The children’s stories I tend to love the most are those that deal with societies built by kids — stories like Rugrats and Recess and, more recently, Craig of the Creek (the best and most pure animated show on television right now, by the way) — stories that deal with covert communities that have their own cultures and customs, and which act as a fun-house mirror reflection of our own adult world. It’s a trope that I love. If I overanalyze it, I could tell you it’s probably because I had a happy but fairly sheltered and restricted kind of childhood, and the idea appeals to my wish-fulfillment, nostalgic nature. But it’s mostly because I think it’s just fun. And it’s a trope that is front and center in The Cardboard Kingdom, a book I enjoyed so much I finished it in a single, sleepy Sunday afternoon.⠀

The Cardboard Kingdom is a graphic novel by Chad Sell and a veritable village of writers. It’s essentially a collection of short stories centered around a group of creative and imaginative kids with a seemingly endless supply of cardboard, the material which fuels the epic adventures they act out around their neighborhood during Summer break.⠀

As a mood reader, nostalgia often plays a big role in the books I decide to pick up, especially so in my middle-grade choices. I tend to go for books that seem likely to evoke some vague, elusive aspect of my childhood. The stories I choose this way, however, usually end up being way more than just a tool to wistfully reminiscence about my past. And they are always — always — much the better for it.⠀

Cardboard Kingdom was no different in this aspect. It is a fun book to be sure, full of the joy and whimsy of childhood — but it is also a thoroughly modern book, dealing with things like gender roles and identity, conflict between family and friends. That it does so in a subtle and compassionate manner is a credit to the writers. Heavy topics are acknowledged, but they don’t weigh down the book. Because kids are able to grasp serious issues without being burdened by grown-up moralizing. ⠀

Sell’s bold and dynamic illustrations drive the book, but its heart beats thank to the writers that have lent their considerable talents and distinct points of view. Together they have a created a large and diverse cast of characters, each with their own story to tell (and enough cardboard with which to tell them), stories that manage to strike a balance between fun and poignancy: one story can deal with a kid whose parents are going through a messy separation, and the next could deal with a sister hunting down her brother for eating cookies before dinner. Stories that have a deep respect for kids, which is ironically something that a lot of children’s books often fail to do.⠀

Imagination is the theme that runs through all these stories. That the characters in Cardboard Kingdom use the fantastic as the lens through which they view their adventures is a big deal in a world that still tends to view fantasy genre as mere escapism. But is escapism such a terrible thing when the kid whose parents are constantly fighting starts to imagine himself as a superhero protecting those around him? Or for the boy who only feels strong and powerful whenever he dons the personality of a fierce sorceress? Don’t we want them to know that the world is not a static place and that they have the power to change and shape it?

Because if they can build a helmet, a sword, an armor;⠀a mask, a costume, an identity; a tavern, a city, a kingdom — out of such a flimsy material like cardboard, imagine what they will be able to do with the world. They might just make it a better place.

A kingdom on Earth, even.


Today’s book mail comes courtesy of Nic Stone, who read a less-than-glowing review I did of one of her books and still offered to send me an advanced reader copy of her latest. Because some authors are class acts. ⠀

She also totally and utterly sassed me out about said review, because some authors are also as mischievous as they are tactful. Which I love, obviously.

Thank you, Nic, for the books and the banter. And for making my week. Looking forward to reading this!


Today’s book mail ain’t no junk mail.⠀

Ordered this immediately after finishing Ghost. Because obviously. ⠀

I remember listening to a talk Reynolds gave where one of the kids in the audience asked which of the books he had written was his favorite. Jason, like any other writer, couldn’t decide, of course, so he just asked the kid which was his favorite. “Patina!” came the immediate reply. And Reynolds beamed. “Y’all don’t know what a big deal that is,” literally patting himself on the back, “that a boy’s favorite book is Patina.” He didn’t elaborate, but he was referring to the fact that this was a book about a young woman, dealing with things that young men don’t necessarily — usually — go through. And it was this boy’s favorite. Which means that he saw a piece of himself reflected within the pages of this story.⠀

And that is what a Jason Reynolds book does: it lets us see, and be seen. ⠀

Excited to dig into this one soon.

