October Reading Wrap-Up 2019

October was my best reading month so far in 2019. Not only did I read the most books I’ve read in a month (eleven), but I also had the most five star reads (three). I did have a few two star reads, which is never fun, but you can’t win them all. The stand outs this month were Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Read below for mini-reviews of everything I read in October.

October by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 11
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 3
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 26

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 10
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 3
Published in 2019: 6

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This book is the best coming of age story I’ve ever read. She nails what it feels like to be Black and young and fearless and terrified and longing and female and free. Woodson understands what it means to be searching and to be found. The complexities of getting older are handled with care but without any sense of preciousness. And she does all of this in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

The love between August and her three friends speaks powerfully to beauty of Black female friendships. At times it took my breath away. There is an ease to Woodson’s writing that makes these young women come to life wholly and authentically. She doesn’t attempt to smooth over the traumas or stifle the triumphs Instead there is a reality filled with pain and heartbreak, and with so much joy.

Five Stars | Amistad | May 30, 2017| 192 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

Two pregnant women living in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles decide to escape north to San Francisco and raise their children free of constraint and expectation of their Chinese families in this novel.

First off, Hua is a really beautiful writer, she balances her sentences between art and information in a way that is enjoyable to read. The truth is, I just couldn’t connect with the story. I liked the lead characters and the plot moved, but nothing grabbed me. I didn’t feel that I had a stake in what happened to the people in this story one way or the other. I did listen to this book on audio, and its possible that the narrator was what didn’t work for me. All of this is to say, if you like novels about unconventional women who blaze their own trails, this might be a book for you.

Two Stars | Random House Audio | August 14, 2018 | 10 Hours 54 Minutes | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Black Card by Chris L. Terry

(Photo: amazon.com)

In this lightly satirical novel we follow our narrator as tries to get back his Black card, that’s been revoked. If you’re looking for comparison, this book felt like the mixed kids version of the TV show Atlanta. It’s funny, a little surreal, and sometimes felt smarter/more clever than me.

Overall I liked it. Terry is clearly a creative thinker and grappling with what it is to be mixed, and how that relates to both Blackness and Whiteness, and why that matters. I love seeing stories told about being more than one thing when it comes to race and ethnicity, because there are so many of us mixed kids out there (not just Black and White, but all sorts of combinations).

Three Stars | Catapult | August 13, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Chris L. Terry on The Stacks HERE.


Henry V by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Henry V, a play you might not know, but you’ve probably heard a few famous lines from.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”
The play follows Henry, the new king, as he grapples with the responsibility of going to war, and what that says about him as a leader and as a man.

While I’m pretty over stories about Kings contemplating and ultimately going to war, I did get a lot out of this play. Henry has some wonderful speeches and meditates on some pretty heady stuff. This play got me thinking a lot about the responsibility of our leaders to the people versus the well being of the nation versus their own lust for power and legacy. It asks questions of who has blood on their hands? Is it the soldiers or the king that sends them to war? It all feels topical given what is going on in the world.

As a reader I loved reading the monologues from King Henry, but other parts fell flat, like the comedic bar scenes. There’s also a pretty spectacular courting scene in the play’s final act that shows how lacking in humanity our king is when he’s faced with courting (or conquering) a woman.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 121 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with this Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write! His prose are rich without being over worked. He doesn’t preach to his audience, he sees his reader and shares with them. As someone who doesn’t read YA or middle grade books, Look Both Ways was a welcome surprise that brought me to life as a reader and reminded me of goodness. It is a favorite read of 2019 for sure!

Five Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | October 8, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

(Photo: amazon.com)

Shea Serrano is hilarious and so smart. In his book Movies (and Other Things) he asks questions about movies and then answers them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept, but the genius in Shea Serrano is that he finds new and exciting ways to look at movies and the world. He opens up the conversation around movies so that you feel like you’re debating with your friend, and challenging yourself to see movies differently.

