September 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups, Uncategorized

September felt like the longest month in the world. I was able to continue teaching online and I was able to spend a little time with my family and it made me feel a lot better. I did have some struggles with my ability to focus on much of anything and that was difficult but I’ve been trying to get back to using organization methods and checklists to stay on top of things and feel a little more in control. October is my birthday month and I don’t want to spend the whole time unable to focus or enjoy it so towards the end of September, I made conscious efforts to get my life back in order.

I talked about the music I was listening to last month in my wrap-up and I am here to report that I’m still constantly listening to Arctic Monkeys but I was also incredibly surprised by Machine Gun Kelly’s new pop-punk album, Tickets to My Downfall. The song, “title track” feels really nostalgic for some reason (Travis Barker’s drumming) and I definitely recommend it if you were into pop-punk in the early 2000s.

Now for the books! I read a variety of genres this month and many of them were ebooks from my library so essentially, my TBR went out the window but that’s okay. I still read some fantastic books I’d been wanting to pick up anyway. I will say that I did listen to some Arthur Miller plays via audio and read some Oscar Wilde short stories but since there were so many and they were short, I’m not really going to talk about them specifically or include them in my stats, but I do want to say that All My Sons by Arthur Miller and “The Canterville Ghost” by Oscar Wilde are both fantastic and I want to recommend them generally.

Ratings:

3 five-star reads

6 four-star reads

1 unrated read

Format:

1 audiobook

7 ebooks

2 physical books

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Much like August, I started September by listening to whatever audiobooks my library had available to me that also happened to be on my physical TBR. I listened to Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach over the course of two cleaning sessions and I’ll admit, it was a great time. This book follows James whose parents have been killed and he has to live with his two less-than-likable aunts. They treat him like Cinderella before the ball but when a magical, mysterious man brings him a bag of weird crawly things and one crawls into a peach, magic ensues and James goes on an exciting journey. Unlike my listening experience with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as soon as I started this audiobook, I immediately felt nostalgic for the movie (HAVE YOU HEARD THIS SONG FROM THE 1996 HIT FILM?). I don’t think I ever read this book as a child and I was really interested in the parts that were left out of the movie, particularly the cloud men. I also can’t quite remember what happened to the ladybug at the end of the movie but I think book-ladybug’s ending was interesting to think about. Dahl’s ever-present characterization of fat people is an issue to be aware of when picking this up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was lucky enough to be sent Trust Me by the author, Nell Grey. I posted a dedicated review for this book here so head over and check that out! We love a good mystery/romance here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Early in the month, I had a hold come through from my library for Camp by L. C. Rosen. This book is a YA contemporary that takes place at a summer camp for queer teens. Randy has been going to this camp for a few years and has a crush on a guy named, Hudson. Hudson definitely has a type and it’s masculine. Randy reinvents himself as “Del” to try and get Hudson’s attention and we follow their relationship over the summer. This story is definitely messy but there’s so much more to it than that. Both characters really grow over the course of the story and I really appreciate that. I also think Rosen is able to tackle a variety of issues in this story and that gives Camp so much depth. Not only does Rosen deal with the issue of some people thinking there’s a right and wrong way to be queer, but they also tackle supportive and unsupportive parents, homophobia and bullying, and the importance of “queer-only” spaces. I think the biggest conversation surrounding queer-only spaces is the fact that while they are important and can build confidence to be yourself at all times, some people, especially teens living with unsupportive parents, don’t have the luxury of or are safe in being their true selves at all times. It’s unfortunate but I’m glad this was talked about. While this is a YA book, there is one fairly descriptive sex scene so if that’s not your jam, I just wanted to give that warning. Also, here’s a link for trigger warnings, if you need them.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Since I’m currently four books into this series, I won’t say a lot but The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan is action-packed and a great time. It was glad to see more of Nico and his journey and the tension between Percy and Annabeth is fun to read about even though I usually don’t care about romance at all in books that aren’t specifically in the romance genre. I was having a really hard time focusing and read along with the audiobook but that wasn’t because the book wasn’t interesting. My brain has just been all over the place. I am nervous and excited to see how this series will end and then hopefully pick up the other books in this universe early next year. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I got A Song Below Water from Libby after waiting for ages and I’m so glad I got a chance to read it. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I heard it was fantasy but that it wasn’t really or that it was confusing. I am so glad I didn’t let that deter me. This book follows Tavia and Effie, one is a siren and one pretends to be one at the Ren faire. When a suspected siren is murdered, things become dangerous and tensions run high as Tavia tries to keep her identity a secret and Effie is trying to figure out who she really is. This book takes place in our world but there are magical and fantastical elements revealed as if it’s completely normal. It reminded me of my recent read-through of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go; I was given pieces of world-building and had to put things together for myself. I loved that aspect of the experience. Ultimately, this is a story about black girls finding and using their voices to stand up for themselves and bring awareness and justice to their community and I highly recommend it. Here’s a link to the trigger warnings, if you need them.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I know that I should be prioritizing my physical TBR but I’ve had to ebook for Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender for a few months and it was calling to me so I put it on my TBR for September. I don’t typically give five stars to contemporaries but this one certainly deserved it. Going in, I knew this book followed a black, trans, teen named Felix, and someone at his school posts old pictures of him as well as his deadname for everyone to see. There is so much more to this story, though. This is a story about acceptance and privilege and identity and love between friends, family, and partners. This book is emotional and funny and so much more than I expected. I know if you’ve seen anyone talk about this book, you’ve probably seen a lot of praise and I’m not sure that I have anything unique to add so I will just say that I highly recommend this beautiful book. Here’s a link to trigger warnings.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ever since I read Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert earlier this year, I’ve wanted to pick up the sequel. Plus, I’ve been listening to a ton of Arctic Monkeys and have been in the mood for a romance. Thankfully, Take a Hint, Dani Brown came through from the library and I was able to read it before the mood for a romance passed. As much as I loved Chloe’s story, I think I loved Dani’s even more. Dani teaches college English (I can relate) and has sworn off romance after some bad experiences but when a video of her being carried out of a building by a gruff security guard goes viral, they decide to fake a relationship and reap the benefits. The banter and pining were so fantastic in this story and I also appreciated the discussions surrounding grief and anxiety. It isn’t just a romance; Hibbert tackles some more serious topics and that’s what keeps me coming back to her romances. I’ll definitely be checking out Eve Brown’s story when it comes out. Here’s a link to trigger warnings.

