Category Archives: Books

March 2018 Books

April 3, 2018

I read so many books this month! I’m not quite sure how I did it. Because of this, I’m experimenting with a more freeform review format. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s most effective (do you really want plot summaries, or do you prefer to look that up yourself?) and so I’m trying something a little different.

 


The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I didn’t expect to love this because I haven’t loved a few of Joshilyn Jackson’s older books, but I loved this one. It’s about a comic book artist who finds out she’s pregnant after a one night stand at a comic convention – but the father is black and she’s originally from the South, and doesn’t think her family, especially her sick grandmother,  will take it well. I bought this one last fall on a recommendation from Modern Mrs. Darcy, and definitely recommend it.

 


Still Me by Jojo Moyes

I ordered this from Book of the Month before I knew that it was the third in the series, not the second. So I had to read the second one (which I did last month) and I was happy to discover that I liked this one much more! I’ve heard a lot of people say the second one fell flat, and this one felt like a return to the Louisa from the first book. I definitely agree. She moves to New York to work for a rich family, and her adjustment to her new life in the US reminded me a lot of adjusting to my life here in California.

 


American Fire by Monica Hesse

This is another one from Book of the Month, I think from sometime last fall. It’s a nonfiction book about a rural town where abandoned houses suddenly started catching fire, and about the arsonist who did it. I am trying to read more nonfiction, and I loved the way this one was told. It’s one of those books I probably would get from the library if I were to do it again (ie, I don’t feel the need to have paid for it) but I did like reading it.

 


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I bought this one at the bookstore on a whim one day after seeing it all over Instagram. That cover is beautiful. I read it SO QUICKLY (95% all in one sitting) and I couldn’t even be disappointed because I loved it so much. It’s about four siblings who visit a traveling psychic as a kid and discover the date of their deaths. They all deal with it in really different ways. Two of the siblings really affected me, but I won’t say which ones for fear of giving anything away. I really, definitely recommend this one and I can’t wait to reread it, which isn’t something I usually do. It made me think a lot about if I’d like to know the date of my death and how I’d approach my life from that moment.


Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

My dad got this for me as a gift two Christmases ago. I love Lauren Graham – she was incredible on Gilmore Girls and fantastic on what I’ve seen of Parenthood. It’s a light and fun read about Gilmore Girls, making in work in Hollywood, and not taking yourself too seriously. I recommend if you’re into any of those things – it took me just over an hour, so I’d say get it from the library if you can. I recently read that she has a new book coming out, and I’m hoping to find that one soon.

 


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

This is another book I bought on Amazon after seeing it at the San Francisco airport last fall (I think I had more disposable income to spend on books back then, aka I wasn’t being financially responsible!). It’s about a British family of Pakistani origin living in England. The father they barely knew did some terrible things that hurt a lot of people, and all three siblings (all young adults, all orphaned) struggle to deal with this in different ways. It was a fast and heartbreaking read that I couldn’t put down, on a lot of racial and cultural themes that as a white person I am privileged to not have to think about.


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I got this one as a BOTM extra in February after seeing widespread praise for it online. It’s a little painful to read, but necessary. Early into the marriage of Celestial and Roy, a young black couple excited for their life together, Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. She struggles to be a long distance wife who really doesn’t know her husband all that well, while Roy struggles with life in prison and all that that entails. It’s told from a few different perspectives, and I found it a really valuable read.


The Crown by Robert Lacey

I bought this one on a whim at Target after finishing the second season of The Crown, which I adore.  I expected this book to be about the making of the TV series and the challenges of historical fiction (especially when the characters are still living) but I as wrong. It turned out mostly to be a episode by episode breakdown of the historical events in those episodes, with only a few references to the show. I learned a lot of very specific things about British history as a result, and though it was different than I was expecting I really liked it.


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I came home from seeing Love, Simon (which I have now seen twice) and picked up this book immediately. I read it super quickly (so I think it’s a good library-or-borrow pick) and found it really cute. The movie had more of an impact for me (I cried a number of times) but I think books like this one are so important. I suspect that I didn’t like this one as much because it’s told from a first-person perspective of a YA character, and while I love that in movies, I frequently can’t get into it for books these days. I absolutely agree that that’s how the story needed to be told, but it didn’t work for me, unfortunately. It’s rare for me to like a movie more than the book, but this time I did.


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Another one from BOTM last month. This book was incredible. It’s about a girl in the 1970s whose dad decides to uproot their family to Alaska to explore the new frontier – but he’s a Vietnam vet with a lot of anger issues made worse by isolation, and they know absolutely nothing about living in the wilderness. I read it so quickly, and like The Immortalists, I can’t wait to read it again. I have really big feelings about this one, and all of them are good. It’s so visual and the plot really sucks you in.


The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

This was my March pick from BOTM, and I liked it! It’s set in Los Angeles that’s centered around a family quest. The grandfather/patriarch of the family, Isaac Severy, dies, leaving a puzzle behind him. Hazel, his adopted granddaughter, starts looking to piece clues together, but she soon discovers that she’s not the only one doing so. There’s a dangerous organization also on the hunt for Isaac’s life’s work. It can be a little hard to keep all the characters straight in your head, but I enjoyed reading it. This is another one I might get from the library if I could do it again, rather than buying it.


