IMWAYR: Let’s Play Catch Up!

July 24, 2023

Huh. Apparently all I did in my last It’s Monday! What are you reading? post is complain about the weather. Well, that certainly won’t do. Here’s a roundup of some of what’s been happening since my last post:

– I attended the Juneteenth: A Global Celebration for Freedom Concert as a seat filler. (I plan to blog about this at some point.)

– I performed in a tap showcase at the studio where I take classes. I also got new tap shoes (not in time for the show) that everyone in my class loves. They are very cute. However, my socks still keep falling down before the end of class.

– I went to a few book events, at one of which I met Dulé Hill and his amazing wife Jazmyn Simon (I am definitely blogging about this; hopefully I will get it together to post by tomorrow).

– I celebrated my birthday by meeting up with some friends, going to a movie, and eating a cupcake. Oh, and buying a new couch! I should probably blog about this since I blogged about the loveseat debacle of 2020.

– The summer creative writing class I’m teaching started.

– I thought the July book club meeting (that I facilitate, btw) was online instead of in person because of the Fourth of July holiday. It was not. I subsequently missed the meeting because by the time people texted me asking where I was, it was too late for me to make it there in time.

– I actually wrote this post last week but wasn’t able to get it together to post it on time, sigh. Since then, I attended a musical theater workshop, have seen the Barbie movie twice, and started taking a writing class on Thursday evenings.

I also posted a couple of things:

And, of course, I read some books:

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am reading interlinked short story collections as part of my sabbatical research. (The official term is “short story cycle,” btw, which I learned while looking up said collections, but I digress.) This one has shown up on basically every list I found, so I decided to give it a go.

I have mixed feelings about this collection. I can tell why it’s so popular and why it won so many prizes. The stories are all very well written, technically speaking, and the order of the stories makes sense once you get into the rhythm of the collection. Most of the characters are memorable, which is good because there are a lot of them. It definitely lives up to the epigraph, particularly the bits about recapturing the self at one particular moment and “the unknown element in the lives of other people.”

For me, the downside is that the connections between characters wasn’t always clear, and I often had to flip back to stories to see where a character had been mentioned before since sometimes it may have been someone barely mentioned one time. They could have been one in a list of people, for example, or mentioned like you might say you have a couch in your living room. The connections got clearer as the stories went on but reading a novel about disparate people with no immediate clear narrative thread was a challenge. I’m glad I read this on paper and not on my Kindle for that reason as well as because I knew the PowerPoint chapter (which was interesting) wouldn’t show up correctly there. I also didn’t particularly care about the characters even though I got what Egan was trying to do, so there is that.

3.5 stars, rounding up because I do think it’s a successful and well-written interlinked collection and would suggest it to people based on that.

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Repeat After Me: Big Things to Say Every DayRepeat After Me: Big Things to Say Every Day by Jazmyn Simon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucky me: I attended a reading of this book by the authors 😀

This is a really cute book of affirmations that adults can use with the children in their lives, and each affirmation is followed with an explanation of what it means. For example, the first one is:

You are filled with goodness, knowledge, and worth–more precious than all the diamonds found here on earth.

The most powerful part of the book is the end where the reader is invited to “repeat after me” all of the affirmations that are presented in a list. (There is an author’s note at the beginning that encourages adult caregivers to have the children repeat the affirmations throughout the book, but saying all of them at once, as the kids say, hits different.)

The artwork is also fantastic, showing different children in different situations that affirm their hobbies and lives.

This would, of course, make an excellent read aloud, especially in a classroom full of children. But it could also be used for older children and adults who are looking for delightful artwork to go along with their affirmations.

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Most Perfect YouMost Perfect You by Jazmyn Simon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book so much. So, so much. Just buy it now and gift it to any child in your life and/or anyone who suffers from self-esteem issues.

Main character Irie hates her hair because it’s not like everyone else’s so her mom tells her that she didn’t make Irie to be like all of the other kids but to be uniquely herself. The mom then goes through all of Irie’s features, telling Irie that they are exactly as she (mom) wanted them to be because they are all of her favorite things.

This book is beautiful and empowering, and I wish it had been around when my daughter was young. As with most picture books, it can be read to students of all ages and even though it reads kind of young for middle school, I would still encourage middle school teachers to consider adding it to their roster of read alouds.

This is going to be my go-to baby shower gift from now on. I can’t wait until a board book version comes out.

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Cinnamon and GunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook narrated by James Langton. I’m logging the print book to have a better sense of how many pages I read per year.

