs

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. so let’s get started!

Books

I have two stand-out books from this past month. If you’ve talked to me about books or read anything I’ve posted about books recently, this shouldn’t be a surprise because these books are from two of my new favorite authors.

First, I want to talk about The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin. This is the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy and I loved it just as much as I loved the first book. This is rare for me. I typically don’t pick up a series because I’m afraid of investing time in something only to not like a large chunk of it. I also have never been a series fantasy reader but I think this series is going to be the thing to get me into fantasy and I am so excited for that possibility. I’ve really loved being able to jump into this world. It certainly takes a certain level of time and focus to read and get everything from Jemisin’s writing. As someone who zones out a lot, it can be difficult for me sometimes but for me, it’s totally worth it. I think Jemisin creates such interesting characters; I want to know what happened to them before and what will happen to them in the future. I also appreciate Jemisin’s narrative structure in both of these books. It isn’t linear and she has a way of bringing everything together in a way that seems simple but takes me by surprise every single time. 

I also want to give attention to Grown by Tiffany D Jackson. I never read books in one day. That’s just not my style, but Grown was impossible to put down. This book deals with some difficult subject matter and my heart broke for the main character, Enchanted. I had to know that she was going to be okay and the writing really lent itself to me being able to fly through the story in two sittings. If you’re familiar with Jackson’s work, you probably know that she tends to write hard-hitting YA contemporaries or thrillers. I read a fair amount of YA and enjoy it but it never quite ends up being a favorite but now that I’ve read two of Jackson’s books and they’ve become instant favorites, I’m starting to see what is possible in those genres. With Grown specifically, I appreciated the commentary on the way society doesn’t listen to women, especially Black women, when they have been abused. They are blamed or called liars when they speak up and while this story takes place in the music industry, it has messages that apply to the broader conversation surrounding women and sexual assault, grooming, stalking, etc. 

Music

I’m in a *very* specific mood musically. I’ve made a YouTube playlist to put on when I’m having a hard time focusing on anything that’s primarily live performances by Arctic Monkeys and Neck Deep. I really miss live music and since the seasonal depression is hitting hard, I’m reminding myself of better summer when I could go to shows. I’ll include a favorite performance for each band below in case you want to check them out. I wish I had something new and exciting to talk about musically but my brain just wants old, familiar sounds these days.

TV

There are two TV shows I’ve really been watching this month. First, I started getting back into One Piece. This is an anime that follows a group of pirates. The main character has a special ability that made him essentially made of rubber. It sounds lame but it comes in handy quite a bit. The trade-off – he can’t swim. If I’m not mistaken, this series is the longest-running anime and manga and I have a love/hate relationship with it. I’ll never catch up and I’ll never collect all the manga. It’s not feasible. But I love the story so much so I keep trying. Comedy is a must in my anime and while this one has plenty of action, it also makes me laugh all the time. Luffy is blindly confident and sometimes it gets the crew in trouble and a lot of times, it really pays off. Besides him, my favorite characters are Zoro and Ace.

I’ve also been watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Again. I can’t help it. I love this show so much. The main characters are totally unlikeable and are awful people and that’s the point. The creators make fun of the worst people you could meet and shows how ridiculous it is to act horribly and hold the worst beliefs. That being said, I do have a favorite character – Mac. He is incredibly religious and tries to use his religion to justify his ignorant beliefs all while struggling with his sexuality. And somehow, the writers turned this into something that is comedy gold (though I will say that the finale to season 13 takes a more serious look at his character and is just such a beautiful episode).

Hobbies

Especially at the beginning of the month, I was playing a lot of videogames. Primarily I was playing various Assassin’s Creed games. I am not great at finishing or sticking to one game so I’ve been switching between Valhalla, Origins, and Odyssey. I get really sucked in when I’m playing because I like tracking quests and traveling all over the world to accomplish small things that add up. I also played a ton of Kingdom Hearts this month. I played Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance the most. This is one of my favorite game series because I like the mix of Disney + Final Fantasy and how it’s kind of surprisingly dark sometimes. I think a lot about the conversations that were had that made Disney decide to agree. I made it all the way to the boss and then just didn’t finish the game. I’m really bad about that.

