My Favorite Books of 2020

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As you might have heard, 2020 was full of unprecedented times. All of the worry, uncertainty, and change of routine negatively impacted my reading life. I managed to read my average number of books (54), but I would sometimes go weeks without reading a single page because I didn’t feel like my brain could handle the kind of focus a book requires. I said multiple times that it was Zoloft and the Great British Baking Show that got me through such a difficult season, and I stand by that in 2021. 

Despite my reading life being a little weird at times, I managed to read some books I truly love. Here’s a look at my top ten plus some honorable mentions. These are in random order.

Such a fun age book cover

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I finished Such a Fun Age in January of last year, and even though it was early in the year, I knew this book would be on my favorites list. It tells the story of a young Black woman named Emira who works as a babysitter for a white child named Briar. Briar’s mother is Alix, a blogger and social media influencer. One night, Emira is asked to take Briar out of the house for a bit, so the two head to a high-end grocery store nearby to kill time. It’s there where Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar, an event that sets off a bomb in the lives of the characters. Kiley Reid’s debut novel is a smart, immensely entertaining look at race, white privilege, and how people can be blind to what’s right in front of them. 

The lazy genius way book cover

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done by Kendra Adachi

I’ve been a long time listener of Adachi’s Lazy Genius podcast, so I was eager to get my hands on her book. I knew I’d like it, but I didn’t expect just how helpful it would be. I appreciate this book because it isn’t full of specific steps or lists of things you must do to achieve success. Instead, Adachi presents the reader with different principles that can work for any person and situation. I’ve applied a couple of principles to my own life with great success. As soon as I finished this book, I gave my copy to my mom and sent another one to my best friend. It’s that good and useful.  

Here for it book cover

Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

I don’t reread books very often, but as soon as I finished Here for It, I wanted to start it again. This book is a collection of essays by the hilarious and thoughtful R. Eric Thomas. He writes about pop culture, religion, sexuality, and growing up as a gay man in the Midwest. Here for It is funny, smart, and more profound than you think it’ll be if you’re judging it by its bright pink cover. I’m grateful to have finally found R. Eric Thomas since there hasn’t been a year in which I needed laughter more than in 2020. (Sign up for his newsletter for weekly laughs. They’re the delights of my Sundays.)

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

When I read fiction, I appreciate and seek out certain settings, including schools (I guess I don’t get enough at work). My Dark Vanessa goes back and forth from a boarding school in 2000 to 2017 where our protagonist is working at a hotel. The title character reflects on the relationship she had with a former teacher when she was 15 and how it still shapes her life at 32. If you’re a sensitive reader who’s troubled by stories of abuse, this is not the book for you. Russell’s story is dark, yet the psychology behind the power dynamics of a student/teacher affair is handled with sensitivity and great insight. 

White rage book cover

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson

This book blew my mind. I thought I knew a decent amount about American history, but I was wrong. I thought I had a sense of how deep the roots of racism are in the United States, but I was wrong about that, too. In White Rage, Carol Anderson explores the opposition white people have had to Black success and flourishing. The part of the book that explores segregated schools was particularly eye-opening for me. If someone came to me and asked where to start with their antiracist reading, I’d hand them a copy of White Rage along with a pen so they could take notes. 

Team of five book cover

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump
by Kate Andersen Brower

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I’d love it. I’m happy to say I was right. Team of Five explores the lives and relationships of the five other presidents alive during Trump’s time in office: Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush (who passed in 2018), Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Brower discusses their relationships with each other, how they governed, and their legacies compared to #45.

Transcendent kingdom book cover

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. I’d make it assigned reading for everyone if I had such power. Because of my love for that book, I couldn’t wait for Gyasi’s next release. Transcendent Kingdom was worth the wait. It’s the story of a twenty-something scientist named Gifty living in California. Her mother, a Ghanian immigrant, visits during the middle of a mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown due to the loss of her son and Gifty’s brother, Nana. This novel explores family, religion, addiction, and memory in profound ways. It’s an incredible story that has stayed with me. 

