Friday, July 31, 2020

July 2020 Books #mylifeinbooks


The Girl from Berlin by Ronald Balson - okay, I've done it! I've read all the books so-far in this series. A tiny bit formualaic but I am not complaining. I loved it. Twisty and turny historical mystery.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare - what a gorgeous book. A young Nigerian girl finds her "voice" and the writing just pulled me along....I definitely highly recommend this one!

Cleo Macdougal Regrets Nothing by Alison Winn Scotch - This one was enjoyable and quick. It was almost like the fully-fictionalized version of Rodham!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - this book deserves all the buzz it's getting. It was really good, and I continue to think about it.

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner - I read a lot of Holocaust literature, and I often take a big deep breath before I start...this one had a little too much sweetness in it, but it was really beautiful and well-done.

The Order by Daniel Silva - What can I say? My favorite reading day of the year is when the newest Gabriel Allon book comes out and I was definitely not disappointed this year. I love the whole thing. More history of the Catholic Church than usual but well-researched and interesting! A perfect summer ritual.

The Royal We by Heather Cox - Hmm. I did not like this book. In fact, I gave it up once and then went back to it mostly because I really did want to find out what happened. I just thought the characters were pretty flat and the romance was not believable. Meh. I will not be reading the sequel....

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - So good! Deserving of all the buzz it's getting too. Plus, so many issues that are really relevant in my own neighborhood. I couldn't put this one down.

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland - Really enjoyed this story of a period of American history that was so interesting. A few elements almsot wanted whole books of their own - the land bust in Florida, the incubator babies display in Atlantic City, the swimming of the English Channel, and yet there was enough to keep me reading and enjoying the snippets of each story. A really good read.

June's List
May's List
April's List

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

June 2020 Book #mylifeinbooks


So...here's June's books. I'm halfway through the year and WOW have there been a lot of great things to read so far this year. What are you reading? 

The Trust by Ronald Balson - perhaps you've noticed that I'm working my way through his books. I liked this one since it was a little different from the other books that feature Liam and Catherine. Set in Northern Ireland, it dives quite a bit into the conflicts there and the long lasting effects of those battles. I only have one of his books left to read before I've caught up to all of them!

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes - wow, this one was hard and sad and beautiful all at once. Reading in the wake of the current protests, thinking about George Flody and so many others killed by police, and bringing the Emmet Till story into the mix...it was really well-done. This is intended to be a middle-grade novel, but I'm not sure I would hand it to a kid without really having some hard conversations alongside it.

Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi - I've read Ibram Kendi's book "How to be an Anti Racist" and several others, but I liked this "not-history" book, as the author puts it, because it was less of a prescription and far more of a how-did-we-get-here kind of book. It's the YA version of "Stamped from the Beginning" (which I haven't read) and I highly recommend it. So much history here that I just didn't know - so much about how the concept of race was constructed to keep, hold, and maintain power structures. So much to think about and to re-learn.

The Book of V by Anna Solomon - Anyone looking for a straightforward historical fiction re-telling of the Vashti/Esther narrarive will not find it here, but it was a really interesting back-and-forth look at how women have dealt with their powerlessness in different ways through history. It felt a little unfinished, a little unsatisfying, but still readable - the writing was great but I kept waiting for a real plot to develop...

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown - After listening to Austin speak on Brene Brown's podcast (highly recommend), I wanted to read her book and I was not disappointed. It was a highly personal memoir that really laid bare the exhaustion that Black people feel in America today. I think I want to re-read this one, and I've been recommending it all over (and above some of the other books on the anti-racism reading lists that are going around) because I found it so compelling and readable. So much to think about and to re-learn...I continue the work every day.

In Five Years by Rebecca Searle - hmm. I liked this book, ultimately, but I wasn't sure I liked it while I was reading it. I couldn't tell where it was going to go, but I think I appreciated where it ended up. This is a good summer read (even though it's a bit of tear-jerker too).

Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman - A quick read but I think this one will stick with me. Each character's perspective on a massive family grief experience cut through me. I kept thinking - that could have easily been our family.... Addiction of multiple kinds, death of a child, and a Bar Mitzvah - this one was a tough read but I recommend it.

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah - this reminded me of Room, and it was sweet and sad but also totally predictable in a comfortable-sweater type of way. I read this in one Shabbat mostly in my hammock, and that should tell you everything you need to know about this book!

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld - At first, I was a little put-off by the author choosing to write this book in the first person, since it was obviously not penned by the real person. But as the book progressed, I'm not sure I could have had it any other way. I was riveted by the what-might-have-been, but also by the way that women have to act in order to get to the top of their game. I thought it was a powerful statement about how hard it will actually be to get our country to elect the first woman president, and it faced, head on, some of those issues.

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass - preditctable, silly, and felt like a weird opposite-land to Rodham. I probably won't read any more of the books in this series (I can always find people to whom that is anathema) but I passed a lovely Shabbat afternoon in this book. So who's complaining?

A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma - totally did not understand this book. I kept reading, hoping to understand and figure out the plot. But I just didn't get it. If you've read it, please help me. Also, I feel better now that I've read several other readers' reviews that say they didn't get it either. It had a really cool feel to the writing and the storytelling, I just didn't really follow it all!

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg - I usually read on a Kindle, and this may have been easier on a real book - I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of the different voices, but once I figured out their different styles/tones, I really enjoyed this one. A tough story about a mother and daughter told in an incredibly interesting style of a catalogue of a photography exhibit. Really great! (I almost burned dinner because I was distracted by reading...)

May's List
April's List
March's List
February's List
January's list

Sunday, May 31, 2020

May 2020 Books #MyLifeInBooks


The Plot Against America by Philip Roth - how is it that I have never read this one before? Perhaps I'm not the biggest Philip Roth fan. But anyway. I read this one while watching the HBO miniseries, and they really did a nice job of complementing each other. I'm not sure I would have fully understood all the nuances of the TV show without the book, and I enjoyed having the visuals to go along with it as I read. I think the book did a better job of tying up the ending (maybe a little too neatly) but the TV show updated the message a little - reminding us that democracy is messy and unpredictable. Definitely worth the read!

Saving Sophie by Ron Balson - the second book in the Liam-and-Catherine series, and I liked it a lot. Perhaps things got a little too easily sewn up but it was still a great read, and I enjoy the characters and the writing. (Looking forward to reading the next one. I do like a series that already has a bunch of books waiting for me!)

The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson - this book reminded me a little of the Immortalists in the family dynamic sense of it, with a twist of historical mystery thrown in. Very readable and enjoyable. I found myself drawn to the historical mystery a little more than the family drama, but I liked both storylines and it kept my attention for the whole read! (Plus, I liked the ending.)

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo - I can't believe I've never read this before. Our school's whole third grade is reading it and Solly has declared it his "favorite book EVER that isn't Harry Potter" so I knew I had to read it. Delightful, of course, and thankfully, I can now discuss it in VERY detailed detail with him. Whew. (P.S. The movie is available on Disney+ right now and it's also good. And if you'd like Solly to give you a blow-by-blow account of the ways that the book differs from the movie, feel free to give him a call.)

Karolina's Twins by Ron Balson - okay, so remember how I said I like a series that has a bunch of books waiting for me? Still true. Also true: I am a sucker for a good procedural, and these are just non-formulaic enough to keep me reading and guessing. The third book in the Liam-and-Catherine show did not disappoint, and in fact, kept me up very late one night to find out what happened at the end!

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones - what an incredible memoir. The writing was superb and the personal story was painful to read but also beautiful to know that the writer got to this point, to crafting this work. It is his personal story of growing up in Texas while gay and black. A double whammy, as he makes clear through his telling. This one feels like a gift to the world. (But it is not G or even PG-rated....)

