Friday, May 31, 2024

May Books

Can you believe that reading wasn't my jam growing up?! Clif Notes were my best friends in high school - I'd "read enough" to get by, but other than that I did not enjoy the act of reading so never did it... like ever. Maybe I wasn't reading things that held my interest or maybe it was because it was "required" so I didn't find it enjoyable, but whatever the reason, I'm glad I challenged myself to add the goal of reading 17 books in 2017 (which turned into 88 books in 201777 books in 201867 books in 201966 books in 202067 books in 202141 books in 2022 and 98 books in 2023). The majority of my "reading" has been listening to audiobooks since I don't have as much time to sit and read physical books once I started working full time (not to mention I walk to work and walk on my lunch break so have two-ish hours a day I can listen to something). Even still, holding a physical book is the bomb dot com and I hope to get back to adding more reading vs listening. Just like in years past, writing a monthly recap of the books I get through is a great way for me to both record what I'm reading and to stay accountable. So, here are the books I finished in the month of May:

  • Here for It by R. Eric Thomas - I actually finished this one on the final day of April, but my recap had already posted, so May it is ;) I saw it on my Libby app under the memoir section and it caught my eye so I grabbed it. Let me be real, I normally write these little recaps a day or two after I finish the book... With that being said, although I remember enjoying it, nothing really stood out when I thought back on it. Don't get me wrong, I remember nodding my head, laughing out loud and cringing at different times, but specifics just don't come to mind... I guess that means I probably wouldn't really recommend it... I would give it a 6 out of 10.

  • Couple Found Slain by Mikita Brottman - This book was in the "autobiographies/ memoirs/ nonfiction" section of my Libby app. The blurb really intrigued me. The premise is that often times we hear about a crime (in this case - the murder of a husband and wife) and maybe about the trial, verdict and sentencing (in this case - the person who committed this violent act was the son of the couple who asserts he was having a mental break at the time of the murder), but rarely, if ever, do most folks think about what happens next, because the defendant's life keeps going. This author followed the son, who admits he killed his parents, through some of the experiences he went through afterwards. Another thing most people have never really considered is what happens once someone is deemed not competent to stand trial. I found this extremely interesting (and extremely heartwrenching, frustrating, disappointing, etc). I also had never really thought about after a crime (whether it be the person who was a victim, the person who enacted the crime, the family of both parties, etc), so it also opened my eyes to something I had never really pondered before. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - I have had this book on my "for later" list for such a long time, but it wasn't available on my Hoopla app and it has been checked out on my Libby app until now. I knew the premise of the book (which has since been turned into a movie) - a young lawyer working in the south to help release wrongly convicted people on death row. Obviously, with that sort of topic you know it isn't going to be an "easy" read, but oh so important. I am forever grateful that people like Bryan and others exist, are willing to do the work and fight the good fight. While listening to this book I was continually shaking my head - not out of shock, since I'm pretty sure most of us know that people of color, poor folks, mentally unstable people, etc do NOT get a fair shake in the current "justice" system, even if not everyone wants to admit it - but because our culture is so entrenched in white supremacy and the patriarchy that we continue on as though this is status quo and okay! It is heart wrenching and infuriating. I think had I read this book while in high school or college, I probably would have pursued a law degree. What the people at the Equal Justice Initiative (and similar type organizations) do is beyond! It's selfless, it's dedication, it's hope-filled and, unfortunately, it's necessary. I think maybe only two things would have made this true story even more powerful and that was if it was longer (following more stories) or if Bryan gave tangible steps on how to join with them in the work. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson - Since I had checked out one of this author's books last month, the Libby app brought this one up as a suggested title. The cover grabbed my attention (since it was a "real person" I thought maybe it had been made into a movie and this was one of the actors), and since there isn't a limit on the number of books I can have (there's a limit of 6 at a time, but I normally only check one out at a time, so I haven't had an issue), I grabbed it without reading the synopsis or anything. The premise of this novel is a teen who is living in a hospital - not because he is sick, but because his family was killed in an accident and he doesn't have anywhere else to go so is hiding out there. I thought it was an interesting story, but overall I wasn't too enthralled. (You can't see the comic Drew is writing while listening to the audiobook, obviously, but they did their best to describe the story he was telling.) I doubt this was the author's hope, but I actually liked the side characters a little more than Drew. I would give it a 7 out of 10. 

