Using the term in quotations makes it not real, right? Remember, no shame allowed on this blog!
After Buzzfeed published its list of romance novels to read over the summer (you know, beach reads, mainly targeted at women..which I love,) I immediately put holds on most of them. Buzzfeed does do a great list of books. This particular list was diverse and intriguing to a teacher about to have a lot more time for reading. I have gotten through a few on the list and wanted to spotlight one that many people loved and I found to be just okay.
The Happy Ever AFter Playlist
BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS
Trying not to give books three stars, but honestly, I found this one to be just okay. The Happy Ever After Playlist starts out with a dog jumping into to the car of Sloan Monroe; a character who lost her fiance in an accident and is having trouble finding herself and moving on. Luckily for her, the dog’s owner, handsome rockstar Jason, is away and she has found herself a new friend in the dog and a flirty penpal in the man.
The plot was fun and predictable. The characters were quirky and mostly well rounded. I really liked the main character’s best friend who was fierce and protective of Sloan, but also hilarious. I really enjoyed the villainizing of the media and music industry. The story does dig into grief, loss, and the toll fame can take on a person’s mental health fairly well. Sometimes it all seemed a little overly dramatic to me and I worried that it made the otherwise strong Sloan seem like she needed saving, but this drama certainly added to the evolution of the characters and their relationships.
Otherwise, I mostly finished it to finish it. Cute, but nothing super special…to be fair, I am very hard to surprise or impress when it comes to this type of novels.
If you are looking for something fun, you can find it here!
As a reader, I am often drawn to the same genres (mystery, YA, historical fiction) with similar settings (Victorian England) and characters (spunky spinster women that solve crime and end up winning over the tall, handsome, grumpy man.)
I do read everything that I can, but I recognize that I need to expand my reading of BIPOC even further. I always made a purposeful choice to read diverse authors, but re-prioritized this after hearing author Varian Johnson speak at the Boston Globe Horn Book Award Ceremony in 2018. He told the librarians and teachers in the audience that we need to think about who is in our classroom and choose books for them. Children need to see themselves in what they are reading and need exposure to other children that are not like them. Representation and the cultivation of empathy became an even more important goal in my classroom and in my life.
To that end, I started adding even more diverse books, genres, and authors to my reading list. Today, I am going to tell you about two: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and There There by Tommy Orange
The Underground Railroad
Colson’s Whitehead’s book is the story of Cora, who is living as a slave on a Georgia plantation, and follows her from her plantation and onto her journey on the Underground Railroad. This was a book that I had on my ebook TBR list for a few years and kept putting off in favor of paper books. Without my usual provider of paper books (the library,) I finally picked it up last week.
BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 4 STARS.
Structurally, I appreciated the vignettes and multiple perspectives. What a fascinating and horrifying story. In school, we always learned about the Underground Railroad, never in such detail. The danger, the horror, the lack of humanity, and emotions in the book made it difficult to read and difficult to stop reading. Although the book takes place in the 1800s, many of the scenes could have been ripped from the news in 2020. Worth a read, if not just to put human emotions with the facts that you learned in 8th grade history class.
Like The Underground Railroad, There There by Tommy Orange uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of another persecuted group: Native Americans. Orange’s book follows the lives of characters that are loosely connected to each other and to an upcoming festival in California.
BEYOND THREE STARS RATING: 3 STARS
I know I said I wouldn’t use the 3 star rating, but I feel it is deserved here and not just my own hang-ups regarding honest reviews. At the end of the day, I liked the book. I found the bits of informative text fascinating and disturbing. I was moved by the stories of the characters. I was shocked at the ending. I loved the first half of the book. However, around the halfway point, I felt like there were too many stories and characters to follow. The build up to the end of the book dragged because the focus of the narrative kept jumping around.
Overall, my issues with the book’s structure did not take away from the complexity of the stories and their importance. Everyone should read at least the first third to a half of this book for insight into these characters who are living as many current people of Native American heritage are.
READING BIPOC IN THE FUTURE
For the second half of 2020, a few colleagues and I will be doing a reading BIPOC authors challenge. I am excited to continue to broaden my reading and find some great new recommendations for friends and students.
When people find out I “read,” they also want to know my favorite book or what I recommend they read.
This is always a bit of a delicate situation to find myself in. As readers of previous posts know, I am not great at expressing extreme opinions (Libra problems,) I am always loathe to divulge “guilty pleasure” reads that I enjoyed, and I do not want to recommend something that the asker will not like.
So, I tend flip the question back around, “What do you enjoy reading? What is the last book you finished and liked?” Why just recommend a book, when I could recommend something that I know they will enjoy, that suits their tastes, and that might make them think?
