What’s Normal Anyways?

It’s been almost a month since I last blogged about my readings.  I typically try to blog twice a month, but here we are. Life returned to normal in that I am physically going to work each day, but life definitely is not normal.  My students each have plastic shields around their desks, staff and students wear masks at all times, almost all of the curriculum is online (to reduce paper handling and to keep consistent with e-learners), and I travel by cart now, while my students stay put.  That’s only some of the changes experienced this year. So while I am back to “normal,” nothing is normal about it. 

Needless to say, I’m exhausted.  I barely find 30 minutes to read, because I’m just so tired all of the time.  I come home after a long day, and usually end up accidentally falling asleep on the couch, which turns into me groggily taking myself to bed and then the whole day starts over again. 

I thoroughly enjoyed quarantine.  I mean, I wish it were under different circumstances, but I liked being home and working from home. I straddle the line of extrovert and introvert, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more introverted. When school closed on March 12th, I was worried and scared.  We all were living with so much uncertainty.  We still are, only we’ve become used to this “new normal.”  Believe me, I want things to go wholly back to normal. I want to be able to go out on dates, go to the movies, travel, and also toss my masks in the trash, but this is where we are now.  It will eventually get better. I know.  However, during the last four-ish months of being home, I completed multiple home projects, including planting my own garden.  I’ve read more than I’ve ever read before.  I finally had the time to workout and treat my body better.  I became spiritually more healthy.  Unlike many, while I did watch a few Netflix shows, I didn’t consume myself with television.  I would spend whole days without the TV on.  I was able to spend time with my dogs and they were able to be out of their crates almost entirely.  The past four months, I was able to breathe again and find the joy and beauty in life. 

When I work, while this is a valuable job I do, and I do enjoy it, it just takes too much time out of my day when you consider the commute.  I hate going home drained.  Being so exhausted that I can’t do the things I love.  Living for the weekend.  This is not how we were meant to live.  Americans have always been overworked, but I didn’t understand just how badly we were until I got a taste of the other side of things.  Life is so short.  Should we be killing ourselves over a paycheck?

Maybe I’m contemplating life so much and how to enrich it and live my best life, because my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  The doctor told him that at this point, he has 8 months to a few years, which does not sound promising, but there is still hope and I believe in a God who does miracles. All this to say, I look at my dad who was (and still is) a workaholic. He’s spent most of his life working his way up in a small town heating and air company.  He doesn’t want to retire until he’s 66 so he can get his full retirement benefits. 

My father is 62.  62.  I can’t believe we are talking life and death with a man so young.  If I knew I was only going to live to be 62, would I live my life differently? Would I put less emphasis on work and money? Would I instead, find a way to live comfortably so that I could enjoy simple luxuries? Maybe I wouldn’t be a teacher. Maybe I’d do some sort of work that I don’t have to take home with me. Maybe I’d go back to school and work on the career I really want.  Maybe I’d work part time.  There are so many things to consider.  Have I been praising the almighty dollar too long? Storing away my money so I can live in a house that’s too big for me?  At what cost though? What is the price of a life unlived? A life of stress and anxiety and exhaustion?  I’m glad I’m finally thinking about this. It’s time I did. 

Anyways, I have read quite a few books, but I’ll keep my reviews brief this time.  Mostly, I listened to a lot of comedic female nonfiction.

I started with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and then followed it up with Why Not Me? Both by Mindy Kaling.  I love Mindy.  She’s so funny and real and smart actually, which you probably wouldn’t expect. Some of her essays were stronger than others.  I really enjoyed “Soup Snakes” from her latter book. However I would rate her first book better as a whole.  She seemed to tell more of her growing up and back story in her first book.  Her second book was a little all over the place with a random fiction piece thrown in.  Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me gets 4 stars, but Why Not Me will sit with 3.