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I read this book on my own, and I’m going through it again right now with the equity committee I serve on at one of my schools. I’ve told my peers that I could read this book over and over again and get something new out of it each time. Kendi is brilliant, and his arguments are challenging and ultimately convicting. This book’s chapters are broken up into different categories, such as biology, space, and class. In each chapter, Kendi discusses how antiracism pertains to the topic and shares stories from his own life.

Good talk book cover

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

2020 was full of surprises, and one was that I discovered joy in reading graphic novels. I’d read a handful over the years but always said the format wasn’t for me. Despite that, I couldn’t resist picking up Good Talk due to the buzz it was getting and its overall look. (I’m a sucker for a pretty book.) I ended up loving this memoir in which Jacob explores race, parenthood, and life as a person of color in the post-Trump United States. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story. I love it so much that I bought my own copy after reading it from the library.

Rodham book cover

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Along with Good Talk, we can add Rodham to the list of books that surprised me in 2020. I don’t have much interest in alternative history stories. If I’m going to read about history, I want to read about actual history. Or so I thought. Rodham is the novel you probably assume from the title, Hillary Rodham’s story if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton. Despite my hesitation, I picked up this novel from the library and devoured it. I loved all of the political content, but what I appreciate the most about Rodham is the way Sittenfeld made this story seem real. It raises the question about how different our lives could be–good or bad–if just one choice were different. 

Honorable Mentions

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • Intimations by Zadie Smith
  • Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran
  • Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now by Scott Erickson

Books I Didn’t Get to in 2020
that I Still Want to Read

  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • Memorial by Bryan Washington
  • The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • The Cold Millions by Jess Walter
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

100

This is the 100th post on Andrea Is Reading! I’m thrilled to have hit this milestone. This space has been such a lovely creative outlet. Andrea Is Reading has been an entirely selfish endeavor, a project I’ve undertaken to satisfy my desire to create and discuss books, however and whenever I want. It’s satisfying and surprising that others have come to enjoy this space, too. I appreciate every follow, comment, and show of enthusiasm.

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. The first book I remember reading on my own was Green Eggs and Ham. Another of my earliest reading memories is me sitting on the couch reading the Gospel of Matthew in my children’s Bible and highlighting whole pages. Even as a small child, I had a deep love for both the written word and office supplies. The last time I was in Barnes & Noble, I saw they had a section just for pens, and it was almost too much for me to handle. 

When I got into chapter books, I liked The Boxcar Children series, The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant, and Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Nothing could have prepared me for my first love, though: The Baby-Sitters Club. Kristy, Claudia, Mary-Anne, and Stacy felt as real to me as my own real-life friends. Ann M. Martin (and her team of ghostwriters, as I’d figure out later on) provided me with hours and hours of entertainment. Though I didn’t think about this until years later, that book series showed me an essential display of girls being strong, bold, and decisive. It thrills my BSC-loving soul that the series is getting another chance to grab readers through the Netflix series, graphic novels, and new editions of the classic chapter books. 

When I was in middle school, Ann M. Martin released a spin-off to BSC called California Diaries. This series was everything to my 11-year-old self. I lived in a small town at the time, but whenever my family ventured to the big city and went to a mall, I’d go straight to the bookstore and pick up a new book in the series. I’d never read a book written as a diary before and came to love the format. I’d kept diaries, but California Diaries inspired me to journal and write more regularly, a habit I’m thankful to have picked up so young. 

My middle school years also introduced me to Nicholas Sparks. As a kid, all I wanted was to be an adult, so it was a thrill to be reading an adult author. I remember sobbing on my bedroom floor after finishing A Walk to Remember and then playing the soundtrack to Message in a Bottle repeatedly in my CD player. My childhood was filled with peace and happiness, which disappointed me sometimes because I didn’t have much material to work with for my journals and poems. I couldn’t just write about good stuff happening every day! California Diaries and Nicholas Sparks gave me the drama I desperately craved, and to this day, my middle school self is grateful. 

