First and foremost, THANK YOU to all of you that commented, shared, and gave in-person hugs in response to the post about my lockdown experience I wrote about a couple of weeks ago… I am so grateful for this small platform to share things that are important to me and will, hopefully, help others, and I love the community of support and encouragement we’ve built here. You guys are the best! (P.S. I’m still working on responding to emails etc. Please know that I have read and appreciate them all! I’ll be in touch.)
And now, because I’m terrible at transitions… Let’s talk about books!
March and April were good reading months for me. I was hoping to finish eight books, so that my collage would be more even (haha), but I was just short at 7 – three nonfiction, and four fiction. I liked all of them, and I loved several. If you’re looking for something new to add to your TBR list (or are just a major book nerd, like me), read on for the round-up/review…
As a not-so-closeted Bachelor fan, I was super excited for this book’s release, and grabbed it on Audible the day it came out (March 6th). The author spent years writing about The Bachelor for the Los Angeles Times, and is a self-described Bachelor super fan. In this book, she claims to “tell all” about the franchise’s thirty-five seasons, and give readers a glimpse behind the scenes of American’s favorite reality tv show. I, however, wasn’t all that shocked by anything I read… Maybe it’s because I’d already read a lot about The Bachelor – like this book, which seriously aired some dirty laundry (imagine me hiding my face in my hands now) – but I felt like I already knew most of the “secrets” Kaufman revealed. To me, it read more like a sociological study of The Bachelor phenomenon written in a conversational tone with some swear words thrown in for good measure. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though… I enjoyed the story of The Bachelor’s inception and the summary of it’s 15+ year run. I enjoyed the exermpts of interviews with former contestants. And, perhaps most of all, I enjoyed the insight Kaufman attempted to provide on why this show has so many loyal fans and the role it has played in our society and culture since it first aired in 2002. In short, this is a fun read for Bachelor Nationites (?), but don’t go in expecting to have your mind blown. We already knew there was lots of drinking, a good bit of sex, shady producers, and plenty of editing. 😉
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
I’d had this book on my Kindle for a while (I’m sure I bought it on special), and a few friends had recommended it + I felt like I needed to read something “sophisticated” to even things out a bit after The Bachelor book. Haha! Written by one of Obama’s closest staff, this was actually a light and easy read about Mastromonoco’s experience climbing her way up the White House ladder to eventually become the Deputy Chief of Staff at only 32. Even though I’m not super “into” politics, I really enjoyed this. Mastromonoca has a quirky and personable writing style, and she wasn’t afraid to share the good, the bad, and the downright embarrassing parts of her job. There are also fun tidbits about the President (she worked with him for more than a decade); fascinating details about campaigns, Airforce One, and the Oval Office; great anecdotes on meeting the Queen and having to use the bathroom in the Vatican; and even some tips for productivity and scheduling. I loved the message this memoir (I guess that’s what you would call it) offered women about the hard work and the power of goals, but also about the reality of the sacrifices that sometimes requires. I don’t know if I’d call this a “must read,” but I certainly don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you do. (P.S. My friend and I remarked that we’d like to be friends with any woman that would put that photo of herself on the cover of her book. Right? She totally seems like my kind of girl – awesome and real!)
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
I can’t remember where I first heard about this book, but I was immediately intrigued by the premise, and my library had a copy available, so I snagged it quick. It came out in January of 2017, but a paperback version was just released in April, so I’m guessing that’s why it was on my radar… Anyway, it did not disappoint. I read this in a weekend (could.not.put.it.down), and then passed it on to my mother-in-law who did the same. Basically, it’s about black teenager who has just been released from prison (into a group home) after serving time for allegedly killing a white baby her mother was caring for when she was nine. Now, she’s pregnant with her own child and breaking her silence on what really happened that day in a desperate attempt to set the record straight and keep the state from taking her baby. I can’t say anymore, but this was definitely a page-turner, and it had several twists that I did not see coming at all. The end left me speechless. This is dark, for sure, but if you’re OK with that, I definitely recommend it.
