Category Archives: Books

May 2018 Books

June 4, 2018

I have no clue how I did it, but I managed to read FIFTEEN books this month. It’s crazy. This month is also the one I decided that I was going to start reading Kindle books from the library again. Honestly, a big part of why I didn’t is because I loved the image of my book stack at the end of the month. But after examining my finances and moving a million books into my new apartment at the end of last month, I decided not spending money on more books I’ll have to move again is more important than a complete book stack. I’ll still be buying books when they’re important to me, but I want to focus less on the aesthetic and more on saving money. Buckle up, because this is a long post!

THE ANSWERS by Catherine Lacey
★★★


We are introduced to Mary, a young woman living in New York City and struggling to cope with a body that has betrayed her. All but paralyzed with pain, Mary seeks relief from a New Agey treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, PAKing for short. And, remarkably, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive and Mary is dead broke. So she scours Craigslist for fast-cash jobs and finds herself applying for the “Girlfriend Experiment,” the brainchild of an eccentric actor, Kurt Sky, who is determined to find the perfect relationship—even if that means paying different women to fulfill distinctive roles. Mary is hired as the “Emotional Girlfriend”—certainly better than the “Anger Girlfriend” or the “Maternal Girlfriend”—and is pulled into Kurt’s ego-driven and messy attempt at human connection.


I bought this book on my birthday on the recommendation of the bookseller at the indie book store near my new apartment, Book Soup. I was a little bit hesitant but I decided I would trust her. I wouldn’t say that she was wrong in her description, but rather that the book just probably wasn’t for me.

CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND by Kevin Kwan
★★★


It’s the eve of Rachel Chu’s wedding, and she should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond, a wedding dress she loves, and a fiancé willing to thwart his meddling relatives and give up one of the biggest fortunes in Asia in order to marry her. Still, Rachel mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. Then a chance accident reveals his identity. Suddenly, Rachel is drawn into a dizzying world of Shanghai splendor, a world where people attend church in a penthouse, where exotic cars race down the boulevard, and where people aren’t just crazy rich … they’re China rich.


This is the sequel to CRAZY RICH ASIANS, which I read last month. I bought it on a bit of a whim when I was finishing up the first one (we needed to get our parking ticket validated and I oh-so-bravely volunteered to make a purchase at Barnes and Noble to do so, such a sacrifice!) and I liked it! I can’t decide which one I liked more.

SHRILL by Lindy West
★★★★

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.


I met Lindy West at the Festival of Books last year, where she signed this book that I promptly put on the shelf and didn’t pick up for a year. My roommate Bri read my copy before I did, and then I figured I should probably get to it. Lindy has been dealing with trolls for basically as long as the internet has been around, and she struggled with them at first, and then decided she wasn’t going to put up with them anymore. She was going to keep doing her thing, no matter who didn’t like it.

I should warn that this book has crude language and discusses some heavy topics (the summary gives a bit of an idea of that) but if you can handle those things, this is a memoir that I think is worth reading. I really identified with Lindy’s struggles of body image, to the point where I said out loud “I don’t like this book” and wanted to stop reading – that’s how real it felt to me. I’m glad I pressed on, though, because this book is funny. It made me want to be a bit more courageous in the way I deal with struggle.

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by JK Rowling
★★★★

For twelve long years, the dreaded fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter’s defeat of You-Know-Who was Black’s downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, “He’s at Hogwarts… he’s at Hogwarts.” Harry Potter isn’t safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may be a traitor in their midst.


Every year I’ve intended to re-read the Harry Potter books, and I never manage to get past the first two or three. I’m hopeful that this is the year I’m finally going to complete that reread. It’s weird because I love these books so much, and they always hold a certain kind of magic, but there’s a weird sort of dread that comes from rereading them. It’s almost like I’ve read the firs one so man times that it seems like a chore to cmplete the reread, which is probably why I’ve gotten stuck so many times. I’ve read the later ones in the series far less times, and those are some of my favorites, so I’m hopeful about my ability to continue this challenge going forward. (Just keeping it real here today, I guess!)

THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater
★★★★

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.


