What I Read and Loved in March 2021

Photo by Dan Farrell on Unsplash

March was a wonderful, hope-filled month for me. I got my first vaccine shot and could finally begin seeing the light at the end of the very long and twisted COVID-19 tunnel. It was also the month where I regained some reading momentum which allowed me to finish eight books. EIGHT! And I enjoyed all of them! Keep reading to see the titles.

What I Read

This close to okay book cover

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
Format: Audiobook

This new release is about a woman who sees a man standing on the ledge of a bridge, about to jump. She pulls over, talks him down, and invites him to get a cup of coffee with her. They end up spending several days together as they explore their secrets and heartbreaks. 

This Close to Okay reignited my love for audiobooks, thanks to the book’s excellent narration by Kamali Minter and Zeno Robinson. Though I didn’t find the ending wholly satisfying, this is a good story about two people who meet at just the right moment in time. 

The midnight library book cover

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Format: Hardcover

The Midnight Library is a bit of a departure for me, but I loved it. It’s a sci-fi tale about a woman named Nora who’s attempted suicide, only to be stuck in a unique library in which she can live different versions of her life depending on which book she pulls from the shelves.

Matt Haig’s story is deeply engaging and moving, the perfect blend of realism and magic. This novel will be especially delightful to book lovers who have a particular love of libraries and librarians.

Good apple book cover

Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York
by Elizabeth Passarella
Format: eBook

Good Apple is the true story of a conservative Southern belle who moves to New York, marries a Jewish husband, and deals with her evolving beliefs. This book is a quick, easy, and funny read, but it could have benefited from being more cohesive. Despite my issues with it, I still enjoyed this book, partly because I’m a sucker for almost anything set in NYC. 

Little threats book cover

Little Threats by Emily Schultz
Format: eBook

Little Threats is a slow burn of a suspense story about the 1993 murder of a teen girl. When the book begins, Kennedy has just been released from her 15-year prison sentence for killing her best friend, Haley. Kennedy has claimed innocence the entire time, but even her twin sister Carter is suspicious. Kennedy returns to her father’s house and her teen bedroom and faces the town’s anger and questions that are revived when a true-crime show comes into town to film an episode about Haley’s murder. 

I enjoyed this story and welcomed the slower pacing. The conclusion wrapped things up nicely, making the reading journey very much worth it for me. 

Who is Maud Dixon book cover

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
Format: Audiobook

Helen is a writer who’s had smashing success with her first novel, Mississippi Foxtrot. She goes by the pen name Maud Dixon and wants to keep her success under wraps. A wannabe writer named Florence becomes her assistant, promising to keep her real identity a secret. When the two take a research trip to Morocco, a car accident claims a life and opens up opportunities and adventures for the survivor. Though it started a bit slowly, the fast-paced ending more than made up for it. 

This thriller was another excellent audiobook, read by Thérèse Plummer.

The New York Times no-recipe recipes book cover

The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton
Format: eBook

This no-recipe cookbook is the perfect cookbook for me. When I’m in the kitchen, I like to be creative and make recipes my own. Sam Sifton gives cooks that option by presenting “recipes” that are more suggestive than essential. I enjoyed this book a lot because it reminded me why I like cooking so much.

The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper
Format: eBook

This compulsively readable thriller is about the lives of three different families living in one London apartment building. There’s Steph, Paul, and their teenage daughter Freya. Emma, a former shop-owner who feels entirely unmoored, lives below them. Then there’s Chris and his wife. Chris is a driving instructor who was teaching Freya how to drive. He becomes a person of interest when she disappears, and he was the last person to see her alive. 

The Downstairs Neighbor had me glued to my Kindle. The twists kept coming and coming, and the way all the characters tied together was satisfying. This book was just such fun

Know my name book cover

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Format: Audiobook

I’d only heard praise about Know My Name, the memoir of the woman formerly known as Emily Doe, who Brock Turner assaulted. With this book, the world meets Chanel Miller as she describes how the assault affected her, what the court case was like, and how being a victim and survivor has ultimately changed her life. Miller is a gifted writer; her prose is beautiful and places readers right in the courtroom alongside her. Her story was hard to read at times, but I was surprised by how hopeful parts of the book ended up being, too. Know My Name is an unforgettable memoir that deserves all of the positive attention it’s received so far.