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
I picked this one up from my library also because Annie B. Jones (of The Bookshelf and From the Front Porch Podcast) raved about it. Just released in January of this year, it’s the story of a 30-something woman/writer who has done all the right things. She’s passionate about her faith in God and follows the rules. She loves her husband and her two children. THEN, she meets a fellow poet at a conference and connects with him on a deep philosophical and spiritual level that threatens everything she’s worked so hard to build.This book makes you think – whether you want to or not – and Quatro isn’t afraid to be raw and intense in writing about devotion, attraction, morality, and longing. The writing style surprised me by being very artistic, and most of the time it felt like reading long pieces of prose instead of a novel (maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise given that both of the main characters are writers/artists, but still, it was). That form really isn’t my cup of tea, so I didn’t like this as much as I thought I might, but I did appreciate the author’s powerful use of language and images and her braveness in writing about something so intimate.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I know, I know… Every blogger in America has read and written about this book in the last two months. BUT, guys, it really is that good. This has been called a mash-up of The Glass Castle and Hillbilly Elegy, and I totally agree. I also found it very similar to The Sound of Gravel – almost too much so at first – but it really ended up having its own unique voice and story. In it, Westover recounts her life growing up in an extremely conservative Idaho home where her parents prepped for doomsday and avoided all modern medicine and educational institutes for fear of conspiracies. Westover, who went to on study her way into college and, eventually, earn a Ph.D from Cambridge, writes candidly about her experiences and the struggles she’s had to overcome them and find her own identity and peace as an adult. I listened to this on audio, read by the author, and it was fantastic. Worth every bit of my 12+ hours and $14.95 Audible credit. If you only read one book from this list, I’d say this should be it.
Only Child: A Novel by Rhiannon Navin
This was another one I learned about from Annie B. Jones and immediately requested at the library. (I had some serious good luck at my local library this month!) Based loosely on the events at Sandy Hook in 2012 (that’s never really said, but pretty obvious), this story is told from the perspective of a 6-year old boy who survives a school shooting by hiding in the closet of his elementary school. The story begins there – in the closet – and takes readers into the aftermath of such a tragedy through the eyes of a child. While his parents struggle to cope in a variety of “adult” ways, our narrator finds hope and healing in a secret hideout, The Magic Treehouse books, memories, and forgiveness. This was hard to read at times – for obvious reasons – but I absolutely LOVED it. The story is compelling, and the style is original and powerful. I, truly, couldn’t put this down and was sad when it ended.
Navin is a first time author and a SAHM mom to three children. In an interview I found, she said most of her research for her narrator came from simply spending time with her own children and trying to get into their heads — it worked, she nailed it. This book made me see my own 6-year old so much more clearly, and gave me a renewed spirit to see the good in the world despite all the fear and ugliness that threatens us. If you are a parent or teacher (and you can stomach a few truly heart/gut-wrenching scenes), you really need to read this. I hope there’s lots more to come from Navin!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Technically, I read this for school (I’m pretty sure it’s going to be summer reading for my rising Juniors), and I wouldn’t normally include that in these lists; BUT, this has been on my TBR list for YEARS now, so I think it “counts.” Speaking of lists, this 2004 book is featured on TONS of “important book” lists (like, most recently, this one), and now that I’ve finally read it, I can see why. It’s a “murder mystery” meant to model the Sherlock Holmes books told by 15-year old Christopher Boone. Though the book never says it outright, readers can assume – based on his affinity for routines, order, and logic; his hatred of the color yellow; his choice to number his chapters with prime numbers only; and his quirks in human communication and empathy – that Christopher is on the autism spectrum. His story, initially focused on finding the person responsible for murdering his neighbor’s dog, takes some surprising turns into much more serious crises he is forced to face, and we learn of all of it through the eyes of our innocent and extremely likable narrator. From Amazon: And herein lies the key to the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion. The effect is dazzling, making for a novel that is deeply funny, poignant, and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing is a mind that perceives the world literally. I really enjoyed this book for its story, its unique voice and style, and – as a fun little English-teacher bonus – Christopher’s use and definition of literary/rhetorical terms throughout. (Warning: Lots of f-word usage, so be careful if you plan to assign this to students!)
Alright, there you go. Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?!?
Four months into the year, and I’ve read 13 books – right on track for my goal of 30+). Currently, I’m listening to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, and working my way through Far from the Tree and All American Boys with my student Book Clubs. (I’m also anxiously waiting for this to be stocked at my library.) I’ll share my thoughts on all of those in the next book round-up at the end of June. Until then, check out my new hashtag #samandscoutreads on Instagram for mini reviews etc.
And, finally, I’m always looking for new titles to add to my list. What are you reading lately?