The Books of May 2021

29 May 2021


Ignore It! by Catherine Pearlman

This book teaches frustrated, stressed-out parents that selectively ignoring certain behaviors can actually inspire positive changes in their kids.

Honestly, this book could have been a brief article. The whole idea is that when we acknowledge behaviors of any sort, that acknowledgment reinforces said behavior. Most of the time when children are acting out, they want someone to pay attention to them. Make sure you try your best to pay attention to those behaviors you want repeated. Not my favorite parenting book and a no brainer for anyone who has learned even a little about child development.  Verdict:

Outlawed by Anna North

The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting, adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.

What a brilliant premise! Outlawed started out as a book that I couldn't put down, but fizzled out along the way. Once the main character joins the Hole in the Wall gang everything started to feel rushed and not all that developed. I just wanted more and I didn't feel like it delivered. Verdict:

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

 The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a powerful and thrilling love story about the what-ifs that arrive at life's crossroads, and what happens when one woman is given a miraculous chance to answer them.

I found this to be such a delight! I'm always so happy to discover a read that I find myself hugging upon completion. If you are someone who finds yourself wondering about the what-ifs in your life, then I think you will really appreciate this gem. Verdict:

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

. . . an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America's most defining eras -- the Great Depression.

Hannah has such an incredible gift for creating a strong sense of place. I'm not even kidding when I say that I had to double-check that I wasn't covered in dust. What I don't love about this work and Hannah's work in general is that it leans towards the melodramatic. She tends to like to throw a lot at her main characters and this was no exception. Picture the worst and it happens. Verdict:

Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir

Summer Camp is supposed to be about finding nirvana in a rock garden. . . But Elodie prefers Nirvana and Soundgarden. Can she confront rambunctious kids, confusing feelings, and supernatural horrors all at once?

I don't normally gravitate towards graphic novels, but in an attempt to get some solid armchair travel to summer camp, I picked up Camp Spirit. I probably should have read the synopsis a bit closer, because I was completely blindsided by the weird supernatural element and that really detracted from my enjoyment. Supernatural weirdness aside, the camp elements I was looking for were all present and I found myself finding campers who made me laugh and others who drove me batty. Not a bad summer camp read at all. Verdict:

Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia by Thomas Healy

The fascinating, forgotten story of the 1970s attempt to build a city dedicated to racial equality in the heart of "Klan Country."

This was a fascinating read that did what so many great books do, it made me think. I thought about what makes some cities thrive and other crumble. I thought about the role that the Federal Government plays in the success of those cities and I thought about how race plays a part. This is definitely one of those rabbit hole books that you should absolutely go down. Verdict:

Hope and Other Punchlines by Julie Buxbaum

Abbi has lived almost her entire life in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of September 11. On that fateful day, she was captured in what became an iconic photograph. . .Now fifteen years later, Abbi is desperate for anonymity and decides to spend the summer before her seventeenth birthday incognito as a counselor at Knights Day Camp two towns away. . . Too bad Noah Stern. . .has a similar summer plan. . . the two team up to ask difficult questions about the history behind the Baby Hope photo. But is either of them ready to hear the answers?

I got it in my mind that I wanted to become a more serious Armchair Traveler, so I started with the theme of summer camp and this book popped up during my searches. This book has very little to do with summer camp, but that turned out to be just fine for this reader.

I have read a handful of fictional tales that deal with the legacy of 9/11 and this one is up there as one of my favorites. I was surprised by how emotional of a read it was for me, by how much I connected with these characters. Verdict:

The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell'Antonia

Three generations. Two chicken shacks. One recipe for disaster.

If you need likeable characters who you can root for, then I think you may want to skip this novel. The people found among these pages reveal some of the best and worst parts of ourselves and I loved it. For me, this was a fun, quick read that I had a hard time putting down. Verdict:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you.

