Five Things About... Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett

This book feels a lot like The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (although I enjoyed this one more) or even The Gilmore Girls. Quirky plot and characters, small town vibes, and a young smart (but floundering) protagonist. Also: a fox imported from Russia, a dying dad who does some pretty outrageous things as a result of his memory loss, a crazy community musical production, a private hunting compound for the filthy rich, and a sweet dog named Moses. 

Magical realism is one of my favorite genres, and this one has a magical healing touch and some ghosts. 

The narrator is this sort of omniscient cast of spirits at the local cemetery. It is a loose spin off of the Greek Chorus, but far less stuffy or preachy. They’re there, they know what’s best, and they’re very dead.

The main character spends quite a bit of the book substitute teaching and becoming involved with the small class of fifth graders. I love that Hartnett chose to go the endearing route with the students, and she spends a lot of time developing mutual growth in Emma and the kids. 

The opioid crisis was also addressed on the text, with the main character’s brother a recovering addict and the teacher she is subbing for involved with the issue. 

Summer TBR

{so, this has been sitting in my drafts for a few weeks and I totally forgot about it! I've already read several of these, but I didn't want a post to go to waste!)

Oh, summer break, so many of your activities lend themselves so nicely to reading. Travel? Yup, on the plane, in the hotel, on a balcony. Pool lounging? Of course. Hot temps that need to be avoided? Find my on the couch with a book in one hand and a tug-of-war rope for the dog in the other. Temporary SAHMing? Let's have "reading time" together at the park! Not to mention the fact that I don't have papers to grade, lessons to plan, concerns to stress about, time spent commuting, a grueling 5:08 am weekday alarm, time spent helping my kid with his homework and ALL the other time demands of the normal work year. 

Just, really, so much time to read.

So, what's on the docket? 

Here's the list of books I plan to get to over the next two glorious book-filled months:


Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartness 

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley 


The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris 

Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

Black, White, and the Grey by Mashama Bailey and John Morisano  

From where I sit, fourteen books might be possible? 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[It's me and my wedding date!]

Hello from summer! I am taking a break from making sure we are set for our trip to the Grand Tetons (and maybe a day at Yellowstone, depending on if their reopening of the south entrance goes as planned). I haven't flown with Sawyer in four years (when we went to Banff), so I feel a little discombobulated. I keep reminding myself that 90% of what I need to pack can be picked up at a store in Wyoming if need be, so it's FINE. I am just thankful the weather looks good, we didn't end up with Covid after an EXTREMELY close contact scare at my sister's wedding, and that I am able to do this in terms of finances and time. Now about that 3 am alarm tomorrow morning... it's fineeeeeee.

We went to Modesto a week and a half ago for my sister's wedding and it was a blast. I hadn't seen my brother in two and a half years, so we spent a lot of time together, and there were other family members that it was good to see. We did a lot of "Modesto things"- bowling at the local bowling alley, eating at places unique to there, some mini golf next to the Blue Diamond Almond packing facility, and going to the American Graffiti Parade. The wedding itself was absolutely beautiful- it was at a lavender farm, the temperatures dropped from 104 a few days prior to 85, and Sawyer was a rock star junior groomsman. It was the first time my siblings and mom have all been together in three or so years, so it was nice. 

Circling back to the Covid thing- we are so, so, so lucky we didn't get it. But, I was super cautious, which I think some people were sort of rolling their eyes at, but HEY, I have a HUGE trip to go on and I wasn't going to let it get ruined. We avoided all inside gatherings at my mom's house where masking would have been weird, we wore our masks when we were bowling, elevators, or in stores, and we spent a lot of time outside. Sawyer wore his mask at the reception, since he was a social butterfly and on the dancefloor like a maniac (he is also recently boosted). There were actually a lot of other people masked, since there were many international guests, so it felt totally fine for him. Anyway, enough on that, except that precautions work! 

I have been reading like a fiend- I finished my seventh book of June yesterday and have a few more packed. This happens every summer and I love it.

I love my son so much, but I am trying to figure out how I can get away for a weekend with my husband. We haven't done that in a bajillion years and I'm thinking maybe I can make it happen this fall. There aren't many people I trust to stay with Sawyer, the dog, and house, though, so it does take some planning. 

