April Showers Bring May Roundups

A page from my sketchbook.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

We got our first Covid shots! And our second Covid shots! Two steps closer to quasi-normal life! I’m very excited about it (if you couldn’t tell). It took almost two weeks to get an appointment and we’d been checking every day and then all of a sudden appointments! It was really exciting, and it’s really helped relieve my anxiety.

I finished my masters degree! I am now officially an MLIS holder, which is really exciting. Now that I’m done with school I’m starting to think about what it is that I really want to do. And it’s been fun to get to take the time to read a little more!

I also started keeping a daily sketchbook at the end of March and I am so enamored with it. Who needs a journal when you can do a daily sketch? I’m actually going to enjoy looking back on this. I got to the end of my first sketchbook and was so paranoid about not having enough pages that I ended up ordering 4 sketchbooks. So now I have too many sketchbooks, but I know I’ll use them up…eventually.

Books Read

My top 3 books for each month have green outlines, so you can skip straight to the best ones!

April

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda This is a story about two mothers who never meet but share a daughter. One is forced to give her daughter up to give her a better life, one is her adopted mother who can’t have biological children. The book considers the families we choose and how our culture is invariably intertwined with those decisions.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson If you are interested in gaining insight into systemic racism in the United States, you need to read this book. Wilkerson compares the caste system in the United States to caste systems in India and in Nazi Germany in order to gain insight into the way that race works to divide us. Besides having important insights, Wilkerson is also an incredible writer and the book is a pleasure to read even though its subject matter is quite difficult.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa After being hired as a housekeeper, a woman and her young son develop a friendship with an aging math professor who is slowly losing his memory after an accident. Unable to form new memories (his memory erases after 88 minutes), the three of them form their connection through the power and magic of numbers. Recommended for anyone who needs a reminder about the power of connecting with other people.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal This YA duology is perfect if you like a little romance with your adventure. The characters are standard YA fare (a lot of focus on a journey of self-discovery without a lot of insight), but they are all interestingly flawed. My favorite part of this series is the worldbuilding. Faizal constructs a magical, well-realized world that doesn’t rely on western tropes and is so interesting and much more dynamic than the characters themselves–I loved spending time there through these books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende This is historical fiction at its best with a complex and intriguing heroine that won’t take no for answer. Eliza travels from her native Chile to California during the Gold Rush to follow the young man who stole her heart and finds herself along the way. I’m a huge fan of Allende’s writing and the way she weaves relationships and stories together.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu Told as a screenplay, this short experimental screenplay plays with the idea of how we all play roles, but specifically focuses on the Chinese American community and the various roles and stereotypes that are forced on and lived by Chinatown residents. I found it extremely clever.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala I’m not sure you can describe a murder mystery as “cozy,” but if you can, this chatty mystery filled with food (recipes included) and family definitely fits that description. A great read if you need something a little less serious in your life.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge A fictional story about one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, the book follows her daughter, Libertie, as she figures out what she really wants out of life and how to use her voice. The book has a really nice ebb and flow to it. If you’re looking for some historical fiction with a little botany and travel thrown in, look no further.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley This nonfiction book examines life in England’s Georgian court in the 18th century through the eyes of different individuals connected to the court, both high and low. Worsley presents a rounded and complex view of life at court, and introduces Kensington palace during its high point, before it was used by Queen Victoria or Princess Diana.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett The Vanishing Half was one of my favorite books last year, so I was eager to read The Mothers. Bennett’s writing is a little less immediate in this one (due to the framing device she uses), which took me out of the story a little. Like her newer novel, it does follow the characters over a long time span, and I really like how Bennett really lets events stew so the consequences can deepen over time. A smart young woman dealing with grief over her mother’s death gets involved with the preacher’s son, and their decisions will have consequences far into their adult lives.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré I’m probably biased in favor of books that talk about the importance of education, but I found this book to be beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. Adunni is 14 years old and her life is filled with hardship. She is young and naïve, and without any power or education she is at the whim of the adults around her who are trying to subdue and manipulate her. But Adunni refuses to be quiet or submissive. She’s always asking questions and working towards a better life. Her courage and spirit will win you over.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez I really wanted to like this YA fantasy novel set in South America, but it fell flat by pretty much every standard. It was predictable and the protagonist was perhaps the least interesting character in the book. The writing was only okay, and to top it all off, it was a political novel with its political center totally missing. The world wasn’t rich–all in all this is one to skip in my opinion.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Little by Edward Carey What do wax sculptures and the French revolution have in common? You’ll have to read the novel and find out. Featuring a spunky, underestimated main character, Marie aka Little, is the apprentice who outdoes the master. The illustrations in the book add a lot, but it is Marie’s observant nature and voice that carry the narrative from Sweden to Paris, from Paris to Versailles and back again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor A Black gay masters student in biology in a predominantly white East coast town, Wallace has become adept at code switching and hiding his feelings, but over the course of a single weekend a series of events breaks down the walls he’s built for himself. This book has beautiful language, but I found the subject matter to be really difficult–sort of like if The Color Purple was set in the middle of a laboratory. It made me cry.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie Some books are so of your time that you can’t imagine them being written at any other point in history, and this is one of those books. It is dense, layered, and moves through some of the biggest questions of our time debating the nature of truth, identity, and goodness. It’s kind of like a modern update of The Great Gatsby, since it follows an outsider, a young aspiring screenwriter, who inserts himself into the story of his rich, pretentious, probably criminal neighbors. It’s a novel with more questions than answers, but all the questions are fascinating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert I’ve been more drawn to romance novels recently because I have needed a bit of a break from more serious literary fiction. And this book was the perfect remedy! This a great (and sexy) romantic comedy. I’m so glad that this is part of a series because the Brown sisters are amazing! They have so much love for each other and make each other better. Chloe has fibromyalgia and both she and her love interest exhibit so much personal growth over the course of this book. This book was like a warm hug.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Elisabeth’s Lists: A Life Between the Lines by Lulah Ellender After being given her grandmother’s book of lists compiled between the 1930s and the 1950s, Ellender follows the trail of the grandmother she never knew through her and her husband’s diplomatic postings. It’s a meditation on the nature of lists and our need to organize our lives, to get to know the people we love, and to come to terms with our grief. I ordered this book from the UK, since I haven’t seen it in bookstores here, but it’s worth picking up!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Movies Watched

