Book Reviews: The MeetCutest, A Book NOT about Wolves, and Black Hair Love.

June 15, 2017

Morning, all! Just a few books to talk about this week, because I had some re-reads not worth re-hashing am thiiiiis close to finishing my daytime book and my nighttime book. (You know I have my reading groove back when I’m making excuses for a low number!)

So what do we got? Let’s look!

DimpleWhen Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon (2017, Simon Pulse, 380 pages, ebook). This book is the book to read this summer and believe me when I say Sandhya Menon is the new John Green – YA Whisperer Extraordinaire! I hope she’s half as prolific because I can’t wait to get my hands on her next story…and I just finished her first! The story is about two American teens whose (uh, somewhat) traditionalist Indian parents have arranged for them to be married – if all goes well when they meet. Dimple kicked herself for not realizing why her parents suddenly caved and allowed her to go to computer programming camp, and Rishi just about wants to kill himself for blurting out his intentions to spend the rest of his life with Dimple the second he meets her. Turns out Dimple wasn’t aware of the deal-io. And on it goes. It’s the meet-cutest, even if it does feel annoyingly teenagery at times, and a little heavy-handed on the foreshadowing. It all balances out, though, because Dimple and Rishi click from (almost) the first moment, and its in the funny, laugh-out-loud moments that Menon’s writing really shines. That, and she really knows how to write secondary characters – not a skill you really hear talked about, partly because not a lot of people really know how to excel at it. All in all, it’s wonderful debut novel and I will definitely be following Menon’s career with interest. 3 1/2 of 5 stars. (That cover, though! 5 of 5 stars for cover art!)

HistoryOfWolvesHistory of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund (2017, Grove Atlantic, 288 pages, used hardcover). Trigger warning for sketchy-as-hell student/teacher relationships, and child abuse. In small town Minnesota (the book flap describes it further as being part of the lakes region of Minnesota, but is there part of Minnesota that isn’t the lakes region? Seriously?), Linda/Maddie lives with questionable parents in a hut that is part of a counter-culture left over from her maybe-parents commune days. History was so hard to read because relationships were never clearly defined – between characters, places, causes, nothing! It wasn’t even clear whether this was by design. So I wasn’t sure if Linda’s blurry AF relationship with her parents and miserable home life was responsible for why she kissed her teacher, or was jealous when a fellow student started rumors that she had gone all the way with their history teacher – an awkward man who later fled because they found out he was fired from his last job in California for pedophilia. As that story line was falling apart, Linda is hired by the weirdo neighbors across the lake to babysit for their toddler, Paul. You know from the beginning that something horrible is going to happen to Paulie – and I thought from the teacher story line that it was going to be sexual abuse – but it wasn’t, and the No Good, Terrible, Horrible Thing was a bit of a let down when I finally found out what happened. I mean, it was awful, sure; it just wasn’t the shock it was built up to be. Yeah, this novel was a hot mess, through and through, in need of a much stronger editor. Solid ideas, they just all fell to the earth and fizzled. 2 of 5 stars.

YouCantTouchMyHairYou Can’t Touch my Hair, by Phoebe Robinson (2016, Plume Books, 285 pages, library paperback). This was nominated as a Goodreads Choice for Humor last year, and YOU GUYS! I am both bummed it didn’t win, and horrified it had to go up as humor! Yes, Robinson is a comedian, and yes, she glossed all her essays with humor, but I think that’s all mostly because there isn’t anything close to “I’m Laughing Because It’s All Funny Because It’s So True It Hurts” – in either an awards category or life profession. There were essays about hair and beauty as the title suggests, but also how Robinson is too black to be white, and too white to be black. She’s the post-Soul aesthetic defined, and I LOVE it. I love her! I can’t believe I hadn’t run across so much as her name before. Bottom line: you should all read her book, see her in person if you can, and help me track down any- every- thing else she has done. 4 of 5 stars.