What I Loved

The OverDrive logo showing a cartoon woman reading a book

TECH: OverDrive/Libby

Thanks to my local public library, I’ve been an OverDrive user for years. I fell in love with the app all over again in March, though. I had the opportunity to introduce some students and staff members to it, and that reminded me how great it is that so many library cardholders have access. Books you can get with the click of a button and take anywhere you go? Isn’t that fantastic?!

COVID Vaccine sign

HEALTH: The COVID-19 Vaccine

I can’t even begin to express my gratitude to the scientists and doctors who are responsible for this vaccine. It’s given me hope that felt so distant, even just a couple of months ago. Sorry for all the mean stuff I said about you in high school and college, science!

cw: abuse

DOCUMENTARY: Athlete A via Netflix

The abuse that occurred in U.S. gymnastics is horrific. Athlete A does a wonderful job explaining what happened and who failed to protect the young girls whose lives were forever changed by an evil doctor. Though definitely hard to watch at times, the courage of the survivors is incredible and deserves our attention. Watching them read their statements in court brought me to tears. If you’re a documentary fan, don’t skip this one.

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

What I Read and Loved in February 2021

Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

I think I say this every month, but February flew by. I can’t say I minded, though, considering how stressful things still are thanks to the pandemic. Students at my high schools came back to in-person learning on March 1, so February was full of meetings and emails about what that was going to look like.

I only read three books last month, two of which are quite short. Since I had so much information coming at me from work, my brain needed a bit of a break. Keep on reading to see what those books were and to know what else I enjoyed. Thanks for coming by my little space on the internet!

What I Read

The truths we hold book cover

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
FORMAT: Audiobook

I’m always wary of reading political memoirs from people currently in office. I assume their books are going to be more policy-driven than story-driven. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of policy talk in The Truths We Hold, but Harris does a lovely job telling her story. My favorite parts of the book include stories of her mother and sister and what their lives were like as Harris grew up. Seeing how her mother shaped her was touching. Harris reads the audiobook, which is a major plus for me. 

How to make a slave and other essays book cover

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker
FORMAT: Print

I love a good essay collection, and this book is exactly that. Jerald Walker talks about his life as a Black man in America with wisdom, humor, and a keen eye for a good story. I’m drawn to books set in academia, so my favorite essays in this collection are the ones that discuss Walker’s life as a student and professor. The essay in which he discusses his writing mentor James Alan McPherson is especially fantastic.

I am the rage book cover

I Am the Rage by Dr. Martina McGowan
FORMAT: Print

Whenever I do a pick-up order at Target, I browse the app to see what new books they have on their shelves. That was how I discovered this poetry collection. (Isn’t it great that a big-box store like Target sells poetry?!) This book was the perfect reading choice for Black History Month since McGowan’s poems have racial justice as their core. The poems in this book were written in the last year, so there are mentions of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Those modern connections made this slim volume a powerful read.

What I Loved

ONLINE SHOP: The Bluest Willow

As I’ve mentioned before in this section, I’m a big fan of the Popcast with Knox and Jamie. I discovered the Bluest Willow because the shop’s owner is Knox’s wife, Ashley McCoy. This shop has the cutest clothing, accessories, and home decor items. I’ve done several orders already and absolutely love all the pieces I’ve received. Ashley has curated such a lovely collection of unique yet everyday goods. I love this little shop so much.

RECIPE: One Skillet Saucy Chicken Tortilla Enchilada Rice Bake
from Half Baked Harvest

Look at this picture of gooey cheese and sauce and tortilla chips and flavorful goodness. LOOK AT IT. This recipe is as delicious as it appears, and also pretty simple. I made my own enchilada sauce, but this would be even easier if you used pre-made sauce. I’ve loved many Half Baked Harvest recipes, but this one might be my new favorite.


What did you read and love in February?

What I Read and Loved in January 2021

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I know nothing miraculous happens when the calendar changes from one year to another, but going from 2020 to 2021 felt especially exciting and vital. Of course, the hard stuff is still hard, and the good stuff is still good, but any forward motion right now fills me with optimism.

Despite being in a weird headspace (who isn’t right now?), I surprised myself by reading five books. I enjoyed all of them, too! Keep reading to learn why.

What I Read

Luster book cover

Luster by Raven Leilani

This book got a lot of buzz in 2020, and after reading it, I can see why. The prose is gorgeous and effectively puts readers in the head of the book’s protagonist, a 23-year-old Black woman living in New York City. She’s a struggling artist whose work life and dating life are both disappointing. When Eric, an older man in an open marriage, comes along, she begins an affair with him. What was once secretive and alluring becomes something else altogether when Eric’s wife and daughter become tangled in the affair.

