The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
I start any book by Kristin Hannah with the expectation that she’s going to devastate my emotions with her characters and plot lines. And, with that in mind, The Four Winds did not disappoint!
I could feel the despair and heartache that these characters experienced in the Dust Bowl of 1930s Texas and in the neverending circle of poverty when Elsa, our heroine, moves her children to California in search of a better life. From the touching relationships between Elsa, her in-laws, her children, and her friends, and the emotive descriptions of the landscape during the Great Depression, Ms. Hannah has created a book that will stay with me for a long time.
I can’t recommend this 5⭐️ book enough!
What 5⭐️ book do you think people should read?
Book Review: Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
A 5⭐️ Read
Angie Thomas does it again. She’s ripped my heart out and then patched it back together with her beautiful prose, vivid imagery, and glorious characters. I truly hope Ms. Thomas continues to tell stories about Garden Heights because each novel gets better and better.
Concrete Rose is the story of Maverick Carter. He’s 17 and dealing with a too much: his dad is in prison, he’s dealing drugs outside of his gang’s operation, and he just found out he’s a father. That’s just the start of the challenges that Maverick faces in Concrete Rose, and every bit of his journey brings all the emotions.
With plenty of Easter eggs from The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, this book takes us back to the Garden Heights in the 1990s. It’s a powerful, emotional book that deserves all the Sevens, all the roses, and all the stars.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street is one of those books I should have read a long time ago. Now that I’ve read it, I’m a bit salty that it was never assigned in school. This book, with less than 150 pages, is a bit like reading magic.
With chapters of short vignettes, and. Cisneros gives a glimpse into Esperanza’s life on Mango Street in Chicago. The protagonist speaks to the reader using stream of consciousness, vivid imagery, and unique characters who experience their own tragedies. Esperanza comes of age while participating in and observing life in her neighborhood, and she too faces tragedies. At times buoyant and heartbreaking, this book brings so many emotions to the surface.
I enjoyed the writing in this book as much as the stories Esperanza shares. Ms. Cisneros brings rhythm and poetry to the narrative, and I loved it!
A 5⭐️ read!
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
I loved this book! I knew that Ms. Thomas is an amazing author when I finished The Hate You Give, but On the Come Up brings her talent and insight to another level.
As the narrator, Bri gives us a look at how a strong young woman internalizes her surroundings and all the pressures that come with her experiences and those of her family and friends. Her desire to become a rapper is just part of the journey as she finds herself.
A definite 5⭐️ read to finish up this month of reading. Now I’m even more excited to read Concrete Rose, Ms. Thomas’s newest release!
Book Review: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
There are some books that manage to rip your heart out, filling you with grief for the characters, and then they give you hope for the future at their conclusion.
A Woman is No Man is one of these books. Told from the viewpoint of three generations of Palestinian-American women, this book explores fate, choices, culture, and traditions. It is a book about suppression and violence, but also about faith and personal strength. From their deep-rooted desire to do the best and live up to cultural expectations, the main characters explore and challenge what it means to be a woman in two very different cultures.
This is a beautiful book, one that I finished in less than 48 hours. Deya, Isra, and Fareeda are nuanced characters who show their strengths in different ways. Etaf Rum writes in a gorgeous style, showing vulnerability and thoughtfulness on every page.
A Woman is No Man is a 5⭐️ book, one that I highly recommend.
Book Review: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
I should have known better. I’ve heard enough pop culture references to “Of Mice and Men” that I am familiar with the story. But dang it, the ending just wrecked me. In fact, the entire book stomped on my emotions. Lennie just wants to love and George does what he can to protect him in his gruff way, but the results are just tragic. Curley and his wife are cruel, backward, and vengeful. Steinbeck crafted a story that is simple and complex and emotive, but I had a really difficult time with the racist, derogatory language and content.