InvisibleLifeOfIvanIsaenkoThe Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach (2016, St. Martin’s Press, 326 pages). Lauded as the next coming of The Fault in Our Stars, I was so excited to sit down and read Ivan! I knew it was going to be sad, but Holy Moses. Ivan is beset by every mean trick the universe could bestow. He was born without both legs, without his right arm, and with only a thumb and the first two fingers on his left hand. He has a connective tissue disorder, making it hard to talk, and leaving his features flat, making him not only hard to look at, but like he’s even more handicapped than he is. Oh, and when another person at Mazyr’s Hospital for Gravely Ill Children (in the Ukraine that cares for 30 children crippled by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster) dares to fall in love with Ivan, SHE DIES TOO. We know this from the first page – a choice that rankled with me every step of the way. I wanted to hold out hope, no matter how foolish. I needed to believe. Without that bit, even with Nurse Natalya who is the only friggin ray of sunshine in a thousand mile radius, everything was so. unflinchingly. bleak. I’ve read a lot of bleak stories, you guys. I can handle a lot. If I have hope. This…it was interesting. I wanted to change the outcome. So even though it was bleak, there was an undeniable intrigue and sneakery and brilliance that crackled throughout and drew me to the story. I couldn’t put it down because of it, and, honestly, it’s what kept me turning page after page. Without it, I’d have ditched. So…I guess brilliance trumps hope. Who knew? 3 of 5 stars.

There you go! What are YOU reading this week? What do I need to add to my shelves this summer?

Mid-year Check-in: Read Harder Challenge 2017.

June 14, 2017

We’re at the halfway point of 2017, and as I set down my summery drink* I realize how much sweat and hard work has gone into this year already, because I just wrote the challenge was for 2018, not 2017. (Yeah, I’ll get right on that correction. Oops.)

This reading year has been a struggle for me. I’ve spent most of my time re-reading favorites (thanks, Goodreads, for finally allowing those re-reads to “count”), sinking into steamy romances, and…well…not reading. The last time I had this much trouble finding time and energy to read was the year before my divorce when things weren’t going the greatest for me and so I spent my time not thinking about anything. You’d think escaping into fiction would help, but for some weird reason, it doesn’t. This year, in the middle of this political nightmare, things are much of the same. My reading tallies are a hot mess!

Except when it comes to my Read Harder Challenge.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how close I am to finishing already! But I do have a few categories I still need to fill, and I need your suggestions to help get the job done! So let’s see where I’m at…

Read a book about sports: Sudden Death, by Alvara Enrigue

Read a debut novel: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Read a book about books: My Soul Looks Back, by Jessica Harris (I cheated a little – it’s about authors more than books, but meh meh meh…)

Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author:

Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran

Read an all-ages comic: March, by Rep. John Lewis

Read a book published between 1900 and 1950:

Read a travel memoir: An African in Greenland, by Tete-Michel Kpomassie

Read a book you’ve read before: The Chaneysville Incident, by David Bradley

Read a book that is 100 miles of your location:

Read a book that is set more than 5,000 miles from your location: The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan

Read a fantasy novel: Version Control, by Dexter Palmer

Read a nonfiction book about technology: Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Read a book about war: American War, by Omar El Akkad

Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+:

Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jill Tamaki

Read a classic by an author of color: Amiable with Big Teeth, by Claude McKay

Read a superhero comic with a female lead: Rani Patel in Full Effect, by Sonia Patel (I make my own definitions of what is and isn’t a superhero. An outsider, a woman, who steps up and finds her voice? Superhero.)

Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel:

Read a book published by a micropress: Fish in Exile, by Vi Khi Nao

Read a collection of stories by a woman: Speak Gigantular, by Irenosen Okojie

Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love:

Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

See? So much better than I thought it was going to be when I sat down, looked at what I had, and figured out what could go where.