High school was all about John Grisham and Oprah’s Book Club selections. My brother introduced me to Grisham, and I quickly tore through A Time to Kill and The Firm, hooked by the exciting plots. I was a pretentious teen (sorry, friends and family!) who wanted to read Great Literature™ but was bored by most classics I picked up. That’s where Oprah’s Book Club came in. I considered her selections to be authentic literature, so I was drawn to it whenever I’d see that book club symbol on a book at the library. Some of the books I remember reading include She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds, and White Oleander by Janet Fitch. 

As I’m sure many English majors will agree, my college years were some of the most formative for my reading life. During that time, I was introduced to Raymond Carver, John Donne, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Louise Erdrich, and T. S. Eliot. I dove deep into the work of C. S. Lewis during a philosophy class and couldn’t believe getting to read the magnificent Till We Have Faces was considered homework. I took a sociology course and a feminist literature course simultaneously one semester, and reading feminist writers from the 1960s and ’70s was mind-blowing and exciting. I minored in history and ended up taking several Asian history classes. I adored the professor, who knew how much I love reading. He recommended several Japanese writers to me, and that’s how I found Haruki Murakami. 

Thanks to Goodreads, I’ve kept track of all the books I’ve read since college. My grand total right now for the past 10 years is 706 books. Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

  • Stoner by John Williams
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Inner Voice of Love by Henri J. M. Nouwen

It took me far too long to start caring about making sure I was reading diverse voices. Over the last few years, that urge has turned into a passion both for my own reading and in my job. Ensuring that the students I serve have access to stories that reflect their lives is more important to me than just about anything else right now. I’m thankful for the voices of young adult authors such as Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, Nic Stone, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Tahereh Mafi. Today’s teens have access to all kinds of stories that weren’t published when I was growing up. I want students to realize books can offer them so much more than they might assume just from reading assigned books from Salinger and Steinbeck, two authors I’ve read and admire a great deal, but whose work can’t give all teens the mirror they need from literature.

The books we read matter more than we might realize. Words are powerful. They can be exciting or moving or thought-provoking or dangerous. They’ve changed minds and have given the broken a new way to see the world. Words can also entertain, amuse and enthrall us amid a horrifying worldwide pandemic, just to use a random example pulled out of thin air.

A book might demand hours of our time, so it serves us well to think critically about what and how we’re reading. Are our dollars supporting diverse voices and our local indie bookstore? Are we voting on behalf of our public libraries? Are we reaching for authors who look just like us or are we engaging in stories that might stretch us? Reading is fun, and there’s nothing wrong with the lighthearted entertainment gained from a book, but it serves our neighbors and us well to be thoughtful readers and consumers.

Books are one of the great delights of my life. They’ve been a constant companion for as long as I can remember. Reading provides opportunities to go deeper inside ourselves and also to see far beyond our own limited vision. I hope the next book you pick up gives you precisely what you need. Thanks so much for following along on my reading journey. There’s more to come.

10 Books for (Mostly) Everyone

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

When I’m at work, patrons often ask for book recommendations. I usually start by asking them what kinds of books they enjoy, and there are two answers I dread hearing:

“I don’t know.”

“I like everything.”

When I know a patron has no idea what they want, I move away from books and ask what types of TV shows or movies they’re into to gauge their interest and genre preferences. But with the people who claim to like everything, I always feel a bit stuck. Suddenly, what should be the easier answer becomes complicated because there are too many options.

Today I want to share a list of 10 books that have broad appeal. These titles could attract nonreaders and should satisfy those who claim to like anything. The books I chose have universal themes, memorable stories, and excellent storytelling. Take a look at my choices and see if you agree.

All the light we cannot see book cover

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A blind French girl on the run from the German occupation and a German orphan-turned-Resistance tracker struggle with their respective beliefs after meeting on the Brittany coast.