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner - a fun read that didn't really have a lot of depth to it. Sometimes that is soooo good. I liked the social media aspect and the body-consciousness that came with it.

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins - this is a pre-quel to the Hunger Games series, and I liked the way that it laid out how the Hunger Games as we know them came to be...It suffered, as prequels do, from any real uncertainty about the future of our main character, since we know who they turn out to be. But still, I liked returning to Panem (even though I hate Panem) and it was definitely a fun read!

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein - I received a review copy of this one and I really enjoyed reading it. The main character is a 7th grader who lives in Wisconsin. The story was sweet and touching, with a lot of self-awareness about how we find compassion for our friends, for others, and for ourselves. As a Wisconsin Jew myself, I was a tiny bit surprised by how many Jews lived in this small town, but I can suspend my disbelief for that! Overall a good read - I'm looking forward to convincing Yael to read it so I can hear the opinion of a 7th grader!

All Adults Here by Emma Straub - this was another slightly-dysfunctional-family-story but an engaging one. Much of this story was about the difference between privacy and secrecy - the author even spells that lesson out at one point - and I thought that was meaningful and powerful. It's a huge and important distinction that is hard to learn. This was a good one to add to your summer reading lists.

An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen - I used to love her books and then I got turned off by her politics and some of her stridency. This one felt a little preachy but pretty compelling, even though you pretty much knew how it was going to end. I appreciated the "lifting of the veil" on mental illness in the Jewish community, since that is a fairly important issue. Very readable, even if the characters felt a little bit caricatured (especially the mom).

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley - jumping on the bandwagon of books-about-bookshops and teen-romances-in-anonymous-letters, this one was a sweet and sad love story. I enjoyed it as an easy summer hammock read...

April's List
March's List
February's List
January's list

Friday, May 1, 2020

April 2020 Books #mylifeinbooks



(I can't decide if these lists should be in order or in reverse order...and does it matter? Sometimes I find myself in an interesting sequence of books...so sometimes sequence matters. Usually it's irrelevant, though, so I'm just writing this header to make a note of it!)

The Opposite of Love - this was not my favorite of this author's works. I have found her writing about teens and grief and love to be really moving and lovely. This one was a little disappointing, although I wanted to know what would happen. I'm pretty sure this was her first book, and it took her a little bit to find her voice in her later books!

An Everlasting Meal - I wish I could remember who recommended this (was it you?) but this was delightful. Especially in a time when I'm constantly thinking about what to cook my family for dinner and how to make something from what is in my pantry...but even in a time of plenty. I enjoyed her style and her approach to food and cooking. I am definitely sharing this one with David, who will be heading out into his own kitchen someday soon....

Untamed - Writer Glennon Doyle has made quite a shift since her first book (which I read too). In her first book, she felt real but there was something that rubbed me a little wrong...and it seems as though it may have bothered her a little bit too (ha, that's meant to be an understatement). I liked the slightly disjointed style, as though I were just having a conversation with her, and I liked seeing how she pieced the elements of her story together. "We can do hard things" is not an original idea to her but it certainly found its mark with me as I read it during this time of worldwide trauma. Highly recommend this one!

4-3-2-1 - let me start by saying that this book is loooong. By long, I mean that my kindle told me it would take me over 12 hours to read and it is over 800 pages. It was totally worth it. But wow. It's such an interesting premise - one character followed through four different life-paths. A little like the movie Sliding Doors. I had a little bit of a hard time following each of the paths fully, since they were broken up (chapter 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, and then 2.1, 2.2...etc, so it wasn't four separate novelas but instead each life path carried on and then you went back to the next one). The chapters were long, too, so I didn't always remember which life-path I was reading, but I just kept going with the flow, and I didn't care too much which storyline I was reading! To be honest, I think it was a little too heavy on the history, name-dropping, book-list/movie-list-making, etc - and could have been pared down a little to tell the story. But....all that, it was a great read.

