Book Review

What I Read in January

I started off my reading year with a bang and managed to finish 20 books in January. If that sounds like a lot that’s because…it is. I have an infant, so I am up all hours of the night breastfeeding and listening to audiobooks to try to stay awake and not drop the baby. I was still on maternity leave until January 14th, but our helper had already started working, so I wasn’t doing the full load of childcare and housework on my own.  I went back  to work for a week and a half in the middle of January, but then was back on holiday break for the Chinese New Year holiday from January 24th. And then coronavirus hit and everything shut down, so there was nowhere to go and nothing to do even if I wanted to. All of that to say, if you want to get a lot of reading done, just shut down a whole city!

Regular schools here are closed until March 2nd. Although I am going in to work at my center, we will not have face-to-face classes until March, so I’m hoping to put my downtime to good use and get a lot of reading done in February too!

Here’s what I read this month, grouped by star-ratings. Side note: I don’t know if I’m getting more generous in my old age or if I just really picked good books this month, but the majority were 4 and 5 star books for me.

5-Stars

91z6aLzcgfL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout.
It’s been several years since I read Olive Kitteridge and now I want to reread it. Olive, Again is Elizabeth Strout at her best. This follows her typical format, reading more like linked stories than a traditional novel. She continues the story of Olive Kitteridge, a widow and retired school teacher living a quiet life in Crosby, Maine, while weaving in stories from the members of her community. Olive is no-nonsense and even a bit prickly at times, but ultimately she is looking for what we all want – connection, community, and meaning in our lives. I think I liked this even more than the first one.

 

91M-7mC4i9L._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Quietly beautiful, this short novel reads almost like a long short-story. Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbors for years without knowing each other especially well, but they have some things in common: their children are grown, their spouses have passed away, and they are lonely. When Addie comes to Louis with an unconventional proposal, he decides to take a chance. This was a moving book about the desire to be seen and the courage it takes to let ourselves be known. I read it overlapping with Olive, Again and thought the two made great companions.

 

UnknownDear Edward by Ann Napolitano
A new release based on a true event about a 12-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of a commercial plane crash. The narrative alternates between following characters on the plane in the moments leading up to the crash and moving forward with Edward through the years following the crash. The premise is sad, of course, but the overall effect is earnest and hopeful.

 

 

51zphfsrQfL
The Stationery Shop 
by Marjan Kamali
In 1953, Roya and Bahman meet and fall in love in Tehran. As the political situation grows tenser, their only method of communication is hiding letters inside the pages of books in stationery shop which are passed on by the sympathetic shop owner, Mr. Fakhri until one day, Bahman disappears altogether. Sixty years later, Roya and Bahman are reunited in the US having built separate lives, only to learn that they were wrong about what really happened so many years ago.

 

 

41k3O0L7vXL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
This book is intense, but so provocative and necessary. I keep trying to write a blurb for it, but I don’t think I can do any better than whoever wrote the Goodreads summary, so I’m borrowing that. “In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.”

41EiCk6nu7L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Lit by Mary Karr
This was one from my backlist that I’m so pleased to have finally made a priority. Karr’s talent as a writer and storyteller shines through in the story of her struggle for sobriety,  her journey into motherhood, and her reluctant faith.

4-Stars

41tSu0tEvNL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. I’ve been a little “meh” with Ware’s other books, but  I’m kind of a sucker for creepy nanny stories. Also smart houses, which are objectively always creepy. This definitely has some (I assume intentional) Turn of the Screw vibes.

 

 

51DXf7zXlVL._AC_UL640_QL65_ML3_

No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny
I actually saw part of Nora McInerny’s TED talk about a week before picking up this book. I didn’t even realize it was the same person until I recognized some of the details of her story. In the TED talk she spoke about how foolish it is to expect people to “move on” from grief. McInerny lost her father, her husband, and a pregnancy all within a few weeks of each other. Her memoir is by turns funny, sarcastic, achingly raw, and above all honest. It doesn’t paint her as a hero or as a martyr, just as deeply human. It is an example of the kind of vulnerability the world desperately needs.

51VZcGvvN7L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
I read Maggie O’Farrell’s nonfiction book I Am, I Am, I Am in 2018 and have been wanting to read her fiction ever since. This is a common enough story -adult children come together at the family home for the first time in years, in this case, to deal with the sudden disappearance of their farther. O’Farrell portrays each family member with wit, warmth, and grace that draws you straight in to the story.

 

 

Unknown-1Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Look, Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read. This is her first foray into a more historical setting and I thought it was one of her best. The four Levin children navigate a summer full of personal crises, political tensions, and social unrest.

 

 

 

Unknown-2The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
I do not read zombie books or watch zombie movies or shows. But this was great. Every day, Melanie gets strapped into her wheelchair and wheeled to school where she learns about the world from her beloved teacher Miss Justineau. And when school is over, she and the other children are strapped back into their wheelchairs and brought back to their cells with loaded guns trained on them all the while. Melanie is the brightest of the bunch, but she still can’t understand what everyone is so afraid of.

 

Unknown-3A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Sixteen-year-old Shirin has developed a tough exterior. As a young Muslim girl in post-9/11 America, she has come to expect people to be racist, ignorant, rude, and even dangerous. She copes by distancing herself from others and working on her breakdancing. When she meets Ocean James, she has no interest in letting down her guard. It turns out the only thing more terrifying than people who are intentionally cruel is someone who genuinely wants to know her.

 

 

41yZvlGPZOL._SY346_The Most Fun We Ever Had by Clarie Lombardo
These kinds of books are my jam. A multi-generational family saga about the Sorenson family: Marilyn and David, who remain wildly in love after 40 years of marriage, and their four adult daughters, each with their own struggles and victories. From Goodreads: “As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt—given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before—we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.”

51v37qUjgrL._SY346_Truly, Devious by Maureen Johnson
Other than the Charlotte Holmes series, I don’t think I’ve ever read a specifically YA mystery. Ellingham Academy is a boarding school for the brightest and the best. Each student has their own special niche. Stevie Bell’s passion is solving crimes, specifically the unsolved historical kidnapping of founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter by someone who called himself ‘Devious.’. As Stevie investigates the mystery, Truly Devious returns and claims a new victim. This is the first in a series, so more to check out in the future.