I don’t reach for historical fiction very often, but I absolutely loved All the Light We Cannot See. So did the Pulitzer Prize judges since this book won. This novel was published in 2014, yet remains extremely popular in my libraries.

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

In a rural East Texas town of fewer than 200 people, the body of an African American lawyer from Chicago is found in a bayou, followed several days later by that of a local white woman. What’s going on? African American Texas Ranger Darren Mathews hopes to find out, which means talking to relatives of the deceased, including the woman’s white supremacist husband — and Mathews soon discovers things are more complex than they seem.

This mystery novel is unputdownable, but I added it to this list because of its themes. Are you interested in crime? Racism? Politics in the South? Marriage? Complicated family relationships? Addiction? It’s all in here. 

Born a crime book cover

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, shares his remarkable story of growing up in South Africa, with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child like him to exist. In a country where racism barred blacks from social, educational, and economic opportunity, Trevor surmounted staggering obstacles and created a promising future for himself, thanks to his mother’s unwavering love and indomitable will.

As you’d expect from anything authored by Trevor Noah, Born a Crime is hilarious. It’s also profound and moving and tells an important story about racism that is more relevant than ever.

Calypso book cover

Calypso by David Sedaris

A latest collection of personal essays by the best-selling author of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and Me Talk Pretty One Day shares even more revealing and intimate memories from his upbringing and family life.

I’m biased since David Sedaris is one of my all-time favorite writers, but I can’t imagine someone picking up Calypso and not enjoying it. Sedaris is always hilarious, but he can be surprisingly poignant, too, like when he’s writing about his family and grief.

Educated book cover

Educated by Tara Westover

Traces the author’s experiences as a child born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, describing her participation in her family’s paranoid stockpiling activities and her resolve to educate herself well enough to earn an acceptance into a prestigious university and the unfamiliar world beyond.

If Educated were a novel, I’d say it’s too much. No plot should involve that many twists, no story should feel that outlandish. Tara Westover’s story is unbelievable, yet it all happened. Not only is this book a page-turner, but it’s also an inspiring look at a woman persevering against all the odds.

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French

Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.

Tana French is the queen of mysteries as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never read a mystery novel that is as well-written as In the Woods. Even readers who don’t consider themselves mystery lovers might appreciate this relatable story about brokenness and loss.

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Calliope’s friendship with a classmate and her sense of identity are compromised by the adolescent discovery that she is a hermaphrodite, a situation with roots in her grandparent’s desperate struggle for survival in the 1920s.

Middlesex is a sweeping family saga, and I find that’s what many readers are looking for when they pick up fiction. That construct gives them something to get lost in. Plus, it’s somewhat comforting when you read about a far more complicated family than your own.

Never let me go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A reunion with two childhood friends–Ruth and Tommy–draws Kath and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into the supposedly idyllic years of their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in the serene English countryside, and a dramatic confrontation with the truth about their childhoods and about their lives in the present.

This book is a campus novel, a sci-fi tale, a heartbreaking tear-jerker, a love story, and full of suspense. It’s also relatively short. I have no idea how Ishiguro accomplished what he did with Never Let Me Go, but I’m glad he did.

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A transfer student from a small town in California, Richard Papen is determined to affect the ways of his Hampden College peers, and he begins his intense studies under the tutelage of eccentric Julian Morrow.

The Secret History is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It pulls you in immediately and doesn’t let go until the final word. Many novels are compared to this one, but none of the ones I’ve read have come close.

Small fry book cover

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

The daughter of Steve Jobs offers a firsthand account of the difficult relationship she had with her father and the poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes.

Small Fry surprised me. I picked it up and wasn’t expecting much, yet I found myself unable to put it down. Even non-readers have opinions about Apple and Steve Jobs, so this memoir from his daughter is not to be missed.