The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

I picked this up on a whim at the airport because the cover is gorgeous. I didn’t love it as much as I love the cover, but it was still a good story of a boy’s life growing up in Italy with his Mom and painter father, who then abandons him for a new family. It’s about his struggle living in shadow of his legacy and how he deals with it. It’s a bit like The Goldfinch, which I admittedly didn’t like, but they’re both centered a lot around art and a boy’s relationship to their fathers. All the reviews I saw on Goodreads for this one were so good, but I found it a bit slow. I can admit that it’s beautifully told; I just don’t think it was right for me at this time.


In total this month:

Total number of books: twelve
Number of fiction books: ten
Number of nonfiction books: two
Books by people who are not white dudes: ten
Total number of books this year: twenty seven

February 2018 Books

February 28, 2018

I had a pretty good reading month in February! Happy to say that with 15 books under my belt, I’m on track with my goal to read 100 books in 2018.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

rating: 5 stars | Amazon

The plot:

Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys had been so mean and hideous that all Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature who says that if Harry returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor and a spirit who haunts the girls’ bathroom. But then the real trouble begins — someone is turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects…Harry Potter himself!

My thoughts:

It’s hard for me to be objective about Harry Potter since it feels so much a part of the fabric of my life,  but I’m gonna try. This book is a bit darker than the first, but it’s also more entertaining. There’s Polyjuice Potion, a monster in the walls, and a dragon. In all my attempts at recent rereads I haven’t made it past this one, so I’m excited to make that happen this time.


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

rating: 5 stars | Amazon

The plot:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest.

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My thoughts:

Nearly a year ago, I was on my way to the airport with a one way ticket to LA and this book in my overflowing, too-heavy carry on. I decided to leave it behind in my dad’s car and figured I’d get to read it another time. I picked it up when I went home in October and I finally read it! I loved it. It’s dramatic and dark and slightly unbelievable – a really great, juicy book. If you’ve read it, which is better: the book or the tv show? I still haven’t watched the show, though a few weeks ago I happened to work out at one of the filming locations! (That’s LA life, I guess.)


Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

rating: 3 stars | Amazon

The plot:

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.

My thoughts:

I had high hopes for this one – set in Los Angeles – but they weren’t quite met. Some of the writing was beautiful, and the plot points kept making me think after I put the book down. But I just never felt connected to Ruth, the main character, and that proved to be a setback for me. It was a quick read, and I’m glad I borrowed it from the library.


The Self-Love Experiment by Shannon Kaiser

rating: 3 stars | Amazon

The plot:

Too many people seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves first or go after their own dreams out of fear of being selfish or sacrificing others’ needs. The Self-Love Experiment rectifies this problem. Whether you want to achieve weight loss, land your dream job, find your soul mate, or get out of debt, it all comes back to self-love and accepting yourself first. Shannon Kaiser learned the secrets to loving herself, finding purpose, and living a passion-filled life after recovering from eating disorders, drug addictions, corporate burnout, and depression.

My thoughts:

This book is a little “woo-woo” but I really liked its main message, which is that we absolutely need to treat ourselves with love. Most days I do the exact opposite, and it doesn’t feel good. This was an encouraging and motivating reminder to treat myself like my own best friend. I borrowed it from a friend, which I was glad for.


After You by Jojo Moyes

rating: 4 stars | Amazon

The plot:

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future.

My thoughts:

I got this one from the library after realizing that my Book of the Month selection, Still Me, was the third in the Me Before You trilogy. I liked this one a lot more than I expected to, given that everyone seemed to dislike it. I didn’t think this book was necessary but it was a nice easy read, and I’m excited to see where the characters end up in the next book.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

rating: 4 stars | Amazon

The plot:

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

My thoughts:

The book club I started a few months ago really wanted to read this. To be honest with you, I was kind of dreading it – video games aren’t my thing, and when I’d seen the author speak at my college a few years back (actually like 6 now, which feels like so long ago) I wasn’t super interested in the book. But I’m happy to report that this book did catch my attention. I’m genuinely looking forward to the movie now to see what they’ve done with it.


The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

rating: 3 stars | Amazon

The plot:

During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question “How do I respond to expectations?” we gain explosive self-knowledge. She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively.

My thoughts:

I listen to her podcast Happier each week and so I had heard much of this information before, but it was nice to have it all in one place. I’m a Questioner, and she says that Questioners like to give information on a need-to-know basis, which is me to a T. It made me feel a bit better about that personality quirk, actually! I’d recommend this if you’re interested in personality types or learning about how other people’s brains work. I was definitely glad I got it from the library.


Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom

rating: 3 stars | Amazon

The plot:

When Molly Bloom was a little girl in a small Colorado town, she dreamed of a life without rules and limits, a life where she didn’t have to measure up to anyone or anything—where she could become whatever she wanted. She ultimately got more than she could have ever bargained for.

In Molly’s Game, she takes you through her adventures running an exclusive high-stakes private poker game catering to such clients as Hollywood royalty like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck, athletes, billionaires, politicians, and financial titans. With rich detail, Molly describes a world of glamour, privilege, and secrecy in which she made millions, lived the high life, and fearlessly took on the Russian and Italian mobs—until she met the one adversary she could not outsmart: the United States government. It’s the story of how a determined woman gained—and then lost—her place at the table, and of everything she learned about poker, love, and life in the process.

