Summer Reading List (For You)

A friend asked me for reading suggestions recently. This is something you want to be careful about doing, because you may want one or two books and I will give you a list of more like 10.

But if you’re looking for something to read, here are some suggestions:

  1. The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
  2. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
  3. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  4. Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson
  5. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
  6. I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
  7. Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
  8. For Alison by Andy Parker
  9. Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (this isn’t out until next month, but preorder it)
  10. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
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The Farm

Finished The Farm by Joanne Ramos.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money—more than you’ve ever dreamed of—to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your überwealthy clients.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter’s well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on delivery—or worse.

Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.”

This is such a fascinating book and it centers around the way that we (as a society) can now outsource everything we don’t want to do. Don’t want to go to the grocery store? They can be delivered, either from the store itself or Amazon Prime Now (or Amazon Fresh, if you spend that $14 a month). Food and alcohol can also be delivered, thanks to any one of a number of apps. Surrogate pregnancies are already a thing, but Golden Oaks takes it a step further with its sequestering the Hosts and giving them a luxury (but strictly regimented) life while they’re carrying the pregnancies.

Interestingly enough, we never learn just how much the women are paid for doing this. It’s a life-changing amount of money, but I’m guessing that it’s probably not quite as much money as we would think, because it seems like a lot of the Hosts still need to work afterward.

This is ideal for book clubs because there are going to be some great conversations centered around this book. (My own book club is discussing it tonight, and I can’t wait.) There’s a lot going on with classism, especially, but it also ties in with issues of race, of course.

Highly recommended.

Mrs. Everything

Finished Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?”

I’ve loved Jennifer Weiner since I bought her debut novel (Good in Bed) when it first came out. I mention this because when I say that this is her best novel, I know what I’m talking about.

I love Jo so much. I saw her life unfold and I feel like it really could’ve been mine if I had been born in a different time and so I’m so happy and grateful that I was born when I was. And I love Bethie. The lives they both led were painful at times but so authentic. I feel so fortunate to live in a time when women have choices.

I adored this book so much. I know we’ve been waiting a long time for it, but it was so worth it.

Highly recommended.

Weekend Update

What I’m reading: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. I’m really loving it and my review should be up tomorrow. I ALSO have to read The Farm by Sunday evening (book club) so we’ll see how well that all works out.

What I’m watching: Younger is back! The season six premiere was amazing and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen this entire season. I’m rewatching Good Place episodes (and in denial that we have one more season, ever) and I’ve started watching Game of Thrones. I’ve only got one episode left in season one, so I have a lot of GOT to go. The Bold Type just ended and I need it to come back immediately. WHAT DOES THAT ENDING MEAN?!

What I’m looking forward to: ALA is next weekend! I feel like I’ve waiting for so long and it’s finally almost here. I’m so excited and, while it’s so weird and sad to be doing this without my blogging BFF Kathy, I’m going with some local friends and I know it will be an absolute blast.

ALA!

ALA is next weekend and I’m going. I can’t believe that it’s almost here! I feel like I’ve been waiting for FOREVER.

I’m most excited to spend the weekend with my friend Bekki, but the books are a major plus, too.

The five books I most hope to get:

1) Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

2) Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina. OK yes, I have this. But I loved it so much and I want a signed copy and to say how amazing it was. (She’s signing at 11am on Saturday, booth 2107.)

3) When Summer Ends by Jessica Pennington

4) Takes One to Know One by Susan Isaacs (but I’m bringing my old, beat up copy of Almost Paradise for her to sign).

5) The Map From Here to There by Emery Lord

The First Mistake

Finished The First Mistake by Sandie Jones. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From Sandie Jones, the author of the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller The Other Woman, comes an addictively readable new domestic suspense about a wife, her husband, and the woman who is supposedly her best friend.

THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house.

HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved.

HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help. But soon, Alice begins to wonder whether her trust has been misplaced . . .

The first mistake could be her last.”

I felt so awful for Alice. She’s not sure who she can believe, and it seems like everyone except her two daughters has a secret agenda. Her husband may be cheating and her best friend definitely seems to be hiding something…

This was ridiculously fun. There are lot of twists and I called some and not others. This was also a little bit of a slow burn for me, so if you don’t love it immediately, give it a few chapters. Once we get to Beth’s story, it gets amazing. I don’t mean to imply that Alice’s part is boring, because it’s not. But her story seems like we’ve seen it a thousand times (which I think serves to lull the reader into a false sense of complacency).

