Taking a little break

Hi everyone!

I’ll be brief and I’m going to be honest with you. Lately, I haven’t felt like writing anything. I have felt a sickening pressure to write and it really just gives me the worst writer’s block.

It’s a pressure I put upon myself, but when you write nonstop and you also work a full time job there’s always a point where something gives.

And I don’t want to be the type of zombie person who works all the time and never has time for herself. You end up making sacrifices and for me, the first thing to go is my leisurely love of reading books.

I hate being this way. I hate being uninspired and stressed out and reading words, but not really absorbing them. This is why I’ve decided to take a two-week vacation from writing.

You’re seeing this on the cusp of week two, so I’ll be back soon.  I just felt like I should say something to you all so you’re not worried I’ve disappeared for good. I’m sorry, I sometimes disappear like that.

In the meantime, I’m going to be writing offline (in my journal) and just enjoying reading. I’ll be back with some great reviews, definitely some more posts, and hopefully a plan for 2018. I want to be able to give you all some great reads as well as give myself some time to decompress.

It’s always good to take a vacation every once in a while. Your body needs to decompress otherwise you end up getting sick. I want to take the pressure of writing something to you off so I don’t end up writing something stupid. I mean, my last idea was writing a blog post about all the best snacks to eat while reading. Maybe that is something you’d want to read from me :).

I will be back in a week! I just want to take the time to read and enjoy the beautiful snow here in New Jersey before I look up from my computer and the winter has become spring.

I do hope you understand! I wouldn’t want to disappoint you, but I need to do this for myself. I’ll see you all soon!

Simone

Knowing (and reading) your genre

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For a really long time, I just basically read whatever came my way. You give me a title, I’ll check it out. I never considered any genre to be my go-to genre and felt the bookish world to be my oyster. I wanted to read all the books.

However, you find out at one point or another that not all books are made for you. I think it’s at some point in every reader’s life they discover the genres that they enjoy the most. Sometimes it’s a gradual pull towards it. Other times, it just finds you. It’s always good to know what genres you like because then of course, you’ll never get bored.

But what if you don’t know what genre you’re interested in? How do you discover it for yourself? This I learned recently while trying to get into thrillers and mysteries.

I kind of shied away from mysteries and thrillers because I have some pretty bad anxiety when it comes to those reads. I think the last book I read was Gone Girl and that not only scared the crap out of me, but I think I remember throwing the book across the room. Thrillers have been a mystery to me, so I decided I wanted to take a deep dive into the genre.

I picked out a few books from my Book of the Month Club and I agreed to review a few mystery novels. I wanted to get a sense of the genre and see if perhaps this is for me. Sadly, it wasn’t. I didn’t find the thriller genre to be as fun and interesting as what I normally gravitate towards.

Now I know that thrillers and mysteries don’t really get me reading more, but I don’t know what I like to read.

I took a deep dive into my Goodreads account to see. I’ve been keeping a record of my books since 2011, so I knew I would find some good stuff there. There were a few patterns I can easily find and I think that this quickly decided what my favorite genres were.

It appeared that my favorite genres were Literary Fiction, YA, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and a little Romance. Of course I’ve also been reading a ton of diverse reads over the past few years as well.

It didn’t really shock me that I read these genres specifically. I guess I didn’t see this pattern before because I’m so used to reading whatever came my way. Perhaps there were more of these genres that came my way than others. It’s kind of funny when you dive into something like this and figure out that you’ve been running patterns you’re entire life.

Oddly, I felt empowered. I knew exactly what genres I loved reading, but the new challenge I came across was understanding what the basics are of these genres. No one wants to be the guy that announces their favorite genres and hasn’t read the “staple” novels. Would other genre-readers be able to identify with you or are you just a “poseur” pretending to like something you have no understanding about?

I’ve finally come to terms with the genres that I love, so now I’m on the quest to find the books that make up these genres. I’m pretty sure I’d get the proverbial shit kicked out of me for not reading the definitive works that defined the genre. I mean, I might have tried to read Lord of the Rings, but those movies came out and were so conveniently easier to watch than read.

I’m looking to expand my own universe by reading books in genres I actually like. I’m going to start with some staples and then work my way through other books. It’s so great to find something that you’re interested in. It’s like pulling from an endless library where every book is something your heart would desire. 

I’ll be updating you on the progress I’m making and creating some definitive guides to the genres in the future. For now, I’m happy knowing my genre and now I get to read from it.

How do I review Sing, Unburied, Sing?