This book is laugh out loud funny. Not just the ideas behind it, but there are sentences that are so accurate you can’t help but laugh. Its not all funny (mostly it is) there is a little more going on in this one, for instance, the chapter on Selena talks about what it means to be Mexican American and the struggles of being two things at once. Of course, Serrano infuses his signature voice and his humor, but its more than that, trust me.

The only complaint I have about this book is that if you don’t know the movies or the genre, it can be a little harder to engage with certain chapters. Gangster movies aren’t my thing, so I felt a little lost when looking at the quintessential gangster movie scenes. Overall, if you like movies, you’ll get a kick out of this book.

Four Stars | Twelve Books | October 8, 2019 | 256 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of the Han family and their Chinese restaurant, The Beijing Duck House. When there is a fire that sets the restaurant a blaze the world of the Han family and their employees is shaken up and we’re left to sort the pieces.

This one wasn’t for me. It was too long and felt repetitive. I wasn’t excited by the characters or the plot, but rather felt like I was just going through the motions to get to the end of the book. There were some cute moments, and one scene at the end that was wonderful, but overall this wasn’t something that I enjoyed reading. I do think, however, this books would make a fantastic movie, in fact the whole time I was reading it I was wishing the movie already existed. The nuances of family drama might translate better to the screen, and certainly the food would be more appetizing that way.

Two Stars | Picador | June 19, 2018 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of one Black family through time and place. We start in 2001 at 16 year old Melody’s coming of age ceremony and then unwrap the layers that make her family fragmented, strong, unique, and whole.

Woodson understands and articulates what it means to be Black and female in America, and this book puts her ability on display. She captures the delicious subtleties of life. In Red at the Bone we see class and race and gender norms and sexuality and so much humanity, and we get to see it all through the beautiful prose of Woodson. Woodson who is a master of brevity that lands a punch. I’m not sure this specific story will stick with me in five years, but I know that the feeling of reading Jacqueline Woodson will never fade.

Four Stars | Riverhead Books | September 17, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

(Photo: amazon.com)

We don’t normally read and review cookbooks around here, but we also are willing to try anything once, and I’m so glad we did. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a cookbook about the elements that make up everything we eat. Nosrat breaks it all down in the first 200 pages of the book, explaining each element and how to use it, and then give us 200+ pages of basic recipes to practice our skills.

This book is simply fantastic! I like to cook, but often feel I don’t know how to without detailed instructions. I find myself glued to my recipes and in a mild state of anxiety when trying something new. This book gives anyone the tools to make choices about how to cook and how to improvise. Its empowering. I would be remiss not to mentions the gorgeous illustrations from Wendy McNaughton. I can honestly say this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 480 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

(Photo: amazon.com)

A look at why humans are so bad at understanding and engaging with “strangers”. This book is deeply flawed and highly problematic. I found the arguments made to be harmful and irresponsible. In the past I’ve considered myself a Gladwell fan (I’ve read all his books and listened to his podcast) but this book feels like he’s reached his own tipping point, it is Gladwell for Gladwell’s sake.

One glaring is that there is no clear definition of the word “stranger”. We’re led through stories of people meeting for the first time and then of colleagues who’ve worked together for decades, and both are treated the same, we’re told they’re strangers. That can’t be.

Gladwell is a gifted storyteller (which is made all the more clear through his fantastic narration of the audiobook) and is known for making compelling arguments. Our understanding of who he is helps as he shifts from interesting scientific studies to unsubstantiated claims without batting an eye. He is riding on intellectual credit, but the arguments are weak at best when we look at them more deeply.

The most offensive piece of this book is his unwillingness to take power, sexism, and racism into account when discussing people and events like Larry Nassar, The Stanford Rape Case, and Sandra Bland. Instead of discussing racism and race he opts to discuss “misunderstanding”. Instead of discussing the power dynamics of sexual assault he expounds the harms of binge drinking, but nothing of misogyny. It’s a big mess, and he should’ve done better.

The book feels like an attempt to be both relevant and placate people who are tired of “identity politics”. He moves from one hot button issue to the next without any subtlety or nuance. He is name dropping iconic incidents to insure buzz for the book, instead of crafting compelling arguments that stand up to scrutiny. This book was enraging and irresponsible.

