“And life, life has swept her along like a tiny seashell onto sand, has washed over her and now, suddenly, she is old…, there is no one to ask the questions she needs to ask.”
― Hala Alyan, Salt Houses
On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee grounds. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of war.
Salt Houses provides an intimate view of how the wars of the Middle East affected individuals and family units. There was not any one character I grew to love, but I was sympathetic to almost all of them. Many family members did not see eye to eye a lot of the time, but when they came together they were strengthened. It was a reminder of what a family can be when forgiveness is granted and positive connections are reinforced.
The Six-Day War is the first to impact the family. The Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors was not about one particular concern or dispute. The war occurred, rather, after a series of events escalated tensions. It then details the family’s journey through the Six-Day War (1967), the First Intifada (1987), the Gulf War (1990), the Second Intifada (2000), 9/11 (2001), and the 2006 Lebanon War.
First line: I’m really not supposed to be doing this, but a girl’s gotta get paid.
Summary: Ropa has dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. It’s not a fancy job but it brings in just enough money to take care of her grandmother, her sister and herself. Taking messages to the living from the dead can be rather boring until she starts to hear whispers about children being kidnapped and then returned with the life sucked out of them. Ropa is dragged into the investigation which leads her to a hidden underground library filled with occult magic. Using her wits and a little magic she is determined to hunt down the mysterious child snatcher that is haunting the streets of Edinburgh.
My Thoughts: Having recently visited Edinburgh this book caught my attention. I knew some of the locations Ropa visits and could easily picture them while reading. At first I was not sure if this book would be one I’d enjoy since the vernacular took a little bit to get used to. But once I got past this I was hooked. It was so different and quirky that I was immediately sucked into Ropa’s world.
There is still so much after reading this that is still unknown. There are hints to a war or revolution. The world is basically a dystopian society. Part of me likes that even after reading the second book I still am wondering about the Edinburgh that Ropa lives in. Little pieces are mentioned when they pertain to the story but not a full history has been revealed. And that sometimes is a downfall for fantasy books. They reveal too much that it is overwhelming. This seems to build naturally.
I cannot wait to learn more about Ropa’s world in upcoming books and the Library of the Dead. We have barely scratched the surface which leaves this series up for more shocking reveals and interesting storylines.
This is one of those books that will stay with me forever. The Center of Everything is about Evelyn and her journey from childhood to the end of high school in a small town in Kansas. She’s being raised by a single mother and has a younger brother with mental development issues. Evelyn is an intelligent girl with a lot of opportunity, but she’s battling poverty and being raised on a single income.
I loved everything about this book. The timeline didn’t feel slow at all, and the progression from her being a young girl to an almost college student felt natural. She’s spunky and funny, and though it can feel easy to feel frustrated at her sometimes, remembering she’s a young fictional girl dealing with a lot of grown-up issues really sets the story in perspective. Evelyn deals with religious questioning and peer pressure all throughout the book, as well as figuring out her relationship and feelings towards her mother. These difficult topics in this book hit hard, and the way Evelyn deals with it all is realistic for a teenage girl just trying to figure out life. The other characters in this book are also well written, in my opinion. No one is perfect, and there are a lot of characters I feel like I’ve met before. Another thing I liked about this book was that it was set back in the 1980s, so seeing how a young Kansas girl’s life was back then was cool. I am so glad that I was able to read this book as a young adult because I feel like a lot of my teenage memories are still fresh, so I was able to really immerse myself in Evelyn’s world, a world that was very similar to mine.
It’s been years since I’ve binge watched a show in one sitting, but Under the Banner of Heaven changed that. I had seen the book being checked out quite frequently and noticed it had a large hold list, but I’d never given it much thought until I saw it being advertised on the home page of Hulu. From the first episode, I was hooked. The story and characters were intriguing, so I had to keep watching. The story centers on the Mormon faith and a real-life murder in Utah. Andrew Garfield plays a fictional detective, but his character was by far my favorite. His personal dilemma keeps the show interesting, and I loved his interactions with any of the characters on the show. The show goes between past, present, and historical times, which I did like because it helped set context for what was going on. Because of how fantastic this show was to watch, I am now reading the nonfiction book on which it was based.
The show has seven episodes, and each is about an hour long. Viewer discretion is advised for topics such as religion, abuse, abuse of children, and murder.
Available on Hulu and we do have the book the show is based available to check out here.
Music/Album: Un Verano Sin Ti
Have you listened to Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti? I would be surprised if you haven’t, seeing that the album is the most streamed album so far this year, earning 357 million streams just on the Spotify app on its debut day.
