The Care and Keeping of Me

We have been incredibly lucky. Until today, my husband’s and my jobs were totally unaffected by the pandemic; they were perhaps a bit busier than normal. We have everything we need, and so far my children have not gone without anything. We are all healthy. I am in that gratitude.

But per a county “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, my little bookstore closed its doors for the time being yesterday. For now, it looks like ten days. Ten days is nothing. Ten days is probably not enough.

The store owner is an incredible woman. We are all being encouraged to think outside the box in terms of staying of service to our community and our business in this trying time. We are allowed to work from home in creative pursuits for this period and planning for the celebration when we reopen. She is supporting us in any way she can. So many do not have that right now. I am in that gratitude.

Husband did a wonderful job of entertaining the little brothers today so that I could fit in eight hours of work while in the home. I was able to cook a full breakfast this morning, nurse Little Brother as he needed it, have our favorite Italian lunch weekend-style with Middle Brother, cook dinner and eat with the family, take part in bedtime, and still get some real work done, including a virtual storytime with no screaming in the background. I am in that gratitude.

People who are not even regular customers are going out of their way to support our little business. A couple even let a total stranger pick out entertainment for their families and ship it sight unseen for their social distancing periods. The world still values booksellers. I am trusted to do my job well. I am in that gratitude.

The very best kind of friend stopped by and dropped off pies and lattes for us. She even stayed and chatted for a bit from a respectable six feet away. She brought warmth and companionship in a difficult time. I am in that gratitude.

Despite all this, there is still an unmanageable amount of anxiety. I won’t go into all the reasons; you all feel it on some level. We are really all in this together. So, in between all the things to be grateful for, I still have to work in some much-needed self care. What that looks like for me today: a long shower, allowing myself that burst of pride when someone is thrilled by my selections for them, telling my brain to shut off the business and enjoy some time with my boys, refusing to sit in guilt that I’m still not reading right now, marveling at my wonderful children, calling every number in my phone and not feeling bad about it, sitting with my anxiety and gratitude together.

This is just the beginning, and I intend to be here at the end, healthy and happy and whole. Take care of yourself. You should be, too.

Review: Cuddle Monkey by Blake Liliane Hellman

Cuddle Monkey is an adorable picture book. Lewis really loves to cuddle, and these are his adventures in search of the cuddles. The pictures are sparse, but cute. It’s just the right amount of words for the younger set. I don’t know about your kids, but my boys are all world champion cuddlers, so they can certainly relate to the content. I really enjoyed this as a read-aloud.

Disclosure: Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Review: Good Night Unicorns by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper

I love this little board book. Good Night Unicorns goes throughout the day with, you guessed it, unicorns. The pictures are bright and engaging enough for Little Brother. There’s just the right amount of words for Middle Brother. Especially in this very weird time, it’s a soothing book for the little ones in your life. There’s also a lot of non-unicorn things in the pictures to have your little ones look for to keep them interacting.

Disclosure: Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

You haven’t been seeing a lot of posts from me lately. You haven’t been seeing them because I haven’t been reading. I’ve been listening to music in the car instead of my audiobooks. I’ve been looking at social media in the evening instead of reading my physical books.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The bookstore has been crazy busy, which we’re grateful for, yet always mindful of what that means in a scary time. There are never very many customers in at once and we sanitize constantly. It’s hard to know the right thing to do in terms of best supporting our community right now, so we’re keeping our ears and hearts open to make that choice every day. At the end of the day, I’m physically and emotionally tired in a way that just being a mom didn’t exhaust me. I didn’t know I had new levels of tired to reach.

I am a little anxious, and I do mean a little. There are no panic attacks; I’m not unable to do the daily things that need to be done. But in any spare moment I’m wondering if I should be planting a vegetable garden to make sure I have some fresh produce for my family, or if we do have to completely quarantine if people will want to come out and socialize again when this is all over, or if this goes on for months or years, what will the economy look like? what will become of the small businesses I love, the one I work for included?

Things that used to be quick stops on the way home are monumental tasks right now. Grocery run? Try grocery crawl, probably including someone crying and someone screaming. Even the convenience stores aren’t convenient today.

I’m just having trouble finding the time, energy, and focus for my most beloved pastime right now.