Now here’s where you come in – what should I read to fill up my bingo card? For my “within 100 miles of your location” clue, think of anything in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. (It makes it easy, no?) One last requirement – if you’ve noticed (or remember from my other posts), I am filling up my challenge with books by people of color. I do diversely on my own, but this is one more way to make a very focused effort to do an even better job.

So hit me up with your recommendations! I’m only 5 books away from standing up and yelling BINGO!! …And maybe treating myself to something from the Book Riot store.

 

 

*Not really. But if wishing made it so…

Once more with fashion – I mean, feeling!

June 13, 2017

This past weekend the girls and stopped at the mall because I wanted to look in “some geeky-type stores” for some Magic cards – specifically, some lands, so the three of us could play together. Except on our way towards ThinkGeek, we happened across a shirt that Gracie liked that had some honest-to-god colors besides black and grey in it. And since it was a Fashion Week Miracle (and because the tank was $5), I let her buy it.

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And then, because she had pulled off one miracle, when the Gracie-girl asked to stop in Papaya to look at some more shirts, and because the Bee-girl didn’t mind, I said okay. And then we found Gracie a few more church outfits, which just happened to be on her list of Things Needed.

How cute are those outfits?! I love how soft those gauzy shorts are! We got both pairs of shorts (the jean ones she already owned), the three tops, and another under-tank for less than $50. So – win!! And Gracie got to play Fashion Show, Fashion Show, Fashion Show At Lunch!, which is, like, her favorite game. So – double win!

Oh, and because I was a nitwit who didn’t think to include a picture of Bee’s earrings from yesterday (the ones that I successfully used to bribe her into getting her ears re-re-pierced)…

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That’s what made her so cuckoo for cocoa puffs! I just hope her dang ears stay pierced this time!

Do my kids know how to bend me to their will, or what?

Re-Re-Pierced!

June 12, 2017

If I had to guess which of my girlies would have problematic ears, I would not have guessed Bee-girl. She is my girly-girl; the one who enjoys jewelry and frills and dressing up in high fashion. She is not the tomboy who shuns all bling.

And yet.

The first time I had to bring Bee to get her ears re-pierced, it was because the earring had sunken into her ear, we had to perform minor surgery at home to get it out, and then we had to let her ear close because of a giant hole. That takes a lot out of a mama. But the second time went a lot smoother than the first time (perhaps because she wasn’t at the horrid daycare that allowed kids to rip out Bee’s earrings four separate times!) and I thought we were home free.

Heaven knows why I’d think something so silly. Not in my house when nothing ever goes smoothly!

Apparently my girly-girl hasn’t been wearing earrings. I know she had a pair on at Christmas, because I bought them special, and all three of us had on our matching pairs. After that…uh… who knows? Bee somehow stayed away from the bling, until about a month or two ago when I tried to get her to wear a pair with a particular outfit. Except the earrings…well, they didn’t quite fit. And by fit, I mean the posts didn’t want to go through all the way. They fell just the tiniest little bit short. I felt like I could push the posts through and everything would be A-OK, but Bee, she felt like that was not the best plan. And every time I tried doing it anyway, she shrieked just a little too loud. So I stopped trying.

Instead, I suggested getting her ears professionally pierced. Again. But Bee didn’t want to. She didn’t want to pierce her ears at all. I couldn’t see her going through life as a fashionista without pierced ears, but I didn’t want to push the issue too much. So I bided by her wishes.

And then yesterday – we were at the mall t look at one thing, and we cut through Penney’s…where some shirts caught Gracie’s eye. And then some earrings caught Bee’s eye. “So if I got my ears pierced, I could wear these in a month?” she asked. They were gold posts with round beach-ball-type dangly bits. “Of course you can!” I answered, surprised. Thank god the earrings were only $10. Before she could change her mind, I rushed Bee to Claire’s and we waited in a long and obnoxious line. This was happening!

Before you knew it, she was done. And we got a 20% off coupon, too! Which came in handy after we picked up alllll the Christmas gifts.

tl;dr – Bee has sparkly new earrings for the next 4 weeks. And then after that, she’ll have different earrings every day, hopefully forever. Third time’s the charm! (Please god!)