 

41QxLdr5bOL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
This was so creepy and I was really into it. On her 25th birthday, Libby Jones inherits a house from the birth parents she never knew. The house has been abandoned for twenty-five years, ever since the day police arrived to investigate reports of a crying and found ten-month-old Libby alone in her room while down in the kitchen were three dead bodies. The four teenagers who lived in the house were never found. Libby is determined to find out about her past and what really happened in the house.

 

3-Stars

Unknown-4The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. This book felt weighty and important more than it was enjoyable. It tells a multi-generational story of a family in India. It is part family tragedy, part love story, part examination of intricate family relationships, and part indictment of society, particularly of the caste system. I found the storyline a bit difficult to follow because of the jumps back and forth in the timeline. Without spoiling anything I will say that I understood the symbolic significance of the ending, but I still didn’t like it.

 

 

71bkQswznpL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan. Alice Pearse is just your average woman trying to have it all-a husband, kids, friends, and a meaningful career, in this modern world. This was delightful in it’s relatability, but precisely for that reason it will probably not age well. An especially fun read if you like books about people who love books.

 

 

 

 

Unknown-5Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica. Pretty standard psychological/domestic thriller.

 

 

 

 

 

40645634._SX318_Notes From a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi. I don’t watch Top Chef so I wasn’t familiar with Onwuachi before reading this, but I’m all about chef memoirs. My main criticisms are just that, as it says on the cover, he is a young chef. He doesn’t have a ton of experience in the kitchen or the restaurant industry and he comes off as arrogant at times in the book given how little experience and training he actually has.

 

 

2 Stars

Unknown-6Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full by Gloria Furman. I am sure this book would mean a lot to some people, it just wasn’t for me.
Pros: This book is not a self-help book. It is chock-full of Scripture and theological truths and every page is pointing to the message of the gospel.
Cons: I could not relate to the author at all and it was a dry read.
I knew this book was not for me when the author told a story from her own life where her washing machine broke and she let out a cry of frustration (not a curse, mind you, just a frustrated noise) that brought her children running. And she immediately repented of her sin in being short-tempered and thanked God for the opportunity to model repentance in front of her children thereby pointing them to eternity.

Look, Gloria, you and I, we’re not the same thing. Being convicted for losing your temper? Sure. But then you took it a step too far. I’m not saying she’s wrong in her feelings and thoughts at all. I’m saying I found her to be extremely difficult to relate to.
Mainly, I just didn’t feel like this lived up to the title. It’s not a bad book. I think it might mean a lot to holier women than I. It just wasn’t for me.

***

Have you read any of these? Do tell! I love talking about books almost as much as I love reading them. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Goodreads!

 

My Year in Reading and Best Books of 2019

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to wrap up my year in reading and give a shout-out to my favorite books of the year.

First, some stats. I read 131 books this year totalling 44,265 pages. That might be a new record for me, at least since I’ve been keeping track. If you want to see everything I’ve read this year and follow what I’m reading in 2020, check out my Reading Challenge on Goodreads

Of the 131 books I read in 2019:

103 were Fiction, 27 were Nonfiction, and 1 was a Poetry collection.

34 were Contemporary or Literary Fiction
28 were Thrillers/Mysteries
17  Were Historical Fiction
14 Were Memoirs or Autobiographies
10 were Fantasy/Magical Realism/Fiction with some fantastic elements
8 were Romances/Chick Lit
6 Were Essay collections
4 were General Nonfiction
3 were Short Story collections
3 were Young Adult (2 of which were novels in verse)
2 were True Crime
1 was a Graphic Memoir
1 was Poetry

108 were by female authors

32 were by authors of color

63 were published in 2019

I gave:

26 5-star reviews*
52 4-star reviews
47 3-star reviews
4   2-star reviews
1 1-star review

1 not starred

In no particular order, here are my favorite books of the year. 

Fiction

613B57vAxRL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_The River by Peter Heller. A survival story in every sense of the word. Two boys take a weeks-long canoe trip down an isolated river when a forest fire breaks out. As the boys try to outpace the fire, they are confronted with forces more sinister than nature. I am not particularly outdoorsy and can think of few things I would hate more than an extended canoe trip, but this turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

 

513OSNmyDJLThis Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. Huck Finn meets Peace Like a River plus something else I can’t quite put my finger on…maybe something that reminded me of True Grit, though I’m not exactly sure why… Regardless, I loved this story about four orphans in Depression Era Minnesota who band together to escape their circumstances and run away together in a canoe. I especially liked the way the theme of religion was handled throughout the novel. 

 

612cgvJYl6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_An Elderly Lady is up to No Good by Helene Tursten. Basically this is Dexter if Dexter were an old Swedish woman. Maud is an 88-year-old woman who has reached a point in her life where she knows what she wants and has no qualms about doing what she has to do to get it…even a little light murder. This is a short book made up of a few short stories. You can get through it in an afternoon. 

 

51y9m8sQV8L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal. I really enjoyed Stradal’s last book, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, but this one was even better. Stradal has a real knack for getting at the heart of the hardworking, salt-of-the earth people that have become synonymous with the Midwest and bringing to life characters that are both funny and endearing. Bonus points for female characters excelling in a male-dominated industry. Also, the audiobook is excellent.

51eaZ1mO9ML._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

Circe by Madeline Miller I had been hearing rave reviews of this all year before I finally read it and it definitely lived up to the hype. Miller takes the character of Circe, the witch queen from The Odyssey and remimagines her as a flawed, but fierce woman fighting to make a place for herself in a world built for men. The language is rich and layered – somehow completely modern while evoking the epic poetry of Homer. 

 

51vIvZ3nnYL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. I am a big fan of character-driven mysteries and would typically choose them over a police procedural. I’m stealing part of the Goodreads synopsis here because it is succinct. “In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.”  There was something about this that was reminiscent of Big Little Lies to me, not in terms of content, but in the sense that the closer you get to each character, the more clearly they all seem to have motives that make even simple things less than black and white. I also appreciated how the author drew on her own experience immigrating to the US from South Korea to create the family at the center of the drama. 