  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan - The number of books I'm allowed to check out on my Hoopla resets every month, so I looked through my list of "favorites" to see if there was anything worth grabbing. I don't remember how or why this book got on my "for later" list, but I saw the length (less than two hours I figured it was worth it, even if it was terrible ;)) and snagged it. It is a short story about an Irish coal merchant and his family. Seeing as it is short, there wasn't much depth you could dive into, but you still were cheering for Bill. For what it was, it was a powerful story about courage, family and doing the right thing even when you don't "have to" and when it might be uncomfortable. I definitely would've prefered it to be longer (more of a short story than a novel), but it was surprisingly captivating for the brevity of it. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Foster by Claire Keegan - Seeing as I enjoyed the previous book by this author, I figured I'd see if she had any more on the Hoopla app. This one popped up so I wanted to check it out. Similarly to the previous book, this is a very quick 'read' (since I listen at 1.75x speed it took me less than an hour for the whole thing). I actually think I liked this one more than Small Things Like These. This story is about a young girl who is sent to live with a couple while her mom has another baby because the family can't afford (financially or emotionally, it seems) to raise them all. The story was told from the girl's perspective, which I enjoyed, especially since she didn't know how long she would be with the couple. It was a sweet look into everyday life (again, maybe more like a short story than a novel) that I would have been okay with being longer. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown - This was in the Young Adult section in my Hoopla app (I had actually saved it in my "for later" section a few weeks ago, but I was out of downloads for April, so had to wait), so I figured I'd enjoy it - and enjoy it I DID! This is part memoir, part magic, part coming-of-age, part survival guide, but ALL AMAZING! Don't get me wrong, this wasn't an "easy" read, especially knowing that much of the story was autobiographical, but oh so important. Echo really showed the intersectionality of poverty, racism, mental health issues, the prison to pipeline issue, domestic violence, sexism, colorism, homophobia, etc. I love how this is about not only saving one's self, but also relying on your community and finding your people. This book doesn't only focus on trauma, but on healing too. It was also pretty incredible how the author interwove the different stories/ narratives together and how it flowed. Wow. I absolutely loved it! I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Weyward by Emilia Hart - I had been hearing such great things about this book so when I saw it pop up on my Hoopla app (it is still "coming soon" on Libby), I grabbed it right away. I can absolutely see why it is getting the praise it has. This is a novel that weaves together three different women's lives (during distinct times in history). I love when books do this and you get to see how decisions of someone made many moons before impacts others later on down the line. Also, when it is flip-flopping between plots I think it keeps the interest and intrigue high (not to mention, the story tends to change at critical spots so it makes you want to keep listening/ reading to find out what happens next. I think I especially enjoyed this book for two reasons - strong women and animals. The hubby jokes that I'm like Snow White because I am always chatting with the creatures around us (but unfortunately they don't talk back to me... yet ;)). I don't want to give away the plot, but having strong women so connected with nature made my heart smile. I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - I've seen this book on quite a few lists, so I thought it was finally time to find out why. Wow, so this novel was originally written in 1937 and I can see why it is often included in the catalogue of highly acclaimed African American literature - even with it being out of print for nearly 30 years. This is the story of a black woman and her trials and tribulations in love. Although there's a lot of strife in Janie's experiences, this is also hope and triumph. During the years (and three marriages), she intimately learns about poverty, hard work, despair, gossip, loss and life in the Deep South at the beginning of the twentieth century. This story is beautifully written about a strong and independent woman, during a time that was not appreciated/ accepted (but when is it in a patriarchal culture?!). I would give it a 10 out of 10. 

