Book Reviews: February 2022

Do you know how sometimes you are resistant to buying a book? For some reason I couldn’t get myself to pick this one up despite LOVING the cover art. My local book seller had quietly nudged me toward this book several times and I finally caved. She is a voracious reader and said it was in her top 5. That day another patron had also sung this books praises, so it was time.

This book is a journey through the age old question of what happens after we die? This is a speculation of course because we don’t really know, but it is one that I would like to keep close in my memory. It is a book about death, the time after death, and grief that is present in both those who are left behind as well as those who have passed. It is also a book about friendship and selflessness. It is a book about how we keep going in the face of hardship. I cried for the last two hours I read the book. Sometimes they were tears of joy and others sadness. I don’t always recommend books, but I don’t think it matters what genre you usually love, you will love this book.

This is a quick read both because it is more novella sized and the writing is very good. I had never read a book by this author, but picked it up because I am a nurse and it sounded relatable. It is a story about a girl from an immigrant family who lives in NYC and works as an orderly in one of the county hospitals. It is a book about family and friendships and about having the faith in yourself to move forward and upward in life.

This book I listened to which was a good choice. The setting is India and there I’m sure the pronunciation of many of the cultural items and names of things would have been butchered in my mind. It was nice to hear them pronounced as they should be. This is a story about a girl and her mother living in Pune, India. The mother is a bit eccentric for the times and they lived in an ashram for some time. In the present day, the mother is showing signs of dementia and the daughter feels obligated to care for her. Their relationship, through their whole lives, had not been close or comforting. The daughter often left to the periphery of everything. It is a story about family dynamics, breaks from culture, and personal identity.

This is another book that I listened to and it was read by the author. I had no idea what this book was about before I chose it, but did so because I currently have an obsession with birds. It is non-fiction and discusses the life of the author as a naturalist and her memories of birds and green spaces in the UK as she was growing up. It chronicles some wonderfully personal accounts of her adventures in nature while also providing information on several species of birds and their migrations, and what this means for the lands we live in. It also looks at how urban sprawl has changed or destroyed nesting areas for birds and what this means for the species.

Come on, who doesn’t love Samantha Irby? I listened to this as an audio book because Irby reads it herself and the way she describes her own life is both hysterical and bold. This was a great book to listen to in February because I need as much laughter as I can get stuck in the gray days of Upstate New York. Her honesty about how she lives her life in such an unapologetic way is refreshing. It made me take notice of my own habits and procrastination and investigate their origin. And sometimes, I just looked in the other direction. A delightful book.

I found this book at last year’s fall library book sale. I often try to scoop up as much poetry as I can possibly find, especially by author’s I’ve never heard of before. I find that it helps me to look at my own words in different ways. This entire book of poetry is the imagining of Barbie in different life settings, with careers, with comical thoughts about articulated limbs. It made me nostalgic in a way. I had Barbies and yes, they did make me feel like I didn’t fit in the class of a pretty girl, but they were also my therapy. I could dress them how I wanted, they were stand ins for people I couldn’t really express myself to. Sometimes, when playing Barbie with other girls, we explored cultural, sexual, and relationship ideas that our mothers were not willing to speak about. They were an education on what we thought being older might be like. There are some great poems in this book.

This is a smaller book of poetry from long time small press writer Michele McDannold. The poems in here feel like that space in life where you disconnect for a minute to wonder why people do the things they do. Or why you do the things you do? It is a book of quiet interactions and self assessments. Definitely worth the read.

I picked up this book from the local library for two reasons. #1 My boyfriend loves Lorca. I thought I should read some of his work because this in turn tells me something about my boyfriend. I had heard of Lorca as a writer, but honestly, I had never taken the time to read his work. #2 “Little Ashes” was an amazing film about the connection of Lorca and Dali. It moved me and made me cry so again, I thought I should dip into the work. There is merit to his language and in some poems I felt connected, but like all poetry from a time when I haven’t lived, it is harder to find a passion in the stanzas because I didn’t experience the hardships and cultural restraints of the time. It was still worth it for reason #1.

I just finished listening to this book before opening my computer to write this blog. Listening to this book made me realize just how little they teach us in school about black history. I vaguely remember hearing about the great migration, but not really understanding how long it was. It ended only 3 years before I was born. How could it be so absent from our education?

This is a non-fiction book that chronicles the journey Morgan Jerkins took when trying to find more information about her family history. So much of the facts of family history come from oral tradition and this makes it harder to trace if your family isn’t willing to talk or the elders pass away without ever having been asked what they know. This book is about the great migration but it was also a history on blended cultures with Native Americans of the southern regions and the persistent racism present in this country. It was interesting to follow the journey as she gathered more snippets of family story or a random name of a distant possible relative. Definitely an eye opening historical story.

Book Review: The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

Happy New Year everyone. Yes, I know, it’s the sixth. Better late than never.

Now that 2020 is out of the way, I can get back on track. The year was distracting, to say the least. I still managed to read some books, but my audio book game was off for sure. Somewhere in the summer of last year, I took part of a workshop with a book agent who was going to help us learn how to query an agent. For those of us without degrees in writing or any earthly clue what that even means, this workshop was going to be great.