What I Read and Loved in August 2020

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Even though it’s only September 7th, it feels like August was months ago. Time feels stranger than ever in this COVID-19 world. I spent most of August wondering if I’d still have a job since my school district is starting the year doing virtual-only classes. Thankfully, I’m still employed, and after I knew that for sure, I was so excited to get back to work. It’s strange without the students there, but I now have a lot of time to get tasks done that I never had time to do before. Silver linings!

And now for the good stuff. Keep reading to see what I read and loved in August.

What I Read

The lazy genius way book cover

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done by Kendra Adachi

I’ve been a fan of Kendra and her Lazy Genius podcast for a long time, so I was eager to get my hands on this book. I had high expectations, yet Kendra managed to exceed all of them. The Lazy Genius Way is not a typical self-help book or organizational guide. It doesn’t have lists of what you need to be doing or formulas for a perfect home. Instead, Kendra guides you to living your best life through 13 principles that you can customize for your own needs. That customization is what sets this book apart from others like it. After reading this book, I sent a copy to a dear friend and mom of three kids. My copy is currently in my mom’s hands. The three of us are in entirely different stages of our lives, but each of us finds the book helpful and encouraging. Do yourself a favor and pick this up ASAP. I’ve underlined every other sentence, and you probably will too. 

Hamilton: the revolutions book cover

Hamilton: The Revolution
by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

As you know if you read last month’s recap post, I watched and immediately became obsessed with Hamilton. This book helped me during my Hamilton hangover and is a must-read for fans of the acclaimed musical. The book contains beautiful photos and behind the scenes essays, but my favorite part is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s notes for each song. I loved getting to peek inside his head and see what he thought as he wrote the most iconic musical of our time.

Intimations book cover

Intimations by Zadie Smith

It had been a long time since I’d read anything by Zadie Smith, and this slim essay collection seemed like a must-read. Smith wrote each essay during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reading this reminded me of just how brilliant Smith is and how I need to read more of her work. (Which I did! Thoughts on that next month.)

The bright lands book cover

The Bright Lands by John Fram

I placed a copy of The Bright Lands on hold at the library as soon as I heard about it. The plot–a high school football star in small-town Texas goes missing, and his brother comes back from NYC to investigate–intrigued me. When I picked up the book, I realized that my library had categorized it in the horror section. I started reading and wondered why. Then the last few chapters came, and it all made sense. I enjoyed the first three-quarters of this novel, but the last part was far too violent and scary for my taste. I had to skim the last quarter of the book and wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion.

What Will Soon Take Place by Tania Runyan

Before finishing this book, it had been two years since I’d read a poetry collection. As I mentioned above, August had its fair share of stress, and I find it hard to read sometimes when I feel overwhelmed. I thought a volume of poetry might be just what I needed, and it was. Tania Runyan is one of my favorite contemporary poets. Her work combines religion and meditations on daily life in a way that is profound yet wholly relatable to me. What Will Soon Take Place is a look at the book of Revelation. Several lines throughout Runyan’s poems felt like gut-punches. Not only did I love this collection, but it inspired me to read poetry more often. 

What I Loved

The morning show poster featuring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carrell, and Reese Witherspoon

TELEVISION: The Morning Show

I’d heard mixed reviews for this show, and while I understand some of the criticisms, it provided a much welcome TV binge. Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup are great in this show, and the finale left me eager for season two.

TECHNOLOGY: Apple AirPods

My Macbook was starting misbehave, so I looked up some of its issues on Apple’s website. According to them, my beloved 8-year-old computer was “vintage.” Ouch. I needed a new one. Thankfully, Apple was running a great deal for students and school staff that included a new Macbook at a reduced price that came with a free pair of AirPods. I would never pay $150.00 for AirPods, but I was certainly not opposed to a free pair. It turns out that if I ever lose these, I might pay $150.00 for AirPods after all. I love these little things so much. I’ve had other Bluetooth headphones and earbuds before, but none have worked as well or have sounded as good as these do. They sync to my phone automatically and hold a charge for a long time. My AirPods aren’t noise-canceling, but that’s good for when I’m wearing these at work. I like that I can still hear when people are trying to get my attention. As you’ll see below, I’ve been listening to many podcasts, so my AirPods and I have become very close in a short amount of time.

