He Lives On In The Music

The music reaches me in the next room, and I step away from my desk. Quietly, I creep down the hall in my bare feet and poke my head around the corner. Unseen, I watch my five year old daughter as she strums and plucks a too-large guitar. Draped across her lap, she curls her body around it, embracing the instrument like an old friend.

Her love of music comes as no surprise to me, she’s been alternately soothed and energized by music since the blurry newborn days. What does surprise me is the rush of emotions that flood me as I watch her play her first guitar. An instrument she’d requested on her own. Joy and sorrow wage a war inside me. Joy, because I too, have embraced a guitar like an old friend. Sorrow, because the one who gave me my first guitar, who taught me my first lessons, is no longer around to share in this moment.

I was older than her when I first learned to play, but like her, I felt drawn to the guitar. The heft of the body snugged up against mine was comfortable and safe. The guitar was a shelter in the storm of my teenage years in a way that the piano hadn’t been in those years. My music gave me a space to be free, to feel at peace, and I want that for her too.

But this moment doesn’t come free. Because laid across the vision of my daughter playing guitar, is another living room, another guitarist. A guitarist who shared his love of the instrument with me. Who breezed into my life in a flurry of stocking feet and guitar riffs. He shared his instruments and his love of the guitar with me. Someone who believed in my talents as a musician, when no one else – not even I – believed I could or would stick with it. His faith in me gave me the strength and courage to push past my need for perfection. And when he abruptly left my life, the music, the guitar he gave me, was the thing that pulled me through the darkest days of my teens and early 20s.  

I pull out my phone and record a short video of my daughter. She never notices me standing there. I slip the phone back in my pocket and return to my desk, the emails in front of me abandoned as I stare with glassy eyes at the cursor blinking on the screen. I think of the theory of the multiverse. In another reality, I’ve opened WhatsApp and sent that video to Eric, perhaps with a cute message about her love of the guitar starting young. Or a note about how excited we are to see him on our next visit to the US. 

In this universe, the only one I’ll occupy, I feel the waves of loss sweep through me. I feel an ache in my heart that never goes away. I feel the ache of missing someone coupled with the joy of knowing that they’re never far away from me, because I know he’s always been right there, in the strum of the guitar. 

My reverie is broken when the music stops and little feet pound down the hall, my daughter skidding to a stop next to my desk. She beams up at me. “Did you hear me mama? I played so good!” 

I swallow the lump in my throat and smile at her. “Every note, baby girl. You played so well, and I loved hearing it.” I slip my arms around her shoulders, and give her a hug. Someday soon, I’ll teach her to play. And someday later, I’ll tell her about Eric, and how he taught me to play. And he’ll live on in my heart and in the music that ties us all together.

I wrote this months ago, and it’s been languishing in my drafts. I dashed it off in the moments after this event occurred, and over the months, I’ve thought about expanding it or submitting it to a publication, but I don’t think I’m brave enough to submit it. So here’s a little piece of my heart, and I hope that, if you too find that your sorrow is mixed with joy, you know you’re not alone. xo, E.

May 2022 Books in Review

May 2022 Books in Review

May! What a month. We moved in May and were without internet at the new place for a few days. I knew that was going to happen and planned ahead with several ARC books to read. Including one that had me weeping at 1am. Oof. Maybe I’ll let you guess from the reviews which one it was. I read so many books that I had a hard time narrowing down which ones to include in my post. So, please hop over to my Storygraph account to read reviews on the following ARC books:

What I See in Me by Becky Snow ⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars Children’s Fiction
The Wicked Wallflower by Tracy Sumner  ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars Romance
An Artist’s Eyes by Frances Tosdevin & Clemence Monet ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.25 stars Children’s Fiction
Head Over Feet by Whitney Dineen ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars Romance 
All Star Love by Stephanie J Scott  ⭐⭐⭐ 3.75 stars Young Adult 
Hop at Swimming Class by Ether Van Den Berg ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars Children’s Fiction 

Books Read: 13
Pages Read: 2,840

 

Favorite books: Anne of the Island (reread), Bad at Love, The Wicked Wallflower
Least favorite books: What I See in Me, The Teacher of Warsaw

 

 

Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables Series) by LM Montgomery

Anne of the Island by L.M. MontgomeryFiction; Young Adult, Classics
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

 

The Anne of Green Gables series was one of my childhood staples, and after reading Anne of Manhattan, I decided I needed to reread the book it was based on – this one. I was a bit nervous that it would have aged well. After all, most of the books are 100+ years old. But Anne was eloquent as I remember. The relationship between her and Gil is up there with Elizabeth and Darcy for being a perfect enemies to lovers tale, and it was such a beautiful book to reread.

My only, everlasting, complaint about these books is that I always wanted more from Anne & Gil. This is mostly the tale of Anne and her adventures, and I want more Gil!

 
 

Bad at Love by Gabriela Martins

Bad At Love by Gabriela MartinsFiction; Romance, Young Adult
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

TLDR; super cute queer YA book that needs to be on your TBR list ASAP.