My thoughts:

I read this for the Popsugar Challenge requirement of “a book made into a movie you’ve already seen.” This is one of the rare cases where I felt like the movie was better. The writing wasn’t great in the book (and I found a few typos) but the story is still really engaging. Yet another book that I’m glad I got for free.


In total this month:

Total number of books: eight
Number of fiction books: five
Number of nonfiction books: three
Books by people who are not white dudes: seven
Total number of books this year: fifteen

Top Ten Books of 2017

February 26, 2018

This post is massively overdue, but I figure better late than never. In no particular order, here are ten of my favorite books I read in 2017:

THE SUN AND OTHER STARS by Brigid Pasulka //

I loved this one because it feels like a book with a massive heart. It’s set on the Italian Riveria and the setting plays a really big role. It’s about a teenage boy named Etto whose twin and mother die within a few months of each other, leaving Etto and his father to awkwardly dance around each other as they try to figure out a new normal. Etto doesn’t like soccer, the Italian national passion, and that just leaves him feeling more and more alone. It deals with grief, but at the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s really beautiful.

YOUNG JANE YOUNG by Gabrielle Zevin // 

I love this one because of the narrative structure and the sassy characters. It’s about a congressional intern in her early 20s named Aviva who sleeps with her married boss, and the lasting affect that affair has on her life. She leaves her town, changes her name, and starts anew. I liked that it dealt with the roles women play and the roles that are assigned to them. It’s funny and inspiring, and I would absolutely read a sequel if one ever existed.

THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller //

This reimagining of The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion and by Miller’s account, his one true love. I haven’t actually read The Iliad but I did take many years of Latin in high school, and it was nice to return to Greek mythology. This tugged at my heartstrings and felt like a punch in the gut all at once.

CASTLE OF WATER by Dane Hucklebridge //

I bought this one after after seeing it all over Instagram, and happily it did not disappoint. If we were going to rank this list, this would probably be at the top. I feel like the less you know about this one going into it the better, but the premise is this: two people, both as different as two people can be, are the sole survivors of a plane crash on a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific. The last person I lent this book to said it made them cry their eyes out, so make of that what you will.

BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah //

This is Trevor Noah’s biography, and I loved it so much. I listened to the audiobook of this one, which Noah reads himself, and the voices he does for his family are hilarious. This is a hard story about his hard stories growing up in South Africa as a mixed-race child from a forbidden relationship under apartheid, and it taught me a lot.

BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin //

I read this right before I moved cross country, and it was perfect timing. Eilis is a young woman who leaves her small town in Ireland to move to New York for a job and the hope of a better life. It’s a classic immigrant story, but it had special resonance with me because she was Irish and because I read about her struggles at such a pivotal time in my life.

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman //

I have this thing where I like to buy books who have main characters with the same name as me. Eleanor has zero social skills, thrives on regulation, and hates most of the people in her office. She doesn’t fit in, and she spends her weekends with a bottle of vodka. This book is sad and also laugh out loud funny, and there were times I didn’t know where it was going. It redeems itself, and if you’re up for some hard scenes, it’s a good one.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng //

I think this is another book that benefits from not knowing much about it beforehand. I liked it for its depictions of different types of mothering, life in a picture perfect suburb in Ohio, and rebellious teenagers. We read it for our January 2018 book club meeting, and it was universally loved.

THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah //

I’ve read more World War II books than I can count, but this was one of my favorites. It tells the story of two sisters living in France, and the different days they deal with and confront the war. It’s genuinely one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and it has stuck with me.

THE GOOD DAUGHTER by Karin Slaughter //

I didn’t plan for these to go together, but this book also tells the story of two sisters, both of them stuck in a modern-day tragedy of their own. 28 years ago, they were attacked at gunpoint in an incident that left their mom dead, their dad devastated, and the girls dealing with tortured memories for the rest of their lives. The majority of the book takes place in the present day, when they’re forced to deal with another tragedy. There’s a court case that reminds me a bit of Jodi Picoult novels. There are absolutely dark parts in this, and it was hard to read at times. I’d read it with caution, but if you can handle darker themes I’d recommend it.


What was your favorite book you read in recent months?

January 2018 Books

February 3, 2018

I read 7 books in January! Not as many as I would’ve liked, but it was a hectic month. There are Amazon links to the books in this post, but they’re not affiliate links because I don’t know how to do that.


White Fur by Jardine Libaire

rating: 4 stars | amazon

The plot:
When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school; Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. Nevertheless, the attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.

My thoughts:
I liked this book a lot but not as much as I wanted to. The cover is gorgeous (one of those ones that feels really nice under your fingers, too) and I loved the mysterious, almost mythical elements that the summary had, but ultimately this book just didn’t live up to the (self-created) hype for me. The imagery was really beautiful and I loved that not everything was spelled out, but I didn’t like the ending. I think I’m really tired of 1980s novels set in Manhattan where there’s a manic pixie dream girl-ish character.


Sing Unburied Sing by Jesamyn Ward

rating: 4 stars | amazon

The plot:
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager. His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances. When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

My thoughts:
I’ll be honest. I didn’t feel like I initially got this book when I read it. It didn’t make a ton of sense to me. But then I read more online (sometimes I feel like reading others’ opinions helps clarify my own) and I grew to appreciate it a bit more.