Pierced

5 for Friday.

June 9, 2017

The first week of Summer Vacation is in the books! The girls are enjoying themselves immensely. They’ve completed their chore cards every day but one – and then when they lost their phones for the evening, they were pretty quick to complete their chore cards the next day! Don’t worry too much – there’s plenty of time for fun and hijinx after chores. Let’s see what we’ve been up to! (Uh, otherwise known as “What’s. Your. Evidence? Heh.)

1. Bee’s been making her own fun, just like a curious, fun-loving, independent 11-year-old outta! Every night when I walk in, I ask how their day was, and I get stories stories stories like the girls are going to pop if they don’t tell me everything as fast as they can. So I was surprised when I looked over at the bookshelf the other night and saw this:

Summer3

Isn’t that the prettiest sand art? I love the shape of the middle one best, and the colors in the one on the right would look perfect in my office. [Fun fact: 3/4 of my office is decorated with art designed by Bee-girl.] The sand art kit is something Bee got for Christmas – Santa knows how much we love crafts and crafting at my house – and I had forgotten all about it. But apparently Bee went excavating in her closet or among the shelves in the front room and found it…and then made pretty, pretty sand art without asking for help or, you know, telling anyone. I adore how independent my girls are becoming! They will make excellent grown-up!

2. That is, if I don’t kill them first. I am slimed out, you guys. No mas! NO MAS! The slime fascination started a year ago. I thought it would, by now, have abated, but no. Not my kids. My kids hang the hell on when they sink their teeth into something. Consequently, my kitchen counter looks like this:

Summer2

Seven containers of slime. SEVEN. And it’s only “neatly” gathered because I snapped at them to do it. There was slime here, there, and everywhere, and I was seriously about to pitch it all. I love that my nerdlings know how to science slime out of borax, glue, lotion, markers, shampoo, and thin air (okay, maybe not that last one), but I’m about done with it. D-O-N-E, done.

3. I think I unleashed some sort of unstoppable force from a corked bottle, you guys, and the undo button doesn’t seem to be working. Trust me, I’ve been Ctrl-Z-ing that sucker all week and, yep, not working. See, I found a shoebox of Magic: The Gathering cards, and I thought, Oh, hey! Wouldn’t it be cool if I taught Gracie and Bee? Bee wanted nothing to do with it, but Gracie…hoo boy. First, she loves organization. She was an ace at helping me to sort color, and then sort by category – creatures, enchantments, sorcerys, interrupts, instants. Then I made a few decks (nothing fancy because I didn’t have many cards) and taught her all the moves. Which wasn’t easy because Magic has a lot of details and moving parts. But Gracie’s whip-smart and picked it up and OHMYGODYOUGUYS. I wasn’t in the door five seconds before she was all, “Do you want to play some Magic?” I’ve created a monster. A very cute monster, but still…Summer4

4. My other bit of mad genius this week involves the television – which may be why Gracie is enthralled. I’ve been trying to get the girls to watch West Wing for AGES. Seriously. I just don’t know why Gracie won’t give it a shot! I got her into Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Lie to Me, Christy, Dr. Quinn (okay, guys, they were much younger and needed a family show!), and my sisters got them into Once Upon a Time, Vampire Diaries, and who knows what else! The point is that she should trust me and give it a shot. But no luck. Until…I maybe thought to bribe her with extra sleep time. I told her she could push back her wake-up time by an hour if she watched an episode of West Wing. That worked so quickly I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before! After that episode, I told her she could shorten her reading time from one hour to thirty minutes if she watched another one. Success! And then…she was hooked. We’ve been watching as we play Magic every night for an hour or two. It helps that she’s in love with Sam Seaborn, but I’ll take whatever I can get!