It was until she gave us a homework assignment to come up with several comparative books to the ones we had written, but the caveat was that they had to be from the last five years. Insert panic. Waves of glorious, crying panic. Let’s just start with the fact that most of the books I read are from dead authors or from ones who are publishing, but not at the breakneck speed of mainstream fiction. I attempted to look up books which I thought would stand with my themes or time setting. I had a hard time taking books at their word and not reading them first to see if it was really comparable. Add to this the fact that I hadn’t read any recent fiction in a fair bit of time.

What does all of this have to do with N. K. Jemisin? I’m getting to that. This year one of my goal is to try to read a great number of Time Magazine’s Top 100 books of 2020. I am doing this to open my reading comfort zone and maybe grow as a writer. My palate for the word isn’t as broad as I had hoped, and I learned this from the workshop. My second novel has touches of science fiction and fantasy… both categories of fiction that I DON’T actually read. How do I expect to pull that off successfully? I have started my novel writing career as a pantser 100% and I’m telling you this is beyond painful in the editing phase.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin has found its way on Time Magazine’s list, as I’m sure it is on many others as well. Before this, I had never even heard her name. You may gasp, I get it. Her book about the creation of New York City from a multi-universe point of view rocked my world. I have to admit that I listened to this as an audio book and Robin Miles is an amazing voice actress. She made Jemisin’s words come alive. I was in this book. I could see everything she wanted me to see. I am not sure how many pages it is as a traditional book, but it was a whopping 16 hours of listening. It was a race to the finish line for me as it was due back in the morning with a waiting list already formed.

I’m not going to tell you anything more about this book because I think you need to explore it for yourself. The adventure is in parsing it all together like a puzzle. It was a fabulous way to start my new journey of writer’s I’ve never read before. Get ready. This year will be ripe with book reviews.

Book Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Photo from James Clear website

I suppose I am late to this pandemic party in a sense. Being a nurse has had me on the front lines the whole time. Shelter in place happened only four days a week for me and then I was at work the other three. I maintained a partial normalcy as far as that was concerned. All my social outlets were changed, but I was still leaving the house.

Living in New York State has had its advantages. Our Governor locked down the state rather quickly to help decrease the spread and we opened much slower than any other place. Despite this, I am starting to see increased cases in our rural community because many people don’t feel the threat is real. They walk the streets without their masks on because they don’t want to ruin their makeup or they are too cool or they just don’t care. Meanwhile, I have so many people that I worry about who could catch this virus and die.

What does all of this have to do with James Clear’s Atomic Habits? I thought you’d never ask. At this stage of the pandemic game I have lost my usual habits. Time has become strange and marked only by the days I work and Tuesday when I have my group meeting online. I started to lose interest in the things that bring me joy. I lost my schedule basically.

I am also dealing with a teenager who we discovered recently is high functioning ASD but has a hard time making routines and doing things they liked before due to focus issues and some changing health issues. When scrolling through the available audio books at my library, Atomic Habits popped up and as it is only a five hour listen, I thought I could squeeze it in.

This served two functions. I could learn how micro changes effect your habits and it has me back into audio books which had dropped off my radar during the height of the pandemic because I was no longer driving long distances to work and I couldn’t concentrate.

The book is full of very simple and helpful tips on how to build good habits and he has several different ways you can achieve these things depending on the type of learner you are. The rules are very simple and easy to manage. I did find the book a bit over plugged. After each helpful thing he announced you could find it on his website and then listed it. It was repetitive and clearly a marketing strategy which I know works. Kudos to him, but it didn’t get by me.

There are a lot of helpful resources on his book page that could steer you in the direction you need if you are having problems keeping up with your good habits or trying to build new ones. It was worth the listen or read, whatever you’re into.

Book Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

What attracted me to this book was its title and cover. The collage feel is something very personal to me and I enjoy smashing images together to make a whole new visual. I also enjoy, weather. 

Based on these ideas, I chose Weather by Jenny Offill.


As a general rule, I don’t read jacket information, nor do I read reviews before picking up a book. (Shakes head as she writes this review). Not that I don’t go to websites that review books. I only look at the suggested covers and make a decision that way. It spices life up, trust me. As a writer, it continually reminds me of how important cover art is in capturing an audience’s attention.

After finishing the book, I see it has been on the New York Times Best Seller list and that it gets a lot of stars on Goodreads. For me, this book did not hit the mark. Maybe my enjoyment of this novel would’ve required me to read the hard copy rather than listen to it. In the audio book this is the rambling of a woman in a stream of consciousness about the coming political climate surrounding a newly elected president with a mild overarching story about her family. It is possible the arc of the story was more poignant and relevant, but the delivery was so distracting that I kept looking to see how much longer until the book ended.

The primary character Lizzie feels cynical and wry. Her brother Henry is a hot mess of a man whom she has to care for even at the expense of her own family’s happiness. The interesting parts of this story were when Lizzie interacted with other people and drove the novel forward. The rest of the time you’re stuck in her head. I have my own ADD brain to deal with and that is misery enough.