This one is a reread too; it’s a series of four books, and I own the first three but have only read this first one. It’s a YA fantasy book that conjures up thoughts of old journals and dark forests and magic and cars that might break down at any moment – if this seems like some sort of aesthetic mood board, that’s because this book makes me think of all those things. I usually stay away from paranormal, but I’m excited to continue with the rest of this series for the first time.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green
★★★★

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.


Oh god, this book. I read it all in one day, on Mother’s Day, because when your mom lives far away and everyone else is busy, there’s not much happening. So I picked it up and read it with coffee on the couch, and then later I sat by the pool and read in the sunshine, and then I finished it that night in bed.

It is entirely fair to say that this book really stressed me out, but I loved it. It’s not plot-heavy (I actually have some issues with the plot, but I’m willing to let them go) but instead it focuses on Aza’s mental health and how she deals with it.

I’m noticing now as I’m writing this that the cover is a perfect depiction of the book. I wrote a little bit more about how this book affected me earlier this month, but I really just recommend you pick it up yourself.

SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan
★★★★

Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread. Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive. Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show. When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?


The description on the back of the book is a little misleading – all of that stuff happens in the first fifty pages or so, and the rest of the book is about what happens next. (Maybe that’s what the back descriptions are for, actually, but I tend to want to know a bit more about the plot ahead of time.) This book is about the convergence of technology and baking, with some magical realism thrown in for good measure. It’s an entertaining read that I really enjoyed, but I find it hard to describe after the fact. It all makes sense while you’re reading, though, which is most important.

OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES by Abbi Waxman
★★


As the longtime local carpool mom, Frances Bloom is sometimes an unwilling witness to her neighbors’ private lives. She knows her cousin is hiding her desire for another baby from her spouse, Bill Horton’s wife is mysteriously missing, and now this… After the shock of seeing Anne Porter in all her extramarital glory, Frances vows to stay in her own lane. But that’s a notion easier said than done when Anne’s husband throws her out a couple of days later. The repercussions of the affair reverberate through the four carpool families–and Frances finds herself navigating a moral minefield that could make or break a marriage.


This one is probably best described as chick lit – it’s a family drama about neighborhood relationships and how they intertwine. I liked it ok but didn’t love it. There were parts that grated on me and parts that I found heartwarming. I appreciated it for its diversity of families and that it showed no matter how families look on the outside, nothing is perfect. It was told from the view of two women and one man, the primary caretakers for their kids, but there were a few instances when the kids’ perspectives were brought in. I wanted more OR less from the kids – either commit to the viewpoint or don’t, but with the way it was done I felt like so many loose ends were left hanging. I bought this from BOTM and it actually made me reconsider the types of books I buy in the future. This would be a good one to get from the library.

BACHELOR NATION by Amy Kaufman
★★★★

Bachelor Nation is the first behind-the-scenes, unauthorized look into the reality television phenomenon. Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise–ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show’s inner workings: what it’s like to be trapped in the mansion “bubble”; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the fantasy suite.


I saw Amy speak at last month’s LA Times Festival of Books, and even though I don’t watch The Bachelor, I knew I wanted to read this. I actually don’t follow the show super closely so I’m not sure how much of this was already known, but to an outsider it was mind blowing. Obviously so much of The Bachelor is staged, but this brought to light a lot about how things work behind the scenes. There’s stories of contestants being encouraged to get drunk and stay up all night because the things they say when sleep deprived make for good stories. This is one I’d recommend getting from the library if you can; it’s a quick read that you probably won’t reread. Glad I read it!

THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo
★★★★


Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.


This book is written like a letter from Lucy to Gabe, so there’s lots of casual writing and use of the word “you”. If that’s not your thing, stay away from this one. I loved that it was told in different vignettes of different lengths; it felt more casual and informal. which would be true to the story. This is essentially the tale of two star-crossed lovers who never quite managed to get it together. I liked it!

THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri
★★★

Tina Fontana is the hapless but brazen thirty-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the all-powerful and commanding CEO of Titan Corp., a multinational media conglomerate. She’s excellent at her job and beloved by her famous boss—but after six years of making his reservations for restaurants she’d never get into on her own and pouring his drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, she’s bored, broke, and just a bit over it all. When a technical error with Robert’s travel-and-expenses report presents Tina with the opportunity to pay off the entire balance of her student loan debt with what would essentially be pocket change for her boss, she struggles with the decision: She’s always played by the rules. But it’s such a relatively small amount of money for the Titan Corporation—and for her it would be a life-changer…


This was a fun story – who hasn’t dreamed about having all their debt wiped away in one fell swoop? It felt like it all wrapped up too neatly, but I was willing to ignore that for the sake of the story that came before it. Another good library book, and one that would make a great movie!

STRONGER by Jeff Bauman
★★★★

Jeff Bauman woke up on Tuesday, April 16th 2013 and he had no legs. Just thirty hours prior, Jeff was surrounded by revelry at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. The first bomb went off at his feet as he awaited his girlfriend’s finish. When Jeff awoke days later from hours of surgery, rather than take stock of his now completely altered life, Jeff ripped out his breathing tube and tried to speak. He couldn’t. Jeff asked for a pad and paper and he wrote down seven words, “Saw the guy. Looked right at me,” setting off one of the biggest manhunts in the country’s history and beginning his own brave road to recovery.


Jeff got both his legs blown off at the 2013 Boston Marathon (you’ve definitely seen the photo) and this is his story. It’s been 5 years since the bombing, and I no longer think about that day all the time anymore. I don’t think I could’ve read this book when it came out four years ago, but I was ready for it now. What I liked the most is that it was real and didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. Also the Red Sox feature heavily, which is right up my alley. I doubt this would ever happen but I would love to read a follow up.

THE QUEEN OF HEARTS by Kimmery Martin
★★

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.


I’d been wanting to read this for weeks, after seeing it all over bookstagram. That cover is gorgeous! Unfortunately that was basically the best part. It’s a bit like Grey’s Anatomy: medical and family drama galore, which is up my alley. I thought it was well told. What I didn’t like: there was too much medical jargon for me, and I found it hard to keep the two character voices distinct in my head. Once I found out what the secret was I pretty much stopped caring. This one is sadly pretty forgettable. I’m disappointed because I really wanted to love this.

HOW TO WALK AWAY by Katherine Center
★★★

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment. In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect. 


In reading this book, I learned that I don’t love stories that involve someone trying to overcome some sort of life-changing injury that’s meant to be inspirational. This book was in the style of ME BEFORE YOU, and I just do not think those are for me in most cases. This was a fun read, but a little too cheesy for my taste. It falls into that beach read/chick lit category, which I do not at all feel guilty about loving. This was just one that didn’t work for me. I enjoyed the experience of reading it, but looking back it felt cheesy and predictable.

THE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers
★★★★

When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.


I saw the movie that stemmed from this book last May, just before my first day of work. I didn’t like the movie that much, but I’m happy to say I liked the book a bit better. I loved how this deals with technology taking over our lives I have a running with, which tracks my steps, mileage, heart rate, the hours I sleep, and much more. I have an app that tracks how much I read a day. I use a program that tracks how much I spend. Just between those three programs, I’m collecting an awful lot of data on myself. In lots of cases this data collection is useful – but what happens when it takes over our lives? That’s what this book is about. There’s a few awkward + uncomfortable sex scenes, and the characters sometimes feel a bit like caricatures, but beyond that I liked it!


In total this month:

Total number of books: fifteen
Number of fiction books: twelve
Number of nonfiction books: three
Books by people who are not white dudes: eleven
Total number of books this year: forty three

22 Questions for Bookworms

May 14, 2018

My Book of the Month picks for May!


I’m borrowing this idea from Rachel, who is one of the only people I follow online who’s a bigger bookworm than me; feel free to join in if you want!

HARDBACK OR TRADE PAPERBACK OR MASS MARKET PAPERBACK?

I love hardback best of all! My second choice is trade paperback. However, just having moved apartments, I can say that hardcovers are heavy and books are a pain to move and I probably should start using the library more.

AMAZON OR BRICK AND MORTAR?