51r7YLhek6L._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. This was one of the last books I read this year and I’m so glad I squeezed it in. Isma has given years of her life to raise her younger twin siblings after their parents’ deaths. She has also worked hard to make a life for them in London and escape the legacy of her father – a jihadist who died on his way to Guatanamo. Then she makes friends with Eamonn, a man whose father is a prominent politician. He becomes entwined with her  and her sister, Aneeka. But when their brother Parvaiz becomes involved with a jihadist organization in an effort to connect to his dead father, Eamonn must struggle with his convictions and the expectations of his own father. I found this book particularly provocative because it wasn’t just the story of innocent Muslim immigrants suffering discrimination because of the actions of a few extremists who happen to share the same religion, but instead included people who did have direct connections to extremists, as if to say that these people have a right to have their stories told too. Very thought-provoking.

These books were previously mentioned in my best of the year so far post, but have retained their status as favorites.

51zVMq4SniL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This might have been my most favorite book of the year. Oral history of a seventies rock band. Feels so real, you will find yourself trying to look up their songs on Spotify. Also, I can’t be the only one who was picturing Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper while reading this.

 

61enXVybbjL._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This has been on my TBR list for years and I finally got to it this year. I don’t know what took me so long. Orphaned twin brothers, products of an illicit union between an Indian nun and an English surgeon, grow up inseparable in Ethiopia until one day they are driven apart by war and by betrayal. Themes of identity, revolution, family, healing, relationship between doctors and patients, and the role of medicine.

 

51Sp+26DgzL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. A young girl is pulled from the frozen river, dead, then alive. She does not speak and seems to have no memory of who she is or where she came from. Multiple people try to claim her. Dreamy, lush, fairy-tale-esque. Set in a fictional world strongly resembling 18th century England.

 

51j5p18mJNL._SY346_Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Swamp girl makes her own way in a world where she will never fully belong. Set in South Carolina marshland. Extremely atmospheric.

 

 

 

Honorable Mention: A Better Man, The Poet X,Ayesha at Last, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, City of Girls, A Woman is No Man, Ask Again, Yes, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Nonfiction

I started to make a list of my favorite nonfiction books as well, but it was almost identical to my list from August, so you can check those out here. I just have two more to add:

515nXrmiT1L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Good Talk by Mira Jacobs. This is a graphic memoir told through conversations about race, identity, love, and family between the author, a first-generation American, and important people in her life.  

 

 

519pCwVYVDL._SX342_American Predator by Maureen Callahan Absolutely fascinating True Crime that reads like a novel about the hunt for Israel Keyes, “the most meticulous serial killer of the 21st century.” As you may know, I am weirdly fascinated by serial killer true crime so this was right up my alley. Disturbing for sure, but fascinating, this is an excellent piece of investigative journalism if you can stomach that sort of thing.

And that’s a wrap! What were your favorite reads of 2019?
___________________________________________________________________________________________

*5 stars = I loved it
4 stars = I really, really liked it
3 stars = I liked it, but it wasn’t anything really special or memorable
2 stars = I had some major issues with it
1 star = I hated it

Best Books of 2018

This year I read 108 books plus half of two other books. My goal was 125, so I didn’t technically complete my Reading Challenge, but I feel OK about it. Here are the best books I read across different genres along with a very brief review/synopsis for each. Just so you are aware, there are some repeats of books I’ve mentioned before this year (especially in my best of the year so far post from August). If you want to check out everything I read this year, visit my Reading Challenge page on Goodreads.

Best General/Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is sort of a catch-all for things that don’t fit neatly into other categories. The literary fiction I read is usually written with attention to language and with more emphasis on character development than a fast-moving plot, though they can certainly have both.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. I don’t know how he does it, but Backman tackles MASSIVE issues in such a nuanced and emotionally intelligent way. This is a sequel to Beartown, so definitely read that first, but this is a deftly handled exploration about how a community responds to violence, about rape culture, the unifying and destructive power of rivalries, and the many small actions that can lead to serious consequences.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This book tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family and their individual struggles with belonging. Parents, Leila and Rafiq have tried to instill their traditions and values in their children, but each of their three children has had to forge their own path. Leila and Rafiq have had to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can accept and embrace their children when their decisions don’t align with Leila and Rafiq’s hopes for them. The book opens at the wedding of Hadia, the family’s oldest child, who has chosen to marry for love rather than have an arranged marriage. The family are collectively holding their breath to see if the youngest sibling, Amar, will come to the wedding after being estranged from the family for three years. It’s a novel about the ways that families try (and often fail) to love each other well

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Celestial and Roy are still newlyweds when the unthinkable happens. Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the beginning, Celestial and Roy remain fiercely devoted to one another, but as the years go by, Celestial begins to move on with her life. When Roy’s conviction is overturned and he is released early, the (still married) couple must figure out what really makes a marriage and whether or not they can still have one.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Cyril Avery is born to an unwed mother in rural Ireland and adopted by an eccentric writer and her husband who really know nothing about children. As Cyril grows, we meet a cast of richly drawn characters who impact Cyril’s life, for better or worse. This book is largely focused on the horrible treatment of gay men in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the late 20th century. Because of that, some parts are very hard to read and some of it is very sad. There is also a significant amount of sexual content in the first half of the book (just fair warning if you don’t like reading that). However, the characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and quirky, and in the end, I can’t describe this book in any way other than beautiful, deeply moving, and unforgettable.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This book was a total surprise for me. Erotic stories don’t do much for me (I just can’t take “sexy” descriptions seriously), but the erotic stories in this book are just a device to talk about so much more. A group of Punjabi widows sign up for a writing class. Their teacher, a young British/Punjabi woman, thinks she will be helping these women to write the stories of their lives, but she is unprepared for the stories they truly want to tell. This is a book about a tight knit immigrant community, about female friendships, and about women who have lived their whole lives without power or agency finding ways to gain those things while still holding onto the traditions and values of their community.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  The book tells the story of a Korean family who have immigrated to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea and their experience living in Japan over the course of a few generations through the wars and beyond. The way that Korean immigrants were looked down on and denied full entry into society even generations after immigrating had some uncomfortable parallels to things going on in my own country right now. Pachinko is a popular gambling game in Japan (kind of the equivalent of a slot machine) and several characters in the book are involved in the Pachinko business which is where the title comes from.