This is a great summer read.

The Language of Fire

Finished The Language of Fire by Stephanie Hemphill. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Language of Fire is a lyrical, dark, and moving look at the life of Joan of Arc, who as a teen girl in the fifteenth century commanded an army and helped crown a king of France.

This extraordinary verse novel from award-winning author Stephanie Hemphill dares to imagine how an ordinary girl became a great leader, and ultimately saved a nation.

Jehanne was an illiterate peasant, never quite at home among her siblings and peers. Until one day, she hears a voice call to her, telling her she is destined for important things. She begins to understand that she has been called by God, chosen for a higher purpose—to save France.

Through sheer determination and incredible courage, Jehanne becomes the unlikeliest of heroes. She runs away from home, dresses in men’s clothes, and convinces an army that she will lead France to victory.

As a girl in a man’s world, at a time when women truly had no power, Jehanne faced constant threats and violence from the men around her. Despite the impossible odds, Jehanne became a fearless warrior who has inspired generations.”

Stephanie Hemphill explains in a note before the book begins that she chose to call Joan of Arc Jehanne because that was how she referred to herself. Also, like her other books, this is a novel in verse.

I didn’t know very much about Joan of Arc before reading this book. (Young girl hears voices from God, leads an army, burned at the stake, eventually canonized.) I’m over twice her age now; she was martyred at 19.

Another thing I didn’t know is that she started hearing voices (technically, she heard from three saints) at 13. I can’t even imagine how terrifying that must have been or how hard it would be to find the courage to believe that you’re really supposed to lead the French army and get the correct person on the throne. It’d be hard enough to believe it today, but back in the 1400s when women didn’t do anything but get married and have kids? Hard pass.

While I learned a great deal about Jehanne while reading this, it didn’t feel at all like homework. She was a trailblazer although I don’t think she would’ve agreed with that assessment; she felt she was just doing what God wanted.

As Stephanie Hemphill pointed out, she’s the only female warrior most people can name and the only woman who saved a country who wasn’t born into a royal family. (She was actually a peasant.) It’s an amazing legacy, but it’s also more than time for there to be multiple examples of this.

At any rate, I loved this book and hope to read more about Joan of Arc.

 

Castle of Concrete

Finished Castle of Concrete by Katia Raina. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In 1990-1991, when the history of Russia and the entire Soviet Union is being revisited and the rules are changing, a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl, Sonya Solovay, reunites with her dissident mother after twelve years of hiding out in Siberia–her life’s dream realized. Still, she sees herself as a typical Soviet citizen: a shy, quiet, obedient, barely-there girl, dissolving into the past, her country’s and her own. Determined to break into her new existence, Sonya tries out a shining new persona, but most of her efforts backfire. One mysterious boy notices her, wants to hear her stories, makes her feel like she is the shiniest part of his world. Everything else might as well fade away–her distant and hungry-for-gossip classmates, the equally shy Jewish friend who doesn’t always seem to understand her, the growing tension with her fiercely Jewish Mama, the rumors of an impending communist coup. More and more, Sonya spends time with her “rescuer” at a construction site she calls “castle.” So what if he uses an occasional anti-Semitic slur?

In the shadow of a crane, among metal pipes and concrete blocks, she finds it easy, falling, falling in love with a muddy-eyed boy she knows so little about. As for being Jewish in a country where the Republics are supposed to be “sisters” and the People brothers,” what does one’s nationality have to do with anything?

All the while, Sonya’s mama is falling in love also: she is falling in love with shiny America, a land where where being different seems to be celebrated, and not everyone is so very Russian and snow-white. The place sounds amazing, but so far away. Will Sonya ever find her way there?”

I loved this book so much! There’s a lot going on here, and it’s set in the Soviet Union, an area I knew nothing about in 1990 and 1991, when this book takes place. (Well, I take that back. I knew who Gorbachev was, and I knew they were Communist and I knew they didn’t like us much. So whatever is one step away from nothing, that’s what I knew.)

