First things first, it’s been a weird/extremely slow season for me with blogging – as you can see – but the holidays and end of the year is always one of my favorite times on the internet so… I’m back (for now). Hi there!
While I haven’t been blogging, I have been reading a lot, and I’ve been keeping this little log as I go – mainly for my own record – so I thought I’d share it today incase you need a good winter-reading book. Warning, it’s long. I’ve read 28 books since November. Feel free to skip around, but don’t miss my quick review of ScribD – the ebook and audiobook subscription service that has helped me make 2018 a personal record-setting reading year – at the very end. 🙂
So, let’s do this!
What She Knew by Gilly MacMillon
This is a psychological thriller about a mother and her son that goes missing. A listened to it on audio because my sister already owned it, and I wanted something that would keep my attention while I packed up my classroom, did some spring cleaning etc. I remember really liking it initially and being pretty freaked out as a mom by it; but, I have to be honest, I don’t remember much else about it now 5 months later. Take that for what it’s worth.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
It seemed like EVERYONE was talking about this book back in the spring, and it was with good reason. I bought this on Audible, devoured it, and recommended it to several friends/fellow-readers. It is scary and a bit gruesome at times but SO well-researched and completely fascinating. Spoiler alert (sort of): The Golden State Killer was actually identified and found after the publication of this book (more than 30 years after the murders took place). I thought this added a super interesting element to the story and “enjoyed” comparing McNamara’s hypotheses and theories with the news reports and articles that came out after the arrest in April of 2018. Speaking of hypotheses, I predict that this will be part of the “canon” of True Crime writing for a long time!
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
I read this for/with students – it was the National Book Award Winner for Young Adults in 2018 – as part of a Book Club unit I did at the end of the year, and we all thought it was excellent. The story follows three teenagers – biological siblings who were given up at birth – as they are reunited and learn the meaning of family. It deals with tough topics – like adoption, foster care, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, abuse, etc. – in a way that is very accessible and prompts great discussion. I can definitely see it why it received so much recognition. Also, it’s been compared to This Is Us, so if you’re a fan of that, you’ll likely enjoy this even if you aren’t a high school teacher! (I think this would make a great adult book club pick too!)
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This is another one that I read for/with my students for Book Clubs, and we all really loved it. It’s theme is similar to The Hate U Give and very culturally-relevant right now — it follows two sixteen year old boys who were in the wrong place at the wrong time one Friday night. One of them, who happens to be black, is accused of stealing a bag of chips from a corner store and beat nearly to death by a police offer, while the other one, who is white, sees it all. The story follows both boys after that night as they learn to find and use their voices, advocate, and speak up — even when it means getting hurt or hurting people they love. My students that read this had some awesome discussion, and I’m actually planning to teach this to my entire sophomore class this school year. (Bonus: It actually has two authors – Jason Reynolds (who is black) and Brendan Kiely (who is white). They write in tandem giving the novel a unique style and unmatched authenticity.)
Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
I love Laura Vanderkam, so I was super excited to get my hands on this when it was released on May 29th. Like most of her recent books, Off the Clock deals with time management, but this one specifically looked at avoiding overwhelm and constant busyness and enjoying life more — something I desperately need(ed) help with. Duh. In true Vanderkam fashion, this was very well-researched but also highly readable. I love the anecdotal evidence she included about REAL people with REAL jobs actually making things work. I didn’t feel like I learned anything super new and *life-changing,* but I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fellow working moms or anyone who just chronically has “too much going on.” I haven’t solved all my problems, but I have a little hope that it’s possible now! 😉
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
For some reason, this took me a long time to read, but it was really good. It was slow in kind-of an intentional way. (Does that make any sense?) The writing was beautiful and deep (at times), and I felt like I really had to “take in” every part of it, BUT it wasn’t boring or “too artsy” like some books are that read this way. The storyline absolutely drew me in — a white mother ends up adopting the child of her black housekeeper after she dies during childbirth — and made me think about my own biases, privilege, and values. Also, I thought the beginning of this book was an EXCELLENT representation of new motherhood. This is another one that would make a great Book Club choice.
The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
I listened to this book driving to the beach, and it was the perfect thing for a road trip. From what I remember, it had a very “Grey’s Anatomy” vibe — the two main characters are best friends who went to medical school together and are now practicing physicians and wives/mothers in Charlotte, NC with some “baggage” from their past that finally has to be confronted. It definitely kept my attention in the car, but it didn’t leave a huge impression once it was over.