Best Thriller

I read 15 books that fit in this genre this year, and not a single one of them rocked my world. If I had to pick one to recommend I would say either The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (the story of a young woman preparing to marry a too-good-to-be-true man while being stalked by his ex-wife. Or is it?) or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (Anna Fox swears she saw a woman get stabbed in the house across the street, but no one can find any evidence. Also, Anna is on a lot of medication and drinks way too much. So there’s that).

 

Best Memoir

Everything Happens for a Reason and other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As she navigates the grief and pain of illness and facing her own mortality, she finds herself drawn to the reassurances offered by the health and wealth doctrines of the prosperity gospel and comes to an understanding of why people cling to these beliefs even when they seem so obviously false.

Educated by Tara Westover. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family, Tara Westover had no access to formal education.  At 17 she became determined to do things differently. Having never been to school, she taught herself enough to gain entrance to Brigham Young University where she learned for the first time not only math, science, and literature, but about the history of her own country and of world events (like the Holocaust) which she had never even heard of. Exposure to the world of learning sparked a hunger in her for all that she did not know and went on to study at Harvard and at Cambridge. As she gains knowledge and understanding about the world and her own upbringing, she is driven to try to forge a way back to her family, so many of whom are still living in a toxic environment.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell. Irish novelist O’Farrell explores the fragility and beauty of life through seventeen stories of her own encounters with death.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads byClementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. This is the story of one girl surviving the Rwandan genocide. This was one of the most poignant memoirs I have ever read, not only because the author survived something horrific, but because it focuses equally on the aftermath. It explores what it was like to be stateless as a refugee, but also what it was like to be safe and settled and still feel the need to put on a particular identity, to tell the kind of heroic story of survival that people want to hear.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Noah which uses his characteristic humor to share compelling stories of growing up as a biracial child (and therefore a child conceived illegally) under apartheid in South Africa.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. If you like the BBC show, you will love the books which strike the same note, but do have some different stories and observations about Worth’s time working alongside a group of nuns as a midwife in some of London’s poorest communities during the 1950’s.

Best Nonfiction

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. This is such an important book that I am still digesting. When I first finished it, I wished Brown would have given me some more action points. Like “How can I fix the damage I have done by being white.” But over time I started to realize that was part of the point. am not the fixer. I am not the one to swoop in and help black people. A huge part of my role in racial reconciliation is to acknowledge my privilege and my biases and to simply listen.

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. 12 beautiful essays about how to live and to love in the truest and most authentic ways possible.

Best Beach Read

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The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand. Big, juicy rich white people problems book set on Nantucket. Enough said.

Best Fantasy

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic.

La Belle Savage (The Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman. This gives great back story if you are a fan of His Dark Materials. Otherwise, this is not the one to start with.

Best Mystery

The Witch Elm by Tana French. I am a huge fan of Tana French although I was disappointed with her last book. The Trespasser. This is her first mystery outside of the Dublin Murder Squad series and I really enjoyed it. Toby is a carefree guy for whom everything has always come easily. After suffering a head injury, he moves to the countryside to recuperate in the old family home where his broken mind and body frustrate him. When a human skeleton is discovered on the property, Toby struggles to answer the detectives questions, whether because of the holes in his memory or because of secrets he never knew to begin with.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. I’ve read and loved all of the Cormoran Strike mysteries, but I will admit this was the first one that felt a bit too long for me. Nevertheless, I enjoyed trying to piece together the mystery and loved spending more time with Cormoran and Robin.

Best Audiobooks

My Plain JaneThe second book in the Lady Janies series, this is a retelling of Jane Eyre where Jane Eyre is a real person who inspired her friend Charlotte Bronte and also, she can see dead people. As much fun as My Lady Jane.

Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar. Best known for his role as Raj Kuthrapali on The Big Bang Theory, Nayyar tells funny, heartwarming stories about his childhood, immigrating to America, trying to make it as an actor and comedian, and how a guy like him ended up with a wife like former Miss India, Neha Kapur.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. New York Times food critic tells stories of literally dressing up in different disguises and assuming new identities in order to review top restaurants undetected. This is great on audio.

CalypsoNothing is funnier than David Sedaris reading David Sedaris. His delivery really sells it.

What did you love reading this year?

What I’m Into: October 2018

This month has been especially busy for us, but mostly full of nice things. We did some traveling and had a friend come for a visit. We don’t have much of anything planned for November at the moment, and I’m actually looking forward to a few weeks of a normal routine. I admit that as obnoxious as it is when people post about how wonderful fall is, they have a point and now that I am living somewhere without a fall, I am definitely missing it. People here have started to dress like it’s fall, but it’s still in the low 80’s every day. It does get into the 70’s in the mornings and evenings which does feel like a nice change, but it’s hardly cause for sweaters and coats.

What I’m Reading

I read 11 books this month. Sadly, I am still about 20 books behind on my goal for the year. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I will be pretty impressed if I can pull this off. All of the books I read this month are pictured below, but I will just mention a few standouts.

36301023My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton. I had been waiting for this book ever since I read the trio’s first book,  My Lady Jane, last year. In this re-telling of Jane Eyre, Jane is not a fictional character created by Charlotte Bronte, but instead is a real life friend of hers whose Charlotte uses as the inspiration for her classic novel. Only this Jane can see dead people. It is every bit as silly and delightful as My Lady Jane and I definitely recommend you listen to the audiobook.

 

 

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. This book has been out for a long time and 10847I can’t believe I only just got around to it since it is about one of my secret fascinations – fundamentalist polygamist cults. The thing that stood out to me in listening to this compelling account of the history of fundamentalist Mormonism was how similar so much of the language is to what you would hear in a mainstream American evangelical church. For example, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard someone say, “I prayed about it and I felt the Lord leading me to do x, y, z.” Many of the stories in this book have that same language, but, you know, the thing the Lord is leading them to do is marry 13 year olds or slay the infidels. So there’s that. Seriously though, this book is fascinating and done in Krakauer’s typical thorough and engaging style.

34128219La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust) by Philip Pullman. It was great fun to dive back into Pullman’s world and to get more of the back story on Lyra, the heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman’s storytelling was every bit as compelling in this book as it is in the original trilogy, though I do have to dock it a few points because I felt the last third of the book dragged on for too long.