5. Of course Gracie and I were playing Magic and watching West Wing last night just after dinner. She wanted to get in a game and an episode before I dropped her and Bee off at Stepmom’s last night. We were in a time crunch, trying to finish all the things, and I needed to change my clothes. So I asked Bee to go get me a t-shirt. (I was in a work shirt that was not going to be going-out-to-Target appropriate.) Bee was gone a long time, and then came out with jewelry. “These are going to be you accessories…” and I saw what she had and my brow crinkled. Huh? Turns out Bee thought I was asking her to create an outfit for me for work! I saw what she had picked out: jeans and a t-shirt and a necklace and earrings. I wouldn’t have thought to put any of it together, but then again, I don’t have a single fashion gene in my body! I told Bee I was going to wear her outfit today and I did:

Summer1

The t-shirt was too casual for work, but with black peep-toe heels and flashy jewelry, it work! The cardigan…I wasn’t too sure about that. I’m still not too sure! But I did it anyway.

So what do you guys thing? Does my outfit work today? Is the cardigan knot ridiculous? Isn’t our week of summer fun the absolute best?! I’m pretty proud of it. And of all the fun my girls had. It was a good mix of responsibilities and free time. (Though I’m sure the girls would disagree.) How do you guys regulate summer time for your kids?

Tell me in the comments. And make sure you have a fabulous Friday and wonderful weekend!

 

 

#Riotgram, Day 8: Books and ice cream.

June 8, 2017

I almost forgot to post today. I framed and snapped my photo a day or two ago, and it didn’t quite slip my mind, per se, it just wasn’t quite at the front.

Perhaps it was because what I wanted to do was snap a picture of my collection of poems by Wallace Stevens, the one I had left over from 19th Century English Literature class. There was a poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” that would have been perfect for this assignment. I remember discussing the poem at great length in class, and then the professor refused to give us his take on it! But…that’s besides the point. Because instead, for “Books and Ice Cream”, I got you this:

BooksIceCream

A comfort book, paired with comfort ice cream. The book in questions just happens to be a better picture of the edition of Anne that I told you about earlier. Isn’t it gorgeous?! The cover is soft; I don’t quite know what it’s made of.

The ice cream it’s hanging out with is almost as good a friend as that Anne-girl. You can’t find black raspberry ice cream here in Tejas, but the Haagan Daz Raspberry Sorbet is pretty tasty. You just know Anne Shirley would swoon over the word “sorbet”!

It’s a silly #Riotgram prompt. It’s my least favorite so far. But I swung at the pitch when it was thrown at me. What about you all – are there food pairings you think of to go with your favorite books?

Book Reviews: Found legends, all the nonfiction, and a quiet SK story.

June 8, 2017

It’s been ages since I’ve posted book reviews! Since I’ve finally found my reading mojo, I have so many books stacked up to choose from! Rather than try to squeeze them all in, I’m going to pick and choose…

JaguarsJaguars Ripped my Flesh, by Tim Cahill. (1987, Vintage, 320 pages, eloan). It’s a catchy title, I have to admit. And a jaunty little adventure book, if you’re looking for very short stories into the wild. But don’t expect high-faluting, serious-minded forays into the jungles. The title is meant to be funny and ironic; a nod to when men’s magazines all went overboard with their tabloidy stories. Cahill argued then (and then demonstrated via his books) that what men really wanted to read were honest-to-god travel stories. No fanfare needed. Okay, so I’m not the intended audience, but still – meh. 2 of 5 stars. And that’s generous.

GirlFromEverywhereThe Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Helig. (2016, Greenwillow Books, 464 pages, ebook). This was a deal of the day, and I’d been hearing good things from reliable YA crowds – the ones who read what I read. So I gave it a whirl. And it was decent – not phenomenal like the Daughters of Bone series I had just finished, and that probably didn’t help much – nothing was going to be “good” after finishing that. I can see how the voice here would draw people in and plenty would like Helig’s writing style and the flow of the story. The characters were interesting and well developed. The plot – a ship that can sail anywhere, anywhen if it can follow a map it’s never used before – is brilliant. For me, it was just lacking that oomph to make it special. 3 of 5 stars.

