April Reading Wrap Up

At a Glance:

April was forever days long, and now we’re already in the middle of May and I’m just getting to my monthly wrap up. Even though time has been weird, April may have brought some of my most diverse reading yet. This month, I read about a young Black girl taking on the multiplayer online gaming community, a graphic novel in poetry about a Black basketball player coming of age, an adult fantasy with a range of characters taking on the Ivy league, a comic book with a Black woman who works in a lab but would rather be making films, a collection of queer short stories from one of my favorite authors, a teen who has two moms and feels attacked by a new preacher coming to town to save the American family, a novel in poetry about a teen in Harlem who’s desperate to be heard, and a chick lit novel featuring a curvy, Black heroine at its center. Diverse in both skin colors, sexuality, and writing formats, April was a good month for reading. 

Like March, I finished 8 books: two graphic novels – one of which was poetry, three Young Adult novels – one of which was poetry, one collection of short stories, one romance or chick lit novel, and an adult fiction book. I borrowed all of the books from the OverDrive app, as our library was still closed. I’m linking to the Goodreads page for each book so you can add it to your “Want to Read” list. 

  1. Slay by Brittney Morris | YA | Contemporary | ebook |
  2. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander | MG | Poetry + Graphic Novel | ebook | 
  3. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo | Adult | Fantasy | ebook | 
  4. By Night, Vol. 2 by John Allison | YA | Graphic Novel | ebook | 
  5. 19 Love Songs by David Levithan | YA | Short Stories | ebook | 
  6. Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki | YA | Contemporary | ebook | 
  7. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo | YA | Novel in Poetry | ebook | 
  8. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory | Adult | Romance | ebook | 

+ The Crossover           ▬ No misses (But I only gave 3 stars to By Night, Vol. 2)

+ Ninth House 

+ 19 Love Songs 

All three of my top books this month were my favorites because there was something unexpected about them. This is especially true for The Crossover. The book was recommended to me by some students I tutor. They had told me the plot of the story, but what they forgot to mention was that the novel is in poetry! I had spotted this book as a graphic novel at my local library and decided to try it that way. I’m really glad I did. The orange, black and white pictures and funky font were almost like graffiti, giving the book a really cool vibe. The writing had so much rhythm and was so fun to read. The pages flew by. If I still had a classroom, I would 100% be purchasing this book to add to my classroom library. I think students would love it. 

Ninth House is Leigh Bardugo’s adult debut. I’ve read several of her YA books and was interested to see how she would make her stories “adultier.” This book was unexpected because it had such a dark, twisty mood. I kept feeling like I should have saved this book until a dark, stormy fall night. And the plot was wild. Over and over as I read, I thought, “Where did Bardugo come up with this idea?!”  Ninth House is set in New Haven at Yale University and deals with magical societies that operate unbeknownst to the other students and faculty. Galaxy “Alex” Stern (I love this name) is a freshman who has been admitted to Lethe House for her special ability to see “Grays” – ghosts. Lethe House oversees the magical rites the other houses perform to make sure everyone stays safe, abides by the rules, and keeps magic secret. Alex is being taught by Daniel “Darlington” Arlington (another great name), but early on in her training, something happens to Darlington and he disappears. As Alex tries to uphold Lethe’s mission on her own, a homicide in New Haven puts her skills to the test. Running on very little sleep and reminded of a friend she lost, Alex follows her instincts and seeks justice for the young woman. I suspect this book will have more of a niche following than Bardugo’s YA books. It’s not for everyone, but I was captivated.

