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Scary Stories from Wayside School

I’m so excited to be sharing my first-ever review in PODCAST format!

We’ve partnered with Alli from the SSR Podcast for our May & June read of Sideways Stories from Wayside School, and it was so much fun! SSR has been one of our favorite bookish podcasts for awhile now, breaking down an old school read from our tween and teen days every week. And I had the pleasure of chatting with Alli all about this odd, silly, creepy childhood classic. We had a lot to say; good, bad and ugly. So thank you so much to Alli and the SSR Podcast for hosting Bookly this month, and please CLICK HERE to check out all our thoughts and feelings in Episode 97 of the SSR Podcast . . .


SSR Podcast Episode No. 97


 

And make sure to visit the SSR Podcast for plenty more literary throwback chats!

 

Sorry, Not Sorry

Years before she published Dear Girls, Ali Wong aired a stand-up special on Netflix called Baby Cobra. She was pregnant with her first during filming, and I was just barely coming out of the fog of having two babies within about a year of each other. I couldn’t have been more primed to find everything she referenced all too familiar and laugh-out-loud hilarious. And I don’t take issue with her raw and crude brand of humor. Parenting is raw and crude, so it fits. Needless-to-say, when I heard about Dear Girls I was all in.

Each chapter is a letter to her daughters Mari and Nikki where she shares different embarrassing, challenging, rewarding, gross, triumphant stories. I love that she is completely unfiltered in sharing the lessons she’s learned the hard way, and trying to share more of herself. Parents often project onto children so much of what we hope for them and how we see them, but we rarely share much of our own histories, vulnerabilities or mistakes. But Wong is completely unafraid of laying it all out there, and that’s something to respect.

Wong is confident, self-deprecating and unapologetically herself with every word. Reading her story was a refreshing take on life, adulting, loving, parenting and working as a woman in America. Specifically as a woman of color and the child of immigrants. Sure, a lot of her chapters are about parenting and relationships. It is a book written to her daughters after all. And there are some chapters that are SO CLOSE to home. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so seen as I did in reading Chapter 10 “Bringing up Bebes.” But there’s so much else to be gained from Dear Girls. Her experiences with gender roles, work-life balance, sexism, sexuality, family dynamics, financial stability, and so much else are well worth reading. Especially when she tells it all with such a unique and savage brand of humor.

The moral of the story? . . .
It was a solid 3 out of 5 stars for me. Translation? It was solidly a good read. I liked it, but maybe didn’t love it (4 stars would mean I loved it, and 5 stars means it’s an all-time favorite). I don’t give our stars lightly. But I really enjoyed Dear Girls. Although, if you have any reservations about Wong’s humor I definitely recommend watching her specials first so you know what you’re in for. It’s not for the faint of heart. Though if you’re game, this book is a great extension of her humor and storytelling. It’s entertaining, and a great distraction from a global pandemic! Not-to-mention the very last chapter that nearly had me in tears; a beautiful letter by Wong’s husband written to their daughters in admiration of his family, their mother, and them. He’s one badass feminist.

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading! And I hope you’ll read along with us in May/June 🙂

I Should Write More Letters…

Full disclosure: I finished Ali Wong’s Dear Girls about three weeks ago. I have also had a few glasses of wine tonight. Finally, the world is crazy and I can barely string two coherent thoughts together, let along write a poignant and thoughtful book review (my husband and I regularly have conversations that go like this: Me: “Did you, um, wait, when, um, did they, um, what’s the, um… do you know what I mean?” Him: “Yeah, but, if we, well.” and so on) . But here goes!

I loved Dear Girls. It was a perfect and much-needed break from the reality we are living right now. At times it was touching, at times it was thoughtful, but mostly, it was just true and relatable, and hilarious. Even when the stories were so far from my own personal experience that I couldn’t even fathom their reality, it was relatable. And that’s a feat.

At times I thought there is definitely a specific audience for this book. Like, maybe you need to be a mother, or a wife, or Asian, or a comedian, etc. etc. But the longer I spend away from the book, the more I realize you just need to have a sense of humor and be interested in people and their unique and shared experiences. Even if you have nothing in common with her, you can find a way to understand and appreciate Ali’s work. That being said, if you enjoy her stand-up, you will definitely enjoy the book. If you decidedly did NOT enjoy her stand-up, then why are you even reading the book or this review?