But…

I am loving my boys with every fiber of my being in every moment. I cannot get enough of them. I have always loved my children, but I am appreciating them in a different way because of this. Life is changing, whether it turns out to be temporary or not. They are growing up in a world where being able to find milk or bananas or eggs in a supermarket is not a given. They are living, young as two of them are, in a time when they can’t have playdates. There are no movies or restaurants with playgrounds or zoos to go to.

We are not social distancing as drastically as some families may be, because I am still working with the public, so I will probably be our point of exposure. We do run errands together, supporting local even more strongly than we always have, and visit our close relatives. Middle Brother’s daycare is still open to date, so he does have some time with friends.

But we are spending a lot more time at home, just our little family, and as scary as times may be, I am loving it. I am trying to stay in that gratitude as much as I can. When I do get around to that vegetable garden, we’ll all be out in the yard, and Middle Brother will be “helping”. We play a lot of Monster Dinosaur, which is basically just chasing each other around roaring. Little Brother has started trying to play. My boys are all so funny in very different ways: Big Brother has some fantastic snark, Middle Brother plays tricks, Little Brother makes the funniest sounds just because he knows I’ll laugh and he likes it. I’m staying in this right now, because this family is my home and it grounds me.

Reading is a great escape, and I’ll need that again soon, I’m sure. At the beginning of all this, though, when everything still seems so uncertain, I need the unshakeable foundation we are for each other. I need this love, and it needs me. There will be plenty of time for the other.

Review: Where We Go from Here by Lucas Rocha

Where We Go from Here is a powerful debut novel about three gay teens in Brazil dealing with HIV in various ways. The author spent some time working with a nonprofit that dealt with distributing antiretroviral medications in Brazil, which got him to thinking about all the damage done by public misconceptions about the disease.

This is not an issue I have dealt with on any level in my personal life, so I can’t really attest to how true to life the characters’ experiences are. But it felt very realistic. More importantly for me, it got me thinking about what people in their positions go through, both in the characters and extrapolating into other experiences in real life. There is still a lot of stigma associated with HIV, and I’d never considered what people who are positive go through outside of the disease itself.

I am so glad I read this book, and I cannot wait to put it in the hands of other readers. It’s due to publish June 2, 2020.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in my job as a bookseller. Link is a Bookshop affiliate link.

Review: Lakewood by Megan Giddings

First off, I listened to this book as an audiobook, so a note on the narrator: She narrated a middle school child on Look Both Ways, which I listened to not that long ago, so it took me a long time to not think of this book’s main character as a child. She does a fantastic job, though, and once I got past that mental thing, it was good.

Lakewood is a novel about medical experimentation on black Americans. I am not going to say I loved this book or that it was entertaining or unputdownable, because those things are not true. It made me incredibly uncomfortable. I took long breaks between listening. What I will say is that it was graphic and visceral and I couldn’t not finish it. It was an important read in the way that The Handmaid’s Tale and The Warehouse are important reads. So, while it was kind of a miserable experience, that was the point. And I don’t know about you, but discomfort is how I grow. It means I’m looking at something I’ve avoided looking at.

This is the book to read if you want fiction to read alongside The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or if you just want to get to intimately know a part of the human experience that is not yours. It’s powerful and feels so real.

Disclaimer: Some links are Bookshop affiliate links.

Review: Crave by Tracy Wolff

When my oldest was born, I gave up reading for a bit because who has the time? Twilight is what brought me back to my old passion. Paranormal romance was pretty much all I read for years. When I reread Twilight before the last movie, I suddenly realized there were much better-written vampire books with much stronger heroines, but it still holds a special place in my heart.

Over time, I got vampire-d out and broadened my reading horizons. I didn’t realize how much I missed my vampires until I picked up Crave.

You can definitely feel the Twilight influence in this one, but it’s taken the serious issues with creepy, unhealthy relationship boundaries and a submissive heroine and fixed them. And it’s definitely not just a retelling of that book. It is its own thing, but it will fit well with that audience, or anyone you want to recommend it to today but think it might be outdated for.

Essentially, Grace moves up to a boarding school in Alaska where her uncle is the headmaster shortly after the sudden death of her parents. It turns out to be full of paranormal beasties, but Grace doesn’t know that. She just knows something is very weird and she keeps almost dying.

Crave has all of my favorite things: vampires, dragons, heroine who thinks she’s not anything special but definitely is even if we don’t know how but still manages to have decent self-esteem, flirty hot guy in the friendzone, no parental oversight, human sacrifice, sass, and So. Much. Steam.

