The Goldfinch • Donna Tartt

“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”

Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch

Theo Decker and his mother live a comfortable life together in New York City. They spend their days exploring the art filled museums around every corner. Needing to wait out a rain storm, the pair duck into the Met where his mother educates him about the complexities and history of each piece. In that moment, they are together lost in a brushstroke universe. They are together until their is a loud noise, and everything goes dark. Theo wakes to a building of carnage. Through his disorientation, Theo manages to escape the wreckage with something meaningful in his grasp. Throughout the decades of addiction, finding home, dirty dealings, and heartbreak, Theo is haunted by that tragic day for the rest of his life.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved reading this book. It gave me hope that I might be out of this everlasting reading slump. While I am still in the middle of this rut, I thoroughly enjoyed The Goldfinch. It’s dark, cozy, and gives the same vibes as A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara even though the two books are different in their degrees of focus and trauma. A Little Life deals more with the inner workings of its characters while The Goldfinch deals with the outer, business deals and relations of the characters. Still, same vibes.

Although I just mentioned that The Goldfinch looks at the situations in life that the characters find themselves in, the excellent character writing shines through. Even in the worst scenarios when drugs are prevalent and illegal deals are being made, Tartt’s silky characters feel like home.

Because we are consuming the book through Theo’s lens, the desperation to find a place of belonging and comfort worms its way into each relationship whether it be with one of his distant friends or someone from his past life. The need for reassurance is palpable in the book until his later years in life…even then, it’s there…just in a different form.

One aspect of this book that captivated me from the beginning was a big secret that Theo is struggling to keep. As the story progresses, his life knits tighter and tighter around this unrevealed situation so much so that it is hard, as the reader, to acknowledge the importance of anything else. I give high praise to Tartt’s writing for this because Theo’s mind is running along the same course. He is aware of reality, but is also afraid that everything might implode at any second. It’s hard to put it into words. Theo is already 100% living and breathing on his own as a character, but the way that he is written to face each situation in his life brings the connection of his character and the reader even closer. Even though I, as a reader, understand that Theo is a character in a book that I am holding in my hands, I couldn’t help but feel the same anxieties. I felt as if I had as much to hide and lose as he did. There were moments that I had to step away because this realistic fiction felt too realistic.

This book deserves all of the recognition that it is receiving right now on platforms like TikTok. It is a quiet book that is making a splash. It’s serious and important but entirely approachable too. I recommend giving this book a read, but I say that with caution. It is the kind of book that I feel needs to be picked up at the right time. (As readers, you already know what I mean…) Give Theo your undivided attention and enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

Heartstopper: Volume 1 • Alice Oseman

“This is England, not Antarctica. Deal with it.”

Alice Oseman: Heartstopper VI

Charlie Spring’s life seems to be looking up in year ten at his all boys school. Anything is better than the previous year in which he was bullied for being gay. Right now, he has great friends and a secret boyfriend who can admittedly be mean at times. Nick Nelson, a year ahead of Charlie, heard about the boy who was outed and harassed at school. He had never had the chance to speak to him until this year when they are paired together in the same group. Over time at school, rugby practice, and puppy playdates, the two form a close friendship that hints at being something more. As always, though, there are many routes to navigate and figure out before anyone can jump headlong into something serious.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It feels like I haven’t read a Graphic Novel in a long time, so, I was happy to pick up this masterpiece! I have heard wonderful things about this series for years now, and I finally decided to try it out. The characters in this book are remarkable. All of their emotions ranging from insecurity to compassion feel so real and honest. I think Oseman does such a fantastic job with the setting and background. Being in school and in that age group is incredibly vulnerable and scary. The way that she marries all of the elements in the book, especially the art style, is just *chef’s kiss.*

I am picky about art in Graphic Novels but Oseman’s style is definitely one of my new favorites. Each page is full of rounded, inviting shapes and soft colors. The character depictions were adorable, like, muffled screams in a bookstore adorable.

Seeing as how I have no critiques of this graphic novel, I am going to wrap it up. If you love cute stories about the teen struggle and romance, read this book.

My current reading and writing music!

Thanks for reading.