 

 

35270717Unthinkable: What the World’s Most Extraordinary Brains Can Teach Us About Our Own by Helen Thomson. This book was fascinating. I’m not a scientist, so I appreciated how accessible this was for an unscientific audience. Thomson traveled the world meeting with people with rare psychological disorders and talking about those disorders both as they experienced them and in terms of what doctors and researchers had learned about the brain by studying the brains of these unique individuals. Her subjects include a man who believed he was dead for 3 years, a woman who constantly hears music that isn’t there, and a man who believes he turns into a tiger. In my opinion, Thomson was able to write about these people as real humans instead of distilling them down to their condition.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. This debut novel has gotten rave reviews with good 35068705reason. If you are looking for a fantasy novel you won’t be disappointed by, look no further. Rin is a poor, dark-skinned war orphan with no prospects, but after receiving the highest score in the Empire on the entrance exam for the empire’s top Academies, she earns a spot at Sinegard, the most elite military academy. There she learns the art of war and discovers her own unique gift in shamanism, widely believed to be a dead art. When war breaks out, Rin learns the true cost of her gift and what it might take to save her people. I will say, there is a lot of descriptive violence and brutality on the page in this book, but it’s fantastic. And it’s the first in a series so there will be more to come!

What I’m Watching

We are trying to catch up on the current seasons of Better Call Saul and The Good Place. Meanwhile, I have been on an Elementary kick. I’ve seen random episodes of the show off and on over the years, but never really followed it, so now I am taking advantage of Netflix and watching old episodes.

We also went to see A Star is Born. There was much weeping. That really got me in the feels. And also, I already knew Lady Gaga was wildly talented, and I think she is so interesting, but her acting in this was top notch. And of course…Bradley Cooper. Just…sigh. When we left the theater I was blinking back my tears and said to Jonathan, “We will never speak of this again.” It’s beyond my emotional capacity to handle how many feelings this movie gave me. Go see it, everyone. But then don’t talk to me about it. Because I just can’t.

What I’m Writing

While I was out having adventures a lot this month, I didn’t do quite as good a job of documenting them. But I did write about our day trip to Macau and told some fun stories about odd things I’ve eaten recently and some funny ESL moments with my students. Please follow me on Keep Roaming On for more of my day-to-day adventures and stories from my travels. I have a ton of things half-written, but I guess I have been struggling with follow through this month.

What’s On My Mind

This is a new section of the monthly post and it’s basically a place for me to word vomit some things that have been filling my thoughts lately and haven’t made their way out in the form of a blog post.

  1. The amount of hatred in the world, but particularly in the US right now is terrifying and heartbreaking. My heart is heavy for the many victims of injustice and violence who are suffering right now. Lord, have mercy.
  2. It’s hard to make new friends as an adult. Like seriously hard. But it makes me really appreciate the close friends I have who have continued to make the effort to be friends even though I’m the one who decided to pick up and move across the world.
  3. When we were in the Philippines mid-October, the shops were playing Christmas music. This felt wrong on so many levels. Rocking out to “All I Want for Christmas is You” while sipping mojitos on an island beach was…incongruous to say the least. And then yesterday (October 31st) the stores in the area where I work started putting out their Christmas lights. And I thought the US was bad about starting Christmas too early…
  4. One of our cats back in the US has been missing for several weeks. I try not to think about it too much because it makes me so sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know this is not on the scale of anti-semitism and cancer, but on tough days it feels like the actual worst.
  5. Speaking of cancer, my cousin’s double mastectomy went well and they believe they got it all, but she will have to undergo a round of chemo just to be safe. She is a strong and beautiful woman who is already using her story to help other people. I’m kind of in awe of her.
  6. Having to meet your friends’ babies over FaceTime is both an amazing marvel of technology and also somewhat devastating. You cannot get that new baby smell or the feel their little fuzzy bodies through a phone screen. But thank goodness there’s a way for us to actually see each other live. We take it for granted, but if I had been living in Hong Kong even like 15 years ago this would have been impossible.

What I’ve Been Up To

On October 10th, my bestie had her first baby, a truly gorgeous little girl with hair to die for. (Yes, this is a different baby than the one that was born last month). Natalie Loren, you are loved all the way across the world!

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I’m dead. Completely dead. 

On October 14th, we flew to Cebu, Philippines where we stayed for 4 nights in a hotel with the biggest bed I have ever seen. It was literally five Lily-lengths wide. I know because I counted. It was amazing. We had some very chilled beach time and also went out to Kawasan Falls and to the top of Osmeña Peak. It was like being in The Jungle Book.

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We stayed for four nights and then flew back to Hong Kong where my lifelong friend Rachel met us the very next day. She had been working in Bangkok and flew up for a few days before heading back to the US. So we spent 3 days playing.

Last weekend I had to go to Macau again to activate my new visa, but because Jonathan and I were both tired and didn’t really want to spend the money on another trip to Macau, I went by myself. I rode the ferry over, walked through immigration and into the ferry terminal, then went up the escalator and walked back through immigration the other direction and got on the next ferry back to Hong Kong. The whole thing took a few hours, but I was in Macau all of 10 minutes. The government, man.

So that’s me. I feel like we haven’t chatted in forever. What’s been going on with you guys? Read anything great recently? Or just want to commiserate on the sorry state of the world? Leave a comment or send me a message. I’m still here.

 

 

 

What I’m Into: September 2018 Edition

This month has been full of somewhat dramatic events in my personal life. Obviously, I moved across the world in August, so much of September involved getting settled into a routine here in Hong Kong, getting used to a new job, and exploring our new home. I’ve been writing a lot about our experiences here over on my new travel/expat living website: Keep Roaming On. I’ve even started a YouTube channel where I’m dabbling with vlogging some of our adventures. If you are interested in reading/watching, please follow me in those places!

What I’m Reading

In spite of all of these other ventures, I’ve still found a good bit of time to read between the typhoon days and during my daily commute. Actually, I think it may be an all-time record for me. I read 14 books in September.

One of my go-to genres for easy reading is the domestic/psychological thriller. I admit that I am often unimpressed with these books, but for whatever reason I keep picking them up. Most books in this genre rely upon a twist of some sort, and I often find the twist either not twisty at all or implausible, which leaves me with a “meh” reaction. But I enjoy how fast-paced they are, and I like trying to figure out what’s really going on. Since I read so many books this month, I’m only going to comment on the ones I particularly liked…spoiler alert, most of the thrillers didn’t make it.