This book is so well written. It’s heartbreaking and sad and gritty and raw and it’s not a fun read, but it felt important.


All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey

rating: 2 stars | amazon

The plot:

Mixing Didion’s affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. These essays are personal without being confessional and clever in a way that invites readers into the joke. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, ALL THE LIVES I WANT is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard. But it is, above all, a paean to the celebrities who have shaped a generation of women–from Scarlett Johansson to Amber Rose, Lil’ Kim, Anjelica Huston, Lana Del Rey, Anna Nicole Smith and many more. These reflections aim to reimagine these women’s legacies, and in the process, teach us new ways of forgiving ourselves.

My thoughts:
I did not like this book. A few of the essays were good, but overall it was not a book for me. I appreciated most of her thoughts about celebrities and our relationships to them. Celebrity culture is super weird – we basically idolize these versions of people that are sold to us, with no real regard for whether that’s their actual persona or not. I wish she talked about this a bit more. I will admit I did skip some of the essays about people I didn’t care much for so she may have done that in those. Also, I misunderstood the title; I thought it was going to be about her actual famous friends. That’s totally on me though.



A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

rating: 5 stars | amazon

The plot:
A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

My thoughts:
Somehow I made it to age 24 without ever reading this book! I liked it a lot and I’m excited to see the movie. A quick, easy read and my first L’Engle novel.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

rating: 5 stars | amazon

The plot:
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

My thoughts:
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book. I’m committed this year to reading the Harry Potter series all the way through (I’ve said this a million summers now and never done it, but this year I really intend to) and this was obviously the first step!


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

rating: 5 stars | amazon

The plot:
Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

My thoughts:
I loved that this book was a letter to Coates’ adolescent son. I read it one sitting and I found it an important commentary on what it’s like to inhabit a black body in America. I absolutely recommend it, especially if that’s not your situation.


One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

rating: 4 stars | amazon

The plot:
You want less. You want fewer distractions and less on your plate. The daily barrage of e-mails, texts, tweets, messages, and meetings distract you and stress you out. The simultaneous demands of work and family are taking a toll. And what’s the cost? Second-rate work, missed deadlines, smaller paychecks, fewer promotions–and lots of stress. And you want more. You want more productivity from your work. More income for a better lifestyle. You want more satisfaction from life, and more time for yourself, your family, and your friends. NOW YOU CAN HAVE BOTH–LESS AND MORE.

My thoughts:
I’ve been struggling a lot with focusing on one task at a time and a friend recommended this book, so I borrowed it from her. I don’t think I got as much value out of it as she did (a lot of it has to do with the business word or creating your own venture) but I still took a few good things away from it. My favorite was the chapter about setting up your ideal day. I’d love to read it again in a few months and see if I get anything else out of it.


In total this month:

Total number of books: seven
Number of fiction books: four
Number of nonfiction books: three
Books by people who are not white dudes: six
Total number of books this year: seven

2018 Reading Goals

January 19, 2018

I read 75 books in 2017. I’m hoping to have a post up soon about my favorites from 2017, but if I wait to write that before I write this post, I could be waiting all year. The short version is that because I succeeded in reading 75 books last year, I decided to up my goal in 2018 – with a few extra twists. This is mainly because I love challenges and plans, and having some direction in my reading life is really great.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the diversity of voices in my life and the diversity of voices in my books specifically.

I’m going to read 100 books in 2018 – and 75 of them will be by women and people of color.

This means way less books by white guys. Rachel has a similar goal (but she’s reading way more books than I am!) and I asked her if I could borrow her words for the reason why behind this goal. She says it much better than I can:


“Let me give a little disclaimer here: I do not hate white males. I think they matter just as much as any other kind of person, and my goal to NOT read their books is not because I have some vendetta against white men. But. Here’s the thing: White males are in leadership almost everywhere I go, and their voices overwhelmingly fill my life/mind/bookshelves. This goal is a conscious effort to continue building on my efforts to increase the variety and diversity of voices I choose to listen to and learn from. More women, more people of color, more people of different sexualities, more people with disabilities, more people on different ends of the political spectrum, more people who look/act/think/believe/feel differently than I do.

I will still read books by white males this year, I just want to make sure that I’m consciously choosing diversity OFTEN, not just once every now and then. This will be a major shift in my reading, and I’m looking forward to all that I’ll learn from the voices I’ll be listening to!”


In accomplishing this goal, I’m hoping to bring more voices into my reading.

I’m also going to try to complete the Popsugar Reading Challenge and the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. A friend sent me this list of 46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018, and I’d love to read one a month. I’m allowing myself overlap – if I can make one book work for two challenges or even all three, that’s awesome. If not, no big deal. I’d also love to make a dent in the unread books on my shelf.

It’s definitely a lot. I may need to make some sort of spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I might not succeed, and that’s okay. I mainly care about reading the 100 books, with at least 75 of them by women and people of color.

As of writing this I’ve read 4 books so far, so it’s going well. Here’s to lots of happy reading in 2018!

December Books

January 9, 2018

I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped this month (just four books!) but I did complete my challenge to read 75 books in 2017, which is what I’m happiest about! The picture above has 3 because I was silly and let my mom take the last book home before I got a photo. Can’t win ’em all.

72. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

★★★☆☆

Lib Wright is an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle – a girl said to have survived without food for months – and soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

This one was weird. I held onto it for over a year before reading it (no particular reason, I just never got around to it) and I don’t think it was worth the wait. The writing is beautiful and the setting of the Midlands of Ireland in the 1800s is described so well, but I found it incredibly slow. The book dragged on for about 35% longer than it needed to. I did enjoy the moral issues raised and trying to figure out the mystery aspect of how on earth Anna would survive without food for months, plus the writing.

73. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

★★★★☆

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

I loved this book! It felt slow at the beginning and I didn’t know what to expect, but I ended up loving Eleanor’s character. Bits of it were very unexpected, and I found her really charming. I loved the way the book dealt with counseling – her experience of going to therapy felt really real and authentic. Bits of this are sad and heartbreaking, and then you turn the page and you’re laughing. Definitely recommend this one – and it’s going to be on my top books of 2017 for sure.

74. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

★★★☆☆

How do we change?  Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives. So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits? Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good.

This one was… fine? Nothing amazing (I much preferred The Happiness Project) and I feel like you can get most of what Rubin talks about from her weekly podcast (Happier with Gretchen Rubin). That said, it was a good non-fiction book that got me thinking about why I do the things I do and stopped me from getting as frustrated with others when they just can’t implement the habits they want to do already!

75. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

★★★★★

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This started off really sad but I ended up adoring it. Ove turned out to be super sweet and lovable, with a lot of struggles that made him grumpy and lonely. I wouldn’t say this one is funny, but it’s well told and well written. From a writing perspective, it’s a great example of “show don’t tell” and a group of diverse characters all with their own backstory.

Total number of books in December: four
Number of fiction books in December: three
Number of nonfiction books in December: one
Total number of books this year: seventy five!!

November Books

December 17, 2017

I started off November planning to get through as many of my Book of the Month picks as I could – I’m great about ordering them, but not great about actually following through and reading them soon after I get them. But then library books and book club and freelance work took over, and I concentrated on reading those things instead. This was a pretty good month for reading: I loved some books, didn’t like some others, but I managed to read a ton.


The Power | Naomi Alderman

★★★☆☆

In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.

Mixed feelings about this one. The concept is super cool – it’s kind of a genderswapped history, with women in charge – but I didn’t entirely love how it played out. It felt kind of…forgettable? I did enjoy reading it, I just think it could have been better. Maybe I expected too much.


Little Fires Everywhere | Celeste Ng

★★★★★

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

I absolutely loved this one. It portrays so many different versions of motherhood and mothering. The characters all felt really authentic, especially the high schoolers (which is important to me). I’m excited that I get to discuss it with my book club in January.


And We’re Off | Dana Schwartz

★★★☆☆

Seventeen-year-old Nora Holmes is an artist, a painter from the moment she could hold a brush. She inherited the skill from her grandfather, Robert, who’s always nurtured Nora’s talent and encouraged her to follow her passion. Still, Nora is shocked and elated when Robert offers her a gift: an all-expenses-paid summer trip to Europe to immerse herself in the craft and to study history’s most famous artists. The only catch? Nora has to create an original piece of artwork at every stop and send it back to her grandfather. It’s a no-brainer: Nora is in!

Unfortunately, Nora’s mother, Alice, is less than thrilled about the trip. She worries about what the future holds for her young, idealistic daughter—and her opinions haven’t gone unnoticed. Nora couldn’t feel more unsupported by her mother, and in the weeks leading up to the trip, the women are as disconnected as they’ve ever been. But seconds after saying goodbye to Alice at the airport terminal, Nora hears a voice call out: “Wait! Stop! I’m coming with you!”

And . . . they’re off.

This one made me really nostalgic for study abroad! I liked all the characters and I liked the idea of this one, but it’s another case of it not matching up to my expectations. Maybe because a big part of it is set in Ireland, where I’ve spent a lot of time and I’m super conscious of books being set in Ireland being too cheesy or overdone. This had a bit of that, but not as much as others, which I appreciated, so I don’t think that’s really the issue. Basically, it was intriguing and engaging and I liked reading it, but overall kind of flat. I think it mainly just wasn’t the book for me at the time.


1984 | George Orwell

★★★☆☆

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching…

I know this book is supposed to be a big cultural touchstone and I can see the value in that, but I didn’t like it. I found it difficult to get through and when I finished it I was like “that’s ALL that happens??” One I’m glad I read but that I never need to revisit.


The Women in the Castle | Jessica Shattuck

★★★★☆

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

I read this one for my book club and loved it SO much. It’s absolutely one of the ones I’d recommend of the books I read this year. It’s a post-World War II book that weaves in flashbacks so well, told from the point of view of the widows of German resisters. I’ve read a lot of World War II books but never one from this POV, so I appreciated a new look into events of the war.


Girls on Fire | Robin Wasserman

★★★☆☆

On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.

In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.

This one was weird. It felt like a combination of The Girls (which I read earlier this year and didn’t particularly like) and The Crucible, but set in the early 90s. It was super violent and dark and it felt like so many other “good girl gone bad” books that I just didn’t enjoy it.


While Beauty Slept | Elizabeth Blackwell

★★★★☆

“I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told.”

And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.

I read this one in a day on Black Friday! It was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, told from the POV of her closest lady-in-waiting. It was a good read, but a bit repetitive, and about 100 pages too long. One of those books that I liked but will probably honestly have no impact on me.