What I also didn’t understand then was trying to figure out where you belong. In Russian society, you were Russian if your father was Russian and in Jewish culture, you’re Jewish if your mother is Jewish.  So here is the conflict: Sonya’s father was Russian and her mom is Jewish. She can’t really have both sides of her heritage because Russians didn’t seem very fond of Jewish people over the course of this novel.

Sonya’s finally back with her mom so her first impulse is to start to explore her Jewish roots, but is almost immediately told how dangerous that would be. And it’s further manifested by the two boys she’s interested in: a Jewish guy who’s smart and good and a Russian guy who’s a jerk most of the time and who’s actively prejudiced. (I am not an unbiased observer here, so no points for guessing which one I preferred.)

There’s a lot to love about this story, but the real magic of it is this: it’s a book set in the past in a country that doesn’t exist anymore, and it still feels so relevant to today. Sonya’s story is very specific to her time and culture, but it’s also not hard to extrapolate it to today’s world. She’s impossible not to love, even when she makes bad choices.

This is such a fascinating book and I love Sonya so much. I hope her story is continued in another story. Hopefully soon.

Highly recommended.

Out of Place

Finished Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jennifer Blecher’s debut novel is a voice-driven story about bullying, friendship, and self-reliance that hits the sweet spot for fans of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Erin Entrada Kelly’s You Go First. 

Twelve-year-old Cove Bernstein’s year has gone from bad to worse. First, her best friend, Nina, moved from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City. Then, without Nina around, Cove became the target of a bullying campaign at school. Escape seems impossible.

But opportunities can appear when you least expect them. Cove’s visit to a secondhand clothing store leads her to a surprising chance to visit Nina, but only if she can win a coveted place in a kids-only design competition. Cove doesn’t know how to sew, but her friend at the retirement home, Anna, has promised to teach her. And things start really looking up when a new kid at school, Jack, begins appearing everywhere Cove goes.

Then Cove makes a big mistake. One that could ruin every good thing that has happened to her this year. One that she doesn’t know how to undo.

Jennifer Blecher’s accessible and beautifully written debut novel explores actions and consequences, loneliness, bullying, and finding your voice. This voice-driven friendship story is for fans of Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger and Jodi Kendall’s The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City.  ”

I love Cove so much and I could relate to her story. My best friend also moved away when we were about that age, and as the person left behind in a small town while your best friend moves to a city, I can tell you that it sucks.

It’s made worse for Cove because she’s not particularly popular (most kids leave her alone, but these four popular girls seem to have it in for her and it’s for no real reason, which makes it even harder) and so now she has a lot of free time and not much to do to fill it.

This is a sweet middlegrade about accepting yourself and finding your people. Recommended.

 

Like a Love Story

Finished Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.”

I have no words for how much I love this book.

Reza, Art and Judy are a little older than I am. I was in elementary school in 1989 and they were in high school. That said, I can vividly remember the time this book is set in. We were starting to know more about AIDS, in terms of knowing how you could get it but not really knowing much at the same time. I remember Ryan White and the idea that there were “good” AIDS victims (the people who got it via blood transfusion and everyone else (the gay people and the drug addicts who were seen as deserving it). There’s a lot I love about the 1980s, but the way gay people were treated isn’t one of them.

In my beloved podcast My Favorite Murder, Karen Kilgariff caught a lot of shit for saying that gay people now are treated a lot better than they used to be. Which, incidentally, is completely ridiculous. Are we still sometimes treated horribly? Yes. But we’ve come so far even in my lifetime that it seems completely impossible. There are a bunch of out celebrities, and they’re popular ones. In the 1980s, you ran the hugest risk of getting kicked out of your family. (I know it can still happen, but I don’t think it happens at the rate it did in the 1980s.) Throw in the fact that gay men were dying of AIDS (according to the book, it was a death every 12 minutes, so think about that for a second) and then tell me we aren’t better off now.

Anyway. The point is that this book  is amazing. It broke my heart multiple times but it also made me laugh and smile and love Madonna for the first time since I was probably 12 or so. (I respect her as a woman who can continually reinvent herself, but her music post-This Used to Be My Playground is not particularly for me. And that’s OK.)

I love Art and Judy and Reza. I love the love story and the friendship story and Judy’s parents. Most of all, I love Stephen, Judy’s uncle. Stephen is my favorite character here and I hope for a companion novel from his perspective. I don’t expect to get one but I would love one so much.

Highly recommended but do not read in public. It will break you.