Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Books Read in 2020 #MyYearInBooks

Perhaps you'll recall that last year, I had a challenge from a young friend.  To be honest, I thought we weren't competing this year! And then some time this fall, her mom texted me: "O wants to know how many books you've read." Game on! In these past few weeks, though, we both set our cap on 125, and I believe that she will hit her goal tomorrow! Hooray! 

Some people had a hard time reading during the whole quarantine thing. I had the opposite problem - I couldn't stop reading! To be honest, the year started out a little meh with my first choice, but luckily things picked right up and there were a lot of really good choices this year. Although I chose some favorites, I really liked a lot of these books. 

This year I also took on the project of writing monthly short reviews of what I'd read. Links to each month's post are at the bottom - if you want to hear more about any of these, click over and read what I said right after I finished reading!

As usual, a lot of mishmash amongst my choices. I really do like middle grade and YA fiction, and of course, I read a lot of Jewish-themed books. You'll see almost all of the Am Shalom 5781 book discussion books in this list as well. (And some that were in consideration but didn't make the cut!) I read way more romance novels than ever before, and I came to appreciate their familiar rhythms. I think I'm over the fauxmance storyline, though. 

Anyway, here's the list....

    1. The First Mrs. Rothschild by Sara Aharoni
    2. Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
    3. Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
    4. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
    5. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
    6. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
    7. Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell
    8. American Royals by Katharine McGee
    9. The Forgotten Room by Karen White
    10. Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
    11. Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
    12. Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz
    13. by Nathan Englander
    14. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
    15. The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
    16. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
    17. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
    18. The Unbreakables by Lisa Barr
    19. What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
    20. The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
    21. I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
    22. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
    23. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
    24. The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
    25. Wunderald by Jennifer Cody Epstein
    26. The House of the Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
    27. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
    28. Switch by Chip Heath
    29. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
    30. Once We Were Brothers by Ron Balson
    31. The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum
    32. On Division by Goldie Goldbloom
    33. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
    34. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
    35. 4321 by Paul Auster
    36. Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth
    37. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
    38. A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum
    39. Saving Sophie by Ron Balson
    40. The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson
    41. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
    42. Karolina's Twins by Ron Balson
    43. How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
    44. Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
    45. Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Jennifer Weiner
    46. Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
    47. All Adults Here by Emma Straub
    48. An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen
    49. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
    50. The Trust by Ron Balson
    51. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
    52. Stamped by Jason Reynolds
    53. I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
    54. The Book of V by Anna Solomon
    55. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
    56. Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman
    57. Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah
    58. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
    59. The Betrothed by Kiera Cass
    60. A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma
    61. Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg
    62. The Girl from Berlin by Ron Balson
    63. The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
    64. Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch
    65. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
    66. The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
    67. The Order by Daniel Silva
    68. The Royal We by Heather Cocks
    69. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
    70. Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
    71. Boyfriend Materials by Alexis Hall
    72. House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon
    73. Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
    74. The Braid by Laetittia Colombani
    75. The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams
    76. The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason
    77. Good Talk by Mira Jacob
    78. 36 Righteous Men by Steven Pressfield
    79. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
    80. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
    81. The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie
    82. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
    83. Gone by Michael Grant
    84. The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
    85. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
    86. Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
    87. Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
    88. The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
    89. Heating Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
    90. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
    91. American War by Omar El Akkad
    92. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
    93. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    94. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
    95. Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
    96. Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
    97. Followers by Megan Angelo
    98. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
    99. Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney
    100. The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
    101. Reverie by Ryan LaSala
    102. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
    103. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Baryon
    104. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
    105. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
    106. The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli
    107. Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
    108. Fish Out of Water by Joanne Levy
    109. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
    110. Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
    111. Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson
    112. Color Me In by Natasha Diaz
    113. Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher
    114. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynne Solomon
    115. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    116. If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
    117. A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
    118. Not Your All American Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
    119. Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
    120. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
    121. Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
    122. The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig
    123. King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar
    124. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
    125. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

    It's always really hard to choose favorites, but here are some of mine from the list above:

    • This Tender Land
    • American Royals
    • Invisible as Air
    • Such A Fun Age
    • Florence Adler Swims Forever
    • Dear Edward
    • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

    Here are the monthly review posts:

    I'm looking forward to starting new lists for 2021...I keep track of my books on Goodreads - follow me there. What do you think I should read in 2021? What are you going to read? What was the best book you read in 2020?

    Previous years' book lists are here:

    December 2020 Books #MyLifeInBooks

    The Duke and I by Julia Quinn - I've never been a huge romance reader, but these books have come up several times and now there's a new Netflix series coming out...I only planned to read the first one but now I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Fun and silly and delightful.

    And then....The Viscount Who Loved MeOffer from a GentlemanRomancing Mr Bridgerton all by Julia Quinn - not much to say except that these are just as much fun as the new Netflix adaptation. I had planned only to read the first one (see above) in preparation for the series, but now I'm hooked. 

    Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline - I really loved the first book - I thought it was mind-bendy and cool, with some great pop culture references. We've been recommending this one to nerds for years. The second book was...fine. It felt mostly unnecessary and a little bit pale in comparison to the first. I'm pretty sure we don't need a Ready Player Three.

    The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates - this was so hard to read because of the painful story; beautifully written, a little odd on the storyline, and overall a worthy read. The magical elements didn't really work for me, and I think that the story could have almost worked without them...

    If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane - I definitely saw this one coming but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. A little showmance followed by falling in love...what could be bad?

    Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust - Re-imagined fairy tales are one of my favorites, and this one was pretty good. 

    The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig - What might your life have been like if you'd taken another path? An extended version of Sliding Doors....a little preachy but definitely worth reading (and probably sermon material...)

    King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender - sweet and sad, so many different Big Ideas addressed here, but in a fairly safe way. It's middle-grade fiction, so it all gets wrapped up in a lovely way - but I can imagine that this book, in the right young hands, could have an immense impact. And the descriptions of grief are so well done.

    Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb - wonderfully told memoir of a relationship of a granddaughter and her grandmother. I loved the conversations that Bess created with the woman who clearly had a major impact on who she became.

    Marjorie Ingall wrote a piece for Tablet Magazine listing the top Jewish kids' books for 2020, and this list below is basically what happens when I decide to read my way through a whole list. (A couple of exceptions but similiarly genre'd so I put them on this part of the list too)

    The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli - this very brief volume was a wonderful essay drawing on the Jewish concept that "every Jew is responsible for all others" - and bringing this concept to the Queer community. Thought-provoking and worth reading.

    Fish Out of Water by Joanne Levy - I really liked this sweet story about a boy who just wants to do his own thing. His mom signs him up for water polo, when he really wants to dance. And he's told that knitting is for girls. You can imagine how this one goes, and it's well done.

    Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder - I'm a new fan of the graphic novel memoir and this one tells about a young woman as her mother dies of cancer. Sweet and humorous, and very comforting. 

    Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson - I liked this, because I'm always looking for well-told Bat Mitzvah stories. I'm always a little annoyed by stories of B'nai Mitzvah who are only marginally connected to Judaism...and then they feel put-upon in to learn, etc. But I liked how, in the end, it really was all about the learning and growth, so that's good, right? 

    Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon - I loved this one, even though I saw it all coming. Of course it's a haters-to-lovers story. But it's well-told and the Jewish elements just made me happy. The characters had some depth and overall, just a fun read. 

    Color Me In by Natasha Diaz - Reading through the list above reminded me that I've been wanting to read this one for a while, so it fit the list! A wonderful story about a young woman wrestling with two parts of her identity - her Black Baptist mom and her white Jewish dad are getting divorced and she's trying to figure out how she fits in. Aside from my typical irritation with a few mishaps in the Jewish telling, this was very timely and a good read.

    Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher - while reading all the other books, I was also cleaning house and found this PJ Our Way selection on a kid's shelf. A really good look at what it's like to be inside a socially challenged kid's mind as he navigates middle school and learning some new things about himself. I liked it!

    A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan - I really enjoyed this one. Two sixth grade girls become friends, bonding over their immigrant parents and their love of food. I like these stories of cultural representation and finding your own path even when you feel a little torn between different parts of your identity.

    Not Your All American Girl by by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg - Honestly, I think that A Place at the Table did this story a little better, but still enjoyed this one. I was a tad confused by the timing (it's set in 1984 and they see Sixteen Candles in the theater) and to be honest, I think a middle grade reader might actually find all of that a little confusing. Still, I think this was a well-told story of personal identity and how to balance different elements of who you are. 

    The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui - While reading all of the other graphic novels above, I mentioned to David what I was doing...and he handed me this book, which he read in one of his college classes this past semester. I never like to turn down a book handed to me by one of my kids! This was a really remarkable and beautiful book - I think the graphic memoir genre is really cool, and I loved reading about a culture that is so very different from my own. 

    Full Year's List Here

    Monday, November 30, 2020

    November Books #MyLifeInBooks

     Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney - I loved this author's previous book, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Highly recommend that one! This one....I did not like as much. Half of the book was told from the perspective of a messenger pigeon named Cher Ami, and right from the start, that didn't really work for me. But I did try to stop in the middle and I felt compelled to contine and so I did finish! I haven't read a lot of novels about the first World War, and I really didn't know anything about how pigeons were used as messengers by both sides. Also, at the end I discovered how much of the story was actually true, and I do appreciate a good history lesson. But....I don't really recommend this book. 

    The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory - finally, I reached the end of these books! I was excited to read this one because I already knew most of the characters and it was delightful albeit totally predictable. (I'm now starting a new romance series for these interludes between some of the more difficult books!)