In the Unlikely Event  | Judy Blume

★★★★☆

In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

This is another book I liked but won’t particularly stick with me. There were a lot of characters, and a lot of plot, and I felt like it got bogged down in all of that. It was fun to read an adult book from Judy Blume, who I grew up reading, and it was of course well-written, but it’s not one of my favorites.


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis | JD Vance

★★★★☆

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

This was a quick read that I found very enlightening. The author’s upbringing was so different than mine, and it was eye-opening to read about his life.


The Good Daughter | Karin Slaughter

★★★★☆

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever.

I read this one super quickly. It’s really gripping and engaging. It reminded me of a Jodi Picoult book, but less formulaic (and also a bit less emotional). I definitely would like to read more from this author in the future, despite the fact that I tend to dislike thriller-type books.


The Stars Are Fire | Anita Shreve

★★★☆☆

In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort. The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens–and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

This could have been a good story but I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It was very character-driven, which I’m learning I like in some books and dislike totally in others.


Total number of books in November: eleven
Number of fiction books in November: ten
Number of nonfiction books in November: one
Total number of books this year: seventy one


One more month (really 2 weeks, at this point) to go!

October Books

November 3, 2017


There are some months where I’m really busy and read very little (like September) and then there was this month, where I was incredibly busy and still managed to read eleven books. It’s probably some sort of procrastination technique, but it’s productive in its own way so I’m going to take it.


The Nightingale | Kristin Hannah

★★★★★

Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

Talk about a book that wants to rip your heart out. I’ve read a million books about WWII and another half million set in France, and yet this one was different. It really made me think about the choices we make and our responsibility to protect other people. You never know how the tiniest thing can have a huge impact. One of the best books I’ve read this year.


Young Jane Young | Gabrielle Zevin

★★★★☆

Aviva Grossman is an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A.

A good read about reinventing yourself, double standards in politics, and public perception. I loved that it was told in different ways from the perspective of all the women involved. It was also funnier than I expected. I read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and then couldn’t attend the online discussion because I was on vacation.


The Sun and Other Stars | Brigid Pasulka

★★★★★

After losing his brother and mother within a year, twenty-two-year-old Etto finds himself adrift in his hometown, where every man’s life revolves around soccer, except for his. Frustrated and lonely, Etto is faced with the seemingly impossible prospect of cobbling together the remaining pieces of his life, including his mostly nonexistent relationship with his father, the town butcher.

Things begin to change for Etto when Yuri Fil, a scandal-ridden Ukrainian soccer star and his tough-love sister, Zhuki, arrive in town, and sweep him into their universe of soccer, celebrity, laughter, and fierce loyalty. Under their influence, Etto begins to reconstruct his relationship with his father and learns a few life lessons: that perhaps the game of soccer isn’t just a waste of time—and that San Benedetto, his father, love, and life itself might have more to offer him than he ever believed possible.

This one broke my heart and then slowly stitched it back together. I picked it up on a whim at the library, and I didn’t expect to learn so much from this novel set in an Italian village about a 22 year old grieving the loss of his twin brother and his mom – about grief, about the Italian obsession with soccer, about figuring out how to move on but never forget. The writing was beautiful, but not in that flowery way that’s often hit or miss for me. I loved it.


The Perfect Stranger | Megan Miranda

★★★★☆

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

I shut off my phone, sat on my couch, and read this book entirely in one sitting. I found it captivating, and enjoyed it much more than the Megan Miranda book I read last month.


Little & Lion | Brandy Colbert

★★★☆☆

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

What I liked about this book: a good YA story, genuinely diverse characters, how it tackled sexuality (especially the main character learning that she’s bisexual) and growing up and figuring yourself out.

What I didn’t: felt like it was trying WAY too hard to be “a book set in LA” (I don’t need the name of every street written out when characters are taking a right turn) and I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending. It felt a bit like this book was pitched one way, and then didn’t follow through like I expected it to.


Amanda Wakes Up | Alison Camerota

★★★☆☆

When Amanda Gallo, fresh from the backwater of local TV, lands the job of her dreams at FAIR News—the coveted morning anchor slot—she’s finally made it: a six-figure salary, wardrobe allowance, plenty of on-air face time, and a chance to realize her dreams, not to mention buy herself lunch.

As the news heats up in a hotly contested election season and a wild-card candidate, former Hollywood actor Victor Fluke, appears on the scene, Amanda’s pressure-cooker job gets hotter as her personal life unravels. Walking a knife’s edge between ambition and survival, and about to break the biggest story of her career, Amanda must decide what she’s willing to give up to get ahead—and what she needs to hold on to save herself.

I loved that this was written by a journalist! That absolutely added to the book; it felt so real that way. The parallels to the 2016 election were uncomfortably spooky. I heard about this one online and read it on a whim; it was pretty good.


Since We Fell | Dennis Lehane

★★★★☆

Rachel Childs is a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself.

Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths.

My first Dennis Lehane book, which seems odd for me since they’re often set in New England. I read this one in a day and a half – I really cared for the characters and was exciting to see how it turned out. Parts of it disappointed me, but I’d still recommend it.


The Crown | Kiera Cass

★★★☆☆

When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.

Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined.

I’m finally done with these books! I liked this one okay. It was a decent conclusion to a series that was a good escape for me over recent months. The first three in this series are definitely the best.