I walked away thinking I was glad that I write letters to each of my kids on their birthdays. But those letters are mostly about how amazing they are and the things they have accomplished in this year of life and what they are currently like as small people. Maybe I should write more letters that give them actual practical advice on how to handle life in your mid-30s, as a wife, as a mother, as a working mother, etc. That way, they can read them when they’re relevant and it won’t be coming from their out of touch old mom, but instead from the hip young woman who flawlessly balanced home and career and raised two perfect children while modeling for the world’s best wife trophy.

The bottom line is: Give it a shot, you’ll probably like it! I certainly did (though unsurprisingly so because I absolutely adored her comedy specials).

A Gross Argument for Living Your Best Life

Here’s the thing – Ali Wong is hilarious. No one needs to argue that. Her specials are the end result of a person who has been working their craft for some time and it shows because they are laugh out loud hilarious. I appreciate that her unabashedly raunchy humor is not always everyone’s cup of tea, but it is not put upon. I have a friend who went to high school with her and he says she was the same even back then – unapologetically filthy.

What I think we can all appreciate about Ali Wong is that she has stepped into the limelight as a woman, Asian, American, sexual, and self-made. She has done so without letting any one of those factoids define her but also has never lost a sense of self. All of those things are part of who she is and where she is going – flaws and all. The stories she tells for her girls are at times not things I think any parent would honestly admit to their children (and most (all) children would not want to hear about their parents) but behind all those stories of bushy pubic hair, failed sexual encounters, and stretching the definition of edible foods is the truth that we all have so little time on this planet, make the most of it. She relays her relentless pursuit of anything whether it ends in failure, success, or somewhere in between as a mantra for her children – never apologize for who you are. She will not apologize for being the breadwinner for her family, or for being really gross, or for being a sexual being.  She will not apologize for her brand of humor. She will celebrate her successes and laugh at her bombs. That I think we can all get behind.

PS My picture is pre-quarantine and a triple brag because I was sitting on a beach, had a yummy drink, and got my book for 20% off.

 

May & June Book

We’re so excited to announce our selection for May & June! It’s been a crazy time lately, so revisiting a childhood classic sounds just right. But even better, this month we’ve organized our first-ever collaboration with one of our favorite podcasts; SSR Podcast!

Host Alli Kosik chats weekly with readers all about different literary throwbacks. And for the Bookly Club we reserve May & June for a YA read or childhood throwback to celebrate school letting out. So, it seemed like the perfect time to join forces with Alli and the SSR Podcast for our selection this month(s).

Without further ado, this May & June the Bookly Club and Alli of the SSR Podcast will be reading Louis Sachar’s classic Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Published in 1978, this book is the first in a series of Wayside books. Sachar began writing Sideways Stories shortly after his college graduation. He eventually grew enough of a following to write full-time and quit his law career. And he’s been writing ever since. If fact, the latest book in the series Wayside School Under the Cloud of Doom was just released this March after a 24 year hiatus!

Wayside School was built sideways; instead of one story tall with thirty classrooms in a row, it was built 30 stories tall with a single classroom on each floor. And in this first book we visit the very strange and silly students from the 30th floor. Each of the 30 chapters is a different short story about a “strange” student or teacher from Wayside School. It’s an odd, eerie, sometimes scary peek into this sideways school that’s easy to pick up and read one chapter at a time.

We hope you’ll read along with us sometime in May or June.

Here’s how to join…

  1. pick up a copy from where ever you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of Jun.
  2. keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and our reviews here on the blog so we can chat all about it!

Oh! And don’t forget to look out for Katherine C. on the SSR Podcast for a full rundown {airing May 26th}!

Happy reading, friends 🙂

 

 

Just Awe Inspiring

Bryan Stevenson’s writing is an astonishing testament to our failures as a society and the remarkable lengths one person can go to to try to right our course. He has spent his adult life advocating for those who have been so unjustly sacrificed to an incredibly flawed system. He has continued passion for his pursuits that is awe inspiring. What he has accomplished and created has benefited the lives of so many people and their families and friends. Not every man or woman can look beyond someone’s label of “criminal, thief, liar, rapist, or murderer” and see what potential is still there, what humanity is still there. 

