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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs
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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, begins in school with Georgina, who is voted most likely to succeed, struggling to stay just popular enough and not as popular as other kids in her class. When her teacher realizes she is not trying as hard as she should, she pairs her with Lucas McCarthy, who sits in the front of class and is incredibly quiet. They soon fall in love over literature and Wuthering Heights. While they are clearly smitten and spend every moment together, neither makes an effort to be public with their love or share their relationship with their parents.

Fast forward to when they are adults, they meet again at a newly renovated pub where Georgina is the barmaid and Lucas is the owner. For 12 years, she’s moved from job to job and man to man since school; is it because she lost her father to an unexpected death or is there something more? Top it all off, Lucas doesn’t seem to remember her at all, which signals to her that their relationship was not that memorable.

Everything begins to unravel when her new employer offers space for writing competition about moments of shame. Georgina has been harboring a big secret from everyone and trying to blame all that is wrong in her life on the wrong thing. Unless she strives to deal with her past, her life will plummet even further.

This is the first book I’ve read written by McFarlane, and I wasn’t disappointed by the character development, pacing, or story. Georgina’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, Robin, will make you so angry and fed up with her, but clues throughout the book will have you cheering her on as she strives to put him off and keep him away. Her friends are quirky and definitely British, but they are loyal. Her roommate is a bit gruff, but her advice redeems her. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, is not as fluffy a read as I expected, but it was certainly worth it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels. It’s Not Me, It’s You is her third book. She lives in Nottingham, with a man and a cat.

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Source: Gift
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is more than just a memoir of music and the powerhouses in it. This is a story of one man’s complete awe of where his life has taken him and what drives him to keep going even when tragedy rocked his world and threatened to upend it for good. From Grohl’s opening line about aging — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. — readers know they have found a kindred spirit. Aging is a process of time, and more often than not, we’re too busy living to notice that time has passed and we are no longer as young as our heads and hearts may still believe we are. I know I feel this way a lot of the time.

Grohl’s musical career began in his bedroom with a couple of pillows and a dream, but his love of music was with him since birth. From singing in the car with his mother to sharing punk band music with his cousin and taking drumming lessons from a Jazz legend, Grohl was on the path of stardom long before he realized it was his dream.

“At an early age, I started to play drums with my teeth, sliding my jaw back and forth and chomping up and down to simulate the sound of a drum set in my mouth, doing drum rolls and grace notes as if I were using my hands, without anyone ever noticing.”

If you’re looking for gossip of the nastiest kind, forget it. This is a story of hope, perseverance, hard work, and a ton of coffee. That’s my kind of person, though I admit I have never drank pot after pot of coffee and thought I was having a heart attack.

There’s so much memory in this book, and I remember the great Olsson’s Books and Records in Bethesda, so when I saw that in this book (but the Georgetown store), it brought back a lot of memories of my early days in the DMV. Grohl’s writing mirrors the old storyteller who begins a tale, takes a tangential side trip, and gets back to the main thread. But I absolutely loved all the meandering.

When you get to the part about Nirvana, you realize that many fans know him because of this band and its music, but really, Grohl had lived a full musical life before and after Nirvana. He often talks about how he was a nerd/geek and it was clear that the people who grew to love Nirvana over time were those that used to bully him as a kid. The chapter on his grief after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death is some of the most poignant and real chapters I’ve read on grief. Everyone grieves differently and grief is not the same for each person’s passing.

Grohl may have passed one of the most devastating moments in his life, but he still carries that with him. There are a great may takeaways in this memoir, but one of the best is this: “Courage is a defining factor in the life of any artist.”

Definitely a book that will live on the shelf with my other Rock Stars. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is one of the most open and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Would I fangirl if I saw Grohl in person – yes, yes I would. But I do that with anyone’s work I admire. Just ask all the poets I talk to and the ones I will meet someday into the future.

RATING: Cinquain

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 224 pgs.
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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is an emotional roller coaster that I read in a couple of days. I’ve read much of Trethewey’s poetry in the past, so I was aware that her memoir would be well written. Growing up the daughter of a white father and a Black mother in the south was hard for her parents, but for the most part, they tried to shelter her from the darkness of bigotry and the still segregated south (Yes, the laws had changed, but attitudes and operations definitely had not). But this memoir is not about the fight for equality so much as a mystery slowly unraveled by Trethewey herself. She’s avoided parts of her past surrounding the murder of her mother by her stepfather. In many ways, the memoir reads like an intimate look at her own unraveling of the past and a stitching of herself into a whole being after splicing herself into the girl she was before she saw the apartment where her mother was slain and the woman she became afterward.

