Spring is always my slowest reading season of the year, as I spend my time in the yard gardening and soaking up the season before it turns brutally hot. Add in that by mid-March I became a full time home-school teacher and small biz owner and something had to give and unfortunately reading was one of the things I’ve had to do less of to do more of my new responsibilities.
I’m keeping with the format from my Winter Reading Recap 2020 because I like seeing the overall picture of how I am reading the books I consume. One thing that I noticed about my reading is that with the stress of sudden quarantine and new responsibilities this spring I read far more fiction and far less non-fiction. I am sure that has to do with wanting to relax and escape into a story and the fact that stress affects the brain’s ability to concentrate. I likely gravitated towards what I could reasonably process.
One other note I want to share before digging into the good, the bad and the ugly of what I read this spring. Many of you have sweetly reached out suggesting that I use an affiliate link to Amazon. Your encouragement has been so kind and yet, I have been hesitant for many reasons. One of them being that Amazon is a complicated ethical choice and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make money from partnering with them. After doing some research I had decided to link the books I recommend and talk about to Bookshop.org. They offer books at an affordable price, donate 30% of the profits of your sale to a local bookstore of your choosing (as long as they have a relationship with bookshop.org) and are actively engaged in offering financial assistance to local bookshops across the country not just during Covid-19 but year round. While I love Amazon’s prices and fast delivery, they don’t create spaces to gather in our communities, they don’t bring in local authors for us to engage and they don’t give us a place for book lovers to browse in person. And yes, when you shop through Bookshop.org through any of the links on my website I will get a small percentage of the sale which is another way to support my writing and ministry. As always, I am thankful for this community’s thoughtful encouragement of my writing and work.
Now that that bit of transparency is over, let’s get on to the books.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 352 pages
“It didn’t matter what hit the fan; as long as there were unread books in the world, she would be fine.” Occasionally I read a book that confounds the concept of rating books. In the pantheon of books I’ve read is The Bookish Life of Nina Hill spectacular, dazzling or life changing? Not at all. But is it a really good book for what it is—a light but thoughtful read about what it means to hide from social anxiety in the safety of books? Yes, yes it is. There was nothing particularly revelatory about Nina’s story and yet I found its simplicity and outright literary nerdiness a joy. The only child of an award winning, globe trotting photographer, Nina lives a simple life, she works at a bookstore, she’s on a trivia team, she enjoys movies by herself, she loves reading. Nina is content with her organized and controllable world until the day she is contacted by an attorney. Her previously unknown father has died and with his passing she discovers she has a rather large family filled with as many quirks as Nina. If you are looking for a light palette cleanser between heavier reads The Bookish Life of Nina Hill with scratch that itch.
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Format: Audiobook; Length: 9.5 hours
I am picky about my mystery novels. I don’t like unreliable narrators and I don’t do domestic thrillers–no guessing who’s lying or who is crazier. I had read Ruth Ware before (Death of Mrs Westaway) so thought I would listen to this one since it’s been on my TBR forever and was available via the library. I liked several things about how Ware unfolds the plot to reveal her information slowly but on the whole I found the protagonist weak and simpering in a way I despise. From here on out I will stick to Tana French because she knows how to write strong, smart female protagonist.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Format: Audiobook; Length: 15 hours
This book was a damn delight. I don’t know what I was expecting about this book set in the theater scene in 1940’s New York City at the brink of the United States entering WWII, but it was funny, witty, sexy and entertaining. After dropping out of college Vivian is sent to live the summer with her aunt Peg, a theater owner with a loud, rowdy and rotating cast of showgirls, actors and writers. Looking back as a woman now in her 80’s, Vivian offers a funny and wry look at life as a young adult living for the first time in New York City. I had only read the non-fiction of Elizabeth Gilbert until this book and I am an instant convert to her fiction work. City of Girls will be a book I recommend over and over again to friends and family.