In The Garden of Beasts | Erik Larson

★★★☆☆

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the New Germany, she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

My brother bought this for me (at my request) for Christmas a few years ago and I never got around to reading it. I loved the author’s book Devil in the White City, which remains one of my all-time favorite books. This one is sadly not as good. I read this book partially on Audiobook, which I think helped with a lot of the drier historical testimony. I know a lot about the lead up to World War 2 and the war itself, but I’d never looked at it from this specific perspective. I found it interesting, but the book is about 2x as long as it needs to be.


The Song of Achilles | Madeline Miller

★★★★☆

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

This retelling of the Iliad took a while to get into. I knew that many of my friends had enjoyed its I decided to push through; without them I think I would have abandoned it. The second half was a lot stronger for me than the first, and I wound up being really glad I read it.


Lincoln in the Bardo | George Saunders

★★☆☆☆

On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.

Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before.

I honestly don’t understand what people liked about this book. I think it’s because it’s too avant garde for me, and I probably should’ve known I wouldn’t like it. It’s told by over 100 different voices telling stories, talking over each other, and giving you information from a graveyard. It’s a little like a play, except…not? I don’t know. I didn’t totally understand it, and I’d love to know why people liked it so much. It didn’t work for me, and if I hadn’t been on a six hour plane ride, I likely never would’ve finished it.


Total number of books in October: eleven
Number of fiction books in October: eleven
Number of nonfiction books in October: zero
Total number of books this year: sixty

September Books

October 28, 2017


I didn’t read as many books in September as last month! Between a trip to San Francisco, races, visits to Disneyland, camping in Joshua Tree, a bunch of concerts, and generally living life, there wasn’t as much time.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | JK Rowling

★★★★★

Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry’s first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it’s his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

It’s impossible for me to give a Harry Potter book a fair, unbiased rating. I have my favorites, but they are all a part of me. They shaped me into who I am today, and to separate that for an impartial review seems like asking me to choose which of my limbs is my favorite! That said, this is such a sweet introduction to the world of Harry Potter and I adore it.


The Underground Railroad | Colson Whitehead

★★★★☆

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

I liked this one a lot. It really made me think about society, and I thought the subtle magical realism was done well. Whitehead does a wonderful job of saying a lot in very few words – another author could have written this same book but twice as long. I read this for the Diverse Books Club after having it on my shelf for nearly a year, and I’m so glad I finally read it.


All the Missing Girls | Megan Miranda

★★★☆☆

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

I loved how this one was told backwards and really forced you to figure out how to fit the pieces together. A friend recommended it to me when I was looking for a plot-heavy book, and this absolutely fit the bill.


Exit West | Mohsin Hamid

★★★★☆

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

I generally don’t love magical realism, but this one was great. I loved how it’s applicable to our current time, but I think it’ll hold up for the future too. I read this one in a day.


The Heir | Keira Cass

★★☆☆☆

Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won the heart of Prince Maxon—and they lived happily ever after. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Wasn’t crazy about this one. It takes place 20 years after the last Selection book, and focuses on the daughter of those characters. I found the daughter to be whiny and annoying, and those things didn’t endear her to me as a character. I didn’t care much about her. I did like how it wasn’t the exact same story as the first series.


Total number of books in September: five
Number of fiction books in September: five
Number of nonfiction books in September: zero
Total number of books this year: forty nine

August Books

October 25, 2017

Better late than never on posting books I read in August, I guess, right?


Among the Ten Thousand Things | Julia Pierpont

★★☆☆☆

Jack Shanley is a well-known New York artist, charming and vain, who doesn’t mean to plunge his family into crisis. His wife, Deb, gladly left behind a difficult career as a dancer to raise the two children she adores. In the ensuing years, she has mostly avoided coming face-to-face with the weaknesses of the man she married. But then an anonymously sent package arrives in the mail: a cardboard box containing sheaves of printed emails chronicling Jack’s secret life. The package is addressed to Deb, but it’s delivered into the wrong hands: her children’s.

I wanted to like this book, because the book jacket described it as funny and engaging. But it wasn’t funny, and I didn’t find that anything of value really happened. It took me weeks to finish because I was suffering through it. I pretty much found nothing redeeming about this book, sadly. I had to push myself to finish it. I didn’t care for any of the characters at all, which is rare – I normally can find one or two redeeming character traits. Not so here. I think my biggest issue was that after the main issue described in the synopsis, nothing at all happened! I normally like character-driven novels, but something about this was absolutely not for me.


Behind Her Eyes | Sarah Pinborough

★★★☆☆

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

Before I read this, I’d heard a few things about it: it’s super captivating, you shouldn’t look into it before you read it, and the ending is wild. The first one was true, the second one was a good tip, and I’m totally in agreement with the last one. I stayed up for an hour past my bedtime to finish this book, and I was left thinking “what the heck did I just read?” I regretted it. The book definitely gets people talking, but the ending ruined the whole thing.


The Selection | Kiera Cass

★★★★☆

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

I read this one for Collaboreads and covered my thoughts here.


The Elite | Kiera Cass

★★★★☆

The Selection began with thirty-five girls. Now with the group narrowed down to the six Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon’s heart is fiercer than ever—and America is still struggling to decide where her heart truly lies. Is it with Maxon, who could make her life a fairy tale? Or with her first love, Aspen?

