Romance Reads: Bellinger Sisters series by Tessa Bailey

“What she thought was living life to the fullest had actually been living life for other people to watch. To gawk at. She wouldn’t lie to herself and pretend one month had completely cured her of her deeply rooted yen for attention. For praise. For what she’d once interpreted as love. Now though? She is participating in her life. Not just posing and pretending. The world was so much bigger than her, and she was really seeing it now. She was really looking.”
― Tessa Bailey, It Happened One Summer

It Happened One Summer is the first book in the Bellinger Sisters series. This title was also my first read by Tessa Bailey, an author that I’ve seen pop up on TikTok and other social media sites a lot more recently. This novel also reminded me a lot of the television show Schitt’s Creek as I was reading it. Let’s get into the first book!

Piper Bellinger is a Hollywood ‘It Girl’, well at least she was until she threw a spectacularly outrageous and out-of-control rooftop party that left the influential wild child cut off from her wealthy family and sent to a small Pacific Northwest town. Piper’s stepfather has decided that it’s time for Piper to learn some responsibility. He sends both Piper and her sister to Washington to run their late father’s dive bar.

Piper is shocked that her stepfather would even consider sending her away, let alone cutting her off. With her sister’s support, the two arrive in Westport to hopefully make the next three months fly by so they can head back to LA. As soon as Piper steps foot outside her late father’s bar, she meets Brendan, a big, burly, bearded sea captain who has nothing nice to say to her. He doesn’t think that Piper will last a night in Westport, especially when she sees the state of the apartment where the two women will be staying. Fed up with everyone, men especially, expecting little from her, Piper is determined to show the town of Westport that she’s more than just a pretty face. After all, this is her late father’s town and he is a legend. She has big shoes to fill.

As soon as Piper decides to show up Brendan, she of course starts running into him everywhere (mostly due to Westport being such a small town – but let’s be honest the two have an undeniable chemistry). Piper is bubbly, while Brendan is gruff and set in his ways. Although the two couldn’t be more opposite, there’s a simmering tension and attraction between the two. Piper does not want anything to do with Brendan, especially since she plans to head back to LA as soon as possible. The more time she spends reconnecting to her Westport past and getting to know the area, the more Piper starts to wonder if she really wants to go back home where no one really knows her. Where does her heart want to be?

This book is also available in the following formats:

Bellinger Sisters series:

  1. It Happened One Summer (2021)
  2. Hook, Line, and Sinker (2022)

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

“I still have a lot to figure out, but the one thing I know is, wherever you are, that’s where I belong. I’ll never belong anywhere like I belong with you.”
― Emily Henry, People We Meet on Vacation

The above quote sums up People We Meet on Vacation pretty perfectly. Alex and Poppy do not seem like they would fit together. Poppy is a traveling wild child who gets anxious if she is in one place for too long. Alex would much rather stay at home in his khakis reading a book. The two met by chance at college, but each wrote the other off as a nobody. Thrown together later in a car share home one summer, the two form a best friend bond that has only grown over time.

While Alex and Poppy may live apart for most of the year – she in New York and he back home in Ohio, they revel in their summer trips. For over a decade, the two have taken one week of vacation together every summer to various destinations all over the globe. They have had disastrous vacations all the way to magnificent ones. Two years ago, something happened on their summer vacation that has driven a wedge between the two. They haven’t spoken to each other since.

Poppy has been having a rough time dealing with Alex being out of her life. She feels like she’s stuck in a rut. When her friend asks her when she last felt happy, Poppy realizes that it was when she was with Alex. She wants that back! Poppy has decided that she has to get Alex to take a vacation with her so that she can make their relationship right again. Alex agrees, so she has one week to fix everything that’s wrong between them. That task proves to be way harder than she imagined, given the massive secret lurking between the two.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

An anthology of David Sedaris’ work, The Best of Me is a great introduction to his style for the new reader, or a type of “greatest hits” album for his longtime fans. It abridges his former books including Me Talk Pretty One Day, Calypso, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, among others. As you read, you move through Sedaris’ whole life up to the present (or just about), laughing all the way.

