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: 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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: 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: 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 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: 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.
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!
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 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 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: 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 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: 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 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: 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
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.
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.
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?
March was certainly a chaotic month, and April promises more of the same. I always strive to be a grateful person, but more than ever, I’m thankful for things I usually take for granted, like having enough food to eat, a home where I’m safe, and a job that continues to support me as I work from home.
I’m also grateful for books and the escape they provide in times of stress. Keep on reading to see what books I devoured last month (and for a lengthy list of other things that have helped keep me sane).
What I Read
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
I was unfamiliar with R. Eric Thomas before I read this book, and now I want to be his best friend. He writes a humor column for Elle, which, according to the site, “skewers politics, pop culture, celebrity shade, and schadenfreude.” Here for It is so funny that it made me laugh out loud several times, but Thomas also knows how to be serious, like in the essay where he talks about a friend’s death. If you enjoy writers like David Sedaris and Sloane Crosley, don’t miss this gem of a debut.
The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
Everything I love about Lisa Jewell’s books is present in The Girls in the Garden: a lush English setting, characters whose lives intersect in surprising ways, and the perfect amount of suspense. The setting for this book is an urban London neighborhood where the houses share a communal park that serves as their backyard. One night after a neighborhood party has ended, a teen girl is found battered and half-naked in the grass. As the book progresses, readers learn more about who she is and who might have left her for dead. If you’re looking for a great page-turner, this is it.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
If you’re sensitive to stories of abuse, it’s probably best to skip this one.
When we meet Vanessa Wye, she’s a grown woman working at the concierge desk of a hotel. She used to attend boarding school, and one day a former peer reaches out to her about a teacher there she says abused both of them. Vanessa doesn’t see it that way, though. The man, a then-42-year-old named Jacob Strane, loved her, and she loved him. What her peer sees as abuse, Vanessa sees as her life’s great love story. The novel goes back and forth between timelines, giving readers Vanessa’s point of view as a teen and an adult. First-time novelist Kate Elizabeth Russell beautifully captures the way Vanessa must reinterpret her past and come to terms with her life. My Dark Vanessa is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2020. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
Malcolm co-owns and manages a bookstore that sells mysteries. Soon he’s thrust into the middle of his own when an FBI agent comes into his store and starts asking him questions about a list he posted online. Years earlier, Malcolm published a blog post on the bookstore’s website that listed eight perfect murders from various books. The FBI agent suspects someone is using Malcolm’s list to kill and wants his help. Peter Swanson has delivered another great mystery with this book, which is perfect for fans of thrillers and suspense stories. This novel is such a fun, twisted, and exciting book, and an ideal choice if you need a good distraction right about now.
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
One day, fifteen-year-old Ellie was walking to the library, but never came home. Ten years later, her family is still trying to pick up the pieces, desperate for answers about what happened to her. In an effort to move on, her mom, Laurel, starts a new relationship with Floyd, a charming man who quickly sweeps her off her feet. But the more Laurel gets to know Floyd and his young daughter, the more questions she has about what really happened to Ellie. Then She Was Gone is a fine book, but it’s my least favorite Lisa Jewell novel so far. I saw the ending coming and wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the story wrapped up.
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
I’ve been a fan of Matt Haig since I read his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. I love that book and think it should be required reading for anyone struggling with anxiety and depression. In this follow-up, Haig talks about what it’s like to live in a world that’s continually provoking anxiety. People are more connected than ever, yet loneliness is still a huge problem. We have more options today than we’ve ever had before, but that much freedom can provoke plenty of worries. Haig’s short chapters and helpful lists give readers a lot to think about, and his vulnerability in sharing his own mental health struggles is refreshing and appreciated.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
Furious Hours is divided into three parts: the story of the alleged serial murderer and fraudster Reverend Willie Maxwell, the trial against Maxwell’s eventual killer, and Harper Lee’s attempt to chronicle these stories in the long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Each part is interesting, but I think the book could have been a bit shorter. Casey Cep is a great writer who provides a lot of detail, and I didn’t think all of those details were necessary to the overall story she’s trying to tell. Still, Furious Hours is a fascinating book that’s perfect for true-crime lovers who are also interested in American literature.