    Reverie by Ryan La Sala - This was the "Big Library Read" in November and it was interesting. I liked the idea of personal daydreams becoming real, and it seemed like a really good concept. I was a little confused by the characters but overall an enjoyable read.

    Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam - This book was creepy in a verrry subtle way. I will admit that I couldn't put it down because I was waiting for the reveal...which unravelled in a slow and eerie way. After I finished the book, I read several reviews, and now I like and appreciate the book even more. In many ways, the book is the perfect book for 2020 - it's uncertain, uncomfortable, and confounding. What really happens? Does it really matter? Who are we when we don't have all the answers??? (P.S. One reviewer called this "the most lowkey and vague thriller" and I thought that was an excellent description)

    Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron - I loved this re-telling of Cinderella and its breaking down of the tropes of traditional fairy tales. I am a big fan of re-told fairy tales, and this one did not disappoint! 

    The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab - Wow. I loved this book and I couldn't put it down. What happens when no one remembers you? How can you make an impact on the world without making your own imprint? What does it mean to inspire others? Loved this story about how we find our way in the world...

    Saturday, October 31, 2020

    October 2020 Books #MyLifeInBooks

    American War by Omar El Akkad - This book broke me. Seriously. It was about a second American Civil War and a terrible plague. Published in 2017, it felt waaay too close to home to read right now. I kept going because I was hoping for a happy ending...but honestly, it haunted me. Beautifully written, a good read, but maybe not the right book to read in October of 2020. 

    Because American War broke'll notice that the next FOUR books are all RomComs. Yep. Just a whole bunch of delicious, sweet, wonderful romantic comedies. Not my usual thing but took all of these to get over the dystopian-all-too-real book.

    Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn - adorable and sweet romance. Also, if you like hand-lettering and/or fonts, a fun theme.

    The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
    Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
    If you have a great formula, stick with it (Law and Order, anyone?)! Jasmine Guillory has a great one. Each book is sooo similar but totally delightful. I want to pal around with all of her heroines and I want to eat with them too (they always have the best food). These are like the perfect candy - not too sweet, a little salty, with a deliciously predictable crunch. I'm not sad about reading these at all!!! (And there's one more to be found.) 

    The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adhieh - a good but not great re-telling of Sheherezad and the 1001 Arabian Nights. I wanted to be transported by the retelling but I didn't feel like it added much, however the ending seemed to pick up a little and while I'm unlikely to read any sequels, I am a little curious as to what happens next. 

    Followers by Megan Angelo - It started out slowly, but once I realized the connection between the two stories, I was fascinated and couldn't put it down. A really interesting and unique look at how our social media-influencer-culture is so very challenging right now...and yet, there was this tiny bit in the back of my mind wondering how the pandemic would have made this story different....good and frightening and very compelling.

    Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano - ah, I felt like I was back to reading again. This was a powerful book that handled grief and disaster in a way that felt a little removed from my own reality (unlike that American War book) but in a way that let me sink into it, feel the pain, and live the journey with Edward as he grows up with this weight on his shoulders. I felt like this book hinged on the question "what makes a meaningful life?" and therefore felt its resonance deeply. 

    Tuesday, September 29, 2020

    September 2020 Book #mylifeinbooks

    This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger - This was an extraordinary and beautiful book, heartbreaking and haunting. I honestly didn't want this story to end. I think I will certainly put this one into the top five books I've read this year. 

    Gone by Michael Grant - this is the first in a very popular dystopian YA series. All the grownups disappear, and kids start developing super powers...and....I found it very dark and a little convoluted. I'm not compelled to read any more of the series, but mostly because I have a very long to-read pile! (It also could be that I read it right after This Tender Land, and so it just didn't quite hold up to that standard.)

    The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory - a delightful sudsy a delicious bag of candy that I enjoyed and didn't even mind that there wasn't any real nutritional value! Also, a lot of nicely represented diverse characters....

    Love, Loss, and What we Ate by Padma Lakshmi - I loved the Hulu series on food in America, but I have never watched Top Chef, so I felt like she was a total unknown to me! I had no idea that Ms. Lakshmi had such an interesting and fascinating story. I found the book to be a little bit long, but I was really curious. She seemed very honest, a little self-centered (it was a memoir, though, so you've gotta give her some credit there), and I liked the focus on food (it made me hungry)!

    Need to Know by Karen Cleveland - A fun spy novel (think: The Americans) even though I was slightly disappointed by how clueless the main character seemed to be...

    The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline - This was a powerful and moving novel about women, convicted of fairly crimes, sent from England to Australia as punishment. I was somewhat unfamiliar with this particular episode of history (I knew that Australia was a convict colony, but I didn't realize that whole boatloads of women were sent there!) and I found the story to be well-told, compelling, and heartbreaking. 