SeriouslySeriously, I’m Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres (2011, Grand Central Publishing, 241 pages, used hardcover). I’m glad I read it – I love seeing how celebrity’s books translate from their physical world of acting to the medium where your ability to communicate in words (and negative spaces) rules the day. It’s an interesting shift. Ellen managed quite beautifully, as I’d suspected and hoped, but…her stories, while amusing, seemed surface-y to me, and were on the extremely short side. Each story took me about two minutes to read. Not exactly the in depth memoir I’d wanted. So I’m glad I tore through this one, but mostly for the experience of having done so. 2 of 5 stars.

FoundlingThe Foundling, by Paul Joseph Fronczak (2017, Howard Books, 368 pages, ebook). I bought this ebook on a whim after seeing it advertised and recognizing it from my TBR. It’s the story of a couple whose newborn was stolen from the hospital, and of another little boy who was abandoned half a country away, on the sidewalk in front of some stores. The FBI decides the toddler was that newborn, the family is reunited and all was well. Except all was not well, because that boy grows up and discovers not only his story, but that he was not the baby they thought he was. Genealogical mystery unraveling ensues. And you know me – I’m a huge genealogy nut! This book was so my jam. It was written well; well-paced, interesting, yes – a little whiny at times, but I thought Fronczak had good cause. I tore through it, wanting to know how it played out. Definitely worth the money I shelled out. If you’re into true crime, this is definitely worth your time and your dollars. I highly recommend. 4 of 5 stars.

AmiableAmiable with Big Teeth, by Claude McKay (2017, Penguin, 352, hardcover). I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. One of my two bachelor degrees is in African American Studies, so I was beyond pleased when I found out I was selected to win the new novel based on the manuscript by Claude McKay found in 2012. McKay was instrumental in the Harlem Renaissance, one of the greatest periods of creativity this country has ever had the joy to behold. That’s not to say a lot of the pieces produced during that time were joyful in nature; many focused on the need for African Americans to rise up, become financially mobile, break free from the tyranny of social injustice, both here and abroad. Amiable is the story of the Harlemites in-the-know working to help liberate Ethiopia, after Mussolini has invaded. The book is a satire and fun is poked at the political machinations of the different factions, fighting over¬† a piece of the pie, and arguing loudly over the “right” way to fight for it. If you like The Sellout by Paul Beatty, or pieces from the post-Reconstruction era, this is what you want. 3 of 5.

GwendyGwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance Publications, 175 pages, hardcover). I was a little wary as I started; I wasn’t a big fan of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, and I haven’t read anything else by Richard Chizmar. But this, a Castle Rock novella, ended up being…well, if not exactly classic Stephen King, pretty close. From a world next door, if you like. It’s a quiet story, one filled with dread and a slow build to the finale. I’ll tell you how quiet it was – I could have read this at full dark and not been afraid. It’s the horror of what the human race will do to each other…with a little bit of magic thrown in. The ending was a bit anticlimatic – given events that happened at the start of the novel, I was expecting something a bit grander. But, I suppose it will do. I’m glad I read it. I’m not sorry I spent both my money and my time on it. But I can’t say the story changed me one way or another. 3 of 5 stars.

#Riotgram, Day 7: Most Loved.

June 7, 2017

Today’s #Riotgram challenge, hosted by the ever-fabulous Book Riot, focuses on most loved books. But what exactly does that mean?! Should I focus on the books I love best (and show it in the wear and tear)? Talk about my Stephen King obsession? The series I re-read every year? My favorite books shelf?

My favorite books shelf – let’s start there.

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My favorites shelf is missing quite a few of my favorite books. My favorite series – Stephen King’s Dark Tower; Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman family saga; Harry Potter; The Eyre Affair series by Jeffrey Fforde; Anne. There simply isn’t room and it would hurt my heart (and the books)(shoosh) for the series to be broken up over multiple shelves. Also, this way I can fit most of my absolute favorites on one shelf.

