Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March 2021 Books #MyLifeInBooks

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris - I'm always looking for fun and light things to read in between the tougher books. This was suggested to me and I enjoyed it...but I don't feel any compulsion to read more of these. But if you like this! (Also, Yael is into a couple of vampire shows and so I have been half-watching with her and so this was fun. I remember that I liked the Anne Rice vampire books and of course there was the Twilight series....)

Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman - This is billed as a Middle Grade novel, but it reads a little darker and deeper than that. I've never read anything fictionalized about the Chernobyl disaster and this was powerful and memorable. 

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit - Highly recommended from the 2020 lists, I had big expectations for this book about the Plymouth Colony...but I was somewhat disappointed. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. It was just...okay. 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman - I fully admit that the start of this book actually MADE me anxious! The writing was so good that I FELT the anxiety of the characters pouring off of the page. Once I got through that, the book was marvelous and the payoff in terms of the story was excellent. 

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu - I loved this one! Such a great story of female empowerment :-) Can't wait to see the new movie. 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo - Do you like books that are written in verse? This one is written in a kind of free verse poetic style that I very much enjoyed. A really compelling story about two girls who both experience grief after the death of their father.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn - I am a fan of Kate Quinn's books and I really like historical fiction! This one is about Bletchley Park, the famous code-breaking facility during World War 2, and it was really intriguing and enjoyable. I did feel like it took a loooong time to get to the end and then the ending felt a little rushed. But I liked this one a lot.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear - this is the newest book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maybe you'll recall that I read almost the whole series in 2018, and I was so happy to have a new book about my favorite British detective. It was a little weird reading the book while thinking about The Rose Code, which I had just finished - there was even a mention of the "code breakers" in passing. The books were precisely the same time frame, from two totally different perspectives. Anyway, I loved it as always and I won't spoil the ending but I'll tell you that it made me happy.

The rest of 2021:
January Books
February Books

Sunday, March 14, 2021

#BlogExodus Day 1: Launch

Last year, we launched Pesach in a whole new way.

And we were certain, absolutely sure, that we would never need to launch Pesach this way again.

And yet, here we are. Even less certain about where we are at all!

Do we gather with those who are vaccinated? Do we sit outside? Do we share the escape from Egypt together, apart, on Zoom, or some combination of all of these?

But what I said last year is still true:

And yet, we launch Nisan. Because the calendar doesn't slow down or stop. Because Passover is, at its very core, a celebration that we always need, even in the midst of darkness. Even when we are scared and worried and anxious and afraid, even when our focus is elswhere, the calendar launches us into Nisan.

So just for today, take a breath. Organize a thought. Consider the next step.

Friday, March 5, 2021

#BlogExodus #ExodusGram 5781 - 10th year!

Rosh Chodesh Nisan is on Sunday, March 14, 2021. 

What a year it's been, since we last gathered here for BlogExodus. Last year, we were in a totally disbelieving state of mind. No one could even imagine that we were going to spend our Seders in a "lockdown" and I am pretty sure we all imagined that we would be together again this year.

And yet, for most of us, we are still in Mitzrayim - we are still in the narrow space of this terrible global pandemic that has taken so many lives. But still....Passover beckons. It comes for us, reminding us that the cycle of our calendar continues. It is here to offer a respite, perhaps, from the ordinary, and, just like it did last year, give us something bigger than ourselves on which to focus.

And so, enter: BlogExodus and Exodusgram.

So what is this really about? #BlogExodus is really what you want to make of it. I've provided topics for the first 14 days of the month of Nisan. What you do with it is up to you -- write a blog post, tweet, Facebook, tumblr, or something that I haven't even thought of yet! Use the hashtag to share your post (I put it into the title of each post). It's a great way to kickstart a blog or rejuvenate your languishing blog or just get yourself ready for the holiday of Passover! I will be posting my #blogExodus posts here on this blog and I will tweet them out at @imabima.

Maybe you don't have a blog? I'll post an "open thread #blogExodus" each day on my Facebook page as well, so you could just post your thoughts, photos, comments, or haikus there. Maybe you're a yogi? What about a photo of a different yoga post each day related to the theme of the day?

There aren't any rules, so maybe you don't like the order of the topics? Maybe you want to write on only a few of them? It doesn't matter. It is what you make of it.

 #Exodusgram is a even more interpretive. While I love Instagram (I'm imabima, of course), I know some people don't. So maybe you want to share Exodus-themed photos via Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest or....whatever! My #Exodusgram posts will go up on Instagram and then be shared to my tumblr, Whatever you do, don't forget to tag with #Exodusgram so we can all share. (Note for some of my colleagues: this might make a fun teen project...who's up for #SnapTheExodus?)

The themes are really up for your own interpretation. I was thinking broadly and openly about what makes Passover special and interesting to me. I hope it will translate into creative and inspirational posts from all of us!

Are you going to join in? Leave me a comment here or send me a tweet or just...jump in! I will try to retweet all the #BlogExodus and #Exodusgram posts through Twitter via @imabima. If I miss your posts, let me know so I can go back and be inspired by what YOU have to say!