19 Love Songs shouldn’t have been an unexpected read because I already knew that I was a David Levithan fan. But what made it surprising was the fact that I liked a collection of short stories so much. I don’t read a lot of short stories because, well, they’re too short! I want the full story. I don’t like to make a connection with a story or a character and then you turn the page and BAM! It’s over. The end. But I made an exception for this book because I love David Levithan’s writing so much. Each track, or chapter, of 19 Love Songs is a standalone story. Some of these stories are from characters in his other books, like A from Every Day (one of my favorite books of all time), and Infinite Darlene from Boy Meets Boy. The stories are sweet and smart and queer. I liked some better than others. But over all, this collection made me feel nostalgic for first love, first kisses, and crushes. Some of the stories are poems, one is a short comic, and some have interesting forms and structures – like hearing from lots of different characters singing in a choir. I’m really curious to know how much of the content was autobiographical because the stories felt so personal. It feels like Levithan is giving permission to just be yourself and experience love at your own pace. I love Levithan’s writing. 

  • Michelle Obama is reading stories Live on the PBS kids Facebook page every Monday. So far, we’ve tuned in to watch her read The Gruffalo and There’s a Dragon in Your Book. The video event goes live shortly after 11 am Central time. 
  • My 5-year-old daughter’s favorite book this month has been The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. When the book first arrived in the mail, my daughter wanted nothing to do with it. Who wants a book with no pictures?! But when I finally convinced her to let me read it, she laughed and laughed. And has requested the book many, many times. 
  • I ordered a bunch of books online for my daughter so that we’d have something fresh to read before bed. I haven’t had to buy many books for her since we’re usually at the library every two weeks, so this was fun to pick out brand new books. Several books were from authors and series we already knew we liked, like the Yasmin and Sofia Martinez series. We’ve also been waiting for the follow-up to The Wolf in Underpants, so we were very excited to see what would happen in The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off. Chapter books, graphic novels, beginning readers: we got a little of everything. We finished all except two of these books.
    • Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure
    • Sofia Martinez: Every Day is Exciting
    • DC Super Hero Girls: Winner Takes All
    • Diana: Princess of the Amazons
    • Baby-sitters Little Sister #1: Karen’s Witch
    • Yasmin the Teacher 
    • The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off
    • Jasmine’s New Pet
    • The Critter Club #16: Marion and the Secret Letter

Pages read in April: 2,393 (and that doesn’t even include all of the books I read to my kid during the month!)

 

March Reading Wrap Up

At a Glance:

With March’s unexpected Safer-at-Home order, there was plenty of time to read. I finished 8 books: four graphic novels, two Young Adult novels, one work of nonfiction, and an adult fiction book. I’m linking to the Goodreads page for each book so you can add it to your “Want to Read” list. 

  1. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo     | YA | Contemporary |
  2. Waking Up White by Debby Irving                  | Adult | Nonfiction | 
  3. Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige               | YA | Fantasy | 
  4. b.b. free #1 by Gabby Rivera                         | YA | Graphic Novel | 
  5. b.b. free #2 by Gabby Rivera                         | YA | Graphic Novel | 
  6. Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom by Kelly Thompson   | YA | Graphic Novel | 
  7. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys        | YA | Historical | 
  8. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng              | Adult | Contemporary | 

          + Waking Up White                                      – No misses

          + Between Shades of Gray

          + Little Fires Everywhere 

I finished Waking Up White for my social justice book club. Author Debby Irving explains how she “woke up” to the privilege her whiteness provides. She had a WASPy upbringing, and her father benefited from the GI Bill. After serving in the war, he received financial aid to go to college and buy a house. Irving was shocked to learn that these same benefits weren’t available for black soldiers who had served in the war. Irving’s parents had good jobs, savings, and were able to support their children’s education and housing purchases later on. Black families aren’t able to afford these types of inheritances. Irving goes beyond this example, though, and explains how a college class helped her to consider what the “White” race is and how the ideals she grew up with were different from other races and cultures. She gives lots of interesting stories about her racial education and how readers can discover their own misconceptions about race. A great read because it was so personable and humble. At times, a bit repetitive, but overall interesting content and reflections. 

