The month started with a bang! Actually, many of them.

As hot white and red sparks arched dangerously close to my daughter, I wondered about my current parenting strategy of “don’t walk alone at night” but “it’s perfectly fine to stand five feet away from an explosive box.”

This was, of course, nothing nefarious. Rather just another 4th of July in the burbs. Having no desire to brave the crowds for the downtown fireworks, my family and I instead watched our neighbors set off fountains of fire, which banged and popped so loudly I remarked, “Wow, the rest of the neighborhood must love us right now.”

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July didn’t go out with a whimper after that explosive start, mostly thanks to vacation!! Yep, my family and I had two blissful weeks off from work, first staycationing and then heading to California to visit San Francisco and Tahoe. I chronicled our travel adventures in my blogs. Speaking of blogs, here’s a recap of the topics I covered in July.

Vacation also meant more time to visit bookstores! And oh did I ever!

Politics & Prose (new branch! Washington, DC)

I’m always happy to see this DC indie bookstore staple expand.  (I think it bodes well for the indie bookstore world!) This location might be my favorite because it’s situated in an area with a great industrial vibe. Plus my favorite arepa restaurant (Arepa zone) is right across the street in the wonderful Union Market.

Kramer Books (Washington, DC)

Another iconic district bookstore I had to stop by this month. It’s not large, but it has a little bar and cafe called Afterwords, which I think is very clever. The staff is always friendly and helpful. And apparently, it’s a great place for my husband to make goofy faces while holding up the books he plans to purchase.

Kramer books

Word After Word Bookshop (Tahoe(ish), actually Truckee, CA)

Because North Tahoe is a bookstore desert, I had to truck over to Truckee (approx 30 miles away) for a bookstore. But it was worth it. It had a very small town feel spiced up by clever displays. Plus they let me take a whole handful of their adorable bookmarks. I can never have enough bookmarks. They’re like bobby pins. I’m always losing them and need more!

Bound Together (San Francisco, CA)

The Haight (of Haight Ashbury 1960s hippie fame) may be more touristy now, but it still has its counterculture vibe. Evidence: This anarchist bookstore! I didn’t go in…but I’m regretting it now. I did stop to take a few pictures.

Booksmith (San Francisco, CA)

The Haight has a more traditional bookstore too called Booksmith. I did go in this one and managed NOT to buy any books. (Mostly because I’d already stuffed my suitcase full with other books. One more and I was sure it would start spitting them back out at me.) The quotes and literary drawings running along the ceiling made Booksmith extra special, creating a whimsical feel.

Sometimes I put the books down…

While I do spend much of my time reading and writing (or thinking about reading and writing), I occasionally dabble in other forms of entertainment, including TV, podcasts and movies. Highlights of my extra-book activities this month included the following.

The Handmaid’s Tale

This show is not for the faint of heart. But like a train wreck, I can’t look away. It touches too closely to real life and I can’t help but think, if we keep on this path, that horrific future could easily come true. Watching it is part torture, part obligation to learn so as not to become, and part incredible storytelling.

Jessica Jones

My favorite kick-ass superhero on TV was back for season 2 and didn’t disappoint. The show pokes at social issues with a big fat stick and embraces female empowerment. It’s incredible.

Riverdale

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched this show, not expecting much. Turns out it’s Twin Peaks meets One Tree Hill and that’s a pretty awesome combo! I’m only through season one and little ways into season 2, but loving it. (Although my superpower of prediction keeps ruining it for my poor husband. I need to learn to stop shouting out my predictions, which somehow usually come true…How do I learn to monetize this superpower…There must be a way.)

Unexplained Podcast

This podcast is my new obsession and I am very upset to almost be at the end of season 3. (There are currently only three seasons!) Added bonus: it puts me to sleep. The combination of the background organ music and the voice of Richard McLean-Smith sends me to the Sandman every time. And this isn’t an insult to the podcast. It gives me the shivers before I drift off.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when I reach the end of the season. (Re-listen to all of them?) If anyone knows of any other podcasts that induce narcolepsy, let me know! I haven’t slept this well in decades.

As for movies, I don’t think I watched any…I’m lame…But I did get a lot of writing and reading done, which brings me to…

THE BOOKS!

I had a good reading month. I don’t think I read a single book I didn’t enjoy! I also kept to what seems to be my average pace of 7-8 books a month (about 2 a week). Here they are with brief reviews.

Book #1: Flood by Melissa Scholes Young

flood 

Brief review: This book was perfectly timed for the 4th of July since it takes place during that timeframe. A modern take on the Huck Finn story, it asks that age-old question, can you ever really go home again? (Spoiler: You can’t, at least not without causing a lot of problems.)

Book #2: Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

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Brief review: Here’s a shocking concept. Not everyone wants to live in a world where people eat really healthy (read: spinach juice and protein bars) and turn themselves into walking synthetic mannequins just to be (almost) immortal. From this, the suicide club is born. It’s a very interesting concept executed well. I had an issue with the ending of this book. But, really, I’m just being picky. It’s well done.

Book #3: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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Brief(ish) review: My love of this book knows no bounds. It deserves more than a brief review. It deserves flowers and candy… OK, I’m not courting the book. But if I was… From the writing to the characters to the story, it’s nearly perfect and completely deserving of its Pulitzer. The story is simple. A writer with mediocre success travels the globe to avoid attending his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. This just proves a story doesn’t need to be complicated to be great. I cried at the end (and not because it was sad). I cried because it was a seriously f%&*ing beautiful ending to a seriously f%&*ing beautiful book. (It’s also deserving of that curse word for emphasis.) Have I mentioned how much I loved this book (and apparently the word ‘deserving’)?

Book #4: Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

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Brief review: This was my only “meh” read this month. I really wanted to like it. I loved the concept of a graphic novel version of Snow White set in the 1920s. Ultimately, the connections of the characters lacked depth. Snow White meets the “dwarfs” and a day later they think she’s the best thing ever because she showed them a window at Macy’s? Sorry, not enough. BUT, the artwork is beautiful. It just needs about 10 more pages of character development.

Book #5: Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

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Brief review: Although I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads, for me that means I liked it. My issue was that it’s a collection of short stories that were never really meant to be published. So they’re very raw, like reading someone’s literary diary. But tucked in the lines and stories, you can find some real brilliance.

Book #6: Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

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Brief review: I’ve wanted to read the third installment of the Ember in the Ashes series since I finished book two. It finally came out this year and I scooped it up. Although as engaging and fast-paced as the previous books, I couldn’t help but sigh at the end when I realized this would not be a trilogy…. I’m getting a little tired of the never-ending series. If this goes beyond book four, I’m out.

Book #7: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

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Brief review: I spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to find this book in a bookstore. They all had book #3 of the series, but none had book #1. And I visited a lot of bookstores this month! (See evidence earlier in this post.) Yes, I could have bought it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but I wanted to get it at an indie bookstore, dammit! (Not sure why I feel compelled to curse so much today.) And, yes, I realize after complaining about books always being a series, I intentionally sought out another series. (Listen, I’m a complicated woman, OK?) When I finally found it (at the Truckee bookstore, in fact) I worried it wouldn’t live up to the expectation built by the hype and my obsessive search. It did. I adore snarky characters, sci-fi and unique books. This one had it all. Plus, on occasion, it thwarted my superpower for predicting plot lines and twists. I didn’t catch them all. Hats off to you Illuminae.

So that wraps up my July. What’d everyone else do? Any fun book or bookstore stories out there?

 

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