I could be wrong about this book and once the library opens back up, I might give this title another try to see if reading rather than listening is the winning form for Jenny Offill’s words. As it stands, I’m giving this book a solid…. meh.

Book Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I have to tell you I am thrilled to not have to drive a cumulative nine hours back and forth to work, but it has hampered my consumption of audio books. I was listening to about one a week and I’m lucky if I can fit in two a month now. Sheltering in place has taken an effect on it too.

We’ve been inundated by shitty weather in upstate New York, which has made hiking and individual outdoor activity harder to do. It slows the mind down. After an entire day of rain, it finally stopped, and I took this as an opportunity to take a long walk and listen to a book. I needed revitalizing.

Recently, my kid and I have been watching episodes of Universe which has been interesting. I have always loved astronomy and the principles of physics, but was never smart enough to crush the math. As I scrolled through the available audio books through my library, there it was. The answer to my first world problems.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I will not tell you with any sliver of intelligence about the key principles of astrophysics and I will not try. This is more a review that puts the seed in your head that you should listen to this book. You could read it, but then you won’t get to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson say “Holy Shit” while talking about astrophysics. I was walking by the swollen river when this happened and literally was laughing so hard. He’s just a guy, but a smart one. It took me off guard.

I think what I loved about his book was that he made the ideas of astrophysics easy to understand. He spoke about them with intelligence but referenced them to images and ideas that we might grasp as lay people. He talked about how often people feel depressed when learning about astrophysics because it makes them feel insignificant, but he states that he still feels excited and full of wonder. Space and the universe makes him feel this way because human beings discovered it all. It feels like an infinite possibility instead of being irrelevant.

You have four hours of time, less than four hours actually, to listen to this book. You can feel smart and maybe childlike about the wonders of space and how regular people learned to do amazing things.

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Photo: property of original artist

I have been putting off writing a review on Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for a few weeks now. It was the last audiobook I completed since leaving a job that had me driving two plus hours a day. I finished this one at the end of orientation for my new job which has a shorter commute and little time for consuming audiobooks. It’s the end of an era of listening for me. Maybe I’ve been mourning the loss of the ritual.

I can’t say enough about Neil Gaiman in the first place. I have his rules of writing taped to my bathroom mirror. I read them everyday. They’ve propelled me forward. I can’t lie though, I only discovered his work in the last year, making me extremely late to the party. I am a firm believer in the idea that we find writers when we need them the most. Gaiman made me want to finish a novel I started ten years before. He made me want to complete something.

Norse Mythology is a collection of stories about the creation and ending of the gods, giants, and their interrelationships through history. You have to listen to this book rather than read it. Trust me. Neil Gaiman could read the dictionary and it would be interesting. But besides that fact, the stories of Odin, Loki, and Thor, along with lesser characters I never knew about, deserve to be heard in the oral tradition.

Remember back to when you were a child and your parents read you bedtime stories from a book, or your grandfather spun a yarn for you on a summer day in the backyard while you ate ice cream. How good did that feel? It is magical to have someone take you on a journey in that way. You should go on this journey with Gaiman.

I’m not going to really review this book in detail as it is a collection of stories I feel you have to go in cold to really enjoy. It might change the way you think about Norse mythology in general, especially if you only have very basic knowledge of the tales from what you may have gleaned in comic books and movies. They are fantastical stories about the things of dreams. Give Norse Mythology a listen.

Book Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

“The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman is above all else, a book about love.

Sure there are witches and magic and a bit of history. But the primary thread is love. The story is about a family of witches with the surname Owens. In the 1600s, their ancestor Maria Owens was killed and there was a curse placed on all the women of the family to lose the one they fell in love with. In the lineage, only women Owens are born until there is one son, Vincent.

Vincent, Frances, and Bridget are all siblings living in New York City in the 1960s. Their lineage as witches has been kept from them by their cautious mother Susanna who knew all too well of the pain of the curse against love. The children know they are different, but they don’t know how different until they go to Massachusetts for the summer of Francis’ seventeenth birthday. It is here in the family home paid for by Maria Owens in the 1600s do they find out about their gifts.

Their Aunt Isabelle gives them free reign to find themselves, to be children, and discover what they are made of. She teaches them spells, but moreover she loves them exactly as they are without trying to change them as their mother does. This home on Magnolia Street becomes a place they return to again and again.

“Don’t live a little, live a lot,” reminds Aunt Isabelle.

Each of the children struggle with their gifts and what they mean. They each do their best to stave off falling in love, afraid of the curse, but none of them can resist. I don’t want to go into any more detail about “The Rules of Magic” because I want you to experience the rich language filled with sensory description and heartbreaking tenderness of growing up a witch in the height of the 60s with war looming over them all. It is a book that covers family, love, individuality, strength of character, and perseverance.

What I will leave you with is my favorite quote which is something that I needed to be reminded of:

“The only remedy for love is to love more.”