Between Shades of Gray is a young adult historical novel set at the beginning of World War II. This book was recommended to me by some of my tutoring students. They had to read the book for school, but they thought I would like it. I did like it – which doesn’t surprise me. I used to read a lot of historical fiction, but I haven’t read it for years now. I think I got distracted by dystopian and fantasy novels. Between Shades of Gray takes place in Lithuania in 1941. One night, fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother are forced onto dirty train cars by Soviet soldiers and transported to work camps in Siberia. There’s no privacy, no food, no heat, no humanity. No matter how many books I read about World War II, I’m always amazed at how cruel humans can be to one another. This book was especially eye-opening because Germans weren’t the oppressors in this book, and Lina and her family weren’t even Jewish. Did you know that thousands of Lithuanian civilians were deported to work camps by the Soviets? After the Soviets, Lithuania was invaded by German forces – which they thought would bring them relief, but (we know) only led to the termination of thousands of Jews. When the Soviets became allies with the Americans, they slowly and quietly released Lithuanians from the work camps – some of which weren’t released until the early 1960s. However, these returning Lithuanians found their homes occupied, struggled to find work, and were not allowed to speak about their experiences. Lithuania isn’t a country I’ve learned much about, so this story was fascinating. It was tough to read at times, but somehow, there was always a glimmer of hope.  

Little Fires Everywhere has been trending lately thanks to Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington’s hulu miniseries. The book follows the picture-perfect Richardson family as they meet the single-mom and daughter occupying their rental property. Mia Warren is an artist who arrives with her daughter Pearl in an old VW van. The Richardson kids, though they have the best of everything, are each lacking in some way, but Mia seems to make them whole. When Mrs. Richardson goes digging into Mia’s past, she discovers a big secret. Meanwhile, the whole town is caught up in a custody battle. Friends of the Richardsons, the McCullough’s have always wanted their own child. When the opportunity to adopt comes along, they welcome the baby, whom they want to name Mirabelle, with open arms. But just before the adoption papers are finalized, the birth mother decides that she wants her baby – who she calls May Ling – back. A race and privilege battle ensues, prompting the question, who really deserves to be a mother? Is it best for the child to grow up with two parents who have money, or should she stay with her biological mother who barely makes ends meet? The book really turns into a reflection on mother-daughter relationships. An engaging read, Little Fires Everywhere was probably my favorite book of the month if I had to pick just one.    

  • We had a bunch of books, graphic novels, and movies checked out from the library when COVID-19 rolled in. Our local library made the decision to close very early on, so we haven’t been able to refresh and get any new books. I would really like some fresh picture books to read to my daughter at night. I’d also love a new stack of graphic novels. Our library said that our materials are all due on May 1st – no matter when your books were originally due. I think one of the places I’m most looking forward to going once the pandemic is over is the library. 

Pages read in March: 1,750

 Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

February Reading Wrap Up

Even though February was a short month, I still had a strong month of reading, completing six books. I read four Young Adult novels, one adult novel, and one graphic novel. I’m linking to the Goodreads page for each book so you can learn more about it.

  1. Frankly in Love by David Yoon | YA | Contemporary | ebook | Overdrive |
  2. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid | Adult | Literary | ebook | Overdrive |
  3. Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell | YA | Fantasy | ebook | Overdrive |
  4. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell | YA | Graphic Novel | Hardcover | library |
  5. A List of Cages by Robin Roe | YA | Contemporary | ebook | Overdrive |
  6. Five Dark Fates by Kendare Black | YA | Fantasy | ebook | Overdrive |

+ Frankly in Love           |           – No misses

Frankly in Love was my absolute favorite book this month. Since the bright yellow cover kept popping up on book lists, I assumed this was going to be a hyped book that wouldn’t deliver. But, it completely caught me off guard by how good it was. I literally laughed out loud during the first half of the book. No joke, I kept waking up my husband while I was reading it in bed at night! I have not had a book hit me that hard in a while. But the book wasn’t all humor – it also touched on several important topics and got serious and sad at times, making it feel really well-rounded.