The act of recommending books should be a deeply personalized experience. That is why I try to approach book reviews with caution. I want to explain what Iliked or did not like, not what everyone will like and dislike. There are many types of readers, just as there are many types of books. What works for one reader, will not necessarily work for every reader. I have been caught up in this pervasive general consensus mentality in 2020 too many times. Everyone has to like the same shows, movies, and books, disliking all the same in those categories. It seems like the only time people are allowed a real opinion is when it comes to food. Our taste buds are allowed to be critical, but our brains are not.
That changes now.
With all of this in mind, I have been attempting to create a database of adult books that I recommend, similar to my book database for students. That way, when I am approached for a recommendation, I can send a link, show them some favorites, and some genres. Thus empowered, they can choose for themselves. They can read what they WANT to, not what they think that they HAVE to.
For now, my database is a Google Doc. Over my summer break, I intend to turn it into a Google Sheet. Check it out here: Kelly Recommends. It is a WIP, with a lot of mystery novels set in England. Oh well, I like what I like.
When I was in college, studying great works of literature…mostly by white, dead, British men, a friend endlessly mocked me whenever I picked up a “chick lit” book. They would tell me: “You are better than that. You are smarter than that.” It bothered me. It bothered me a lot. At some level, I agreed with her and started hiding my “guilty pleasure” books from everyone. You know, things I enjoyed, that were not challenging or part of the literary elite.
Why are some books considered more worthy than others? Who decides this? Who decides that an English major at a large private university is reading beneath them if they pick up something that is not in the “canon” or, god forbid, fun? Why do we have to hide our reading of books that we enjoy and call them “guilty pleasures,” as though we should be ashamed to read them? Why is it often women who feel this shame and use this labeling?
**We KNOW who decided this and we KNOW why** But that is a longer and more complex conversation.
In my teen years, I learned more complex vocabulary words and more about history from vaguely historical bodice rippers, than I did from AP European History. To be fair, I did go and research the time periods and the people that the books were about, once the romance was done. I learned about feelings and continue to further my emotional and social growth by reading middle grade books, YA books, and romance novels. Sometimes I even pick up these genres because the plot or setting of a book appeals to me the way some movies and TV shows appeal to other people . Even if the plot, structure, or word choice are not always complex for this 32 year old, the feelings and emotional reactions still can be.
I always tell my students that I do not care what they read, as long as they read something. At the end of the day, a person that reads at least twenty minutes a day will learn a million more words than their same age peers. Whatever they read, article, how-to for a video game, graphic novel, middle grade fiction book, can be enough. If they like it and they will read it, that is the start of a lifelong love of reading…anything.
All books can be valuable, if the reader gets something out of it. No shame allowed.
Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate, enjoy, and read the “canon” (such a problematic term,) various classics, and modern literary fiction. I read books to learn, to see what the buzz is about, to get me out of my comfort zone. And that is all important! But, often, I need something different.
Book Review: Verity By Colleen Hoover
That brings me to my first review. I plan to give my rating and break it down by star. You’ll see!
The literary elites might write off this author and her books as “guilty pleasures,” but I do not. Colleen Hoover is known for her Contemporary Romance and Thrillers. I read them and I am not afraid to admit that I like them.
Verity tells the story of down on her luck, one-hit wonder novelist Lowen Ashleigh, who is on the verge of losing everything. Seemingly randomly, she is offered the opportunity to finish the last book of a celebrated thriller novelist Verity Crawford. To do this, she must head to Verity’s remote Vermont home and sort through her papers. What Lowen finds among Verity’s papers and Verity’s home, leaves Lowen and the reader both disturbed and on the edge of their seat.
Why I liked it: First Star– My emotional reactions to the characters and plot were complex. I loved and hated everyone. I trusted everyone and no one. I was intrigued and disturbed, all at the same time. Second Star– The plot moved and the text wasn’t super challenging. I sat down for a few hours and devoured it. Never a dull moment. Third Star- The romance, although I could have done with the circumstances, was hot. Fourth Star– I cannot stop thinking about what the truth is. What really happened. I am still not certain.
What kept me from giving it 5 stars: Lowen finds a journal of Verity’s that details some horrifying things that she admits to doing. Some of it was very hard to read, even if it was compelling. Also, I found the main character to be a fairly weak one with almost no agency. I wish that she had been empowered to do more and take more control.
Did any of that stop me from enjoying the book overall? Nah. A reader can critique a book and still be able o enjoy. Myself included.
In sum, read what you want. Read what intrigues you. Read what interests you. Read what you think is fun. Read what moves you. No shame allowed.
But hey, occasionally, sneak out of your comfort zone and read something different, if you want. The way I see it, if people are reading anything that is a good thing.
What do you love to read, even if some might label them “guilty pleasures?”