PODCAST: The Bible Binge

The Bible Binge is a podcast from the folks who host the Popcast, a podcast about pop culture that I never miss. The Bible Binge looks at stories from the Bible and the hosts–Knox McCoy and Jamie Golden–recap those stories as if they were movies or TV shows. The show was seasonal but has recently changed to a weekly format with two additional episode types. One is called Favored or Forsaken, in which the hosts discuss religious topics in the news. The most recent episode discusses Jerry Fallwell, Jr. and Christian colleges, and it is [insert fire emoji here]. The other new episode format is hosted by a gem of Instagram and resident Bible Scholar Erin Moon. In Faith Adjacent episodes, Erin looks at pop culture through a biblical lens to see what spiritual truths we can take away from cultural icons. Her first episode was about Hamilton, and I devoured every word. If you’re interested in a smart and funny look at how faith intersects with modern culture, don’t miss this show. 

PODCAST: The Lazy Genius

As I said, I’ve been a fan of this podcast for a while. A couple of episodes were August-specific favorites, though. One episode is called How to Lazy Genius Anything. In this episode, Kendra takes an issue and walks through how to resolve the problem and make it better. The other episode I loved is How to Make the Perfect Playlist. I’d wanted to get back into music more but was overwhelmed with where to begin. I took Kendra’s advice in this episode and started making some new playlists, and they have given me so much joy. My favorite one is linked here. 

That’s it for me! What did you read and love in August?

What I Read and Loved in July 2020

Photo by Corey Agopian on Unsplash

Despite the stress and mental exhaustion from living during a global pandemic, July went by quickly. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m more than okay with it. I celebrated my birthday, my mother’s birthday, and my grandmother’s 96th birthday. I also watched Hamilton (along with everyone else, I think), and it blew me away and basically turned me into a new peron. More on that later. 

Because of the aforementioned stress and mental exhaustion, I preferred television and music to books throughout July, though I did finish four titles (and am in the middle of reading this one). But before I talk about that stuff, let’s talk about the books!

What I Read

Bring me back book cover

Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris

Finn and Layla are driving home from vacation when they stop at a service station. Finn gets out of the car to use the restroom, and when he returns, Layla has vanished for good. Ten years later, Finn has moved on and has fallen in love with Layla’s sister, Ellen. They’re engaged, and once they made that news public, things from Layla’s past started showing up, including clues that Layla herself might be alive and closer than they think. 

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Though there’s a lack of character development, Bring Me Back is gripping and held my attention, and that’s where my compliments end. The ridiculously unbelievable ending ruined this entire book for me and made me wish I hadn’t read it. I can’t remember another conclusion that I hated as much as I hated this one. I wanted to throw this book across the room, go pick it up, set it on fire, and then bury its ashes in the backyard. Since it was a library book, I opted to return it instead. If you’ve read this, what did you think of the ending?

Dear Martin book cover

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce is a Black teen with a bright future ahead. He attends an elite school and is bound for an Ivy League college. When Justyce goes to help an ex-girlfriend who’s intoxicated, the police approach and assume Justyce is trying to steal her car. He’s handcuffed for hours. This incident brings to the surface issues like police brutality, racism, and belonging that Justcye tries to process by writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Martin is a slim YA book that I read in one day. Nic Stone has so much to offer her readers in its pages. Justyce is a compelling, profoundly sympathetic lead character whose questions are more timely now than ever. This novel is one I would hand to any teen who likes realistic fiction, and I think it would be especially great for reluctant readers. 

Home before dark book cover

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie is the daughter of Ewan Holt, the author of the bestselling book House of Horrors in which he tells what he claims is the true story of the few days his family spent living in Baneberry Hall. Ewan’s book recounts the strange and spooky events that led his family to leave the house behind in the middle of the night, without possessions or looking back. Maggie feels as if this book has defined her life, and she hates it. 