The Christmas book is there because it’s one of those Hallmark books that let you record your voice, and my mom’s voice is in there. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, or else I’ll need a tissue or forty.

Oh! I lied – a collector’s edition of Anne is on the shelf! I’d forgotten about that! I’ll try to grab a better picture of that and post it later. It’s gorgeous!

Then there are a favorite from high school РThe Great Gatsby. My girlfriends and I (who ruled AP English) fell madly in love with it, and that love was cemented in college when we discussed symbolism and motifs and, dear god, all the irony. The same with what I think of as my college favorites РTheir Eyes Were Watching God; The Portrait of a Lady; The Chaneysville Incident; and The White Boy Shuffle. 

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood might be part of a trilogy, but I pretend it isn’t because of…things…that complicate favorite characters beyond the pale.

Pride and Prejudice I didn’t read until the year after Gracie was born and I was mind-boggled over how it was such a fan favorite until I got to the botched proposal…and then I couldn’t put it down.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert might be a bit hokey, but it got me through my divorce. And that’s a good enough reason for me!

The Anne Fadiman collections of personal essays were divine! I couldn’t read them for want of writing, and I couldn’t write because I wanted to keep hoovering up more of her writing! It’s my favorite dilemma, really. There are readers, though, who really aren’t all about writing, and I wonder – honestly – how well Fadiman holds up for those sorts of people.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a great family drama, one where you can’t tell where the function of family ends and the dysfunction takes over. Perhaps because the dysfunction of my family is so readily apparent, it fascinates me that for some families, the dynamic hasn’t always been that way, with one or two or three functional souls in the middle of the chaos.

White Oleander is the opposite – dysfunctional family drama at its best. You can also find perhaps the Cruella deVillest character this side of Disney. (Yes, yes – Dodie Smith, I know.)

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is – just go read it. This novel embodies the group of characters I’m most upset I can’t meet in real life. Which maybe doesn’t make sense because they’re located on a tiny island in the middle of the English Channel. Doesn’t matter; still holds true.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern wasn’t a hit the first half of the book. I trudged through to make my sister happy. The moment the love story became more than apparent, I fell for it. Which now seems silly – the reason I really love it is because it’s hands down the most imaginative book I’ve ever read. If Guernsey contains the characters I most want to meet, Night Circus is the book I most want to be real.

The White Mary by Kira Salak and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett are two stories on the same theme. Wild adventures in the remotest of remote places; feminist lenses; love vs. career vs. self…so many shared themes, but with different characters and different ways of carrying it off.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is perhaps the most adventurific character study I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, especially given that it breaks down stereotypes left and right. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan is the least likely John Green novel you’ll ever read. It, too, plays into stereotypes so hard in its identity-heavy examinations that it often shoots right past them. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is similar, but throws in some ableism into the mix. They’re three on a theme.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is like a throwback to the 80s all the way around. It’s set during the decade, it tweaks the heart like a break-up power ballad, and it’ll make you relive all the best and worst bits of growing up.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is kind of like Elegance of the Hedgehog, but if it took place in the middle of the Serbian War. Or, wait, is that quite right? I can never quite categorize this one. Except it’s lovely.

Harriet the Spy is everything about who I wanted to be when I was a little kid. And still.

The Martian is everything about my voice as a grown-up. Except you’d never get me into outer-space.

Tiny, Beautiful Things is the best advice book I could ever recommend to anyone going through a tough time, about to go through a tough time, or who wants to be a writer when they “grow up.”

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is variant on a Ya-Ya theme. If you like one…

And the Daughters of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I’m so glad I ignored all of the praise for it when it first came out, because if I couldn’t read it all in one go, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m selective about my fantasy, and this still passed the test.

Sometimes I can’t believe I can fit all of those stories on just one shelf! What about your shelf – what favorite books do you have on yours?

