The last time I posted something here on the blog was more than a month ago. University started again a few days after I posted it (you can read it here — I wrote it for Valentine’s Day) and that made me abandon the blog for a bit. Going back to uni wasn’t easy, I’ll admit, but everything is starting to be on track and I hope to post more often now!
That said, I haven’t been reading much lately, so this wrap-up will be very short. I read three books in February and two books in March. Not my best months by far, but I’m eager to get out of this reading slump and catch up to my Goodreads reading challenge again.
Also, I got to interview an author at the end of this blog post. It was a lovely experience. It was very interesting to work with her more one-on-one than usual and get to know her a little more.
What I read in February…
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
The first book I read this month had been on my pile for far too long. I added it to my Goodreads page in July, but I had been meaning to read it ever since it came out and took Booktube and the book blogging community by storm. So I gained some courage, joined another girl, and buddy read it with her.
What is it about? This book follows Simon, an American teenager still in high school with a big secret he’s keeping from everyone — he’s gay and is in love with a boy. Simon is a senior in Georgia and he can’t wait to go to university and just start a new life away from his hometown. While perusing his school’s gossip Tumblr page, Simon gets in touch with another boy who feels the same way about this part of himself as he does. Exchanging emails, none of the boys reveal their identity and slowly start to develop a relationship that must be kept under wraps. In this young-adult novel, Simon tries to come to terms with being gay in the conservative south and “survive” his high school experience.
Why I liked it… Going into this with extremely low expectations, having previously despised Becky Albertalli’s other book, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit and even giggling at some parts. I really liked the humor and the main character’s witty nature. His family dynamics were so interesting that I just wanted to be a creep and follow their every interaction in real life. Kidding — aha!
I also really liked the cuteness of his friendship with the anonymous boy. I’m a sucker for love stories and meeting through email gives me massive Meg Ryan + Tom Hanks vibes in “You’ve Got Mail.” I adored how they become closer with time and with each passing email. It was truly a slow-burn of a relationship, but totally worth it. I just wish we had gotten to see more of their interactions.
There were some things I didn’t like as much. At times, the dialogues and the “cool stuff” (read, Internet-related) felt very cringey and unnatural. For instance, the author kept using this really weird spelling of Tumblr and trying to make it a verb all the time. I was not there for it and it put me off just a little.
In case you didn’t know, there’s actually a movie adaptation that came out on March 16th. It was released by 20th Century Fox and its name is “Love, Simon.” I have included the trailer down below; I hope you’re as excited as I am!
A Literary Tea Party by Alison Walsh
When I saw this book being promoted on Netgalley, I just couldn’t stop myself from requesting a copy. It sounded right up my alley. I mean, it has baking, tea brewing, and literature all in one book! I knew I had to give this one a go, and I was not at all disappointed.
What is it about? Alison Walsh recreates dishes that have been described in books. She takes classical pieces of literature — such as Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll — and comes up with a recipe you can follow at home. The recipes come in many difficulty levels. If like me, you are a beginner, you can try baking “Beorn’s honey nut banana bread” from The Hobbit. Or, if you know your way around the kitchen, you can try the “fairy dust star cookies” from Peter Pan.
Why it’s great! The thing I loved the most about this book was how much thought and love went into making it. I could truly feel that Alison Walsh had put her heart into this project. The little introductions she wrote for each of the recipes were adorable and made me appreciate the book even more. She also includes quotes from the books she was inspired by that give the reader a clearer picture of how the recipe came to be. The photographs were also amazing. Even though I received a lower resolution copy, the food looked absolutely amazing and the balance between colors and props was spot on.
Something that I also loved about this book was how well laid out the recipes were. They were relatively easy to follow and the author even included an imperial-to-metric conversion table in one of the last pages of the book. They were really handy. I could follow the recipe and not do what I normally do — eyeball everything and pray everything turns out right.
Alison Walsh also runs another blog entirely dedicated to cooking and to recreating recipes from books. Its name is Alison’s Wonderland Recipes and you can check it out by clicking on the name. It’s 100% worth it — great for inspiration if you’re like me: a lover of bakery from afar and too intimidated to actually start doing it instead of binge watching The Food Network.
I have already tried baking the mini bite-sized apple and brie pies, and you’ll see a whole post about that adventure in the kitchen at the beginning of June. I had so much fun baking (and eating) the pies and I can’t wait to share it with you!
