The Bodyguard

I wanted the first book I read, start-to-finish, in 2023 to be a book I knew I would adore. 

That book was Katherine Center’s The Bodyguard

Last year, I was lucky enough to win an advanced copy through a Goodreads Giveaway. I already knew the main characters, the plot, the setting. 

Did that diminish this year’s reading in any way? Absolutely not. 

(By the way – I bought the hardcover version of The Bodyguard from Ms. Center’s favorite local independent bookstore because she signs them!)

Did I find this second read of The Bodyguard enjoyable?

Definitely!

Was The Bodyguard the reason I stayed up later than planned just so I could read one more chapter?

Yes indeed.

Here are just a few of my favorite passages:

“People who want to be famous think it’s the same thing as being loved, but it’s not. Strangers can only ever love a version of you. People loving you for your best qualities is not the same as people loving you despite your worst.”

“Was I lovable? I mean, are any of us really lovable if you overthink it?
“It was tempting to chicken out.
“But then I thought of Jack going bwok, bwok, bwok, and then I wondered if having faith in yourself was just deciding you could do it — whatever it was — and then making yourself follow through.
“So I decided something right then: Every chance you take is a choice. A choice to decide who you are.”

“I kept pushing. ‘You can’t control the world — or other people. You can’t make them love you, either. They will or they won’t, and that’s the truth. But what you can do is decide who you want to be in the face of it all. Do you want to be a person who helps —or hurts? Do you want to be a person who burns with anger —or shines with compassion? Do you want to be hopeful or hopeless? Give up or keep going? Live or die?”

“Maybe love isn’t a judgment you render —but a chance you take. Maybe it’s something you choose to do —over and over.
“For yourself. And everyone else.
“Because love isn’t like fame. It’s not something other people bestow on you. It’s not something that comes from the outside.
“Love is something you do.
“Love is something you generate.
“And loving other people really does turn out, in the end, to be a genuine way of loving yourself.”

Monthly Book Highlights of 2022

As we approach the last week-and-a-half of 2022, I find myself reflecting on the year and thinking about the books I have read. As of this post, I have read 50 books this year, though that is short of my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 57 I had optimistically set back in January. 

This week, rather than focus on the books I didn’t read, I’m going to highlight one book from each month of 2022.

January

The first book I finished this year was Claire Cook’s Life Glows On. I felt like I was starting the year on the right foot, reading about creativity — the ways we demonstrate creativity, the reasons why we need to dedicate time and energy to creative endeavors.

February

During the shortest month of the year, I read Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids: A Timeless Anthology edited by Zibby Owens. As I wrote in my blog post: “I found myself relating to so many of the authors. The specifics may differ (where we live, how many kids we have, the ages of our kids) but the emotions are universal.”

March

In March, I read First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s memoir Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself. I loved reading about Dr. Biden’s passion for teaching, because I know that passion.

April

I picked up Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens because I wanted a fun, entertaining read. This novel was that, and more. (Which reminds me, I still haven’t read her other novels.)

May

Jane Goodall’s The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times was a powerful book with a powerful message.

June

We’re a basketball family. And while our team will always be the L.A. Clippers, we respect and appreciate many players on many different teams. The “Greek Freak,” aka Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is one such player, and why I was interested in reading Giannis.

July

Brighter By the Day: Waking Up to New Hopes and Dreams is the third book I have read by Robin Roberts. The book feels like a pep talk Robin Roberts is sharing with you, simply because she believes in you and just wants the best for you.

August

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon is much more than a rom-com. Plus, there’s that exciting feeling knowing an author you have recently discovered has written other books you have yet to read.

September

Jean Meltzer’s Mr. Perfect on Paper was such a great read. I love that Ms. Meltzer writes books featuring a protagonist who is not only Jewish, but who also lives with an invisible chronic illness. (Be sure to also check out her first novel, The Matzah Ball, perfect for reading during Hanukkah.)