Frank Li’s parents are Korean immigrants who run a convenience store and work 365 days a year so Frank and his older sister can go to college and have a better life. They want their kids to have successful, American lives…but only if they marry a fellow Korean-American. Frank’s super accomplished sister is disowned when she falls in love with a black man. So when Frank falls for a white girl, he knows he’s in trouble. His friend Joy Song is facing a similar problem, so it seems obvious that Frank and Joy should pretend to date each other so their parents stay out of their personal lives. 

David Yoon (yes, the husband of Everything, Everything author Nicola Yoon!) knows how to write a clever, fast-paced novel. It’s nerdy and funny and insightful. I was prepared for a lot of YA cliches, but this book felt unique to me. It was a GREAT read.     

  • I used Amazon Prime to ship a book to a friend I worked with at summer camp many years ago. I mailed her the graphic novel Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. It’s a cute middle grade book about a girl who desperately wants to go to summer camp like all the other girls in her class, but she discovers that it isn’t anything like she imagined it to be. 
  • I attended a book club event through our church’s social justice group where we discussed Waking Up White by Debby Irving. The group was co-ed and inter-generational and I loved hearing what everyone had to say.

Pages read in February: 1,953

My Five Star Reads of 2019

2019 brought a change to my reading habits. I read over twenty graphic novels this year – and that doesn’t even include the graphic novels and comic books I read to my daughter. That means, almost a third of the books I read this year were graphic novels. In the past, I only read two or three graphic novels in a year, so this is a significant shift. I also read a book of poetry this year – a first among my Goodreads challenges. I’m still struggling to make nonfiction a habit, but one nonfiction title made it into my five star reads. I have a handful of nonfiction titles on my OverDrive wish list, so perhaps 2020 will bring more nonfiction my way. 

Out of 65 books read this year – and over 21,000 pages – I gave a five star rating (based on the Goodreads scale) to 16 titles. If you’re curious to see what books made the list in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 click the links. In no particular order, here are my favorite books read in 2019: 

  • Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
  • Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
  • The Paper Girls series by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
  • Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
  • A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
  • Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg 
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley 

Of course, there were plenty of other great books I read this year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – a book of poetry detailing her adolescence, comments on her most famous novel Speak, and thoughts on sexual assault and the #metoo movement. Timely and relevant. 
  • The Space Boy series by Stephen McCranie – a series of graphic novels following a girl who used to live in space, but now has to navigate high school on Earth. A mysterious boy captures her attention. 
  • Illegal by Eion Colfer – a graphic novel about a dangerous journey towards a better life, starting in a poor African village enroute to Europe. A young boy and his brother walk through the Sahara Desert, float on a raft in the Mediterranean Sea, and join hundreds of other migrants on a crowded ship. Terrifying and thought-provoking. 
  • Kingsbane by Claire Legrand – the sequel to Furyborn, Legrand’s Empirium series is a fast-paced fantasy about a Blood Queen and a Sun Queen. One will save the kingdom and one will destroy it, but who is who?
  • Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus – a mystery book from the author of One of Us is Lying (a book on my five star list last year). In this one, girls have a habit of disappearing from a small town. When Ellery shows up to town with a true crime obsession, she’s eager to put her detective skills to the test.  

Thanks to other book bloggers’ “best of” and “year-end” posts, I’ve already added several books to my TBR and wish list. I hope my list will be helpful for someone out in the blogosphere too. Happy reading in 2020! 

Wrapping Up November, Again

Thanks for following along with my blog this month. I hope you found something that you connected with: nostalgia for Zenon, a look back at the places you traveled in books this year, or a review that has you adding a book to your TBR pile.

I read 6 books this month, which surprised me because we were busy. I read two middle grade chapter books, a political nonfiction book, two young adult books (one mystery, one fantasy), and one graphic novel. I also read a bunch of children’s books, a graphic novel, and two chapter books to my five year old – but those go on her Goodreads account instead of mine.