The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo • Judy Blume

Freddy is stuck in the middle of two bothersome siblings. He never gets a chance to shine, and he is lonely. When the chance comes around to star in the school play, Freddy takes a leap and gets the part of a lifetime. No one can ignore the green kangaroo.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

This story, Judy Blume’s first publication, is a short and entertaining read. While it is not my personal favorite of Blume’s works, it is still wonderful. It is a book about courage and embracing who you are. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Freddy, younger than the other kids in the play, shares his bouncing talent with the world and wows everyone.

This book is perfect for younger kids (K-3). It would be a great read aloud book!

My current reading and writing music!

Thanks for reading.

Freckle Juice • Judy Blume

Andrew is mesmerized by Nicky’s countless freckles. Why doesn’t he have any? How did Nicky get so many? Who put them there? After counting eighty-six freckles, Andrew had to ask. Unsatisfied with the answer that Nicky had been born with them, Andrew was approached by Sharon who promised to share her recipe for freckle juice with him in return for fifty cents. With lighter pockets and the strange list of ingredients in hand, Andrew concocted the freckle juice, drank it, and became very sick. He knew that Sharon swindled him on purpose, so, Andrew created his own set of peculiar freckles for everyone to see.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am slowly crawling out of my reading rut. In addition to my Judy Blume reads, I have also been enjoying The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Still, I have Children’s and Middle Grade fiction for lifting me up. I feel happy and see sunshine when I read these genres. I hope to get my hands on a couple more excellent reads before too long. Let the good books keep coming!

Today, I read Freckle Juice, and it is just as fun as I remember. It is lighthearted, funny, and the perfect amount of gross to make kids giggle. Much like I said in my review of Beverly Cleary’s Ellen Tebbits, Blume is an expert at writing from the minds of children. It is easy to forget how strong something like the lack of freckles can feel when we haven’t been kids for awhile.

This book, being short and fast paced, is an excellent book to read with kids. It would be fun to read it aloud, create your own (less disgusting) recipe for freckle juice, and make it as a fun reading project. I always loved activities like this in school.

Kendall’s Freckle Juice Recipe

Layer twelve blueberries, three strawberries, and five banana coins in a cup, and top with whipped cream!

My current reading and writing music!

Reading Update & Announcement

Hi, readers! It is nothing new to say that the past year, and the new year as well, have been different for everyone. In regard to reading, though, I have thrived! After graduating college and spending extra time at home, I had more time to read than ever. Things were peachy, until March.

Since then, I have been stuck in a major reading rut. I can’t pick up a physical book to save my life, and each time I begin an audiobook, I grow bored with it before I am even halfway through.

On my currently reading list I have Comfort Me with Apples, Olive Kitteridge, The Stand, Eat a Peach, and now, the audio version of The Goldfinch. The only book that I am even remotely reading, with not much heart, is The Goldfinch. I am into the story, don’t get me wrong, but it is a thirty-two hour long audiobook that is much gloomier than I had anticipated. I hate reading ruts. They make me feel crummy all around.

Instead of reading, I have been enjoying podcasts and magazines, which are a newer mode of reading for me. I have also embarked on a food project. I love to cook, and I wanted to throw myself into something where I can track progress, sharpen skills, eat, and just have an all around good time. So, I am cooking my way (Julie and Julia style) through Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. I am recording my experiences, and other food related content, on my website Lemon Wedge. I will happily be the first to say that this website, and the project itself are works in progress. It is all out of good fun! Still, I would appreciate if you checked it out!

Hopefully I can find the drive to read again soon because life isn’t the same without it! What are you currently reading? How has your year of reading been so far?

Stop Putting Music in Audiobooks

Is their anything more jarring than when you are focused on a book and the loud, annoying clamor of music begins sounding at 1.5 speed for two minutes? NO!

I hate, HATE music in audiobooks. In the past couple of years, I have consumed more audiobooks than physical books, and it has been a process. Anytime that you begin a new book, you are taking a risk. You are deciding whether or not to dedicate your time to that story. You are opening up a conversation between you and the author of that book. Personally, when choosing an audiobook, I am looking for one more element that makes or breaks the experience…a great narrator…and that’s it. I don’t need strange interludes of bad, yes, I said it, bad music.