(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living by Mark Greenside
This was another book for which I got a digital copy from the publisher. I was so pumped to request it, after all, it seemed to be a comical adventure through the French countryside. Unfortunately, my expectations were way too high and I ended up not liking this book.
What is it about? Mark Greenside is an American who, twenty-or-so years ago, bought a house in France in the Brittany area. He has been spending some seasons at a time with his wife in their real estate, making a lot of friends and acquaintances along the way. In this book, the writer puts to paper his experiences in the oh-so-elusive European country and doesn’t leave out any of the cultural faux-pas and hiccups he’s come across with.
Why I didn’t like it… Reading this from a European point of view (I’m not French, but I am Portuguese and there are quite a few similarities between these two cultures), I thought this rubbed off on me as quite ethnocentric. It seemed as though the writer was incapable of making comments on French culture without automatically comparing it to the United States. It got to the point where even French supermarkets were branded inferior to their American counterparts simply because they are different.
The more I read, the more and more I thought that the writer really doesn’t like French people. I can’t say if the comments he makes throughout the book are driven by plain ignorance and lack of common sense, or by a genuine sense of American superiority. Just so you get a feel for what I’m saying, I’ll give you an example included in this book.
In French supermarkets (and I wasn’t aware this wasn’t common practice all over the Western world) there are shopping carts where you put a coin to unlock them, which you get back when you put them away. This way, people are less likely to leave them scattered around the isles. Anyways, the writer thought that the coins weren’t returned, and he thought this for a few months. Whenever he saw someone go to return the cart, he would try to warn them about the unreturned coin and then proceed to think of them, to himself, as dumb and wasteful.
What I read in March…
The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet
The first book I finished reading in March was one that I loved and will certainly be on my top-books-of-the-year list. This middle-grade novel carried me through some sadder times at university and was an encouragement to get through with the day so I could return to these pages. For that, I’m very grateful and happy, and is one of the reasons as to why it’s such an important book for me.
What is it about? The Orphan Band of Springdale is set in 1941 when the anti-German and anti-communist sentiments were at its peak. Because of the growing attacks on immigrants and suspected communists, eleven-year-old Gusta is shipped off to her estranged grandmother’s house in Maine by father, who is being chased by the United States’s government. In her new house in Maine, Augusta must adapt to her new life and learn how to cope with the circumstances that led her to Springdale, Maine.
Why I loved it! Anne Nesbet quickly won me over with her prose and storytelling. With this book, she has proven that she can slip into a child’s mindset and reproduce how they think and talk perfectly. Everything was spot on — from how the children acted, to how they got along with each other, to what their dreams and ambitions were. I find that this is where a lot of writers fall short: they try to make their books very fancy and formal and forget the target audience they’re writing for. Anne Nesbet does the opposite — she writes for children and it comes across as just that, but somehow she manages to be elegant and graceful with her prose.
When it comes to setting and mood, this book ticks all the desired boxes. It has a very rich and dense setting that adds interest and conflict to the story. World War Two and the politics that came from it is one of the most fascinating events in 20th-century American history, in my opinion, and I was very pleased to see the writer set her story in this time period. The tensions and the small-town politics felt very vivid and realistic, which added a great element of intrigue to the story. I loved seeing the portrayal of McCarthyism and anti-German propaganda in this book and how that affected the main character and her family.
Lastly, one of the best elements of this novel is the characters. They were so well created and well thought out that they drove the story by themselves. It was great seeing such a strong-minded, strong-willed and generous character as Augusta Neubronner be the lead. She had a lot of life and determination and always strove to accomplish her goals. The young supporting characters were also charming in their own way: they each had a very set personality that they clung to during the novel. I really appreciated seeing them change as new pieces of information popped up. They were all well-rounded and dynamic.
This book is coming out very soon — in just a little over a week now! I highly recommend you to pick it up. If you like middle grade (or if you want to get into the genre) and stories with an element of mystery and strong leading characters are your thing, you’ll most likely love this just as much as I did.
Every Watering Word by Tanya Manning-Yarde
The last book I read in the month of March was a collection of poems by Tanya Manning-Yarde. This is her first published book, and she got in contact with me through my blog asking for a review. Because the blurb sounded so interesting, I knew that I had to give it a go and see if my expectations were met.