October

Love and Saffron by Kim Fay was a story told through the letters two women write to each other during the 1960s. I was instantly intrigued because I have a pen pal. We have been exchanging letters for almost thirty years!

November

Book Lovers by Emily Henry is a special book, for a couple of reasons. First, I bought it during our family trip to Maui. And secondly, it earned five stars on my Goodreads review. 

December

Jasmine Guillory’s Royal Holiday was an entertaining holiday romance. It was a fun escape to be able to open the book and slip into this other world.

Readers, feel free to share some of your favorite books that you read during 2022!

Book Lovers

Book Lovers by Emily Henry will always have a special place in my heart.

It’s the book I bought while on our family trip to Maui. I still have the receipt tucked away inside the front cover.

Plus, I had very much enjoyed Ms. Henry’s first two books, Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation. In fact, I was reading People We Meet on Vacation during our Maui trip.

But back to Book Lovers. There aren’t many books that I give a 5-star rating to on Goodreads, but this was one of them.

Here are just a few of my favorite passages:

“As different as we are, the second we start unpacking, it could not be more obvious that we’re cut from the same cloth: books, skin care products, and very fancy underwear. The Stephens Women Trifecta of Luxury, as passed down from Mom.
‘Some things never change,’ Libby sighs, a wistfully happy sound that folds over me like sunshine.
Mom’s theory was that youthful skin would make a woman more money (true in both acting and waitressing), good underwear would make her more confident (so far, so true), and good books would make her happy (universal truth), and we’ve clearly both packed with this theory in mind.”

“I sip my ice-cold drink and bask in the double-barreled serotonin coursing through me. Is there anything better than iced coffee and a bookstore on a sunny day? I mean, aside from hot coffee and a bookstore on a rainy day.”

“Libby and I used to joke that Freeman Books was our father. It helped raise us, made us feel safe, brought us little presents when we felt down. 
Daily life was unpredictable, but the bookstore was a constant.”

“As soon as the library’s automatic doors whoosh open, that delicious warm-paper smell folds around me like a hug, and my chest loosens a bit.” 

This, I think, is what it is to dream, and I finally understand why Mom could never give it up, why my authors can’t give it up, and I’m happy for them, because this wanting, it feels good, like a bruise you need to press on, a reminder that there are things in life so valuable that you must risk the pain of losing them for the joy of briefly having them.”

Love and Saffron

My latest fiction read was the delightful novel Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay

It wasn’t the food element that drew me in. I was intrigued by the setting — Los Angeles and Washington State in the 1960s.

I picked up this book because it is a story of female friendship. And most importantly, I picked up this book because it is a story told through letters. 

(Many of you may not know, but I have a pen pal who lives in Japan. We have been writing since 1993! While we do occasionally send an email, most of our communication happens through hand-written letters. Under my bedside table, I have a box where I keep all her letters.)

Here are just a few snippets from the novel to share with you:

“Los Angeles is such a varied place. There are foods from dozens of countries at our Grand Central Market alone, and there is a different country in every corner of the city. At the risk of sounding like a shill for the tourism board, Armenia, Italy, Poland, Portugal, India, Greece, you name it and you will certainly find it here.”  (This passage was taken from a letter dated September 30, 1963, but I think it is just as true for 2022.)

“Personally, I don’t enjoy the phone. It feels impersonal to me, which might sound strange since a voice in one’s ear is a cozy thing. But when I’m on the line, I can mend or play Solitaire, while with a letter I must pay close attention. There is unequaled satisfaction in composing words on a blank page, sealing them in an envelope, writing an address in my own messy hand, adding a stamp, walking it to the mailbox, and raising the flag. It’s like preparing a gift, and I feel like I receive one when a letter arrives — yours most of all.”

“I will treasure our midnight conversations, especially about our hidden selves. To think we are made up of so many different layers, and we may never meet all of them before the big sleep. I have been thinking about your comment, about how when we are very young we are so sure of who we are. I admit, there have been times when I longed to be fifteen again, confident that I knew absolutely everything about myself. But I prefer the viewpoint you have been pondering since Francis’s encounter with the saffron. The less we cement ourselves to our certainties, the fuller our lives can be.” 

