Real Queer America by Samantha Allen

Samantha Allen's book Real Queer America is an inspiring, optimistic, heartfelt letter to fellow queer folks living in red states in the United States. But it's also incredibly informative (and gently corrective) to cishet liberals living in blue states. You know, the people who tend to look down from their high horse, putting us on their personal "no travel" lists, making assumptions about what life is like in conservative areas of the country. Allen's book offers a more realistic perspective on queer life in Red State America than the media prefers to show (and for that matter, a more honest perspective on life in blue and swing states, too). She shows us how these places and the people in them are…

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Just Sit by Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz

I wanted to love this book. I'm a believer in the power of meditation, and the fun, colorful, magazine-like layout of Just Sit is pleasing to the eye, easy to navigate, and motivating. After the first two chapters, though, I was already frustrated. Exaggerated health claims came across infomercial-like at best, ableist at worst. There are no notes/citations to back up any of the claims in this book. If you're going to make huge claims with phrases like "studies show", you need to cite that and give readers a way to look into those studies further, to find out how they were conducted, what the sample size was, etc. Because there are plenty of junk "studies" out there. (See Ben…

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The Curiosities by Susan Gloss

It took me a while to warm up to Susan Gloss's The Curiosities. There are five alternating perspectives in this novel, and I needed to get my bearings. Once I got to know each character, though, I had trouble putting the book down. I think it's tricky to manage so many different voices, but it's handled well here. I did feel like I got to know some of them better than others, but I wasn't left feeling like anyone had been left behind. That said, Nell, Annie, and Betsy really stood out the most for me. Annie is a second-wave feminist, and her cissexism does come through a couple times—most notably in a "every eligible citizen with a vagina needs to vote"…

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Parkland by Dave Cullen

Obviously Parkland has its tough reading moments. But the focus is much less on the actual shooting itself, and more on the surviving kids finding hope and resilience, working through their grief, and most of all, organizing to effect change. Readers are with these kids as they experience how dirty (and partisan) politics is and how frustrating media spin can be. But we're also with them as they connect with, learn from, and try to help boost the voices of groups like the Peace Warriors and BRAVE (Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere) of Chicago. In his engaging narrative style, Cullen shows us teens with a deep sense of injustice who are capable of so much more than many adults give…

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A Dog Called Jack by Ivy Pembroke

Ivy Pembroke's A Dog Called Jack was full of delightful surprises. When I requested it on NetGalley, I was looking for a cozy, comforting read. And it was, but I didn't expect all the depth this book delivered. This novel achieves a wonderful balance between giving readers a relaxing read and giving its characters realistic—often tough—situations to deal with. It's heartfelt without being trite, sweet without feeling saccharine. And the humor is gentle; you find yourself chuckling momentarily, but it never breaks the flow. Christmas Street's residents are surprisingly diverse. They are a variety of ages, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and stages in life. I love that this actually mirrors my own little cul-de-sac. I loved watching 8-year-old son Teddy break through the crotchety…

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The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

"It all begins with a hot air balloon trip and three bottles of champagne. Allan and Julius are ready for some spectacular views, but they’re not expecting to land in the sea and be rescued by a North Korean ship, and they could never have imagined that the captain of the ship would be harboring a suitcase full of contraband uranium, on a nuclear weapons mission for Kim Jong-un. Yikes! Soon Allan and Julius are at the center of a complex diplomatic crisis involving world figures from the Swedish foreign minister to Angela Merkel and President Trump. Needless to say, things are about to get very, very complicated."  I'm super excited to be part of the TLC Book Tour for Jonas…

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The Third Wheel by Michael J. Ritchie

"English teacher Dexter feels like he's being taunted by the universe. Every last one of his friends is settling down with their other halves, while Dexter spends his evenings marking schoolbooks with his ginger cat for company. After another wedding ends in a drunken disaster, Dexter is musing on the situation and wondering what he's going to screw up next, when he gets the shocking reminder that he's not the centre of the universe. An alien spaceship has landed on the continent and when first contact is made, it's anything but friendly. Humanity's numbers dwindle immediately, and the survivors are left to do exactly that - survive." The Third Wheel was a one-sitting read for me! Two-headed aliens invade Earth, a…

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Three Books That Fell Flat

Don't you hate when you pick up a book you're sure you're going to love, but it falls flat? I dread that "meh" feeling. Or worse, you end up abandoning it? Here are three of my recent reads that did just that. Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley I abandoned this about 30% of the way through. The characters were pretentious, privileged, and cold. I was so, so, so bored, and I didn't care about a single one of the characters. Actually, I pretty actively disliked them. And knowing this is a character-driven novel, I couldn't muster the desire to keep reading. Those of you who finished: Did I give up too soon? The Ensemble by Aja Gabel This…

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Freefall by Jessica Barry

"When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home." Whoa, Freefall was quite the gripping page-turner! I needed to know more! What was going on, who could be trusted and who couldn't? I had all kinds of ideas about how things would pan out, but I didn't actually know what was up until the very end. My only complaint about the book is that a couple of the women characters gave off a…

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

I don't get starry-eyed when I think of the Obamas, and I don't put President Obama on a pedestal. That being said, I really appreciated the kind, thoughtful candor of Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming. Listening to her optimism chipped away a tiny bit of my own cynicism. Even though much of the Obamas' lives revolve around politics, Michelle Obama's memoir is more about human connections and community. That was so refreshing! I enjoyed hearing about her early life (especially her childhood piano lessons!), how she and Barack met and fell in love, the wisdom she's gained over the years, and the glimpses into everyday life in the White House. I'm glad I chose the audiobook version, narrated by Michelle herself.…

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