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone

dear-martin-1So while Nic Stone’s first foray into the world of middle grade fiction left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, I enjoyed aspects of it enough to leave me feeling like giving another of her books a shot. And wow am I glad I did. ⠀

Dear Martin is Nic Stone’s first published work, and where the writing in Clean Getaway feels stilted and hesitant, here it flows with a smooth, confident swagger. Which makes for a curious dichotomy: the prose is imminently readable, but the topics discussed are heavy, all too real and sometimes hard to read. But it’s a balance that Stone strikes splendidly.⠀⠀

Dear Martin follows Justyce McAllister, a brilliant student at an exclusive and privileged private school, whose life, at the start of the story, consists of excelling at school in order to get into the Ivy League, and trying to figure out a tumultuous relationship with his on-again/off-again/on-again girlfriend. Until one night, when trying to stop said girlfriend from driving home drunk, he is harassed by a racist cop who predictably assumes the worst. The experience leaves him shaken, enough that he starts to become increasingly aware of just how much he is judged by the color of his skin. ⠀

Justyce doesn’t know how to deal with this, so he starts a project with the goal of emulating Martin Luther King, Jr. in a series of letters that soon become the outlet for his fear and frustration. A project that comes to a tragic, screeching halt when he and his best friend are involved in a shooting, the fallout of which puts Justyce in the cross-hairs of the media and the general public, who insist on degrading and demeaning him.⠀

Nic Stone has written a heartbreakingly real and painfully relevant novel about the plague of systematized racism and how it continually, relentlessly tears down and dismantles Black youths. Justyce feels all too real, as a young Black man who has to work twice as hard as everybody else in order to stand on the same stage as his more privileged colleagues; as a less-than-perfect teenager just trying to figure out the trials and tribulations of adolescence, which is hard enough without the prejudice of others; as just this kid who just wants, like Martin, to face a world that never, ever lets up with all the grace and dignity of a king and just do good.⠀

The cover for my copy features a blurb by Angie Thomas, which is appropriate since this book explores the same theme as her excellent debut The Hate U Give. But whereas that book presents a more idealized conclusion of a community coming together to fight injustice, Dear Martin is, I think, a bit more realistic in its ambiguity — which just adds another layer of tragedy to the story. The ending of Dear Martin caught me off-guard, since it felt to me like there was more to the story. But there’s no neat resolution to be found here, no uplifting ending wrapped up in a bow. It ends like real-life situations often do: with uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen to Justyce any more than he does. But Stone reminds us that, like Martin, we can hope, and we can dream. And maybe one day we’ll find our way towards justice.

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

ghostCastle Crenshaw — who goes by Ghost — has been running for most of his life. At least ever since his father’s gun went off. It was pointed in the general direction of Ghost and his mother, and, like in all track races, the shot was a signal to start running. His father went to jail for it. They went back to a home that stopped feeling like home (they sleep in the living room, near the front door, just in case something else happens and they need to run again). And Ghost feels as if he never stopped. Only this restlessness he has felt inside has no real outlet, and it bubbles up, bursting outwards at times of stress and conflict. He lashes out, and gets in trouble for it often.⠀

And then one day, taking the usual long way back to his house, he stops to watch a group of kids his age during a track meet. He scoffs at the notion that people have to work at running, which comes so naturally to him. So he decides to show them up by beating their most promising and arrogant stars in an impromptu race. The coach is impressed and asks him to join, which Ghost, with some reluctance, eventually does.⠀

The feeling of running, Reynolds has said, is of your body going through trauma, as it fights against exhaustion and suffocation. Running is about feeling like you are about to die, and getting used to that sensation. And running is about breaking through, and overcoming that feeling.⠀

Running is also, in Reynolds’ hands, an exceedingly useful metaphor — not only for the particular issues that Ghost faces, but for life in general. Because what is life if not just a series of races you have to break through in order to breathe again? For Ghost, running is initially a means of escape, useful only when he wants to put as much distance between his problems and himself. He doesn’t find the act itself uncomfortable — his life is suffocating enough, after all, what is a little sprinting compared to the day to day? “Running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice,” he boasts at the beginning. “It’s just something I knew how to do.” It’s only after he joins the team and it becomes an increasingly important aspect of his life that he properly begins to feel this suffocation, as he starts to come to terms with the heavy things he’s been carrying inside — this scream, as he calls it — for most of his life.⠀

