(Trust) Falling for You (CBR13 #17)

(Trust) Falling For You

What an enjoyable snack of a book this was. I was reminded a few days ago that I had bought (Trust) Falling for You as a birthday gift to myself back in February and I snuck it into my weekend reading line up. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it is a novella, I hadn’t realized, but a 120-page story was just the right size for my mood. Charish Reid specializes in writing stories featuring people of color in higher education and their love stories. I really enjoyed Hearts on Hold last year and (Trust) Falling for You shares much of what I liked in that one, while being just a touch more lighthearted.

This book tells the story of Yolanda Watson is the “fun professor” from the English Department and her nemesis in the History Department, Samuel Morris. Morris beat her out for a grant as well as chairs the boring committee she sits on. These two opposites find themselves thrown together for a week of close proximity as the various Humanities Departments of Franklin University spend a week away at a university team-building retreat to the woods of Wisconsin. There’s a lodging mix-up, and the pair are forced to share the same cabin for six nights. As Team-Building Buddies, they will take part together in all the embarrassing bonding games the Dean throws at them. In order to succeed they’ll have to learn to meet in the middle, and that’s before accounting for the sexual tension that gets harder to ignore.

I laughed a lot while reading this one. Forced Fun is my least favorite type of work activity, and these team building exercises were often the stuff of my nightmares, but they were for the characters as well and Reid populated her story with personalities that rang true for academic settings as well the kind of people you would expect to be friends with her leads (well, in Samuel’s case the kinds of people most likely to warm up to him once he relaxes). Their banter was crucial to the strength of the story and served well as a counterpoint to the more intimate moments between Yolanda and Samuel when they begin to allow the other one in. The characters take time to reflect and make changes, and left me with just enough loose endings to keep the story in my mind without feeling unsatisfied.  

Defiant Brides (CBR13 #16)

Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They Married

It should be said that this is a review of a DNF, I read enough to know what wasn’t working for me but with the due date at the library’s arrival I had to give it back and I don’t miss it. Proceed with that knowledge, because I’m probably going on a little bit of a rant here.

Here we go: I am so freaking tired of women’s stories being told through the lens of the men in their lives as the predominant view. SO. TIRED. This book purports to be the story of two women and the radical men they married. Fine. Then it needs to be at least even handed between the genders, if not tipped to the women because the title is literally Defiant Brides. That is not what happened here. Listen, I’m a fan of Henry Knox, you know? Who doesn’t appreciate a bookseller who uses his shipping and organizational prowess to turn the tides of the war? But if I wanted a book about Henry Knox (or, I guess Benedict Arnold) I would have picked up a biography about him. I did not do that.

And you know why I don’t read biographies of military officers from any war? I CAN’T STAND THE MINUTIA OF WAR. I’m a history major, I did my time. I respect the hell out of the people who serve, but the history of battles and campaigns bores me to tears. I dared to dream I was safe with this one, as the subtitle says revolutionary era. The time surrounding the war! I can totally dig on the social history surrounding times of conflict. THIS BOOK IS HIP DEEP IN THE EARLY CAMPAIGNS OF THE WAR WITHIN TWENTY-FIVE PAGES. Friends, that was not what I signed up for.

And one more thing before I get off my soapbox and go about forgetting I ever wasted time on this book: I was promised previously unpublished writings of these women. I suppose Stuart works them into her narrative, but fuck if I could tell.

Skip it.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (CBR13 #15)

I loved Get a Life, Chloe Brown. I swooned, I laughed, I commiserated. Hibbert delivered on all fronts.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1)

This is my first Talia Hibbert book (I’ve followed her on Twitter for quiet awhile and enjoy her greatly there), and it lives up to the hype. In broad strokes, it’s a relatively slow burn romance that slips right past enemies to lovers tropes and instead lands in the “you annoy me but once I actually get to know you I’m enamored of you” zone which isn’t nearly as fun to say.

In interviews Hibbert explains why she is writing diversely representative characters, and its simply that these type of characters deserve to be seen. I appreciate the hell out of that. Our romantic leads in Get a Life, Chloe Brown are the titular Chloe and her building’s superintendent, Red Morgan. The book opens with Chloe having a (hysterical) near death experience and not liking what her mind comes up with as her eulogy should she have in fact died. With that universal kick in the rump Chloe decides to get a life, and develops a seven step plan to do so. Chloe doesn’t have a life at the beginning of the book due to a series of choices and experiences related to her fibromyalgia. She has in many ways closed herself off from the larger world, using her family’s wealth and their emotional support to live a productive life, but not necessarily have a life. Step one is to move out, which brings her into direct contact with Red, building superintendent.