  • The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout - Figured it was a good time to snag another "coming of age, young adult romance" type book. This popped up in the new section of my Libby app and the colors grabbed me so I downloaded it. Just like the majority of YA romances, there are struggles and speed bumps to contend with as the two friends/ enemies explore their relationship. I found this one interesting because the two main characters were actually in the foster care system - I don't know that I had ever really read one with "kids in the system" as a focus. Obviously this is a novel, but I am sure there are way too many children than we'd like to admit who are stuck in helpless and hopeless situations. There was a lot going on in this story and I'm actually hoping there is a follow-up book because I'd love to see where the characters go from the end of this one. This'll hit you in #AllTheFeels, so get your tissues and mind ready for it! I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price - I had listened to one of this author's books last month, so I figured I'd give this one a go. This was a quick listen and had some great suggestions on how to "break up" with your phone. As I'm sure you are WELL AWARE, our culture is pretty dependent on our cell phones (or other wireless capable devices such as tablets, etc). This book contains an easy thirty day challenge on ways to move towards less of a dependence. I don't think I'll do everything that the plan lays out, but there are definitely some nuggets I will implement. I recently ordered a basic alarm clock so that I don't have to keep my phone in the bedroom. Also, I have (prior to reading this, but still some of her suggestions) placed limits on my phone - I get a popup when I've been on a social media app for more than 10 minutes and I also have a limit of 30 minutes a day. She goes as far as to say to delete apps from your phone and either add them as needed or use them on a computer instead (for things like social media). As I mentioned, I won't do everything, but I'd love to take back the part of my life I waste focusing on this screen in my hand. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond - This book was in the biography and autobiography section of my Libby app and it caught my attention. I will be honest, my privilege has allowed me to not only never experience eviction but to not ever even have to give it much thought. This book was extremely interesting because it not only followed folks who were being evicted from their current living situation, but also landlords who were having to do some of the evictions. I wasn't sure how the author was able to get this close to the story, but in the epilog he explained that he had actually moved into the areas (whether it was in the trailer park referenced or in with the family of someone one of his subjects know who lived in the "bad part of town"). Not only was the process of eviction something I had never really considered, the fallout (whether than be the inability to be able to move somewhere else because of their eviction history, the impact on families, how services offered to folks in this type of situation are implemented, etc). I finished this book wanting to open our home to anyone who needs it (although the fix to this issue is more about the system in general). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Off the Record by Camryn Garrett - This was in the Young Adult section (and was available for immediate check out) of my Libby app, so I snagged it. This is a story about a 17 year old Black female journalist who stumbles into a bigger story when on assignment for a contest she won. I would say it was very engaging but I sort of wish there was more (I would like to note that this novel is about sexual assault and r@pe which can be difficult for some to listen to). Maybe it was setting up for a follow-up book (I didn't see it was part of a series on my Libby app), but if it isn't I felt like there was so much after the conclusion of the book that could've kept going (how the fallout from her article went, how her relationship unfolded, etc). I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson - I have seen this book on so many of my friend's book lists who raved about it, so I've been on the waitlist on my Libby app for over a month and it finally became available. Well, my friends were right. This is a great book. I also love the voice of the reader - perfect for this story. This is a story of a mom's passing and her sharing the history of her life with her children (what they knew or thought they knew their whole lives was a bit of a lie...). I would say that there were A LOT of characters that you had to keep straight. The story jumped from past to present and back again, so sometimes it was hard to keep things straight, but the story overall was very well written. I noticed the cover said there was a series on Hulu on this book, so I will have to give it a watch (probably while on my stationary bike ;)). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Unbound by Tarana Burke - This was in the autobiography/ biography section of my Libby app and I wanted to give it a listen. Many of us are aware of the hashtag "Me Too", but Tarana was doing this work YEARS before someone tweeted using the hashtag. This is about the work behind the movement. I'll be honest, this was a hard listen. There's a lot of domestic violence, sexual violence, rape, physical and emotional violence, etc. This is an extremely important issue that we need to be demanding more support, resources and accountability with. I appreciate that Tarana was willing to share her experiences with readers and hope that her vulnerability allows others to know that they can tell someone, can report and can survive. I would give this a 10 out of 10.

  • Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen with Tom Rasmussen - While I was scrolling through the biography/ autobiography section of my Libby app and found some of the other books I already listened to, I added this to my "for later" tab. The topic grabbed my attention. This is set up as diary entries (I'm not sure if that is how they were actually written or if the memoir chose to use that format). Tom is a drag queen and his drag queen persona is named Crystal. This book is written both from the perspective of Tom and in Crystal's voice. I do not personally know any drag queens or kings, so I wasn't sure what to expect from their life experience. (Note: This is one person's lived experience, this does NOT translate to the life of every drag queen/ king. I shouldn't have to say that, but I wanted to make it clear.) I realize there is often a lot of trauma in the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community (seeing as we live in a patriarchal white supremacy culture), so I was assuming there would be some difficult parts (which there were) but I also appreciated seeing the love and joy experienced as well. This book reiterates how important chosen family can be. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson - Ok, ok, same thing with this book, I saw it in the biography/ autobiography section of my Libby so threw it on my "for later" shelf. This is the memoir of Danielle, but I've gotta be honest, the star of the show (for me) ended up being her grandmother. Danielle (and her brother) eventually ended up living with and being raised by her grandmother. Well, let's just say she is a spitfire and doesn't stand for any shenanigans. She didn't remind me of either of my grandmas, but I still thought she would have been a fun one to have (or at least one to have in the neighborhood). Although Danielle's grandmother brought a little sparkle to the story, there is also a lot of deep felt pain. While listening to this book I wished I could go over and hug Danielle (with her consent, of course). I appreciate her willingness to be so vulnerable and raw with how she grew up - I have to imagine it was incredibly difficult to relive some/ most of her experiences while writing about (and processing) them all these years later. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Find Me by Alafair Burke - After a handful of biographical books, I thought it was time to snag something from my Libby app that was a bit fictionalized. I don't remember which of my friends had this on a recent "must read" list, but I had a screenshot of the cover in my phone so assumed someone I knew had read it and liked it. I didn't realize (until Googling the title so I could hyperlink the title) that there are more books in this series [this is actually the 6th book] but it seems as though they stand alone, so you don't have to worry about knowing any backstory before hand. (Think of it sort of like Law & Order, each episode is a different crime, but some of the characters [law enforcement, lawyers, etc] stay the same. You don't necessarily need to watch the episodes in order or even see all of them.) Anywho, back to this book. It is more of a thriller (thankfully it was not scary because I don't DO horror), where you are trying to find whodunit alongside the detectives in the case. There are a lot of players in this story, but the premise is a woman got in a car accident, lost her memory for 15 years and then someone tied to her previous past is found murdered. I'll be honest and say I guessed some of the twists and turns, but the final one threw me for a loop. It was entertaining enough that I may look for more books of this author, but they won't make it into my personal library. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin - This was another book from the nonfiction (autobiography/ biography) section of my Libby app. When I saw the cover I remembered I had read the previous book (The Happiness Project during January 2017) so I grabbed the follow-up. [#RealTalk - I was too lazy to look, and obviously didn't remember, so I wasn't 100% sure I enjoyed the first book, but thankfully, when looking back for the link, I did ;)] Each month, Gretchen decided to tackle a different theme and try to implement goals around that theme that will help make her home a happier place to be. There were definitely a few resolutions she tried that I'd like to add into my daily routine (having BIG hellos and goodbyes, trying the opposite argument, kissing my partner in the morning and at night, etc). I also think the house is primed for a good spring cleaning to help us focus on our possessions (and make sure we either use them or love them). Gretchen is definitely in a different phase of life than me (she's got kids, works from home, etc), so many of the goals she had wouldn't be able to translate directly to me or our home, but the book at least got my wheels a-turnin'. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse - After a few nonfiction books I figured it was time again for a novel. I think this was on a friend's list of books they had read recently so I grabbed it once it became available on my Libby app. I didn't know what to expect, but the title sort of creeped me out. After the first chapter or two I was getting a little worried that it might be too scary for me (I don't do scary), but thankfully it was more of a thriller than anything. The story follows a couple who heads to the Swiss Alps for an engagement party and while they're at this fancy-shmancy hotel a woman goes missing. The main character, Ellen, is a detective back home in the UK who is on leave from her job and ends up having to work the case because an avalanche has made getting to or from the property an impossibility. I don't want to spill the beans or give an spoilers, but there were definitely some twists and turns I hadn't expected and didn't see coming (and just when I thought I had it figured out something would throw my suspect right out the window). There were parts I wish had more detail and some side plots that could've been cut, but overall it kept me entertained. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - I had heard rave reviews about this book, so as soon as I got the Libby app I put this on my hold list (although there are unlimited 'check-outs' a month, you are technically checking out an actual title, so just like at the actual library, you have to wait in line until the book is returned). This was the first book off my hold list that I've actually got thus far. This was definitely a good novel. It's about an actress in the 50s and 60s who is working with a pretty unknown journalist to write her biography. I thought the individual stories about the different marriages were believable (I actually forgot it was a novel for a bit, hehe), but I did guess the connection between Evelyn and the journalist before it was officially revealed. Well, maybe not the entirety, but knew who'd be involved. Anywho, this was entertaining (and about the entertainment industry) and could see it being made into a movie. I would give it a 9 out of 10. 