The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
This was another thriller type – like What She Knew from above, it was about a missing child, but the characters were much more developed and the twists were more exciting in The Perfect Mother. The ending completely surprised me, which is always a win in my book. ALSO, maybe even more than the “mystery” element though, I really enjoyed the new mom, mom-friend, and mom-guilt components of this story. I’ve heard this is being made into a movie starring Keri Washington, so this is one to add to your TBR list right away!
When Life Gives You LuluLemons by Lauren Weisberger
This wasn’t really on my radar, but it was – surprisingly – available through Overdrive while I was at the beach, and a Lauren Weisberger (author of The Devil Wears Prada) novel seemed like the perfect “beach read,” so I went for it… It was the perfect book for reading pool/ocean side – funny, quick, a little scandalous – and I read it super fast. I loved the more nuanced look at the lives of women who appear “perfect” or like they “have it all” on the outside, female friendships, and even the media/tabloids. This is perfect if you have a vacation coming up soon or just want something not very heavy (but not entirely weightless either) to get lost in for a few days.
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
Emily Giffin (of Something Borrowed fame)’s new novel had A LOT of hype leading up to it’s release at the end of June, and I jumped on the bandwagon choosing it for my own summer Book Club. Giffin is famous for “beach reads,” but this one was said to have a little more meat than her others — the plot features the son of an extremely wealthy Nashville family who posts an inappropriate picture with a racist comment on social media of a girl from his class who’s being raised by her dad in a significantly less wealthy part of town at a party one night — and it did, but maybe not quite enough. Don’t get my wrong – I liked this book (a lot), and I thought it was a bold move on Giffin’s part to make some of the claims she does about wealth, status, privilege, and image given her primary audience; BUT, I wasn’t super satisfied with the ending and thought – overall – the issues presented in the novel were a bit too simplified. This might be an unpopular opinion, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this one!
So I read a lot about mothers and female friendships in June… 😉
Campaign Widows by Aimee Agresti
I think Annie B. Jones recommended this one, and I grabbed it on audio to listen to while I unpacked from vacation. It’s about the wives and partners (i.e. “widows”) of several men intimately involved in a Presidential campaign (the candidate, campaign managers, journalists, etc.) in DC. I’ve always been pretty fascinated by the “inside” of politics and the lives of people we often see in the spotlight, so – though this one was a bit over done (I purpose, I think) – I found it fun and interesting. A quick, easy read (or listen).
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’d been wanting to read something else by Taylor Jenkins Reid since I read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo last summer, and Shay Shull (of Mix & Match Mama) had raved about this one being one of her favorites ever, so I grabbed it… In it, the main character, Emma’s high school sweetheart went missing in an assumed helicopter accident on their first wedding anniversary, after years of grieving, however, she’d rebuilt her life and fallen in love with an old friend – finally on the cusp of happiness again. THEN, in a strange (and very Hollywood-ish) turn of events, her husband turns up ALIVE, and Emma must choose who her “one true love” really is…. In some ways, this is as cliche as it sounds; but, honestly, I can’t even remember the last time a book made me cry like this (Me Before You maybe?). I sobbed… through the WHOLE book. On the one hand, I think this a pretty impressive feat for an author. She made me FEEL, for sure. BUT, I’ll be honest, at times, it was maybe a bit too much. Like, why am I doing this to myself? Read at your own risk. (For the record: I read this before my sister lost her husband. I couldn’t even TOUCH IT now.)
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
This novel centers around an uber-religious family who’s entire life has been broadcast on a popular reality TV show (it’s very loosely based on the Duggars), and their youngest daughter – Essie – who ends up pregnant while she’s still in high school. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s about television, image, family, secrets, and young love; and it’s all weaved together into a really compelling story!! I LOVED this book and was super sad when it was over. Also, I passed it on to my mother-in-law when I was done and she said it was “one of the best books” she’d ever read! Add this one to your list!
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This was another from Taylor Jenkins Reid (a friend recommended it after I finished One True Loves). It was A LOT like the 90s movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow – remember that? Basically, it presents the question: How would your life be different if ONE THING hadn’t happened / you’d made ONE different choice? It’s a cool concept, but in practice, I found the switching back and forth between two parallel stories with the same characters a little hard to keep up with and even harder to get into. This was fine, but definitely not a favorite for me!