I appreciate a lot about this book, but there’s a major plot point that didn’t make sense to me. Still, Luster is worth reading. If nothing else, it made me thankful my 20s are behind me.

The look of the book book cover

The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth

If you’re like me and you judge books by their covers, this book will be a dream come true. Full of gorgeous images, Mendelsund and Alworth take you behind the scenes of publishing, graphic design, and how the two merge. I read this on my iPad, but would love to purchase a copy so I can flip through it when I’m craving some eye candy. The Look of the Book is a must-read for the nerdiest of book nerds.

Chefs fridges book cover

Chefs’ Fridges: More Than 35 World-Renowned Cooks Reveal What They Eat at Home by Carrie Solomon

One of my life mottos is to mind my own business. I’m not going to ask to see inside your refrigerator, but I’ll happily take a look if you want me to. The chefs in this book wanted me to, and I was thrilled to oblige.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a passion for food and cooking, and passion is on every page of Chefs’ Fridges. This book is full of incredible chefs and great, bright photos. Do I have the palate of an 8-year-old child? Yes, I do. But while I might not want to eat it, I can appreciate a well-told story about frozen rabbit and why someone believes it’s delicious.

The survivors book cover

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper is one of my must-read authors. I’ve enjoyed each of her books, and The Survivors is no exception. The story is once again set in Australia and follows a man named Kiernan when he ventures back to his hometown with his family. Soon into his arrival, someone is found dead on the beach, and the death raises questions and forces Kiernan to face his role in terrible accident years earlier.

While I didn’t like The Survivors as much as Harper’s other novels, I still enjoyed the story a lot, though the beginning was a bit slow. Nevertheless, fans of Harper’s mysteries will be more than satisfied with this gripping story about a man forced to face his past.

The residence book cover

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
by Kate Andersen Brower

You might have noticed that the US got a new president on January 20th. Because I love presidential history, I told someone that Inauguration Day is my Super Bowl, and I meant it. Since I had politics on my mind, I decided to read one of the books I got for Christmas, The Residence. In its pages are stories from White House staff who work behind the scenes. Readers hear from butlers, maids, chefs, florists, and many others. The pride they take in their jobs is inspiring, and the devotion to the families they serve is admirable. If you too are into history and want a quick, fun read, make sure to pick up The Residence.

What I Loved

POEM: “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

I can’t imagine anyone witnessing Gorman’s reading and not being moved by it. Her words and performance were powerful reminders that art matters.

INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT: Sharon Says So

Sometimes I feel as if I’m wasting my time when I scroll through Instagram. Other times I’m learning about the Constitution and impeachment trials. That’s all thanks to my favorite new Instagram follow, Sharon Says So a.k.a. Sharon McMahon. She’s a former government teacher who’s bringing her wisdom to the masses. One of the features I love most on her account is when she asks for opinions on hot topics. She gives people on the right, left, and middle a chance to speak their minds on controversial issues and shares some of their answers. It’s helpful to see how other people think and why they believe what they do. And in a world full of people screaming at each other about politics, it’s incredibly refreshing to witness civil and helpful discourse.


What did you read and love in January? Leave a comment and let me know!

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.

What I Read and Loved in September 2020

I barely remember September. It’s only October 10th as I write this, yet September seems so long ago. I was a different person then, young and naive. So much is happening every day that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. Despite my current headspace, I read seven books in September. It was a great reading month and I’m excited to share it with you.

What I Read

Grand Union book cover

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

In August, I read Zadie Smith’s latest book, a small collection of essays called Intimations. Reading that reminded me how great a writer Smith is, so I was eager to read something else. I have several of her books on my shelf at the moment, but Grand Union was the one that caught my eye. This book is her first collection of short stories. Like most story collections, there are some hits and misses, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed these stories. Zadie Smith is such a brilliant writer; her fiction is unlike anything else I’ve read. 