32075853Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. This was the surprise standout for me this month. I’m not even sure what made me pick it up, but this book was bomb. Erotic stories don’t do much for me (I just can’t take “sexy” descriptions seriously), but the erotic stories in this book are simply a device to talk about so much more. A group of Punjabi widows sign up for a writing class. Their teacher, a young British/Punjabi woman, thinks she will be helping these women to write the stories of their lives, but she is unprepared for the stories they truly want to tell. This is a book about a tight knit immigrant community, about female friendships, and about women who have lived their whole lives without power or agency finding ways to gain those things while still holding onto the traditions and values of their community.

36344555All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. I’ve loved Emily Giffin for years, but I didn’t enjoy her last book (before this one), so I was pleasantly surprised by All We Ever Wanted. While Giffin’s previous books have all had some sort of romance at their core, this one didn’t. I think Giffin’s decision to steer away from that helped her showcase her skills as a storyteller and the strength of her characterizations. This book handles serious issues like how to raise teenagers (particularly sons) in the midst of rape culture and some of the less obvious ways that privilege asserts itself. It’s not a perfect book, but I found it very engaging and I liked it.

27161845-1Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand. Elin Hilderbrand is a new discovery/obsession of mine. I had never picked up her books before because I thought they would all be very chick-lit-y. Actually, the books I’ve read so far combine two of my favorite genres – rich white people problems and stories that look at how multiple members of a family or a community experience one event. This book tells the story of the aftermath of celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe’s sudden death as his three ex-wives and his children come together to say goodbye. To be honest, not that much happens in this book, but what I enjoyed about it was the different characters’ perspectives, interactions, and motivations. And…Nantucket.

 

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Calypso by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is strange and sometimes dark, but undeniably hilarious. This was one of my favorites of his essay collections. I highly recommend listening to it on audio since he reads it himself and his delivery adds a lot to the text.

 

 

 

34189556The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This thriller was a rare case where I was surprised by the initial twist AND I thought it worked. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy the parts of the book that came after the twist as much as the first portion, but it still rates as above average compared to other psychological/domestic thrillers I’ve read recently. It’s the story of a young woman preparing to marry a too-good-to-be-true man while being stalked by his ex-wife. (Or is it?)

 

I also read:

What I’m Watching

Jonathan and I have been watching Better Call Saul, which is a spin-off from one of Jonathan’s favorite shows, Breaking Bad. I’ve never watched a single episode of Breaking Bad, but thankfully it doesn’t really matter for understanding this show. It’s a drama, but it’s the perfect blend of serious and comic and from what I understand, nowhere near as dark as Breaking Bad.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, I also discovered the series Marcella on Netflix. As another British detective show, it filled the hole left by Broadchurch. However, there are only two seasons at this point so now I am back to needing more shows like this.

Jonathan and I went to see Crazy Rich Asians in the theater. It was a unique experience to watch this in Hong Kong since it has an all-Asian cast and is set in this part of the world. I loved it. The books are even better. But I still loved it. We also went to see the latest Mission Impossible movie which was all action all the time and a lot of fun.

What I’m Writing

Most of my writing has been over on Keep Roaming On, where I’ve done posts about the typhoon, some fun weekly posts with observations about daily life here, and posts about hiking in Hong Kong, as well as a few posts about our experiences in Ireland earlier this summer. I also wrote an update here on this blog about my mental health since moving to Hong Kong.

What I’ve Been Up To

I have had lots of daily life adventures getting used to a new city, but it’s also been a month with a lot of ups and downs.

At the beginning of the month, we did an incredibly strenuous, but also beautiful hike up Lion Rock. I thought I was going to die, but it was worth it. Except for the part where we saw the monkeys. Because those things will rip your face off.

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We experienced our first typhoon which also happened to be the strongest recorded typhoon to hit Hong Kong. It was equivalent to a Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic and it was awe-inspiring and terrifying. We are so thankful to have been safe and sound and that our home did not suffer any damage.

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Typhoon damage outside of our apartment

A few days later, one of my closest friends back in the US had a beautiful baby girl…in her front hallway, 5 minutes after the firemen arrived. Sweet baby girl was in a big hurry to make her entrance, arriving just an hour and a half after my friend first thought, “I think we’re going to have a baby today.”

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Emmaline Alma Kroll

Then I learned that my beautiful, healthy 35-year-old cousin had been diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine check-up. After a whirlwind of tests, she had a double mastectomy earlier this week. They are still waiting to decide if she will need follow-up chemo, but all seems to have gone well. Through the whole thing, she has been so brave and strong, immediately wanting to share her story with others to encourage them to be proactive about their own health.

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Last weekend we had to leave the country on a visa run, so we took the one-hour ferry ride over to Macau and spent the day wandering around this strange and interesting city where the signs are in Portuguese and Cantonese and the shimmering casinos are just a few streets over from historical church ruins.

It was also Mid-Autumn Festival, a major holiday in the Chinese calendar celebrated with lanterns and moon cakes, so we went down to a lantern display on Hong Kong Island to join the celebrations.

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This month was full of emotional ups and downs for me as I experienced the danger of the typhoon, the joy of baby Emmaline’s safe arrival and the sadness of not being there to meet her, the shock and the sadness over my cousin’s cancer, and the wonder of exploring a new place.  It’s been a month chock-full of life in all of it’s splendor and all of it’s brutality, and I’ve come to the end of it grateful for the grace and provision I have seen in my life and the lives of many I love this month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Reads of 2018 (So Far)

This past weekend we experienced the most crazy, wonderful blessing – one of our good friends from college, whom we have not seen since our wedding eight years ago, showed up in Hong Kong with her husband and baby. They had already planned this trip before we announced our move, so when we realized we were going to be in the same place at the same time, we all kind of freaked out. I mean, mostly Mary Claire and I freaked out. But I think the boys were excited too. Just in a more tough, manly ways.

