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The Book Beat - April 11, 2021

Happy Monday, book friends! I got my second shot of the Covid vaccine on Thursday, so on Friday I had a mild fever, aches and pains, and an overall tiredness. Which also meant I had a day to relax, rest, and READ. So, not only am I vaccinated, I also read three books and finished listening to one in one week (reviews below). What a win-win!

As most of you know, I'm a Bookstagrammer. What is that, you ask? Well, it's a person who's so crazy about books, they pose and post book pics on Instagram. Yes, I'm a book nerd and proud of it. And, it's a fabulous community! Lots of fun book pics, book reviews, "stack" challenges, and, basically, all books all of the time. I love it. Here's a recent pic that my daughter Lucy took (standing on a chair on our front lawn). We had a blast doing it. In it, are the three books I chose for my "Book of the Month" subscription (I can never choose just one)!

This week, I also had some fun brushes with bookish fame. It seems if you wear book-inspired shirts to bookstores, people notice. Who knew?! Below is a snap from the fun and a pic of author Casey Cep's IG story featuring one of my posts.

Also, one more shout-out to Bookstagram. This fun article interviews seven bookstagrammers who share how they created their cozy book nooks. I am loving some of their lamps, chairs, and overall aesthetic. Not enough teal, though! 😊

I don't have a ton of book news this week, but below you'll find reviews of the three excellent books I did read and more!

Happy (Belated) Library Week!

I'm embarrassed to be a week late with this, but we should be celebrating libraries (and librarians) 52 weeks a year, right?

Check out the official site for ways to keep celebrating and check out if your local library is open again and, even if it's not, it's sure to be loaning out books. Library pick-up day is sure to brighten up anyone's week!

National Poetry Week Poem Spotlight:

"Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden

I first heard this poem in 1994 in a little film called Four Weddings and a Funeral. If I'm dating myself for anyone reading this who hasn't seen the movie, see it! Yes, Andie MacDowell's line readings can seem awkward at times, but the first blush of Hugh Grant as a bonafide movie star (this was pre the Divine Brown drama) happened in this movie and it's a joy to experience. And if Hugh Grant is the romance of the film, his hilarious and charming crew of wedding/funeral-going buddies are its heart.

Two in this group are Matthew and Gareth, the sweet gay couple played by John Hannah and Simon Callow. [I will put a spoiler alert here even though it's almost been 30 years since the movie (yes, I am old!). Spoilers ahead!

Gareth unexpectedly dies and Matthew reads this poem at his funeral. Gareth is the boisterous to Matthew's calm and the overindulged to Matthew's reserved. While the beginning of his eulogy for his partner is funny, this poems speaks to the depths of his sadness by using imagery of nature and life to reflect how destroyed he is. He's thoroughly lost (all the directions on the compass are gone), he's disappointed because he thought their love would last forever, he wants all the beauties of nature and the universe that telegraph time and longevity dismantled. It's total devastation. And, when read in John Hannah's lovely Scottish brogue, it's even more effecting.

While this poem did enjoy a huge boost in popularity after its showcase in the movie, the poem had interesting beginnings. In 1936, Auden wrote a shorter version for a play as a satirical poem about the loss of a political leader. In 1937, he made it longer, but still had it put to blues music as part of a cabaret. However, in 1938, this longer version was published in an anthology. Over the years, it's been used often at funerals and was also described by The New Yorker as the elegy for the AIDs crisis in the 1980s.

Yes, it's sad, but this poem caught my ears, so to speak, in 1994, and I've considered it one of my all-time favorites ever since.

And P.S.! In England, they do a yearly fundraiser called Red Nose Day and in 2019 they filmed a 15-minute sequel to the original Four Weddings and a Funeral. This funny, sweet, and lovely short can be found here. It was wonderful to see all the old faces back together again! This link also has the Love Actually sequel that was done in 2017 for the same fundraising event. I was giddy watching both!

5-Finger Book Challenge

On Instagram, there was a fun challenge where you highlighted five books, each finger representing a certain quality about the book it points to. Here's mine. I had a ton of fun picking the books for this! What would you choose for your five-finger-book challenge?

🤞🏻Pinky - I pinky swear to read this one. I know many LOVED it & Roxane Gay has fangirled about it, so it’s definitely on my to-read-soon list!

💍 Ring Finger - Book character you'd marry. I’ve always adored Trevor Noah, but reading (and listening to his dreamy voice read) about his hard yet fascinating upbringing made me love him even more. If I was 20 years younger, 20 lbs lighter, and worked in Hollywood, I’d be “accidentally” dropping a drink on him at a party post haste.

🖕🏻Middle Finger - Book you didn't enjoy (It pains me to give this to any book, but I have to for the challenge) - I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t. I loved the concept and the writing, but felt like the morals, or lessons, or message were just lost. LOVE the cover, though!

☝🏻Pointer Finger - Book I Rec To Everyone - My fave book of 2020. Adventure, romance, struggles with literally life-and-death/mortality, history, intrigue…this book has it all. Addie is a character for the ages (literally!).

