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Outstanding book of the month for June 2020

This solo book club choice is daunting each and every month! I’ve already shared a post about my adoration for the unpublished Punching the Air, so while I could make it my outstanding book of the month, there were a few others. I’m going to cheat here and give you a few of the other runners-up beside Zoboi and Salaam’s.

  • The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn
  • Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
  • Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio (Volume 1) by Carly Usdin

So, then there’s only one other and it’s a yet-to-be-published title that you should be on the lookout for.

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More Than Just A Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

This romantic comedy is layered. It’s certainly a romcom, but there’s also a depth that belies the title. Danyal has the good looks but he also wants to be a chef and that doesn’t go over well with his Southeast Asian parents who would be shamed if he didn’t try for a job that makes more money and to them has more prestige. While he might be in love with his best friend’s twin sister, another girl enters the picture: Bisma. She has brought shame to their family after a sex tape makes the rounds in their community. Her brutal father feels the only way to marry her now is to pay the man and for him to know the story upfront. Would they make the best match?

The generational conflict is heartbreakingly real and executed as well as another favorite of mine: American Panda by Gloria Chao. Each includes a push and pull between parent and teen with the intersectionality of culture. But it’s also their Islamic faith, which if you’re looking to add books to your library’s collection that explicitly include teen faith, that further deepens the character-rich story with Danyal the shining (and very funny) star.

Plus who doesn’t love an appreciation of geekdom for which Bisma has oodles of it. And, an outspoken younger sister to mix up a little trouble for her too.

The realization of each character feels refreshing and that cover is the kind that needs to be facing forward. Once you get past gushing over cover, you’ll also need your Post-it’s because there were plenty of quotables to reflect on. Make this one an August purchase when it comes out on the 4th.

 

Reading a book a day

Working in a school in upstate New York, Friday, March 13th was our last day of in-person instruction. It also happened to be the day after my sons’ birthday and we had to cancel their friend and family birthday parties that weekend. Whatever school was going to look like for the rest of the year was undeniably tenuous. How would my co-librarian and I support our students and teachers? How would I support my 5th graders with their work at home? It was going to look different than it had every had, but one thing was going to be certain, I was going to read.

I’m a reader who rarely has reading slumps or droughts. I am always prepared with books for every mood and in every format so that I continue to read. Before the pandemic if there was a day or two I didn’t pick up a book, it was usually due to a day packed with work and family obligations but I had started reading for 15 minutes each morning so I could say that I did read daily, it just wouldn’t usually amount of finishing a book.

So Saturday, March 14th happened. It was the start of a weekend, but the start of new uncharted territory so I decided that to lay a foundation of familiarity, thus, I would read at least a book a day. Done. If there’s one thing you know, it’s that I like a challenge. Challenge accepted. It might be a picture book or it might be finishing a book I had been listening to for several days, but I would finish a book a day.

This past Sunday, Father’s Day, happened to be one hundred days of reading a book a day. I’ve documented my journey on my Instagram not only to be able to see how much I’ve read, but how varied my moods have been and what was available.

I recognize that many readers have been significantly affected by the pandemic and found themselves in droughts of reading. That’s okay. I look at my ability to read a book a day as a necessity– like a writer writing, I’m a reader reading. It has kept me grounded and focused when other things weren’t so definite. My safety net. My life raft.

It doesn’t have to be reading, but has there been something you’ve done daily since the pandemic? As I wrote that last sentence, I thought of Aisha Saeed’s daily Twitter post

and a recently-read book, but yet-to-be-published book by Syed M. Masood called More Than Just a Pretty Face where main character Danyal shares a thought about a new girl he’s met: “I hope that Bisma Akram had something similar in her life, something that could bring joy and light when all seemed dark.”

 

Needing it, like, yesterday

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Certain books are felt so deeply that it usually takes another day or two to find the words to adequately express coherent thoughts about them. Punching the Air, a collaboration of Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam is one of those books.

PunchingTheAirThanks for Edelweiss, I read a digital advanced copy and implore Balzer + Bray to fast track this book’s publication because I can’t possibly wait until September 1st to share Punching the Air with the teens (and staff) at our high school library. I think I have 12 copies on our order list and am debating whether to add more. Likewise, I’ve already mentioned it to a few art teachers about doing a collaboration using it.

With the combination of being told in verse and the powerhouse Zoboi penning it, the words are each tiny raindrops unleashing a torrential downpour of empathy. Amal is in lockup because the justice system is unfair. And the crudeness of his situation behind bars is exacerbated by his talent, thoughts, and loving relationship with his family that does not stop believing in him. That’s also where the book intersects with Salaam who, as one of the wrongfully convicted Central Park Five, uses the prejudice and injustices that transformed his life into a story that gives a mirror to so many black and brown boys.

I wrote down half a dozen lines that punched me in the gut (again from the advanced copy) to foster conversations about the school to prison pipeline.