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
I don’t typically like short story collections (actually, let’s be real, I don’t typically read short story collections because I don’t think I will like them), but I really like Curtis Sittenfeld (her books Prep, American Wife, and Eligible are some of my favorites), so I gave this a try… And, what do you know? I liked it! True to her typical style, Sittenfeld touches on some incredibly complex themes/topics – gender, relationships, politics, past hurts, etc. – makes readers think, and draws us into the lives of her characters in each of her 10 stories. And, I appreciated that I could pick this up and put it down pretty easily since each story was its own little thing.
August & September —
This was certainly NOT an easy read, but it was very, very interesting and very, very important. Beth Macy is actually a local writer/reporter in my hometown and this story – on the opioid epidemic – centers around the schools I attended/teach in, and many people and families I actually know in real life. While that, certainly, made this a particularly poignant read for me; I feel strongly that it is the story of SO many cities around America right now… Macy’s investigation was thorough and well-researched — she looked at the issue from a historical angle, a medical angle, a social angle, etc. — AND, yet, it is also incredibly personal and narrative-driven. Right up there with Columbine, I think this book should be REQUIRED reading for teachers, parents, and young people today.
Go ahead, just buy the boxed set. 😉 I’ve already talked about these books, so you know I LOVED them. I have a soft spot for high school romances, but these were particularly adorable and heartwarming. The PERFECT read for me in August/September. P.S. The Netflix movie that goes with the first book is excellent, but I definitely recommend reading it (them) first. *I hear there are more movies coming too! Yay!
Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner
I was excited to buy this book to support a fellow working mom blogger, and I was grateful for the voice she gave us through her words. Based on research and interviews with hundreds of working moms + Jessica’s own experiences, it read like a super long coffee-date with a slightly more experienced but not out-of-the-trenches working mom friend. It was equal parts solidarity, encouragement, and advice — just what I was hoping for!
Are You Sleeping? by Kathleen Barber
The premise of this one really intrigued me: It’s about a murder that was committed ten years ago, the daughter of the victim who has spend a decade trying to escape it, and a brand new Serial-esque true crime podcast investigating it and reopening LOTS of wounds for all the world to see… To be honest, the premise was better than the actual delivery, but it was still a quick and suspenseful read. Plus, Reese Witherspoon is turning it into a TV series, so, I’m 100% glad I’ve read it!
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I can’t remember who recommended this one, but I’d heard it was a “must-read” on grief, so I downloaded the audio and listened to the whole five hours one rainy Saturday. Didion’s husband died unexpectedly one December day, and this book is her reflection on the year that followed. It was poetic and powerful and also incredibly simple and relatable. One of my favorite parts was when she talked about grief being like a high-pitched whistle that only dogs can hear: You know it exists but can’t really *feel* it until you actually experience it, then you hear it everywhere – sometimes sharp and piercing and sometimes just dull in the background – always. This has been SO true for me lately (more on that one of these days), and I appreciated the way Didion put it to words.
Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
Jen Hatmaker and Laura Tremaine recommended this book, so obviously I HAD to read it. I’m SO glad I did, and I want to go back and read everything Corrigan has written now. The subtitle of this book, her latest, is “Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say,” and I needed every.single.bit of it. (For the record though, I especially liked/needed Ch. 1: “It’s Like This,” Ch. 7: “I Was Wrong,” and all of the last three chapters written for a dear friend she recently lost to cancer.) It is HILARIOUS (there’s a story about having to cut herself out of a linen blouse that had me cry-laughing) and RICH with wisdom and heart (I cried more than once). This is a book to buy for your best friend, your mom, and everyone else you know. Seriously, hint hint, if you fall into one of those categories in my life, you’re totally getting one of these for Christmas! 🙂
October & November —
What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
I can’t remember who or where, but someone in a Facebook group I’m in recommended this book and called it “a must read for anyone that works with or is raising teenagers,” and I have to agree. Written by a sports journalist for ESPN, this is Maddy’s story – a college athlete who took her own life in January of her freshman year at Penn. More than that, it’s a story about the “good kids” – the A students, the athletes, the over-achiever, the perfectionists – and the ultimate toll that pressure is taking on young people today. Sadly, I saw SO many of my students in Maddy’s story, and it is one I think we all (parents/teachers/etc.) need to be talking more about.