“‘Do you know what it means to have a wound that never heals?'” (Prologue)

“I chose to mark the calendar year just after my mother and I left Mississippi as ending, and the moment of loss — her death — as beginning.” (pg. 51)

Trethewey will take readers on a very emotional journey, and I rarely cry at memoirs. This was a tough read from beginning to end, as Trethewey came to terms with her biracial heritage, the divorce of her parents, and the fateful entrance of her stepfather. When she and her mother move to Atlanta, founded as “Terminus” or the end of the line, their perspectives on the move are very different. A child missing her close-knit family life in Mississippi and her mother reaching for a new life. When Big Joe comes into their lives, there’s an immediate sense of dread and fear as he takes her on long rides on the 285 as punishment (mostly for things she didn’t do). But Trethewey still blames her silence for what happened to her mother, even if it is less pronounced than it must have been years ago. Silence is a conundrum for her. “…I can’t help asking myself whether her death was the price of my inexplicable silence.” (pg. 83) When she returns to Atlanta after fleeing the place, she avoids the past and takes any roads that are not 285.

“The truth, however, was waiting for me in my body and on the map I consulted to navigate my way around: how the outline of 285 bears the shape of an anatomical heart imprinted on the landscape, a wound where Memorial intersects it.” (pg. 86)

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is a gripping tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir. The love she had as a child from both her parents provided her with the strong foundation she needed to revisit this tragic part of her past and to heal herself (at least I’m hopeful that she’s healing).

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Natasha Trethewey is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and again in 2013. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is a former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

Other Reviews:

Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is the second volume of recipes from Gaines, and this one was more thought out and planned than her previous volume, according to the introduction. Her previous volume focused on family favorites that she makes all the time, while this one chronicles her journey to learn about new foods, ingredients, and more. I really loved the substitutions chart because that will help me a great deal when I don’t have certain ingredients. I never know what to substitute. There are some great full-color photos in the book, but given the pandemic, there are some things that I couldn’t do at all, especially recipes requiring yeast (this has been non-existent for months).

The first recipe I tried was for Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes. We had just gotten some delivered from the local farmer’s market, so I was eager to try this recipe. One drawback is that there were not pictures for this recipe, but we assumed that Gaines cut the potatoes into french fry form, which is what we went with. It was pretty easy to follow, though for my family, I would definitely cut back on some of the rosemary and black pepper — several people said it was too spicy (my daughter included). The other thing I found was that 40 minutes was too long at 450 degrees. My over charred some of these fries, so I think next time I’ll just cook them for 30 minutes or keep a closer eye on them. But they still were tasty.

Gaines recommends serving these with Rib Eye Steaks, but we didn’t have any of that. We had meatloaf with beans.

The next recipe I tried was for French Silk Pie, which had some really easy to follow steps. I really enjoyed this recipe and will be making it again, since it was a big hit even if there was a problem with my crust. I think pre-made crust is best for me. This recipe does have a full-color picture that helped me determine if my ingredients were working together as they should.

Everyone ignored the terrible crust and said the pie itself was delicious. I really enjoyed making this one, and I’ll be happy to make it again. I already have plans to try making it with a graham cracker crust.

While I didn’t get to make the pizzas I wanted to because of the lack of yeast, I plan to make those when things are more available in the stores. Some of the recipes in this book, however, we probably won’t make unless my kiddo and mom become more adventurous in their eating. I do want to check out the first volume of recipes in the first book, because I suspect those recipes will be better for my family.

Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is a good cookbook with a ton of information for budding chefs at home. While not everything suited my family’s taste, I’m sure that it will be a big hit with others. I do wish there were more pictures in the cookbook, but that’s because I love full-page photos of food. It helps me see how delicious it will look when I’m done cooking.

RATING: Quatrain

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Source: Gift
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Nancy Clancy: Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, is the first in this chapter book series about a girl who loves Nancy Drew and wants to be a detective just like her. While Drew’s cases take her on scary adventures and the criminals are creepy, Nancy Clancy’s adventures are tamer, often involving classmates and her sister, among others.