Mr. Perfect on Paper

There aren’t many books written by an author who has earned a daytime Emmy, “and spent five years in rabbinical school before her chronic illness forced her to withdraw.” 

That author is Jean Meltzer.

(You might remember I raved about Ms. Meltzer’s first novel, The Matzah Ball, in a blog post from several months ago. Click here if you missed it.)

And as was the case in her first novel, Ms. Meltzer’s second book also features a main character who is a Jewish woman living with an invisible chronic illness. 

The book is Mr. Perfect on Paper. The character is Dara Rabinowtiz.  

Mr. Perfect on Paper was such an enjoyable read. Smart, funny, heartfelt. Plus, it gave readers a chance to learn about Jewish holidays in an easy-to-understand manner. Most of all, it gave us characters we cared about.

Here are a few of the passages I marked during my reading:

“He beamed as he entered, a bounce in his step, offering a hearty good morning to each person he passed. He was a champ at this. Faking it. Looking happy. Smiling through whatever pain was threatening to drown him.”

“There were days when Dara was so exhausted from her struggles that she could barely find the courage to get out of bed. It was then that her mother would show up, standing over her — and sometimes tearing off her covers — demanding that she fight. Fight, Dara. Her mother would repeat it like a mantra on her bad days. You’re allowed to be afraid, you’re allowed to be anxious, but you have to fight.” 

“There isn’t one way to be Jewish,” she said, finally. “Some people are very observant. Some people aren’t. Some people fall in the middle of the spectrum, or have different philosophies behind the reasons for their observance. Some people don’t do anything. When two Jews marry, they have to negotiate these religious choices. For example, will they keep a kosher home? Will they observe Shabbat? Will you cover your hair, or go to mikvah? Those are some of the big ones…”

“But,” Dara said thoughtfully, “you learn to live with it. The sadness never goes away. Maybe it never gets smaller, either. But after a time, you learn to hold both. You learn that joy still exists … there’s still laughter, and falling in love, and —“ she smiled, glancing down at the crumbs of her pizza “—there’s still jalapeño-and-pineapple pizza. You learn that good things still happen. You meet someone. You fall in love. Maybe you even get married. And when you walk down that aisle, you hold both. You hold the joy of the moment alongside your sadness for the one who can’t be there.” 

“But what I learned from this journey, from finding my real-life Mr. Perfect on Paper, is that love isn’t something that can be quantified on a list. Love is messy. And terrifying. It shows up when you least expect it, and complicates your life in every way. But it’s also … safe. And comforting. It allows you to be yourself completely, without judgment or fear, and it feels right. I don’t know how something so incredibly scary can also feel right, but I need to give this inkling in my heart —in my soul—a chance.”

“I know you think…because you have anxiety, that you’re not brave. But that’s not true. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, actually, and here’s what I want to tell you. Courage ins’t about jumping out of airplanes or building businesses from scratch. Real courage is showing up, even when you’re afraid. Real courage is putting yourself out there, even when you fail — especially when you fail. Courage is saying, this is who I am, standing up, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. And you are brave, Dara. You’re the bravest person I have ever met.”

The Switch

Having read and enjoyed The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, I was eager to read another one of her novels — The Switch. And it didn’t disappoint. 

The premise was charming — an eighty-year-old grandmother living in a small village trades places with her twenty-something granddaughter living in London.

Of course adjustments must be made. Granddaughter Leena must revert back to using a flip phone (her grandmother’s), while grandmother Eileen must learn to use her granddaughter’s smartphone. And that’s just for starters.

Not only was this a fun read, it was also endearing and heartfelt. (Note – there were also some serious, sad aspects to the story.)