Daniel – aka Rotten – hates the paparazzi, but it’s part of his new life as a member of a band in LA. Everyone thinks he’s a bad boy, and he does have secrets. Just…not the ones everyone thinks he has. Sasha wants to make a name for herself at the celebrity gossip magazine she works at. A chance encounter throws these two together, and Sasha has to decide if she’ll go for the headline or save the relationship she’s been building with Daniel.

This is an adorable, teen romance featuring multiple queer characters. I adore celeb-normie relationships, and I loved how sweet this one was! I started reading it expecting that it’d take me a couple days to get through (like most books right now) and instead, devoured it in one sitting. I loved Daniel, how he’s not what he seems, that his hobbies are surprising but perfect, that he struggles with his English and how that shyness is taken the wrong way at times. I loved Sasha, and how she’s driven to get the things she wants in life, but is so realistic about what she might actually be able to get. The teenage drama. The angst. Grab this book for every YA lover or preteen on your list this fall! Book is out next week on August 2, 2022.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Children’s Book, Underlined for sending me this as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario Escobar

The Teacher of Warsaw by Mario EscobarFiction; Historical
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

 

In September 1939, the lives of Jews in Poland change forever, including those living at an orphanage in Warsaw. As the days turn into weeks and months and years, the orphanage is moved inside the ghetto, and their lives get progressively harder, until one day, everything comes to a head.

I really enjoy books about WW2, and yet, it took me weeks to get through this one. Something about the way it was written made it so hard for me. It felt like a work of nonfiction – and it is in fact based on a few real historical people – but it’s a work of fiction. The characters do have so many layers of realness to them, and are very well thought out, but I feel like the author was trying too hard to be as accurate as possible, and along the way, the story lost its’ smoothness. However, it’s not a light and happy beach read, and as such, I understand why Escobar treats his story with such gravitas. 3.5 stars in the end.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. This book is out now!

 

Viva’s Voice by Raquel Donoso & Carlos Velez Aquilera

Viva's Voice by Raquel DonosoFiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

Viva often joins her father at work when she’s not at school, because her Papi works as a bus driver and it’s lots of fun to go to work with him. But one day he says he won’t be driving the bus, because they’re doing to do something else – go on strike. The book follows Viva as she joins her Papi on the strike, and learns about unions, protests, picket lines, and the power of uniting for a common goal.

The artwork (by Carlos Velez) is STUNNING and the book should be added to your library for that thing alone. The subject is great, and I’d say this book is a perfect introduction of a complicated topic for kids ages 4-8. The story doesn’t have the poetic flow of some children’s books, but it’s not a lyrical bedtime book, it’s a story based on real occurrences and big topics. 4.5/5 stars, and I would absolutely add this to my library!

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.  This book will be out on August 26, 2022. Preorder it today!

 

 

The Starburst Effect by Kelly Oram

The Starburst Effect by Kelly OramFiction; Young Adult
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.25 stars

Noah and Lily live next door to each other. Noah is a complete jerk, making Lily’s life at home and school absolutely miserable. Not that her home life is anything great to begin with. But then Noah gets hit while playing football, and ends up with a traumatic brain injury. Months later, when Noah comes home, she finds he’s a completely different person. And her school counselor is asking her to partner with him on a project. But Lily struggles with the dichotomy between who Noah once was and who he is now. Can two enemies become friends? And how will she handle these feelings for new Noah, when she still remembers old Noah?

This book is YA/teen, but handles some pretty heavy topics, and does so with grace. I don’t know much about TBIs, but what I do know is that every one is different. Noah’s makes a huge change in his personality and his ability to do things on his own. Lily finds herself struggling because the Noah who ruined her life doesn’t exist anymore, but she still remembers him. I liked that Lily didn’t fall for Noah the second he came home from the hospital and rehab. I felt like Lily was pretty self aware, but from the way she grew up, I imagine she grew up fast. 4.25/5 stars, and this book needs to come with a don’t read in public warning, because I bawled my eyes out more than once.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. This book is out now!

 

 
 

In a New York Minute by Kate Spencer

In a New York Minute by Kate SpencerFiction; Romance
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars

Franny has a terrible day, and gets rescued by a knight in shining Gucci. But when their meet cute goes viral, and then end up on the news together, Franny and Hayes find that they’re like oil and water. Only, they keep running into each other. And it turns out, like oil in water, when you agitate them enough, they come together quite nicely.

This felt like the most cheesy of rom-com NYC love stories and it…worked. It was a bit spicy, absolutely adorable, and made me want to hop on a plane to New York. I fell for Hayes about 30 seconds after he came into the story, but Franny made me roll my eyes more than once with her sometimes unnecessary drama. In the end, they find a way to be together and I would 100% recommend this as a top contender for your beach read this summer. It’s not life shattering, but it’s an ode to New York and the kind of meet cute rom-com dramas that many of us love. 