Next up, I read a fiction book by one of my favorite authors, Jesmyn Ward.  Where the Line Bleeds was to no surprise lyrically beautiful.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as Sing Unburied Sing, which is my favorite of hers so far. I found myself stopping to re-read a line or sentence just to really savor her unique metaphors. She also created very real characters who spoke in believable dialogue.  The problem, as always is with her books, is that she has yet to master plot.  Once she masters plot, her books will be sheer perfection. 4/5.

I listened to Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. I actually really enjoyed her humor here.  The way this audiobook was set up reminded me of a comedic podcast, which I really enjoyed and she had some good life nuggets in here too.  Clearly, she’s not a book writer, which is what I found with all of these comedian’s books, but this one, listening wise, was really enjoyable. 4/5.

I devoured The Unhoneymooners by co-author group Christina Lauren.  I found myself laughing out loud and rooting for the characters in this rom-com.  As I’ve wrote before, I don’t love this genre, because often it comes across as cheesy or over the top sexual for no reason.  This book reminded me of those great 90s and early 2000s rom-coms I so love. Needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise. (5/5).

I listened to Bossypants by Tina Fey next.  I have to say, her humor and writing is great, but her innocent, everyday voice doesn’t match.  I wonder if I would have enjoyed this more had I not listened to it.  This was the most cohesive collection and also had me laughing out loud.  Though, the beginning essays were not as strong as her latter ones, which made me dislike it initially.  I did end up liking it by the middle and end. (4/5).

My final read this round was Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.  I really enjoyed this thriller.  It was calm and had a slow build, but I was still curious as to what would happen next.  I liked the unique concept of a place with a bad history.  The downside of this novel was that there were just too many characters to keep track of. (4/5).

I’m currently reading Night Swim, which is really good so far, and will start Luster soon.  I’m trying to get my reading speed back, but battling exhaustion is hard.

Keep up the good fight y’all and happy reading!

School Concerns and Books

Things continue to be uneasy in my life.  And quite frankly, I’m too exhausted emotionally to talk about it.  But if any of my blog readers are praying people, I would love some prayers.  What I will talk about is school.  I had initially planned to write about my concerns for schools to be opened again.  As a teacher, I just don’t feel safe. 

It’s different than other essential jobs.  As a teacher, I am shut into a room with 25 students and then swap those students out for another 25.  I see 100+ students a day and in small spaces.  I move around a classroom and get near students to check their work.  It’s different.  Not to mention, the sheer magnitude of how difficult this will be.  Students who already didn’t have supplies can’t borrow supplies.  Students are not adults.  They already struggle to follow rules.  Their brains are not fully developed. There’s so much to consider.  Are students better taught in person? 100%.  But is this a time where health takes precedence? 100%. 

I received an email last night that said our school would be pushing our opening date.  This gives me a bit more hope.  I hope that in the next few weeks either numbers decline or leaders come up with a clear, concise plan to keep all involved safe.  And when I say leaders, I mean all leaders (beyond schools).  I would hate to be part of a team trying to piece this together right now.  I know it cannot be easy, so I pray for wisdom for all involved.

Now to the books.  I wish I could say I was excited by this batch of books, but most of them were flops for me.  I am hopeful for better books next round!

My book club pick for this month was How I Made a Huge Mess of My Life by blogger Billie Best.  I have to say, I didn’t love this book.  Unfortunately, I could tell why this was a self-publish.  Best tells the story of her husband’s death, infidelity, and her personal rebuild.  The memoir topic is intriguing, but the book itself is directionless and feeds off a sporadic joking tone that doesn’t deliver. (2/5).

My next book was A Burning by Megha Majumdar.  I was impressed that the author took on such a large plot, but it was certainly a heavy read. This book was written with an active voice, which was somewhat jarring for me.  I struggled to make connections to any of the characters though.  It ended up average for me. 3/5.