Red is himself at a crossroads. His friend set him up with the superintendent job two years ago as a place to land and regroup following a toxic relationship and its destruction of his life as he knew it, but in the meantime he hasn’t so much regrouped as turned inward, refusing to let people see the art he is still compelled to make. As the book unfolds we learn more about Red’s trauma and how his empathetic nature allow him to see Chloe as is, and see his ability to fill the gaps for her when he can, and to allow her to do the same for him.

This story builds steadily over time – the characters (and the reader) get to know each other, get to live in the reality of their lives. Hibbert has written a pair of good people who drop their facades and let the other in. The final act break up and get back together is focused on coping mechanisms that have turned rancid, and the getting past them, which is just so spot on to the story Hibbert is after here. Seriously, this was a great reading experience and I immediately requested the next book, Take a Hint, Dani Brown from my library.

A Better Man (CBR13 #14)

A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #15)

It has long been my habit to try to read each Inspector Gamache book in the month or season it is set, and by happy coincidence A Better Man, the fifteenth book in the series, is set in April. Delayed spring, occasional flooding, and a final snowstorm are all hallmarks of April in my neck of the woods, so I felt right at home with Gamache and the residents of Three Pines.

Structurally we are with Gamache and company for one single case, with stunningly few ties to larger stories in the universe while simultaneously being linked intricately to the books which precede it. In this insular story that plays out over only a few days, Gamache makes his return as head of the homicide department, a job he will temporarily share with Jean-Guy Beauvoir. There are floodwaters rising across Quebec. In the middle of Gamache’s return and the planning for the oncoming natural disaster, a woman’s father approaches a friend for help in finding her.

The search for Vivienne Godin becomes Gamache’s first case back as he is the only senior agent unassigned, and through the course of the book we’re with Gamache as he leads his small team through the search, in preparation for floodwaters, and in surviving the onslaught of negative social media. We trace the case from beginning to end, through moments of success to discovery of great mistakes, and everything in between.

Penny sets out to tell a story focused on Gamache’s parenthood. The missing woman is an only daughter similar in age to Gamache’s Annie. Jean-Guy is leaving the professional and personal nest as he and Annie go through final preparations for their move to Paris and Isabel Lacoste is making her return to the Sûreté following her injuries in Glass Houses. The writing hangs on the profound empathy Gamache displays both for the father of Vivienne Godin, but also for his successors and proteges. That part of the writing does work for me, there are over a dozen books preceding this one which have built a strong, deep knowledge of Gamache. But, there were things that just didn’t work for me – the social media posts that open the chapters for one. Another lacking is in the historical elements of Quebecois culture that Penny usually weaves into her storytelling to provide depth of meaning.

The Gamache books, at their best, are about life and the choices that we make, and what happens to good people when such a harrowing event comes into their lives. A Better Man gets there, but not in the great way I’ve come to expect (it also doesn’t help that I guessed the baddie well before the reveal of how and who and it took the dramatic tension right out of the reading).

In the Country We Love (CBR13 #13)

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided

I put this book on my to read list back in May of 2016, shortly after its publication. I don’t remember now what spurred me to do so, but at the end of the day its always the same basic reason – there was a story here that I wanted to know more about. In the Country We Love is Guerrero’s story of growing up the daughter of undocumented immigrants, and the course of her life following their deportments. It’s a big, important story.

You might recognize Diane Guerrero from her television work on Orange is the New Black or Jane the Virgin, but what is less known about Guerrero is that at the age of fourteen her parents were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the United States, Guerrero was able to remain in the country but to do so she and her family depended on the kindness and support of family friends who housed her and cared for her as she fell through the cracks (probably for the best) of the system. The book traces her life both to that point and from it. We are given a look at her parents’ lives in Colombia and the U.S., at her academic and personal struggles and triumphs.

In the pages of In the Country We Love we are given Guerrero’s story, but what it seems to be after is shining light onto the over 11 million undocumented immigrants, many with citizen children, living in the US, whose lives here are just as uncertain as Guerrero’s once was. The book was written with Michelle Burford, and as a memoir aimed at is YA audience it is does a fine job of taking one individual story and showing how it applies on a larger scale (which aligns with Guerrero’s work with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, as well as with Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes civic involvement. She has been named an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization by the White House). It is also told in the sort of bite sized pieces that I assume the authors thought their audience would prefer, or simply the ones that Guerrero was willing to share. However, the telling was uneven, the tone constantly shifting, and by the end I found myself speed reading and skimming.

