Hi friends. I really hope you’re all well, that you’re safe and finding ways to make it through each day. It’s been a couple weeks since you’ve heard from me, because *gestures vaguely* I took a week off to catch up on some reading, and then last week things in the world were just so fast-moving and overwhelming that I just couldn’t make this happen.
I’m gonna be honest: for the last few months I’ve actually been tossing around the idea of shuttering the blog. I’ve never really found the right niche for it, or a way to make it that feels like the right balance of creatively useful and not overwhelming. There are a lot of factors in play, but when I look at the set of writing projects in my life — this, the newsletter, reviews — this is the one that feels most consistently like a chore, is the only one that doesn’t have other creators dependent on it, and is the only one that I’m currently spending money on. I find WordPress frankly unusable without paying for a premium membership, and yet paying for that membership over the last year has been an expense I’ve felt pretty conflicted about.
I’d also kind of like a break from reading every book with a mental tally in my head of what I did or didn’t like about it, what I feel obligated to include in my recommendation, how to articulate the ways in which why I liked to didn’t like it might be different from why someone else did or didn’t like it.
And yet. I love talking about books, and I’ve loved hearing from friends who have followed this project tell me about the books they’ve read because of it. And now, the world being what it is, with myself and everyone else doing a lot more staying in, why on earth would I cancel my book blog now?
I’ve thought about moving it over to Substack, which is technically a newsletter service rather than a blog (and is also the platform for Pop Culture Pen Pals) and I’ve taken some steps in that direction. If you subscribe via email, there’s nothing you’ll need to do — I’m able to import email subscribers over to Substack easily. If you sometime in the coming weeks get a “double issue” — one from WordPress and one from Substack — that’s why. I’ll probably test it out a couple times before making a decision on a final yea/nay. I may end up taking an extended break, in which case I would suspend my premium membership. The website would still be here, but not at the personalized URL.
I really have no idea what I’m going to do with it. I realize this ‘prologue’ is longer than many posts have been, and a bit grim, it’s a good thing the first book on the docket is a romance novel, and one that I highly recommend!
Unveiled – Courtney Milan
This was my first Courtney Milan and it CERTAINLY won’t be my last! This story was about such a genuinely unique situation that I’m not sure how to briefly describe it; it really gets into the weeds of regency-era rules of inheritance and parliamentary procedure in a way that heightened the tension for a central romance that was already, ahem, replete with it. Fake identities, complicated plots, and fantastically steamy chemistry! This book has it all, plus a really fascinating incorporation of dyslexia into a time when there wasn’t a name for it. As I mentioned regarding The Duke and I, regency-era books have a tricky line to walk when incorporating disability, and some do better than others. I thought Milan did a good job, but obviously I’m not the final word on that.
Deathless Divide – Justina Ireland
I raved about Dread Nation about a year ago and have been eagerly anticipating the sequel ever since. And no surprise here, it grabbed me as immediately and effectively as the first one did. It picks up minutes after the first and sweeps us immediately into the zombie-fighting fray. This time the chapters alternate between Jane and Katherine, and I really appreciated getting a closer look into Katherine’s head. Aside from the top-notch action and really well-managed way this book handles the high stakes of a world ravaged by zombies, I really admire the way Ireland incorporates characters’ sexual identities, anxiety, and using the revisionist zombie history as a new way of framing the way people of color (and specifically Black people) lived and were treated throughout history. This book in particular nodded at the ways in which Black people have historically been forced and coerced into being the subjects of medical experimentation. (Marion Sims, often considered the “father of modern gynecology”, is notorious for forcibly experimenting on enslaved Black women, and he’s certainly not the only one.)
Quick note: Although I really enjoy these books, I did come across a Twitter thread by Native scholar Dr. Debbie Reese who explained some of the concerns she and other Native people have had about the first book, which added some needed perspective.
Miracle Creek – Angie Kim
A legal drama, which is rare for me! But this book made me want to get more into the genre, because it was very compelling. It had been on my list for awhile, but I bumped it up thanks to The Stacks podcast, which I’ve mentioned before and really enjoyed. If you read the book I highly recommend listening to the episode about it because I guarantee you’ll want to talk about it with someone and/or hear other people talk about it because there’s a lot to discuss. The story is centered around a trial set to prosecute a woman for the explosion of a unique medical center, an explosion that killed two (including her son) and injured several others. Kim explores race, disability, parenthood, and grief in very interesting ways and effectively keeps you guessing throughout. I did feel a little disappointed by the ending, but I appreciated the way she handled a large cast of characters, which is something that can easily annoy me if not done well. Also her imagery was really good!
Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward
I’ve written before about Ward’s exceptional writing, both in fiction and nonfiction. This book, which is about one family’s (and specifically one teenage girl’s) experience of the week leading up to Hurricane Katrina, as well as the storm itself. The storm comprises a small part of the narrative itself, but its impending presence is always there, and there’s an everpresent sense in the book of potential catastrophe, which made it…….a tough read this week. Even though the book’s disaster and our current disaster are very different, the thing I found myself really needing in the last few days was a pleasant escape, which this definitely wasn’t, which is not the fault of the book in any way, but did tamper my response to it.
Ward’s writing is absolutely gorgeous; vivid and precise imagery fills up every page, and every character was both fully realized and mysterious in their own way. Esch (the protagonist and narrator) and her brothers and friends are all unique and interesting and I deeply cared about them all immensely and immediately.
Okay that’s all for now! I hope you’re all well and safe and keeping it together as best you can. Thank you for your patience while I work this whole blog thing out. I hope you’re finding soothing and absorbing things to read and watch during this time.