This is another book I got from my library and I’m going to be honest, I’m still processing my feelings. This book follows Vanessa in the present day as she finds out her English teacher from about fifteen years ago is being accused of sexually assaulting his students. The chapters alternate to show what happened between Vanessa and her teacher when she was fifteen years old. I won’t say that I enjoyed this book but I do think it is incredibly well written and gives the reader a lot to think about. There were many times where I was frustrated with “present day” Vanessa and I had to stop and think about why she was doing the things she was doing. Kate Elizabeth Russell doesn’t shy away from showing not only what happens in the moment, but also the mental turmoil that lasts for years after it’s over. It gives a view that books such as Lolita don’t offer. There were times that I had to sit back and think about things that have happened to me and the way I responded to those things. I also appreciated the perspective and discussion about the trauma that comes with women speaking out against abusers and that many times, there’s not any/much justice served. This is a heavy read, for sure and I had to stop many times to really think about what was going on. I sometimes find myself reading books and not really thinking about the broader applications and implications to real life but this one certainly made me think constantly. There are quite a few heavy trigger warnings for this book, so here’s a link.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The last library book I read this month was Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. This book follows Claudia who is concerned because her best friend, Monday, hasn’t contacted her all summer and hasn’t shown up to the new school year, and no one seems to care. That’s all I knew about the book going in but I will say that this is not just a simple mystery story. I think it is pretty clear early on what the general nature of what happened to Monday, but there is another twist that I didn’t see coming, so there is still an element of mystery. Even though I did have an idea about Monday’s mystery, reading the description and the way it impacted Claudia really punched me in the gut. I had to put the book down and just breathe for a minute. Even if you don’t normally check trigger warnings, I would definitely consider checking them before going into this book. Something about this one is particularly unsettling but it does shine a light on how systems that are put into place to protect people can fall short in the most horrifying ways and I appreciate this book for being able to do that. I have also seen some people talking about the structure of this book and that it can sometimes be confusing and I agree that it takes a while to get used to and doesn’t fully make sense until the less obvious reveal. That’s why I didn’t give it 5 stars but I still think it’s totally readable and makes sense if you just stick with it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This Bridge Called My Back is a collection edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua and was BY FAR my favorite read of the month. This is a collection of poems, speeches, and essays written by women of color that deal with topics such as intersectionality and the dangers and failure of white feminism among other things. Even though many of these pieces were written in the 80s, there are points that are still totally relevant today and sometimes it’s frustrating that we are still fighting the same fight, but that’s definitely part of the process of reading TBCMB in 2020. Part of why I wanted to (and had to) take my time reading this collection is because I constantly wanted to stop and make notes and underline sections while I read. I’m not really sure yet how to best review collections of work by various authors but I do want to end this review by mentioning a few of my favorite pieces from the collection. One piece I really enjoy is the introduction to the fifth section, “Speaking in Tongues” which is written by Gloria Anzaldua. This is a letter to women of color writers that discusses the importance of women of color to continue to write and take control of their stories. She also acknowledges the danger and difficulty that can come with that. It is a fantastic letter and really makes you think about the importance of writing. Another piece I really enjoyed was Pat Parker’s “Revolution: It’s Not Neat or Pretty or Quick.” This speech talks about the fact that real change takes a ton of time and you can’t give up quickly. This piece feels incredibly relevant now and I’ll just leave this review with a quote from this piece. “To end Klan or Nazi activity doesn’t end imperialism. It doesn’t end institutional racism; it doesn’t end sexism; it does not bring this monster down, and we must not forget what our goals are and who our enemies are. To simply label these people as lunatic fringes and not accurately assess their roles as part of this system is a dangerous error. These people do the dirty work. They are the arms and legs of the congressmen, the businessmen, the Tri-lateral Commission.”

If you read the whole thing, thanks! I appreciate you for putting up with my rambling. So, come chat with me about any of these books in the comments!

Stay safe!

Sam

August 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups

August was… a lot. I spent the first half planning courses and the second half teaching college English face to face. I talk more about what that’s been like in the context of a pandemic in this blog post. There has definitely been an update on that front, though. At the end of the second week, cases really began to spike on campus (obviously) so I was able to move my class online. It’s taken a ton of stress off of me and some of my students. We all meet on Zoom and talk about the same things we’d normally talk about in the classroom and getting comfortable talking that way will be an adjustment for some but I think most of them are understanding of the complexity of this situation. Also there was a hurricane last month! It felt like it happened ages ago.

Love is a Laserquest – Arctic Monkeys

Another thing that happened this month is that I’ve rediscovered how much I love Arctic Monkeys. I’ve been listening to them nonstop and really reliving my best college life through music. “Love is a Laserquest” has been a real favorite lately. It’s put me in the mood to read more romance so that’s been an interesting development.

But let’s talk about books! Audiobooks really saved the day while I was working this month so while I own most of these books physically, I ended up listening to so many of them.