How to Keep House While Drowning (CBR13 #12)

How to Keep House While Drowning: 31 Days of Compassionate Help

I’ve spent the past few years unpacking a lot about myself, doing the work in therapy, reading up on things that sounds like perhaps they are me. In that I’ve also started dealing with the fact that I struggle with care tasks – what you might more easily recognize as “chores”. I always have, I don’t remember a time when completing care tasks came easily, or instinctually. And, when I’m in a bad headspace it all gets so much worse.

But, I need to stop thinking in terms of better or worse as this book clearly elucidates, care tasks are morally neutral.

Once more: Care. Tasks. Are. Morally. Neutral.

The introduction of this book lays out what is to follow, what are care tasks and why are they so hard for people. It ends with the phrase “if you are crying right now this book is for you”. When a book tells you that and you’ve realized that you are in fact moments from crying, its oddly reassuring. Ah, I’m not alone! I’m so not alone that this licensed counselor has developed a whole philosophy of care (struggle care) to help the me-types cope.  From there the short 31 chapters (seriously, the entire kindle book is 54 pages long) bounce back and forth from unpacking the psychology (Shame is the Enemy of Functioning) and practical skill building (which Davis calls Gentle Skill Building and include cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, hygiene, maintaining spaces, and others).

The book focuses on making functional decisions within your abilities: what can you accomplish with the energy or ability you have right now that improves your functionality? Is it throwing some underwear and socks into the washing machine and setting up your coffee pot so tomorrow you has something to wear and much needed caffeination? Then do that much and know you’ve done what’s needed, judgement free. Is the floordrobe of laundry your impossible task? Let it be. How can you make the floordrobe more functional? Do that and move onto the rest of your day. Feeling like you don’t deserve to do the fun thing because your house is a cluttered mess? Tell yourself the real truth: you, merely by being you, deserve to have a lovely day.

Davis shares a lot of ground with Rachel Hoffman’s Unfuck Your Habitat which I find helpful but not perfect, and Tricia Hersey and the Nap Ministry on our right to rest which should be noted.  All likely have information that you’ll find helpful or minimally reassuring.

Record of a Spaceborn Few (CBR13 #11)

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3)

It has been quite a while since I’ve had a truly lovely reading experience. I should have known that Becky Chambers would deliver the goods. When I read To Be Taught, if Fortunate in September of 2019 (godtopus I missed regular library service in 2020 and am glad to have it back) I was simply astounded at what it accomplished, and it was from that time my favorite of Chambers’ works, with A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet a very close second (I had struggled a bit to get into A Closed and Common Orbit even though I eventually found it to be moving and important and a four star read).

Record of a Spaceborn Few fed my soul, it is all about hope and connection. Chambers tells the story of the Exodus fleet, the homesteader ships that left Earth centuries ago in search of a new home for humans. They’ve found it now, but many have chosen to continue living on the ships as they orbit a star granted to them by other members of the Galactic Commons while some have taken off for life planetside or on smaller, individual ships. Like my other love Station Eleven, we trail several point of view characters over a period of time. The prologue starts with a terrible tragedy and then we jump ahead four years in time and experience what life is like now and what the lingering fall-out is for the residents of the fleet.

If Chambers had stayed there this would still easily be a four-star read that I would have been very glad indeed to have read. But Chambers pushes further, as she is wont to do. She takes the minutiae of their lives (an interesting read all by itself, I didn’t struggle as others did with the feeling of a slow start) and weaves with them tapestry of the human condition, of the struggle to find purpose, to know what our purpose even is, to find meaning in our lives both individually and in community.

Record of a Spaceborn Few bounces between Tessa, a mother of two small children  who has always been content with her life in the fleet but is starting to have questions about how to best raise her kids; Kip, a teenager who has no idea who he wants to be but he knows he doesn’t want to be on the fleet anymore; Eyas, a woman in her late 30s whose job is to tend to the dead which often leaves her feeling at a remove from everyone else even though she knows that she is doing what she was meant for; Sawyer, a young man in his twenties who was born and raised planetside but comes to the fleet looking for a new start in the place of his ancestors; Isabel, an Archivist who serves the role of documentarian and historian, of preservationist and clerk, and a visiting ethnographer from another race who serves as the outside viewer within the structure. I loved these characters, and I loved their relationships. By and large they do not cross paths with one another, but their worlds are fully developed with delightful secondary characters who are elegantly drawn. I was particularly attracted to Eyas’s and Isabel’s stories, I think everyone probably has their own characters which spoke to them and these were mine.