#BlogExodus #Exodusgram topics for 5781
1 Nisan - Launch
2 Nisan - Exalt
3 Nisan - Rise
4 Nisan - Cleanse
5 Nisan - Seek
6 Nisan - Retell
7 Nisan - Read
8 Nisan - Expand
9 Nisan - Perplex
10 Nisan - Join
11 Nisan - Celebrate
12 Nisan - Reveal
13 Nisan - Welcome
14 Nisan - Thank

 *Yes, I know that I put the Shabbat dates there. I don't blog/tweet/Facebook on Shabbat but I will post on Fridays before Shabbat and on Saturdays after Shabbat is over. You can, of course, do it any way you like!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

February 2021 books #MyLifeInBooks


A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum - Powerful story about generations of Arab women living in America. It was very difficult to read, and to imagine how this story was received within the author's own community. Much to discuss in here! 

Every Stolen Breath by Kimberly Gabriel - a young adult thriller set in Chicago, it was appropriately creepy, scary, and riveting.

The Way Back by Gavriel Savit - This was one of the Sydney Taylor Award winners (Notable Book) and I try to read as many of those as I can! It falls into the category of magical realism, which I usually like, and this was good. I got a little tangled up in the allegory and metaphor near the end, but overall it was enjoyable. The shtetl setting, the ton of Jewish supernatural imagery, it all made for a rich world!

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah - a story of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, WOW. I'm a big fan of her books, and especially her historical fiction (read Winter Garden, please). Also, it feels like everyone I know is reading this book. Definitely a winner.

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly - Three different time periods, one garden. I really liked each time period, and I liked seeing how they came together to create a lovely story. I may have glossed over some of the gardening details, but the rest was enagaging.

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan (I read an advance copy of this book, it's not out yet) This is a funny premise for a book - a young rabbi brings a former-sex-worker-turned-internet-sex-educator to speak at his synagogue. You can imagine what happens next. I thought it felt like a balanced portrayal of some of the challenges faced by rabbis AND sex workers! It's a romance novel, so buyer beware, but a fun read. (A tiny bit preachy at the end, but what can you expect from a book about a rabbi?!)

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover - did NOT expect for this to be as good, powerful, and message-driven as it was. I honestly thought it was just a sweet romance novel until I was deeply invested. A really important story about how relationships are cyclical and how we can break out of patterns to stop domestic violence. 

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin - loved this book - it seemed, at the beginning, to be a re-told fairy tale. But it's so much more - so many threads and so many ways that the reality and fairy tale are woven together. It was a little breathtaking. (P.S. except for the mice. I didn't get that part and basically just skipped through that.)

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson - So many great elements in this book that surround a town obsessed with their prom. I giggled at the internal gossip-girl-style social network and the way that it was integrated into so many aspects of the life of the school. My goodness, high school stories are so much richer than they ever were in the past, and I am so grateful for the wonderful tapestry of YA literature! 

Send for Me by Lauren Fox - A short, readable story of mother-daughter pairs. There's not much that's new here in terms of pre-war Germany story, but I still found it compelling and readable. Plus, I liked the Milwaukee connection.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

January 2021 Books #MyLifeInBooks


Last year, I decided to write monthly reviews of the books I've read and I enjoyed doing that so much that I am hoping to continue into this year! Oh, and this month, I also drew all the covers. We'll see if that lasts from month to month...

So here's the January list. What are you reading?

To Sir Philip with Love by Julia Quinn
When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
On The Way To the Wedding by Julia Quinn
It's In His Kiss by Julia Quinn - apparently, sometimes I can be a completionist, because I felt a strong need to finish the Bridgerton series. Although they were somewhat formulaic and predictable, they were also delightful reading candy. 

Sea Wife by Amity Gage - as a "family at sea" in the current world, I felt such a draw to this actual family at sea story. I get terribly seasick but I even found myself wondering what it would be like to spend a year on a boat. It was beautiful and terrible and gorgeously written. 

Admission by Julie Buxbaum - A re-telling of the Varsity Blues scandal, from the viewpoint of one of the teens. The character felt a little too blind to her own privilege, and yet that blindness felt pretty real and true, also. One of my favorite authors. 

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson - wow. Can't stop thinking about this one, if only for the commitment to changing our linguistic patterns around some of the biggest ideas / issues in our country. Looking forward to her keynote at the CCAR convention!

Dear Martin by Nic Stone - Important and gut-wrenching read. I appreciated that the author did not overuse the letter-writing and the growth of the characters was remarkable. I am grateful to live in a world in which all stories get told. 

Hope and Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum - One of the few 9/11 books I've read, and this one examined grief, survivors' guilt, with a dose of teenage humor. Apparently, I've had this one on hold for a little while (I forgot) and it came up shortly after I finished reading Admission! 

You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman - a recommendation of my Confirmation students, I loved this book. It felt like such an interesting counterbalance to Admission, since this was about a student who was working very hard and worrying about their admission to school in a different way. I am so appreciative, aware, and fascinated by the amount of LGBTQ love stories in YA literature today. 

The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty - I just finished reading this one aloud to Solly. We enjoyed it, even though I think it was a little slow-going! It was a fun alternative-history re-imagining of New York City with magic. And there's a sequel! So we'll read that one next. (Also this was a PJ Our Way selection, but I think it would have been hard as an independent read for Solly, a 4th grader)

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet - So this is the time of year that I'm reading off of all the lists of books recommended at the end of the previous year. I have no idea who recommended this book, and I knew nothing about it as I started reading it. It was weird and chilling, and it definitely kept me up at night. It's a combination coming-of-age, generational divide, and climate change cautionary tale all in one. A really great book, even though it totally gave me nightmares. 

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