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The other night, in the silence of my apartment, I tore through the last 50 pages of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I sat on my couch while waiting for my dinner to cook in the oven, getting up every so often to make sure my meatballs weren’t burning. Once I finished the book, I put it down and then proceeded to not think about it.

I put off writing this review for a few days because the impact this book leaves is so intense that it only feels appropriate to give it a few days of mourning. I still don’t know where to begin with writing this review. I guess I should start with the summary.

SING, UNBURIED, SING

32920226Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

I feel like the central theme in this novel was grief and loss. Leonie struggling with the loss of her brother. Jojo is struggling with the loss of his mother emotionally. Pop is struggling with the possible loss of his cancer-ridden wife and his friend when he was younger. Everyone is dealing with some form of loss and everyone is doing is so quietly.

The story takes place in both Jojo and Leonie’s point of view. Each chapter switches off which tale you’re going to hear. For Jojo, you hear a lot of resentment for his birth mother. He can’t stand that she’s not the mother she’s supposed to be. Instead, she’s found indulging too much on meth and forgetting she’s ever really had kids. Jojo finds himself having to grow up much sooner than he expected, impressing his grandfather with how “manly” he is in serious situations.

For Leonie, you hear a lot about her struggle with fighting against herself. She knows she’s a bad mother, but she can’t help herself. Her grief began when her brother, Given, was murdered on a hunting trip. Given was her favorite person in the world and she never quite got over him dying. Every time she does drugs, Given comes to visit her while she’s high. You can see how that can drive any person insane.

However there’s a third perspective that reveals itself slowly throughout the story, which is the ghosts of the people who have been killed in terrible ways. Leonie, Jojo, Kayla, and Mama all have these powers that allow them to know the future, read minds, and speak with the dead. It’s not supernatural, but almost like a gift bestowed upon their family ever since they came to this country. They were given a gift and sadly, it was taken for granted.

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I’ve asked numerous people what they thought and all of them felt the same. It was good, but I can’t put into words exactly how good this was. Was it the ghostly images of the African Americans who have died throughout the years? Was it the drug abuse Leonie uses to escape her own sorrows? Is it the ability to see between the veil of life and death? Was it the use of an old farm to enslave prisoners and bring back a part of this country’s history to punish them? Was it seeing a mother struggle with wanting to be one and her son taking up the responsibilities when she couldn’t?

Sometimes you find yourself with a book that is really difficult to put into words how good it is. It’s good, you know that much. But why? I can’t put my finger on it. And the adjectives other people have used to describe this book match what I feel. It’s haunting, slight disturbing, with doses of reality, sadness, foreboding, intrigue. You want to read more because you want to know more. You want to find out what is happening to this family.

However, I’m not even sure that’s the appropriate way of explaining this novel. I am really struggling with this one.

In many ways this book reminded me a lot of Beloved. The dark and densely moving story about a family who is haunted by the decisions they made in their past. How much they wanted to move themselves away from those horrors in order to live a peaceful life and how the dead can never truly rest without hearing and knowing the truth. I honestly thought this book would be about the struggle of being African American in the South, but this book was so much more.

My favorite thing about this entire experience was the writing. It was extraordinary writing. Each chapter had pearls of beautiful quotes that displayed each character’s personality and also their struggle. Each quote another example of how life is so important because death is hanging right outside the door. It was an incredibly breathtaking story that I had a hard time putting down.

I think the only flaw this book has was the pace. While Leonie and the kids are driving up to release Michael from Parchman, the pace felt slow and even. They were a dysfunctional family on the road to meet their father; whom Kayla hasn’t even met in her life. They were on the road to becoming a family again.

By the time they returned from Parchman, the story somehow picked up in pace. Suddenly, the history of their family unravels and the mystical powers they have and the ghosts that have been haunting them swirl together in the penultimate scene. Mama is on her death bed and she’s about to open the curtain between life and death so that she can die in peace. Of course you can only imagine that the door doesn’t just open in one direction.

I don’t know where to begin. I honestly just believe that you’ll need to experience it for yourself.

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

 

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I’ve only tried to make bread once in my life and while I did have a tasty loaf, I can’t say if it was the best bread in the world. However, I have an inkling that Lois can.

SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan is the story about a woman named Lois Clary who arrives in San Francisco with a computer science degree. She begins to work at a small tech company building mechanical robot arms to help people do ordinary things.