I also have been learning to cross-stitch. It’s really relaxing and helpful especially when I’m feeling anxious. Since I’m new to it, I really have to focus on what I’m doing which means I can’t think about everything else that’s going on in my brain. I finished this piece a week or so ago and while I left out the French knots (they’re *really* hard, okay), I’m still satisfied with it.

So what have you been enjoying this month?

Recent Reads 3

Before I took a break from blogging, I did monthly wrap-ups and they were really long and took ages to write and put together so I wanted to try something different. I want to put out mini-reviews every time I complete three books. I think this will be more manageable for me and more readable for you guys so let’s get started! Find my last “Recent Reads” here.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Release Date: April 28, 2020

Genre: Memoir

Pages: 304

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

Brief Review

I am so appreciative of the themes Johnson discusses in this essay collection. It is so important to talk about and reflect on the intersectionality of Blackness and queerness and how those marginalizations come together and can create a completely different lived experience. I think Johnson had so many smart and important observations surrounding topics ranging from they way the school system teaching American history to the safety that comes with remaining closeted and how that causes inner turmoil. I was highlighting and rereading certain quotes that really gripped me.

That being said, there were some places where the writing didn’t do it for me. I sometimes felt that there were a lot of themes being tackled in a single essay and I knew what Johnson was getting at but the connections weren’t super clear. It took me out of the story a bit sometimes. If the essays were a little longer, that might have helped as there would be more room to really explore the connections between the ideas. I still think this is a really solid book and can be incredibly impactful and important especially for the YA audience it’s targeted towards especially if those readers are queer, Black, or both.

Me by Elton John

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Genre: Autobiography

Pages: 416

Trigger warnings include bulimia, drug use, and addiction

Goodreads Synopsis

Elton John is the most enduringly successful singer-songwriter of all time. His life is extraordinary, packed with incredible highs and lows, from a troubled childhood to chart-topping superstardom, from cocaine addiction to friendships with John Lennon, George Michael and Princess Diana, from outrageous excess to finding happiness as a husband and father. Now, in his own words and with his usual honesty, he shares his story–every hilarious, heartbreaking moment. 

Brief Thoughts

I won this book and it was sent by the publisher but this has no bearing on my review. I don’t even like movies but I’ve seen Rocketman twice and think about it all the time. Even before that, I was interested in reading Elton John’s autobiography and was thrilled when I got the chance to read it. I have always enjoyed autobiographies from musicians. I like learning about music in this way but Me does some specific things I truly appreciate. For one, it does not shy away from showing John in a less than flattering light. From his temper to his eating disorder to his drug abuse, readers are brought along for the ride. It isn’t just a “look at me I’m so great” type of story. I also greatly appreciate John acknowledging the true roots of the music he became famous for. He talks about Black artists he played with and looked up to and celebrates them. Many stories about rock and pop music conveniently don’t talk about Black people who pioneered the genre unless it’s Hendrix. Maybe Chuck Berry. Hearing John talk multiple times at length about Black pioneers in music was refreshing. I went back and forth between physically reading and listening to the audiobook on my walks. The audiobook is read by Taron Egerton who plays him in the Rocketman film. His acting and use of different voices really added to the experience.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Genre: Adult Thriller

Pages: 352

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

Brief Thoughts

I’ve seen conversations surrounding this book claiming that it isn’t really a thriller or it isn’t scary but I’m going to have to disrespectfully disagree. This story is incredibly unsettling. Alyssa Cole’s writing creates a sense of unease throughout the narrative and the pacing adds to a constant feeling of something incredibly menacing. Themes of gentrification, community, and others I can’t mention without spoiling the ending, come together to create a book that I haven’t seen more deserving of the “thriller” genre in years.

Additionally, I appreciated sections between chapters that showed posts and comments about things going on in the community from members that have been there forever and newcomers. You can see the tension rising in those sections. The climax of this story also left my heart pounding. I just had to know what would happen next. If reviews claiming this isn’t really a thriller have put you off, please give it a chance. This book is phenomenal.

What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!