Nancy and her best friend, Bree, are amateur detectives and when they overhear Rhonda and Wanda talking about a secret in their year and how one doesn’t want to tell Nancy and the other one does, Nancy and Bree get to sleuthing. They even go through the girls’ backyard looking for clues while Rhonda and Wand are at soccer practice. What my daughter loves about these books is kids working together to solve mysteries (I used to love mysteries, too, as a kid). What I love about this series is the harder words that she has to sound out, like “concentration,” and the sprinkling in of French words that we had a great time using repeatedly after I explained what they meant.

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, contains more than one mystery to be solved, which keeps the excitement going. I would recommend these early chapter books for other kids who like mysteries.

RATING: Cinquain

Fables by Arnold Lobel

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Fables by Arnold Lobel includes beautiful illustrations with one-page fables, some of which still apply today. There are a few fables that could use better messages for kids, which is why parents should carefully choose which fables to read their children. This book is a bit challenging to read for my daughter, but we’ve talked about each fable and parsed the story to find the meaning of each tale.

One of our favorites was the “The Poor Old Dog,” who has no home and a worn coat and shoes until one day he finds what he thinks is a magic ring. In this story, readers learn that wishes may not always come true immediately after making them and that patience is key in making wishes, as well as ensuring they come true. “The Ostrich in Love” is a tale my daughter thought was odd because the Ostrich never talks to the girl he loves, but he does all of these nice things for her. “Love is its own reward,” the tale says, but my daughter is not convinced — she’s still young yet.

“The Hen and the Apple Tree” is a tale with a wolf naturally and an inquisitive and skeptical hen — and well she should be. My daughter liked this one, even when we discussed how hard it is to be something we are not. Another favorite was “The Hippopotamus at Dinner,” which is appropriate considering this is the holiday season in which we all tend to overindulge a bit.

Fables by Arnold Lobel provides some unique stories for kids to read together or to have read to them. The illustrations are colorful and realistic, which makes the tales all the more real for kids. While some of the lessons are outdated and could be updated a bit for kids of the modern era, parents can take that extra time to explain those stories to children in a way that makes more sense.

RATING: Tercet

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 361 pgs.
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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is the journey of Xiomara Batista, a young teen in Harlem who has secrets. She’s becoming a young woman aware of boys and a longing for acceptance — an acceptance of herself. She must come to terms with her religious mother and restricted upbringing and the reality that she does not fit the spiritual mold her mother had hoped for. The novel is told in verse.

The verse is reminiscent of childhood entries in a journal — rough and raw — full of emotion. Xiomara finds sanctuary in her words and her poems. She struggles with sexism and being a twin to a boy she feels disconnected from. Who is Poet X?

It is a journey of self-discovery. She finds strength from her pastor, despite her religious questions, and from her teacher who inspires her to read her words aloud. But all of this strength can be blown away by one woman who is also unclear about her life and her daughter and how things all went wrong.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is deliciously dramatic but it never loses its poetic center — the exploration of self and the journey toward a stronger self that can stand in the face of chaos.

RATING: Cinquain

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean is another book my daughter picked out as a reward from reading this past month. She’s really been a trooper even when she’s frustrated with reading or not concentrated. Pete the Cat is a character that always makes her smile and whose books are easier for her to read in between those more challenging books the school gives her each week.

In this book, Pete loves to dance but Grumpy Toad tells him that he’s not dancing correctly. Pete goes on a journey to learn how to dance the Cool Cat Boogie, even though all the advice he receives are about different types of dances. Pete feels happy when he’s dancing and he wants to learn this dance no matter what. My daughter had a great time reading this one on her own to me.

My one quibble with this book is Pete’s reaction when his friends say “ouch,” and he’s accidentally bumped them or stepped on their toes while dancing. Rather than apologizing, he merely walks away dejected. These are not moments that Pete should walk away from. He should say he’s sorry. If his friends had said that he did the moves wrong or made fun of him, I could see him walking away and not engaging in an argument. This was not the case in these situations.

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean even includes a step-by-step guide on how to do the Cool Cat Boogie, which will have kids getting out of their seats and onto the dance floor. It’s good to see my daughter reading on her own, even if the book is a bit simpler than the ones that challenge her from school. At least she’s continuously reading.