I think I’m about 50/50 on shopping at each. There’s something so nice about placing an order for a few books on Amazon, but there’s also something special about walking out of the store with books in your hand.

LOCALLY OWNED BOOKSHOP OR BIG NAME CHAIN STORE?

Local! There’s a number of independent brick and mortar bookstores here in the LA area that I adore – Book Soup and Skylight Books are two. Though I will say a few weeks ago I bought two books at Barnes and Noble.

BOOKMARK OR DOG-EAR?

I don’t tend to do either! I lean toward bookmarks though.

ALPHABETIZE BY AUTHOR OR ALPHABETIZE BY TITLE OR RANDOM?

Totally random! My bookshelf organization makes some sort of sense in my head, but there’s no real organization to speak of.

KEEP, THROW AWAY, OR SELL?

I keep most books unless I really didn’t like them and will never read them again. I just donated a few such books to Goodwill during my move. I’ll also give books away to friends.

KEEP DUST JACKET OR TOSS IT?

Keep. I hardly ever take them off.

READ WITH DUST JACKET OR REMOVE IT?

Always leave it on!

SHORT STORY OR NOVEL?

Novel. Short stories are great but I rarely read them.

COLLECTION (SHORT STORIES BY SAME AUTHOR) OR ANTHOLOGY (SHORT STORIES BY DIFFERENT AUTHORS)?

I used to be really into anthologies! These days I don’t tend to read either.

STOP READING WHEN TIRED OR AT CHAPTER BREAKS?

Chapter breaks.

“IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT” OR “ONCE UPON A TIME”?

Once upon a time.

BUY OR BORROW?

I wish my answer was borrow (and so does my wallet) but I tend to buy more often than not. I figure there are far worse things I could spend money on.

NEW OR USED?

Usually new, though I love and adore a great used bookstore.

BUYING CHOICE: BOOK REVIEWS, RECOMMENDATION OR BROWSE?

Browse, or buy it cause I saw it on Instagram and I loved the cover.

TIDY ENDING OR CLIFFHANGER?

Ooh, it depends! I like both, if they’re done well.

MORNING, AFTERNOON OR NIGHTTIME READING?

All of the above.

SINGLE VOLUME OR SERIES?

Single, though there are a few series I’ve really loved.

FAVORITE SERIES?

Is it cliche to say Harry Potter? I don’t care. Harry Potter.

FAVORITE BOOK OF WHICH NOBODY ELSE HAS HEARD?

I can’t think of one cause I get most of my recommendations from online, but Castle of Water is a book I definitely don’t hear about enough.

FAVORITE BOOKS READ LAST YEAR?

I wrote about them here! It’s weird to read that list back cause I’m not sure I would’ve put all of them on there now, but I still highly recommend them all.

FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME?

Oh god, I don’t have a list for this one. You can find my Goodreads here. Favorites from browsing that list: Dark Matter, Small Great Things, The Mothers, Station Eleven, My Sister’s Keeper.

April Books

May 4, 2018

I read precisely ONE book in April, and it was Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

April was a weird month for me – I was sick for the first week and missed a few days of work, and then I was looking for a new place to live, and I wasn’t exercising at all, save for two times I made myself go running. I felt out of my routine, and because of it my reading time fell to the wayside. I did also read half of The Hate U Give, but I haven’t finished it yet. In short, April was weird, and my reading suffered, but it’s okay.


When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.


I bought this for myself for my birthday after hearing there was a movie coming out, and I liked it a lot! It took a little bit to get into, and there’s about nine million characters so it can be hard to keep track of them all, but it was a fun comedy. Honestly, there was a lot of info-dumping and name-dropping of brands (which I think is the point) but once I got into it I was easily flipping pages.

I liked reading about Rachel discovering just how wealthy Nick’s family is and trying to adapt to that situation; she was really thrown off the deep end and it was fun to watch her deal with it. I look forward to the movie! I’ve already bought the second one and I started it yesterday.


In total this month:

Total number of books: one
Number of fiction books: one
Number of nonfiction books: zero
Books by people who are not white dudes: one
Total number of books this year: twenty eight

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!