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

Friday, August 21, 2020

#blogelul 1: prepare


Are we ever fully ready?
Each year, I notice that we're all

and we can't quite wrap our heads around the idea of

It's ominous.
They loom
over us.

But perhaps
we give to ourselves.

When I take the time to
prepare myself
for the High Holy Days,
I know that
I am better.
The holidays are better.

I feel the words.
I breathe the music.
I do the work.

Preparation is a gift.

In Elul
(Reposted from 2016)

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with prayers of forgiveness, but I like to think of it as a whole-person preparation activity. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... I will be blogging here, and sharing #Elulgram photos on the same themes at and on Instagram @imabima. Follow me on twitter @imabima for all the #BlogElul posts, not only mine but others' as well! Read more about #BlogElul here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How to Fold A Fitted Sheet: A Parenting Lesson

It started with the fitted sheet (XL twin, to be exact).

The whole room was tossed with bags and clothes and towels and miscellaneous pre-college stuff that clearly has to fit into the blue Ikea bags in order to get squeezed into the fun-size dorm room.

And there were two fitted sheets (one to use, one to wash, of course). 

"How do I fold this thing?"

And so we started - each of us with a sheet in hand, as I tried to walk him through the process of folding a fitted sheet. I could see his frustration growing. I could feel my own frustration growing too.

And then he started to panic. "I can't do it!" 

And then I started to panic: If he can't fold a fitted sheet, what else doesn't he know? What else isn't he ready for? If I haven't taught him to fold a fitted sheet, have I also failed to teach him all the Important Skills that he will need for his life? Is this evidence of a Disaster of Parenting? What other things doesn't he know? The thoughts tumbled, pell-mell, as I felt the tears rising. I tried, unsuccessfully, to teach him again. Tempers rose...

And then I took a breath.

Wait, I thought. Wait. This isn't the Everything. This is One Thing. Just ONE THING.

I took the sheet from him. I said, "don't worry - it's just a sheet." I could see the relief in his eyes. Perhaps his thoughts had taken the same path as mine? I folded the sheet. I'm his mom -- I can still do things for him. He watched intently and then took the sheet and shoved it unceremoniously into the already-full duffel bag. 

We've taught him to be brave and kind. We've taught him to be thoughtful and inquisitive. We've taught him to be careful and daring. We've taught him to have fun and to laugh. We've taught him how to cook and how to do (most) laundry. We've taught him how to make phone calls and how to fill out forms. He knows so much. And he knows how to ask for help when he needs it.

I may not feel ready to send him away in these uncertain times. But it's not because HE isn't ready. It's not because he hasn't learned so many important lessons. And when I remember that, when I look at the good human that he is, I know that he is ready...and so am I. 

Perhaps someday he'll even learn how to fold a fitted sheet.