Ratings:

4 five-star books

7 four-star books

1 three-star book

2 two-star books

1 one-star book

Formats:

7 physical books

1 eBooks

7 audiobooks

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The first book I read this month was The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva. I was lucky enough to be sent this book by the author to review and since I wrote a full review of this book on my blog, I will be brief but you can read more here. This book follows Amy throughout her average life but shows readers the ways her OCD and depression can change the ways in which she goes about her everyday life. Though there is a bit of a plot involving international travel and romantic relationships, this book definitely feels, at times, like a character study. In this way, Riva accomplishes her goal of showing what maintaining a regular office job and a social life can look like with OCD. I definitely think this book picks up in the second half as Amy starts to really have to deal with the things in her life that she feels are holding her back from being happy. Overall, a fairly quick read which I enjoyed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I know that I was hoping to not really have any holds from my library come through this month but I did get Hunger by Roxane Gay in early August. It also came the day of Hurricane Isaias so I found myself with plenty of time to read. Hunger is a memoir that discusses Gay’s relationship with her body and how past trauma shaped that relationship. This is a powerful and real look at what it means to be a fat woman in this world and also gets into what it means to be a fat, Black woman. Though it does deal with weight and eating and is titled “hunger,” it is not just about being literally hungry; it’s also about being hungry for affection, attention, and other desires Gay has denied herself over the years because of her weight and trauma. “Enjoyed” isn’t the right word but I definitely recommend this book. I would suggest looking for trigger warnings as this book covers topics including rape and disordered eating.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After reading and adoring Daisy Jones and the Six, I knew I wanted to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This story begins with Monique, a journalist at a magazine. Her magazine is contacted by the famous actress, Evelyn Hugo who wants Monique (and only Monique) to tell her story after she dies. I don’t want to say much more because that’s about all I knew going into it and I loved reading this book. Since the book spans from the 1950s to the present day, Reid is able to cover such much history and touches on it as it becomes relevant to Evelyn’s story. The writing is beautiful and Reid keeps the reader interested as she describes Evelyn’s life with each of her seven husbands. The last 100 pages or so were definitely emotional and had me close to tears many times. We all know I like sad books so it’s no surprise that I adore this one. I do think I like Daisy Jones a little more though, but that’s simply because I have always been a sucker for the 70s rock aesthetic.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I’m pretty sure I got this book from a box at a yard sale once. I was going through my spreadsheet of books looking for something I wouldn’t mind listening to on audio while I worked so I found this available through my library. The Bridges of Madison County is a book that follows Francesca who isn’t really happy in her marriage. When a photographer comes to town to take photos of the covered bridges, she begins a short affair with him. The whole time I was listening to this book, I kept thinking maybe she should just talk to her husband about the things she doesn’t like but he didn’t really seem to matter at all to anyone. Since this book is less than 200 pages, there was little to no development in the relationship so it just felt… fake. Not a fan.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Due to last-minute changes with my job, I found that I needed to be at a computer for 12+ hours a day and needed something to listen to on audio. I own a collection of every Arthur Miller play and found myself listening to a few of them on Scribd while I was working. I listened to both After the Fall and The Man Who Had All the Luck. I found After the Fall to be really pretentious and self-serving. It’s semi-autobiographical and really made Marilyn Monroe look awful and made him look like an angel. The Man Who Had All the Luck, on the other hand, was really enjoyable. It’s about a man who has so much good luck and he’s just waiting for the luck to run out. I definitely recommend listening to this if you have the chance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was nervous going into Never Let Me Go because I don’t usually connect with science-fiction but Ishiguro created something different from any other sci-fi I’ve ever tried before. This story follows Kathy as she reminiscences and pieces together the truth about the boarding school she used to attend. Switching from the past to present-day timelines, Kathy has the help of her childhood friends, Ruth and Tommy. Ishiguro creates a beautiful and atmospheric story that slowly drops information for the reader to piece together. Nothing is spelled out until the very end which means this is a world where everything feels almost normal but something is just a little off (aka the plot of all my dreams). I can’t really say anything about the social commentary without spoiling it but I read another book this year that has similar themes and I really appreciated that. The ending is pretty sad and we like sad endings in this house so definitely one I will come back to.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