I have been heard about this book for over a decade now and finally picked it up. At this point my expectations were very likely too high. While I found some quotable snippets, overall I didn't enjoy this book. It was a chore to read and made me realize that perhaps writing is not something I ever want to do. 

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, 'Dear Miss Sweetie.' When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she is not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.

 I adored Lee's previous novel Under a Painted Sky, so this novel had some big shoes to fill. I appreciate that this novel exposed me to a portion of history in which my knowledge is lacking and made me consider some things that I had not fully considered before. The overall story itself and the characters fell flat and unbelievable for this reader. I'm still very much looking forward to Lee's other work but the verdict for this:

Ocean Renegades!: Journey through the Paleozoic Era by Abby Howard

Travel back in time before the age of the dinosaurs in this installment of the hit nonfiction graphic novel series about prehistoric Earth.

I grew up in a very conservative area where creationism was taken as fact by many. I think because of that any effort to share actual facts regarding the formation of Earth and evolution in general were far and few in between. In an effort to be a more educated human being, I have been trying to fill in the gaps where my education clearly failed and figured starting from the beginning was the way to go.

I found this graphic novel to be a fantastic supplement to my education. It was fascinating, engaging and even kind of fun. Verdict:

What was your favorite read in May?

The Books of April 2021

30 April 2021


A beloved classic tale about the unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider.

 Last year my four-year-old discovered Mercy Watson and the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo. He was obsessed with pigs, so naturally I thought of the beloved tale of Wilber and Charlotte. I had some fond memories of this one, but didn't love it nearly as much as an adult.

A spellbinding novel of dark family secrets and a young woman's rise and revenge set against the backdrop of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

I found this to be a fun little escape into turn-of-the century SF. I loved tagging along on the main character's exploits around SF, visiting places like the Cliff House and the Sutro Baths. This novel doesn't ever get very deep, but it did lead me down my own little rabbit hole concerning Chinatown and the politics of the time. I'm always a fan of a book that leaves me wanting to learn more and this fit the bill.  

An enthralling, redemptive novel set in Bangkok in 1972 and Washington, DC, in 2019 about an expatriate child who goes missing, whose family is contacted decades later by a man claiming to be the vanished boy.

This was my first solid 5 star read of 2021. This novel does so many things so well. I cared very much about each of the characters and felt a spectrum of emotions as I followed them throughout their lives. The setting was established in such a way that I swear I felt the sticky, heat of Thailand. It's a hard read, emotionally speaking, but is also just so insightful. I cannot recommend this novel enough!

A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.

 I was incredibly nervous to read this one, because it seems to be quite polarizing among readers I trust. I went in knowing that many people were disappointed with the ending, so I prepared myself accordingly and went in with lowered expectations.

Honestly, I couldn't put this down. I found this book to be terrifying and am extremely relieved that I didn't read it earlier on in the pandemic. There isn't a whole lot that happens in the plot and it leaves the reader with so many questions. It reminded me of The Road in that way, except this novel has the glimmer of hope and possibility that The Road didn't really have. If you don't mind a whole lot of ambiguity, then you'll likely enjoy Leave the World Behind.

You Are Magnificent by Ganel-Lyn Condie:
In a world where many women wonder if they measure up, the quest for perfection can be exhausting! For those who are overloaded and overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy comes an authentic and powerful lifeline of reassurance. . . .

This was the selection for my neighborhood book club, which is comprised of mainly LDS (Mormon) women. I very likely would not have picked this up on my own. I found the writing to ramble quite a bit, drawing conclusions and connections that, at times, seemed a bit of a reach. I agree with the overarching sentiment that everyone has value and something to contribute, but wouldn't recommend this book to anyone outside of the LDS crowd as it really has glaring moments of the "us versus the world" mentality.

. . . John Hodgman is an older white male monster with bad facial hair, wandering like a privileged Sasquatch through three wildernesses: the hills of Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; the painful beaches of Maine that want to kill him (and some day will); and the metaphoric haunted forest of middle age that connects them.