As someone who listens to books primarily at night as I fall asleep, I have had more than my fair share of heart-racing encounters with unnecessary music. Take one of my favorite books for example, Coraline, I love the audiobook because it is narrated by its author, Neil Gaiman. It is a book that I want to be reading at all times but don’t because of the terrible music and songs in between the chapters and other parts of the book. These additions, which blare at an incomprehensible speed, taint my experiences with the book each time that I read it. I don’t feel like I can comfortably play it aloud when I am only half paying attention because I know it will scare me at some point or another. If I feel this way with a book that I am familiar with, imagine the anxiety that comes along with listening to a new book.

I know this sounds like a minor problem, and I guess that it is, but I cannot stress my annoyance with this enough. I would reckon that more people than producers think listen to their reads at increased speeds. As everyone knows, we can understand spoken languages faster than we can speak them…or something like that. I didn’t claim to bring hard facts. Also, sometimes we are just trying to make it to the end of the book either out of desperation…or necessity. (You know when you dedicate too much time to a “bad” book to DNF it? Hello, speed listening.)

To wrap up, I think that music in audiobooks is a terrible idea. At the least, there should, assuming that the books are on a platform like Audible or Libby, be an option to opt out of the musical editions of the book. Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Thanks for reading.

Kendall

Ellen Tebbits • Beverly Cleary

“Ellen might have known her best friend would think of something like that.”

Beverly Cleary: Ellen Tebbits

Fitting in as a third grader is hard enough without the addition of embarrassing clothing that Ellen’s mom makes her wear. She worries every day that her woolen, winter underwear will be exposed as she dances in ballet and plays at school. The trick to keeping her secret is to arrive early to her ballet class where she hurriedly changes, but one day, she isn’t the only one at the studio. The new girl, Austine, is there which causes Ellen to panic and say cruel things. It’s only when Ellen calms down and apologizes to Austine that she realizes they have more in common than she first thought.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

With the passing of Beverly Cleary, one of the world’s most beloved authors, I decided to take a break from my current reads and revisit her work. I chose Ellen Tebbits and had such a fun time! This very short audiobook, around two-hours long, is full of childhood and all of the feelings that come with it.

The protagonist, Ellen is harboring a secret that plagues her thoughts. She is mortified by the thick, woolen underwear that her mother makes her wear each day. While I was confused at first, you don’t find many woolen items in Alabama, I quickly felt myself relating to Ellen and began looking back on my own days in school. I am sure that we can all relate to wearing “embarrassing” items that were not considered cool. Something as small as this would laden my mind and make me defensive and self-conscious so much so that I couldn’t focus on learning or having fun.

Ellen and Austine, a new student from California, bond over their embarrassment and develop a close friendship. Throughout the rest of the book, we understand how open and honest Austine is while Ellen’s insecurities lead her to being caught in fibs and humiliating shenanigans.

Both girls learn about acceptance and forgiveness at each roadblock. They realize that friendship is not built on self-righteousness or anything else as shallow. Ellen and Austine support one another and push through hurdles that many adult friendships are unable to cope with today, and I love every bit of it.

Again, my favorite aspect of this book is that Cleary is able to get into the mind of a kid and express their worries. Even though Ellen Tebbits was published nearly fifty years before I was born, the thought processes and awareness of children do not seem to have changed that much. We all worry about what our peers think. We all worry about things like clothing. (To this day, I am plagued by ill-fitting overalls that I had to change into at school in the first grade.)

This book still stands strong. Read it with your kids or your class. Let them read it to you! It is nice to hear that you aren’t the only one being bothered by an annoying boy or your parent’s fashion choices.

Thanks for reading.

Kendall

Vinegar Girl • Anne Tyler

“She has. No. Plan.”

Anne Tyler: Vinegar Girl

Kate’s life is less that she imagined it would be. She lives at home with her father and sister, works at a pre-school, and has no idea what she wants. Her father, a scientist, spends each day in his lab working to understand autoimmune diseases with the help of his colleague, Pyotr. As Kate is dealing with the threat of unemployment, and her air-headed sister, her father proposes that she marry Pyotr so that he can stay in the country and continue with their work.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This book, a Hogarth Shakespeare, is a loose retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. I have to be honest and admit that I have not read this particular work, so there is a chance that I am missing some connections. That being said, I do not think that this book works as a stand alone. It is incredibly fast paced and incoherent. The characters are flat and completely unrealistic. There are no stakes at hand, even though Pyotr is threatened with deportation, although nothing really ever comes of that…It focuses on Kate, instead, who is one of the most boring characters that I have ever read. It just didn’t make sense. I have read several reviews in which people love this book, and I am happy for them, but it is not for me.

