It’s Monday! What are you reading?: Halfway Point Reading Wrap-Up

July 18, 2022


I cannot believe I have not updated my blog since February. FEBRUARY. I thought for sure the last time had been in April. Clearly, I was very, very wrong. Also: this has been the longest year ever. I know because when prepping to write this post I came across a book I read in April of this year, and I could have sworn I read it last year. That’s all I’m saying.

A brief overview of things that happened since February:

  • I went to a taping of Ellen’s show (guest host)
  • I went to Mexico
  • I went to the LA Times Festival of Books
  • I went to Florida
  • I met one of my cousins for the first time
  • My daughter graduated from college
  • My daughter’s friend gave us COVID (mild cases; everyone was fine)
  • I went to Universal Studios Orlando
  • My chronic eye fatigue came back with a vengeance and brought its friend cybersickness along to play

The latter, as I’m sure you can imagine, contributed to me not updating my blog since I’ve been limiting my screen time.

I hope to talk more abut those later (especially Universal Studios, COVID, and chronic eye fatigue), but for this post, I want to highlight the five-star books I’ve read so far this year.

Onto the books!

be/troublebe/trouble by Bridgette Bianca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve never heard bridgette bianca perform her poetry, I highly recommend that you head to her website and check out some of her videos. She is phenomenal, and I was immediately obsessed the first time I saw her at a reading.

So, anyway, I read this book and loved it. I assigned it to my students, and they loved it. Their final projects based on the poems were phenomenal. One student even said it made her want to talk about her culture more because these poems are blackity black black, and that inspired my students to write about their own cultures. So! You may want to read it, too, is all I’m saying.

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Sea of TranquilitySea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this in a day.

I do not know whether or not the (view spoiler) reveal counts as a spoiler or not because I cannot remember at which point in the novel I read it since the whole thing read so quickly for me. I will say that when it did happen, it felt very satisfying as if it were something I knew all along that had been confirmed–much like the way all the plot threads came together in the end. I also was not annoyed by it, which is a big deal because–as a general rule–I do not like (view spoiler) stories.

I love that this book revisits other characters from St. John Mandel’s other books without playing a game of gotcha to explain that which was unexplained before. It was also fun to read a story that hints at what St. John Mandel must have experienced as a writer who wrote a book about a pandemic only to live through a pandemic. This is just such a lovely, thoughtful book that distills such a grandiose idea into intimate character detail.

Also, Zoey is clearly my favorite character because one thing about me is that I will stan a competent, intelligent woman.

There’s a suggested reading list at the back, which I also appreciated.

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When You Were EverythingWhen You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That’s…way worse than I thought things had been.

I had to use the quote because, yeah, what caused the break up was way worse than I thought it would be, which is actually a compliment, because one of the things about reading a book like this–where you know a bad thing will happen–is wondering if it was really that big of a deal. And, yes. It actually was that big of a deal. So!

Great characters here. I like the use of the two timelines because it shows Cleo dealing with the aftermath of the breakup while also showing the audience that the friendship is worth mourning and also showing the deep loneliness Cleo experiences without having Layla around. I also deeply appreciated that Woodfolk notes how easy it is to fall into a friendship without thinking and that it’s actually okay to be intentional about who you make friends with.

I was prepared to be hardcore either #TeamLayla or #TeamCleo when the reality is that both girls are at fault for the demise of their friendship in both small and then equally horribly large ways.

I am trying to think of a good way to wrap this up, but all I can think to say is that if you are at all interested in friendship narratives, then this is worth a read. One thing Woodfolk does skillfully is show that there are different TYPES of friendships and relationships, and they all can have an impact (good or bad) if you make any one person your everything.

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The Secret Lives of Church LadiesThe Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is “I read it in one day” levels of amazing. If you’ve ever considered, confronted, or contended with the church and especially what it says about gender and sexuality, this book may be of interest to you. If you are looking for a book with next level writing, this book is definitely for you.

In my creative writing class, I usually give my students free rein to choose whichever short story collection they want to read, but this book is honestly making me want to reconsider that.

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Courageous Creativity: Advice and Encouragement for the Creative LifeCourageous Creativity: Advice and Encouragement for the Creative Life by Sara Zarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent collection of tools (not rules!) written in an accessible way for not only young people (though it’s clearly aimed at them) but creative people of all ages. Zarr addresses many of the challenges people may face getting started and then finishing a creative project and offers suggestions for getting unstuck. One of my favorite things about this book is that Zarr acknowledges at every turn that not every person is middle class nor has a room of their own to work in. She suggests walking in your neighborhood–if it’s safe to do so. She gives suggestions for how to create a work space–even if you share a room with siblings or other family members. She also includes many free resources that kids or other people with limited incomes can use.

I also deeply appreciate that Zarr approaches resistance through a compassionate lens by offering both empathy and personal anecdotes for how she herself overcomes it. I highly recommend this for any creative, but especially those starting out or who engage in a lot of negative self talk.

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The Cassandra Curse (Muse Squad, #1)The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is practically perfect, and I am super bummed to see that it’s only the first of two books. This should be a whole series, nine books minimum (one for each of the muses [obvs]). Sigh.

My only complaint about this book (besides the whole duology thing) is that it follows the trend of the best friend dropping out of the picture once Callie learns about her powers. I can kind of understand why that’s the choice made–and it does play into the climax/resolution of the book–but if we’ve learned anything from Clueless, it’s that adding a third to your group doesn’t diminish the tight bond of the already established BFFs.

There is also a slight pacing issue, but honestly I didn’t even really notice until I had finished the book., and I don’t care (!!!) because Acevedo gets so many other things right.

I love the focus on family, friendship, and mythology. I love, love, LOVE that it’s about the muses and not just because the songs from Hercules kept running through my head. Love the diversity, love the body positivity (Callie is chubby and everyone–except the mean girl–is literally like WHO CARES?), love the glimpses of London, love the message about being cared for (“you are loved, and if you’re loved, you’ll be okay”). Love, love, love, love, love.

4.5 stars, rounding up

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Here’s hoping this gets me back into the swing of things because I definitely just finished two five-star books this weekend, and I have a lot to say about the other things listed above.

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Have a great week, everyone!

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1 Comment

  1. Tanya Patrice

    Glad to see you back 🙂 Loved The Secret Lives of Church ladies too!


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