Besides listening to every music genre under the sun in English, I also grew up listening to just about every music genre in Spanish. Reggaeton quickly became one of my favorite genres when I was little, as it was a mix of Latin and Caribbean sounds paired with American hip-hop rap and music. It’s a fun genre that I will never get tired of. Bad Bunny is a modern reggaeton artist from Puerto Rico, influenced by the same classic artists I grew up listening to. His most popular album, YHLQMDG, is regarded as one of the most important albums in reggaeton music. His newest album was no exception to that popularity.
The album title in English is “A Summer Without You,” and it makes the perfect summer playlist for a day by the pool or at the beach. Each song is danceable and no song is just like the last, as Bad Bunny experimented a lot with this album. There are a lot of sounds that are familiar to me, but that is because he samples old songs from the many genres I grew up with, like merengue or hip-hop. The album has two sides, with one being pure party and the other being easier to listen to. Side B has a lot of political songs with great messages, all tied together with instrumentals rarely seen on a party album. Nonetheless, Un Verano Sin Ti is still a high energy album for sure, and I make sure to play any song at the loudest volume possible. I can listen to this album at any time, it doesn’t matter if I’m cleaning, walking, or swimming. My favorite songs are Despues de la Playa, Efecto, Andrea, Party, and Me Porto Bonito.
Even if you don’t speak Spanish, especially Puerto Rican and Caribbean Spanish, I think this important album is a must-listen to if you’re looking for a top tier summer playlist.
Available to stream here or on any music streaming platform.
Video Game: Kirby and the Forgotten Land
The Kirby games are a huge comfort for me, since I was probably 8 years old. Kirby is my favorite video game character and I’ve enjoyed all the Kirby games I’ve played. Needless to say, I was super excited for the release of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The pre-release footage looked so fun and the story seemed fascinating. Thankfully, our library is pretty good at getting new video game releases out to be circulated!
The game was adorable and nostalgic. A lot of Kirby’s powers were just like his powers from some of the previous games, but the new ones were just as funny and cute. The villains were exciting, and some of them were tough to beat, admittedly. While Kirby is the cutest creature in the universe, this is a fighting game through and through. Getting to learn how to use certain powers and upgrades was challenging, especially when you’re fighting with a low health bar. The story almost had me playing this game in one sitting too! Not only that, but the mini-games and hidden levels make it so easy to get out of the main story. There’s so much to learn about the game, and I’m excited to beat the game again and again to make sure I don’t miss a thing.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land is available to check out here for the Switch.
Hobby/Concert: Monsta X Tour Show
I’ve been waiting for this concert for years—literally. I originally bought my tickets back in January 2020, fully expecting to attend the show that following June. A pandemic, rescheduled shows, and a canceled one later, I would finally get to go see a favorite group of mine at a new show with new seats.
Before I turned 18, besides studying, I actually spent most of my free time at concerts. Since college and the pandemic, I haven’t been to a concert in a very long time. I mainly just went to punk rock shows and the occasional pop or rap artist, but my tastes have grown since then to include the Korean boy group, Monsta X. They’re natural performers, winning awards back home for their stage presence and ability to sing and dance live. I don’t really like pop boy groups, but Monsta X easily stole my heart. If you don’t like listening to music in a language you don’t understand, they have two English albums dedicated to their international fans, full of pop and R&B songs.
The concert itself was just top-tier amazing. They are so interactive with the crowd (I even got a wave!) and hype the audience up all the way. Their live vocals are fantastic, even while dancing, and their dancing abilities are insane. I also loved all the outfits they wore throughout the show. They matched the themes of their songs and helped set the scene for what they were about to perform. I have so many favorite moments from the concert. From solo stages that showcased their individual talents and strengths, from the EDM-esque songs that led me to bump into the people around me, and especially their speeches. Three of the members are near fluent in English, so it was so nice to hear them talk to their international fans about how the pandemic affected them and their tours. All of the members love touring and performing live, and after leaving that show, it was beyond a doubt proven to me.
Below are some of my favorite photos that I took from the show.
You can listen to Monsta X here or on any music streaming platform.
“When you love a person, there is no way to avoid loving that person’s child. Trust me, I’ve tried.” ― Emily Adrian, Everything Here Is Under Control
Amanda is a new mother, and she is breaking. After a fight with her boyfriend, she puts the baby in the car and drives to her hometown, where she shows up unannounced on the doorstep of her childhood best friend. Amanda thought that she had left Carrie in the past for good. After their friendship ended, their lives drifted apart. But the trauma of childbirth and the shock of motherhood compelled Amanda to go back to the beginning and trace the tangled roots of friendship and family in her own life. Everything Here Is Under Control shows the complex emotions and physical trauma of both; motherhood and the friendships women form in their youth.
Stereotypically, women are expected to know how to be a parent, and motherhood is supposed to come naturally. So, to read a story about a mother who is genuinely struggling can be eye-opening. I disliked Amanda’s boyfriend from the beginning because he does not take responsibility for being a parent to his baby. Also, there was a big reveal in the middle of the story which made me dislike him more. Overall, I found this to be a good book about the strength of friendship. Carrie and Amanda have been through a lot, so when Amanda showed up unannounced with a baby, it was interesting to see them navigate the new adventure.