Thanks for reading.

Kendall

Julie And Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously • Julie Powell

Julie Powell’s life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. She is stuck in a government job, a small apartment, and in a static mindset. When she feels at her lowest and like nothing else can be done, she steals a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking from her mother. She and her husband make a plan for her that will give her, if not focus, then at least a number of delicious meals and cooking skills. Julie Powell decides to cook her way through Child’s entire book and to blog about it as she goes. Through a tumultuous year of meltdowns and French food, Powell reclaims her life and finds that she is stronger than she thinks.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Nora Ephron’s film adaptation, “Julie and Julia,” is one of my favorite movies. When I watched it as a preteen, I became obsessed with the idea of blogging. So, I started a private blog that has stuck with me for years now. This idea eventually led to the creation of this blog! This movie also inspired me to begin understanding more about food. Food has always held my interest. I have no problem consuming far more than my shares worth of anything, but more than that, I wanted to learn about cooking.

After watching the “Julie and Julia” movie dozens of times, I decided to read the book. I read it several years ago and, honestly, I sort of hated it. This was kind of upsetting to me after having loved the movie and story so entirely. So, a few days ago, I downloaded the audiobook and tried again.

As you can see by my two and a half star review, I am still not the biggest fan of it. I enjoyed reading it more this time, though. Julie Powell is a great writer. I love her descriptive retellings of her toils with the unfamiliar cuisine, but I don’t find her likable at all. I know that not all “characters” have to be likable, but the degree to which Powell rubbed me the wrong way impaired the joy that I found in this book. Her character is really annoying in the movie, much love to Amy Adams, but that contrast feels necessary against Child’s bubbliness. In the book, there isn’t a dual perspective to balance out Powell’s negativity and brashness.

I like how this book is structured and how it chronicles Powell’s experiences with the food, working a government job, and how she envisions her own personal Julia Child in her head. I just had a difficult time getting past the rough edges of the story. Yes, that can easily be called sensitive, I know, but I couldn’t help but cringe through some of the writing. It felt as if bold statements were being made so as to gain attention.

To wrap up, despite my two low ratings, I would read this book again. I am inherently drawn to this story because of the movie, but I can admit that it will never be one of my favorite books. It probably won’t ever exceed a three star rating. Still, if you want to do a deep dive into the Julie, Julia project, give this book a read. It is short and engaging.

Thanks for reading.

Kendall

Tender at the Bone • Ruth Reichl

“With the first sip I knew I that I had never really eaten before. The initial taste was pure carrot, followed by cream, butter, a bit of nutmeg. Then I swallowed and my whole mouth and throat filled with the echo of rich chicken stock. I took another bite and began all over again. I ate as if in a dream.”

Ruth Reichl: Tender at the Bone

Ruth Reichl’s first memoir, Tender at the Bone, reflects on her life from childhood into adulthood and how her relationship with food exploded into a passion that would fuel several careers. Each chapter features memories of those who influenced her, good and bad, and of the many places around the world that offered new flavors and techniques.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book is a comfort for any foodie out there who loves stories of beginnings. This narrative reads like a good catch up with a friend that you didn’t know that much about. Maybe you just met. Reichl’s focus on the people in her life who contributed to her experiences with food makes this book. Each person’s persona is so richly described that reading this book is a little like people watching. People watching with a friend is a good way to spend time, really.

Each section of the book, which is broken down into loose stages of life or even “stories,” is capped with recipes. I love books with recipes even if I never cook them. It is fun to dip into a person’s personal collection of foods that they feel are important enough to put into print. In regard to those included in this book, some were more appetizing than others, trust me.

As I mentioned, for those of us interested in the food industry and the people who made it, this book is a great place to dive into while snacking. Don’t go into this book hungry. Reichl’s style is easy and inviting. She is passionate about food and knows how to tell a story.

Thanks for reading.

Kendall