While told in an episodic way, this character driven story brings the various components of the society to life through the eyes we see it. We know these characters by relatively early on so as events transpire, we are pulled further into their world. Chambers has the gift of writing these stories of people living on spaceships who act like people you interact with every day. In short, Chambers captures our humanity, she uses the small details that tell us so much about who we are.

Read these books. You don’t have to read them in order, I think you should read book one, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet before this one, but its not required.

Sakina’s Restaurant (CBR13 #10)

Sakina's Restaurant

In trying to get out of my reading slump I went back to my old Audible library to see what was hanging out there that I hadn’t listened to yet. One of the books there was Sakina’s Restaurant by Aasif Mandvi. I thought I was getting a straightforward short story not a recording of a one man show, and that effected my experience, I think. There’s a way you tell a story when you are going to be in front of an audience versus when you’re recording on your own; there’s an energy in an audience. Aasif Mandvi (Actor, comedian, and writer) originally performed this work off-Broadway 20+ years ago (and won an Obie Award for it). While this recording intends to capture the experience, I think it falls short.

Sakina’s Restaurant tells an age-old story: a poignant tale of immigrating to New York in pursuit of the American dream. In this case it is specifically the story of an Indian Muslim man who goes to America to search for a better life which for him means to become a millionaire. Once in America he works as a waiter at his uncle’s restaurant. It is from that place that we the reader are introduced to the rest of the cast of characters: his uncle, wife and their two children. The work is centered on a man’s desire to give the best to his children who have grown up and ‘forgotten’ their values and culture. The larger themes are of lost and broken dreams, but at under 90 minutes it just doesn’t get there.

The Irish Pub Cookbook (CBR13 #9)

It had been my intention to review this cookbook on St. Patrick’s Day, but my timings were a bit off. So here we are a few days later, but my positive experience with this book works year-round.

I really like The Irish Pub Cookbook because beyond its quality recipes it is a book you can read. Placed throughout are informational sections about a variety of pubs all over Ireland as well as the recipes. It’s a celebration of over 70 pub classics as well as pubs themselves with photos, history, and lore. Author Margaret Johnson is on a mission to inform Americans that contemporary Irish cooking means not just a rustic, hearty Irish classics such as stew with brown soda bread, but also “fancier” fare sophisticated as dishes found in restaurants around the world. There are certainly recipes included that cover some well-trod territory (is it really an Irish cookbook without Shepherd’s Pie?), but the “Blackboard Specials” sections lean towards the gourmet. Some were developed by the Irish Food Board to promote traditional Irish products to modern chefs and consumers.

This is a book written for the American audience – occasionally there are ingredients listed which are common in the states (half and half) that are not common across the pond. I haven’t done most of the recipes, but the ones I’ve done have come out well, but most importantly the ones I’ve read that are things I cook otherwise have improved my abilities. My soda bread hasn’t been as good as its been the past year ever before. But that does bring me to the only drawback that I can spot (I’m sure others might find different ones) is that there are quite a few recipes which are variations on each other. But that really isn’t the worst thing, and when I went hunting for soda bread to check proportions (which is what I do with recipes of things I already know how to make, seeing if I can refine my method) there were two, back-to-back, which I found helpful not harmful.

Our Women on the Ground (CBR13 #8)

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World

Looking back, I can’t quite remember how this book ended up on my TBR back in February 2020. It did though and I’m glad to have read it, even if it took me longer than I hoped to actually complete it. There is something incredibly valuable about learning a story from the person experiencing it; of seeking out authentic voices and sources. In bringing Our Women on the Ground, Zahra Hankir puts the voice of women journalists from the Arab world front and center, where they should be.

The countries represented in this work are as varied as the nineteen women writing from and about them. It is, by its very nature, an advocation for local voices. Reading these essays I was struck again and again how these voices are by and large missing from the media narrative, or if not missing certainly overshadowed. We usually hear from Western correspondents who might cover the area for a year or two and then return to their home countries where they might write memoirs or authoritative non-fiction books and become the go to sources for the area. By this model we are being denied the voices from this area of the world who have the ability to bring a more authentic telling of events to the surface. They have unique and intimate access, and as such are able to tell the story of the Arab world and broader Middle East with a profound sense of nuance and cultural understanding which rises to the surface in each of these essays. On top of that, this book is nothing but women’s experiences – even the translated works are translated by a woman – and I find myself more and more seeking out women’s voices to balance the absurd over abundance of male voices in the media.