 

Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cheyrl Diamond

Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cheryl DiamondNonfiction; Memoir
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

The story of Cheryl Diamond’s childhood is wild. Her dad was a con man and her entire family was on the run from the law and her mom’s family. She traipsed around the world on fake passports, always one step ahead of the law. The one day, things came crashing down. And she had to find a way to save herself from a father who had controlled her whole life, while not getting arrested because – now an adult – she was also an outlaw.

More than once as I read this book, I said HOLY SHIT to myself. What this family went through would not be possible today, in the age of digital IDs and computers. But if my math is right, Cheryl was born in the 1980s, and while many parts of the world were quick to adopt stricter regulations because of new technology, many places also weren’t that fast. And a con man like her father could keep their family on the run. Cheryl was a kid who grew up an outlaw, was training for the Olympics in gymnastics, became a model, and then found a way to escape the life she’d be living. Her story is almost too impossible to be true. Even when you think about how memory is faulty, and that many of the things can’t be fact checked, the stuff she went through, however implausible, in a wild ride. A good read, although I found that her writing didn’t pull me in as well as some other memoirs.

 

Little Miss Independent – The Kita Fieldtrip

Little Miss Independent – The Kita Fieldtrip

A small child lays out in the grass on a towel. The photo is taken from at least 10 feet away.

Due to the pandemic measures that hung over our first year in Germany, we’re strangely experiencing a lot of “firsts” in our second year here. Today, N’s Kita (Kindergarten, but here it’s preschool) had their end of year field trip for her group. There was an email last week to tell us when the kids would be gone (most of the day) and a reminder to pack additional snacks, water, and sturdy shoes. There was no permission slip. There were also no parent chaperones. All five teachers went with the 25 kids, according to N. They took a long walk to a Bach (a small stream) “a ways away” from Kita. Then they played in the water, ate their lunch, and walked back.

It was a long walk, and fun, and hot, she reported to me as I biked us home. When I told her that I needed to go get groceries for dinner, N informed me that she didn’t want to go to the grocery store with me, because she was tired. H was home in the office, so I was more than happy to deliver her home. But no, she didn’t need me to go all the way upstairs with her. She asked me to walk with her from the garage to the main floor, where she then walked up three flights of stairs and rang the doorbell. I left to walk to the store. I also called my husband while she was walking up the stairs to let him know what was happening. You can take the American and move her to Germany, but she’s still going to panic a bit when her kid does stuff for the first time.

If I sound like this field trip is surprising, it’s not. This isn’t the first trip she’s taken with Kita. Nearly weekly, they take walks to nearby parks to “look at the nature” and learn things about plants, or so she tells me at dinner time. We never hear about these trips. Once, with Kita, they walked to a park over a kilometer away, and we only learned about it when H took her there for the first time. He was informed that she’d already been there before, with her school. She’s gone to the theater – we knew about that one, since we had to pay for the ticket – and “taken the bus to the forest” – we didn’t know about that one.

N just finished her second year of Kita, she’s a “midi”. Next year is her last year, she’ll be a “maxi” at school. German kids start school later, Kindergarten – what we call Kita for short – is all preschool here. They don’t start elementary school until they’re six. I am proud of her independence, and yet, a part of me aches for the days when she needed me. Oh sure, she still needs me sometimes. But more and more, it’s “don’t walk too close” and “I can do it on my own” and “watch me do this all by myself”. German preschools foster this independence from a young age, in fact, I know that in some areas, the kids go on overnight camping trips in their Kindergarten. Again, without parents and only with teachers. Strange to think that less than 6 years ago, she was fully dependent on me for everything, and now, she’s off on adventures I only hear about hours or days later.

 

April 2022 Books in Review

April 2022 Books in Review

A canal in Bruges, Belgium just before sunset. There are old buildings lining the canal, and a few light clouds in the sky, which is awash with golden light.
April was a low book month for me – just six books – because we were traveling a lot, and I didn’t add any ARC kids books to my list, and I finished up one ARC adult book at the beginning of the month. May has been a lot book heavier so far! I also read a Sarah J Maas book. Those, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, are beastly books. The one I just read clocked in at 816 pages. Which reminds me that I have the most recent book in the Outlander series waiting for me as well. I need to get on that in June.

I also hit a slump in April. I know that, with how many books I read, not every one of them can be a five star read, but none of my April reads really took my breath away. There were a couple good ones (and thankfully no terrible terrible ones), but nothing of the level of some of the ones I’d read earlier this year. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck in May!

 

Books Read: 6
Pages Read: 2,831

Favorite books:
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, House of Earth and Blood
Least favorite books:
Twice Shy, Anne of Manhattan

The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron

The Italian BallerinaFiction; Historical
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

Kristy Cambron braids together three stories in this one, and it’s not an easy read, but one that is so good. There’s the story of Julia, a British ballerina, stranded in Rome during WW2, helping with Syndrome K, a fake disease made up by Italian doctors to save Italian Jews from the Nazis. There’s an Allied medic, and a small Italian girl united by a horrible accident, and determined to make sure she gets safely to her family. And there’s Delaney, who is finding out that her grandfather had stories he never told her, and heads over to Italy to find the truth, with the help of a charming Italian man.

