Show Us Your Books SPRING/SUMMER 2020

August 11, 2020

You see what I did there with the title?

Friends, I’m having a reading problem. It’s really really hard for me to read right now. Even the fun, summer, beachy books that I love are a slog, because every time I read about a coffee shop or a picnic or a restaurant or a bar or a carnival or a beach or even two strangers being near each other my heart HURTS. We’ve lost so much that we could have had back by now because people just couldn’t sacrifice the yearly family vacation or the swim club or in-person church services or a birthday party. *

The Sweeney Sisters

Ahem. Derail aside, here are the books that I’ve gutted my way through over the last five months. Some get larger write ups, some get a summary.

Onto the books! I use the Goodreads rating system, which is:

  • One star: did not like it
  • Two stars: it was ok
  • Three stars: liked it
  • Four stars: really liked it
  • Five stars: it was amazing

Beach Read — Emily Henry
The cover and description suggest a very light meetcute romcom book. Our protagonist, January Andrews, is a romance author who is broke and depressed by recent family events. She is secluding herself in a Michigan beach home for the summer to finish her (unstarted) book before the September 1 deadline. Augustus Everett is the hunk next door, who also happens to be an author of literary (manly) fiction, AND was January’s college crush. He’s struggling to get through his own book. While there were definitely moments of light, humor, and passion, there were some pretty dark parts tucked away in this book. It took me a month to finish because I kept feeling sad whenever January and Gus had a date.

Four stars, would have been five but I think there were so many tiny subgroups of characters that I started wondering why some were even included. Trigger warnings for child abuse, cults, murder by arson. I told you there was a lot!

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington — Alexis Coe
I learned about this book from the Call Your Girlfriend Podcast. It’s the first biography of Washington written by a women in 40 years or 100 years if you limit the criteria to women historians. She also fact-checks Ron Chernow, which was fun to watch. This is a high-level view of Washington, debunking the hero legends that were created around him. For example, he was NOT a great militarily mind. He was also a pretty sickly guy. And his second term as president did not go well. Coe also educates us on the intricacies of slave-holding – while we think that Washington freed his slaves upon his death, he only freed HIS slaves upon MARTHA’S death. Most of their slaves came to Mount Vernon from Martha as part of her initial dowry, and she most certainly did NOT free her slaves upon her own death. She willed them to her descendants.

Four stars. If you’re looking for a giant tome on Washington this isn’t it. If you’re looking for reverence, this isn’t it either. It’s refreshing and informative on its own merits, not just because it was authored by a women.

He even talked Congress into funding the New Jersey Journal, over which he could exert total editorial control, spreading stories about American good deeds and British evil.

Alexis Coe, You Never Forget Your First

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption — Bryan Stevenson
This book came up in my holds twice in the last year and twice I let it go back because I didn’t want to handle the serious subject. When it came up AGAIN in June, I realized I owed it to society to read it. Because I can post a black square on Instagram in observance of Black Lives but if I don’t read a book about the horrifying racial and economic disparities surrounding the death penalty (and the prison system on a whole) in America, I’m not putting in the work to make things better. It’s just a square.

book, suntan lotion, beach hat, on an outdoor table
Summer reading.

The chapters alternate between advancing the story of Walter McMillan, wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Stevenson’s journey from being a young lawyer to establishing his foundation, and explaining how the criminal ‘justice’ system fails women, children, and the disabled. It’s a devastating read, but an important one and very well-written to boot.

Five stars. Trigger warnings for almost everything. A month after finishing the book, my mother told me about a segment she saw on GMA about a kid incarcerated for 30 years who was just released. She asked if I knew of something she could read to educate herself on how something like that could possibly happen. I pointed her right toward this book.

Wow, No Thank You — Samantha Irby
This is Irby’s third full-length book and a book of essays mostly about middle age, marriage, and her career. She’s an amazing writer with many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not life-changing or something that will stick with you forever, but that’s okay!

Three stars. I preferred the essays about her blooming career and her life in the burbs over the purposefully gross-out body/medical essays.

Sure, sex is fun, but have you ever gotten your inbox down to zero?

