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.

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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?
-Libby

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.

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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?

XOXO, Lib

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?

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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.

XOXO, Lib

 

Virtual Book Club: Dinner a Love Story

I think it was our Virtual Book Club member, Tegan, who came up with the idea of doing a cookbook one month. I wasn’t sure how it would go but I was excited because, did you know this about me? I love reading cookbooks. Just, like, any ordinary book. My favorites are the ones that Joy The Baker has written, but this one, Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach is so… oh it just hits me in my soul-place. We had a really fun discussion over in the book club, too. We always do–I love our book club! You can join in if you’re interested, you know!

Disclaimer: most of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. I will receive compensation if you make a purchase through that link at no extra cost to you.

Continue reading “Virtual Book Club: Dinner a Love Story”

Virtual Book Club: You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

From time to time, our Virtual Book Club decides to have a Choose Your Own Adventure month where we read, basically, whatever we want and then get together to talk about it at our usual time. That’s what we did for the month of March–the only caveat was that we had to choose a non-fiction, “self-improvement” style book.

I chose, You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero. The reason that I chose this book was because, honestly, I thought it would be really impractical and elitist and it would be easy/ fun to write a review about a book that I hated. But, plot twist.

*record scratch*
Voice over: She didn’t hate the book.

I kept waiting for a big bunch of oblivious privilege to come barreling down the pike and–I mean, Jen Sincero does have privilege but she’s not unaware of it. She’s also been in the same places that I’ve been in. Sincero was in her mid-40’s before she started making real, serious money. That made me feel better since I’m only in my mid-30’s and wondering what the hell is going on.

If you’re the kind of person (like I am) who is super uncomfortable with the word “rich” and the concept of “getting rich”, then this book will definitely nudge you out of your comfort zone. “Rich” is a word that you have to define for yourself, though. For some, that means, I don’t know, numerous yachts? Caviar? What’s rich stuff? I don’t know.  For me, “rich” means living a rich life. Being able to support businesses, artists, and people that I believe in. Having, like, health insurance. Being able to help out family members who could use a little extra. So when Sincero would talk about getting rich–this was what was conjured up for me. And that not only made it seem desirable but also reasonable.

There’s a lot of woo-woo in this book. In fact, because of that, I’m definitely the target demographic. I’m a millennial woman who lives on the internet–you think I’m not going to be into the law of attraction? That’s what a lot of this is.

Here’s a text that I sent to my husband while I was in the middle of this book:
Me: I’m not going to say that I just manifested money but Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass at Making Money definitely would.

This weird thing happened. I had been waffling back and forth about whether or not I should print business cards. I knew I should but I was having trouble pulling the trigger. So one day, I just decided to go for it. I felt bad about the money I’d just spent on myself but I used a few of the techniques in the books to feel more empowered about making that choice. And within thirty minutes, I’d made the exact same amount (give or take a dime) through my online shop.
I’m not saying it definitely works… but it’s an interesting anecdote.

Anyway, this book definitely pumped me up for the future. I have more of an idea of what I want and what I’m looking for and what my goals are! I also want to send this book to everyone that I know but I haven’t manifested enough money to do that just yet so I’m going to just tell you to run to the library.


Next month we’re all reading Dinner a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. You may know her blog but she has so many cookbooks, too. I’m excited to see what other people get out of a cookbook! I hope we all try different recipes and get to come back with all sorts of thoughts. The Virtual Book Club is getting to be so fun! You should join!

Have you read this book? If not, have you read ANY self-improvement books? This is way outside of my usual genre, so I’m open to self-help suggestions!

XOXO, Lib