Here are just a few of the passages I marked:

“Beneath my excitement there’s a thrum of nerves. I’ve felt plenty of dread, this last year or so, but I haven’t felt the thrill of not knowing what’s to come for a long, long time.” (Grandmother)

“It takes all my effort not to cry as I take the keys from a very worried-looking Penelope and sit myself down in the driver’s seat. These people. There’s such a fierceness to them, such a lovingness. When I got here, I thought their lives were small and silly, but I was wrong. They’re some of the biggest people I know.” (Granddaughter)

“I take a shaky breath and go on. ‘When people talk about loss, they always say that you’ll never be the same, that it will change you, leave a hole in your life.’ My voice is choked with tears now. ‘And those things are undoubtedly true. But when you lose someone you love, you don’t lose everything they gave you. They leave something with you.’”  (Grandmother)

Weather Girl

You know that feeling when you read a book by a new-to-you author, and you enjoy the book so much you feel a sense of relief knowing the author has written other books that are just waiting for you to read them?

That’s how I feel after reading Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Weather Girl

I had heard good things about this novel and had purchased it on one of my #22in22 bookstore visits. (If you’re not familiar with the #22in22 initiative, you can click here to learn more about it.)

While the novel could be described as a feel-good rom-com, it’s really so much more. It’s a peek into the life of a television meteorologist, and it’s a depiction of a woman with depression. And it’s even more than that. 

Here are just a few of the passages I have marked:

“There’s something especially lovely about an overcast day. Clouds dipped in ink, the sky ready to crack open. The air turning crisp and sweet. It’s magic, the way the world seems to pause for a few moments right before a downpour, and I can never get enough of that heady anticipation — this sense that something extraordinary is about to happen.”

“‘You’re not naive. You want to believe the best about people… you want to see the good.’
I like the way he says it. That optimism, both false and genuine, has been weaponized against me before, but not now. And maybe this makes me doomed to be a sunshine person for the rest of my days, but so be it. I’ll be seventy-eight and sunny, a cool breeze and a place in the shade.”

When the male character speaks of his daughter, it is with the same awe that I think of my son: 

“‘She surprises me all the time, and she makes me laugh, and she’s this whole person with fears and ambitions and likes and dislikes, all completely different from mine. She’s so f – – – ing funny, and she’s smart, and it’s just … kind of amazing.’”

“Both of us fall quiet, basking in this world and this moment and the sheer magic of finding that person who gets you the way no one else does.”

“Before we leave, Alex waits in line to grab a few dozen donuts for his fourth-grade class. ‘Guilt donuts,’ he explains. ‘It’s state testing week.’”  (This sounds so much like the things I used to do with my students. Snacks each day of state testing, a celebration when testing was done.)

And a joke from the book that I couldn’t resist sharing with you:

“‘Did you hear about the meteorologist who broke her arms and legs?’ one of the camera guys calls to me as I position myself in front of the green screen. ‘She had to wear four casts.’”

Giannis

“How’s the book?”

“It’s good,” I said as I held it up and showed it to the barista. He had just brought out my blended mocha and set it down on the table for me.

“It’s about Giannis, the basketball player,” I said.

“Oh, basketball,” he said it with a bit of a question in his voice.

It might not seem like a book I would pick up. Especially if you checked out my Goodreads record and saw the last book I read was Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date.

I try to alternate, reading fiction and nonfiction. And when it comes to nonfiction, I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies. Because I believe everyone has a story. The specifics may vary, but in those specifics you tend to find the universal.

So now I’m reading Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP by Mirin Fader. (In case you don’t know, Giannis Antetokounmpo plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2021, they won the NBA Championship.)

On the surface, Giannis and I don’t have much in common. 

But that’s okay. That’s more than okay. That’s why books are so valuable. They give us the chance to take a peek at someone else’s life. To realize the many ways we are similar. To acknowledge that what you see on the surface is rarely the full story.

My family and I are basketball fans. While we always root for our Los Angeles Clippers, we are admirers of the game and those that play with heart and soul. 

