Book Review: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Look, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a well-written book with beautiful language, but my rating/review is probably (mostly?) more about WHEN I am reading it than the book itself.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The truth is this is a book club pick and if it were up to me, it is not what I would be reading. I have also read a lot (A LOT) of slave narratives and books about slavery. If I were new to the books about the slave experience game, I might feel differently about it.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates”

Armchair BEA 2016: On Audiobooks & Book Clubs

I love audiobooks, but I have to admit that I was nervous to start listening to them. My concern was mostly that I wouldn’t pay attention and would miss a bunch of stuff as a result. However, I found that to be the exact opposite of my experience.

Still, my first foray into audiobooks started with me listening to a book I had already read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I figured that was a safe way to figure out if audiobooks were for me or not. Because, hey, if I found that I couldn’t pay attention, it wouldn’t really matter since I had already read the book.

Well, I paid attention, and I was hooked. In fact, listening to HP in the car is how I finally got my daughter into the books. We listened to the whole series as we did road trips over the course of about a year. We also make it a habit now to check out audiobooks before going on a road trip–whether we wind up listening to them or not.

Audiobooks are a great way to bond with children or other family members because you have a shared reading experience and someone else gets to read to you. So, here are five audiobooks that I recommend for family bonding, using me and my daughter as the foolproof sample:

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (read by Jim Dale) — I am not 100% in love with Jim Dale as a narrator, mostly because his Hermione and Luna Lovegood are both absolutely horrid. However, his overall narration is pretty good. Plus, the Stephen Fry version isn’t available Stateside. So we just gotta make do with what we got.

2. The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park (read by Lana Quintal) — She is hilarious. Also, you can easily listen to multiple books in the series because they’re so short.

3. The Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look (read by LeUyen Pham) — Also hilarious. Also really short.

4. Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis (read by Joe Holt) — Super hilarious. Also, there is a sequel, but my library doesn’t have it in audio form which is the saddest sad to ever sad.

5. Witch Week and Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (read by Gerard Doyle) — These were less funny and more completely engaging and enthralling. Also, there are more books in the Chrestomanci series, but those are the only two we listened to, so I can’t rec the whole series. Plus, the other books may have different narrators and Gerard Doyle is perfection.

I should also note that we listened to most of these books when my daughter was a teenager even though a lot of them are kiddie lit and not YA.


book club


I belong to two book clubs: one that meets during the school year and is full of awesome moms (The No Rules Book Club) and one that meets during the summer and is full of awesome grad students/academics (Children’s Lit Summer Reading Book Club). The school year one meets once a month from September – May and the summer one meets every week (give or take one or two) May – August.

The pros of being in a book club include getting together with awesome people to talk about books, eating delicious food, and being exposed to books I might not otherwise read. The biggest con to being in book club is assigned reading. Just like in school, sometimes I like the book and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I’m fine with reading something that someone else has picked while other times I just want to read the book I want to read.

Unfortunately, I have a reputation in the No Rules club for not liking the books. However, it’s not that I don’t like them. It’s more that I’m just critical of them. I studied literature and creative writing. I don’t read like normal people.

And to prove that I don’t always hate the books, I have compiled a list of five book club books I dug that I would not have picked up on my own:

1. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty — I saw lots of people posting about this after I read it. But I still probably would have skipped it. Not YA and I don’t really care about stories focused on marriage.

2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford — This was nowhere near on my radar.

3. One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern — See #2.

4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd — See #2. Also, this is a book about slavery. I do NOT read books about slavery anymore.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (read by Edward Hermann) — A biography of a WWII vet? Absolutely not my thing. Also, I found this book completely boring when I tried to read it on paper, so I checked out the audiobook because sometimes the medium matters and wound up completely into it. Edward Hermann is FANTASTIC. I would listen to anything else he narrates. Plus also, I almost put this on the audiobook list above because my daughter listened to a little bit with me and was also intrigued (not enough to make me wait to listen to it with her, however, hence its exclusion from the list).

Bonus: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale — See #2. This is also now one of my favorite books of all time and therefore further proof that sometimes magic can happen in book club.