As a newcomer to the city, she didn’t have many friends so she spent many of her nights at home ordering food from the local restaurant called Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. Every night, she would order the same delicious spicy soup with their famous sourdough bread. And as she ordered, she became friendlier with the two brothers who owned the restaurant.

That was until one day the boys had the move back home due to immigration reasons. Before the two boys left, they gifted Lois with their starter for sourdough bread. It’s an ancient starter that has been passed along generation to generation. The boys left the starter with Lois to keep providing that she takes care of it everyday and makes sure to feed it.

As the skeptic that she is, she goes ahead and does what the boys say, but little did she know that this starter is about to take her on an interesting journey.

San Francisco tech and sourdough go together like peanut butter and jelly. These two things are so synonymous with the city that it makes sense to put together a whole book about it. It was an easy read with an interesting story, but it wasn’t a wow for me. It was good and I liked it, but I wasn’t thinking this could be the best book he’s ever written. What I liked in reading a story about carbs also lacked in some other technical things.

The story is kind of set up like little pockets of time. Each chapter represents one story and the entire book is a culmination of all those stories. It didn’t have the same beat that your average book would have, but each story spoke along the same lines. It’s about bread.

You see Lois get the starter and try to bake her first loaf of sourdough bread. She’s never baked or cooked anything in her life, but she was somehow magically able to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. I know that bread isn’t easy and from the people I know who have tried to make it, no one has done it perfectly.

Yet, you see her bake a loaf and her reaction seemed like this was easy and doesn’t really require much. I understand if Robin Sloan was trying to use the starter as the reason for all the great baking, but I don’t know if you can bake great bread right from the get-go without considering that maybe it’s the starter?

Lois immediately catches the baking bug and start not only making bread for herself, for her friends, for her office, for everyone. One person suggests that she try and sell it and thus begins her story to really make something from the bread. Throughout this, you get little hints and clues as to what might be the cause for her success and you see the magic of the starter. It’s like reading someone’s diary on how they got started with baking bread and all the different things they did to get the bread they wanted. It was more telling than it was showing which made it kind of dull for me.

Then all of a sudden, the sourdough changes on her and about three quarters of the way into the novel, the story really picks up. I was kind of confused by why this didn’t happen much earlier in the novel to help really push the reader along. I really wanted to see what happened with the dough, but even the ending was wrapped up into a neat little bow. I just wanted a little bit more, just another taste of that delicious bread rather than being told.

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However, the book did keep me interested because I did end up finishing it. I think it had something to do with the starter, finding its origins, learning how to hone it, figuring out where all of this leads. You get to read about all these things through the email correspondences Lois has with Beoreg, the guy who gave her the starter. It almost feels magical and alive and that was more intriguing to me than listening to her figure out how to make more bread. Like well kneaded dough, these pieces were sprinkled in like bench flour to keep you from getting stuck.

My favorite part is really the descriptions of the bread. The fluffy and doughy centers where people slabbed butter on top and I wish that this story was more about that than learning how to double the bread output Lois was making everyday.

I think what really drew me to the story was the idea that Lois was going into a vocation that she was good at, but not passionate about. Then, you see her start to make bread and become obsessed with creating a beautiful loaf that pleases a lot of people. She questions her job, she questions her motivation, and then she finally figures out what she wants. I think that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to especially when you work in a field that you’re not a fan of. You just want to see Lois succeed because you want to succeed and that’s a resonance I know far too well.

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

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After hearing that @kathareads and @literaryjo loved Emma in the Night, I had to check it out for myself. I bought the book back in September with my Book of the Month Club subscription, but it took me two months to pick it up. However, I can’t believe I didn’t pick this book up before. It was really an incredible read and I’m not a fan of thrillers!

Emma in the Night is a psychological thriller about two girls who go missing one day after an epic battle with their parents. After being missing for three years, one girl, Cass, returns to her parents home with a story to help lead them back to Emma.

The story takes place in two separate points of view. The first is from Cass, Emma’s sister, who disappeared with her that one night. Cass’s perspective is in the first person POV lending to the emotions and memories Cass has of growing up with a narcissist. The second comes from Dr. Abbey Winter. She’s a forensic psychiatrist who was assigned to the missing sisters case three years ago. She has also written papers on narcissism and knows personally what Cass may have lived through.

Abbey speaks a lot about personality disorders especially those linked to narcissism. She firmly believes that Emma and Cass’s mother was a classic textbook case. I think this is what really drew me into the book. I’m a fan of psychology and reading about the brain’s reaction to certain events and moments in someone’s life. There was definitely a lot of the “psychology” of psychological thriller here.