This story was beautiful, but at times much slower than I prefer, and sometimes confusing, because there are a lot of characters and plot lines. It’s not a light beach read that gives you a HEA in 300 pages, but a tale that weaves through the fabric of time. The timelines and main characters do not come together until later on in the story, so if you’re hoping for a single story told from multiple points of view, this is not it. Instead, you are give the threads of a tale and only when you get to the end do you realize what kind of picture they make.

I did get this as an ARC copy through Netgalley, and there were some formatting errors, but nevertheless, I really enjoyed this story.

Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle​Fiction; Romance
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

Maybell is a dreamer with her head stuck in the clouds. Wesley has anxiety that makes it hard for him to go out in the world. When Maybell’s aunt dies, she leaves them both her big old house. But things don’t go very smoothly. The house needs a lot of work, and Wesley and Maybell have some issues to work out, both individually and together.

I wanted to love this book. The author approaches Maybell and Wesley’s issues really well, and I love how she tackles them. Both characters learn to live with the things that make them unique, instead of “magically” overcoming them with 20 pages to go in the book. But at the same time, I couldn’t connect with either character. Both of them were well written and lovely, but neither of them sparked me, and it took me quite a while to finish the book.

 

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Meet Cute by Helena HuntingFiction; Romance
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars

Kailyn literally falls for Daxton when she crashes into him on their first day of law school. And then she fangirls over him – HARD. They become friendly enough through law school, but then Daxton betrays her, and she seethes for years to come. But one day, Daxton’s parents die in a terrible car accident, and Kailyn gets tangled up with his family as he takes custody of his 13 year old sister. And reunited as adults, their chemistry explodes. But will it end in betrayal again? Ends in a HEA.

The whole time I was reading this book, I was 95% confident that I’d already read it at some point, but never marked it down on my read list? Either way, I really enjoyed this book. Kailyn and Daxton have some HOT chemistry and the book deals with some big, real, emotions. Cute normie-former celeb relationship, which is one of my fave tropes. Even if it was an accident reread, I’d reread it again.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. SchwabFiction; Fantasy, Historical
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

Addie LaRue, in a moment of desperation in 1714, makes a deal with the devil. And this, lives forever, while being forgotten by everyone she meets. Until one day, she meets someone who remembers her.

Told in pieces through Addie’s 300 years on this earth, we see a woman who struggles to find her purpose, struggles to find a way to make a mark on the world while being forgotten. And then finds out what it’s like to be remembered. To have her story told. And in the end, she learns what it’s like to love someone, and lose them too. This story is one of those where you’re caught up in the threads and only at the end do you see the whole tapestry. It’s beautiful and dark and lovely and sad. One that makes you choke up with tears and laugh in public.

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J Maas

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasFiction; Fantasy, Romance
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.75 stars

Bryce is a half human/half Fae living her best life until her best friend is brutally murdered, and she’s got to live with the sorrow that comes from surviving. Hunt is a fallen angel whose anger has been burning in his veins for centuries. Together, they’re tasked with solving a series of mysterious murders. Together, they learn of secrets that break them both open, and realize that the only way they – and everyone else – will survive, is by opening up their hearts and being exactly who they’re meant to be.

HOT DAMN SARAH J MAAS. I’ve read ACOTAR (more than once) and had been holding out on other SJM books, but once the second one came out, I decided to read them. I should have waited another year until book 3 was out, because the wait for #2 at the library is torturous. SJM is aces at world building, and while there’s some overlap in skills and species with ACOTAR, this series is a whole different place. There is a little bit of everything in this book, and the ending! I never saw that coming – although she left all the signs out for me to figure it out – so kudos SJM for writing another amazing series.

Anne of Manhattan by Brina Starler

Anne of Manhattan by Brina StarlerFiction; Contemporary Romance
⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars

In a modern day retelling of Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3), Anne is off in Manhattan from college (having grown up with her foster parents on Long Island) with her childhood bestie Diana, when her childhood nemesis, Gilbert Blythe, shows up for her final year in their program at Redmond College. Paired together for their senior thesis, Anne and Gil must learn to get over their childhood misunderstandings. And what starts as a tentative friendship gets much much deeper (and hotter) and then explodes.

I adore Anne of Green Gables and reread them all more than once as a kid. Anne of the Island was always one of my favorites, so I was super excited for this retelling! And it’s hot – much hotter than the originals – and adapted in a way that makes it modern. But while I liked the modern changes, I did find the flow was more stilted. The originals have such wonderful prose, and that was missing in this version. I think I loved it because I know the characters so well, and I think if you didn’t know them, they’d fall quite flat.