The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 364 pages
This unexpected novel drops the reader in the middle of London in the late 1800’s where Cora, a young woman, is rumored to be born with two hearts. She takes up a job as a resurectionist stealing stranger bodies for medical dissection or museum display. As more and more people with anomalies end up dead of unnatural causes and rumors reach a fever pitch about the girl with two hearts, Cora senses that someone is tracking her down. This book was so good. The pacing created suspense without skipping character developmental and sense of place. I particularly loved that Cora disguised herself as Jacob, her “twin brother” offering a layered look at gender norms in this time period. The Impossible Girl is a good book if you want adventure in another time period and a little murder and suspense.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
Format: Audiobook; Length: 15 hours
“Where there are bees there are flowers and where there are flowers there is new life and hope.” A story of Syrian migration, Lefteri introduces us to Nuri a beekeeper and Afra, his wife, is an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the hills of the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo—until the unthinkable happens. When all they love is destroyed by war, Nuri knows they have no choice except to leave their home. But escaping Syria will be no easy task: Afra has lost her sight, leaving Nuri to navigate her grief as well as a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece toward an uncertain future in Britain. Nuri is sustained only by the knowledge that waiting for them is his cousin Mustafa, who has started an apiary in Yorkshire and is teaching fellow refugees beekeeping. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was breathtaking in the beauty of its prose and in the way Lefteri was able to capture the peaceful and pastoral life of beekeeping in contrast to the disorienting experience of migration. While this story is about Nuri and Afra finding their way back to each other in their grief, what I found to be the most moving was the tenderness of male friendship between Nuri and Mustafa. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to broaden their knowledge about the experience of transcontinental migration from war.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 393 pages
I came across this book at the end of 2019 on one of those “most anticipated books of 2020” it sounded interesting so I pre-ordered it and sorta forgot about it. Which is odd because I only pre-order about 6-7 books a year, otherwise I like to stick to my BOTM selections and wait after books release and the hype subsides to see if its worth the purchase. Nonetheless, this book arrived right when we entered quarantine and my attention was diminishing. Linus, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Children, is sent to an island orphanage that is home to six rare magical children, one rumored to bring about the end of the world. This book was a delightful surprise because it is at its heart about discovering our chosen family, the way children can be nurtured to heal from trauma and how we are all more than where we come from. At its heart, The House in the Cerulean Sea is a queer narrative of hope. When I shared I was reading it people asked—is it middle grade or adult fiction? I searched the publisher website and it’s published as adult fiction but it is absolutely appropriate for older Middle Grade or Young Adult readers.
Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 288 pages
I finished this one in about 48 hours—not only is it a compact story with excellent pacing but the story of the members of Acceptance Across America a task force sent to Big Burr, Kansas, one of the most homophobic towns in America was so well done. Each of Laskey’s chapters is written from a different point of view—from townspeople to task force members—giving the books a kaleidoscope of perspectives, complications and a sense of understanding. What I loved the most is that Laskey unflinchingly examines what is broken in all of us and what we need to be whole. It was touching to see identities shift and solidify, ultimately making an argument that being loved and being able to love whether that’s romantic, familial or friendship is vital to human thriving. I loved Under the Rainbow and will be recommending it for quite some time.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 305 pages
I’ve needed a few days to think about this book and that’s probably the best summary I can start with. The reviews I’ve seen readers have either loved it or did not care for it and while I really enjoyed this book, I get it. Such a Fun Age was layered and thought provoking and explored a lot of complex and nuanced forms of racism from an #ownvoices author. Unlike other popular fiction on race, Reid is unflinching in her writing of characters that are flawed, with complicated motives and ideas about race—there is no easy tie up or clear epiphanies, no one ends up being the good person and the white people don’t get to be white saviors. And I think that’s what makes this book good. If you’ve read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility this is the perfect fiction pairing to explore all the subtle ways that racism and prejudice shape how people interact. There were things in the book that made me cringe because I saw myself and people I know in them—well meaning but ignorant at best or self-serving at worst. At its heart this book is about how messy people are—how they learn and grow or don’t, how people develop and solidify their perspective and yet how vulnerable we all are at heart. As I’ve said before, I read to expand my understanding of perspectives other than my own and to grow. I will be thinking about this one for a while.
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 320 pages
This was not my first Lily King book so I was familiar with her sparse yet insightful style of writing. I found the way she wrote anxiety to be one of the most true to form descriptions I have found in fiction ever, which was a powerful experience to see something you know so intimately written and represented so well. I also appreciated Writers & Lovers for the sense of place that she created in the restaurant–the rhythm, personalities and quirks plus the way the work can sweep you away in a current of distraction for hours on end was so well written. I also really loved the ending–the way everything pulled together, the way Casey worked through her grief and gave herself some grace to be broken.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Format: Audiobook; Length: 6 hours
Without the carpool line and quiet days to work long hours I haven’t been able to listen to many audiobooks since becoming a newly minted homeschool teacher. Shocker, but its hard to answer questions and help with reading and writing with earbuds jammed in your ears with a book going. But I finally figured out how to enjoy this book format–I can only listen to books short enough that my daily hour long walk allows me to complete a book before its due. It also has to be quick paced and engaging, which In Five Years fit that bill well. Dannie is about to land her dream job and get engaged to her long-time boyfriend and the perfect match for her ambition when she falls asleep and wakes up for only an hour five years in the future in a life that looks nothing at all like the one she meticulously planned. I liked this book far more than I thought I would because technically it’s a romance and I don’t read much romance (like one a year…or less). And truth be told, the romance was not the primary storyline–In Five Years is about best friends, loss and how grief can drive us to control what cannot be controlled.
This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 455 pages
I don’t know if it’s a remnant of being a voracious reader as a child but I love an epic “clever kids on a heist” story. This Tender Land is set in the Midwest during the Great Depression as four orphans set out on the river one summer in search of family and freedom from the cruel Indian reform school they each found themselves living. This Tender Land will be one of my top reads of the year. Not only does it have that epic adventure vibe of a Mark Twain novel with a strange and interesting cast of characters along the way but the four kids Odie, Albert, Moses and Emma are each so interesting and different in what they are searching for on their adventure. There are also theological themes as Odie works out the suffering he’s seen in his short, difficult life that I appreciated for their nuance. I loved this one so much I wrote an extended review.