Ghost is about a lot of things, but it is mainly about dealing and living with trauma. There is a talk Jason Reynolds gave where he told the story about a childhood friend who, decades after the fact, recognized that he had been traumatized at a young age, and that he just went through life as if these feelings were normal, only to later realize that they were not supposed to be, and how surprised he was at this understanding. No one, you see, made him aware of the fact. It’s a particularly cruel problem, and one we can only address by paying attention to the people around us. This is what Reynolds’ work does for his audience — his books are all about being seen. In this novel, seeing one another is what Ghost’s teammates do, as they accept him as one of their own. It’s what his mother does, who, despite demanding job, studies at night in order to give them a better future. It’s what Mr. Charles, the elderly owner of the local store shop does every time Ghost pays his store a visit and they fall into an established, familiar — and familial — routine. And most importantly, it’s what his track coach does, seeing in Ghost some of the same struggles he faced growing up. The kind of struggles that makes you want to disappear, like a ghost, and run away, instead of being present, the burning in your chest a reminder that you are still alive and able to run free. Ghost may not entirely realize the full extent of his trauma, but he is smart enough to know when the people around him care for and want the best for him, which in turn, of course, makes him want to be better for them. “You can’t run away from who you are,” the Coach tells him at one point, “but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”⠀

The novel ends with a different kind of shot that makes Ghost run. Only this time, instead of running away, you are certain and hopeful that he’s running free, breaking through the struggle, towards a better future.⠀

Jason Reynolds has written yet another lyrical and poetic book chockfull of meaning, and which helps us see these kids in a better and more understanding light. I loved reading it.


clean-getaway-1Clean Getaway tells the story of William “Scoob” Lamar, an eleven year old black kid, and G’ma, his white grandmother, and the road trip they embark upon across the American South. A trip for which they have their own motives: Scoob leaves behind serious punishment following a school suspension, and a severe father whose severity only increases after said suspension. He just wants to get away from it all and clear his head. G’ma wants to show Scoob places where history has been made — but also to deal with some unfinished business from her past. Issues that cause her to act increasingly erratic and shady.⠀

It’s a great premise (love me a road trip tale), but I felt the story just didn’t live up to its potential. Scoob at times felt like a real and modern kid, dealing with things while still trying to keep his cool, while at others he seemed too unrealistically passive. His G’ma’s strange behavior introduces a mystery in the first few chapters of the novel, which is an effective way to hook a reader — having the main character endlessly wonder about said mystery without actually doing anything about it for the remainder of the books is an equally effective way of losing one. But it’s the character of G’ma that I found the most problematic. She started off fine — quirky and goofy and lovable. As someone who grew up watching The Golden Girls, I love seeing elderly women as main characters. As the story went on, however, and her eccentricity increased, she just made me uncomfortable. Which I get is sort of the point. Scoob grows more and more suspicious of his grandmother, and we are supposed to be on the same page as him. Only there’s no real actual payoff to this. ⠀

Look — this is a story that deals largely with racism. A theme that is explored almost exclusively through the eyes of this old white woman, who lived through the civil rights movement as the wife of a black man, in a place where this sort of relationship was still largely frowned upon. There’s a wealth of subjects to explore, and Stone does an admirable job with what she does delve into. But then we finally learn the secret she’s been keeping and how it affected her family, and it’s quite a bombshell. You’re left wondering how the rest of her family will deal with the shock waves. But it’s all ultimately brushed off, the aftermath left to the margins of the story. G’ma is given a simple send-off, and the consequences of her actions are never properly explored. Which is a shame, really. G’ma is a character that is deeply loved and idolized (and idealized) by her grandson and her son. Nic Stone wrote that this was a novel about finding out your heroes are human — flawed to a fault. It just would have been nice to actually see what that entailed right on the page. Clean getaway, indeed.

But while the overall concept didn’t work for me, there were still aspects I really enjoyed: this is a fast, fun read, full of interesting facts that I suspect will lead young readers down interesting, awareness-increasing rabbit holes, and that can only be a good thing. Nic Stone’s prose has a few missteps (it sometimes falls into that common and condescending trap of writing simple for a simple audience), but it is mostly clear and sharp. This is the writer’s first foray into middle-grade fiction, though, and I’m sure she can only get better from here.