May 2022 Books in Review

March 2022 Books in Review

Galatea by Madeline Miller sits on a set of jean clad knees. It's a hardbound blue book with gold lettering and gold dots.

Now that I’m staring staring down the middle of May, I’ve finally caught up on all my March book reviews (and even managed to start on my April ones). Okay, I read a lot in March, which was great! Except that I slacked off on reviewing books and then had to catch up. Let’s not let me do that again. A bunch of ARC books this month, most of them kid’s lit, but a few I really think you should pick up! I really enjoyed the Spring Rabbit, it was so well written and illustrated (and is now out!) but I also think that there’s a couple others that are lovely, especially if they line up with your interests.

I also finally got around to getting Iron Widow from the library and it was just as amazing as everyone has said it is. I’m only mad I read it already because I know I’ll have to wait ages for the second one and the author left tottering on the edge of a cliff. Rude. Madeline Miller wrenched my heart out of my chest once again, and I can confirm that I’ll never look at a marble statue the same way ever again.

Books Read: 14
Pages Read: 3,243

 

Favorite books: Iron Widow, Galatea, The Spring Rabbit
Least favorite books: A Reaper at the Gates, My Lucky #13 (not posted)

An Ember in the Ashes Series (Books 2-4)

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa TahirFiction; Young Adult, Fantasy
A Torch Against the Night ⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars
A Reaper at the Gates ⭐⭐⭐ 3.0 stars
A Sky Beyond the Storm ⭐⭐⭐ 3.25 stars

I read the first book in this series at the end of February, and then devoured the next three over the next week and a half. The third book was a bit of a slog for me, mostly because I’d loved the first two books so much. I would still recommend the full series, but be aware that book three is long, and feels that way.

 
 

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhau

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay ZhaoFiction; Young Adult, Fantasy
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars

Zetain becomes a concubine-pilot to get revenge for her sister, who was killed. Instead of killing him outright, she ends up killing him while they’re in battle, and sets off a domino affect of events that lead her somewhere she never imagined going. She ends up learning things that have been kept secret for eons, risking her life to change the world and save the concubines and their pilots, and falling in love – more than once. The only complaint I have about this book is that it ended, I wanted more!! Impatiently awaiting the second novel in this series.

 

The Physicists’ Daughter

The Physicists' Daughter by Mary Anna EvansFiction; Historical
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars

Justine is working in factory in New Orleans in 1944. She’s working on mysterious parts that are for the war effort, parts no one tells them anything about. And strange things keep happening at the factory. Machines breaking in ways they shouldn’t. So, she decides to investigate.

I love WW2 fiction, but I rarely read books that take place in the US during this era. Justine is an orphan, but before their death, her parents were physicists (hence the somewhat clunky title of the book), and they taught her to think like an academic. Which means, she’s realizing that things aren’t adding up. So, unable to trust anyone, she tries to solve the accidents (which she thinks are sabotage) all by herself.

Justine is a strong female lead, and the book tackles a not-so-often side of WW2. But I found the book very slow to start, where I had to force myself through the first third of it. If you like a good slow burning book, this is for you! But I like more action in my books, so it fell a bit flat for me.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. The Physicists’ Daughter will be out on June 7, 2022.

 

 

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf by Davide Cali & Marianna Balducci

Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf: A Counting Story by Marianna Balducci, Davide CalìFiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

This story made me laugh, but my little reviewer declared it boring and asked for another story instead. I guess she didn’t find it as funny. Still, 4 stars from me, and I hope your tiny humans have a better sense of humor than mine did this week!

The narrator tells the story of the 3 little pigs, but the child listening wants a longer story. The narrator changes it up to add more pigs, to make them skateboarders and soccer players, and a whole list of them alphabetically. But nothing makes the child happy, even when, in the end, the wolf doesn’t eat any more pigs. All the pigs are lined up on an abacus, making it easy for your little story readers to work on their counting along with the wolf.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf will be out on September 27, 2022. Preorder today!

 

Abuelita and I Make Flan by Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom

Abuelita and I Make Flan by Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

A lovely look at a Cuban dish and family tradition through the eyes of little Anita. It’s her Abeulo’s (grandfather’s) birthday, and today she gets to help her Abuelita (grandmother) make Flan for the party. Only, before they start, Anita accidently breaks the special serving tray they always use. And as she’s helping Abeulita make the flan, she’s nervous the whole time about what will happen when she tells Abeulo and Abeulita about the broken serving dish. In the end, everything works out and she learns a little bit about her Abeulo as well.

I loved this book, but as someone whose Spanish is very basic, I needed to reference the translations in the back quite a bit. Still an amazing read for our family, and my little now wants to use the Flan recipe to make our own flan sometime soon!

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me. Abuelita and I Make Flan will be out on August 9, 2022. Preorder it today!