In April and May I spent a lot of time either re-watching movies or catching up with shows or finishing up projects for school and thus not watching anything. I’m hoping that in June I can get back to really crossing movies off of my list!

Moxie (2021) A total feel-good movie–as radical 90s feminism gets adapted in Gen Z. Plus Amy Pohler is in it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Howards End (1992) Oh this movie was so slow. And pretty depressing. Not even Emma Thompson could save this movie for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Wolfwalkers (2020) I subscribed to Apple TV for a week just to watch this movie, since it was nominated for the animated Oscar this year. I wasn’t super impressed by Soul, so I wanted to see the competition, and this movie was really beautiful with a 2D animation style and a great story. But it is only streaming on Apple’s service, which is really annoying.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) This was so cute it was hard to handle. I loved how playful and silly it was. If you don’t normally watch animated movies, and you like sci-fi, I would really recommend this movie. It’s such a great family film.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021) I’d read the Joy Luck Club when I was younger and loved it and the movie, but I didn’t know how closely it resembled Tan’s life. Her books seem to be drawn really closely from her life. I always think documentaries about writers and artists are interesting because they help capture how they see the world and how their work is connected to their lives.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What was the best thing you read/watched in April or May? Have your summer reading list set yet? What are you looking forward to this month? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I’ve Enjoyed on My Blogging Hiatus

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

Hello, dear reader. It’s been a while.

I was moving, so I stopped writing. I was planning my best friend’s wedding, so I stopped writing. I was planning my own wedding, so I stopped writing.

But now, it’s time to start writing again.

Now, I won’t be continuing with my reading challenge posts (or at least, I won’t be making up for the ones I missed). I’ve been wondering about that lately. Whether you can make up for lost time, lost sleep. In this case, I think it’s better to just move forward.

I know that the topic for today is boyfriends in literature (as in ones you’d want), but instead I’m going to write about the 10 books I enjoyed the most while I haven’t bee writing.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This book is a bit of an undertaking, since its size alone was daunting. But in my case, the size worked out. I didn’t feel the need to bring any extra books on my honeymoon, which in turn made me feel free to pick up a few on our trip.

This book has been on my TBR list for a long time. Every time I went looking for it at a bookstore I couldn’t find it. And then one day, I was in a bookstore looking for something completely different and it was staring at me on the shelf.

As for the book itself, it is quite special. The magic is used as a tool, and not as a way to solve every problem. The protagonists are interesting, flawed characters, and the writer has obviously done her research–she puts you right into the time period, dense footnotes and all. It’s not the fastest moving story, but it’s certainly satisfying and well worth reading.

  • Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat by Chrissy Teigen

I do not like canned tuna. I have never liked canned tuna. But the tuna noodle casserole in this book had me rethinking that long established viewpoint. This book is full of delicious recipes, and it’s one of my favorite cookbooks at the moment even though it is missing the all-important category of dessert. Beyond the recipes, it’s also hilarious. Teigen writes with great humor and irreverence and makes you fall in love with her and her food.

  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

This book is not necessarily my favorite of Allende’s novels, but it is certainly worth reading nonetheless. The love story against the background of the Holocaust in America and the heartbreaking history of Japanese internment is sweet and special.

