What I Read in January 2020

I finished six books in January. Please excuse me while I freak out a minute about that fact. For some perspective: in 2016, my reading goal was to read 12 books in the whole entire year. Flash forward 4 years and I’m meeting half that goal in a month?! What the hell! I’m so proud of myself.


As much as I love books and reading, reading is, and has always been, so difficult for me. I’ve always struggled with reading comprehension and I’ve always read so much more slowly than my peers. I’ve long suspected that maybe I have/ had an undiagnosed learning disorder. Friends–being an English major was hard (so very hard) for me and after college, I didn’t read again for the better part of a decade after graduation. But I have found that the more I read, the easier it is for me to continue to do so. If I don’t read every single day (and yes, audiobooks count), it gets even harder for me to keep reading well.

But here we are in 2020 and I’m reading voraciously for pleasure! I’m really, really proud of myself. Look at me go!

Here’s what I’ve read so far this year!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I gave this one three stars. I’ve heard the audiobook version is read by Lin Manuel Miranda and I honestly am considering re-reading on audiobook because I kinda felt like this novel lacked feeling (and Miranda could give feeling and spirit to the list of side effects in an ad for a sketchy medication on tv). I know it’s about teenage boys… but I just kind of couldn’t figure out what was motivating any of the choices they were making. But maybe I’m too much of a grownup? I don’t know. I loved the ending of this book so much but also, because I had so little insight into the inner workings of the main character, it felt kind of out of the blue for me. I’m excited to talk about this one with other people at our Project Lit Mac meeting in March.

91zm+WTT58LThe Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission that Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
I gave this one four stars. It was really exciting. A little repetitive in places but every time I started to drift off, something new brought me back in. Also there’s a big fat juicy plot twist at around the midway point which I didn’t see coming in this non-fiction book. This book is about the people who, more or less, sneaked into mental hospitals in the 70’s and reported on their findings.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
This one got five stars from me. Another book that I read in preparation for our Project Lit Mac conversations in a few months. If there’s one thing that Tahereh Mafi does extremely well, it’s creating a very real and exquisite sense of emotion. The book had me breathless time and time again–going back to those chaotic but stabilizing feelings of falling in proper, good love for the first time. Now that I’m writing this, I realized that this book fulfilled everything that I felt was lacking from Aristotle and Dante.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
So, I gave this one five stars on Goodreads but I attribute most of that to the fact that the audiobook was phenomenally produced. I don’t think that I would have loved this book as much if I’d been reading it on paper, to be honest. That being said, though, I really liked the way that Alexis Schaitkin found a way to tell this story in so many different ways. Some chapters are comprised of articles and online message boards. Some chapters are all told from a diary. Other chapters follow specific (seemingly unimportant) characters. It would be such a struggle to keep a tight thread running through all these perspectives but Schaitkin pulled it off really well.

71oQvDahpvLTopics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
Another three star read for me. I found this book compelling… ish? It really is just a collection of conversations between the main character and different people that she’s spoken to over the past 20 years. It was a quick read and even though I was compelled to finish the book–I was not compelled to care about the main character at all. Reminded me a little bit of 2019’s Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. Except I like Taddeo’s better–it was based on true events and real people and there was far more meaning to it.

Mercy House by Alena Dillon
FIVE BRIGHT AND SHINING STARS FROM ME FOR MERCY HOUSE! I started listening to this on a road trip to Kansas City last weekend and got sucked in hard and fast. At a certain point, I got so engrossed in the story, that I didn’t realize I was getting pulled over. Woops!! Mercy House is the name of a women’s shelter, run by three Brooklyn nuns. We go back in time to learn about, not only the women who are living at Mercy House but also we learn about Sister Evelyn–who started the house 26 years ago. There are themes of sexism within and outside of the Catholic church. This is a powerful story of women fighting against lies in their pasts to make the future a better and more safe place.

Currently Reading:

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
The last book I’m reading for Project Lit Mac. This one is delicious so far. It is obvious that this book was written by a poet.