Samantha Irby, Wow, No Thank You

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — Benjamin Alire Sáenz
You all know I read one, MAYBE two YA books a year. It’s just not my genre. I’m not even sure how I learned about this one – maybe it was from this linkup, could have been from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter. I skeptically dipped a toe in and and was completely and delightfully swept away. My favorite YA books are the ones where the kids figure things out but the parents are backing them the whole way. And this one delivered. It was sweet and sometimes jarring and I was invested in Aristotle and Dante (and the dog) from page one.

Five stars. There are a few “HOLY SHIT IS THIS GOING TO BE OKAY?” moments in the book but — and I’m going to spoil this — it all turns out okay. Better than okay.

The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin
If you think fantasy novels all contain elves and orcs and the like, you’ve never met an N.K. Jemisin book. In this book, the characters are cities and boroughs and corporate megaliths. In this world, cities are born and become a living entity. In this book, it’s New York’s turn to be born. But it faces challenges from enemies who want to strip it of its individuality before it’s even born. It’s up to the spirit of New York – her boroughs – to come together and save her.

Four stars. I’ll admit that there were parts I didn’t understand but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all. Sometimes you have to let go of “but why?” This is a wild book. It’s definitely not for you if you’re a white supremacist or possibly a CEO. Also, New Jersey is awesome.

“Well, I mean, just the sight of something awful and incomprehensible isn’t going to send me off frothing at the mouth,” Veneza says. It’s nonchalant, but there is a shaken note to her voice nonetheless. “I’m from Jersey.”

N.K. Jemisin, The City We Became

The rest of the books:

The Sweeney Sisters — Lian Dolan: Four stars – I love privileged family drama!

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language – Gretchen McCullough: Four stars – nonfiction linguist book with a nerdy twist

No One Tells You This — Glynnis MacNicol: Four stars – life is still great even if you don’t take the popular path

I envisioned packed cars of people folding back the paper, shaking their heads, horrified and grateful in equal measure to read of every New York City subway rider’s worst nightmare. Afterward they’d look up and say to themselves, or their neighbor, or later their coworker: At least she didn’t have any children. It was clear to me, even in the imaginary stories I was telling to myself, that after today I would be a person who would forever be measured by what I didn’t have.

Glynnis MacNicol, No One Tells You This

Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope — Mark Manson: Two stars – Sucked in by the title, disappointed.

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) — Tessa Dare: Four stars – hot regency action w/a smart female protagonist

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed — Lori Gottleib: A therapist reminisces on her journey to becoming a therapist, her time IN therapy, and her memorable clients. Four stars. I cried.

Everyone needs to hear that other person’s voice saying, I believe in you. I can see possibilities that you might not see quite yet. I imagine that something different can happen, in some form or another. In therapy we say, Let’s edit your story.

Lori Gottleib, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Red, White & Royal Blue — Casey McQuiston: Three stars – hot prince on first-son action, with a hefty dose of what if we elected different people a few years ago

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement — Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey: Four stars, pivots to Kavanaugh investigation halfway through.

All of my book lists and reviews are on Goodreads.

This a part of the Show us Your Books linkup from Jana Says and Life According to Steph. If you want to read more bloggers gush about the books they’ve read this month, click the button below and have fun!

Life According to Steph

Other SUYB posts:

April | May

January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October
February | March | Spring/Summer | September | October | November | Year-end review
January | February | March |April | June | July | August | December
January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December

*And now you expect my husband to go into a poorly ventilated and small classroom and face a classroom of disease vectors whose parents made the active choice not to sacrifice the yearly trip to Sesame Place for one year? Gee, thanks. And having the kids home is hard (esp on moms) but it’s not homeschooling if you’re getting curriculum and instructions from an education professional through your school. I mean, I’m not home CEO-ing just because I’m not in the same building as my CEO. And also if you post a picture of brunch at a restaurant, you don’t get to keep up your quarantine day count martyrdom.

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  • SMD August 11, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    I’ve had a hard time reading this year. It is possible to do your vacation safely, I see people do it every day…but I also see people acting like there is no pandemic. I’ve seen both sets of people in the city, at the shore, and in the mountains. This year is wild and it’s not nearly over.