I had this one on my to-read list for a long time because, I believe, it was very popular within the book blogging community back when I added it. The brief blurb I read said this was a reimagining of the Scheherazade tale since, after being kidnapped by the pirate, Wedgewood is tasked with cooking her a meal a week (no repeats!) in order to earn his keep and not be murdered. However, mild spoiler, there are not 101 recipes or dinners in this book. There is, however, a lot of food talk since that’s how Wedgewood makes sense of the world. So you probably don’t want to read this without snacks present is what I’m saying.

This is very much a story about having your worldview upended and learning that the world isn’t what it seems, especially when you’re living a life of privilege. Though Wedgewood is an orphan, he hasn’t experienced a lot of the world outside of the monastery where he was raised or the kitchens of the rich people who employed him. Once he’s on the pirate ship, however, he gets exposed to both people from all over the world and the truth of his former employer’s wealth (hint: opium and human trafficking). He very much struggles with what he thinks to be true of pirates (that they’re barbarians, heathens, and savages) and what he finds to be true of the different people on board the ship. It was a slow unraveling and very skillfully done by Brown.

That said, there’s a lot of humor here, especially whenever Wedgewood referenced his “native cowardice” and how he would run and hide whenever there was a skirmish on the ship. Because, you know, relatable. These are the moments I appreciated the narrator the most because the delivery was so deadpan as to make it extra funny to me.

Hannah is the real MVP though, of course, because female badassery wins every time.

4.5 stars, rounding down because the climax was a bunch of fighting that I didn’t particularly care about. Yes, they’re pirates. Yes, cannons go boom. Blah blah blah etc. It was the least interesting part of the book for me is what I’m saying, and it also went on for what felt like a very long time.

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For Her ConsiderationFor Her Consideration by Amy Spalding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I am friends with the author.

Let me just say for the record that, in recent memory, I have probably not disliked a characters as much as I dislike main character Nina’s ex, Taylor, who only shows up for maybe six pages. That is a testament to Spalding’s skill as a writer because a large part of the book is Nina thinking poorly of herself because the things Taylor has said to her. It is such a good depiction of how words can have a devastating effect on a person. I found myself at several points in the book saying, “Poor Nina. That Taylor really did a number on her.”

That’s not to say the book is dreary or maudlin because it most certainly is not. For example, here is a completely out of context quote that made me laugh out loud:

Nat signed me up for Facebook and I discovered that all of my ex-boyfriends are dead!

I think the book really lives up to the cover because it is definitely a sun-drenched romance. I mean, literally, so much sunshine! This also has one of my plot elements (not sure if it counts as a trope so much as life)–younger people hanging out with seniors.

Anyway, this has a lot of Spalding’s trademark humor except, you know, written for adults. There are definitely detailed sex scenes if that is your thing and also lots of the best ship is friendship moments as well. I enjoyed hanging out with Nina’s eclectic but very LA clique of friends.

This is a light and breezy romance (pages with Taylor notwithstanding, though they do set up the plot, so I guess they’re necessary–I GUESS. Can you tell I don’t like her? Anyway.). It makes an excellent pool or beach read.

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Stars and Smoke (Stars and Smoke, #1)Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, so there’s a plot twist in here that I mostly saw coming but then when it happened, I was annoyed and wanted to stop reading because I was like, “Welp, you just broke your own internal logic.” But then I remembered that a friend of mine said I stopped watching Bones too soon, so I pushed past the plot twist, and I’m glad I did because while the characters were being stupid, Lu was not, and I wound up reading the rest of it in just about one go.

I love spy stories (I’m choosing to believe Sydney was named after Sydney Bristow from Alias), and I love stories about pretty people being underestimated (Sydney thinks Winter is just a dumb pop star but GUESS WHAT she totally underestimates him at every turn) (and I guess technically Sydney fits the mold too because she’s a 19-year-old pretty girl spy), and I was looking for something fun to read and this fit the bill. I mean, this is definitely not a hearts and sunshine good time, but it is the kind of over the top ridiculousness that a spy story has, and that’s perfect for what I wanted to read right now–like a popcorn action movie in book form.

There were some pacing issues that kept this from being a five-star read for me, but overall a good time.

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Have a great week, everyone

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  1. Katy K.

    I remember liking Cinnamon and Gunpowder a lot, too! And I could also do without the big fight scenes, even though I know “most people” like them. The picture books look really sweet, too!

  2. Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf

    I’m so glad to have found your blog, Akilah! It sounds like you’ve been up to a lot lately—the Juneteenth concert sounds especially exciting! And I actually just saw the Barbie movie today—I imagine seeing it twice would be great for taking everything in.

    Most Perfect You is definitely on my TBR list after your enthusiastic review, and I loved reading all your other reviews—I’m glad to have learned the term “short story cycle,” and it’s exciting that you pushed through the twist in Stars and Smoke and things made more sense! Thanks so much for the thoughtful reviews, and have a great week!


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