Do you have a song that you listen to on repeat? Maybe it’s a heavy metal screamer while you’re at the gym. Maybe it’s a pop throwback while you’re getting ready. Maybe it’s a boy band while you’re in the shower (I promise I won’t judge you). When I was in elementary school, “Our Song” by Taylor Swift was what I listened to when I was anxious. If we’re being honest, that’s still high on my list of comfort music. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find myself returning to “Down to the River to Pray” from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and “Crazy Girl” by Eli Young Band. I love the repetition of these songs and often find myself playing my same familiar playlist over and over again. Even better, I’ll zero into a single song to listen to in an endless loop. The late winter and spring saw “Almost Home” by Keston Cobblers Club played innumerable times during my planning periods. The summer was briefly defined by “Vienna” by Billy Joel but is getting replaced by “Hold On” by Jared & The Mill. If we’re being honest, it’s what I’ve been listening to on repeat while I write this. There’s the Killers and Broadway musical phases I’ve never quite left and the High Kings songs I can sing from memory. My music taste is eclectic and not shared by many. I was thrilled this weekend when I put my big playlist on shuffle and my neighbor recognized the majority of the songs that played. It’s not often that people can recognize The Oh Hellos or The National Parks. This leads me to ask again, what is your repeat song? Is it to fire you up or calm you down? Is it the one you cry to or the one you celebrate to? Has it changed with the seasons? Let me know!
Back to our recap of books! Since our last update, I’ve finished two novels and a novella. Two were hyped up and disappointed me, and one made me smile from beginning to end. Let’s get into it!
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
I love books about book lovers. I love women-led historical fiction. I love books with a strong sense of place. I did not love this book. The narration in the book did not feel fully realized, and the same points and conversations were repeated over and over again. Yes, this repetition helped to drive home the injustices, the bias, and the fear of the time period, but it also made the pacing feel too slow. The premise of the book was intriguing: Cussy is a woman with blue skin in a small Eastern Kentucky town. Historically, there were families with blue skin because of a medical condition, but during the Great Depression, this condition was not widely recognized or treated. Cussy is faced with racist hatred from her community, and her father hopes that a marriage will provide her with the lifelong protection that she’ll need. Cussy, however, wants to spend her days delivering books to the isolated communities in the mountains. While she can’t solve the hunger and the heartache her neighbors feel, she is able to bring joy and learning into their lives. All in all, I was disappointed that the novel didn’t live up to the hype.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
While it’s hard to define the buzz books of the summer, this certainly seemed to qualify as one. A bestseller and Barnes and Noble book club pick, it was brightly and prominently advertised when I went to the bookstore. I could see the appeal from the summary. Two friends over the course of decades design and produce video games. I love friendship stories. I love stories about creation. I love messy drama and the breadth that decades can bring. I was conflicted about my feelings for this book. I listened to it on audio thanks to an influencer copy from Libro.Fm, and one of the common points I’ve seen other reviewers make is that the story is a long one. They’re not wrong. Divided into sections and parts and chapters and years and years and years, the novel has the space to do what literary fiction does best: be creative. There are point of view changes, flashbacks, and long ramblings into memory. There is the steady and slow creation of characters so that they feel fully formed and realized. The characters, unfortunately, are where I run into the problem. I don’t like when characters enter abusive relationships. I don’t like when other characters are aware and don’t intervene. I don’t like when characters return to be hurt again. The amount of hurt that Sadie endured was difficult to read, especially when it was combined with her depression. The numbness and general acceptance of accepting less made the first half of the book difficult. Similarly, Sam was incredibly hard to reconcile with as a character. His backstory was filled with trauma and tragedy. I felt for him. I pitied him. I wanted better for him. I didn’t love his feelings of possession for Sadie. I didn’t love his inability to help her or emotionally connect with her. I didn’t love how selfish and manipulative and distant he came across in his friendship. It was, in summary, a difficult friendship to root for. I could root for the beauty of the nonlinear timeline. I could root for the humanity that was breathed into each character. I could root for the grief that was so thoroughly explored. There is a major loss at the midway point, and I think the story really shines as it is explored. The author takes the most risks and creative freedoms at that point in the text, and they are well worth it. If you grew up with video games, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s a stylistic 4 stars for me even though I didn’t enjoy significant parts of the content.
Stuck with You by Ali Hazelwood
Raise your hand if you loved The Love Hypothesis. If I don’t see your hand up, you haven’t read it yet, and I’m jealous that you get to experience it for the first time. Hazelwood’s romance writing blew me away, and I’ve been so excited to read more of her books. I got my best friend hooked on The Love Hypothesis during our trip together, and she texted me to let me know that Hazelwood had published three novellas. We both requested all of them from our libraries and have been loving them. Hazelwood does a fantastic job of giving her women full lives outside of their romance. They have careers they are passionate about, friends they love, and goals they’re trying to reach. They’re smart and nerdy and a bit awkward and nervous. They’re thoroughly human. The men are tall and brooding and brilliant. Even though the men seem to put others off, they’re fiercely protective and gentle and supportive of their significant others. I love the tenderness and banter that Hazelwood includes. The short text told through flashbacks is perfect for a Sunday afternoon. It’s perfect if you like miscommunication, meet cute, and oh no the power went out and I’m stuck in an elevator with you stories. I’m working through the other two and will be sad when I’m out of new Hazelwood content for a while.
What I’m reading next:
Under One Roof by Ali Hazelwood
Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood
How We Disappear by Tara Lynn Masih
I’m particularly grateful for the ARC from Tara! She’s been a huge supporter of me in the classroom, and I love her writing. She virtually visited my 8th grade classes during our Holocaust unit to discuss her novel, My Real Name is Hanna. It was a huge moment for my students to meet an author, and I’m so grateful that they had the opportunity. Last school year she served as a judge for the literary competition I organized for our high schoolers, and I’m grateful for the insightful advice she was able to offer the winning student. If you like WWII historical fiction, you should definitely read My Real Name is Hanna.