What I Loved
All I can say in this time of great distress is thank God for streaming services that fill me with endless entertainment and stories of people who are crazier than I thought anyone could ever be.
The McMillions docuseries on HBO is an excellent fraud story, and I’m convinced that Doug, the FBI agent, needs his own show.
Like nearly everyone else in the world, I watched and was amazed by Netflix’s Tiger King. I listened to the podcast version of this story, but seeing these characters come to life onscreen was certainly an experience I won’t soon forget. Some of those images are seared into my mind forever.
Schitt’s Creekis one of my favorite discoveries so far this year. I love love love this show and have already watched several episodes multiple times. I will never get tired of Moira and David on my television screen.
I was not expecting how tense I’d feel while watching a baking show, but when a custard doesn’t set or a tiered cake comes crashing down, part of me withers and dies inside. In spite of that, The Great British Baking Show is exactly the kind of entertainment I need right now.
What did you read and love in March? What should I read and watch next? Let me know in the comments! Stay safe and healthy.
I’m usually glad when January is over since it often feels like a slog. After the excitement of the holidays, January comes as a kind of cold and dreary buzzkill that makes me want to curl up in a blanket every second of the day. And there’s usually snow, which is gross and terrible and limits my shoe choices. The good news is that I read some great books in January and made some new discoveries that I’m excited to talk about today. Let’s get to it.
What I Read
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Since Ocean Vuong is a poet, I knew the writing in this novel would be beautiful, and it is. It’s written as a letter from a son to his mother in which he discusses growing up, sexuality, heritage, and family. My only criticism of the book is the somewhat choppy narrative style. Just as I’d be getting into the flow of a particular story, it would end, and another would begin. Even so, this novel is definitely worth reading if you love good, realistic prose.
Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison
This thriller is set at an elite private high school for girls in a small Virginia town. When the novel opens, a student has been found dead. The novel explores who this person was and why they were killed. I’ve read one of J. T. Ellison’s books before, and my issues with that book are present here, too, in that there’s not enough character development and too many twists. Good Girls Lie is entertaining from beginning to end, but doesn’t offer much else.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Alix is a white 30-something influencer who’s recently moved to Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. She hires a black woman named Emira as a babysitter to help care for her three-year-old daughter, Briar. When an emergency happens at Alix’s house one night, she calls Emira and begs her to pick up Briar and get her out of the house for a bit. Emira takes to the girl to a nearby high-end grocery store where she’s accused of kidnapping the child. The exchange between her and the security guard is all caught on tape. Such a Fun Age starts there and goes on to explore how Alix and Emira handle the fallout from this incident. This novel is a smart, thoughtful story about race, class, and privilege that I absolutely devoured. I imagine this book will be high on my best of 2020 list.
Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks
Do you know what I love almost as much as I love books? Lists. When I heard about Twenty-One Truths About Love and learned the entire thing is structured as various lists, I was intrigued but skeptical. My skepticism abated quickly, though, as I got to know Daniel, the novel’s protagonist. He’s a struggling bookstore owner and soon to be a first-time father. His finances are getting worse every month, and he can’t bear to tell his wife. Daniel is a sympathetic, funny, well-rounded character, especially considering this book’s structure. There was one plot point that I found to be silly, but otherwise, this novel is charming and inventive.
What I Loved
TELEVISION: Next in Fashion
Netflix’s new fashion competition show is an absolute delight. The designers are insanely talented, producing beautiful clothes in less than 48 hours. And unlike a lot of other competition shows, this one is exceedingly positive, with cast members appreciating and showing kindness to one another instead of tearing each other apart to win. Prepare to want a whole new wardrobe after watching this.
TECH: Power Bank
One of my favorite Instagram accounts is @things.i.bought.and.liked. She continually has good recommendations, including beauty, lifestyle, and home products. She recently recommended this power bank, and when I saw it, I knew it was The Thing That Would Change My Life™. And it has! Instead of keeping track of cords for my phone, Kindle, wireless headphones, Bluetooth speaker, etc., I can use this one device to charge all of them. The cables fold into the device itself, and the power bank charges through an outlet. I love that it’s self-contained and small enough to fit in any handbag.
MUSIC: Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life
This album isn’t a new discovery, but it’s the one I’ve been listening to all month. “Back in My Body” has been on constant repeat lately, and “Light On” is another favorite.