Players like Giannis. 

Just Haven’t Met You Yet

Sometimes I read for information. 

Sometimes I read for inspiration.

Sometimes I read for pure enjoyment.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens is a novel I picked up because I wanted something fun and entertaining.

Sophie Cousens wrote that book. Just Haven’t Met You Yet is the delightful escape I was hoping it would be. But it’s also more than that.

This week, I wanted to share some of the passages that really moved me.

“Ted looks thoughtful for a moment, then he says, ‘Someone told me that growing up feeling loved allows you to go on to love other people. Maybe love is simply a huge chain letter, passed down through the generations. The details of the stories begin not to matter’.”

“ ‘She was a part of me,’ he says softly, the pain palpable in his voice. ‘When you are with someone for a long time, you grow into each other, like adjoining trees with tangled roots. It’s hard to extricate yourself and find the part that’s left — who you were before’.”

“ ‘This is not something that gets better,’ Gerry says with a calm smile. ‘So, if I can’t look back, and I can’t look forward, I’m forced to live here, right now. Today I can sit around a campfire and talk to my friends. Today I can watch the sunset, even if the outline is getting hazy. Today I have made a new friend and I’m enjoying her company and her vibrant conversation.’ He makes a single, slow nod in my direction. ‘The Roman poet Horace said Don’t hope or fear, but seize today, you must! And in tomorrow put complete mistrust.’ All any of us have is today’.”

“People like to fill in the gaps, to paint their own picture, but no one really knows the truth of someone else’s story.”

“I have no illusions about happily ever afters — I know life will bring its challenges and nothing is forever — but I hope we might be happy today, and for as many todays as we are lucky enough to have.”

The Matzah Ball

Sometimes you find a book, or a book finds you, and you just want to tell everyone about it. You want to grab the pom-poms you never owned and create a cheer for this book. Then you want to place the book into the hands of readers everywhere. 

That’s how I feel about The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer.

The Matzah Ball is a holiday romance with a twist. It’s a Hanukkah romance, and our main character, Rachel, lives with a chronic illness. Right away I was intrigued, and the book did not disappoint. (Additionally, the author is a Jewish woman living with a chronic illness — myalgic encephalomyelitis.)

I loved getting a glimpse into some of the Jewish traditions I’m less familiar with. I loved seeing Rachel and all the messiness that comes with a chronic illness depicted on the page. And, I loved that this book gave Rachel, and by extension – me as the reader, the happy ending I was hoping for. 

I read a library copy which I tagged with many sticky notes, which means I now need to buy my own copy at my next bookstore visit. 

This week, I’m excited to share just a few of the passages that stood out to me:

“Turning beneath the covers, she blinked and took a careful accounting of how she was feeling. Would it be a good day or a bad day? She could never be certain.
Some mornings she woke up feeling well, only to find herself completely depleted two hours later. Sometimes it was the opposite. She would crash for days at a time, with no ability to do even the most menial tasks. Her disease was constant but fluid. It peaked and ebbed with only one discernible pattern. Everything she did, everything, from writing two pages to carrying the groceries one block to her apartment, came with a kickback.
It was her normal.”

“There was no way to know how long these crashes would last. It could be hours, days, weeks…or even years. The only way to avoid the flare-ups was through a very unscientific method of pacing oneself and rest.
The problem was, of course, that Rachel was awful at pacing herself or resting.
On good days, she pushed even harder. On bad days, she still pushed…usually making herself way worse in the process.”

“She wasn’t ‘out’ about her disease. She wasn’t out about …anything. Sitting in a wheelchair meant accepting you were disabled and dealing with awkward stares from healthy people.
Most of all, and because she had a disease with a name like chronic fatigue syndrome, there was always a fear tucked away inside of her that someone would look at her and say she was doing this for attention. That she really wasn’t that sick. And so, though a wheelchair would certainly make her more mobile and give her a higher quality of life, she often chose to stay home.”