Summer Reads: Book Reviews Part 1

These last few weeks have made me stop and assess: What do I consume? What do I appreciate? What do I amplify? As a lover of literature, that was the first place I looked.

Since I picked up my Summer Reads list at the beginning of May, I’ve read 13 books (not including picture books & grad school textbooks). Of those books, all 13 were written by women. However, only 3 were written by women of color. And while Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mitali Perkins, and Elizabeth Acevedo are all amazing authors, they are not enough. I’ve also noticed that my selections tend to lean significantly more toward fiction than nonfiction (10 out of 13, in fact).

So, after a month of reflection, I’m ready to start making changes. For the rest of the summer, my goal is to never read two white authors in a row. I’ve already added a slew of new literature to my Goodreads queue. But let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for me as well!

For now, enjoy Part 1 of my Summer Reads: Book Reviews.

5 Stars

Five Stars

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: If I had done more research, I would have known that this book was Adichie’s response to the question “How to raise a feminist daughter?” Not having children, myself, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this quick read. It makes great points for raising a feminist, regardless of gender and I plan on sending it to all my friends as they get pregnant for the first time. My favorite line in the book: “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.”

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit: Somehow, I was only recently introduced to Rebecca Solnit’s collection of literature. I read Recollections of My Nonexistence a few weeks prior and I have since added more of her books to my list: The Faraway Nearby, The Mother of All Questions, Call Them By Their True Names, and Savage Dreams. Honestly, I could probably spend the rest of the summer reading her books – nearly 30 of them in total. However, I already have my summer list, so I’ll just have to sprinkle these in in the future. My favorite essay from this collection was not “Men Explain Things to Me,” though it was highly relatable. It was actually the second essay, “The Longest War,” that I found to be most moving and inspiring. I also really enjoyed “In Praise of the Threat: What Marriage Equality Really Means” and “Grandmother Spider.”

The Girl with No Shadow (Chocolat #2) by Joanne Harris: I always find it strange when I like a sequel more than the original, but I have to admit, I enjoyed this book more than Chocolat. I found Zozie a more interesting villain than Francis Reynaud and I enjoyed getting a few more points of view in the storytelling. I also loved the addition of Rosette and the re-introduction of *spoiler* Roux halfway through the book. I’m looking forward to reading the last two books in the series.

4 Stars

Four Stars

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: I marked this book as to-read in October 2017, probably after it was nominated as a Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction. A story about a woman who leaves for college without so much as a goodbye, taking her pain and tragedy with her. It was told simply, with little pretense, and I appreciated the nonconfrontational way it talked about the fluidity of love and sexuality. It wasn’t highlighted, it was background information in a book about betrayal and loss – on what it’s like to never really know someone.

Chocolat (Chocolat #1) by Joanne Harris: This book has been on my list a bit longer – since August 2014 to be exact. That date corresponds with the creation of my Goodreads account. The film came out in 2000 and I’ve probably watched it a dozen times. Just last year, the fourth (and final) book was published in the series and it seemed like now was the time to tackle it. While it varied from the film I remember, it was still enjoyable. Like other books by Joanne Harris that I’ve read (Blackberry Wine and Holy Fools), the imagery is beautiful and the story is slowly teased out in an enjoyable way.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins: Also in my Goodreads queue since late 2017, I had previously read (and loved) Mitali Perkins’ The Rickshaw Girl. I read it every year to my second graders in our unit on the economy. I put an Instagram photo up of my Summer Reads list and Perkins commented on it (ok, with emojis) but it shot the book to the top of my list. And I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Three generations of five women trying to reconcile their Indian culture with their American home. I have to admit, I was most captivated by the early story of sisters Sonia and Tara (and it didn’t hurt that the opening scene took place in Accra, Ghana, a place I called home for three years). But I enjoyed the familial interactions in the story and made my way through the story in less than 24 hours.

The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates: I gave this book four stars and yet, I would be hesitant to recommend it to someone else. It was incredibly well written and yet horribly difficult to read. For obvious reasons, such as none of the characters were likeable – people you could easily root for. To harder reasons, like it was painful to watch nobody help this family and have to think would I have helped them? You have to grapple with the ways in which we shut people out of our lives and out of our communities. Some of the themes from The Gravedigger’s Daughter will stick with me for quite a while.

Peaches for Father Francis (Chocolat #3) by Joanne Harris: I could only get my hands on the audiobook of Peaches for Father Francis, so that made my encounter with this book different than the previous two in the series. I was unsure how I felt for the first half or so of the book. It’s very different politically from the rest of the series and I wasn’t sure if I’d like Joanne Harris’ take on things. But she treats the cultural differences between Christians, Muslims, and Atheists with respect. Despite my least favorite character from Chocolat being named in the title, I enjoyed the addition of many of the new characters. I must admit, I was surprised at how small a role the original townspeople played. All in all, I think Kirkus Reviews nailed it: “A slow buildup to a breathtaking finish.”

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo: Not as lyrical as The Poet X, but still an extremely compelling story. The main character, Emoni Santiago, goes through more in this story than I have in my entire life. Which is why I think stories by BIPOC are so important. Early on, in the story, Emoni tells a classmate, “My father is Puerto Rican and he’s darker than my mom was, and her whole family is straight-from-the-Carolinas Black. And her hair was just as curly as mine. Not all Black women, and Latinas, look the same.” Reading stories like these help me challenge and adjust my own assumptions.

3 Stars

Three Stars

Red’s Untold Tale (Once Upon a Time #4) by Wendy Toliver: This was an unplanned summer read. I was looking through the school’s library to create my Summer Reads list and I came across this book on display. Here’s where I admit I was an avid Once Upon a Time fan, until the series skipped a decade (or more) into the future and all of the lead characters changed. Red was quite possibly my favorite character on the show. And while this book certainly won’t wow anyone (especially if you didn’t watch the show), it was a fun afternoon read.

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu: I was introduced to Jennifer Mathieu in 2018 when I read her book Moxie. I loved it so much I gave it five stars and my review literally just consisted of happy emojis. I loved everything about it…the setting, the feminism, the lit mag. So, I put her first book on my to-read list and finally got around to reading it. For a debut novel, the writing is good. And I get the feminist angle, but the book just didn’t seem realistic to me – and certainly not relatable. I understood why we got everyone’s perspective but Alice’s (until the last chapter) – the town took away her voice after all, but I still didn’t feel satisfied with the way the story played out.

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood: Slowly, slowly, I’m getting through all of Margaret Atwood’s novels. So far, I’ve read 12 out of 17.  My current library doesn’t have the rest, but they did have this nonfiction collection. Like usual, the writing is superb, and I am a fan of science fiction. That said, I had only read 3 out of the 10 novels she reviewed and the first three chapter are reprints of a lecture series she gave at Emory University, giving them at times a more scholarly tone. It was an interesting departure, but I think I’ll stick to her fiction (or her poetry, if I could ever get my hands on any!). I did enjoy some of the short stories at the end, including this line from “Cold-Blooded:” “Abnormal as this will seem to you, my sisters, their leaders are for the most part male, which may account for their state of relative barbarism.” – An alien race, discussing humans : )

2 Stars

Two Stars

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff: This series was not for me. It’s been in my Goodreads queue for 5 years now. Even the fact that the second book is a National Book Award winner isn’t enough for me to keep going. I typically like lyrical, free-verse writing, but I never got into the flow of this story.

Next month, I’ll post Part 2 of my Summer Reads: Book Reviews : )

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