America is desperate for more time. But the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want—and America’s chance to choose is about to slip away.

I sat down on my couch with this book and read the whole thing in one sitting. It’s mainly a filler between this one and the third in the series, but I still enjoyed it. ‘Very cheesy and addicting’ is how I’d describe it.


The One-in-a-Million-Boy | Monica Wood

★★★★☆

For years, guitarist Quinn Porter has been on the road, chasing gig after gig, largely absent to his twice-ex-wife Belle and their odd, Guinness records–obsessed son. When the boy dies suddenly, Quinn seeks forgiveness for his paternal shortcomings by completing the requirements for his son’s unfinished Boy Scout badge.

For seven Saturdays, Quinn does yard work for Ona Vitkus, the wily 104-year-old Lithuanian immigrant the boy had visited weekly. Quinn soon discovers that the boy had talked Ona into gunning for the world record for Oldest Licensed Driver — and that’s the least of her secrets. Despite himself, Quinn picks up where the boy left off, forging a friendship with Ona that allows him to know the son he never understood, a boy who was always listening, always learning.

I wasn’t crazy about this one. I found it sweet, if a little kooky, but it was a little bit too much like The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which I read earlier this year. Both books are very character-driven, with unique challenges the characters are looking to complete. I’d recommend this one, but it’s not a favorite of this year.


Lone Wolf | Jodi Picoult

★★★★☆

Edward Warren, twenty-four, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call: His dad lies comatose, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara.

With her father’s chances for recovery dwindling, Cara wants to wait for a miracle. But Edward wants to terminate life support and donate his father’s organs. Is he motivated by altruism, or revenge? And to what lengths will his sister go to stop him from making an irrevocable decision?

I’ve read much better Jodi Picoult novels than this one, and I’ve read ones I liked much less. This one falls somewhere in the middle: it was good but not great. It made me think in the moment,, but it hasn’t particularly stuck with me. Still glad I read it.


The One | Kiera Cass

★★★☆☆

The time has come for one winner to be crowned.

When she was chosen to compete in the Selection, America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown—or to Prince Maxon’s heart. But as the end of the competition approaches, and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realizes just how much she stands to lose—and how hard she’ll have to fight for the future she wants.

When I read this one, I could start to see why my friends said these books were pretty cheesy. I just hated the internal monologue of America – everything she felt or thought was frustrating for me to experience. The book has two more companion books that follow it, using different characters in the same universe, but this is the close of the trilogy with these specific characters.


Castle of Water | Dane Huckelbridge

★★★★★

Two very different people, one very small island.

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. The proud owner of a thriving Parisian architecture firm, co-founded with her brilliant new husband, Sophie had much to look forward to—including a visit to the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel.

For Barry Bleecker, the same trip was meant to mark a new beginning. Turning away from his dreary existence in Manhattan finance, Barry had set his sights on fine art, seeking creative inspiration on the other side of the world—just like his idol, Paul Gauguin.

But when their small plane is downed in the middle of the South Pacific, the sole survivors of the wreck are left with one common goal: to survive. Stranded hundreds of miles from civilization, on an island the size of a large city block, the two castaways must reconcile their differences and learn to draw on one another’s strengths if they are to have any hope of making it home.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It’s beautiful and heart wrenching and redemptive. It bounces from a deserted island in the middle of the South Pacific to New York to Paris. It’s beautifully crafted and I adored it.


I Almost Forgot About You | Terry McMillian

★★★☆☆

Dr. Georgia Young’s wonderful life–great friends, family, and successful career–aren’t enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

I think this was a good book, but I didn’t read it at the right time. It wasn’t right for me right now. I had to struggle through it, spending many weeks with it on my bedside table as I started and finished other books I liked much more. Finally I decided that I’d invested all that time and I needed to finish it. It was….fine. It did remind me that it’s never too late to change your life, cheesy as that sounds.


Dear Reader | Mary O’Connell

★★☆☆☆

For seventeen-year-old Flannery Fields, the only respite from the plaid-skirted mean girls at Sacred Heart High School at is her beloved teacher Miss Sweeney’s AP English class. But when Miss Sweeney doesn’t show up to teach Flannery’s favorite book, Wuthering Heights, and leaves behind her purse, Flannery knows something is wrong.

The police are called, and Flannery gives them everything—except Miss Sweeney’s copy of Wuthering Heights. This she holds onto. And it’s a good thing she does, because when she opens it, something very strange happens. It has somehow transformed into Miss Sweeney’s real-time diary. It seems Miss Sweeney is in New York City—and she’s in trouble.

So Flannery does something very unFlannery-like: she skips school and sets out for Manhattan, with the book as her guide. But as soon as she arrives, she meets a boy named Heath. Heath is British, on a gap year, and has strangely nineteenth-century mannerisms. In fact, Flannery can’t help thinking that he seems to have stepped from the pages of Brontë’s novel. Could it be that Flannery is actually spending this topsy-turvy day with her ultimate fictional romantic hero?

This book is SO boring. There’s so much magical realism and it didn’t work for me. It’s New York City and books and Wuthering Heights and a diary and none of it made much sense to me. I think it had a lot of potential but the writing was just not good.


Total number of books in August: ten
Number of fiction books in August: ten
Number of nonfiction books in August: zero
Total number of books this year: forty four