I don’t know much about narcissism and I’m glad that I don’t know anyone who exhibits those traits. However, I feel bad for anyone who does and the way it almost follows a family like cancer or diabetes. Mothers who suffer from narcissism then suffer those traits onto their own children.

It made me wonder about all the people in this world who aren’t cognizant of their own personality; people who walk around completely clueless that their behavior is diabolical. How their behavior imprints on their kids creating an endless loop of disorder not easily detectable.

It was like knowing there’s the facade, the person who wants to be the best looking and have the best personality and is the smartest and the quickest and all of that. But deep down, there’s this little ball of insecurity hiding behind all of those physical attributes.

It felt like I was reading two stories here and maybe that was Wendy Walker’s point here.  There was the main story, which is finding Emma, but then there’s this story about a family who put up a huge front to hide the dark and sinister personalities. As the story unfolds, you read more about what happened with Emma that led to her leaving and what does happen to the girls. I honestly feel like I can’t speak about this book without giving stuff away!

All I know is that it took me three days to finish this book. Most books take me a week because I love my downtime and rather watch TV than read. But this book was so captivating that I wanted to continue reading it. I didn’t clean the house. I didn’t cook dinner. I just read this book and the book is short enough to be a great weekend read.

I’m not a thriller person, but this didn’t feel like your typical thriller. You didn’t start off with a murder, just a disappearance and the mysterious return of one of the kidnapped victims. From that point on, it was like playing a game of clue and you’re fed these breadcrumbs of info that will eventually lead you in the wrong direction. I was surprised by the end. I held my jaw shut with my hand as I finished reading the final pages. Even the wrap up included pieces of info I didn’t imagine would be mentioned. I’m pretty sure this is the first book where I liked the ending!

Alright, I won’t say anymore without giving too much away. I will say that if you’re into a thriller that isn’t too heavy on death and murderous psychopaths, I would highly recommend it. It was compelling and suspenseful without making you keep the light on at night.

 

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

I don’t normally include a song to go with my reviews, but the entire time I was reading this book I kept thinking of this Selena Gomez song Wolves. I’m also a huge fan of hers and well, thought it would make sense for a book like this.

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When I was younger, I would concentrate super hard on the tops of trees. I would try to control the wind with my mind and a true test of that would be to make the branches sway. I did this up until I was in my teens always believing that the wind was on my side. The day that the branches did sway cemented in me that magic is real and we all have a little bit of it in us.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is the story of Weylyn Grey told through the eyes of the people who encounter him. Weylyn Grey was born with magical powers; powers that allow him to speak with animals, grow plants, and change weather patterns with his emotions. The only power Weylyn’s ever wanted was to feel normal. When his parents inexplicably die, he was raised by wolves and only to be caught by the police and brought to live with the rest of society. You could only imagine the kind of life a wolf boy may have lived.

This book was honestly one of my favorite reads of the year. It uses magical realism to an extent that it’s whimsical. I’ve read a lot of heavy magical realism where strange things happen to people and those stories always seem so depressing. Instead, the magic depicted in this book makes you wish that magic was real. I guess in some ways, magic is always real.

The story is told in several different parts from the point of view of various different characters. Each part is from a different point in Weylyn’s life and the people he comes across. There’s always one new person he meets and they get to experience his magic for the first time. I can only imagine the awe on their faces when they see him grow a tree back or harness the power of fireflies. And each time I read a new thing he was doing, I felt like a little kid again excited to go to Disney World because that’s where Mickey Mouse lived.

I was confused at first and it might have been the copy I was reading, but I couldn’t place the timelines. It first takes place in present day, but then it jumps back to the early 90s. Then it’s back up to 2017 and it was at that point that I realized that the story begins with Weylyn meeting a new friend. He tells him his story and how he came to be and the people he remembers from that life. After that point, it was smooth sailing as I voraciously read the rest of the book.

I think the story brings out the child in you; that one little being that doesn’t remember what responsibilities are and finds the sun glittering in water to be a gift. Of course the story has its skeptics and life wasn’t all that easy for Weylyn, but the people who did believe helped him out. And I think my favorite part in all of this is that Weylyn never let the opinions of other people keep him from being himself. This goes double for the years he spent alone in the woods.

I was so surprised to see this book not get as much hype as it deserved. I didn’t see a lot of people bring it up and especially as a follower of Book of the Month Club, I was surprised that most people focused on the other books that month. Honestly, I feel like I stumbled upon The Neverending Story and I was Bastian and the only one who can know about its richness.