  1. Zenon Kar, Spaceball Star by Marilyn Sadler
  2. The Trouble with Fun by Marilyn Sadler
  3. The Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg
  4. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus
  5. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  6. By Night, Vol. 1 by John Allison

In addition to posting, I also enjoyed reading other blogger’s posts. I think it’s so cool to see how people tackle NaBloPoMo and how all of our blogs are unique. I picked up a few book recommendations, and I even learned a thing or two. For instance, after posting about voting in the first round of the Goodreads yearly choice awards, I found several other bloggers posting about the lack of diversity (both in the authors and the characters) in the books that were nominated. It was something I hadn’t noticed, and I appreciated the insight and information that other bloggers brought forth.

There is room for improvement for next year. I missed several days of posting this month and never found time to catch up on those missing days. I also had a google doc full of saved bookish tidbits and hardly even touched on any of them. If I could figure out how to post before midnight, that would be a win, too! That being said, NaBloPoMo still brings me joy because I get to talk about books (my favorite thing!) and be creative.

I hope you had a lovely November. Let’s not be strangers. Happy reading this holiday season.

What We Read Before Bed #2

Here’s what I read out loud to my five year old:

First, we finished up a graphic novel that we started while on vacation last week, Frozen: Breaking Boundaries. I found this book at Walmart before our trip. All the Frozen II merchandise came out just in time, so I picked up some new items to take along in our airplane bag. In Breaking Boundaries, Anna questions what her purpose is. Elsa makes all the important decisions for the kingdom, so what does Arendelle need a princess for? Anna meets a girl named Mari who is also questioning what her purpose is. Together, they try out different jobs in Arendelle, but they always seem to cause trouble. Luckily, because of Mari’s knowledge of animals and animal behavior, she’s able to fix many of the problems. Meanwhile, Elsa is trying to figure out why trees are being cut down in the forest. Olaf makes an appearance, of course, as does Kristoff and Sven. The artwork is just like the movies. We enjoyed the book and would read another one of these Disney graphic novels. 

Next, we started another chapter book. This time, an Amelia Bedelia book from a four-book collection my daughter received at her fifth birthday party from a great-aunt. Amelia Bedelia has been revamped for the next generation of readers (the newer stories are all written by the original author’s nephew). Instead of a maid in a blue dress and white apron who needs specific instructions to “undust” the furniture, she is a young kid. In Amelia Bedelia Means Business, the titular character sees a classmate’s shiny new bike and decides she needs a fancy new bike, too. Her parents tell her that if she can earn half of the money, they’ll pay for the other half. “Which half costs more?” she asks. Amelia Bedelia tries to earn money, but she obviously struggles with the turns of phrase people use. For instance, when a customer asks her to bring a piece of cake, “And step on it!” Amelia Bedelia doesn’t understand that the customer is in a hurry, and literally steps on the cake. These word plays are sometimes tricky to explain to a five year old, who – much like Amelia Bedelia – takes words at their literal meaning. However, my daughter sat and listened to the story (while also breaking in to tell me lots of other things she was thinking about!), and we made it through four chapters before stopping. While reading, I was also reminded of my mom, who has told me that Amelia Bedelia books are some of the hardest to read out loud because of the tongue-twistery name! I would have to agree. Amelia Bedelia always goes by her full, first and last name, so the book definitely gave my tongue a work out!

And here’s what I read on my own:

I’ve been reading Girls of Paper and Fire, a young adult fantasy series by author Natasha Ngan. Forwarded by James Patterson (and published by JIMMY Patterson Books), the series has gained quite a lot of hype and positive reviews. The author has a multicultural background, which influenced her storytelling, as did her own experience as a sexual abuse survivor. 

In this series, there are three castes of people: Paper, Steel, and Moon. Paper caste is at the bottom and they are lowly humans. Steel is in the middle, and they are humans with animal characteristics, like fur and tails. Moon caste is the highest and they are animal demons. The kingdom is ruled by the Demon Bull King. Each year, eight Paper girls are brought to him as concubines – which is supposed to be an honor to their families. Main character Lei is ripped from her country home and taken to the king as a gift because of her stunning eyes. She must go along with being a Paper Girl in order to keep her family safe. She is given beautiful clothes and lessons to make her civilized, but when the king calls for her, Lei can’t submit. When he tries to force himself on her, she runs away. She is punished for her disobedience, which only solidifies her distaste for the Paper Girls tradition. Along the way, she also falls in love – but that love could prove dangerous in more ways than one.