Two Stars | Hachette Audio | September 10, 2019 | 8 Hours 42 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

(Photo: amazon.com)

This satirical novel takes place in the near-future American South where Black people are caged in ghettos, and there are experimental treatments that will “demelanize” the black out of people (if you can afford it). It is in this world, where we find our narrator, a Black man, his White wife, and his mixed son.

More than anything else, while reading this book I kept thinking to myself, “Maurice Carlos Ruffin” is a smart person. His writing left me feeling taken care of, and I trusted that he had put thought into this world. That’s not to say that I always felt connected, or that I liked everything in this book, or that I didn’t think it could be cut down by at least 70 pages. I felt those things, and that I was reading the words of a smart and thoughtful author. My biggest issue with the book is that I wanted more world building. I wanted to know how America got to where it was when the reader shows up. I felt there were details missing that I wanted to know. Overall the book is thought provoking and examines race in a way that we so rarely see in literature these days.

Three Stars | One World | January 29, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss We Cast a Shadow on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Maurice Carlos Ruffin on The Short Stacks HERE.


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February 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here is what I read for February. My standout by far was Lot by Bryan Washington which comes out in March. Its a collection of short stories, and I just loved it. I wasn’t a huge fan of I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, but I am looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks as part of The Stacks Book Club in March.

As far as diverse reading, I read a whole bunch of books by queer men, four to be exact, I guess five if you want to included William Shakespeare, but thats a conversation for another day. I didn’t do so well reading women in February, only one book by a woman, possibly an all time low since I started keeping track. Only three of the books I read were by authors of color. I have my work cut out for me in March.

You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.


February by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 9
Audiobooks: 1
Five Star Reads: 1
DNF Books: 0
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 21

By Women Authors: 1
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 4
Nonfiction Reads: 5
Published in 2019: 4


Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner

(Photo: amazon.com)

Arguably one of the definitive plays of modern theatre, Angels in America, is a two part epic about the AIDS crisis in America in the mid 1980’s. The play has been celebrated since it was first produced in 1992, winning the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Tony Awards, and Emmy awards for the 2003 HBO adaptation of the play. The play is a behemoth of the stage and it works on the page as well.

I really enjoyed rereading part one, Millennium Approaches, and it was my first time ever reading part two, Perestroika. Kushner does an amazing job of creating a world and characters and still maintaining the magic of the theatre. The most central idea of the entire play is change over time. How do we change? Can we ever really change? What happens when we do? What happens when we don’t?

Some of the scenes and dialogue are so wild and poetic and at times nonsensical, and it all works. Even when you’re confused or annoyed it works. There is something innately human about the story Kushner tells. If you’ve not read this play, it is worth your time. Or watch the star-studded HBO film. It is a cultural cornerstone, rightfully so, learn about it. Engage with it. Enjoy it.

Four Stars | Theatre Communications Group; 20th Anniversary Edition | December 24, 2013 | 304 Pages | Paperback


Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of essays about life in her own Black body, Emily Bernard writes about a random act of violence against her, academia, adopting her children, her relationship to her ancestors, among other things. I found this book to be inconsistent, the earlier essays (especially the first two) clearly had something to say. They were thoughtful and thought provoking. As the book went on, I lost interest in much of Bernard’s writing and couldn’t quiet find the through line.

It is worth noting this is not a book about deep trauma (aside from the first essay) and that is refreshing. Sure, racism and bias play into any work of nonfiction by a Black woman, how could it not, but Bernard is creating something more subtle, explaining a Black experience that we don’t often hear. One of a Black academic in Vermont, born and raised in the South, married to a White man, raising Ethiopian daughters. Black is the Body is the story of that truth. Bernard (and to some extent Knopf) allowing us to read these essays is, in a way, a form of resistance against the tropes of Blackness and the trauma that is associated with skin color.

I would suggest this book to readers who have read many Black nonfiction narratives and who might be interested in something a little different. Though not the best essay collection I’ve read, there is a lot to witness in this writing.