    Heating Cooling: 52 Micro Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly - delightful and fun bite-sized bits of memoir. I liked how it made me think about minimalist writing - what's the shortest way to say something? I'm a fan of the 6 word memoir and the short-short story, so I'm not surprised that I enjoyed micro memoirs too! I'd like to think about writing some of my own!

    The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd - I wanted to like this book but I was very frustrated by it. I am sure she did a lot of research, but there were many things that just felt frustratingly wrong, including most of the Hebrew dates and how the calendar works. It's a book about Ana, the fictional wife of Jesus. It felt like Ana was a little too "woke" for her time...I just found it mostly uninteresting. 

    Monday, August 31, 2020

    August 2020 #mylifeinbooks

    Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall - Predictable and boring. I actually put it down a couple of times and then went back to it. 

    House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon - beautiful, moving. An incredible back-and-forth story of finding one's identity in a story that was really haunting. (Looking forward to discussing this one later this year!)

    Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan - I really enjoyed the Crazy Rich Asians series, but this one was disappointing. It felt like it wound around for a long time to an inevitable ending that didn't feel worth the wait.

    The Braid by Laetitia Colombani - My dad recommended this one and I really enjoyed the intertwining stories of three different women. It took a little while to see how they all would come together, but I really liked how it didn't really beat you over the head with it. Subtle and lovely.

    The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams - I really enjoyed this one! A generational story that was a good read. I liked the insight into the different aspects of Russian history and how generational trauma carries through. And I loved the end.

    The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason - A fun, historical crime drama about attempts to silence Charles Darwin. Aside from the interesting period nature of the piece, I thought it was a good reminder that there have often been people who have tried to silence science....

    Good Talk by Mira Jacob - WOW. I loved this graphic-novel-memoir about who we are, how we define ourselves, and how society defines us. With gratitude to the friend who shared it with me!

    36 Righteous Men by Steven Pressfield - This was interesting. Someone described it as a fantasy-thriller, another called it apocalyptic-murder-mystery. It's set in the future, has an unusual writing format, and there's a Jewish theme too. I think it worked, but I'll be curious to hear how my discussion group likes this one later this year. Also - there's a huge climate change element in this story, and I read it as two hurricanes were bearing down on the Gulf Coast and fires rage in California, so there was that too. 

    The Grace Year by Kim Liggett - This book was like a cross between The Handmaid's Tale and the Hunger Games....and I couldn't put it down. Teen girls spend one year banished to live in the wilderness. There's a Lord of the Flies element here too, and a whole bunch about female empowerment inside of a patriarchy. It's not for everyone, but it was really good.

    The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel - Good, readable story about a French-Jewish woman who ends up working in the Resistance in France during the war. I'll fully admit that a back-and-forth story between past and present does take away some of the suspense in the story, but I still found it compelling and interesting. 

    The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie - this was a PJ Our Way book that came into our house and I like to read them to see what's going on over there. This one was cute and funny but not my favorite. 

    Wednesday, August 26, 2020

    Prayer for the Start of a (Pandemic) School Year

    In 2011, I wrote a prayer for the start of school.
    (It's odd, since the child who started Pre-K that year is starting 8th grade this one.)

    A friend recently asked if I'd updated this prayer for a new year, and I thought it was an excellent idea. More than ever, we need a little encouragement as we start this new school year, so fraught with uncertainty and strain. So many of us are worried and waiting, wondering and wishing. What will tomorrow bring? We don't know. So we put one foot in front of the other, act with patience, and pray that the new year brings promise.

    A Prayer for the Start of our Pandemic School Year (hopefully never to be used again)

    May it be a year of learning and growth, a year of new experiences and understanding. 
    May they outgrow their shoes and may they not lose their masks. 
    May the hand sanitizer be plentiful so their hands are clean, but may they have clean hearts too.
    May each day bring something new and may routine guide their steps.
    May they be flexible and resilient, with a strength far beyond their years.
    May their pencils be sharp and their minds even sharper.
    May the internet be strong, and the links be true.
    May they revel in the joy of each new fact learned, each right answer, each small accomplishment.
    May the erasers on their pencils get as much use as the tips, and may their chatroom comments be kind.
    May they learn that wrong answers can be just as important as right ones.
    May they ask questions, lots and lots of questions, and may their teachers be patient. Very patient.
    May their teachers encourage their growth of spirit and may they see deeply into their eyes, even through the pixels of the screen.
    May they make friends and build relationships, and may they make lifelong connections.
    May they appreciate the little moments of connection and learn to find joy in their own company as well.
    May they be kind and polite and each one a mensch of the highest order. 
    May this year be a stepping stone, a moment in time, and may we take its lessons to heart as we find blessings along the way.

    From delivering David to his freshman year at UIUC