 
 

The Spring Rabbit by Angela McAllister & Christopher Corr

The Spring Rabbit: An Easter Tale by Angela McAllister, Christopher CorrFiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars

First off, this book is stunningly illustrated. The cover was what first sucked me in when I saw this on NetGalley, and I was hopeful that the illustrations would be as beautiful inside as outside. I was not disappointed!! Christopher Corr’s illustrations pair wonderfully with Angela McAllister’s text. And, as someone who was raised religious but it not religious, I was very appreciative of how McAllister approached a usually religious holiday (Easter and the Easter Bunny) and brought it back to its’ non-religious roots. Spring saves a bird that has fallen from the trees by turning it into a bunny. In exchange, the other birds help the new bunny repay Spring for her generosity by giving her a basket of eggs, which she asks them to share with the children of a nearby town to show that them spring is coming.

5 out of 5 starts from me, and a “very very pretty” from my tiny reviewer. I would gladly add a physical copy of this book to my personal library!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group for this Advance Review Copy. The Spring Rabbit was published in April and is now available.

 

Galatea by Madeline Miller

Galatea by Madeline MillerFiction; Fantasy, Short Stories
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5.0 stars!

Galatea started her life as a marble sculpture, the work of her husband. But he got mad when she didn’t exist merely to be his arm candy. So he locks her away. Despite that, she finds a way to exact her revenge, and break free from him.

Look, I will read every single thing that Madeline Miller publishes, and every single time, I will get chills. This short story was, in my opinion, too short. I wanted more. And yet, it felt complete at the same time. Her prose is so beautiful, and each character feels so complete. I don’t want to comment much on the story – because it’s so short – for fear of giving it away. But grab this short story ASAP and read it. There is no happily ever after, but there is beauty and pain and acceptance of who you are.

 

Pugs Cause Traffic Jams by Jennifer McGrath & Kathryn Durst

Pugs Cause Traffic Jams by Kathryn Durst, Jennifer McGrathFiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars

Kirby the pug has gone missing, and as their owner searches for them, they see all different kinds of dogs. Each breed of dog is said to be something specific, like “Huskies are singers” (as the owner of a Husky mix, I can confirm this) but in the end, the author maintains that pugs cause traffic jams. And maybe become internet sensations?

The story is told through speech bubbles, as Kirby’s owner searches for them. The book is very well illustrated, and my little review (age 5, pet lover) giggled about all the different dog’s traits, and pointed out which ones reminded her of dogs in our own life. Not only would I get this for any kid who loves dogs, I am tempted to pick it up as a birthday gift for a couple of pug lovers in my own life because I know it would make them laugh.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and author for providing it to me. Pugs Cause Traffic Jams is out now!

 

Tayra’s Not Talking by Christine Battuz & Lana Button

Tayra's Not Talking by Christine Battuz, Lana ButtonFiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

Tayra is new in school and she’s not saying a single word. Her classmates keep asking her questions, they even try speaking LOUDER and it really doesn’t work. Things get a little rough for a bit, but their teacher reminds them that sometimes people don’t feel ready to talk, and instead of listening to what they say with their words, perhaps the students should use their eyes to see what Tayra says with her actions.

My little reviewer (age 5) really loved this book. They are also sometimes a bit shy and overwhelmed, and don’t appreciate it when people try to get them to talk when they’re not ready. So seeing that Tayra was able to communicate with her friends without words was very neat for her. I’d recommend this to every single preschool and early elementary school teacher, because I think it’s super important. Highly, highly, recommend!

Spoilers here 😉

At the end of the book, Tayra doesn’t magically start speaking. She says nothing throughout the whole book, and I think that might be the most important lesson that this book imparts to kiddos. Because not everything is “fixed” by the end of the book and sometimes people can’t or won’t talk, for a myriad of reasons.

A huge thank you to the publisher and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Tayra’s Not Talking will be out on June 7, 2022.

 

Edward and Annie by Caryn Rivadeneira

Fiction; Children’s Lit, Educational
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

Edward and Annie is the super cute, based on real penguins, tale from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. The penguins know something is different, but can’t figure out what, when they follow their caretaker through the aquarium. They visit lots of different animals at Shedd, including sea otters, whales, and turtles. While wandering around, they realize that there are no people there to visit them!

The book is super cute and talks a bit about Shedd and the programs that they host at the end. I would 100% buy this if I was visiting Chicago, or Shedd, as a souvenir. I would also happily buy it to add to our library at home, since my zoo and aquarium loving 5 year old really enjoyed this book, and I loved how wonderfully it was illustrated! 4.5 stars from me, and 5 stars (“for the turtles!! and the penguins!!!” from my little reviewer.

My thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC copy of this book for review. Edward and Annie is out now!

February Books in Review

February Books in Review

The book If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane is on a bookshelf. It's facing out with other books next to it with their spines showing. // Copyright Emily Wenzel

February, the shortest month of the year! At the end of January, we all went into isolation after positive tests. Thankfully, our cases were mild and my biggest symptom was a headache that wouldn’t quit. But by the time February rolled around, we were still in isolation and I was ready to devour some light books. I finished up one that I’d been reading before quarantine (Murder at Westminster) and then devoured the Stage Dive series. I ended up having quite a successful month of reading, with 13 new books read (10 adult + young adult, 3 children’s). Five of them were ARC copies, and only one was a physical book. Everything I read this month was fiction, but maybe next month I’ll finally crack one of the non-fiction books on my list?