Next up was The Beauty in the Breaking by Michele Harper.  This one has gotten a lot of rave reviews, but it was a miss for me.  The premise sounded intriguing.  A woman with a hard past rises above and becomes a doctor even in the midst of a failed marriage.  I was into that concept.  What the book was actually about was individual medical cases that expose the reality of the American healthcare system.  I saw less of the author’s personal life, which is what I personally wanted.  The book came off a little pretentious and preachy. 2/5.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes reminded me a lot of Katherine Center’s books.  I’m not much for romance or chick lit.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a sweeping love story, but most of the romance genre is either Harlequin or chick lit and they end up being very cheesy.  If I can read a lighthearted love story and it has heart and isn’t trying too hard, etc. I will love it.  If you don’t understand what I’m trying to say, imagine a Hallmark movie versus You’ve Got Mail or When Harry Met Sally.  Sure their both romcoms, but You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally are exponentially better.  They have heart. They aren’t over the top or cheesy.  Do you get it?  Evvie Drake was not a sappy Hallmark movie.  The novel focuses on a woman who’s obviously starting over and a famous ball player who is also starting over.  Only one of them was asking for a “do over” and not in the way she got it.  It had great characterization and the author really built tension between the two characters.  It also went deeper than the surface, which a lot of romcom books fail to do. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely keep on eye on this author’s work. 4/5.

My last book this time was Untamed by Glennon Doyle.  Let me just say, I was super into this book for the first 50 pages.  While I didn’t agree with everything the author believed, I still found myself underlining a lot of her sentences.  The latter part of this book focused on motherhood, and since I am not a mother yet, I struggled to relate.  I will also say that I did start getting annoyed by Doyle.  The more I read, the more I thought that this woman is just rambling and honestly, why should I care? It seems like she struggles with grass is always greener syndrome.  Everything has to be perfect all the time and if it isn’t she runs away and chases perfection.  So the more I read, the less credible she became. 3/5.

I forgot to inform the winner of my book giveaway on July 1st.  Like I said, life has been rough.  However, the winner, with permission, will be formally congratulated in my next post! The next book giveaway will be October 1st! The book is TBD, but am welcoming suggestions!

Happy reading y’all!

The Year of the Sickness and Books that Cure

2020 has really been an adventure, which is interesting considering most of us have stayed at home for the majority of it.  There’s been so much that has taken place this year and it’s only June.  In some regard, the year is flying by.  Sometimes I forget that we’re half way through, but other times, it just feels exhausting.  What next 2020? What. Next.

I’m calling it the year of the sickness. 

Coronavirus is still a thing… I guess? Some people are acting like it is, while others are turning a cheek to it.  Some people are saying it’s a scam or blown out of proportion and other’s say that is not the case.  As for me, I’ll continue limiting my exposure to large crowds and attempt to follow CDC guidelines to the best of my ability.  I’m a homebody anyways, so it hasn’t been that difficult so far. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is, of course, the most relevant event at the moment, with more protests not just nationally, but globally than ever before, or at least it feels that way.  I’m hopeful that these protests can remain peaceful and that others do not take away from the true meaning of these protests.  I’m hopeful that there can be an answer to this sickness as well.  One day when we look back on 2020, I hope we all can see that racism, was just as much a sickness as coronavirus.  Key word “was,” because again, I’m hopeful for a future where equality is the norm.

Did you all hear about the new cases of Ebola in Africa? The swarm of locusts? Murder hornets? I mean really, this year keeps having more and more to worry about. Definitely the year of the sickness.

When all else fails, we can always turn to the comfort of a good book.  A story to take us away or to help us learn.  It’s been comforting for me to see that so many books on racism and the black experience are sold out on Amazon! That’s truly amazing! Books do change us for the better.  I will always believe that.  So without further adieu, let’s look at what I’ve been reading the past two weeks J

If you’re looking for a good memoir, I highly suggest From Scratch by Tembi Locke.  Tembi may look familiar to you.  She is an actress and has been in quite a bit!  That actually put me off from reading it, if I’m being completely honest.  Unless you’re well known and funny or someone I genuinely like, I’d rather read a memoir from a regular person who has a compelling story to tell.  Well, Ms. Locke has a compelling story and I’m so glad she told it.  From Scratch centers around Locke’s relationship with Saro, an Italian chef she met while studying abroad in Italy, before her fame.  This is not a spoiler as it’s on the back cover, but Saro dies young from cancer.  This book showcases their love, while exploring grief, but it also deals with how families deal with intercultural and interracial marriage.  It even touches on adoption.  Locke writes with authenticity.  She is real and vulnerable and it comes off the pages beautifully.  5/5!