The effect is interesting because where each of his previous essay collections had individual moods, this book has all of them– just about every conceivable feeling is present. The bittersweet feeling of aging and loss from Calypso is there, alongside the whimsical and sardonic tone of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. His iconic struggle with learning French, full of self-deprecation and humility, is present, as are plenty of childhood reminiscences and portraits of his activities and fixations as a settled, partnered adult (shopping for taxidermy and terrible clothes, living abroad, collecting trash, etc.). This is probably the closest a book can come to a portrait of a life and a representation of a body of work — and, typical of Sedaris, the result is readable, funny, soothing, thought-provoking, and relatable in different ways.

Besides being funny, and easier to carry around than a collection of 5 to 7 individual books, this book is honest, and for me it served as a comforting reminder that no matter how quirky your tastes may be, it’s always possible to craft a life that works for you. For that matter, it’s also good to be reminded that none of us are quite as saintly as we may like to think we are; Sedaris is an expert at giving voice to the less altruistic feelings and motives we all secretly relate to – while not trying to justify them or rally readers behind these feelings. Also interesting is the thread running through several essays about how different it was for Sedaris to grow up as a gay man than it is to be in the LGBTQ community now.

Basically, this book is full of good humor and helpful reminders about the realities of human nature – including not to take yourself too seriously. Highly recommended for those wanting to revisit, or discover, the unique reading experience that is David Sedaris.

Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley gives an honest take on the wedding planning process with her graphic novel, Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride. As a bride to be myself, I was intrigued to see how Knisley described the year leading up to her wedding. Planning a wedding can feel stressful, exciting, nerve racking, and sometimes impossible to do. Knisley uses her graphic novel skills to lay it all out for all of those who may be entering the whirlwind of wedding planning.

Knisley begins her novel with some background of how she and her husband, John met and ended  up engaged. They met while Knisley was completing art school and as their relationship developed, they realized they wanted different things in life. After being apart for a few years with meeting each other in between, John randomly popped the question and Knisley said yes.

Throughout her memoir, Knisley goes into detail about her wedding planning process. She emphasizes to the reader that a traditional wedding isn’t for everybody (and if you like traditional, that’s okay!) For example, Knisley’s mother lives in a rural area and built a barn for their ceremony and reception. Knisley also created her own decorations and table settings to express her creative side. She did the traditional things like shopping for the perfect dress with her friends and family, arguing with her mother about the type of music for the reception, and staying up late to finish guest lists with her fiancé. Alongside Knisley illustrations, she added photographs from her year of wedding planning.

At the end of the day, Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride lets the reader into her own private world of wedding planning. It made me feel a little less anxious about my own planning endeavors.

This was my first graphic novel by Knisley. I enjoyed her honest and confessional writing style. Her other graphic novels follow this style as well. Here are a few we own at the library worth taking a look at: Relish, Kid Gloves, and Displacement.

 

 

Get Graphic Series: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Have you always wanted to read a classic, but find yourself picking up the latest beach read instead? I have a solution for you! Classic adaptations is our final topic in the Get Graphic Series. I have read many classics in my life; mostly from high school and college. I find my self now that I am older, forgetting the details of them. That’s why I like classic adaptation graphic novels. They are great at refreshing my memory of the classic I read long ago- and they are much shorter!

One of my favorite classics, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, was made into a graphic novel in 2020. It follows the story of Billy Pilgrim who has come unstuck in time. Traveling from his POW camp in World War II Germany to his Lions Club Meeting years later, Billy Pilgrim has no control over where he ends up next. And then in 1967, Billy Pilgrim travels to the alien world Tralfamadore. This is where he learns about time and how time “simply is.”

Ryan North and Albert Monteys create a Slaughterhouse-Five universe. They give faces and backstories to Vonnegut’s characters. They add timelines and comic strip like panels to give life to the numerous settings. This classic adaptation is never boring with the way North and Monteys portray it.