  • Pageboy by Elliot Page - As y'all know by now, I love a good memoir. Like, how can you argue with someone's experiences?! And a glimpse "behind the curtain" - it's sort of like a reality show of the author (if reality shows were ACTUALLY reality ;)). Anywho, I had wanted to read Elliot's book for a while and was finally able to get it on my Libby app. I have to say, I'm very aware of the hate and violence that the trans community encounters, but I would've guessed that Elliot might have been a bit more removed from it, seeing all of the shows/ movies they have been in. I wish I could say it is shocking, but, let's be real, the vitriol people spew is horrific and appalling, but more common practice than not sometimes. I appreciate Elliot's openness to share the good, the bad and the ugly - I just pray there is less bad and ugly in the future with more stories like this in mainstream media (although, if I can just step on my soapbox for a hot minute - we shouldn't have to "know someone"/ have "heard a story" to believe other's experiences or be a decent human being). I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Girl, Forgotten by Karin Slaughter - After listening to Pieces of Her last month, I noticed that this author has quite a few books. Although my Libby app shows them in the same series, they are technically stand alone books. I found this one as engaging as the previous book of hers. There were some parts I thought were well written and other parts that I felt were lacking or not expanded upon as I would have liked (for example, the cult that Andrea's parents were a part of was glossed over... so if the author didn't want to detract from the "current" story, that shouldn't even have been mentioned at all if it wasn't going to be explored, or at least that's my opinion). Also, there were some very graphic scenes (for me) in this one, so be warned. I would've liked to have had a trigger warning when it came to topics such as violence, suicide, eating disorders, etc. This isn't a romance by any means, but I was cheering for Andrea and Mike to get together ;) I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - I don't remember which of my friends recommended this one or what list it came from, but I had saved it in my Libby app "for later" for some reason, so once it became available I snagged it. This was a very interesting premise. There is a set of twins that this story revolves around. These two girls are black but very light (white passing) in complexion. As the girls age, they take different paths in their lives. One of the twins marries a very dark man and you can see how she (and her daughter) are ostracized from the community. The other twin actually pretends as though she is white and you follow along with her experiences as well. I really enjoyed this one, but did wish it was longer (or maybe it was made into a series). I think there could totally be a spin-off with the two twins (and their partners) as well as the twins' daughters. PS I see the author went to UofM for her MFA, so obviously I like her ;) I would give it a 9 out of 10.

With that, May is done-zo. If you have suggestions, let me know! I'm always looking to add to my "must read" list! 

What's the best book you've read lately? 

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