Books Read: 13
Pages Read: 3,789

Favorite books: Project Hail Mary, The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon
Least favorite books: Lead, Deep

Murder at Westminster by Magda Alexander

Fiction; Historical Mystery
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.25 stars

Kitty Worthington is an amateur sleuth and while she doesn’t ever mean to get involved in these things, it seems she can’t help herself. This is the second book in the Kitty Worthington Mysteries series, but I haven’t read the first novel. There are some light spoilers for the first book, but I think I would still feel surprised if I read it.

The book takes place in London in 1923. Kitty’s trying to avoid her debut season as much as possible, and then someone tangentially connected to her is murdered. And someone close to her is blamed for it. Kitty is positive that they couldn’t have done it, so she uses her connections to ask around, and even gets her maid and a Scotland Yard Inspector to help her a bit. Can she solve the murder? And what happens when she gets a little too close to things?

I’m not usually a fan of murder mysteries or thrillers, but I picked this one up anyways, because I have a weak spot for historical novels where women break the rules. This is a very light mystery, and it won’t have you jumping every time you hear a noise. I loved Kitty, even when I rolled my eyes at her, and I was excited by how the book ended.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.

 
 

The Stage Dive Series (1-4) by Kylie Scott

Lick by Kylie ScottFiction; Romance
Lick ⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars
Play ⭐⭐⭐ 3.0 stars
Lead ⭐⭐⭐ 3.25 stars
Deep ⭐⭐ 2.5 stars

At the beginning of the month, while coming out of a ten days of isolation due to catching Omicron, I powered through this spicy series in a couple of days. While they were full of expected tropes (a drunken Vegas wedding, fake dating, friends to lovers, and a one night stand resulting in a pregnancy), I appreciated how the author didn’t shy away from the darker side of rock and roll (paparazzi, drugs, rehab) and the characters weren’t all tall, blond, and skinny. Not much variety – they were all still white – but a couple female leads on the curvier side was nice. Lick and Lead were my favorite, and I finished Deep just to finish the series, but won’t reach for it again. Full reviews of all of them on Storygraph, linked above.

A Lot Like Adios by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis DariaFiction; Romance
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars

I really liked the first book in this series by Alexis Daria, so when I saw she’d published a second one, I put it right on my TBR list. Alexis Daria makes her books like a perfect recipe. A dash of awkward friends who mutually crushed on each other, with a heavy dose of estranged family members, with two individuals driven to go their own way in their jobs, and a few cups of sneaking around makes for a super cute novel!

Childhood friends are torn apart by the choices one of them makes right as they head off to college, and they haven’t spoken to each other in years, when business brings them together. Gabe has to head back to New York (he’d rather be anywhere else) to open another branch of his very successful gym. His best friend from high school, Michelle (Mich), is hired to help with the marketing. Sparks fly when they reunite, but can they make it work this time? And how sexy is that dance at the quinceanera? Very, very sexy!

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlaneFiction; Romance
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5 stars

I picked this up on a whim at the bookstore and it was exactly what I needed to read on a weekend away. Laurie’s life gets rocked when her very long-term boyfriend (and coworker!) leaves her. Thinking he’d eventually find his way back to her, she’s shocked when things turn out very differently. She plots her revenge and with the help of another coworker, fakes a relationship, which sparks a bunch of changes in her looks, and life outlook. But Laurie and her coworker Jamie find out it can be hard to be in a fake relationship when you’re falling for the person you’re fake dating. Ends in a HEA!

The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon by Suzanne Goldring

The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon: An emotional and gripping World War 2 historical novel by Suzanne GoldringFiction; Historical
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

The Girl with the Scarlet Ribbon tells the story of Gabriella and her younger brother, living in Florence in 1943. They’re struggling to survive, and when bad things happen, Gabriella is determined to right her wrongs and do what she can to make things better. It’s also the story of Sofia, who is mourning her recently deceased father, an Italian painter. Her father never said much about the inspirations behind his paintings, and as she struggled to catalog them, she realizes one painting is missing.

The book switches between the two times as the story is told, weaving the tales together, until you learn how Sofia and Gabriella are connected. Sofia and her mother take a trip to Florence, where they meet a sister that she never knew her father had, and learn about the missing painting. The two characters – Sofia and Gabriella – are welcome narrators, and the story weaves and bobs as you find the clues to what Sofia’s father shared in his paintings, and what he could never talk about after his time in Florence in 1943.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.