👍🏻 Thumbs Up - Book I Will Always Give a Thumbs Up To - If I had 5 thumbs I’d put them up for this gem. I love character-driven books that feature women finding their footing in love, life, and their own skin. Eleanor is a character who is so relatable in all those respects. I also love—in life and books—the underdog coming into their own and living their life on their terms, judgement be damned. Eleanor is a great example of that.

What I Read This Week...

📖 Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fiction and nonfiction books about immigration have flourished in the last few years since the topic has been so fraught in relation to our country's political landscape. This book again puts a human face on this issue, in this case using the characters of several women all struggling with their lives, identities as immigrants and women, and their relationships with family members and friends. It's short but very powerful.

The novel covers the lives of women in two families, starting in 19th-century Cuba through modern-day Miami. Each female protagonist is vividly drawn and even those whose stories only get a chapter or two are so vibrant, as a reader you form an attachment, celebrating their triumphs and mourning their tragedies. I was especially drawn to Jeannette, an addict trying to get her life together, but still haunted by not only the present, but also the past, particularly Ana, her neighbor's daughter who is taken by ICE and the grandmother in Cuba she's never known.

These two family trees grow with love, family, loss, hurt, pain, and hope. This book broke my heart, while also warming it with the resilience these women display as they go through the brokenness of the human experience, especially in relation to this prevalent issue, as well as the role of women in family and society in general. It's visceral and powerful.

📖 Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price - ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫 (4.5/5)

This delightful young-adult read reimagines the beloved novel's narrative in a fun, new way. I loved it (to be honest, it was a soothing follow-up to the engrossing but emotionally fraught Of Women and Salt).

This book takes place during the same time period as the original, but Lizzie is a teen who--while still feisty, judgmental, and strong-willed--wants to become a barrister in her father's firm, Longbourn and Sons (which has no sons). When Charles Bingley is accused of the murder of his brother-in-law Mr. Hurst, she's determined to find the real killer. Using logic--to secure the goodwill of her father, who has promised to go against the societal conventions of the time and allow her to work in his firm if she proves her mettle--she sets out to solve the case. The one handsome, brooding thing in her way? One "Fitz" Darcy, the barrister-in-training for Pemberley and Associates, the firm Bingley hired to take his case.

I loved this new twist on the classic tale. The crackerjack romantic tension between Lizzie and Darcy is still there, as are the other plot points we love--Wickham's deviousness, Jane's sweetness, Mrs. Bennett's daffiness, and Mr. Collins's creepiness. The changes that are made serve the new story and didn't take away from my thorough enjoyment. This was another young-adult novel that charmed me with its cleverness and romance. If you're a fan of P&P or just fun mysteries with a romantic bent, pick this one up. The planned sequels--Sense and Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter Park--will definitely be auto-buys for me.

📖 We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wow, what a book! The human experience--with all its hurts and joys--being navigated by relatable characters or even characters just relatable by a sliver of what they celebrate and suffer can make for a great story. And when it's in the hands of a talented writer, it makes for phenomenal fiction. We Begin at the End is such a book.

Walk is the sheriff of his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Walk's anticipating the return of his childhood best friend, Vincent, whose is being released after 30 years in jail for a crime he committed as a teen. Vincent's ex-girlfriend, Star, is as emotionally tortured as Vincent and both seem determined to self-destruct. Star's oldest child, Duchess, is a foul-mouthed teen who is as abrasive and angry to everyone in her orbit as she is doting and fiercely protective of her younger brother, Robin. How these characters deal with the tragedies of their pasts and the reverberations those tragedies have on their presents are riveting. I read this book in a day--it's that good. And Whitaker's prose is a marvel of evocative descriptions and complex characterizations that impress upon your mind and heart long after you're finished reading. Highly recommend.

🎧 Here for It; Or, How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays by R. Eric Thomas - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Listening to Thomas--a senior writer for and pop-culture super-fan--read his collection of essays about his experience as a gay, Black man growing up in Baltimore and navigating issues of race, sexuality, and life in general was both enlightening and enjoyable. He's hilarious (one essay is entitled, "Molly, Urine Danger Girl") and his humor and truth-telling about his experiences make you laugh while you feel for the prejudice and hardships he had to navigate. If you need a laugh, this book will bring many of them.

What I'm Reading (and Listening) to This Week...

📖 Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

📖 The Roomate by Rosie Danan

📖 Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

🎧 Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Book Snaps of the Week!

Cover of the Week:

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

Another fun, rom-com/mystery book cover to add to the mix. A super-cute illustration with lots of bold color that teases the story (Lila's ex, a restaurant critic, dies after a confrontation with Lila...did she poison him with her food?), while letting you know you're in for a spicy, enjoyable time (with a dog character, too!).

Book cover artist Vi-An Nguyen (IG: @frenchchips) drew this illustration (among many others, check out her Insta page!). I love it! I'm excited to read this one (which I'm saving for my June "beach read" romance stack).

Here's a write-up of the story!

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She's tasked with saving her Tita Rosie's failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she's the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila's left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

Have a great, book-filled week!

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