You can’t separate this work from the author. But what I can say is that as an author, Stevenson is gifted. He layers several stories, characters, and legal jargon in a remarkable way. He puts so much care into the way he writes about his clients, his own experiences, and explaining how we are good people but end up doing such horrible things to one another. He draws humanity from people who are so incredibly flawed on both sides of the criminal justice system. 

We are all humans and we share this world. We are all deeply flawed but are all capable of forgiveness and mercy. This work is a call to action for us all and I highly recommend it be read by all. It is one of the most remarkable things and stirring things I’ve read in some time. I admit that it might be a tough pill to chew given the current climate. But perhaps, when the dust has settled and we don’t have so much strain in our daily lives, I would give this book a read. Amazing.

A Call for Justice and Mercy

An interesting little background note before I jump into my review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson has popped up on the Bookly Club radar almost yearly, only to be outvoted by another book. Until this year, when we decided to read it in conjunction with the release of the film of the same name starring Michael B. Jordan as Mr. Stevenson himself. I haven’t seen the film yet, but if it is even half as good as the book, I recommend you watch it.

For those who haven’t read the book, Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s first hand account of starting the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit law office in Alabama, the early days of his work, and many examples of the cases he has handled since EJI’s founding in 1989. If you’re interested in EJI, Bryan Stevenson, or a more detailed synopsis of Just Mercy, you can find all of that here.

I read Just Mercy over the course of about a week back in January, before coronavirus or quarantines, or working from home and parenting two small children who are now at home full-time. So I will be honest and admit that this review may not be as meaty as it would have been if I had just buckled down and written it immediately after I read it instead of putting it off until now, when my brain has been turned to absolutely mush by the current state of things.

I think I can sum up my feelings about Mr. Stevenson’s book with the following anecdotes:

  1. On multiple occasions, I made my husband stop what he was doing so that I could read a passage out loud to him or give him a case summary of one of Mr. Stevenson’s clients.
  2. The day after I started reading Just Mercy, I recommended it to basically everyone I spoke to. Luckily, my coworker had already read it, so I had someone with whom to discuss it as I read.
  3. It took all of my effort not to Google the cases he wrote about in his book. I knew I could easily find the results, and I DESPERATELY wanted to know whether or not the appeals and petitions and retrials and other efforts worked out in favor of those who so clearly deserved it.

All that is to say, this book is amazing. The work that Mr. Stevenson and EJI is doing is absolutely incredible and I am so thankful that there are people out there who are doing it. But it is also appalling. It is absolutely appalling to read about the failings of our justice system. To read about people who are so clearly innocent, but who are charged and sentenced to death because they’re black. To read about how difficult it is to overturn those convictions or to get someone off of death row. To read about how easy it is for some people to decide, so easily, that another person should die. To read about confused, mentally ill people who are on death row. To read about children who are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison, in some cases for crimes in which no one was physically harmed. Can you imagine? A young teenager makes a stupid mistake, no one gets hurt, and is then told that what they did was so bad, they don’t ever deserve to be a part of our society again.

In some ways this book give me hope – hope that people who are wrongfully convicted or who are serving sentences disproportionate to their crimes will get the help they need in order to be free, to get their sentences reduced, or to get off of death row. But in some ways, it left me feeling hopeless… there are so many people who have been treated so horribly by our justice system. Why? Because people are racist. It makes me sick to think about the injustice of these cases and hopeless because as long as racists exist, these problems will likely persist.

Despite that hopelessness, there is an overall sense of action – there is work to be done and there are those who are doing it. And a call to action: Speak out against injustice. Speak out against racism. Stand up for what you believe in. Help those who need help. Use our talents and resources to defend those who need defending. Be a good person. Don’t be a bystander. Act. Participate. Vote.

So thank you Bryan Stevenson. Thank you for sharing your words and your talents. Thank you for giving us hope when it feels hopeless.

Giving Five Stars

Before reading it I’d definitely heard of our February book, The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. I don’t live under a rock! Jojo Moyes is a beloved author (see Me Before You) AND Reese picked The Giver of Stars for her Hello Sunshine book club. So it was hard to miss. And most people who’d read it had nothing but good things to say. And that made me nervous.

I feel that way anytime a book gets a lot of hype. Maybe because nothing can ever really live up to that hype? Or I just feel like I’m not usually the type of reader that likes the books that are so beloved? Too polarizing? Either way, that’s usually a turn off for me. But I was willing to give it a shot. Anything for The Bookly Club, right?