The next book I read is perfect for PRIDE month, but also just a good story in general.  The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne is intimidating, not just because of its length.  This book tells a man’s whole life story from just before birth to the very end.  You will laugh and cry with Cyril as he navigates who he is and the different things that play out at different times and locations of his life.  He is a very likable character who grapples with his homosexuality at a time when it was deemed a mental disorder and therefor, wasn’t acceptable.  You will grow old with him and see how the aids epidemic impacts him and those he loves.   You will see relationships formed, broken, and mended.  It is a beautiful story.  Most books tend to tell you one story, but this one tells all of the stories of a life and does it well. There were some aspects of the books earlier on that fell flat for me.  This book really picks up at it’s midway point.  4/5.

The next book, I actually listened to.   The Bear by Andrew Krivek, is a novella based on a post apocalyptic world where a man and his daughter are the only humans left.  This book is actually a grand fable that contemplates grief.  Never had I been moved to tears with only one line before, until The Bear. Though this is a short book, it is one to savor.  If you are not a fan of fables or sometimes lyrically moving books, this one probably won’t do it for you, but it really did it for me.  The audiobook is pretty decent too.  The reader is very level, but once the story picks up a bit, his tone is perfect. 5/5!

Next I read Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell.  This was actually my book club’s book for May.  I had previously read Watching You by her, which was decent, but predictable, so I wasn’t that excited to read this one.  However, this one became a pleasant surprise! It had very strong Gone Girl vibes, a book I absolutely loved.  I will say the that the first half of the book was not great, but once the middle part and shift of perspective happened, I was all in.  Then She Was Gone turned out to be a unique thriller.  It also read incredibly fast.  I was very impressed by this book and would recommend to anyone looking for a fast and interesting thriller. 4/5.

My final read was Hemingway in Love.  This nonfiction book was supposed to be a first hand account of Hemingway’s love life.  As a huge Hemingway fan, I was all in, but the book ended up losing it’s focus and was more about snippets of Hemingway’s life with random aspects of his love life dispersed.  I wanted this one to be more focused as the title suggested.  Having said that, it was still an interesting read, but nothing worth going on and on about.  3/5.

In closing, I really do hope we can find not only solace in reading, but answers as well. I also want to add that we will be having ANOTHER book giveaway on July 1st of How to Walk Away, so if you have yet to subscribe to my blog, be sure to do that so that you will be entered to win!

Happy reading y’all!

Life Updates and My First 5 Star Read of the Year!

In my previous post, I wrote about my worry that my Morocco trip would be cancelled, and lo and behold, it was.  I’m not sure if it will be rescheduled or if I will go somewhere else or anywhere at all. There is real fear surrounding this virus and the World Health Organization officially declared it a pandemic, to which I’m like… why did it take this long? 

I can’t even buy Clorox wipes, which is comical, but at the same time, is this something we should fear? Should I be buying water and toilet paper and stocking up on food like the panic stricken Americans?  Or is everything being magnified and over exaggerated by the media?  While the news is now reporting over 120,000 cases worldwide, with over 1000 of those cases in the U.S., the news is neglecting to inform that of those 120,000 cases, almost 70,000 have been discharged or “recovered,” and almost 45,000 who currently have the virus, are seen as experiencing it “mildly.”  I think it matters how the world reacts, and right now it seems that the world is reacting in a big way.  It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming months as we wait for a vaccine.  I just can’t believe I had a real fear of being quarantined.  It really makes you feel like you’re living in a dystopian novel.  Guess I won’t be reading Station Eleven any time soon. If you don’t know anything about that book, look it up and you’ll see why.