Three Stars | Knopf | January 29, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton, Esq.

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A divorce lawyers how-not-to be married. This book is full of advice, and whatever the opposite of advice is, for a happy marriage. Sexton is funny and charming, if not a little focused on gender roles and heteronormative ideas. In his defense (sort of), he deals in the legality of marriage, and until 2015, same sex relationships wasn’t something that he litigating.

I enjoyed If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late, it isn’t ground breaking, but it is exactly what it claims to be, and that is refreshing. It had some interesting and unique advice, like splitting custody of your kids even when you’re married. He also suggests speaking up when you’re unhappy and a lot of other common sense things, that many couples forget to do. Nothing life changing, but certainly helpful. I appreciate that Sexton doesn’t try to be a guru, he just shares what he’s seen, and as far as I can tell from this book, he has seen it all. The book does run a little longer than needed, and gets repetitive by the end.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to be a better partner or spouse, or are considering getting married, I would suggest you check out this book. It is a little different than the normal relationship advice, and goes down pretty easy.

Three Stars | Henry Holt and Co. | April 10, 2018 | 288 Pages | Hardcover
Hear James Sexton on The Stacks discussing his book (Ep. 49) and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister(Ep. 50), and find a full review of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late HERE.


I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

(Photo: amazon.com)

A psychological thriller about a relationship and theories on life and interaction. I don’t want to say much about this book for three reasons: first, we’re doing the book on podcast and we’ll be discussing it in detail, two, its a thriller so I don’t want to spoil anything, three, and most importantly, I’m not sure I understood what happened in this book.

What I will say, is there wasn’t much there for me in this book. I wasn’t wild about the depiction of the female lead, she was passive and demure in a way that was irritating. She continually deferred to the male lead (which is part of the plot) in the face of her own instincts, it wasn’t believable, it was clearly a male fantasy about a “good” woman. While the book is generally tense and a little scary, there wasn’t enough there there, and the ending fell flat for me.

I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this book, and it is entirely possible I missed it. If you do read this book tell me your thoughts, and be sure to tune into the episode where we talk about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, on March 27th.

Two Stars | Gallery/Scout Press; Reprint edition | March 21, 2017 | 240 Pages | Paperback
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is TSBC pick for March 27. You can hear the TSBC episode with Niccole Thurman HERE. Read a full review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things HERE.


I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter by David Chariandy

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

In this letter to his teenaged daughter, David Chariandy attempts explain the politics of race as he has experienced them. He discusses his own identity, Black and South Asian from Trinidad, and that of his ancestors in relationship to the world of his daughter. The role of family. What it means to be a person of color in Canada, and what it means to be alive in brown skin.

I most appreciated the conversation between father and daughter which is often overlooked, especially in stories from people of color. While Chariandy doesn’t really delve into gender politics in this book, there is something tender and special about him making the choice to address his daughter (and yes, he has a son, he chose to write to his daughter). Mostly he focuses on what it means to be seen as Black and to have come from so many cultures. Chariandy’s daughter is mixed, as is he, and engaging with the complexity of these truths was where the book was at its best.

While sections of the book were captivating, there were also sections where Chariandy was unable to hold my attention. I appreciated the idea behind the book, but I don’t know that I understood why it needed to be written, or that it has a particularly strong point of view.

Three Stars | Bloomsbury | March 5, 2019 | 96 Pages | Hardcover


Lot by Bryan Washington

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories about Black and Brown life in a neighborhood in Houston, told all in the first person with differing narrators, this book is a work of creativity and true craft. Unlike most short story collections where there is no sense of progress or growth over time, in Lot, Washington uses one family as our anchor and we get to watch as their lives unfold through alternating stories. That is supplemented with other stories of people from the “lot”.

Washington’s perspective on life and sex and family and gentrification are subtle and smart and really beautiful. The stories are small and intimate. He centers queerness and cultural homophobia in a way that is honest and not preachy. I would find myself smirking at the humor and then feeling gutted a few pages later by the harsh realities of these character’s world. A well rounded collection that really illustrates a time, place, and people.

Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next. This is a great collection, and its a debut by a 25-year-old. I can not wait for more from Bryan Washington.

Five Stars | Riverhead | March 19, 2019 | 240 Pages | Hardcover


Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

One of my most anticipated reads of 2019, Parkland was not what I was expecting, but it was so well done, it didn’t matter. It should be said, if you’re expecting to read Columbine 2.0 you might feel a little let down. Parkland is about the children who survived the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in February 2018, and the activism work they took on, as leaders of the March for Our Lives Movement.

Cullen is an expert storyteller. His empathy drips off the page and allows you to really see the humanity in people. I have to imagine, as one of his subjects, that empathy is palpable in person as well, I think thats how he gets such in depth looks at people. To think that this book was written and published in less than a year from the date of the shooting is incredible. Cullen chronicles all that the teens went through and accomplished without being too self serious or important. He lends the correct amount of gravity to events and still maintains an air of hope and possibility.

If you’re looking for a book about the mass murder and shooter, Parkland is not your book. There hasn’t been enough time for the comprehensive story on the tragedy in Parkland to come to light, let alone be written (it wasn’t until ten years after the Columbine shooting that Cullen’s book, Columbine came out). If you’re interested in the fight for gun safety laws and the kids that have started to make a difference. Then this book is perfect for you.

Four Stars | Harper | February 12, 2019 | 400 Pages | Hardcover


The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

One of Shakespeare’s early comedies, The Two Gentlemen of Verona tells the story of two men who love two women, and then that all changes. It is about the conflict between friendship and love and the crazy things people in love will do.

This play is just fine. It is fun to see and pretty boring to read. Neither the plot nor language is particularly exciting. Though this play is a great example of characters changing their minds, which when performed, can be pretty funny. Proteus, one of our gentlemen, falls in and out of love so quickly its hard to keep up. Something that is absolutely thrilling and deeply troubling when you see it on stage, but in writing feels a little manic. There are also two women characters who are smart and loyal and capable, which I always love seeing, especially in classic literature. Without spoiling, I will say the final scene of the play is worth the wait. It brings up ideas of female autonomy, forgiveness, and platonic male love, in a way that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. The ending of this play has been debated by scholars for decades, and there is still so much left undecided.

The Two Gentelmen of Verona is not a great play, its fine. I would say its better on the stage than the page, but if you’re working on reading Shakespeare, its a good place to start as it is an easy read and very digestible.

Three Stars | Penguin Classics; New edition | February 1, 2000 | 92 Pages | Paperback
For a complete review of The Two Gentelmen of Verona click HERE.


When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones

(Photo: amazon.com)

A memoir of a life committed to fighting for equality, When We Rise is a true ode to the power of resistance and an ode to the Gay Community. The story of San Francisco queer culture is told beautifully by Cleve Jones, a man who was there for so much of it. Jones guides us through the people and places that were pivotal in the movement, like Harvey Milk and Anne Kronenberg and the people that were footnotes of the time like Jim Jones and Anita Bryant. The book is a who’s who of San Francisco and the Gay Community.

This book isn’t all history, it is also hugely about humanity. Jones is known for creating the AIDS Quilt as a way of seeing and acknowledging those who died and making sure they were never forgotten. It is that kind of humanity that is throughout the entire book. Jones celebrates the beauty, power, creativity, and strength of the Gay community throughout this memoir. The love he has for his people is palpable in the book. He doesn’t shy away from talking about the drag queens and the sex and the freedom of the time. There is no shame, only a truthful story of what life was like, once upon a time.

I listened to this book and Jones narrates, and I loved hearing his inflections as he walked us through his life in the movement. I was especially moved as he recounted the utter devastation that AIDS had on his life and his community. If you’re interested in a story of Gay Rights, both history and humanity, told from the perspective of a man who was there, I highly recommend you check out When We Rise.

Four Stars | Hachette Audio | November 29, 2016 | 9 Hours 31 Minutes | Audiobook


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