I did a 10.6 mile hike over the weekend by myself at a local trail and I did a pretty solid job, despite the realization that my new hiking boots are just not... okay. I did it in a little over four hours and gained well over 2,000 feel in elevation. I covered well over that distance in Yosemite and Tahoe, but with Sawyer we take a lot more breaks and the incline was more intense here. I am hiking Half Dome in about a month with some friends, so I'm trying to make sure I'm ready! I definitely missed on the caloric front, though, so I need to adjust my nutrition a bit so that I'm not starving and have plenty of carbs. 

July is packed full of goodness- art camp for Sawyer, lots of plans with friends, a quick trip to the East Bay/SF, Yosemite, and maybe a museum or two. 

Five Things About... Groundskeeping by Lee Cole

As a whole, I really liked this book, but I must say I wasn’t enamored with any of the characters. I felt some slight empathy towards the narrator, Owen, as he seems to be struggling to get his life together, but he was definitely flawed (and not in a noble way, more so annoying). His sort-of girlfriend, Alma, I found pretentious, judgmental, and attention-seeking. Her only redeeming quality was the fact that she didn’t deny these attributes, but it wasn’t enough to win me over.

This was the first book I can remember reading that was set in Kentucky, and while I don’t want to necessarily book a flight, I have a feeling it would be pretty to drive through. The confederate flags and Trump groupies I could pass on, though. 

Speaking of Trump, I did appreciate how Cole brought politics into his text in a way where there were frequent, sometimes subtle, references but not pages of political musings (except a few that were relevant and well-placed, like after the election).

I’ve noticed how Iowa Writer’s Workshop Writers, like Cole, all have some sort of similarity I can’t  quite pinpoint but know exists. We discussed the at times excessive sensory description at book club, which might be it,  but I think there’s more. Some sort of general stylistic attribute- a polish that’s a little too forced, perhaps? I don’t want to criticize (although I guess is am a little bit), but there’s just something…. 

Without giving entering away, I thought the ending was fine. Considering alternative options, this was fine with me.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

t's officially summer in our house for Sawyer and I, since his last day was Friday! He's at a great age where we can hang out but then I can also tell him to go "find something to do," haha. For example, I played with him with LEGOs for an hour and then we watched the first episode of Obama's Our Great National Parks doc (I have to confess we're actually using this as part of our designated "mom school" time- more below). Now, I told him to go occupy himself so I can schedule some posts and I don't feel bad at all.

So, "Mom School" is a term Sawyer coined ever since I broke it to him that we were going to review skills for a bit each day we are home and not super busy this summer. Nothing crazy- I just got some Teacher's Pay Teachers resources that will help him review some of the math concepts his teacher was just introducing and to get a jump start on multiplication (and despite my desire to drill-and-kill, we are doing arrays, commutative property, etc.... since I know that's what Common Core require). He has to read a bit each day (he does this whether I tell him to or not, though) and we'll do some writing and whatever else. I'm talking low-stress thirty-forty minutes. Math is definitely something he has to work harder at, so that's really my main focus. 

Last week I totally utilized the four days Sawyer had school and I did not- I met up with two different groups of friends, got my hair done, and read in peace for hours. 

Over the weekend the three of us went to Vroman's in Pasadena for a reading by Minh Le, a children's author. This was Sawyer's first reading and Scott's first time at this book store, which is my favorite in Southern California, so it was a fun morning (plus ice cream at one of our favorite places). We also went on a hike the next morning, with the dog, to a local trail. I try to go once a month, but this was the first time the four of us have gone together!

Summer reading is in full swing! I just finished TC Boyle's Talk to Me and am currently (finally) reading Jesmyn Ward's Savage the Bones.  I have a big stack I ordered for summer (the final two are arriving tomorrow), but I wanted to try to squeeze in a few that I'd had before first. 

My passionate love for the show Yellowstone is still in full effect- we just started the third season the other day, which is marathon speed for me, since we started it just a few months ago (maybe now that it's summer we can watch more than 1-2 episodes a week, haha). I am glad my husband has finally warmed up to Beth, my favorite. 

I had no idea that I liked Harry Styles, but apparently I am, since I cannot stop listening to his new album. 

I have obviously put writing a book on the WAY back burner, but sometimes I do think about it. Recently, I started thinking about a short story collection focusing on people I don't like. I don't know what angle I'd really choose or whether it would be cathartic or not, but it just seems... interesting. I could write in a way of empathy or I could really go for it and showcase their flaws (probably much more fun, haha). The possibilities are endless. 

The next few days are going to be super slow, so I should get a ton of pages in, and then Thursday we have a beach day planned and Friday through Monday I will be out of town! The fun begins.