So I decided to look into some of the feedback other people provided. Maybe I was missing something that other people noticed. While mostly positive, I did see some comments on how the main character, Weylyn, fell flat for them. Because he wasn’t well developed or explained, people gave some negative feedback about it.

I can see where people can make that conclusion. It’s a story about a guy with magical powers, yet you find out very little about his life with the wolves or how he’s managed to live with such a power.

However, I’d like to beg to differ here. While I understand that people wanted to know more about Weylyn, I think the author purposefully left out the details of his life to keep him a mystery. The story is in the perspective of the other characters and those other characters don’t know much. All they know is a boy who can control the weather, has a pet pig, and lived with wolves.

I loved hat the author used this as a literary device to under-explain why Weylyn did what he did and what he was capable of doing. He’s just a man that comes and goes as he pleases. He’s caring and still carries the same childish exuberance for life that he did when he was a kid raised by wolves. Asking for more than that almost reveals the wizard behind the curtain. Knowing this might actually change the way Weylyn knows himself and almost cheapen the story. I’m happy to not know anything about him other than the tidbits the characters reveals. We’re all on that same journey together.

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not paid to review this book.

How reading diverse novels changed me

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It started a little over a year ago when I picked up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi for the first time. I wasn’t looking for diverse reads then. I was just looking for a good read. I don’t even know how this book got into my hands, but I decided to go to the library and pick it up. Perhaps it was my subconscious telling me that I needed diverse books in my life. Perhaps it was the universe saying that this will change the fundamental ways I think about things.

The idea of having a family one day and then being completely separated by fate and by design shocked me. I found myself wanting to learn more about my own family and my own ancestry and see if there was ever a time when my family lineage broke apart. Was it left to some distant grandmother to recreate a family from scratch?

That’s what I got out of Homegoing and reading about the experience of another culture through the eyes of someone who’s looked into this for themselves and had the bravery to write a fictional novel about it; I honestly felt more woke than I ever did in my life. Homegoing basically changed everything that I knew about African American, about family, and about the triumph of the human spirit.

From that point on, I wanted to read more. Bring me more African American authors writing about their experience. Bring me more Asian authors writing about what life was like moving to an unknown world. Bring me more LGBTQ authors writing about coming out. I wanted to read more and understand more about the diversity around us and I felt like I found it in books.

Reading diverse novels filled a void I didn’t know I had. I wanted to read more cultures and more subcultures and more about the people that inhabit this world. It’s so easy to fall prey to the books that are easier to read and fun, but for me I wanted to push myself with knowledge. I didn’t want to be ignorant anymore and I found some understanding in fiction.

What I didn’t expect is that reading diverse novels would actually change the way I see, think, and live my life every single day. Suddenly, I found myself listening to conversations and interjecting with something that I’d read in a novel.

I would overhear conversations being African American and living below the poverty line and inserting the points brought up in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I would listen to folks chatting about choosing to be gay and think about books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz Alire and how it’s not a choice.

Every conversation I heard led back to a book I read. My conversations would start with “I did read this book about…” trying to add my two cents in about a topic. I never saw myself as an expert in , but I felt that the fiction I was reading were relevant and poignant and g

I found myself looking for books only written by women and by people of color. I would search authors online to see what they were about and what they were trying to portray in their novels. I wanted the authentic experience of what it was like to fit in their shoes.

I only read stories that challenged the status quo. I wanted to read from the people who work hard to fight for their own civil liberties; stories from people who know how I feel about growing up in America and feeling different.

It had gotten to a point where I was so burnt out on diverse reads that I wanted to head back to the other side. However, it was too late for me and the side where you could read some random mystery didn’t feel as satisfying as knowing the experience of other people.

What got you was the interconnection between you and the story. When you’re reading any novel, you find ways to map what you experienced with the experiences of the book. Even if you can’t relate to being African American, or Asian, or struggling to find your gender identity, there is always something that draws you into the book. Be it love or family or human strife, the language speaks to you and gain a little more awareness.

It’s the human experience that you find there. And you find that you connect with that experience a little bit more even in the smallest iota of connection. And you wonder to yourself why other people can’t see what you see. You ask yourself why we all can’t get along because we’re all one in the same; we’re human.

I’m grateful for the books I’ve read and the people I meet. I’m happy that I read these books and seek out more books like it. It’s almost like traveling to another country; your perspective of the world changes because you’re experiencing a life outside of the one you own. There’s no turning back from this point. All I can do is move forward.