Personally, if I were ever in the same boat as Amanda, I could not have stayed close with the people in this book. I think she would be better off maintaining boundaries or cutting off a few relationships. However, the story wrapped up relatively tidy considering everything that happens.
FYI: The author throws the big reveal in very casually! I had to slow down and go back to make sure it actually happened!
First line: Lillian Carter stood half naked, one are held up like a ballet dancer, the other hanging lightly down at her side, and calculated how long she could avoid paying rent while her landlord was in jail.
Summary: In 1919, Lillian Carter, is an artist model who is famously known as Angelica. She has posed for sculptures all over New York City but when she gets entangled in the death of her landlord’s wife she goes on the run. In a case of mistaken identity she is hired as the private secretary to the daughter of one of the richest men in the country. In the hopes of lying low and earning some money to escape to Los Angeles she sees that life in the home of the rich is not as glamorous as it may seem.
In 1966, Veronica Weber, is an English model who arrives at the Frick Museum for a photo shoot, only to be locked inside during a blackout snowstorm. While waiting out the storm, she and an archivist follow the clues to a mysterious treasure hunt only to find something that has been missing for nearly five decades.
My Thoughts: Fiona Davis does not disappoint. She writes some wonderful novels that incorporate history, art and sometimes a little bit of a mystery. This was no different. I had never heard of Angelica. In the book she uses a different name than the real life Angelica but many of the statues mentioned in the book are real. Of course I had to look up pictures of them and the Frick Museum. I have heard of the museum but knew nothing about the family. It was interesting to get a little background to it and its famous works of art. I would love to visit and see the masterpieces that line the walls.
I wonder if Miss Helen was as stubborn as she is made out to be. She is definitely not a likeable character. But she was also a product of her time. A wealthy woman who lived in the shadow of her family. At the end in the author’s notes she gave several books to read for more information. I will be adding them to my ever growing list.
The story was well written and enjoyable just as her other books have been. Highly recommended for lovers of art and history.
“I am in a bar in Brooklyn listening as two men, my friends, discuss whether or not my life is worth living. Jay is to my left and Colin to my right. Colin, an ethical philosopher trained in my same doctoral program, argues a vision for a better society, one where a body like mine would not exist. The men debate this theory, speaking through me. This is common, both the argument and the way I’m forgotten in it.”
Jones is living in Brooklyn when we meet her, earning a PhD (her second) in philosophy. She is a recent mother, although she had always been told by doctors that becoming pregnant was not possible. Her body would not support a life, they said. Jones was born with a rare condition called sacral agenesis, resulting in chronic pain, a shortened stature, and an atypical gait. Throughout her thoughtful memoir, Jones reflects on how this difference has affected how she views herself, how she interacts with the world, and how people respond to her. Jones jumps around in time, taking us back to her childhood in Kansas, where we get to know her loving, hardworking, no-nonsense mother and the father from whom she is now estranged. We also travel alongside Jones as she searches for meaning and escape in Italy, Cambodia, and Los Angeles, including attending a Beyoncé concert and meeting Peter Dinklage. And we meet her husband and child as Jones grapples with seeing her sometimes cynical view of people rub off on her sensitive son.
When I heard that Chloé Cooper Jones was a guest on Longform, a podcast I regularly listen to, I thought her name sounded familiar. It sounded like my teacher’s name from a creative writing class I’d taken at the University of Kansas several years back. And it turns out, it was! I was shocked. From listening to her interview, I discovered she had been nominated for a Pulitzer for an article she wrote about tennis. Tennis! How had I missed this? And in the weeks that followed, it seemed I saw news of her upcoming book everywhere I turned. It was getting excellent reviews. Easy Beauty was the first book named in The New York TimesBook Review feature “New Memoirs Bristling with Wit, Warmth and Spiky Intelligence.”
The writing course I took with Jones was intimate. We critiqued each other’s writing, we joked and laughed and teased. Some of us were not much younger than Jones so she felt almost like a peer. She was witty and hip. I still remember her chastising us for not looking up a word we didn’t know in an assigned short story. “You guys don’t look up words you don’t know? Always look up words you don’t know.” And now I keep a dictionary on my nightstand. So when I saw that she was, at least in the literary world, famous, I felt proud. And it was also motivating to see how much she had accomplished since I’d seen her last.
I tore through this book. It is so well written, funny, thoughtful, and lovely. It made me take a look at some of my own assumptions and privilege, and that’s always a good thing as far as I’m concerned. It made me do a lot of reflecting on the way I move through the world and how we treat one another, as humans. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.