RATING: Quatrain

Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean and Kimberly Dean was a reward for my daughter’s efforts in reading the month. After an early start of fighting over reading every night, she’s more willing to read to me, rather than me to her. This is one of the book series she’s found holds her attention. Part of it is because she wants a cat, which we can’t have because one of our dogs would eat it, and the other part is that Pete is just a cute and funny character who finds himself in trouble. Kids like mischief.

In this book, Pete and Gus are looking for a culprit — the one who took the cupcakes. It reminded me of Who Stole the Cookies From the Cookie Jar. My daughter easily read this one on her own, which was a good experience for me as I’ve been worried that she’s falling behind and is less confident in her reading skills than she was last year.

The illustrations here reminded me of drawings that kids would create on their own if asked to draw cupcakes, cats and other animals, which probably appeals to kids’ sensibilities. The colors are bright throughout and this was definitely an easier read that could instill confidence in young readers still learning. It also has a familiar trope about forgiveness when mistakes are made. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean and Kimberly Dean was satisfactory for me, but my daughter was happy to read the book on her own, which makes it a winner.

RATING: Quatrain

 

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hours
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And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander, which was our book club selection for March, is narrated by Kate Reading and is the first in a series of Lady Emily mystery novels set in Victorian England. Lady Emily is a woman ahead of her time, interested in being free to do as she pleases without the constraints placed on her by society. Her marriage to Philip, the Viscount Ashton, comes quickly as she locks horns with her mother, who like Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice is eager to marry of her daughter to a man of great fortune.

Following her husbands fatal trip to Africa on safari, Lady Emily finds herself engrossed in his journals, learning more about her husband than she did during their short courtship and marriage. She’s fallen in love with him, as she never expected she would, but what she discovers could render his reputation and hers asunder. She embarks on an unconventional journey to uncover the truth, even if it means her husband is less honorable than she believed.

Alexander’s historical fiction is delightful with its colorful characters, red herrings, and societal constraints. Lady Emily has more wealth than other women would at this time, and her antics are a little less shocking in Victorian society than they otherwise would be, though her mother would disagree with me. The allusions to Mrs. Bennet are strong, but not quite as funny as the Mrs. Bennet in Austen’s novel. Lady Emily’s mother is a bit more grating on the nerves, but probably because she is only seen from Lady Emily’s point of view.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander is engaging, and I’d be interested to see what happens to Lady Emily in the second book and whether she warms up to marriage again later in her life. Living a life of independence, however, is something she’s not likely to let go of without some serious incentive.

Book Club:

Unfortunately, I missed the meeting for this book, as I had not finished it in time and have found myself extraordinarily busy with work, moving, and adjusting to home life changes.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

The daughter of two philosophy professors, Tasha Alexander grew up surrounded by books. She was convinced from an early age that she was born in the wrong century and spent much of her childhood under the dining room table pretending it was a covered wagon. Even there, she was never without a book in hand and loved reading and history more than anything. Alexander studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. Writing is a natural offshoot of reading, and my first novel, And Only to Deceive, was published in 2005. She’s the author of the long-running Lady Emily Series as well as the novel Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
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Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, includes not only past experiences with her siblings, her mother, and her father, but also editorial notes and emails between herself and her editor as she struggles to write a book about writing — a book the ends up being a memoir of a writer.

Readers take a journey with Tan through memorabilia and letters between herself and her mother. It is an emotionally read memoir, with deeply sad losses from her childhood and her own internalized memories of slights she received from her parents.  Imagine how children view our comments and reactions to their behaviors; Tan makes a study of those things in her memoir as she strives to assess her own writing and her own quirks as a writer.

Through her creative reflections on her past and her own writing process for The Valley of Amazement and other books, readers are given a glimpse into her life, her emotional baggage, her forward thinking perspective on women and their accomplishments, and her devastation over the recent election. Do not think she’s overly political here, because it is more about her emotional reflections on those events and how she perceived her parents would have voted.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, is a valley of amazement all its own, and readers of her novels will enjoy learning about her struggles with her parental relationships, the secrets she uncovers and speculates about, and her emotional confessions about it all.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan’s adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine.