September Book Report

My new favorite place to read these days is on our new patio. Over the summer, we took a boring concrete slab and created an outdoor oasis. I love sitting out there during the day to eat my lunch and read the New York Times. In the evenings, the awning provides the perfect lighting to read under the stars. And now that summer is turning to fall; the cooler temperature reminds me to grab a cozy blanket and a hot beverage on the way out the door.

The patio is one of the big reasons why I was able to read so much this month. It is a new space to enjoy, and I could sit out there for hours. Here is what I have been reading in my new favorite spot.

Eternal by Lisa Scottoline 

From her weekly Chick Lit columns in the Philadelphia Inquirer to her crime novels and hilarious and often poignant essay collections, I count Lisa Scottoline among some of my favorite authors. So, it didn’t surprise me when I gave her a 5-star rating on Goodreads for her first historical fiction book, Eternal. This incredible story has it all – a romantic triangle, family drama, loss and love, food and culture. It all takes place in Rome at the beginning of World War II when Italy sided with Nazi Germany and passed laws against the Jewish people. This turn of events tragically impacts one of the main characters and ultimately changes all of their lives forever. Honestly, I don’t want to tell you much more except that the entire book is a page-turner (all 480 pages!), and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Four siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of summer. But over the course of 24 hours, their lives will change forever,” reads a description of the book.

This was the IT book of the summer. It landed on every “must-read” summer reading list, and the hype was outrageous. I mean – it’s a book, not the second coming of Christ. Nevertheless, avid readers, casual readers, beach readers, and everyone in between looked forward to buying the latest book by this incredibly talented author – including me.

I enjoyed the first half very much. Each of the siblings had interesting backstories, and it was clear that they loved each other in good times and in bad. Much of their story was told in flashbacks to their difficult childhood (an absentee father and a mother who foolishly believed he would come back someday). Each flashback added elements of strength and vulnerability to the characters that made me root for them to all have a happy ending.

And then the party started, which was when about the time that I wanted to go home. So many minor characters are introduced in the second half of the novel. I had a hard time keeping them all straight. And honestly, I didn’t want to. They added absolutely nothing to the storyline except that they were all Hollywood celebrities who were there for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. To get back to the main plot, I had to trudge through the backstories of all these new people and endure their drunken antics in graphic detail. When we finally returned to the siblings, I felt the end of their stories was rushed in an attempt to wrap it up in a neat and tidy bow for the author to meet a looming publishing deadline.

I like this author, so I will continue to read her work. Malibu Rising was not my favorite read of the summer, but I did finish it…which is more than I can say for the next book.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

You guys… I wanted to love this book! I REALLY DID. In fact, I read over 200 pages of it before I DNF’d it for good. One thing I don’t care for in my reading life is a slow burn to arrive at the action in a story. I love how characters are introduced and meeting their family and friends. I enjoy witnessing the situations that unfold that lead me to the meat of the story. But in this book – after 200+ pages – nothing was happening to keep me engaged. Sure, there were office politics and microaggressions everywhere. And then, there were flashbacks to another pair of black women who, in my opinion, did not add much to the story. I have since learned that they play a more significant part at the end of the novel. But, at the time, I found them to be a nuisance. I think this story would have been much better if the author had a much better editor. There was so much that could have been cut out to move the story along.

From reading other reviews, I understand that the explosive twist and subsequent events made the book special. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get there. There wasn’t enough for me to stick around for the big finish.

What I’m reading now

I decided to change things up and pick up a political thriller complete with racial tension, a public health crisis, and an attempt to take over the government. Yep – I’m reading a book about the Trump administration.

I Alone Can Fix It is a behind-the-scenes look at the last year of his presidency, complete power grabs, personalities, and peril all taking place in the toxic work environment that was the White House in 2020. It could probably be turned into a blockbuster movie if it wasn’t so terribly real, and we all didn’t experience it unfolding before our eyes. The only thing missing that would come in handy is an organizational chart listing all the people and their positions so I can keep track of who is who. For that reason, I would recommend reading this in hard copy or Kindle format so that you can easily go back and refresh your memory. And if you still have some PTSD from the last 18 months, maybe you want to skip this book.

Top of My TBR Pile

Katie Couric’s memoir – Going There – is coming out on October 26th, and I am here for it. I preordered the hardcover from my local indie bookstore because I want it on my bookshelf. I’ve admired her reporting skills for years and appreciate all she has done to raise awareness for many causes. But, let’s be honest, I’m also here to read about her working relationship with her disgraced co-host Matt Lauer. What did she know? How did she find out? Do they still talk to each other? I can’t wait to find out.

So, that’s it for September. Don’t forget to support your local independent bookstores. By doing so, you help dollars, jobs and taxes remain in your community and meet book lovers like you who can introduce you to your next great read. If you are in the Philly area, check out some of my favorite indie bookstores in person or like them on Facebook. Here is a quick list:

  • Reads & Company in Phoenixville
  • The Doylestown Bookshop – Doylestown borough
  • The Lahaska Bookshop – Peddlers Village
  • Words Matter Bookstore in Pitman, NJ
  • Open Book in Jenkintown

Happy reading!

Elisa

Boombox Love

cassette mix tapesMy parents were cleaning out their basement a few weeks ago and came upon a box of mixtapes from my ex-boyfriend. I felt a pit in my stomach that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Did you listen to them?” I asked. They said no, (and yes, I believe them).

If they did listen, I’d be mortified. They would have heard countless professions of love from him to me, wanting to marry me and be with me, and there was plenty of not knowing what he would do without me.

I was sixteen. He was a little older but not much wiser at the time. I haven’t listened to those mixtapes in years and am baffled as to how they wound up in my parents’ basement. Maybe they found a secret stash I hid in the basement, although I don’t remember ever putting them there. I’m not surprised that there are more tapes than what I initially purged from my childhood bedroom. He made a mixtape for everything from first date anniversaries and birthdays to on-again-off-again breakups.

We went out for quite a while.

I have no desire to listen to them, but I can tell you what songs, singers, and bands he selected and the sentiments they imbued. He had impeccable taste in music that shaped my own (and I can honestly thank him for that). There’s plenty of Billy Joel, Elton John, Madonna, Bryan Adams, Chicago, Styx, James Taylor, Air Supply, Bee Gees, Toto, Starship, and his all-time favorite, The Beatles. He was the ultimate DJ of love ballads from the 70s and 80s love ballads, and he dedicated them all to me.

But it wasn’t all heavy-duty love stuff. He had a wonderful sense of humor and threw in plenty of comedy bits from George Carlin and cheesy songs like “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” “PacMan Fever,” “Mr. Roboto,” and whichever Weird Al Yankovic song came out that month. He was so adept at making these mixtapes both fun and flirtatious.

You could tell he enjoyed making these tapes, and of course, I liked the attention and the music. I remember packing several in my big denim purse for the long car rides my family was fond of taking. I could sit for hours in the back seat with my clutching the Sony Walkman ears pressed tightly into the headphones. I didn’t want to miss a single word or lyric and interpret both its meaning and his reason for choosing it.

But sadly, I didn’t have the same love for the boy behind the boombox as he had for me. We parted ways shortly after I went to college. While he didn’t steal my heart, he certainly added a lot to my life in the way of making me feel special, beautiful, and worthy of someone else’s love. And, of course, the music is a soundtrack that will never die.

As for the mixtapes, I don’t have any reason to keep them – in the name of posterity. While I love nostalgia, there is no reason for me or future generations to revisit my past relationship with this person—who is now happily married, as am I.

Mom and Dad, I commend you for restraining yourselves from listening to those tapes, and you have my permission to toss them immediately. I’m not sure I would be able to do the same if I found my daughter’s teenage angst mapped out in front of me.

Oh, and a quick note to my kids: Be much better than I was at hiding things you don’t want your parents to see.

August Book Report

I love a good podcast, and lately, I’ve been listening to episodes about the ’70s and ’80s nostalgia. One of my favorites is “The Pop Culture Preservation Society,” which recently dedicated an entire episode to ranking Barry Manilow songs. Whether you are a Fanilow or not, I highly recommend it. And if you are a child of either of these decades, this podcast is worth checking out.

So, what does this have to do with my reading life? I also came across some podcasts that were just plain awful. The topics were interesting but misleading, including one that took a deep dive into books turned into movies. When one of the hosts declared that books were “a waste of his precious time,” I immediately banned him and his podcast from my playlist.

You can imagine the horror I felt when I heard these words. And if you agree with him, then maybe this blog post isn’t for you. But, if you are a casual or a voracious reader, or at the very least feel that books are gifts that keep on giving, keep on reading!

God Spare the Girls

The Nolan family looks good on paper. A husband who shines as the beloved young pastor at a Texas Evangelical church with an incredibly supportive wife by his side. Two daughters, Abigail and Caroline, were born into his spotlight and grew up under the constant watchful eye of members of the congregation. When the community learns of an affair between the pastor and a congregant, scandal erupts in their seemingly perfect life. And his wife, their daughters, and the congregation must decide if he can be forgiven and what that means for their own faith and family values.

I’ll get straight to it. I LOVED this book. I’m a sucker for a good family drama, and basing the story in a fire and brimstone church setting brought the stakes to an all-time high. The story centers around the pastor’s daughters – one relying on her faith in the wake of the scandal and the other questioning everything she was ever taught about living a moral, Christian lifestyle. However, the reader also watches the community’s reactions unfold – from their mother to the senior pastor to their significant others. The ending was pretty predictable but getting there made for a fun and fascinating read.

The Other Black Girl

I am only about three chapters into this summer bestseller, but I am immersed in this story about a young Black woman working as an associate in a publishing company. Having worked in publishing myself for the first 10 years of my career, I can totally relate to everything from the tedious manuscript prep to author and editor meetings over fancy dinners that I could never afford on my salary alone. But, you guys, there is something seriously messed up about the office politics at this company! Diversity is a joke across the board, and bosses are condescendingly sweet, but I am anxiously awaiting the backstabbing to begin.

This book is due back at the library on Tuesday. I should finish it by then, but if not – I’ll happily pay the late fee.

Up Next

I’m so glad our book club selected Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is another summer smash hit that many people have on their TBR list. I can’t wait to dive into this one. It will make for a nice end to the summer reading season.

A Not-So-Little Book Shopping Spree

So, you know that self-imposed book-buying ban I announced last month to focus on the books I own and not be tempted by shiny new titles? Yeah, that’s officially over. 😉

In the middle of the month, I fell off the wagon when I attended HippoCamp 2021 and accidentally left my Kindle at home. I was so mad at myself but quickly realized that one of the best things about a writing conference is their bookstore.

It started innocently enough. My first visit to the bookstore yielded four books specifically about my craft. Come on – that’s not a shopping spree; it’s a tax write-off!

But then I went back. Twice. And picked up five more titles from the table written by some of the amazing writers and brilliant speakers attending the conference. How could I not buy these books after I met them face to face? These are my kind of people, and I want to get to know them better. What better way than by buying their book. 🙂

I wish I could tell you that the end of the writers’ conference was the end of the shopping spree. However, I’d be lying. I went home, picked up my Kindle, and proceeded to purchase several titles. I’ve lost count of how many I downloaded, and I don’t want to know. Let’s just say that I have been an excellent literary citizen this month.

Final thoughts

I typically end these book reports for a plea to buy from independent bookstores. I’m sad to say that I have done the opposite this month and bought many cheap titles from that big box store that I don’t like to speak of.

So, PLEASE – do as I say and not as I do and support independent bookstores. I will do better when I am ready for my next shopping spree – but that won’t be for a while.

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