    Just Mercy was tremendous. I really think it’s a book that very clearly lays out what is happening without being preachy or political. I would give it to anyone to read regardless of persuasian.

    I loved Aristotle & Dante.

    • Kimberly August 13, 2020 at 2:30 pm

      I think I just need to go out more and push through otherwise 1) I’m going to become a judgey pedant and 2) my world is going to be very small very quickly and I don’t want that. NJ’s been managing things really well. I’m really glad I stopped putting off Just Mercy. (Was about to type Just Murphy because he’s squeaking a toy right underneath my desk.)

  • Nancy @ NY Foodie Family August 11, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    I enjoyed Beach Read. Just Mercy is on my to read list.

    • Kimberly August 13, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      Just Mercy definitely required a break after each chapter. I kind of want a sequel to Beach Read featuring January’s friend Shadi.

  • Michael August 12, 2020 at 4:52 am

    I feel you on the reading slump. Any book even ones I was greatly looking forward to reading feel like a chore. I hate that feels this way. It hurts. I’ve been trying to get through Beach Read since the beginning of June. Granted BCBE took over, but still…. not motivation.

    • Kimberly August 13, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      I’m trying to push through and become a reader again because I replaced the habit with doomscrolling on Twitter and that is not serving anyone well.

  • kristen August 12, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    yeah i totally know what you mean about reading about all the fun things we could be doing. it’s very frustrating when people are ignoring the pandemic. i think there is a way to do things safely, but when people are straight up pretending it doesn’t exist… ugh. my brain is just tired, so that’s why i’ve not been reading as much.
    i really liked beach read and just mercy. so good!

    • Kimberly August 13, 2020 at 2:25 pm

      I fully admit I need to unclench a bit about the virus because we are managing it well in NJ so far. Because my husband’s tired of me wailing “THEY WENT TO A DIVE BAR TO LINE DANCE” when my before Corona life didn’t even involve line dancing.

  • ShootingStarsMag August 12, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    I loved Red, White and Royal Blue. I also love Artistotle and Dante so I’m really excited that you did too!! I have Beach Read – need to read that one soon.


    • Kimberly August 13, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      With Aristotle and Dante I went from “meh, kids” to IF EITHER OF THESE BOYS DIE I WILL BURN MY HOUSE DOWN in like 20 pages.

  • Dara August 13, 2020 at 7:25 am

    Sounds like the whole going back to school issue is frustrating for you! It’s not easy! I think you’re the first person I’ve seen who didn’t love Red, White, and Royal Blue, which I still need to read. I am interested in Aristotle and Dante too! Beach Read wasn’t my favorite, and I need to read Just Mercy!

    • Kimberly August 13, 2020 at 2:22 pm

      Yeah, I didn’t LOVE it but I liked it a lot. I need to unclench about a lot of pandemic stuff. But all of the changes they’ve made to school design in the last 20 years was to turn them into inpenetrable fortresses to defend against shooters, which does not help when you need large rooms with natural airflow to tamp down spread of a virus.

  • Jana @Jana Says August 14, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    I think I’m the opposite of most people-reading is the only thing that hasn’t been hard for me. I haven’t read as much nonfiction as I usually do, but reading is making things feel somewhat normal.

    That said, Just Mercy is an excellent book.

    • Kimberly August 14, 2020 at 3:25 pm

      Maybe I just have to push through books and give myself a little bit of ‘normalcy’ in a normal world.

  • Carly August 17, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    I really liked Beach Read too, but now that you mention it, I did feel like the cult storyline being so detailed at times wasn’t really necessary. I read Aristole and Dante a few years ago and don’t remember it super well but know I liked it.

  • Heather August 18, 2020 at 8:19 am

    Aristotle and Dante is on my list! I loved Beach Read and of course, Just Mercy. 2020 has been quite a year. We’ve dealt with the pandemic differently in Canada (and have not been hit NEARLY as hard in any way in my province) so a lot of things feel “back to normal” though they won’t be forever and it is a new normal, absolutely. It’s hard to find a balance! Lots of thoughts here about our kids returning to school in-class in a few weeks too. Never sure what the right answer is anymore. I hope some semblance of normal/peace/relief returns to your life soon 🙂