“On the day of my conviction
I memorize
my inmate number
my crime
my time

On the day of my conviction
I forget
my school ID number
my top three colleges
my class schedule”

And it reminded me of the recent law that raised the age for teens convicted of crimes being punished through the adult legal system rather than a juvenile one in New York state, where I reside. Multiple passages were apropos of what I’m reading in the newspaper, seeing on the TV, scrolling through on social media.

My blog title says it all. I plead that Balzer + Bray push up the publication day because I can’t wait for September 1st. I need more people to read it so I can talk to them about it. I need it in the hands of my students. I can’t imagine that halfway through 2020, this book won’t get knocked off my top 10 for 2020.

 

Reading habits

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When you’re listening to an audiobook, what else are you doing (if anything at all)?

When you’re reading a book, what else are you doing (if anything at all)?

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2020 in Miscellaneous

 

Outstanding book of the month for May 2020

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Enacted last month, this is the post at the end of each month where I can review everything that I’ve read and choose my version of the book of the month.

EndofDaysMay’s winner is… End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson.

Swanson is always a top pick for me because his love for history shines through his ability to write the most epic of stories. At this point, aside from some random law books that he’s edited, I have generally read every book he’s written for a civilian audience. I had read his YA version of End of Days called “The President Has Been Shot!”, so while I already had the foundational knowledge of the assassination, the fact that Swanson took a deep dive writing for the adult audience was still as intense as learning about it for the first time. There were several chapters and a handful of pages writing about the mere seconds it took Oswald to shoot JFK and each word, each sentence, and each page was like reading about years of time gone by. Swanson freezes time as he writes and picks apart the decisions, actions, and reactions by all involved.

And the presentation of the details imprints in a reader’s brain. I spent close to an hour recounting the insane details to my husband after I had finished– needing to tell someone else about what I had just learned. Swanson makes the case for all amazing nonfiction writers that should be writing narrative nonfiction read in school rather than a textbook. Gifted writers like Steve Sheinkin, Don Brown, Sy Montgomery, and Gail Jarrow.

The thicker history books whether they be biographies or narrative have become a bigger chunk of my reading and if you’re looking to learn, this is one of those that will bring you back (if you were alive on November 22, 1963) or put you there if you weren’t.

 

Delightful Darius

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2019-01-28 08.48.38In January 2019, I was in Seattle, Washington attending the Youth Media Awards as a member of the William C. Morris Award Committee. The winner was Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great Is Not Okay. Fast forward to May 2020 and I had the distinct pleasure of reading an advanced copy of its sequel, Darius the Great Deserves Better. If it was still winter, it would be akin to sipping that morning hot cocoa while watching the fluffy snow fall but since it’s spring in our little area of upstate New York, reading Khorram’s follow up felt like the blooms of a magnolia tree. Brightness and beauty. 

DariustheGreatDeservesBetterDarius’s grandfather might not survive after their trip to Iran last year, the family’s financial situation sends Darius’s father to a project out of state, and the dream internship turned job that Darius has coveted might not be what he really wants. This is the backdrop where Darius’s romantic predicaments set the wheels in motion while he keeps up with school and soccer. The story is wholehearted. It’s big love. 

But if I stop to think about it, Khorram’s most valuable contribution is Darius’s constant questioning which provides a lens for teen readers to ask the tough questions of themselves and others. This internal dialogue mines the gold of Khorram’s personal storytelling. Authentic to the core.

And I can’t help but connect on a more personal level too in which the answer to anything in the Kellner family is tea. Their family is my family. And elementally, provides a mirror or window for how our cultures are who we are and we should embrace it: a celebration of our similarities and differences using literature.

It goes without saying that Darius the Great Deserves Better rises to the top much like Khorram’s debut because you can’t help but root for Darius. The writing is cerebral and emotional, using all of the senses which is the kind of experience that seeps into the cracks of our reading souls. I don’t ever want to leave Darius’s world– so whether Khorram decides to write a third or not, I’ll still feel satisfied that he’s bringing his A-game. Goooooooooooaaaaaaal. 

 

This lady’s reflection on a month of daily blogging

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Well, it happened. Each day in April, whether you subscribe and had an email waiting each morning or you found it through WordPress, Twitter, or Instagram, there was something from me. I talked about specific books and other people’s books. A 24-hour readathon. And my love of books centered around the kitchen… more than once.

And it was fun. A lot of work, but fun. Simply put, the ideas were plentiful because I’ve always had lists and ideas, plus I’m reading and learning each day to share new information too. What I’ve learned that most people already know too:

  1. Write it the day before and schedule it to post the next day
  2. Write about what inspires you because every experience is an opportunity to share with others
  3. Shorter is better
  4. I want connection with others which is why I usually ask a question at the end of a post and I get very excited when someone comments
  5. I might do this again!

CelebrateVictorySo as I sign-off from sending out a daily post and settle back in to “when the mood strikes me”, know that today, Thursday, April 30th, I’ll do a little dance and toast with a little cocktail in celebration to my readers and to anyone who has achieved a small victory both big and small as I have.

Cheers!