Also, I got to work with the writer on a closer level and even got to ask her a few questions! I have included the little mock interview I did with her down below. I think it helps to shed some light on what her work is about and why she writes the way she does.
What is it about? It’s always hard to define a collection of poems. Because they can work as their own little entities, it’s not always easy to find a common theme. However, Every Watering Word can be called a feminist book of poems. Each poem tackles an issue — either institutionalized sexism, local sexist practices, or even a woman’s relationship with her own body.
Why I liked it… I am one to be super hyped up about feminist works. Be it movies, books, or music, if it’s feminist, chances are I’ll be excited to check it out and judge it for myself. My favorite feminist writers’ prose and poetry is raw and very honest, which is why they are my favorite. Tanya Manning-Yarde manages to also capture that in these poems. She has picked topics that she is passionate about and that shows very well in her words.
I loved to read about the poet’s view on the presence of the sacred in the everyday life. While I tend to stay away from spirituality, the poems that reflected this topic were one of my favorites and ended up being digitally doggy-eared on my phone. I also particularly liked the poems that dealt with parenthood as a black person. They felt very honest and painful to read because of how relevant they are today. Some other themes that I also enjoyed that stuck out was the relationship a woman has with her body, and marriage. As for the latter, I really appreciated the different cultural view I got from reading this — I felt like I traveled to another part of the world and soaked up its culture. As for the former, I have attached below one of my favorite poems from the collection dealing with it.
Talk with the author, Tanya Manning-Yarde…
— When did you start writing?
I started writing at the age of 12, first in personal journals. My high school creative writing teacher then loaned me a copy of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough”. It changed my life because I felt like I saw myself on paper, a woman of color writing about women of color’s trials, tribulations and triumphs. Inspired, writing in personal journals evolved into writing not just about my personal experiences but examinations of the world around me as well. As an undergrad, I wrote an honors thesis about the negotiation of silence of the women characters in Ntozake Shange’s texts, and to complement it, a collection of poems exploring themes I found across Ntozake Shange’s texts. I took the poetic component of my undergrad thesis and created a play from it that I wrote, produced and directed. It was titled, “Episodes of Womanhood/Mahogany Women’s Movements/A Blackened Woman’s Voice from a Different World.” I continued my graduate studies, culminating in my dissertation about literacy as contextualized action. But throughout the writing of my dissertation, and after obtaining my doctorate, I continued writing, even to this day.
— What inspired you to write this book?
This book is the culmination of over two decades of poems. It was inspired by personal experiences as well as examinations of how my notions and understandings of ethnicity, womanhood and identity are impacted by the lens of religion, class, gender, stereotypes, and the like. The poems are also inspired by events in the world outside my personal experience, discussing the construction of womanhood by geography and oppression. My religious experiences also come to inform my poems, which came from my mother and father, as well as my love of jazz music passed on from my father (who was a jazz musician), which was an intrinsic part of my upbringing, as well as the upbringing of my two sons. My oldest, age 6, is now inspired to write his own book of poetry.
— What is some advice you would give little girls?
Wow. I am so flattered to be asked such a question. As young girls, we are bombarded with such pressure to conform and comply with sociocultural ideals. What we should look like, how we should interact, what we should aspire to, etc. The advice I would give it to cultivate an understanding of yourself that does not require others’ permission or comply with another’s pressure. Not an easy thing to do. To thy own self be true. Have a vision for yourself that requires no one acting as a mirror for approval. Relative to writing, read a variety of topics and genres to expand your repertoire in the things you can think and the texts you can write.
— Since releasing the book, what are some projects you’ve been working on and things that have been keeping you busy?
Last Saturday (March 24th), my best friend and I put on a poetry showcase and book signing. Our childhood friend, Thomas Johnson, performed with his band Najeli Soul (he is the drummer in the video). Even the mayor of Montclair, NJ, Robert Jackson, came to our event! You can see a video recording of the reading here on Google Drive.
You can purchase Every Watering Word on Amazon by following this link. I felt honored to be able to talk to this author who was always lovely even when I had my problems at university and couldn’t blog about her book when it was agreed. I hope you’re excited to read some of her poems and follow her blog here! She’s a writer that deserves all the hype and attention she can get.