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We had an absolute blast with Mary Claire, Benjamin, and Banning and are secretly hoping they just drop everything and move here so that we can hang out all the time. While we were together, Mary Claire mentioned that she’d read several of the books I’ve recommended over the years, and she kind of called me out for not posting any book recommendations in such a long time. So…long introduction to say…for all of you who have had absolutely nothing to read these long months where I haven’t written about books, the dry spell is over. You’re welcome. 😉 Here’s the best of what I’ve read so far this year.

Note: I realized that most of my favorite books so far this year have been recent releases that deal with sad or difficult circumstances. To be fair, they all have some measure of hope to offset the sadness, but if you don’t like books where people deal with hard things, you might not like these.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

33253215This book, man. It is not for the faint of heart. This book tells the life story of Cyril Avery from birth to death. Cyril Avery is born to an unwed mother in rural Ireland and adopted by an eccentric writer and her husband who really know nothing about children. As Cyril grows, we meet a cast of richly drawn characters who impact Cyril’s life, for better or worse. This book is largely focused on the horrible treatment of gay men in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the late 20th century. Because of that, some parts are very hard to read and some of it is very sad. There is also a significant amount of sexual content in the first half of the book (just fair warning if you don’t like reading that). However, the characters are amazingly vivid, unique, and quirky, and in the end, I can’t describe this book in any way other than beautiful, deeply moving, and unforgettable. The book ends on a sweet note which might strike some readers as too convenient, but I felt set up for it from early on and found it satisfying the that it ended in a place of peace.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

34912895Hannah showed up on everyone’s radar after The Nightingale in 2015. Her newest book takes place in Alaska in the 1970’s where Vietnam veteran Ernt Allbright takes his wife and his 13-year-old daughter Leni to live off the grid. The family think this will be their salvation, but in the long, dark winters, Ernt is haunted by the ghosts of the past and becomes increasingly paranoid and irrational. Leni realizes that she must fight for survival for herself and for her mother in the great Alaskan wild, There is something mesmerizing about the wild, rugged beauty of a mostly unsettled land. The story itself is very reminiscent of The Glass Castle although fictional, so there is definitely a trigger warning for domestic violence. The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the ending which felt a little abrupt and too neat compared to the rest of the book. However, if you are someone who needs it to end on a hopeful note, you will probably like this.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.

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A short and sweet account of an adult child (Ruth) stepping in to care for her father as he slips into dementia.  I read it in almost one sitting and I loved it. In spite of being quite short, I felt like it delved into the issues inherent in being an adult child taking care of a parent as the parent loses agency. It also dealt with the complexities of dementia without being overly sappy, sad, or sentimental.

 

 

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.

35133922This memoir has exploded onto the scene and (deservingly) gained a lot of attention. Growing up in a fundamentalist, survivalist family (again somewhat a la The Glass Castle) , Tara Westover had no access to formal education. Taught that western medicine was evil, she learned to use herbs and natural remedies for everything from childbirth to severe burns. Violence and control were part of every day life, but they were all that Tara knew. At 17 she became determined to do things differently. Having never been to school, she taught herself enough to gain entrance to Brigham Young University where she learned for the first time not only math, science, and literature, but about the history of her own country and of world events (like the Holocaust) which she had never even heard of. Exposure to the world of learning sparked a hunger in her for all that she did not know and went on to study at Harvard and at Cambridge. As she gains knowledge and understanding about the world and her own upbringing, she is driven to try to forge a way back to her family, so many of whom are still living in a toxic environment.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

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Celestial and Roy are still newlyweds when the unthinkable happens. Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the beginning, Celestial and Roy remain fiercely devoted to one another, but as the years go by, Celestial begins to move on with her life. When Roy’s conviction is overturned and he is released early, the (still married) couple must figure out what really makes a marriage and whether or not they can still have one.

 

 

 

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler.

35133923Kate Bowler is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has devoted her professional career to studying the prosperity gospel. At 35, she has is just hitting her stride in her career and has finally become a mother after years of trying. Then she is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As she navigates the grief and pain of illness and facing her own mortality, she finds herself drawn to the reassurances offered by the health and wealth doctrines of the prosperity gospel and comes to an understanding of why people cling to these beliefs even when they seem so obviously false. As someone who grew up in an environment I would call “prosperity gospel adjacent,” I was moved by this memoir of wrestling with the harsh reality of death within this specific context. Bowler’s writing is funny and witty and heart-wrenching all at once and this book will stay with me for a long time.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl.

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Ruth Reichl is a renowned food writer and was a long-time critic for the New York Times. This memoir recounts her time as a food critic and her various experiences eating her way through New York City. The most entertaining parts are how she created actual characters with backstories and disguises in order to visit these restaurants without being recognized as the New York Times food critic and receiving special treatment. Parts of this are laugh-out-loud funny, and Reichl’s skills as a master storyteller are on show here. Such a fun read.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

36840397I don’t have the words. Part of what moved me so much about this book is that it was so emotionally resonant to my own family history, even though I grew up as a very conservative Christian rather than Muslim. I particularly enjoy/connect to stories that show how different family members experienced the same event in different ways. This book tells the story of an Indian-American Muslim family and their individual struggles with belonging. Parents, Leila and Rafiq have tried to instill their traditions and values in their children, but each of their three children has had to forge their own path. Leila and Rafiq have had to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can accept and embrace their children when their decisions don’t align with Leila and Rafiq’s hopes for them. The book opens at the wedding of Hadia, the family’s oldest child, who has chosen to marry for love rather than have an arranged marriage. The family are collectively holding their breath to see if the youngest sibling, Amar, will come to the wedding after being estranged from the family for three years. It’s a novel about the ways that families try (and often fail) to love each other well, and in that way, I think it is something we can all relate to. I think this book is a great choice for anyone who loved Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You.

Honorable Mentions go to: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan, I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward

You can always follow me on Goodreads for updates on what I am currently reading. Let me know if you have read or end up reading any of these!

What I’m Into: January 2018

January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because we’re over the excitement of Christmas, but it’s still winter. Or maybe it’s because so many of us are trying so hard to make some changes and start fresh, and getting started on a new habit is always the hardest part. Regardless of why, I’m glad to be finished with January and moving towards spring, which comes early in the south. Here’s what January looked like for me.

What I’m Reading:

I read 9 books in January and got 2/3 of the way through two others, so I’m feeling good about hitting my reading goal of 125 in 2018, though I know it’s still early days. Follow me on Goodreads for updates.