Chosen Ones - new book from the author of Divergent, and it was a nice break to read something a little flighty and escapist. Magic, bad guys, good guys-who-might-be-bad, all of that. A reluctant heroine....overall, I enjoyed this quick read!

P.S. This seems like such a short list! Hopefully I will read more books in May....

March's List
February's List
January's list

Thursday, April 2, 2020

#blogexodus 8: expand

it's almost funny
to think about
expanding

while we're
contracting
constricting
limiting
squeezing
compressing
restricting

but even in this time
we can
e x p a n d
our
compassion
joy
blessing
hope
goodness

and above all else
l o v e.

What's #BlogExodus? Read more here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

#blogExodus 6: Retell



I keep lists of the stories I tell. And yes, I tell them over and over. I try to vary them, to keep them fresh, and to tell them in different sequence. And I love when I can find a new story to add to my general repertoire. But overall? I tell the same stories again and again.

And we all love it.

Think about the child who watches the same movie over and over. Or reads the same book again and again. It's joyous, it's immersive, it's comforting.

One might even say that we NEED those retellings. How else does a story become a part of the very fiber of our being if we don't tell it over and over again?

So it is with the Exodus.
Over
and
over
and
over
we tell the same story.
We never get tired of sharing our journey from slavery to freedom. It never gets old.
We work the story over, like a ball of putty, making new shapes from the same material, and yet always returning back to its original form.

It is in the re-telling, the tell-me-again, the turn-it-and-turn-it, that we find our deepest meaning.

What's #BlogExodus? Read more here.

March 2020 Books


Have you noticed that the world feels topsy-turvy? (that was a joke) It's been hard to focus and I feel like I'm working around the clock, so there have been fewer books in March than in previous months...but I'm still over here reading. 

The Cactus - this was a little bit of a meh read for me. It felt a little like Eleanor Oliphant but not as compelling. Maybe I wouldn't read this unless you were stuck at home and didn't have much else to do....

Wunderland - I read a lot of books about the Holocaust, and this one was a little bit unique in its perspective of two young women in Berlin as the Nazis come to power...and in the aftermath of all of that. One of the women discovers a family secret (it's a spoiler for me to tell you, I think, but I'm betting you can guess) and it changes her whole life. This one was definitely worth reading!

House of the Broken Angels - last month, I read American Dirt, and I committed myself to reading another book by a Latinx author to balance the controversy. I chose this one because I heard this author specifically speak against the American Dirt book. House of the Broken Angels was a little bit of a tough read for me, but it also might have been due to the chaos that seems to have erupted in the world while I was reading it. The story was powerful and strong, a saga of a Mexican-American family and their immigrant experience. It was also interesting to compare to my own family's immigrant story.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January  - a fantasy tale about the power of words and stories. In this world, there are "doors" that open into other worlds, and people who want to close them all down. Sound familiar? My favorite quote: "I believe I already know what happens to a world without doors." I really liked this one.

My Dark Vanessa - has this ever happened to you: you start reading a book and think to yourself, "what on earth convinced me to put this book on my to-read list?" That was how I felt as I started this dark and really difficult book. Did you recommend this book to me? It was sad and hard to read this story of a young woman who was a victim of a sexual predator, a teacher at her school. The book is getting a lot of press, and I recommend you read some articles and interviews before you decide if you want to read this one...

Once We Were Brothers - how have I never read this book or any books in this series? So weird. (Thanks, Julie, for putting it on my list!) Anyway, I enjoyed this one. I was pretty sure I knew how it would end (I mean, come on...) but I still liked reading the story and seeing it play out. I've just grabbed the second book in this series from the library app so I'll probably tell you about that one next month. I also liked the Chicago setting... anyway, this was a good, readable, solid Holocaust telling.

February's List
January's list

What are you reading?

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