The Book Beat - June 7, 2021
Happy new week, book friends! I hope you all had a great weekend, enjoyed the HOT weather if you're in the northeast like me, and, as always, read a good book. I have three reviews for you this week (two 5-star reviews!) and, I'm thrilled to report, I hit 40/60 books read for the year! My reading this week ran the gamut—thought-provoking lit fiction, steamy romance, and a just-released book featuring Patrick, one of my favorite fictional characters of the year. I think this just goes to show, I will read pretty much anything! I love the expansive scope of narratives, characters, settings, etc. that books offer. Yay, books!
One thing I did include this week is the first entry of a Pride Month feature where I will spotlight either an LGBTQ-centric book or LGBTQ+ author. Although I identify as straight, I'm determined to be the best LGBTQ+ ally I can be. And, as a reader who's always learned so much about the lives of others through books, I feel that I can learn more about the challenges and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community through fiction/nonfiction. Plus, expanding knowledge builds empathy and understanding. By now you know that's my true joy in reading—"living" the lives and experiences of others through books (or "word tacos!").
I will also be attending another virtual book con this week (Edelweiss's Bookfest), so I should have some more info about upcoming fall releases, author chats, and more. The two keynote speakers are Tayari Jones, author of the terrific An American Marriage and T.J. Klune, author of The House in the Cerulean Sea (next on my TBR pile). There's also a chance for me to get more free galleys for some early reviews, so wish me luck! One of the books I review below is one I received after the U.S. Book Show. Thanks to #turnerpublishing for the early copy!
So, a short post this week, but here's hoping I can hunt out more news next week.
Tom Hanks on History
In keeping with the idea of learning through reading, this New York Times Op-Ed by Tom Hanks is a wonderfully written article about the need for schools to teach about the Tulsa Race Riot in particular, but all facets of American history, including the unflattering ones. I'll be honest, I had no clue there was a Tulsa Race Riot until last year, when I read about it in a newspaper. I had no clue what Juneteenth was until it was referenced in an episode of Black-ish. I had no clue there were Native American Residential Schools in America in the early 20th Century until I read the searing epic This Tender Land. These are all unsavory parts of American history but ones, I think, kids today needs to learn about in school. Even the Holocaust seems to have not gotten the attention it deserves, based on this survey that showed that 63% of millennials and Gen Z didn't know about it or how horrific it actually was. Reading is a great way to fill in the gaps, but it shouldn't be the only way. And I know this has somehow been made political, but to me, it's not political, it's common sense.
P.S. I just got Tom Hanks' collection of stories called Uncommon Type. It's being added to my towering, two-stack-thick TBR, so it'll take me a while to get to it, but I've heard great reviews. If this Op-Ed is any indication, there's nothing the amazing (and down-to-Earth) Tom Hanks can't do!
Pride Month Spotlight:
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
If you've ever heard anything about Glennon Doyle, I'm sure it's "Christian Mommy blogger." And I'm sure she's beyond tired of having every article about her starting out with that fact. Sorry, Glennon, one more!
I was first introduced to Glennon when a friend shared a post from her blog (Momastery) on Facebook. It was inciteful, funny, powerful, real, and relatable. You could absolutely see why she was so popular in both the Mommy and Christian circles.
But then Glennon's life (one that had started with addiction and bulimia) took a few turns. She revealed that her husband had cheated on her and she was determined to stay married and wrote/published a book about it called Love Warrior. Yet, just as that book was being released (it was even an Oprah Book Club selection), she revealed that she and her husband were getting divorced because she was in love with a woman, soccer star Abby Wambach.
This book chronicles her life from the moment she met Abby to where she is now and what she learned from previous experiences. It's a wonderful read. Glennon's funny for sure, but she has a way of speaking about the complexities of life, while being both vulnerable and strong that's so relatable. And in this book, she's at a place where she's unapologetic about her past, present, and future. It's refreshing and inspiring. As you can see, I have a ton of pages flagged, but two of my favorites nuggets of wisdom are below. Glennon's mantra is "We can do hard things." It's also the name of her new Podcast. If you're looking to read about a truly amazing woman who has lived through many challenges and triumphs—or, in other words, is living the human experience—check out this book!
"Tish is sensitive, and that is her superpower. The opposite of sensitive is not brave. It's not brave to refuse to pay attention, to refuse to notice, to refuse to fuel and know and imagine. The opposite of sensitive is insensitive, and that's no badge of honor."
"If you are uncomfortable—in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused—you don't have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you're doing it wrong, it's hard because you're doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy."
Books I Read This Week...
No Hiding in Boise by Kim Hooper - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (pub date: 6/15)
I think this book stands out for what’s not in it. No Earth-shattering twist. No ghosts. No sci-fi storyline. No childhood trauma. No coming-of-age. No “gotcha” moment. Just the stories of fictional-yet-still-relatable people dealing with an all-too-real issue: a mass shooting.
Hooper’s deft ability to capture the authentic voices of the humans on all sides of this tragedy—the victims, the relatives of the victims, the injured, the mother of the shooter and yes, even the shooter—is quite something to read. While some people only get a chapter (the victims “speak” in a single chapter that leads up to their death and we get one chapter that shares the content of the shooter’s angry journal entries), others get more, with the focus on three women—Joyce, the mother of the shooter; Tessa, the bartender at the bar where the shooting happened; and Angie, the wife of a man who was injured and is now in a coma. Hooper tells the story of how these women cope with the trauma. Each character is complex and Hooper expertly shares their fears, joy, sadness, and questions. As with everything in life, nothing can be tied up with a neat bow, but life goes on after tragedy and the humans here grow, survive, suffer, and heal as best as they can with time. Hooper tells the stories of these women with authentic, open-ended, and hopeful grace. Highly recommend.