713o4IUwopLThe Tenant by Katrine Engberg
I put off listening to this for a few weeks because, from the description, I was afraid this was going to be a gruesome murder mystery. And it’s not-not that, but at this point, I’m really sucked into the story. If you love a police procedural and don’t mind a little bit of grit, give this one a shot.
I learned that this book was translated from the original Danish (I think?) and released to English speaking audiences this year and that’s what finally got me to start it–because that way I can cross “a book in translation” off my 2020 list!

What have you been reading lately?
Are you a fast reader or are you slow, like me?

Five Star Books: 2019

In my last post, I gave myself the idea of making a top ten list of my favorite books that I read in 2019. Well, I thought of it for about 23 seconds and decided that’s impossible. I can’t tell you the very best. What kind of a monster do you think I am?!

What I can do, though, is give you a list of all of the books I marked with Five Stars on Goodreads, though! Hey, follow me on Goodreads if you want to.


I don’t really have a super thoughtful method to describe how I decide that a book is five-stars-worthy. It’s  just, if I really liked it. Like, if I would super duper recommend this book to someone else, then it gets five stars. If I liked it fine but I probably won’t evangalize about it or anything, I’ll give it four. Looking at my Goodreads account, though, it turns out that if I wouldn’t rate it four stars and above, I probably won’t finish it. So… we both learned something about me today. There are too many books to spend time on three-star ones. AND WE’RE OFF!!

Five Star Books I Read in 2019 (in no particular order of preference):

Maisie Dobbs (book #1) by Jacqueline Winspear
I listened to this on Audiobook. It’s the perfect cozy mystery series. I don’t usually love a series but I will definitely read more from this one.

Exit West by Hamid Mohsin
This is the closest thing to science fiction that I can get. But I loved it. It took me to places and scenarios that are so different from the live I currently live.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I felt so connected and invested in all of these characters.

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Hated the ending. But adored all the rest in this book full of so much love and humanity.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
No, this is the closest thing to science fiction that I can get! This book blew my mind! I know that I said that it would be impossible to list my top ten favorite books but it’s easy for me to tell you what my number one favorite was. It was Kindred. Ten stars. I want to read everything she’s ever written.

There You Are by Mathea Morias
I’ve been describing this book as if The Hate U Give and High Fidelity had a baby. It’s a love story but without the romance. And it’s so good.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Blew! My! Mind! I love the way she played with structure. I loved the plot twist. I loved the setting and time period. I loved it all.

Girls Like Us by Randi Pink
This is a book about found family. It feels so honest and true–probably because it doesn’t stray too far from the very real history of women and femmes who had the misfortune of turning up too pregnant too early in our not too distant past.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The fact that this book was based on an American truth brought me to my knees in both sorrow, rage and acknowledgement that this story isn’t over.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
I wrote about this in my last post, so I won’t get into it again.

We are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
This one took me to some unexpected places and wondering where I fit on the spectrum between Apathetic and Extremist.

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
This memoir broke my heart. At times, I only kept reading because I knew that the main character definitely survived because she was able to write this book.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
*See The Downstairs Girl

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
This is like The Hunger Games meets The Handmaid’s Tale. I folded so much laundry while listening to this on Libro.fm.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyến Phan Quế Mai
Admittedly, I’ve never known that much about Vietnam. Neither the country nor the war that took place there. I felt so deeply for this family and for the way they fought for the promise of a future by searching their past. The writing is incredibly descriptive without bogging the story down in details. It was masterfully done.

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
The delicious undertones of this book are all focused on themes of forgiveness and whether or not it’s important to tell the whole truth all wrapped up in a delightful, exciting thriller.

*Bonus since I haven’t finished it yet but I will finish it before 2019 is over and I promise this is a five star book:

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West
I’m listening to this one on Libro.fm and every thirty seconds I’m chanting, “YES Lindy! YES!” Lindy answers so many questions but just for fun, here’s one: “How the eff are we seriously calling Ted Bundy ‘charming’ while also wondering if Elizabeth Warren is ‘likable’???” And I want to know the answer too. Just kidding WE ALL KNOW THE ANSWER. IT’S BECAUSE WHITE, CIS MEN ARE WORSHIPED JUST FOR BEING ALIVE EVEN IF THEY ARE VERY LITERAL SERIAL KILLERS WHILE EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO BEND OVER BACKWARDS WHILE BALANCING DISHES IN BOTH HANDS JUST TO BE CONSIDERED VAGUELY ACCEPTABLE. Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell but also, like, Lindy West makes me need to yell. WOO! Feels good!