Musical chairs book cover

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

A trope I often enjoy in novels is a family coming together on a vacation or second home. That plot is exactly what Musical Chairs provides. The protagonist is Bridget, a New Yorker and musician who has a family home in Connecticut. She plans to spend the summer there with her boyfriend, but he breaks up with her first. Instead of the romantic summer she envisioned, Bridget is suddenly grappling with a broken heart, her grown children coming back home, her elderly father’s sudden engagement, and her fledgling career as part of the Forsyth Trio. This novel is full of interesting characters, including Bridget’s best friend and fellow musician Will. Musical Chairs is a delightful novel that made me eager to read more from Amy Poeppel. 

Let's pretend this never happened book cover

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson

This book is a memoir in essays about Jenny Lawson’s life growing up with mental illness in a small town with a quirky family. That summary sounds right up my alley, but this book didn’t work for me for some reason. I know Lawson is a beloved writer, but I just never connected with what she was saying. I listened to this book, so maybe I would have enjoyed it more in print.

Transcendent kingdom book cover

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

As soon as I finished Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, I was eager to get my hands on her second. I had to wait a while, but Transcedent Kingdom is worth the wait. The story is about a young woman named Gifty, who’s studying neuroscience and living in California. She’s focusing on the brain and addiction, an interest that was sparked when her older brother overdosed as a teen. Her complicated family also includes a God-fearing mother who is barely functioning through the fog of depression of grief. When she comes to California, Gifty has to confront her past, her trauma, and her thoughts about religion. This novel is a slow burn, and I loved every minute. 

Good talk book cover

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

I’ve only read a handful of graphic novels. I enjoyed them, but find that graphic novels just aren’t my thing. I might need to reevaluate that, though. Despite not being drawn to the format very often, there was something about Good Talk that made me pick it up. I’m glad I did because it’s fantastic. I couldn’t put it down. Good Talk is about how Mira Jacob–a first-generation American–addresses race and injustice issues during conversations with her little boy. That sounds heavy, and it certainly is at times, but this book is also funny and sweet. 

Imperfect women book cover

Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Nancy, Eleanor, and Mary have been friends since they met at Oxford years ago. Nancy is beautiful, wealthy, and is cheating on her husband, a secret only Eleanor knows. Eleanor is single, throwing herself into relief work. Mary is married and drowning in the responsibilities of raising children and caring for a sick husband. When Nancy is murdered, her friends are left shattered and scared. Imperfect Women is a good thriller. I enjoyed its focus on female friendship. I don’t think it’s a book that will stay with me very long, but it’s certainly worth reading if you need something suspenseful.

Sigh, gone book cover

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fight In by Phuc Tran

Sigh, Gone is a total delight. Phuc Tran takes us through his childhood and teen years through the lens of classic books. He and his family immigrated to the US in the 1970s, leaving Vietnam behind. Tran’s English is better than his Vietnamese. He loves punk rock and Albert Camus. His parents can spoil him in some moments and wound him deeply in others. The stories in this book range from hilarious to heartbreaking and back again. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and would recommend the audio version. The author reads it himself, which makes the whole story feel even more authentic.

What I Loved

Ted Lasso poster

TELEVISION: Ted Lasso

There are many things in 2020 that I didn’t see coming. Among them is my love of a show about a soccer coach. Jason Sudeikis is brilliant as Ted Lasso, a kind and big-hearted football coach from Kansas who ends up coaching soccer in England. I laugh out loud during each episode of this show, but the series is unique because of its heart. In a time when there is so much sadness in the world, watching Ted Lasso is a welcome much-needed reprieve from reality that leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy every time I watch.

Reply All logo

PODCAST: Reply All

Reply All has been on my radar for a long time, but I only recently started listening to it. All I knew about the show was that it’s about the internet. That didn’t sound especially interesting, but now I’m officially hooked. The show is about the internet, sure, but it’s so much more than that. The first episode I listened to was #166, A Country of Liars. It’s all about Q-Anon and how that conspiracy theory began. My favorite episode so far–and one of the best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard–is episode #158, The Case of the Missing Hit, in which the hosts help find a phantom song for a listener. I’m late to the party on this podcast, but I’m glad I’m here now. 

Get organized with the home edit photo

TELEVISION: Get Organized with the Home Edit

As you know, 2020 has been. . .not great. I’ve needed some escapism lately, and I found it in a show where I watch women organize pantries and closets. Like any self-respecting organization lover, I’ve followed the Home Edit on Instagram for a long time, so I was eager when I heard they had a Netflix show. I didn’t know that what I needed right now was to see Khloe Kardashian’s garage get a makeover, but apparently, that was just what the doctor ordered.


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