My Lobotomy by Howard Dully is a book I’ve had for ages and just never got around to picking up. As I was going through my spreadsheet, I found that this was available with no wait through my library so I decided I’d listen to it while I continued setting up my courses for the new semester. This book is a true account of the horrifying experience Howard faced when he was given a lobotomy at just twelve years old. I have a difficult time assigning a star rating to this book because his experiences were so traumatizing; much of the “reasoning” behind his step-mother wanting this procedure was just Howard being a regular child and it’s important to bring attention to the fact that that happened at least as late as 1960. That being said, I just thought this story as a book was just okay. The writing was pretty average and I really didn’t enjoy the way Dully talked about other people in the asylum he lived in for a while – he kept making sure the reader knew he wasn’t like them. I haven’t listened to the NPR documentary that was released before the book but that might be a better way to take in this story. Overall, a powerful and important story but this format just didn’t work for me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Somewhere in my mom’s house, there’s a low-quality VHS animated film adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz that I didn’t really like but still watched quite a bit and that’s the movie’s problem because I really enjoy this story. In this story, Tip lives with the evil Mombi until he has to escape so that she doesn’t turn him to stone. He travels Oz and meets the Scarecrow while he’s in the middle of a crisis. Adventure ensues. This book is definitely less iconic than the first and a little more silly but I still appreciate the sense of adventure and magic. I also think there were a lot of strong women in this story and the reveal at the end could bring up an interesting conversation but because it’s the twist, I can’t really say much here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Percy Jackson series really is just fantastic book after fantastic book, isn’t it? I read The Titan’s Curse this month and the magic from the first books is still there. This one was a bit longer than The Sea of Monsters and I appreciated that. We got to spend a bit more time with each of the characters, old and new. There were some really sad and intense moments that I also really enjoyed. I also think the commentary about humans being willing to do whatever the gods ask, especially if there’s money involved was an interesting idea to drop in a middle grade. That makes room for some big conversations. Also, if Nico is a recurring character (which after that reveal, he HAS to be) I think I’m really going to like him. I can’t wait to see what happens next and I think The Battle of the Labyrinth will be one of my first reads for September!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a reread for me but it’s been over 10 years since I first read it and that made it like a fresh book for me. This is the first of Maya Angelou’s memoirs and recalls her life from early childhood to the birth of her child. This memoir contains stories of trauma and joy and family and what it was like to grow up predominantly in the south as a black woman in the 30s and 40s. I think the story about her graduation is particularly interesting and important to understanding her and her classmates’ experience with education during this time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t often pick up short story collections but I am glad I picked up Zora Neale Hurston’s complete collection. I read a story each day throughout the month and finished it a little early. The types of stories in this collection vary drastically in content and style and it took me a while to be able to read the dialect at my usual reading pace but there were certainly some standouts here including ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Sweat.’ I also loved the slang dictionary she created to go along with her stories. It made me think a lot about linguistics and how certain languages can be seen as less-than or nonsensical but there are rules whether people want to see it or not.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a literary fiction book. It used to be one of my favorite genres but for some reason, I’ve been reading less of them. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi reminded me of the power this genre has to make me feel and to make me think. This story begins in 1990s Nigeria when Vivek’s mother finds her son’s body wrapped in cloth at her door. From here we explore a timeline of Vivek’s life as well as the time after where his mother, Kavita desperately seeks answers about what happened. We also see Vivek’s father, aunt, uncle, cousin, and friends process this grief in different ways. This story also deals with themes of reincarnation which I thought were incredibly interesting and done really well. Additionally there is queer and trans rep. I will definitely be picking up more works by Emezi as their writing is phenomenal. There are trigger warnings for violence and abuse in this book so just be aware going in. Additionally, there was one particular aspect of the book that made me stop and think for a minute and I initially had a bad reaction but I found that this interview with Emezi and Rivers Solomon was helpful in thinking about that. I don’t want to be too specific and spoil anything.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have owned Amy Tan’s memoir, Where the Past Begins since it came out but have just gotten around to picking it up. It was available through my library via audio so I alternated between listening to the book while doing household chores and reading along while listening to the book. First, I think Tan is a fantastic writer and I love the way she explains pieces of her life are often so beautiful. It made for an interesting experience reading her memoir but I do think there were some times where I’d have liked a more straightforward approach. I do think that as the memoir went on, it became more interesting and her writing style lent itself to the story. The section where she talks about learning to read was so beautiful and insightful. My favorite part was the end where she talked about linguistics and related it to the immigrant experience and, ultimately, her mother. It was heartbreaking, beautiful and insightful. I’ll probably find myself revisiting those last sections of the book again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On the last day of August I listened to the audiobook of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while catching up on some work and it was a pretty fun experience. This story is fun and whimsical but also a little dark and I think that’s a theme throughout so much of Dahl’s work. It is important to point out the flaws, though. The way the Oompa Loompas are handled is definitely problematic given the imperialistic notion of how they came to the factory. The ways Dahl talks about fat characters isn’t all that great either so just knowing that and recognizing the implications of those elements is crucial if you’re going to pick up and talk about this particular text.

I’m starting to think I need to split my wrap-ups into two parts because this was ridiculously lengthy. As always, thanks for reading and come chat!

Stay safe!

Sam

July 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups

I was shocked that I read thirteen books last month but I somehow topped it this month at fourteen. This is going to be a long post so I’ll just give some quick stats and then get into talking about each of the books.

Ratings:

1 five-star book

5 four-star books

3 three-star books

1 two-star book

4 unrated books

Formats:

7 physical books

5 eBooks

2 audiobooks

The first book I picked up this month was the audiobook for So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. This was available with no wait through Libby and I wanted to continue my anti-racism education. Oluo is writing to anyone who wants to start entering conversations about race and each chapter explains different topics within the larger conversation about race. These topics include microaggressions, the model minority myth, and cultural appropriation among others. Oluo knows who her audience is and speaks directly to them honestly and clearly. I think this is a good place to start if you’re new to talking about race but I also think Oluo has some good reminders for people who are more experienced. If you want to continue to work towards being anti-racist, this is a good book to pick up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This month is about the time all of my Libby holds started coming in at once. That meant TBR be damned (for now) so that I could read these next few books before I had to give them back. The first book I had to read was Wilder Girls by Rory Power. This is a young adult horror about an all-girls school where students and teachers are quarantined on an island. There is a disease called “The Tox” impacting everyone and they are waiting for the Navy and the CDC to find a cure. I really enjoyed this book. The concept is intriguing and I found myself thinking about this book a lot when I wasn’t reading it. I am continuing to think about Power’s commentary on womanhood and puberty and female sexuality because that seems to be a central theme of the book. There are queer characters and a bit of a romance but that’s not a huge part of the story. As far as the ending, I know some people have problems with it being open and ambiguous but I really think it works in this situation. Since this horror, I will warn you that there are some graphic scenes and a ton of body horror so if that’s not your thing, I wouldn’t read this book. Otherwise, I definitely recommend it. 