  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

My honorary aunt Jen recommended this book to me (she recommends this book to everyone. She thinks it’s hilarious, and she’s right). If you need a pick me up for any reason, I have a feeling this book will help.

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This book was a present from one of the Christmas exchanges that The Broke and The Bookish put on, and the blogger who gave it to me told me it was one of her favorites. I can definitely see why. It’s sort of un-put-down-able. The subject of the book is a little challenging, since it deals with a young man listening to the tapes one of his classmates recorded right before she committed suicide. Rather than being depressing though, the book has a strong sense about what responsibility and justice means and the arguments it presents are quite compelling.

  • The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman

I’m not going to lie, this book to me a while to get into and I had a few false starts before I finished it. But it was so worth it. This book was intricate and touching, bittersweet in all the right places and with just the right amount of mystery.

  • The Revolution of the Moon by Andrea Camilleri

So women of history were badass. This shouldn’t be all that surprising though, because modern women are badass as well. This book is based on the true story of the woman who, for a brief time, ruled Sicily as a governor on behalf of the King. Highly capable and extraordinarily clever, she was able to implement all kinds of positive changes before being taken down by conservative, powerful men and the Church. A fascinating story.

  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

There aren’t many people who can write nonfiction as if its fiction, but Berendt does. The picture that he paints of Savannah is mesmerizing as are the characters he populates the city with. That the story is all true is just icing on the cake.

  • The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

I’m not sure how a book set in the middle ages manages to feel so modern, but this book does.  It tells the story of a man who procures relics for collectors–bones and mementos of canonized saints involved in the purchase of indulgences and what happens when he gets on people’s bad sides.

  • Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan

Did you know that there’s a substantial Jewish population in Ireland? Me neither. But this book tells some really amazing stories about them.

Baking for Bookworms: Sweetened Spiced Wine from Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits

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There’s nothing like a glass of warm wine on a chilly autumn night. Even better if it’s just a little on the sweet side and has more than a hint of cinnamon.

Much of the food in this novel is related to class and status. The Trueba family is wealthy and they can, and do, put on quite the show when they want to. There’s also a lot of talk of food in relation to changing governments. When the socialists come into power for example, chicken and many other foods become affordable to all, but they must wait in long lines to receive things. After the military coup, the chicken is plentiful, but no one can afford the high prices and the chicken rots. Allende uses food to underline that changes in regime don’t necessarily benefit everyone (or even anyone), and the imagery is all the more poignant for being so closely linked to human necessity.

This wine drink is from one of the last happy meals described in the book, before the military coup happens. Alba and Jaime steal their conservative father/grandfather’s hidden stock of weapons and bury them in the mountains before he can use them against the socialists:

“They spent the rest of the weekend trout-fishing in the nearby river and roasting their catch on a fire of brambles, exploring the hills like children, and talking about the past. At night they drank hot wine with cinnamon and sugar and, huddled in their shawls, raised a toast to the face old Trueba would make when he discovered that he had been robbed, laughing until the tears rolled down their cheeks.”                                                                                    353

I liked the childlike nature of this section, and the return to simplicity, which is what this drink is all about.

Sweetened Spice Wine

This is a very simple recipe, and you should feel free to adapt it to your needs and wishes. Consider the amounts given as guidelines.

  • one bottle red wine (of your choice, I used a red blend)
  • anywhere from 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup of brown sugar (you can substitute your favorite sweetener) 2 tablespoons is the perfect amount for me, sweet but not crazy sweet
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Place sugar, cinnamon, and a little of the wine (a third of a cup or so to start) in a pot over low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Sitr in the rest of the wine and let simmer until hot. Drink and enjoy!

Spiced or mulled wine is one of my favorite winter adult beverages. What’s your favorite warm autumn/winter beverage? Alcohol is definitely not required.

Women Writers Reading Challenge #52: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

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Life is full of little mysteries and supernatural happenings that are, perhaps, better left unexplained. In Allende’s novel, they are simply a fabric of the universe, as true as hunger or suffering, as difficult to explain as poverty. Magic is part of the everyday in The House of Spirits, but the most magical part of the book is the way Allende weaves the stories of successive generations into a passionate and tragic, though ultimately hopeful novel. Entrancing and heart breaking, Allende’s novel will move you and challenge you to think about family, success, love, and hope.

I enjoyed this book more than Zorro, which I read at the beginning of the year. I think the writing here is tighter, more emotionally charged, and more fantastical and creative. I think part of the reason for this is that in Zorro, she had to make a legend seem believable, and in this book, she was able to make the everyday into the extraordinary.

Have you ever read a book by an author that you felt ambivalent about only to fall for another book of his or hers?