When Ewan dies, Maggie realizes he never sold Baneberry Hall. She has a business in which she restores old homes, so Maggie heads to the property to fix it up and maybe even get some answers for what she knows are her father’s lies. When strange things start happening, Maggie wonders if House of Horrors contains more truth than she thought. 

Riley Sager is one of my favorite contemporary writers. His thrillers are consistently addictive, and Home Before Dark is no different. The novel is a book within a book; chapters alternate between Maggie’s point of view and passages from House of Horrors. I almost had to put this book in the freezer, so I think this novel creeps closer to horror than any of Sager’s previous work (except for maybe Final Girls). If you’re a Sager fan or just need a good thriller to keep you occupied, don’t miss this one.

The Dilemma by B. A. Paris

Even though I was still angry at B. A. Paris for Bring Her Back, I couldn’t say no to this title when OverDrive told me my library hold was available. One of the reasons I couldn’t say no was because my Kindle was right next to me, and I didn’t want to get up to grab anything else. Anyway. 

The Dilemma revolves around Livia and Adam, a happily married couple with two adult children. Livia is about to turn 40, and she’s throwing herself the lavish birthday party she’s been dreaming of and planning since her 20s. There’s a secret Livia knows about, though, that’s weighing on her. And on the day of her party, Adam is carrying a secret of his own that might change everything. 

I knew nothing about this book going in, and that was for the best. The Dilemma is more of a family drama than a thriller like Paris’s other books, yet I still found myself getting nervous and holding my breath in certain parts. If you need a good escapist read, I think this novel will be just the thing. I couldn’t put it down and have forgiven B. A. Paris.

What I Loved

MOVIE/THEATER: Hamilton

I’ve wanted to see Hamilton as long as I’ve known about it. When I found out it would be streaming on Disney+, I heard choruses of angels singing as glee filled my heart. Despite that, I tried to keep my expectations reasonable. I thought there was no chance that Hamilton could live up to the hype. I’m thrilled to say I was wrong. These words will probably sound hyperbolic, but watching Hamilton was one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve ever had with a piece of art. I was in awe from the first second to the final gasp.

MUSIC: Folklore, Taylor Swift

God bless Taylor Swift for making the album I didn’t know I needed. I’ve listened to Folklore on repeat since its surprise release and find it incredibly soothing, fascinating, and lovely. My heart has a soft spot for 1989, but I think Folklore might be Swift’s best work yet. 

MOVIE: Palm Springs (Streaming on Hulu)

Palm Springs is a surprisingly sweet and funny romcom starring Andy Samberg (Nyles) and Cristin Milioti (Sarah). Nyles, a guest at a wedding, finds himself in a time loop in which he experiences the wedding day over and over again. He’s drawn to Sarah, the maid of honor, and wonders what forever might look like with her. I enjoyed this film immensely.

MOVIE: Troop Zero (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Troop Zero is such a sweet little gem of a movie. McKenna Grace plays a girl who’s lost her mother and is obsessed with outer space. When she hears about an opportunity for Birdie Scouts to record their voice on NASA’s Golden Record, nothing will stop her from taking her shot (Hamilton reference for the win!). The film also stars Viola Davis, Allison Janney, and Jim Gaffigan. Its cast and earnestness make Troop Zero a delight.

The baby-sitters club poster

TELEVISION: The Baby-Sitters Club (Streaming on Netflix)

I was unprepared for how much I was going to love this show. I was obsessed with The Baby-Sitters Club as a kid and would read any of the books I could get my hands on. (I still have my collection because I can’t bear to part with it.) I knew the characters as well as I knew myself. Thankfully, this new show keeps all the characteristics of my beloved babysitters yet modernizes them and the books’ plots for today’s audience. I’m eagerly awaiting season two. 


That’s it for me. What did you read and love in July?