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Deep by Alma Katsu came through on Libby mere hours after I got the email about Wilder Girls. I honestly don’t know how to give a concise summary of what this book is about so I will include the link to Goodreads here. I went into this not really knowing what it was about apart from “spooky at sea” and boy was I surprised to find out that this book includes the Titanic, World War I, sirens? and ghosts? These are all things I love reading about individually but unfortunately, it just didn’t come together for me in the end. I felt there were lengthy plotlines and entire characters that didn’t really add anything to the main story and resulted in a book that felt MUCH longer than its 300 pages. I was also incredibly lost when the book did end. There were elements that didn’t make any sense. To be fair, I was skimming by the end because I just wanted it to be over. Overall, it felt like there was just too much crammed into the plot and if this would have been just a historical fiction novel with no horror elements, it would have been a fantastic book. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As someone who literally never reads romance and usually thinks the romance plots in tv shows are a waste of time, I went into this book not expecting much despite everyone loving it. And also as someone who doesn’t read romance, I’ll go ahead and give an unqualified opinion and say that this is a good romance to start with if you want to get into the genre. Get a Life, Chloe Brown follows Chloe after a near-death experience as she works through a list she created in order to get a life. This could have easily been cheesy and sometimes it was but I didn’t mind because Talia Hibbert balances the lovey, cheesy moments with some more serious topics and fantastic character development. I also appreciated how both parties truly did their best to take into account each other’s pasts and limitations. It was refreshing to see. I don’t think I’m going to turn into an avid romance reader any time soon but I might not be so scared to pick up one every once in a while.

I love Mindy Kaling. I’ve had her second book, Why Not Me? for an embarrassingly long time and I figured since it’s a short, easy read, it’s about time I picked it up and read it. This is also the first book from my July TBR I actually picked up. In this book, Kaling talks about relationships, her show The Mindy Project (which I now want to rewatch), and meeting President Barack Obama among other things. I laughed and related to her in so many chapters. If you tend to like books by comedians, I’d definitely suggest picking this one up. It’s a quick read you might pick up after reading something heavy and an all-around fun time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Black Enough is a collection of short stories edited by Ibi Zoboi. It contains stories that explore a span of Black experiences in America ranging from straight, LBGTQ+, wealthy, and poor. There are stories that tackle serious topics such as racism and homophobia but there are also stories that are truly about joy and just being a teenager. My goal going into this collection was to find some new authors to check out and that was definitely accomplished. Some stories that stand out to me are “Warning: Color My Fade” by Leah Henderson, “Black. Nerd. Problems.” by Lamar Giles, and “Kissing Sarah Smart” by Justina Ireland. It’s rare that I come across a collection where I enjoy every story but I did have a good time reading every piece in this collection. I think this is a good way to read from a variety of Black authors and find new voices to diversify your shelves.

Throughout the first half of the month, I listened to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander on audio. This is a nonfiction book that primarily focuses on the mass incarceration of Black men in the United States. Though it was written ten years ago, much of the information still holds true. Alexander breaks down both how Black men are specifically targeted by law enforcement agencies and the impacts this targeting has on the community as a whole. Even though Barack Obama was president, that doesn’t mean that things are better for Black people as a whole. It’s frustrating to see these patterns continue and repeat but it is something you want to be aware of. There is a ton of information in this book and I would really like to get my hands on a physical copy at some point and read this physically. I know there are pieces to the timeline that I missed while cleaning and doing laundry but I still got so much from this book. Again, if you’re looking to continue your anti-racism education, this is a great book to pick up. It’s probably a step or two up from So You Want to Talk About Race as far as difficulty but even if you don’t get every single point, there is plenty there to take in and learn. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In my quest to read the entire Percy Jackson series this year, I finally picked up the second book, The Sea of Monsters. Like this first book in the series, this one definitely didn’t disappoint! I can’t really talk about the plot of this book without spoiling the first one but I can say that I think this is a great continuation of the series. Rick Riordan is able to wonderfully recapture the comedy and action I loved about The Lightning Thief. He also combines history and mythology in such a fun way that I always appreciate. Also, I LOVE Tyson. I will say that this book is a bit shorter than the others in the series and I felt like it went by pretty quickly and I would have liked a little more in this entry in the series. Like I said, I can’t really say much but I do plan to write an entire spoilery blog post about the series when I finally finish it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Like many people, I first encountered The Crucible in high school. I remember it being one of the few books I actually read from beginning to end that year so I guess I enjoyed it. I wanted to see if I still enjoyed it as much this time around. The conclusion: I guess I still liked it? If you aren’t familiar, this play follows John Proctor and Abigail Williams during the Salem witch trials. Kids are acting weird and everyone is being accused of being a witch and total chaos ensues. During this read, I was more in-tune with the parallels between the Salem witch hunts and the “red scare” so it made for an interesting read. I also thought quite a bit about John’s quickness to condemn Abigail and not take much accountability for his part in what happened until, maybe, the very end. Lastly, I had some problems with the way Tituba’s character was talked about and treated and the audiobook I listened to while reading the play didn’t help. The white man’s attempt at an accent was not great. Overall, it was nice to revisit and analyze this play as an adult but I was definitely in tune to more issues with it.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward is another nonfiction I picked up this month. It’s also another in the series of Libby holds coming in all at once. In this book Ward tells the stories of the men in her life she lost to suicide, drugs, accidents and also talks about her experiences growing up poor in the southern US. The structure of this story is what initially drew me in. She talks about her life chronologically and this is broken up with chapters about each of the men who were lost. These are in reverse-chronological order. It sounds confusing, but it works. This book is simultaneously heartbreaking and powerful. I particularly appreciated the honesty Ward gives readers while discussing a larger problem of a world that doesn’t work in favor of Black men. I’d previously read her novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing and while I’m not a fan of magical realism, I loved the writing in that book. The writing is just as strong, if not stronger, in Men We Reaped. I just might try and pick up Sing, Unburied, Sing again. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley is another Libby hold I’ve been waiting on for quite a while. I really enjoyed The Guest List back in May and wanted to check out more of Foley’s work. The Hunting Party’s premise sounds a lot like The Guest List – rich people go to a remote location where someone is dead and you don’t know who it is or who killed them. I was suspicious at how close these books felt to each other but the twists were definitely different. There were other things that really bothered me about this book, though. The “friends” don’t really seem like they ever could have been actual friends and participate in middle-school bullying and drama that doesn’t seem realistic for 30-somethings. There were also aspects of the twist that just didn’t sit well with me and one character particularly did something that just made absolutely zero sense. I still gave this a three-star rating because I think that if I’d read this before The Guest List, I would have enjoyed it a lot more but because I kept comparing it to The Guest List, it lessened the experience for me.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I know so many people have either been re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender or watching it for the first time recently. I have been re-watching it and was in the mood for more content centered around this universe so I picked up F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi this month. I was completely blown away. This book follows Avatar Kyoshi, an Avatar who existed before Aang, and her journey in realizing that she is, indeed, the next Avatar. I didn’t expect to get so attached to a new cast of characters but I certainly did. There’s battles, political intrigue, bending, and the sweetest blossoming romance. I even almost cried. It read like a season of the show and I really appreciated that. The only thing that kept me from giving this five stars was that you can tell this book is meant to set up a series therefore, the beginning is a little slower than the second half. Otherwise, what a magical, beautiful book. I definitely think watching the show first will add to the experience but I don’t think it would be too confusing to jump into without having seen Avatar.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