While some of the girls in the story view Paper Girls as an honorable job, it clearly isn’t. At best it’s sex slavery and at it’s worst, rape. It’s rather disturbing. To me, this is not a young adult book at all. On the Goodreads page, the author responds to a reader’s question about how vivid the sexual abuse is in the book, saying that she “tried to write it as delicately and respectfully as possible, so the scenes are…not graphic, but the characters do talk and think about what happened afterwards. [She] didn’t write it with the intention to distress or shock readers – it’s written with love and care.” However, when a 16 and 17 year old girl are expected to sleep with a man/bull/whatever he is, despite their fear and own desires, we’ve tipped into some heavy stuff. I haven’t read any of the reviews yet on Goodreads (I wait until after I finish a book so I don’t accidentally see spoilers) to see what other readers thought, but I’ll be quite shocked if other readers didn’t have an issue with the maturity level of the book. Will I keep reading it? Yes, because I want to see where the author takes this and find out what the lesson will be, but this is really more of an adult book with the fast pacing of a young adult novel.

What did you read today?

Rating + Review: Flame in the Mist

“Let’s get down to business, to defeat *pause* the Huns.” If you were a kid in the ’90s, I’m 100% sure that you not only sang that line out loud, but that you’ve got the rest of the song stuck in your head now. You’re welcome! I didn’t do this to mess with your day, but rather to introduce book #13 of my Goodreads 2019 challenge, a twist on the story of Mulan: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh.

I had been looking forward to reading this book because 1) who doesn’t love Mulan? and 2) I was ready for another snarky, magical romance à la The Wrath & the Dawn from Renée Ahdieh. Sadly, I’m not sure that it delivered on everything I wanted it to be.

Flame in the Mist introduces us to Mariko, a young woman who is on her way to the capitol to wed her betrothed: a prince whom she hasn’t even met. Her convoy enters a creepy forest wherein they are attacked. Mariko manages to escape, and even though she knows her amazing tracker of a brother will find her, she decides to take care of herself by pretending to be a boy so she can figure out why her convoy was attacked and who wants her dead. The obvious choice is the notorious Black Clan, but it’s so obvious that it doesn’t quite make sense – especially once she joins their ranks and gets to know the young men. Meanwhile, court intrigue seems to be at play, along with some magic. Will Mariko be able to keep her identity a secret and discover who is plotting against her family?

While the premise is interesting, and I don’t mind well-done re-tellings, I found the beginning of the book dull and slow moving. In fact, I switched to another book and read it before coming back to Flame in the Mist. Thankfully, the action and intrigue started to pick up around 60% of the way through the book.

Things I liked about Flame in the Mist:

  • Great moments related to Girl Power and Feminism
  • “She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko had never understood the notion. She was not a half. She was wholly her own.”
  • Disney’s Mulan moments like chopping off her hair and the lines, “Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain,” obviously reminded me of the lyrics to “Be A Man.”
  • A romance built on mutual respect
  • Things I was disappointed by:

    • The magic was confusing. I didn’t get what was happening. Like The Wrath & the Dawn, the magic had potential but was a missed opportunity. For me, Ahdieh hasn’t quite figured out how to write magic that makes sense for the reader yet.
    • I just couldn’t believe these guys who are so cunning and observant couldn’t figure out that Mariko was a girl. She keeps changing the pitch of her voice and she doesn’t know how to do anything useful. She’s not a cartoon character- she’s an actual person.
    • The beginning was so uneventful that I almost gave up on this book.

    While the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be, I still want to go ahead and read the second book, Smoke in the Sun. The ending is cliffhangery and I’m hopeful that the romance, descriptive imagery, and the message of girl power will make for a strong second book.