 
 
 

Brand-New Bubbe by Sarah Aronson

Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.5 stars

Jillian’s mom gets remarried, and her new stepdad comes with a brand-new (to her) grandma. And Jillian isn’t impressed. She’s already got two grandmas, and doesn’t see why she needs another one. But her new grandma, Bubbe, works hard to win her over. With a (not so gentle) nudge from her mom and stepdad, she agrees to give Bubbe a chance. Jillian feels a bit guilty though, because she worries that loving her new grandma will make her other grandmas feel left out. So she comes up with a plan to bring her whole family together. What could go wrong?

My little review gave this five (really really big) stars and I give it 4 1/2. The book is not only beautifully illustrated, it’s got a wonderful story that is so great for helping kids embrace blended families, and teaching all children that learning to love someone new doesn’t mean the people you already love will be loved less. It’s a delightfully multi-cultural book with three very different and fun grandmas, and I love that Sarah Aronson used the word “kvetch” in a kid’s book.

As an added bonus, the author includes three recipes that are mentioned in the book in the back. We didn’t make any of them but I get hungry every time I read the book!

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.  This book is available for preorder, and will be out in August 2022!

 

Bear With Me by David Michael Slater

Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐ 3.75 stars

Max is off to his first day of kindergarten, and even though he’s nervous, he’s not too worried. After all, he’s got his bear, Mr. Kalamazoo with him to help keep him safe. But his first day doesn’t go quite as planned. Max and Mr. Kalamazoo end up in a bit of trouble, and just when they think the worst is happening, a new friend reminds them that big changes are hard, and tomorrow is another day to start again.

My little reviewer (age 5) gives this no stars because the bear was “just too scary and mean looking” for her to like the book, even though she did think it was funny at times. I give it 4 stars, but I’m knocking off a quarter scaring my target audience. *If* your audience is not as tender hearted as mine, I think this is a great book for kids worried about making the transition to Kindergarten or a new school. It’s a cute story that shows that big changes can be scary, but can also be broken down into smaller steps. I think the book is both well written and well illustrated and I would recommend it to kids making the transition to Kindergarten as a way to open up conversations on how they feel about it.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.  This book is available for preorder, and will be out in April 2022!

The Boy and the Mountain by Mario Bellini & Marianna Coppo

Fiction; Children’s Lit
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.0 stars

This story is the tale of a little boy who lives near a mountain, and loves that mountain. He’s also a budding artist who draws the mountain. But no matter how many times he draws it, he can’t seem to get it right. So he fills a backpack and sets off to hike up the mountain for a closer look.

My little reviewer (age 5) gave this story 3 stars, saying that she thought it was pretty, but not very funny. She’s a tough critic. The illustrations in the book are beautiful, as one would expect for a tale about a little artist. So beautiful, that I would happily have prints made and hang them on my kiddo’s walls. And while the story is cute, it doesn’t flow as well as I would like. It meanders up the mountain slowly, but then rushes back down for dinner, much like the little boy. While I’m more generous than my little reviewer, I’d give this story 4 stars for the beautiful illustrations and cute story, but not more.

I was provided an ARC copy of this book through Netgalley. My thanks to the publisher and the author for providing it to me.  This book is available for preorder, and will be out in June 2022!

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirFiction; Science Fiction
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5.0 stars!

Ryland Grace wakes up feeling fuzzy, he can’t remember things. And as he slowly regains his physical strength and memories, he realizes he’s the sole survivor on a spaceship light years from Earth. And his job is to save the planet. No big deal, right? He’s just out in space all alone, trying to an entire planet. 

Project Hail Mary has been on my TBR pile since shortly after it came out, but I haven’t been able to start it until now. Usually I tear through books in a day or two, but this one. Whoa, this one needed me to stop and savor it. I cried, I laughed, and I got so invested in Ryland Grace and his trials and triumphs. On the surface, it’s a hilarous science fiction novel with a good amount of actual science in it. On the other hand, it’s a commentary on friendship, and the endurance of humanity as a single man faces a task that is too much for him alone, and yet, he does it anyways. The ending was beautiful and heartbreaking.

I haven’t read anything else by Andy Weir, but I would happily pick up another one of his novels again, but maybe not when I’m hoping to relax on vacation. Absolutely five stars for this one.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirFiction; Young Adult, Fantasy
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.75 stars

Laia is a Scholar in the Empire, which is ruled by the Martials. When her family is destroyed by the martials, she is forced to align herself with the Resistance in hopes of saving her brother. She’s fighting for her life and his. Elias is considered one of the best Martial soldiers of his time, he hates it. Taken from a life he loved to become an assassins, he’s trying to escape.

An Ember in the Ashes is based on Ancient Rome, and is griping. You alternate between Laia and Ellias’ perspectives and while they’re both main characters, they have very different goals. But both of them are trying to be better, to save the people they love and themselves. I couldn’t read fast enough. Then tension between the two main characters, as well as a host of secondary characters, had me staying up way too late to finish this novel, and immediately reaching for the second in the series.

The book is not light by any means, and I can’t check enough content warnings for it. But it’s griping, and wonderfully written, and shows that sometimes, the thing that makes us human, is our need to persevere, even when the odds are against us.