Book Reviews: July and August ’20

I slowed down a bit in my reading this summer as we were getting used to our newest family member and as life got a bit busier than it has been in months. That being said, I still finished reading some great titles AND I hit my goal of finishing 40 books this year with another third of the year left to go. Some of these titles are a bit heavier and focus on race and social justice issues in the United States. This is an area I was challenging myself to dive into – an area where I have quite a bit of unlearning to do personally and that was prompted by my desire to better understand our modern day Civil Rights movement occurring in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

As always, I’ve linked to the books on – an online bookseller where a portion of your purchase goes to supporting brick and mortar local bookstores.

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This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel. (Fiction/LGBT, 2018). This book follows the story of a family of seven (5 boys and parents) living in Wisconsin in an unconventional parenting dynamic. Rosie, the Mom, is a night shift emergency room physician, and her husband Penn is a yet-to-be-published author. Their five sons live the as-to-be-expected chaotic life of boys until it becomes evident that their youngest son, Claude, identifies as a girl. The family navigates with Claude, an exceptionally wise 5-year old, the acceptance found in their own home and the intolerance found in teachers, parents and confusion of students in Claude’s school when the family discloses openly that Claude is a biological male identifying as a girl. An incident prompts a cross-country relocation for the family to Seattle where they reestablish Claude (now Poppy) in the local school system without disclosing to anyone except administration. Skipping ahead a number of years, to Poppy’s 5th grade experience, she is outed by no fault of her own and faces criticism, mockery and humiliation in the worst teenage way. This story provides the unique perspective of how each family member grows closer to their sister/daughter and how the family secret gnaws at them. This was an exceptionally well-written book and one of the best reads I’ve finished this year.

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The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward. (Fiction, 2020). The Jetsetters is a Reese’s Book Club pick, which pretty much always guarantees that it has a fun female-centric perspective and will be somewhat lighthearted. The Jetsetters follows a family that is largely disconnected – 70 year old matriarch Charlotte, and her three children Lee (an aspiring actress), Cord (a venture capitalist who is uncomfortable sharing his sexuality with his family), and Regan (a mother of two who is in an unhappy marriage). Charlotte submits a risque entry to the “Become a Jetsetter” contest and upon winning, spends ten days at-sea with her estranged-then-reunited family. Their emotional baggage spills out into the trip and puts the family in uncomfortable, compromising, truth-spilling scenarios. This was a light beach read, made you laugh and resonates for anyone who has ever experienced family drama.

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The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders. (Non-Fiction/Memoir, 2018). I loved this book and felt so seen by Cait’s narrative! This takes a deep dive into Cait’s experience with compulsive habits (spending, partying) and how she walked away from alcohol, aggressively paid down debt and then implemented a shopping ban for 12 months. I saw a lot of myself in her story – as someone who is so quick to find a retail solution to all my problems. This book inspired me to take a closer look at how and why I spend money and see if I could learn a thing (or twenty) from her shopping ban experience. What I loved most about this book was how it did NOT speak down at me as a reader. I’ve found that many of these minimalist lifestyle type books seem to speak to you from a holier-than-thou slant – Cait’s did not. She was raw, honest and unafraid to dive deep into relationship troubles, family separations and her fears and weaknesses. I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to read her newest book – coming out in September 2020: Adventures in Opting Out.

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Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Better Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. (Race/Social Justice, 2020). I listened to this as an audio book and plan to buy a hard copy to re-read this again soon. I did not realize upon renting it (my library rents audio books for one week at a time) that reading this book is intended to be a journaling and reflection activity over a 28 day period. Even listening to it at a faster pace, this book was still powerful. It was hard to listen to at times (I’m not going to lie) because it really paints the picture of WHY it is so hard for white people to see and identify racism because of the strong STRUCTURE of white supremacy. This book opened my eyes to areas where I am complicit in permitting white supremacist behaviors in my life, and how I (through my white privilege) do not have to see the inherent advantages I have. I encourage everyone to read this, if they are willing to truly commit to unlearning problematic past knowledge. It is not easy to admit that you are a part of the problem, but in these times of our modern day Civil Rights era, I think it is important. I hope to re-read the book and complete the journaling prompts this fall over the intended 28 day period.

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. (Memoir/Race/Social Justice, 2014). This non-fiction piece addresses the systemic racism in our criminal justice system from the perspective of an attorney who seeks to overturn death sentences of prisoners in the United States. The story focuses largely on the story of Walter McMillian, a black man in the Deep South facing the death penalty for the murder of a white girl which he did not commit. In a way that is not overly legalease, The author explains the casual racism institutionalized in the prosecution and incarceration systems and how they work in tandem to put more and more black and brown Americans behind bars. This read is particularly compelling in our current domestic situation. I haven’t watched the film adaptation of this book, but hope to as this book was excellent.

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The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory. (Fiction, 2018). This lighthearted romantic story follows a woman, Nik, who is proposed to after five months of dating by a truly awful boyfriend… on the JumboTron at a Dodgers game. She says no, and in the process attracts significant negative media attention to herself and ends up meeting two friends that will lead her to face her own fears of commitment, strengthen her friendships with her college best friends and eventually learn how to love again. I selected this book as it was a Reese’s Book Club pick. I normally am not into romance and this was a bit smutty, but it was a relaxing summer read that could be finished in a weekend.

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