Several classics have been made into graphic novels. Here are a few we own at the library if Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t your first choice: 1984 by George Orwell, Anne Frank’s Diary by Ari Folman, Kindred by Damian Duffy, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or The Great Gatsby by Fred Fordham.

So it goes.

Get Graphic Series: The Adoption by Zidrou

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “graphic novel”? Comic books? Japanese manga? A book with pictures and not much to read? While those answers are correct, graphic novels are so much more than what you may think! Graphic novels can be memoirs, fiction, biographies, nonfiction, or adaptations.

For a reader who doesn’t have time to knock out a 400 page novel, graphics are the perfect alternative! I love to read graphics when I want something quick and easy. But don’t let “quick and easy” fool you- graphic novelist have a way of putting a lot of story in just a few lines!

In this series I will be highlighting adult graphic novels that fall outside the comic book and Japanese manga categories.

First up is The Adoption by Zidrou. This graphic novel follows the story of Gabriel, a retired butcher whose life flips upside down when his son adopts a Peruvian orphan, Qinaya. Gabriel is your typical retiree; he workouts with his friends at the local park, he reads with his wife before bed, and he tends to his vegetable garden. Gabriel was absent for most of his children’s lives, so when Qinaya starts spending more time at Gabriel’s house, he isn’t sure how to handle it. As Qinaya and Gabriel begin to bond, an unexpected visit changes everything. Gabriel must face his own past in order to overcome the new challenges in his retired life.

The Adoption  is a great pick for first time graphic novel readers. The story highlights family, friends, love, and loss. I did not know what to expect out of the story and Zidrou kept me intrigued until the very end. When I finished reading, I found myself reflecting on my own family and the relationships I have with them.

Alongside beautiful illustrations, The Adoption provides an intimate portrait of life during retirement and how the little things can matter the most.

What If? and How To by Randall Munroe

One of the best things that’s come out of 2021 for me so far is finding a new favorite nonfiction author: Randall Munroe. Although I’m an amateur at best in the field of science, I never get tired of learning fascinating scientific facts and explanations, and I’m always a sucker for a dry sense of humor. For me, Randall Munroe reads like Andy Weir’s The Martian – my all-time favorite book. Here are two of Munroe’s books, both recent and not-so-recent, that sum up his style AND are great reads.

What If? by Randall Munroe is a big, ambitious book, packed with humor, science, and fascinating imagined scenarios. You may know Randall Munroe from Thing Explainer – see Brenda’s great post about it here. In brief, Munroe is the creator of a webcomic and website devoted to answering people’s wildest questions with real scientific consideration. In What If? he gathers the biggest collection of these questions and their answers in one place – including relevant cartoons and a collection of the most weird and worrying questions he’s received through the website. From the publisher: “His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, and often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.”

 

How To is his latest publication, from 2019. In it, he gives impractical, complicated, scientific instructions for how to deal with real-world problems, including everything from landing a plane, digging a hole, predicting the weather, and disposing of the book once you’re done with it (although in this last case, we’re going to have to insist you dispose of it by returning it in the drop box). As always, the text is accompanied by his simple and amusing cartoons and a good dose of dry humor. From the publisher: “By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible and helps us better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.”

As Brenda mentioned in her post about Thing Explainer, books by this author are a great read if you’re a fan of science, like a humorous style, or have a deep curiosity about the world and how things work. If you’re looking for an author to expand your mind, indulge your inner geek/daredevil, and make you laugh, I recommend you try a book by Randall Munroe.

Great Podcasts: Fake News (in a good way!)

I’m back with another set of podcasts to highlight! Today’s two are a unique type: structured like a news or interview show, but set in fictional places, sharing fictional news. Hijinks and hilarity ensue, providing a welcome respite from real news and interview shows, which for me are almost universally exhausting. Again, as a disclaimer, I’m nowhere near caught up with either of these podcasts, so I can’t vouch for their entire content. As always, share your tips and recommendations in the comments! These podcasts are also available through Spotify, their websites, and other podcasting platforms like iTunes.