Option B by Cheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
This has been on my TBR list for a while – long before it actually became applicable to my own life and circumstances – and I’m so glad I finally read (listened) to it. I’ve done a good bit of reading on grief and loss these last few months, but this has been – by far – my favorite book on the topic. I love Cheryl Sandberg’s style and perspective. This is the perfect mix of sentimental/personal and practical. It’s great for ANYONE that has experienced a loss (of a person, job, dream, etc.) or that loves someone that has.
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
I listened to this on a weekend while I did laundry, decorated for Christmas, etc. It was a little sadder than I was expecting, but overall, I good story. I loved the premise — the age old question of “if you could have dinner with any 5 people dead or alive who would they be?” come to life — and the storyline kept me interested (obviously, since I powered through it in just two days). *I think this would be a great book to curl up with over the holidays.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
I was SO excited about this book — I got one of the first copies from the libraries digital reserves, then accidentally let it expire when I was only 75% of the way through. I had to WORK to find another copy to finish up and ended up driving about 30 minutes one way to get one, but I did it! Haha. #dedication #bookjunkie. Anyway, in the end, I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. I was into it enough to track it down for the last 25%, so I guess that says something… It felt *different* from Moriarty’s other books, but I can’t really explain how/why. A little more woo-woo. Darker. Honestly, I picked up this book hoping for something “light” after a series of tough reads, and I was shocked to find the storyline take the turn it did — To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read it if I had known where it was going… Still, I think it handles a tough topic pretty well, feels thoroughly researched, and is… interesting. I don’t know what else to say about this one. (Sorry for being vague – I don’t want to give anything away since I know this is a popular one. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you thought. And, if you’re thinking about it and want a little Trigger Warning, message me!)
Pick Three by Randi Zuckerberg
This was another quick read that I got from Overdrive (see below) on audio and finished in a weekend. I’d heard this concept before when it first started making headlines a few years ago, and I still think there’s a lot of value in it. Basically, you look at your list of life priorities — family, work, fitness, friends, sleep — and choose three to focus on each day. “You can have it all, but not all at once.” I thought there were some loopholes in this idea (#multitasker), and it was quite similar Laura Vanderkam and Jessica Turner’s books (from above), but I got some good tips for time/life management. Probably didn’t need to be a whole book, but it was a quick and easy one!
So, have you read any of these? What did you think?
2018 is almost over now, and – so far – I’ve read 41 books! I only read 22 books ALL year in 2017, and my goal for 2018 was 30 – so this is a record for me!! One month to go, and my TBR list is FULL. I’d LOVE to hit 50 for the year, but that feels a little lofty. We will see… What have you been reading lately? Anything I can’t miss?
*REMEMBER, you can find all of my “Recent Reads” posts under the Life In-Between/Books tab at the top of the blog (including reviews of everything else I’ve read this year, and a round up all the books I read last year). I also post all my real-time updates about books and reading on Instagram under #samandscoutreads. I’d love if you’d come hang out there and talk books with me!
And NOW… A mini-review of ScribD —
Much of the “improvement” in my reading life lately has been a result of my discovery of ScribD – an audiobook and ebook subscription service that boasts *unlimited* downloads for $8.95/month. This allowed me to listen to WAY more audiobooks than I usually would with Audible’s typical 1-credit-per-month policy; BUT, recently, I’ve had A LOT of holds put on my account (i.e. ScribD says I’ve reached my limit and have to wait another month to download something else) which seems inauthentic to their “unlimited” promise, and the customer service has been sub par – to put it nicely. SO, I have mixed feelings about it… Overall, I still think $8.95 a month for 2 – 4 downloads is great, but I wish my expectation hadn’t been that it would truly be unlimited… Anyone else have experience with ScribD? I’d love to hear if your experience has been similar.
Oh, and FYI, none of this is sponsored. I didn’t receive any of these books for free (except from the library). And the links aren’t affiliate…. I just like to read and talk about books. A lot. 🙂
If you’re still reading, please say hi in the comments! Tell me what you’re reading and just what you’ve been up to over the last several months. I seriously miss you guys!
P.S. I have posts on Christmas gifts (yay), my wish list (!!), Sam’s favorite books (yay), and grief/community (not so yay) in the works… If all goes as planned, I’ll be back soon!