I did do a lot of research on the story. So I knew the history it was based on. And of course I’d read the blurb, so I knew essentially what it was about. But I definitely didn’t expect to like it as much as I did! Around 100 or 150 pages in I remember texting Katharine saying that I had started to think this was one of those books that was more atmospheric, with little to no conflict. But then they introduced Sophia and I knew I was dead wrong. A black woman librarian in a Kentucky coal-mining town? Yup.

Racism, misogyny, a corrupt justice system, an oppressive class structure, issues of loyalty, friendship and marriage. There were multiple lanes of conflict in this story, and they were wove together so well! Also the characters were individualized so well that I could even picture their mannerisms and hear their voices. And I loved the theme of season as Alice arrives bright and shiny in summertime, weathers her despair in winter, and comes full circle to the relief of Springtime.

{SPOILER ALERT}

But what I liked best about the story was the ending. Some will say it was one of those endings that was too tidy. Wrapped up in a pretty bow. But I thoroughly enjoyed it! Not only is that what I was in the mood for, but Moyes did such a good job of writing a story that felt like there was no way out, just to turn it on its head. I told my husband at one point, “I don’t feel like reading tonight. This story has taken a dark turn and it’s making me sad ’cause I just don’t see how there can be a happy ending.” But I was very happy to be proven wrong!

This is only the second of Moyes’s books I’ve read (the other one being Me Before You of course), but now I think I might need to read more! I thoroughly enjoyed The Giver of Stars, it totally lived up to the hype. Five stars from me!

A little bit of nice…

Full honesty here – after reading the synopsis of this book, I expected to not entirely enjoy this read. I’m not entirely sure why but just a gut thing. After reading it, here is what I can say – for what it is, the book is delightful. The hard and handsome landscape contrasts the somewhat airy and pretty story very nicely. The pace is excellent without sparing imagery, making it a hard one to put down. Plus, I really enjoyed learning a bit of badass women history. I mean, these women were freaking amazing.

The other side of the coin is that the story certainly lacks for some character complexity. Each person in the story, while serving a very distinct purpose, is either decidedly good or decidedly bad (or at the very least deeply flawed). No character is particularly challenging. Everything is made easy for you in the book – including Depression Era Kentucky, which is made to feel quaint.  I felt it a bit problematic that families living in abject poverty hoping for a part of an old magazine to be delivered to them felt romanticized.

These decisions in developing the characters and landscape as she did allowed Moyes to introduce a hell of a lot of humanity. Everything people did for one another in this book felt so nice because it was so nice.  And, honestly, it was nice to read. Even with a weird part were they broke out in song for some reason and a title that really has nothing to do with anything, I really did enjoy this one!

April Book

Spring is on it’s way! Thankfully, right? It’s been a long, dark winter and we’re really in the mood for something light and shiny. And April at The Bookly Club means we pick a book that can make us laugh and shed that winter mood.

This year we’ve chose Ali Wong’s Dear Girls as our comedy relief for April. Following her hysterical, runaway-hit of a standup special on Netflix (Baby Cobra) Wong released Dear Girls in October of 2019.

 

The book is written as a series of 14 letters (aka chapters) to her two daughters. From her perspective, it’s everything they’ll need to know in life. As the subtitle reads, “Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life.” Chapters include, “How I Trapped Your Father,” “Tips on Giving Birth,” and “A Guide to Asian Restaurants.”

But fair warning: if you haven’t watched her stand-up you should. If for no other reason than to know what to expect with her humor and her raw, brutal, descriptive honesty about sex, relationships, womanhood, etc. She truly pulls no punches. As the back of her book reads…

Dear Girls,
You are prohibited from reading this book until you are twenty-one years old. I write about some truly embarrassing shit I did in my youth, and I don’t want you to use these stories against me when you are teenagers. Thanks for understanding—now put this damn book back on the shelf.

And how cute is this one under the dust jacket??

Want to read along with us? Here’s how…

  1. pick up a copy from where you get your books, and read along with us anytime between now and the end of April.
  2. keep us posted on social using #booklymark and tagging @thebooklyclub
  3. stay tuned for our discussion post on Instagram and our reviews here on the blog so we can chat all about it!

Happy reading!