In other news, Spring Break is just around the corner and thank the good Lord Jesus, because these kids are driving me insane.  I had planned on having a sub next week, and having an extended spring break, but alas now I have to actually be present and do my job. Ughhh.  Luckily though, I’ll have (what will feel like) 2 weeks off.  The first week is half days, and the second week is sweet, sweet freedom.  I can almost taste it. 

Talking about spring, who really despises time change? Whether I’m springing forward or falling back, I cannot stand this body shift.  And it is a body shift.  I can’t seem to get tired until midnight, which is then causing me to sleep in.  The darkness doesn’t help either.  I was liking the fact that I was driving in with the sun in the morning, and now, it’s just bleak and dark and depressing.  I know I’ll eventually get used to it and that the sun will eventually join me again for my morning commute, but this week has been a struggle.

Enough about me, let’s talk books!

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler is my first 5 star read of the year, but it’s not for the faint of heart.  This book was told from an interesting point of view, but it didn’t put me off.  The plot was so perfectly pieced together, with the second half of the book really picking up steam.  I so strongly disliked one particular character and his selfish delusions that my reactions were somewhat visceral and if an author can create a character so vivid and unlikeable then kudos to them.  I wouldn’t say that this was an enjoyable book in that some parts were very tough to read.  However, I was completely pulled in by the drama that was unfolding and the overall themes in this novel are important and so well conceived throughout.  When I was thinking of how I would rate this book, I debated rating it a 4, because maybe it didn’t read as fast as some books or end happily, but then I was like, nope, this is a 5 star read. Matter of fact.  It just is. 5/5.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo wasn’t even on my radar until I read Daisy Jones and The SixDaisy Jones was one of my favorite books last year and while many loved Seven Husbands, it just didn’t do it for me.  The book was a quick read and the characters were likeable enough, but in a book so heavily reliant on the characters, I needed to like them more. The author, Taylor Jenkins Reid actually wrote and published The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo prior to her successful Daisy Jones, which I loved. Both books seem to have a commonality: they both tell the tale of a creative icon though an inventive format. I’m wondering what Reid will do next? Perhaps an artist?  I am excited to see what Reid comes up with. 3/5.

I listened to Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, mostly because I knew Tom Hanks was the narrator of the audiobook and I wanted to listen to his comforting and soothing voice.  I so wanted to love his short stories, but I had waited this long to read his collection, because I had heard bad things.  Some stories were stronger than others and I even tried to validate his usage of older language like “yowza” and the phrase “hook, line, and sinker,” because it’s Tom Hanks and of course he would use that language.  Part of me even liked it, because it’s nostalgic and recalls a simpler, more charming time in our history.  A time, I often long for.  Unfortunately, too many of the stories just didn’t deliver.  Short stories really need to be beautifully written due to their conciseness.  Hanks just didn’t have that delivery.  I did really like a few of the stories though, and since this is his first effort, I’ll say it was a 3/5, but I’ll also say I’m being a little generous too.

My next book was The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver.  Some might remember this author from her wildly successful breakout novel, One Day in December, a book I actually hadn’t read, because I couldn’t get into it when I skimmed through it at the bookshop.  Regardless, everyone seemed to love that book. I had pretty high hopes for Lydia Bird based on the plot and thought maybe I was missing out when it came to her first book, but after reading Lydia Bird, I think there is just something I’m not connecting with regarding the author’s style.  The Two Lives of Lydia Bird was very meh to me.  Partly, the book was marketed as a love story, but in fact, it was actually more about the grieving process.  I think I was expecting something different than what I read. 3/5.

I’m looking forward to more books! Shortly, I’ll be reading Darling Rose Gold, a new thriller said to be spine tingling and twisted; In Five Years, a new book of friendship and love that is getting pretty solid reviews; and I’m thinking of checking out Sharks in the Time of Saviors, a magical realism book set in Hawaii that pushes into some Hawaiian legends.

That’s what’s been going on between the binding.  Happy reading y’all!