Well, now that we know what my super favorite books are from this year, I wonder if it’s telling anything about what kind of books I like?

What were your top favorite, five star books of this year?


Dear Edward and The Downstairs Girl

915UZJcSq5LDear Edward is being released in early January and it’s definitely one of my favorite books that I read this year. I’m sure it would break the top ten list if I felt like sitting down and really ranking them all. Wait. Should I do that???

Anyway,  Dear Edward tells a really incredible story with not only a captivating premise (plane crash, one survivor) but also a lot of beauty and heart and serious honesty about the way that humans connect to one another–even if they’re strangers on a plane.

There’s a mystery that only Edward can solve–but he’s got to rebuild himself in order to solve it. Or does he need to solve the mystery in order to rebuild himself? Either way, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily shelve this in YA, it is going to be a great read for an older YA audience or anyone who loves a really good coming of age story–particularly for anyone who was a fan of Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker or Paper Towns by John Green.

I thought about gifting this book to my 14 year old niece for Christmas but then I was reminded about a few things, content-wise, that I might wait on. I’m not saying that she’s not mature enough to read a book with one not-overtly-graphic sex scene. I’m just saying, I’m not the one who’s going to give it as a Christmas gift. Maybe one day she’ll come over and browse my bookshelf and THEN I’ll happily pass it along. Ya know what I mean?


Instead, I’m going to gift The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee to her. This book really has it all. I loved it so much. It’s a historical novel with themes around race and gender relations in the genteel south but it’s all wrapped up in a truly engrossing story!  I learned so much reading this book. Like, did you know that Asians weren’t allowed to own property in the south in the late 19th century? Nor was it legal to rent to Asians? So, like, where TF are they supposed to live?!

Anyway, by day, Jo Kuan is a lady’s maid for a very rich and quite cruel family in Atlanta. By night, she’s a secret advice columnist! In a world where non-white people didn’t have any voice at all, Jo Kuan spoke up! And she changed! Her! World!

I will end this piece with a quote from a review from “Kate (GirlReading)” on Goodreads: “Apparently historical fiction novels following badass teen journalist using their voices to stick it to societal norms and shine a light on injustice is absolutely my kryptonite.” Same, Kate. Very same.



Virtual Book Club: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since the day I finished reading Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You in the spring of 2016. I just happened upon that book randomly at the local library. I’d been in a bit of a dry spell, reading-wise and Everything I Never Told You all at once flipped the switch inside of me and made me hungry for books. I went back to the library to find more books by her but there weren’t any. She hadn’t written any! Until now. *rubs hands together*

I’ve always had a love affair with first works by an author. It’s kind of like a musician’s first album—here’s the piece that’s been living inside of them for ages and they’ve had a lifetime to turn it over and make it perfect. Or, at least, that’s how I imagine it. And when the second book comes around, I’m eager to read it but not often as enchanted as I was that first time. This time was different. Little Fires Everywhere held me just the same.

Ng is a master storyteller. She is exactly what I’m looking for in literature. She can take all these individual strands and move them about in ways that make you eager to follow along, not sure where she’s taking this and then at the end you can see this magnificent braid with just a few fly-aways because she’s not afraid to leave some questions unanswered.

Sometimes I believe in spoilers and sometimes I don’t. For this particular book, I’m not going to tell you much. I don’t want to tell you any of the plot secrets and I don’t want to tell you my interpretation, either. Because I really want to hear how it spoke to you.

But in the first chapter, we more or less open on a house on fire. One of the fire inspectors knew that it was arson because there were “little fires everywhere.” Hearing the title of the book in the very first chapter piqued my interest in the direction of fire. So for the rest of the book I was noting when anything was described with fire language. This set me on a path of seeing what was living at the heart of this story: obedience vs rebellion.

As a girl who’s spent the past few years intentionally following my own arrow (and thusly repeatedly disappointing a certain type of people while also empowering another type of people)—this theme resonated with me in powerful ways. But who knows—it could just be this very thing in my life that saw that theme in the first point. Maybe it’s not there? Maybe it is? Who could know?

I can’t wait to have our book club meeting and find out (I’m writing this early and setting it to post after we’ve had our book club meeting but at the time of this writing, it has as of yet not taken place)! Our book club meetings are always so fun. I’m always in a weird mood and don’t really want to do it but the second we all start talking, it fills my joy-tank all the way up. Nothing fills me up like a book discussion does.

Anyway, go order Little Fires Everywhere. It’s just as good as Everything I Never Told You. Hell, order them both.

For the month of February we’ll be reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I’m really stoked to get into this story. I haven’t seen the movie, yet! I know, I know. But I’m really excited to get into this one.


One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul + August’s Book Reveal

Every single time I sit down to write one of these book reviews (and I’ve written, like, 13 by now?) I think, “Oh, but I don’t know how to do this.” I open up this blank word document and my brain, as it does when faced with any kind of expectation, goes into primate mode. “Book. Did like. Would recommend.” Is that good? Will you take that? Cool. Good talk. Thanks for stopping by, today.

No, but for real, this collection of essays has been such a joy to read through. I liked it so much that half-way through the copy that I got from the library, I returned it, went down to Bluebird Books, and bought my own copy. I did this so that I could underline the parts that felt so right that I couldn’t just leave them alone like they didn’t touch my soul.

One such passage: Nothing bad can happen to you if you’re with your mom. Your mom can stop a bullet from lodging in your heart. She can prop you up when you can’t. Your mom is your blood and bone before your body even knows how to make any.

Just take a moment with that.

She writes about the things you would expect a feminist child of immigrants to write about in 2017. She writes a touching story of visiting India for a cousin’s wedding. She writes about rape culture. Body image. The way we behave on the internet. The usual. But she has a fresh take that’s different from everything that’s been shared all over Facebook. And her writing style is so inviting and funny–it’s damn funny. And musical.

She told a story about when she was in college and how she and her friends lived themselves into a situation where they realized that one of them was likely a very serious alcoholic. She captured the progression so beautifully. The way it starts out so innocent and fun but eventually climaxes in a hard realization and a drunken fight. I love the way that she wraps up that story, too. It’s not about alcoholism or drunk stories. It’s about the way we get off on our own moral superiority. And she’s right, too.

One of the latter chapters deals with body image. She talks, specifically, about hair. How the hair on her head is seen as perfect and luxurious whereas the hair on her body is an absolute shame and something that she can’t be expected to reasonably control no matter how much time she devotes to it.
She says, “It’s easier to rebel against hair norms if you’re a woman generally unburdened by them in the first place. … For it to really matter, for your rebellion to extend outside yourself, you have to have been born with hair-baggage–that nagging reminder that what comes out of your body naturally makes you repulsive, or tells people that you’re deserving of a slur, or that your sexuality can exist only in a specific vacuum of kink or generous acceptance.
As the owner of a fat body, I finally felt like someone out there understands me and the particular brand of self-worth that I go back and forth between celebrating and starving for. The way she is at a constant battle between “fixing” and accepting Her Thing. Me, too, Scaachi.

I’m going to be revisiting this book again and again as time goes on. I know this is one of those books that you read and then pick it up in a year and hear all new things. I feel really grateful to have come across this book right now.

9780399563997Next month, we’re going to be reading Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota. I don’t know much about this book except that all of the reading podcasts that I listen to are talking about it and recommending it. This is one of my favorite ways to approach a book–with little to no knowledge about it, just the understanding that other people are reading it with you and so many people have great things to say about it.

As always, if you want to join our virtual book club just let me know! Shoot me a message on Facebook and I’ll add you to our group. Also don’t forget to head over to Staci’s blog to read her take on One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. I love reading her thoughts after I’ve settled on my own.

Tell me what you’re reading! Are you keeping up with your summer reading list or has it gone out the window with mine?