I will say, if you’re looking for a “beach read” or an “escape” book, this is not it. But when you’re in the mood for an affecting, powerful, character-driven story that offers a glimpse into what could ideally be a slice of true American life, this is it. This is an engrossing story told by a talented writer who is adept at sharing the human experience, good and bad.
Neon Gods by Katee Robert - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’ve never read any of Katee’s books, but the most common thing I’ve heard is that they’re HOT with capitals H, O, & T. This one is definitely that. It’s the start of her new Dark Olympus series. First up? Hades and Persephone (my fave Greek God pair!).
Synopsis: Above the real world is an upper echelon where the Greek Gods live. It’s ruled by the main 13, yet, as far as Demeter’s daughter Persephone knows, it’s really 12 since she's been told that Hades is a myth. The twist here is that the Gods aren’t immortal—when they die, a new person becomes the “new” Hera, etc. And, in this world, the Hera slot is open since Zeus can’t seem to resist murdering his wives. The next in line? Persephone...after her mother offers her up as Zeus’s fiancée without her consent.
Persephone is not interested in being Hera #4, especially Dead Hera #4. So, she makes an escape...into the arms of a very much alive Hades who rules the human world (the world "under" Olympus). Zeus is pissed but can't get access to Hades or Persephone due to a treaty between the upper world and the underworld. So Hades and Persephone come to an agreement—they'll pretend they're together (co-conspirators WITH benefits) for the 3 months until Persephone turns 25, gets her trust fund, and gets the heck out of Olympus for good.
First, yes, it's suuuuper steamy but, thankfully, the emotional connection between H & P is as built up as the sexual connection. Yes, H is hot, but he's also got that gooey, mushy center--he's sinful & sweet. He cares for P and is a wonderful ruler to the humans he oversees. P is not some TSTL (romance speak for "too stupid to live") heroine, either. She's strong-willed, smart, and totally on-board with Hades' exhibitionist side. This is a sex positive book (there's kink, so definitely check for trigger warnings), and Katee does a great job organically weaving in the issue of consent into the spicy narrative.
If you're looking for a summer romance and extra steam, this one is a great choice!
The Guncle by Steven Rowley - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This book is wonderful! I really don't think I've laughed out loud this often reading a book in a long time.
Ex-TV star and recluse Patrick O'Hara lives in Palm Springs, CA, and is perfectly happy wearing caftans, interacting with just his housekeeper Rosa and the throuple next door, using his washlets (aka fancy toilets), and staying as far away from his family and Hollywood as possible. Yet when his best friend/sister-in-law Sara dies and his brother enters rehab, someone has to take care of his niece Maisie and nephew Grant for the summer. At first Patrick is loathe to have the children invade his secluded enclave, but soon relents. GUP (or Gay Uncle Patrick) is on the case; let the fun begin!
While each interaction between GUP and the kids is adorable and funny (he's got a running list of Guncle Rules, he continually quotes movies lines to them that they don't get, the little guy thinks Patrick's Golden Globe is his reward from the Tooth Fairy), there's sweetness, humanity, and realness to the interactions that gives this book a lovely amount of emotional weight beneath the laughs. All three of the main characters are dealing with the grief of losing their mom/BFF, and how they navigate that while growing closer to each other is heartwarming to see. I especially loved the "small" moments that comment on larger issues—Maisie wanting to wear shorts and tees to swim instead of a typical girl's swimsuit, the throuple lamenting how they'll never be allowed to adopt kids, Patrick feeling guilt from the death of his partner, etc. With a ton of humor, heart, and depth, this book is an absolute delight. Highly recommend! [Also, it's already been optioned for a movie, which, with all its Hollywood references, seems like a tailor-made hit. Now we get to armchair cast Patrick!]
Books I'm Reading/Listening To...
🎧 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
🎧 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
📖 Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
📖 Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Cover of the Week:
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
Yup, I picked one of my finished books for the Cover of the Week because it's as adorable as the book! This illustration by Tal Goretsky (IG: @talgoretsky) is wonderful! It's no "romance cover of the 80s that has characters who don't match the people in the story" either! Patrick is wearing one of his beloved caftans, Maisie has on her preferred swim trunks and rash guard, and Marlene Dietrich the dog is following the crew as they strut past the pool. It's very reminiscent of the Pied Piper, and the closeness and joy that Patrick and the kids find in each other is reminiscent of that. Add in the bright, fun colors and it's a great representation of the fun yet heartwarming nature of the book. Read below for the publisher's write-up.
Also, the AMAZING David Rose bookmark is from @shopgigiandbo on Etsy. They have the best bookmarks and you always get a coupon and free gift with your order.
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is, honestly, overwhelmed.
So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick's brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of "Guncle Rules" ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled acting career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting--even if temporary--isn't solved with treats and jokes, Patrick's eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you're unfailingly human.
With the humor and heart we've come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.
I hope you all have a fun, well-read week!