THE DEEP by Rivers Solomon

the-deep-1The Deep is a novella written by Rivers Solomon that is based on the Hugo-nominated song of the same name by the experimental hip hop group clipping. Their song was itself based on the afrofuturist mythology that Drexciya, an electronic duo from Detroit, created for their compilations.⠀

Which is the sort of fascinating thing you learn when you read the acknowledgements. ⠀

The Deep is about a lot of things. On its surface, though, it is about the wajinru, a mermaid-like people who have great power over the ocean but little memory. For good reason — they are a people descended from the pregnant African women who were thrown overboard during the slave trade, their unborn babies granted new aquatic life by the ocean. Theirs is a history of pain and strife. In order to thrive despite the suffering, it was decided long ago that one of their people — a Historian — should carry the burden of their history and collected memory. A responsibility that falls on Yetu, our delicate and long-suffering main character.⠀

To be a Historian means experiencing every single memory as if it was your own. Yetu however, has a fragile constitution, and so this task, this weight she carries that has stripped her of any individual identity, is killing her.⠀

So it is no surprise to us when, during an annual ceremony where the wajinru gather in order to receive the memories of their past for a brief time, time enough to satisfy a deep thirst for their own history, that Yetu, free from remembering, runs away. ⠀

What do we do with the trauma that we’ve inherited?⠀

In the acknowledgements, clipping. describes the nested style of development this particular story has gone through as a game of Telephone, the original message relayed over and over, each time a bit more different. Drixceya’s songs were largely wordless, and so they started to tell a story through their song titles — a provocative and engaging concept. clipping. took inspiration from it, added considerable amounts of verbiage, and sang a story about a world being destroyed by global warming, and about a people who rise up and exact revenge on the ones who caused it. Rivers Solomon heard the song, and decided to bring it back down to a more personal level, writing a story about a people, and their relationship to history. Their relationship to stories.⠀

Stories (and what is history if not a bunch of stories we tell about ourselves?) act much like a game of telephone. They are passed down, and thus they survive, but their shape changes as they get interpreted differently by every individual. In The Deep we are told that the role of Historian is one handed down from generation to generation, and we are presented with three different bearers of the title: Zoti, Basha, and Yetu. And through them we get three interpretations of history. To Zoti, the first Historian, it is vital to the continued survival of their people. To Basha, it is a call to action, past hurts fueling a righteous rage at present injustice. And to Yetu, it is simply a burden, too deep and heavy to carry on her own.⠀

What do we do with the trauma that we’ve inherited? It’s the central question Yetu struggles with during her journey of self-discovery. It also happens to be the question millions of people whose history has been steeped in anguish and adversity. Do we let it define us? Do we ignore it? Do we drown in it? Or do we use it to build a better, more just civilization? ⠀

Yetu finds her answer in The Deep. She shares it with her people. And she shares it with you, too.⠀

Rivers Solomon has written a compelling, poetic, and thought-provoking story, with lyrical prose that enriches clipping.’s exhilarating song, with an imagination that expands Drexciya’s foundational mythos. It’ll stay with you. You will remember it.

NEW KID by Jerry Craft

new-kid-1Firstly: Massive congratulations to Jerry Craft for winning the Newbery for New Kid! A graphic novel winning the medal! We are kind of living through a Golden Age of children’s fiction, aren’t we? It’s good to stop every once in a while to just look around and actually notice. It’s the whole point of awards.⠀

New Kid follows Jordan Banks, a twelve-year-old kid about to start the seventh grade. A budding cartoonist, Jordan wishes for nothing more than to go to art school, but his parents, wishing him to have better opportunities than they had, decide to send him to a more affluent school. A prestigious private school, to be exact. A school where Jordan is one of the few kids of color. Being the new kid is hard enough, but this, in addition to coming from a more modest background than most of his peers, means dealing with a bunch of unwelcome challenges — not least of which being general ignorance and racism — as Jordan just tries to go about his days, trying to figure things out.⠀