While I was reading The Rise of Kyoshi, I wanted something else to listen to on audio while I was doing chores and working on my reading journal. I chose something I owned physically so I can continue going through my physical TBR. This book follows Leonora as she’s received an email invitation to someone’s bachelorette party – someone she hasn’t spoken to in a decade. Leonora wakes up in the hospital unsure of what happened that led her here and we go along with her as she pieces it together. I think I listened to this too close to The Hunting Party. I had a difficult time distinguishing what happened in each book and I didn’t feel much connected to any of the characters though I do remember thinking Flo was really strange. I did enjoy the writing and the plot but it was a little slow to start. I also enjoyed the gripping suspense towards the end of the book. It was really exciting and I wanted to know what would happen next. Overall, this is a typical thriller and if you like Ruth Ware generally, I think you’ll enjoy this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I had given up hope that I’d have a five-star read this month. That was until I picked up Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This book follows Noemí who receives a disturbing letter from her cousin who lives in the countryside of Mexico. She goes to check on her cousin and see if she needs to return to the city. When she arrives at the house, though, she finds that this is much more than a typical check-in. I’ve seen some reviews calling this book “slow” especially in the first half and I get that there isn’t a ton of action but I think it does provide such atmospheric writing typical of a gothic novel and starts to plant both creepy and sinister seeds which become important as the story goes. I enjoyed the commentary on imperialism and I think this book has so much to offer beyond “scary.” Here is a link to a list of trigger warnings, though because there are quite a few.

Anyway, that’s everything I read this month! I think I’ll start slowing down in August once the new semester begins and my wrap-ups might be a bit shorter in the future. I hope you also had a good reading month and if you want to chat about any of these books, leave a comment!

June 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups

I somehow read thirteen books in June. It’s surprising to me, too. I don’t want to write a long intro because I have a lot of books to talk about so before we get to the actual books, I’ll just give a few stats.

Rating:

3 five-star books

6 four-star books

2 three-star books

2 unrated books

Format:

6 physical books

5 eBooks

2 audiobooks

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I started Crazy Rich Asians at the end of May but didn’t finish it until June. I picked this up as an impulse buy at Harris Teeter and had a decent time reading it. I tell myself I don’t care about “rich people problems” but low-key I sometimes really do. I think Kevin Kwan did an excellent job mixing both superficial problems such as spending too much on outfits with more serious issues such as cheating and divorce. Speaking of Astrid, I really enjoyed her character, and I really wanted to see what would happen for her above pretty much any other character. I think the reason I didn’t completely love this book is because of the pacing. I feel like there were some really traumatic reveals at the end, and then the book was basically over. While the book is already pretty long, I still felt like there needed to be more. I realize this is a series, though, so it does set up for that really well.