The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle
Format: Digital ARC; Length: 304 pages
I am a huge Madeleine L’Engle fan, reading the whole Wrinkle in Time series as a child and as an adult resonating with her poetry and writing on faith and creativity. I even had the chance to attend the Writing Conference to celebrate her legacy last year in NYC, it was an honor to meet her granddaughter. So I was incredibly excited to read this collection of short stories spanning her writing career. You can definitely see the progression of her writing in both style and voice and yet there is still a thread of the familiar L’Engle in it all. I love the way that she can just drop you in the story right from the start and invest you in a world and characters and that is still the case even in some of her earlier clunkier stories. The Moment of Tenderness is a fun book for L’Engle fans and I appreciate Net Galley for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Format: Hardcover; Length: 490 pages
Pachinko is the sweeping intergenerational story of Sunja and her family as they struggle to establish themselves a Korean migrants in Japan. This story exposed me to an area of the world and the impacts of WWII and the subsequent Korean War that I was otherwise unfamiliar with from history classes (is anyone surprised). I enjoyed this book so much I wrote a full review you can read HERE.
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 320 pages
The two Fang children known to the art world as Child A & Child B, featured performers in their parents’ chaos inducing performance art pieces, are grown up but not very well adjusted. Returning home after each ends up in a mishap of their own creation, Annie and Buster are forced to face the way their eccentric parents shaped them. The Family Fang is the kind of dark humored read I LIVE for. After reading two later books by Kevin Wilson (Nothing to See Here and Perfect Little World) I snagged this book which is one of his earlier works. I find Wilson’s body of work particularly fascinating for a couple of reasons. First Wilson has Tourette’s syndrome and I find the way his neurodiversity shapes his writing to be unique. He is able to create worlds and situations for his characters that are ridiculous, outlandish and absurd and yet utterly engaging and believable. He has a knack for creating one wacky element that drives the entire pretense of the book with such force. I also am interested in the way that in the three books I’ve now read that Wilson is especially interested in how we are broken by and redeemed from our upbringing. Also, fun fact for those who loved Nothing to See Here…the seeds of that book make an appearance in this one which was really cool. The Family Fang is not for everyone but if you dig Wes Anderson films or stories about messed up and darkly funny families or you appreciate a good dose of white nonsense this book is for you.
The Mother-In-Law by Sallie Hepworth
Format: Audiobook; Length: 340 pages
This book was a pleasant surprise. I had the impression that it was a thriller of some sort but instead I was delightfully surprise to discover this book was so much more. It was a story about family, how you use money to help your adult children and how we can get our wires crossed interpersonally and how we can uncross them. The Mother-In-Law gave me plenty to think about when I read it and long after.
Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
Format: Hardcopy ARC; Length: 368 pages
This was one of the last books I read in May so it’s fresh, but I don’t quite know what to say. I am sure people will call Big Summer “genre bending” but I couldn’t figure out what kind of book it was trying to be. Was it a book about body image and online performance? A little. Was it a book about the nuances and complications of female friendship? Yes. Was this book a mystery? Kinda. Was it a romance? Sure, why not. Did this book talk about race and class without actually adding anything substantive to the conversation? Why, yes, yes it did. In other words, save your money and buy a book from this list to read this summer.
It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Divine
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 280 pages
I picked this book up for my research and writing project, as I search for language and framing that makes sense for the work I am trying to articulate. It’s OK That You’re Not OK is an excellent resource for the grieving and for those who want to care well for the grieving. It’s not a book about how to rebuild but rather how to make it through the initial shock of grief.
In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson
I had the chance to read an ARC of this book of poetry courtesy of Net Galley. The poems are brief and some seemed almost incomplete but what I enjoyed about this collection was that each section of poetry opened with a piece of full color art to set the tone for the sections themes.
Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems eds. Phyllis Cole-Dai and Roby R Wilson
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 245 pages
This collection is the perfect morning companion, offering a poem each day to create mindfulness and centering for the day. Featuring well known and some of my favorite poets such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Alice Walker, Rumi and others interspersed with poets that were new to me. I will be putting Poetry of Presence in the rotation with some of my tried and true volumes I use as part of my spiritual disciplines. My only complaint is that someone should have designed the cover better–such a lovely book and such a dated cover!
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 77 pages
The poet Jericho Brown was not on my radar until the 2020 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. I ordered up a copy of his award winning poems The Tradition and wow. They are beautiful and powerful. I will be reading and thinking about his work for a while.
As I look over this list of spring reads I can definitely tell that Covid-19 had an impact on my attention in significant ways. Not included in this list are the roughly half a dozen non-fiction books that I started, read half of or a few chapters and abandoned. Hopefully I can finish a few up this summer.
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