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Summer 2020 Reading Round Up

What a summer it has been.

We swore to ourselves that this year, we would make the most of our proximity to Chicago and explore the city and do fun things all the time!

Instead we stayed in as much as possible. Thank god for parks, and picnics.

The summer was not a total loss though, we welcomed how the love of our lives, Juniper.

Juniper is a rescue. They think she’s about three years old, and possibly a Chesapeake Retriever and Labrador mix. We can only confirm that she is 1000% an angel.

We are not the first to use quarantine to bring home a puppy, but we seriously lucked out with her already being house trained. Her anxiety is another story, but we’ll get there. After a week and a half of tip toeing around, Juniper started to catch on that this is her forever home, and in just a few months she has gotten very comfortable on the couch, and more recently, on our bed.

That last one is totally my fault, and I need to work on making boundaries clear. But she’s just so cute and I want to give her all the comfort in the world! This is Junie on her way to visit her grandparents for the first time! Looking vacation ready!

While COVID put a damper on some plans, and brought in a few unexpected joys, some things stayed the same!

I read some books, did some blog tours, and even did some giveaways!

First, for Pride, I had planned to focus on reads from LBQT+ authors. While there are tons to choose from, I did my best to read the ones on my shelf, and then to give away the books so that others can enjoy them.

1. Halal If You Hear Me: The Breakbeat Poets Volume 3 - Edited by Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo

This is an anthology of poems written by Muslim writers of all kinds of backgrounds. There are also a few essays at the back of the book as well. I love the Breakbeat Poets series. It’s a really great way to be introduced to a variety of new writers and expand your reading. For this volume in particular, the message that there’s no one way to be Muslim is so beautiful. That simultaneous sharing of different experiences, and also validating that the ones in this book are not the only experiences. That this is not the Muslim experience but just a look at some of the many. I think that is so important, especially when so much of the little representation minorities have is drenched in tropes and stereotypes. There were a few poems I didn’t really care for, but that is normal for any anthology that I read. My favorite pieces were the ones that explored being Muslim and Black or Muslim and queer. The intersection of those identities is not something that I think gets representation often. Overall, this anthology is a great way to start thinking about the Muslim experience and being open to all the things that it can mean.

2. Naturally Tan - by Tan France

This was the first of my Pride giveaways. I am such a fan of Queer Eye and I absolutely love Tan. I’m positive he and I could be best friends, but even though he probably already has one I like to think I would be included if we could meet. Just once! I loved reading this book. I read it in his voice and it was a great way to not be sad considering I already finished Season 5 of Queer Eye and who knows when we’ll get Season 6! I love that he tries to keep it light and fun even when he’s talking about things that are not fun at all, like racism and homophobia. This was a quick read and I really enjoyed it! There are so few books by South Asian men, a lot of South Asian representation is just the same old tropes of women in arranged marriages. So I will always love Tan for writing this and putting it out there because there are so many South Asian experiences that deserve to be heard!

3. Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love - by Jonathan Van Ness

You guys are going to see a lot of Queer Eye on this list but, what can I say, I love them. I actually got this book last fall, when I saw Jonathan speaking in Chicago, as part of his book tour. This was another one of the books I did a giveaway for, but since I realized this copy is SIGNED, I couldn’t bring myself to giveaway my personal copy like I did for the others. In the beginning of this book, Jonathan wonders if people will love him even when they see all these other parts of him. Part that he was ashamed of or is still working through the shame. To be honest, I think in the end you love him even more. You really appreciate everything he’s been through and how much he’s worked to overcome it all. Jonathan can come across as a lot or in your face, but he just has so much love for the world and the people around him. It’s beautiful.

4. The Henna Wars - by Adiba Jaigirdar

This was the last of my giveaways to celebrate Pride. I felt so many emotions reading this book, and there were so many things I loved. I loved the story, the pace, the characters. Everything! The relationship between Nishat and Priti made me miss my own sister so much. I didn’t realize how much I needed to read one character call the other a gadha in my life, until it happened and I just couldn’t help but smile. I would highly recommend, and in case that’s not enough, The Henna Wars is a nominee for a Goodreads Choice Award!

In addition to these awesome books, I also tried out some amazing recipes from The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, by Michael W. Twitty. It was my first time making brisket or collard greens and both were amazing. The mac and cheese was also to die for! I also tried recipes from Antoni in the Kitchen, more Queer Eye, I know. You can read my full review of those recipes here!

I also had some great book club picks this summer!

5. A Woman Is No Man - by Etaf Rum

This book was difficult to read, because it basically took my heart and tossed it into a wood chipper. There was so much pain and sadness. Even more sad when you remember that it is semi autobiographical. But it’s such a good book and really well written. I can’t believe this is a debut novel! The alternating point of view was well done. The pace of the story was perfect. Some chapters definitely break your heart more than others. It hurt to read at times, but I would absolutely recommend it. It definitely set up some great discussion at book club. Content warning: abuse, assault, and suicide.

6. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood - by Trevor Noah

So I cheated a little bit and between my two book clubs, I somehow managed to convince both to read the same book! It actually didn’t take much, I realized that this book was one most of our TBRs, and we’re already half, if not completely, in love with Trevor Noah. I really appreciate that this book focused more on Trevor’s life before becoming a celebrity. This wasn’t just your usual “behind the scenes Hollywood memoir: that I feel like a lot of celebrity memoirs become. The topics and events are so much more serious, but with Trevor’s lighthearted delivery and sense of humor, it doesn’t feel heavy. It reads in a way that you breeze through it, as if you’re talking with a friend. One clear takeaway from the book, is that we all want his mom’s story! You get it in that she is so much a part of his life, but she sounds so badass! You want to hear her perspective!

I also made Malva Pudding, a South African dessert to bring to book club. It was so delicious! I really thought it was going to be crazy sweet with all the sugar, the apricot preserves, and the condensed milk, but it was amazing. It was so perfect and just melted in your mouth. I can't wait to make it again! You can find the recipe I tried, here.

Last but not least, I snuck in some poetry between book clubs and blog tours!

7. The Tradition - by Jericho Brown

Last year, in trying to complete my Goodreads Challenge, I sprinted through some books of poetry. And in doing so I realized that there are some that I really enjoy, and some that I just do not get. So one of my goals this year was to slow down, really take them in, and learn to read poetry. Still, there were poems in this collection that I know I couldn’t fully appreciate, because poetry is not something I fully understand, and with this being poetry about fatherhood, blackness, queerness, and trauma, there was nuance and in some cases cultural references that went over my head, for sure. Despite the personal lack of knowledge, this was a collection that overall, I enjoyed!

8. An American Sunrise - by Joy Harjo

Another goal I had for this year was to read more Indigenous authors. I’m disappointed in myself that it’s taken so long for me to prioritize it, but I’m so glad that I came across this collection of poems by Joy Harjo. I saw it on display in the library with other new items and it stood out! It’s a beautiful collection of poems. This is the first of Harjo’s work I’ve read and I will be reading everything else I can get my hands on!

With all it's ups and downs this year, Summer brought with it great books, and delicious foods! Between the cookbooks, and the Malva Pudding for book club, I was thoroughly stuffed!

This summer I also participated in blog tours for Winter of the Wolf, The Saturday Morning Park Run, and The Witch House, if you want to check out my full reviews and recommended book pairings!

Note, links to purchase books throughout this blog post are affiliate links with supports Indie bookstores across the US. If you are able to, please consider shopping for books through a site that supports mom and pop shops in a time where sales are suffering due to Amazon, and now the pandemic.

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