I don’t really like rating non-fiction anymore, but I did generally enjoy this book. I listened to Gold Dust Woman on audiobook while playing Animal Crossing. This is another book that started in May and carried into June. This is a biography of Stevie Nicks, written by Stephen Davis. It goes through different stages of her career, including her time with Fleetwood Mac. As someone who hardly ever went to school and stayed home watching VH1 Classic documentaries all day, I enjoyed this book. I like learning about music and music history. I would definitely recommend the audio for this book, and others like it because the writing style can be a bit dry. It certainly made me more excited about Daisy Jones and the Six, which I will talk about later in this post.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Since I wrote a dedicated review for Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House here, I’ll try to keep this brief. I read this with a group of friends, and while I was reading it, I had a good time and initially gave it four stars. It was spooky, gripping, and well-written. As I continued to reflect on this book, though, I kept thinking about the significant number of trigger warnings and how some felt like they were added to push the “dark academia” aspect of the book. I also think Bardugo could have pushed the social commentary a little further since this book is intended for adults. It’s still a compelling read. I would recommend it if you want something a little creepy and dark but definitely check the trigger warnings because a lot is going on.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I think about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a lot. It masquerades as a simple children’s story, but I am convinced there’s more to it. The glasses at the Emerald City are part of it, but there’s definitely more. I just can’t put my finger on it. I read this as the first prompt for the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon, which was to read a book featuring an animal. I wanted something easy, and since I’ve been wanting to read the entire Oz series, I figured this was a good excuse to start. I always have fun rereading the first book because I keep thinking about Baum’s commentary on our society and the nagging question: Is the book better? There are scenes in the book that aren’t included in the film that I really enjoy, but there’s something so nostalgic about the songs in the movie. Anyway, my rating is blinded by nostalgia, but I really like visiting Dorothy and Oz every once in a while.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I also wrote a review of Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, which you can check out here. I will briefly say that I really enjoyed this book. This is a YA contemporary romance and definitely not something I’ve been known to read. Still, I think the cover is so gorgeous, and our main character, Alice, is asexual and Black, and that isn’t a perspective I’ve read from before. I also was incredibly stressed and sad, and I just wanted something fun and cute. This definitely gave me that, but it also gave me some discussions on serious topics. I also didn’t find the characters too immature, which is something that sometimes happens in YA for me. Kann gave me just what I needed, and I highly recommend picking this book up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My next audiobook for June was Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I had such a fun time listening to this, and Gaiman does such a great job bringing his text to life. I read a ton of Greek mythology as a kid. Still, my only exposure to Norse mythology was through general pop culture references. Gaiman’s version was compelling and had an adequate infusion of comedy to keep me invested. I’d enjoy picking up the physical book because I’m sure I missed key points while folding laundry or playing videogames. But generally, I enjoyed this experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For the second prompt of the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon, I read the manga adaptation of Ocarina of Time. This fulfilled the prompt to read a book with a foiled cover. This was also a nostalgic experience for me. Ocarina of Time was the first videogame I ever owned and had such much fun running around being bad at the game. I’ve played it a few more times as an adult, but revisiting it in this format was a first. I immediately picked up the DS remake of the game. If you know the game, it doesn’t add a ton, but it does have beautiful artwork. If you don’t know anything about the game, it’s a fun adventure story about Link trying to save a world he’s never really been to before. This made for a relaxing, fun afternoon.

White Rage is a non-fiction book by historian Dr. Carol Anderson. Anderson clearly shows that slavery didn’t truly end in the US, and it merely evolved. She writes in a way that is accessible to people who aren’t familiar with the subject, and while the subject matter is tough, it is relatively easy to follow what she’s saying. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that taught some of these topics, but I still learned so much. I wish anyone who’s ever said “get over it slavery was 400 years ago” had to read this book. Even if you are familiar with the topics she covers, it is helpful to see in one text a timeline of how these systematic acts against African-Americans work to keep them from being successful. Required reading.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve had Daisy Jones and the Six on hold through Libby since April, and I thought it would be another couple of weeks before I get it, but it surprised me and became available early. I immediately started reading it and flew through it in two days. I LOVE this book. As someone who loves music documentaries of any kind, biographies about musicians, and Fleetwood Mac, this book really did it for me. I think the interview format was unusual and really added to the experience. I love the drama and the heartbreak and the rock ‘n’ roll of it all. Both Daisy and Billy had so much growth throughout the story. Camila and Simone added such great perspectives to the story as well. By including everyone involved with the band in the interviews, Taylor Jenkins Reid allows readers to see the story from all sides, and it’s always funny when characters contradict each other. It makes it feel so realistic. This book definitely didn’t disappoint.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I put The Hate U Give on hold through Libby way back in April. As June started, I still had a six-month + wait, so I went ahead and bought it during an impromptu trip to the bookstore. I’m so happy I finally got the chance to read it, and I’m even happier that so many people were requesting this book even before the protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder. This book looks at the impacts of police brutality and racial profiling on a community and individual level. Given that this book is YA, its ability to send this message to teens is incredibly essential. The characters feel real and will be relatable to a lot of teens, but they are also mature enough that it’s enjoyable for adults to read. I also think this book gives insight into many different challenges Black communities face and does these topics justice. It would be easy to gloss over a lot of things, but Thomas is sure to spend time exploring everything she brings up. I am glad this book exists. I read this and the next two books as part of a self-imposed 48-hour readathon, so if you want to see what that was like, you can read about it here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I grew up watching the LOTR films constantly. They’re still some of my favorites today. I read The Hobbit in middle school (and I don’t want to talk about those movies) but didn’t read the trilogy for the first time until high school. I haven’t read them since because I was scared I wouldn’t enjoy them as much this time around. I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring this month for the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon for the prompt to read a book featuring a magical battle. I can definitely say I still enjoy the experience of reading Tolkien. I did use an audiobook to read along with sometimes because I can have trouble focusing just in general, and that was really pleasant. I love reading about Frodo’s epic adventure, and his friendship with Sam is so wholesome. There were times when I would zone out some, and that could have just been me and where I’m at this year but overall, a great read.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling was my last book for the Make Your Myth Taker Readathon, and it fulfilled the prompt – read a book with occult themes. This book follows an elemental witch, Hannah, who has recently broken up with her girlfriend, Veronica. When they suspect a Blood Witch is in town, they have to work together to stop them. This book is equal parts witchy and dramatic, and I had a pretty okay time. I enjoyed the plot of this book and wanted to know what would happen next. I wanted to know what happened next. I think where this book lost me was with the characters. I didn’t feel super connected to them and didn’t even feel like I really got to know them (though Gemma was a delight). I was not a fan of the dynamic between Hannah and Veronica. Veronica is incredibly manipulative, and it was frustrating to read. I might pick up the sequel, but I’m not totally committed to it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m planning to write a more in-depth review of Home Before Dark by Riley Sager because I have so many feelings, but I’ll just say a little bit for now. This book follows Maggie, who has returned to her childhood home to prepare it for sale. Her father wrote a book about their time in the house, but she doesn’t remember any of it. When creepy things start happening again, Maggie must figure out the truth. I wanted to squeeze this into my month with two days left, and I did it! This book switches back and forth between present-day Maggie and chapters of her father’s book, which takes place twenty-five years earlier. I am a sucker for unusual narrative structures, and this was so fun to read. It was also terrifying; I kept thinking about snakes and ghosts and listening for sounds while I was reading. I don’t usually get scared from books (movies are whole other things entirely), but Home Before Dark really got me.