Also, the hero is very, very flawed. I hesitate to even call him the hero. The male love interest? I love that. I love when the guy doesn’t come in and make everything right.

This one is definitely for fans of Marked, Twilight, and You Slay Me. Crave is due to publish April 7, 2020, and Tracy Wolff will be signing it at Katy Budget Books on April 9.

Disclosure: Links are Bookshop affiliate links. I was given an ARC of this title to review in my job as a bookseller.

Review: The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron

For those of you thinking, “Aren’t they ever going to stop publishing YA novels about the Holocaust?”, I feel you. I think this pretty much every time I see one, right before I buy it, read it, and feel like it was an important book.

The Light in Hidden Places is, in fact, a YA novel set during the Holocaust. While I do always end up glad that I’ve read those books, it always helps to note what makes them different from each other.

This book is based largely on the unpublished memoir of Stefania Podgorska, a young Catholic girl who hid thirteen Jews in her attic in Poland during World War II, with Nazis living in the apartment part of that time. Sharon Cameron worked from that, as well as personally interviewing her family and remaining members of the families who lived in the attic.

Also, this story is largely focused on life in Poland just before and during World War II, rather than the atrocities of the camps. Don’t mistake me, there are allusions to things in the camps and descriptions of horrors in the city streets. Overall, though, you get much more of a feel for the general terror of being an ordinary citizen in that time, trying to figure out what your role is in the face of a horrific mob mentality.

There is an author’s note at the end explaining what was from sources and what was fictionalized and why, and giving some follow-up on the real people after the scope of the story.

This book is for readers of Between Shades of Gray and young people interested in WWII history. It is appropriate for the full YA age spectrum.

Disclosure: Links are Bookshop affiliate links.

Review: Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

First of all, Of Curses and Kisses is Beauty and the Beast-inspired, and who doesn’t love a fairy tale retelling? Second, it’s YA that doesn’t have insta-love. Go, Sandhya Menon!

I have not been reading a lot of YA, lately, although my TBR just got taken over by it. But this was next on my libro.fm reading list, and that’s my system for audiobooks. I am so glad.

This book has everything you could want: romance, intrigue, a curse (maybe), arranged engagements, well-developed main and side characters. If you’re looking to read more diversely, it also has an Indian princess and a British nobleman as its main characters.

I loved Of Curses and Kisses from the beginning. It was easy to get into, and it never let me down. I love that there’s just the hint of a curse, but in general it’s contemporary fiction. I loved the main couple, and I’m very excited there are plans for a series so some of the side characters should be getting stories. The HEA is totally appropriate for the age of the characters, and while there’s some cussing, there’s no sex and not a ton of language, so it’s appropriate for most of the YA age spectrum.

I got a free download of this book from libro.fm in my job as a bookseller. A note on the narrators: They were both good, but odd together. The female narrator’s voice is very soothing, so everyone it switched from her to the much louder male narrator, it was jarring.

This book is for fans of Cruel Beauty, The Paladin Prophecy, and Splintered.

Disclosure: Some links are Bookshop affiliate links.

Review: The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

I downloaded The Authenticity Project for a myriad of reasons, one of which is that a couple of the characters are at least possibly alcoholics. As a recovering alcoholic, I’m always interested in the fictional portrayal of them. Addiction is shown very realistically in this book. What’s maybe not done so realistically is recovery. The definite addict seems to get better on sheer willpower, which in my experience with the disease, rarely works. If this is a pet peeve for you, skip it; otherwise, it really is a delightful read.

Because I listened to the digital audiobook, a note on the narrator: She is fantastic and can read to me anytime. The British accent helps.

The basis of this story is that Julian, an artist, starts the Authenticity Project by writing some hard truths about himself in a notebook, then leaves it for someone to find, instructing them to do the same. We follow the first several people to come across the book as their lives become entwined.

I loved that we really got to see all walks of life through the various characters who came across the notebook. I really enjoyed how their lives coming together didn’t feel forced at all, which it easily could have. There’s romance and postpartum depression and the challenges of small business and hanging out in a cemetery; really something for everyone.

I definitely recommend this book for fans of multiple POVs, Adequate Yearly Progress, and Get a Life, Chloe Brown.

Disclosure: I was provided a free audiobook of this title by libro.fm for my honest review. Some of the links in this blog are Bookshop affiliate links.