I read this one as an audiobook and in written form at the same time. Listening to the audio was a unique experience because I generally don’t choose fiction for my audiobooks. Overall, I’m glad I finished it, but it was a 3⭐️ book for me. I know this is supposed to be an American classic, but it just didn’t work for me despite pulling on my emotions.
Book Review: “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
I really enjoyed Baldwin’s essays in “The Fire Next Time.” The powerful subject matter of racial discrimination made me hurt and think, two actions that only a truly amazing writer can impart on a reader. I must admit I knew very little about Baldwin before I picked up this book of essays, but I am challenging myself to learn through reading this year. And this book is part of that goal.
Baldwin’s writing style is so interesting as well. I could feel the fire burning as I read the words, even without much flourish of adjectives. His pace quickened as he made his points, and then it slowed when he needed to give the reader a chance to ponder the words. This is a beautiful, powerful book that describes the terrible racial divides in our country.
Book Review: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
I’ve slowly stopped being a fan of rom-com reads over the past decade, so I didn’t pick up Party of Two with the expectation of loving it. But, having enjoyed The Wedding Date a couple of years ago, I figured another Guillory book would be an entertaining read.
And yes, this book was entertaining. I enjoyed the character development and the will-they-or-won’t-they trope. Overall, it was a 3 ⭐️ read because I’m just not a rom-com person, I guess. However, I love the diverse characters Guillory creates and the BIPOC representation in her books.
“Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated” by Alison Arngrim
I wanted to enjoy this memoir so much more than I did. Alison Arngrim will forever be engrained in American pop culture as the evil Nellie Oleson on the 1970s/1980s tv show Little House on the Prairie. But as Arngrim writes in her memoir, playing the hated, spoiled, ringlet-shaking nemesis to Laura Ingalls actually gave her the foundation to be a strong, confident woman offscreen.
With a terrible history of physical and sexual abuse in her childhood, Arngrim writes with honesty and reflection. The requisite stories from the Little House set are humorous and nostalgic. I learned things I didn’t know about the actors, but all in all, this book just didn’t pull at my emotions, despite the terrible childhood that Arngrim had. The writing just didn’t draw me in as I’d hoped, but I’m glad I read it.
In follow-up to my post about five facts and five books that impacted my life, I pulled out my Laura Ingalls Wilder collection. The Little House on the Prairie books played an enormous role in my childhood. I wanted to be a writer and a teacher like Laura. My parents even took me to De Smet, South Dakota to see her house and watch a Little House performance. I relentlessly carried around the yellowed copies of these books and spent endless afternoons playing dress-up as an Ingalls girl. I know these books have come under fire in recent times, and I acknowledge the controversy. However, I credit them as being my first inspiration to start writing.
More about Little House on the Prairie and Me
Why did I love the Little House story so much? Wilder’s detailed descriptions of life on the homestead — whether in a log cabin or a sod house or a simple wooden house in town — gave me an opportunity to escape modern day life (in the 1980s) and explore the world in simpler times. Growing up in small-town Nebraska, I could relate to the prevalence of agriculture in Laura’s surroundings. Also, I was a lonely child, and the books showed me what it would be like to be part of a much bigger family with friends all around.
Also, I loved the TV show Little House on the Prairie. Watching an episode with my mom and sister is one of my first memories of television. (That and an episode of Days of Our Lives, which they watched almost religiously.) Melissa Gilbert (Laura) and Michael Landon (Pa/Charles) were my favorites, and I loved the tension that Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) brought to the show. Again, because I was raised in such a small town — I attended Grades K through 4 in a two-room schoolhouse — I could relate to the lives of the characters in Walnut Grove. While the show went beyond the books and took liberties with the storylines, it still brought a simple joy to a young girl who lived in her imagination.
Thanks for indulging this trip down memory lane for me. Do you have books from your childhood that you think upon fondly today? Why?
P.S. – The wooden stool in the picture above is also from my childhood. My older brother, who is 13 years older than me, made it for me in his wood shop class when I was itty bitty. As you can see, it has been well-loved as it’s traveled with me for nearly a lifetime.