 

The Spy by Paulo Coelho was actually my first Coelho book. It’s fairly short and tells the story of  Mata Hari, a woman who made her debut as a dancer in Paris in the early 1900’s and charmed her way into the upper eschelons of society where she was privy to secrets. She formed relationships with many powerful men and was eventually arrested in 1917 and accused of being a spy. This is a fictional account of the actual historical person.

Coincidentally, I also read The Alice Network this month which tells the story of two women, one of whom is also a spy during WWI and is part of a network of female spies. They actually reference Mata Hari in the book as another famous female spy. I’m very into drawing connections between things I read, watch, and experience in real life, so I really enjoyed it.  I liked this book quite a bit more than I expected to and found it to be a quick read even though it’s on the long side.

I read some fantastic nonfiction this month including, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah which uses his characteristic humor to share compelling stories of growing up as a biracial child (and therefore a child conceived illegally) under apartheid in South Africa. I listened to the audio version of One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul which is a book of humorous and poignant essays about a lot of different topics dealing with race, gender, and identity. I think listening to it was the way to go because you really get to hear the author’s sense of humor. Plus the short parts at the ends of each chapter that are read by “her father” are hilarious. I also read Kelly Corrigan’s new book, Tell Me More. I really love Kelly Corrigan. Her writing reminds me of Cheryl Strayed in some ways and I thought this book was great. Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway has some great nuggets woven in, but overall I don’t think it was one of her best.

I read Sara Gruen’s newest book, At the Water’s Edge and didn’t think it was anything special. It was like Water for Elephants except substitute the circus for Scotland and and the elephant to searching for the Loch Ness Monster.

The Unseen World, however was really interesting. I’m still not entirely sure what I thought about it, but it was intriguing on several levels. It tells the story of Ada Sibelius who is raised unconventionally by her father who is a brilliant scientist who keeps Ada isolated from the experiences that most other children have growing up. When her father begins to experience the early stages of dementia, Ada is forced to join the rest of the world for the first time. Meanwhile she tries to uncover her father’s secrets before they are lost forever inside of his mind. I can’t decide if I feel like this book had one too many twists or not, but overall I really liked it.

I also read Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin for my book club. It’s roughly based on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but told entirely from the perspectives of females involved. It’s a multi-generational story of female voices that is meant to be an indictment of slut shame culture. I’m not sure if it succeeds in doing that, but it was a relatively fun and easy read.

What I’m Watching:

I finally starting watching The Crown after having it recommended to me over and over again. I’m halfway through Season 2 and I love it even though I pretty much hate Phillip. I am just one episode behind on This Is Us  and continue to think it is brilliant even though it always makes me cry. Jonathan and I have been watching The Good Place since it’s been back on. I am really impressed with the ways that show continues to be clever and creative and to take the story in new directions. I also binge-watched the first season of Riverdale which as scratched the itch I sometimes feel for Pretty Little Liars now that that’s over. The only problem is that I don’t have access to Season 2 yet so I have to wait for it to come to Netflix. Which I know is not a real problem, but still.

What I’m Writing:

I finally got back to my blog this month and posted a Favorite Books of 2017 post, my Year in Review post, my What I Plan to Read in 2018 post, and one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, We Must Risk Delight: Or How to Combat the Devil One Tattoo at a Time.

What I’ve Been Doing:

My world is dominated by my many jobs (I run an international student program during the day, but also do a ton of after school tutoring and some freelance writing) Just after New Year’s, Jonathan left for 6 days to do some serious writing as he prepares to turn in his thesis. I have to admit, I didn’t mind having the house to myself for 6 days, though I was definitely glad to see him when he got back.

I got my new tattoo and we went to Charlotte to visit our dear friends and their (now 4 month old!) baby, Shepherd.  We also had a magical Snow Day off of school that week. It wasn’t magical because of the snow because we didn’t actually get any, even though places as close as an hour away got several inches. It was just magical because we got a surprise day off.

Shepherd

The following weekend, I took a group of 16 international students up to Asheville for the weekend. Most of them had never been and we enjoyed the artsy downtown area before heading up to a lodge on a lake that we had rented out. We went with my boss, my work wife (Rachel), and another teacher. It was such a great time. I wish I could share pictures of the kids, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing too much about my school or my students online. Just trust me when I say they are adorable.

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The other thing that dominated this month (and our lives in general) was conversations about what we will do when Jonathan graduates in May. There are a million questions with no good answers and this has frankly been a very stressful period of time. It sort of feels like hurtling towards a giant crater of unknown. My favorite.

What I’ve Been Loving:

Barre classes. Seriously. I never would have thought I would get into barre, because those classes are HARD and make me feel like I’m dying, but I keep going back. I started trying out barre back in September because my friend Meredith was getting certified to teach and have been going fairly consistently ever since. I try to get there 2-3 times a week. Every time, I don’t know why I put myself through the torture, but I also come out of it feeling like I worked really hard. This hasn’t necessarily translated into any great physical change since barre will do a lot more toning than it will overall fat burning, but I feel stronger and more graceful. I also mix it up by doing zumba about once a week, which I am terrible at, but really enjoy.

My bullet journal. Yes, it takes time to make it look like this. Time that could probably be better spent elsewhere. BUT it keeps me organized, helps me with the 3,000 things I have to do every day for different jobs and clients and friends and family members, and gives me a way to remember how I’ve spent my time. I also like that I can change up the layout every week if I want depending on what I have going on.

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My boots. If you know me in real life, you probably know that I am shoe girl. Like hardcore. I just love shoes. I’m not even going to try to defend it. This month I’ve particularly loved my boot collection. I think I wore a pair of boots every single day of January. I firmly believe there is a boot to fit every outfit and every occasion. Which is how I justify every new pair of boots I buy. And then there are boots like these, which are so extra, they are their own occasion.  But tell me, how can you have these on your feet and not feel happy?

Boots

My Letterfolk board. Jonathan surprised me with this as a birthday present. I admit, it can also be a bit of a time suck thinking of what to write and putting each of those little letters in place. But also…it’s fun! I usually post mine to Instagram. Like a cool kid.

If you want to read more posts like this, head over to Leigh Kramer’s blog and check out her link up. In the meantime, what have you loved this month? Anything recommendations for me?