So, that’s all the books I read this month. I think I had a good reading month and enjoyed everything I read at least to some degree. Have you read any of these? What did you think? What did you pick up in June?

May 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups

I can’t believe May is over already. To think I was still in school at the beginning of the month AND the official launch of this blog! So, welcome to my first wrap-up! I read so much more than I expected. There are some in-depth reviews on my blog, but I want to share some brief thoughts about the other books I read this month. I read ten books, so this might be a little long, but here we go!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The first book I finished this month was The Guest List by Lucy Foley. I wrote a review of this book here. This thriller was a strong start to my month. I gave this five stars because I thought the cast of characters were well developed and also because Foley has a way of leaving little hints in each chapter until Foley reveals the ending. I read this book so quickly and just had to know what happened next.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The next book I finished was another thriller – Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. I also wrote a dedicated review for this book, which can be found here. I gave this book four stars because I never knew what to expect, and the social commentary Sager provides is exactly the type of thing I want to read. The only reason this wasn’t a five-star read is that I wanted to see some more development of the relationships between characters, and our main character ignored some major red flags early on. Overall, still such a fun time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The third book I finished this month was a group read with some friends –  Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick. Since I did not write a dedicated review for this book, I will talk a bit about it here. This book follows Ilya, who leaves Russia to come to Louisiana for a year of high school. In addition to navigating a new school and a new culture, Ilya is leaving behind his family. Their lives have been turned upside down because his brother, Vladimir, has been arrested for and confessed to murder. This book is both heartbreaking and complicated. Sometimes characters are unlikable, but I also think they are very realistic. I usually don’t enjoy reading from a teenage male POV, and there were some awkward, cringey moments, but the story is still powerful. I gave this four stars. cw – drug use/abuse, murder

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The last book I posted a dedicated review for is A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight. You can read it here. I gave this 3/3.5 stars. I was initially nervous about this book because I thought it would be a typical legal thriller. Still, the plot has a lot to offer and has some serious domestic thriller vibes. As two seemingly unrelated mysteries start to converge, I found myself unable to put this book down. I enjoyed jumping between Amanda’s and Lizzie’s POVs and slowly learning about both of their lives. I also really loved to hate one character in particular. Some things didn’t work for me, though. I didn’t really understand why most of the couples would have even married each other in the first place. I also found myself having just to accept some things without much development.

The next book I read in May was a nonfiction called The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin. This book documents the history of vaccines and the rise of the anti-vaxx movement. Mnookin writes in a way people without a science background can understand, and I greatly appreciated it. It is also incredibly enlightening when it comes to the ways the media allows misinformation to spread. I don’t like giving star ratings to nonfiction, but I do highly recommend this book – just maybe not right now. It is a bit frustrating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The next book I read was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is a Pride & Prejudice retelling that takes place in modern times (think yoga instructor Jane). I am a sucker for Austen retellings. I enjoyed seeing how Sittenfeld updated certain aspects of the story for a modern US setting. She also chose to end by talking about Mary. In both the original and this retelling, the other characters don’t understand Mary and are mean to her. I’m not too fond of that in both cases, but Sittenfeld gives us a little more about her after the story, and I think that might be a way of giving her a little kindness as the author. I appreciate that.

I do want to note that I do have some concerns about this book. Sittenfeld includes both black and trans rep in her writing. While I get that they are probably trying to use these characters to both challenge the conservative beliefs the older Bennets hold and to tackle tough issues, I can’t help but get the feeling that her attempt at representation might have reduced the characters to simple plot devices. Some of the writing felt very late 90s – early 2000s, and it was weird to read some of these sections.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

While reading Eligible, I also listened to the audiobook for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. This is a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy and tells the origin story of President Snow. You might know that there has been a ton of mixed reviews for this book. I am here to add to the confusion. I rated this a true three stars because I didn’t care either way about this book. I actually decided to DNF this book before picking it up again a few days later. For me, the pacing was a huge issue. I think the exciting and interesting plot points were breezed through while the less interesting things seem to drag on forever. I also don’t think the social commentary was as sharp as the original trilogy. It could have been more.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next, I picked up a short story collection by Oscar Wilde called The Happy Prince and other Stories. This is a collection of five short stories, each of which had appealing qualities. The connections between these stories are pretty clear; each story deals with themes of privilege, selfishness, and using your privilege to help those who are less fortunate. It was a wholesome read, and I gave it four stars. My favorite stories from this collection are “The Selfish Giant” and “The Devoted Friend.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My next read was The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. When we were growing up, my brother loved the Percy Jackson series, but I was a bit older and never really got into the books. With the excitement of the upcoming TV series, I decided I would finally give them a try. This first book made me regret not picking them up sooner. I won’t say a lot because I want to have a blog post talking about my feelings over the whole series, but I do want to say that Riordan creates an immersive, fun world with interesting connections to history, dyslexia representation that is important for the target audience to see, and fantastic environmental commentary.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

My last read for May was the audiobook for Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix. This book follows the employees of Orsk furniture store (think Ikea) as they try to figure out who is breaking and destroying merchandise at night. When spooky occurrences start to become horrifying, they realize they might not be dealing with regular vandals. I had such a fun time listening to this book while playing Animal Crossing. It was a fairly quick listen but full of excitement and scares. It also makes you think about your relationship with buying items and consumerism. If you don’t already know or can’t tell, this is the type of content I eat up! Four stars!

Just like with my June TBR, if you’re still here, thanks! Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What did you read in May? Let’s talk in the comments! Also, if there are other blog posts you’d like to see from me in June, let me know!