I really enjoyed New Kid. While I was not a huge fan of the artwork itself, the story and the writing definitely won me over. I really loved — and admired — how it maintained a light and fun tone while also exploring some heavy themes. It’s a deceptively casual book in this way. There are depictions of class difference, of code-switching as a person of color, of casual racism and microaggressions, of privilege and lack thereof — and they are all portrayed in the same easy-going manner. Underneath this layer of mellow, though, there’s a current of frustration and exasperation that runs all the way through, which makes this casual story lose none of its pointed poignancy. Because being a person of color in this world sometimes means keeping your cool even during the most uncomfortable of times, even if you’re a child.⠀

But these weighty subjects don’t make up the whole of the story. Just as they don’t make up the lives of the kids who have to deal with them. One of the central themes in New Kid has to do with Jordan’s frustration with books about kids of color being extremely limited in scope: books about white kids can be about anything and still expected to be relatable; books about Black kids can only be about Serious Issues and are expected to be read only by Black kids. Books about white kids can be fun; books about Black kids have to be severe and gritty. Jordan thinks this is extremely unfair nonsense. Because, yes, while kids like him may have to deal with more complicated situations than most others — at the end of the day they’re also… just kids. Normal and goofy and beautiful and awkward and nerdy and clever kids who would love to do nothing more than just live and have fun and be happy and to see other kids like them doing likewise. This doesn’t mean that books about Serious Issues are not important, only that reality is far more complex, and stories about said reality should reflect it accordingly. Because representation is important. This is what Jerry Craft does with New Kid, and does it elegantly. It’s my favorite aspect of this story.

It’s also a book that’s just funny and clever, which is what instantly hooks you. Jordan and his group of friends are instantly likeable and relatable. The art, as I said, wasn’t my favorite, but Craft’s storytelling is clear and concise, and the book has great pacing because of it.⠀

It’s another one of those books I wish I could give to my younger self. Which is something I often find myself saying about a lot of the kid’s books I’ve recently read. I think that’s an inevitable thought to have, though, as someone who spent their childhood reading nothing much at all, after reading a particularly great children’s book. There’s a sense of deprivation — of having missed out — and wanting to go back and fix that. It’s bittersweet, but in a positive way, you know?⠀

I digress. ⠀

New Kid is a fine book. And it deserved to win the Newbery. And I can’t wait to see what that means for the future of graphic novels and children’s fiction in general.

DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

daisy-jones-1This is the second Taylor Jenkins Reid book that I’ve read and this is the second time Taylor Jenkins Reid book that has left me emotionally drained. ⠀

I am turning into quite the fan.⠀

I like her direct style of writing: spear-like prose designed to immediately pierce the most hardened, cynical shell. I like her melodramatic and convoluted plots that immediately hook you and absolutely refuse to let go. Mostly, though, I love her characters: lively and alluring; broken and nuanced; intractable and infuriating; infinitely interesting and impossibly human. Jenkins Reid writes great unsavory characters, the sort of people you may not want to be friendly with, but with whom you are perfectly willing to spend an evening that will be certain to be full of great stories and conversation — and maybe even greater mischief. Daisy Jones definitely joins the ranks of Jenkins Reid’s own Evelyn Hugo as one of the best, most fully realized characters I have read in a long time.⠀

Daisy Jones & The Six is the story of an old school rock and roll band comprised of these same sort of explosive characters. The book is presented as an oral history, chronicling the meteoric rise and fall of the band during the seventies. ⠀

A couple of years ago I read — and loved — Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of the rock and roll revival in New York City during the early aughts. I was reminded of the book a lot while reading Daisy Jones & The Six, as it essentially tells the same sort of story, only on a much more smaller, more personal scale. So I really enjoyed the format, which helps the story feel even more immediate and intimate. And, if you have an affinity for writing natural dialogue it’s a format that can serve a fictional narrative well. Jenkins Reid writes great dialogue, and does a great and admirable job with the form, faltering only with one crucial misstep.