Welcome to Night Vale

This is a quite famous podcast in some circles, so you may well have already heard of it. If you’re not familiar, it’s structured as a local radio news program broadcast in the fictional (hopefully) town of Night Vale. The show reports strange happenings including strange creatures, ominous surveillance, and bizarre happenings with deadpan delivery, because in Night Vale, the odd and terrifying is also the everyday and normal. This makes for quite a bit of dry, tongue-in-cheek humor which may not be for everyone, but can be delightful.

Hello From the Magic Tavern

I discovered this podcast by accident a few years ago, and the main reason I stopped listening to it on any kind of consistent basis was because it always made me laugh out loud in the public places where I listened to it. This podcast’s structure is fairly typical for the medium: a host interviews a series of guests, hearing their stories and getting their take on current events. However, it’s set in the magical land of Foon, where the host ended up after falling through a portal behind Burger King. The improv comedy is often inappropriate but it’s always hilarious.

Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

“Bright, colorful, and whimsical—yet charmingly familiar—Stranger Planet is out-of-this-world fun.”

One of my major habits as a reader is balance – I always need to balance out the heavy with the light, the sweet with the salty. It’s how I stay sane, ESPECIALLY when the sweet, light books are like Strange Planet and Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle. There’s nothing like a book of comics as a palate cleanser, and there’s nothing like Pyle’s comics, period.

Stranger Planet is the second book of Pyle’s comics (originally shared on social media) and a worthy successor to the first. In both cases, it’s a pared-down world of bright pinks, blues, greens, and purples, where genderless aliens navigate a strangely familiar world of “cohesion” (marriage), “mild poison” (alcohol), “offspring” (kids), “elastic breath traps” (balloons), and much more.

These comics are charming for me because I love the quirky, gentle humor of examining everyday activities through a fresh perspective. I’m also a huge sucker for wordplay, which doesn’t hurt. Basically, if you’re looking for a quick break or to rediscover a sense of wonder about the world, I definitely recommend you check out Stranger Planet by Nathan Pyle.

Finna by Nino Cipri

Not to be melodramatic, but Finna by Nino Cipri is the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It reads in many ways like an American version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – one of my all-time favorite books. The deceptively thin volume is the story of Ava and Jules, a young couple that just broke up a week ago and now has to find a way to continue working together at a Scandinavian big box furniture store. As if the horrors and indignities of working retail AND a breakup  weren’t enough, they then discover a wormhole to a parallel universe has opened inside the store — and a customer has wandered through it. It falls to Ava and Jules, as the employees with the least seniority, to go through the wormhole and try to bring the customer home. While trying to survive a perilous multiverse, they must also walk the perilous path from breakup back to friendship.

I fell in love with this book almost instantly, and there’s many reasons why. For one thing, it’s a slim and unintimidating 137 pages, and the writing style and brief chapters make it a quick and addictive read. The humor is dry and wry, realistic about the cruelties and frustrations of both working retail and navigating relationships. Both characters are honest about their own good and bad qualities and while the hurt and defensiveness is real, they don’t flinch away from taking a long, hard look at what went wrong in themselves and in their relationship. Moreover, meaningful as the relationship between the characters is, the book doesn’t get bogged down in it, balancing out the heartfelt discussions with lots of frankly wacky adventures in parallel universes both beautiful and sinister. Finally, this book is one of a very rare type: a novel, with a genderqueer protagonist, that doesn’t focus exclusively on that individual’s gender. In fact, Jules’ gender identity and the social difficulties that come with it are treated as established and routine, mundane everyday details compared to the rest of the plot. As a genderqueer person myself, it is so refreshing to read novels where gender-diverse people exist, live their lives, and do things other than obsess about their gender identity.

If you love slice-of-life sci fi, Welcome to Night Vale, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or are craving some light-hearted LGBTQ representation, I 100% recommend you check out this book.