 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2020 in Blogging, Miscellaneous

 

Outstanding book of the month for April 2020

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Readers I follow on social media make honest readers of others when they share their stats. They tend to be monthly and presented as a library card,  book journal, a Canva creation to share and monitor things like how many pages were read, how many were authors of color, or which categories or genres they fell in to.

I’m not there yet, but I have been sharing my daily reading via Instagram during the pandemic and I use Goodreads religiously (read: obsessively). So technically my stats are at my fingertips, but what I do want to do is look back at my month of books and feature at its end, the one book that was outstanding. It’s like a book club choice, but only I vote. And the criteria will mix the basics of best books (story, character development) with things like originality and longevity.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

2020-04-22 13.52.29… which just celebrated its book birthday on April 14th. The story is a graphic memoir of Mohamed’s life with his brother Hassan in a refugee camp as told and illustrated by Jamieson. It’s her effortless and beautiful illustrations that bring together a difficult story for middle grade and high school audiences about the conflict in Somalia which led to Omar and Hassan’s circumstances: seeing their father murdered, their village burned, and their mother missing where for their childhood and teenage years they toiled in a very large camp with an older woman to look after them from the next tent over.

The story unfolds in several parts as it moves through time and it works with the narrative, dialogue, and illustrations to elicit an array of emotions that connect the reader. It will speak to any reader– being seen if you are a refugee, understanding if you are not. Jamieson and Mohamed chose to talk about the easy and the hard parts with the ups and the downs and provide an emotional punch in the afterword and author’s notes for a fully-developed arc that is only the beginning of stories from around the world.

The graphic novel is a gem for its format but also the contribution to the genre itself and one of the kinds of stories that I want to pull off the shelf for years to come.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2020 in Miscellaneous

 

Where do you read?

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Post-readathon reminded me of all of the places I read, in particular because during a readathon in the dawn hours, I usually will take a bath and it’s only a rare occasion when I won’t have a book in the bathtub.

In 2015, I wrote a post for our newspaper’s books blog about where people read that I thought would be fun to revisit. Where are the places that you read, the obvious and the awkward? When it’s awkward, what are the props and tools that you must have on hand to make it work? Have books been ruined this way? (I’m dedicating that one to my sister in-law who borrowed a book of mine only to replace it with a new copy because she fell asleep reading it in the tub and dropped it).

I have my typical places and the average reader places too. Do you run and listen to an audiobook? Do you enjoy scrubbing the tub because you can listen to a book? Please share!

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One of the pictures from this past weekend’s readathon where were were sharing a photo challenge for reading during quarantine. 

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Blogging, Miscellaneous

 

It’s got that old book smell alright

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I don’t often try to find books published in 1943, but when I do, it’s for a good reason. Last summer I was listening to an audiobook, When Books When To War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning that mentioned the servicemen particularly loving Chicken Every Sunday: My Life with Mother’s Boarders by Rosemary Taylor. The description evoked the feelings I get when I talk here about books about the kitchen and food so I started searching for a copy. My indie bookstore for the win, they were able to secure a copy for me to purchase at a fair price of $20. I didn’t know what kind of shape it would be in if it was published in 1943, but as she mentioned on the phone, it appeared to be in decent condition- so I said yes.

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I picked it up months ago and was waiting for the right time to read it and this past weekend’s readathon seemed like that time. In the wee hours of the morning as the first light appeared, I was smelling the smells of Mother’s kitchen and pulsing with the energy of a houseful of boarders. This memoir is dedicated to Taylor’s mother who spent her life catering to others in her home as a rough and tumble entrepreneur who took care of people around the table and in the home. There’s an instantaneous connection to how Taylor describes her mom that I felt like she was sitting next to me. And each story about a boarder was essentially a vignette detailing an experience from the early 1900s  and how they came to revolve around Mother’s world. A good meal. A kind ear. And making sure her husband didn’t get the rent from anybody- she kept him in line too.

Mother was, and is, an utterly divine cook. It isn’t that I’m her daughter. It isn’t just a nostalgic backward look at my childhood. But, just as there are artists who paint, sing, sculpt, so there are also artists who cook. There are Carusos, Pavlovas, and Michaelangelos. There is also Mother over the cookstove. And like any artist she needed a public. She had it in the boarders. The curtain went up three times a day, and she took her applause in the chorus of appreciation and also in the visible poundage that went on the eaters.

The book was deceptively short. The old thick paper with that old book smell make it seem like there were more pages than there were but I was also drawn in to a mood all its own. It was the chaos of big families, it was how it was done in the old days, it was the pioneering West too.

Chicken Every Sunday is a diamond in the rough; where one thing led to another and now I’m holding on to that diamond that hit me in way that books should. Maybe it was sleep deprivation or maybe it’s my unabiding love for the magic of kitchens, but either way I’m better for having this book on my shelf. It’s a feeling. It’s stroking the front cover and giving it some googly eyes.

Are there super old books that might not necessarily be the “classics” that you adore for one reason or another?

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2020 in Adult, Authors, Blogging, Nonfiction