Okay, party people, tell me what audiobooks you recommend for family bonding and/or a book club pick someone else chose that you wound up digging.

I is for In the Shadows by Kiersten White & Jim di Bartolo

Today, I have decided to feature a book I really enjoyed but never talked about on the blog: In the Shadows by Kiersten White & Jim di Bartolo.

In the Shadows by Kiersten White & Jim di Bartolo


I did give it a shout-out in my end of year book survey for 2014. Here’s what I said about it:

If you had told me that I would like a book that was half-traditional prose/half-wordless graphic novel and included weird magic stuff, I would have never believed it.

That is still true! On paper, it is not at all the type of book I would typically read (and it was NOT my choice–my summer book club chose it) or even be remotely interested in.

However, at its core, the book is about sisters and family and loyalty and complicated relationships, and that right there is all stuff I dig.

So, anyway, this book that was very much not a me book wound up being a me book. You should check it out. You might dig it.



A to Z 2016


For the A to Z challenge, I’m blogging about fannish pursuits (aka things I’m a fan of or have strong feelings about). Tune in tomorrow to see what I picked for J!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? (2/21/16)

This past week, I finished:

Remembrance (The Mediator, #7)Remembrance by Meg Cabot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have never been a huge Mediator fan, but I love Meg Cabot and needed something fun to read, so here we are.

This was a fun read, and I liked Jesse way more than I probably ever have. It probably helps that he’s not dead.

My only real issue is that I was annoyed (view spoiler)

There was not enough CeeCee or Gina in this book, that’s for sure.

View all my reviews


Stars AboveStars Above by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this overall. It’s hard to rate a collection of short stories because each story is, you know, it’s own thing. Most of the ones in this collection provide backstory for the characters.

1. The Keeper (about Scarlet’s grandmother and how she came to house baby Cinder and become Scarlet’s guardian): This is an excellent start to the collection. Scarlet and her grandmother are both fantastic. (4 stars)

2. Glitches (how Cinder came to live with the Linh family) — this was fine, good backstory on Cinder (3 stars)

3. The Queen’s Army (how Ze’ev became Wolf, pack alpha) — Levana is the worst. Also, of course she finds kids from poor families for this. Of course. (3 stars)

4. Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky (teen Thorne, the charmer) — this was fine, good backstory on Thorne (3 stars)

5. After Sunshine Passes By (how Cress came to live in the satellite) — Cress is a badass. This was heartbreaking but also shows how deeply excellent Cress is. (3 stars)

6. The Princess and the Guard (Winter’s decision to stop using her gift) — This is probably my favorite of the whole book. This gives all the backstory of Winter and Jacin and how they got to be the characters we see in the books. They are both pretty amazing, basically. (5 stars)

7. The Little Android (another android with a personality chip defect) — I thought this was going to be about Iko at first, but it’s not. This was pretty heartbreaking as well. I liked it. The characters aren’t connected to the ones from the series, but this offers a slice of life look at what it’s like for characters who aren’t living in the scope of the rebellion to live in that world. (4 stars)

8. The Mechanic (Cinder and Kai’s first meeting from Kai’s POV) — Aw, Kai. This was adorable. (3 stars)

9. Something Old, Something New (epilogue, a wedding) — This is probably my second favorite because all of the main characters are together again for a wedding. This is a trope I dig. Also, I love Iko with my whole heart and fully support any story in which she gets a lot of page time. (4 stars)

So, no duds here, though some stories were clearly superior to others. It was nice to spend more time with these characters and get to know more about them and their world.
View all my reviews


As of today, I’m reading:

The Light Between Oceans

Yes, still. I’m not really a fan. The book is s l o w. Not only that but I am NOT buying one of the key character’s motivations. Book club is this Sunday, so I should be finished by then. We’ll see how it goes.

I haven’t decided on a second book for the week yet. I have a stack of library books to choose from.

Original now hosted by Kathryn @ The Book Date. Children's lit version hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts &  Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.
Original now hosted by Kathryn @ The Book Date. Children’s lit version hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.


Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Like so many things Henry had wanted in life—like his father, his marriage, his life—it had arrived a little damaged. Imperfect. But he didn’t care, this was all he’d wanted. Something to hope for, and he’d found it. It didn’t matter what condition it was in.

bittersweethotelI joined a book club! Did I mention I joined a book club? Anyway, yes, I joined a book club and their selection for March (March! Can you tell I’m a little behind on reviews?) was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, the story of a Chinese boy and his Japanese best (girl) friend during WWII.

What I Liked

– The characters are so great. Henry, Keiko, Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Henry’s dad, Henry’s mom, Ethel. SO GREAT.

– Do I have to pick a favorite character? I can’t. Mrs. Beatty owns my heart, though.

– I loved the relationship between Henry and his father. It was heartbreaking, yes, but I understood both of their positions, and the tension was so palpable and real. I also loved that Ford doesn’t really condemn either. I mean, okay, we’re on Henry’s side, but I get why the father is the way he is. And as much as I want him to let go of his old prejudices and outlook, I see why he can’t or is unwilling to.

– Henry’s mom, oh man. The way she has to play the mediator and obey her husband while not turning her back on her son. Oy.


– Since this is a story about first love, I have to admit that Keiko and Henry’s relationship is SO ADORABLE. At first, Henry read a little young to me, but then I remembered that he’s 12/13 during much of his developing relationship with Keiko, so, of course he’s young. Duh. Everything between them is so great. The adventures they go on, the experiences they share. Keiko’s frustration with Henry’s unwillingness to rock the boat, Henry’s confusion and embarrassment when she doesn’t seem to understand his position. AH SO GREAT.

– Also, I really, really loved that Keiko wanted Henry to maintain his relationship with his father. Her basic position is “Yes, he’s ridiculous. Yes, he’s antiquated. BUT HE’S YOUR DAD.” It just really spoke to the differences the two of them had in their relationships with their parents. I found it quite authentic. (Henry’s response, of course, is “Yeah, but you don’t understand what he’s like because you don’t have to live with him.”)

– Awesome first kiss. And that’s all I’ll say about that because spoilers.

– I also quite liked the juxtaposition of the discovery of first love (Henry and Keiko) with the reality of forever love (Henry and Ethel).

– So what I’m saying is A+ relationships and characters.

What I Didn’t Like

– All of that said, this story is told mostly in flashbacks with present day (1986) Henry remembering his youth. While I’m fine with the flashbacks as a device, I found that the WWII bits were much more developed in terms of relationships than the 1986 bits. For example, Henry has a strained relationship with his son. I know because he keeps telling me. But I never get from their interactions that this relationship is so strained. It’s all tell and no show.

– Henry’s son is pretty bland overall. His fiancée is great, though.

– Keiko’s father was just a touch too perfect. (Although he does sound like he’s super fly, and I approve of that 100%. I can just see him rocking a fedora, creased pants, and a button-down.) I understand that most of what we learn about him is through Keiko’s point of view, but, seriously, this is an actual thing she says about her parents:

“And they’re Americans first. They don’t see you as the enemy. They see you as a person.”

And I was just like, “Oh, is that how Americans are?” Because I so was not buying that. I don’t think I would’ve minded so much if her parents were just that way–you know, seeing Henry as a person and not the enemy–but the idea that that’s the way Americans think in 1940-whatever was just a bit too much for me.

Keiko’s dad does seem like a pretty cool dude but this idealistic portrayal of Americans and American thinking made me roll my eyes.

– Perhaps because the story is told from Henry’s point of view, the Japanese internment camps are presented a little bit more positively than I would have liked. I wanted a bit more of just how much they sucked, but, again, Henry’s POV, so they mostly suck because he’s away from his friend.

Ford does present enough information so that the reader can see they suck in other ways (Keiko’s family lives in one room, they move to Idaho [!!!], the humiliation of walking through the streets of Seattle, her father can no longer practice law, etc.), but Henry is just like “Keiko’s so far awaaaay.” Which I get it, I do. I’m just noting.

– I’m not so sure Henry’s son would be part of an online grief support group in the mid-1980s. Or that he’d look up Keiko on the internet. Small, but distracting details.

In conclusion: A sweet and heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story with awesome characters and complicated relationships.

Source: Library