The fact that this is a story told by multiple characters inherently means that it is a story told by unreliable narrators. This is a standard trope, tried and tested since time immemorial, and here it makes for great moments of humor (the numerous ways the characters contradict each other over the most trivial things), as well as moments of heartbreaking pathos (the myriad of misunderstandings and missed opportunities and things left unsaid). It also proves to be the book’s greatest weakness, however, giving rise to a twist that feels deeply unnecessary and that sadly casts a cheap light on the story as a whole. It’s a tragic ending in the sense that it is very weak, wasting much the momentum and the emotional build-up (of which there is a lot).⠀

But it’s the characters who are the saving grace of any story, and it’s no different here. Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne are the obvious standouts of course — like the stage’s spotlights, the focus of the book is entirely on them — but it’s the characters standing just outside the limelight that have stayed with me the most. Karen Karen, keyboardist of The Six, with a tenacity and courage that reside behind an infectious personality. Daisy Jones is an acutely feminist book, and Karen’s story is the most representative of this conceit. I cared about her perhaps more than any other character. And with Camilla Dunne, Jenkins Reid has written a character of such complexity and charm who in a lot of ways outshines Daisy Jones. Everyone in the book talks at length about how easy it is to fall in love with Daisy. I spent the majority of the book wondering how everyone wasn’t just falling head-over-heels for Camilla. But that is, of course, Camilla’s story.⠀

Poor ending aside, Daisy Jones & The Six is an emotional roller coaster ride. And you can’t help but feel invested in the lives of this memorable, messy, and charismatic cast of characters. Can’t help but be enthralled by the theatrical and deeply romantic story Taylor Jenkins Reid is telling. And, most importantly, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the inimitable Daisy Jones & The Six.⠀


So this was the first time in a good while that I listened to an audiobook! I kept reading about how stellar this production was and I just had to give it a go. It was great! It’s a brilliant cast and they did a marvelous job. It was nice hearing Benjamin Bratt’s voice again, and Pablo Schreiber continues to deliver consistently great performances — he’s such an underrated actor. Jennifer Beals as Daisy is just a dream, her voice having the right amount of rough smokiness to sell the fact that, yeah, I can totally hear an aging rock star in those vocal chords. My only issue with it is that it is advertised as unabridged when it’s really not. I read along with an ebook copy (I just don’t have the attention span for audiobooks), and there were several bits that were just skipped. Not enough to really affect the story, mind, but enough that it was noticeable. So why say it’s unabridged at all?⠀
But I really enjoyed the experience, overall. I’m a fairly fast reader and get through books in a manner of days — this one took me a while, but I liked taking my time with a story, and sitting with it a little longer. It definitely helped. (I listened to it on normal speed, by the way. Genuinely don’t understand how anyone can listen to anything faster than that and not be distracted by the chipmunk voice effect it produces. You guys are nuts.)



(Taking Katherine Rundell’s advice to heart.)

DJ Kim is an ordinary boy living in a small, boring town where nothing ever happens. His family is full of overachievers, but he spends his days doing nothing much of note, especially ever since his best friend, Gina, moved away some years ago. His dull days come to an end, however, after Hilo — a mysterious and powerful boy — falls from the sky, crash landing right into DJ’s life. Hilo doesn’t remember much from his life prior to the fall, but when strange, ominous things start happening around the sleepy little town, memories resurface, shedding light on his past and revealing his ultimate purpose.

I’ve heard a lot of things about this series over the years, and while the premise sounded interesting, it also just didn’t seem to be My Thing, you know? But then the first book showed up on Amazon’s daily Kindle deals for only a couple of bucks and, I thought, why not? Might as well check it out.

I’m really glad I did. This book is just fun. It’s clever and charming and so full of heart. The characters likeable and refreshingly diverse. DJ, as a quiet and reserved kid of color was immediately relatable to me, and I just wanted to see him happy. Gina is just cool and charismatic. And Hilo is the quirky, kinetic hero, in the same vein as Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is a trope that is very hit-or-miss for me, but Winick manages to strike a nice balance between the earnest and the playful.

But this is still such a playful story. And the whimsical tone is carried over into the art style as well, which, to my eyes at least, is a curious mix between Calvin and Hobbes and Codename: Kids Next Door. It works for me.

In the end, I think I enjoyed this graphic novel so much because it simply reminded me of the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood (albeit with an updated, Pixar-like sensitivity and flair). It made me feel like a kid again, in the best possible, way. A light, breezy read, but after a week of somewhat intense personal stuff, it’s also exactly what I needed. (I’ve also been reading Daisy Jones and the Six, an emotionally draining book if there ever was one, so this provided a nice respite from that as well.)