#Riotgram Challenge, Day 6: Titles with Numbers.

June 6, 2017

Today’s #Riotgram challenge, sponsored by BookRiot, is pretty straightforward: books with numbers in the titles. In fact, it was so straightforward, I figured that I could skim each and every shelf in my house last night at 11 p.m. and pull books for a quick picture.

“Quick.” HAHAHAHAHA!

I didn’t manage to pull from every bookshelf, because I forgot about the memoirs and autobiographies on the window ledge and corners of my bathtub in the master bath, and I didn’t want to attempt navigating the mess in the front room, so I didn’t get to any of the girls’ books on those shelves. I still found a pretty good number of them. (Get it? “Number” of books with numbers in the titles? I slay me.) Um, uh, okay – take a look:

Riotgram6

If you can’t make out all of the titles, there’s The Drawing of the Three from SK’s Dark Tower series ruling over all of the piles; One, Two, Buckle my Shoe; SK’s From a Buick 8 and Four Past Midnight; A Tale of Two Cities; 1984; A Thousand Splendid Suns; Nineteen Minutes; N0S4A2; Th1rteen R3asons Why; Flight 232; 3000 Degrees; One Breath Away; Counting by 7s; Ready Player One; The Thirteenth Tale; 102 Minutes; The 9/11 Report; and Three Dark Crowns. A plethora of different stories and genres and rabbit holes!

What about your piles of titles? Did you find anything good? Did it make you want to re-read any of your finds? Were there titles you held out of the picture? (I confess – I nearly held back the Jodi Picoult.) I can’t wait to see what everyone else has to show!

My creative little giggle-monster.

June 6, 2017

Parenting is a tough business. The return – in smiles and hugs – is priceless. But the clarity of whether you’re doing it “right” is always murky at best. Still, there are moments. Tiny glimpses when you are sure when you did something right, that your children are listening, that everything will be okay.

Sunday night, after a very fun bonus weekend with the girls (their dad and stepmom took a much-deserved vacation, just the two of them), Bee interrupted our Sunday-Night Wind-Down Time to tell me she had something to show me.

Now, I was sitting down, relaxing. I didn’t want to get up and go see what it was. But, rather than snap at her, I said yes. I’ve been working on just saying “yes” more often and I’ve found I’m much happier for it. So I got off my lazy keister, walked over to where she was standing and took a good look at my girl.

That’s when I realized that this was something special. My Bee-girl’s eyes were dancing with mischief, delight, and – yes – magic. Shenanigans were afoot! And that’s when my sweet girl handed me this:

TreasureHunt

The “Oh, wait what? You didn’t know that,” just KILLS me! That kid!

I solved the riddles and followed the clues, my heart swelling with each one. At the next-to-last clue, there was a $5 bill. My heart cracked a little bit – I was going to have to lecture Bee that we don’t give away money. It killed me to think that I was going to have to cast a shadow over this beautiful game she had created for me. Then, my last clue directed me across the room we were in, and there was $20 with a piece of paper that just said, “Let’s say I owe you $24.99…” My heart soared and I laughed out loud. I wouldn’t have to talk to Bee at all! She had bought an MC2 secret journal while we were on our Target run, and was supposed to pay me back. I hadn’t asked for the money yet, and here Bee was – being responsible and using the excuse to create a game so we could all have a little fun.

I could have hugged the smooshiness right outta that girl! (And I think I tried.) I knew in that moment that my daughter was paying attention. She listened when I talked – about the things that were important and mattered, and things that were fun and goofy. She listened to all of it. And not only did she listen, but she processed it. She was able to think of a fun way to return the money she owed me. She didn’t try to skimp on her “owesies”, and she remembered all of those fun treasure hunts Auntie Kim and I made for her and her sister when they were younger. I know now it’s something Bee has added to her bag of tricks, and will use when (if) she has kiddos of her own. The tradition lives on!

Yes, I am definitely doing something right with that girl!