 This book kept me company as I battled some recent insomnia and painted and then repainted the walls of my-not-so-great room. I loved every stinking minute of it. Hodgman is funny and insightful and I will do my best no to run into him in the post office should I ever travel to his area of Maine. If you need company and a laugh or two, then Vacationland on audio is a fantastic choice. My one complaint is that it wasn't longer. . .my room still isn't totally painted.

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson's Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

One of my favorite, most meaningful reading experiences of 2020 was reading Krueger's This Tender Land. I had heard that Ordinary Grace was full of my favorite elements: a strong sense of place, complicated families and the growing pains associated with any good coming-of-age tale.

Ordinary Grace delivered on all of those things, however it didn't impact me in quite the same way. I'm sure most of that has to do with my unfair, exceedingly high expectations. This Tender Land is the masterpiece. Ordinary Grace feels more like a warm up.

The amazing story of how the world's greatest fossilist found her first huge find at the age of twelve.
I'm absolutely thrilled that this book exists! As I have gotten older I have seen glaring gaps in my education and the existence of Mary Anning is one of them.

We picked up this particular title after reading the picture book Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt, which I preferred. However, if Mary Anning is new to you, then you would likely enjoy this slim book.

"Money cannot buy happiness, but it buys the conditions for happiness: time, occasional freedom from constant worry, a moment of breath to plan for the future, and the ability to be generous."
Vacationland by John Hodgman

"'It's the right thing to do.' Clay knew this would work; his wife felt it important, not to do the moral thing, necessarily, but to be the kind of person who would. Morality was vanity, in the end."
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

"The dead are never far from us. They're in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air."
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

"'Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print.'"
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

What was your favorite read of April?

What's In Your Box? - May 2021

29 April 2021


I have found so many of my favorite reads thanks to the monthly book subscription box Book of the Month. As an Enneagram 5, I spend a lot of time researching both the 5 main selections as well as the the new add-ons before I make any decisions. 

If you are interested in reading a detailed synopsis for any of these, I've linked to Goodreads.

What follows is my commentary surrounding my thought process and what I ultimately select. Hopefully you'll find it to be helpful!

May 2021 Main Selections:

How Lucky by Will Leitch:

From what I can see this title is receiving very mixed reviews in the bigger publications. Booklist gave it a starred review and Publishers Weekly advised readers to take a pass on picking this up. In the land of Bookstagram @stay.stitchy makes it sound as if How Lucky could have used some tighter editing, which, in my mind, makes the Stephen King blurb make much more sense. Over @the.caffeinated.reader Amanda, felt that the book lived up to the intriguing premise.

Some Suggested Flight Picks: 

I have not read any of those and such mixed reviews make me a teeny bit worried that I wouldn't completely enjoy this title. However, BOTM implies that this is a fast read that will make me laugh and Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here is the reader recommending it. I really enjoyed Nothing to See Here, so that recommendation holds some weight for me.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint:

Greek myth retelling with a feminist spin?! Yes, please. . . well, maybe. Both Booklist and Kirkus Reviews commented on how the writing feels very much like the debut it is. Kirkus went so far as to say there was far too much telling versus showing and that's a major pet peeve of mine.

In Bookstagram land, @coversandcollages says that this is a "fun and engaging story," but that it can be a little difficult to follow at times. @laura_reads_ found the descriptions in this title to be vivid and the character development to be "fleshed out." Then the vast majority of the rest of Bookstagram did that thing where they geek out over the cover, but don't actually read the book. I admit the UK edition has an incredibly gorgeous cover. I may just try to order that version.

Some Suggested Flight Picks:
Laura Dave is a repeat author for BOTM, however, I haven't read her previous featured title Eight Hundred Grapes. The Last Thing He Told Me sounds like a pretty solid page-turner based on the reviews by both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. This one has also already been optioned for an adaptation on Apple TV, staring the woman I wanted to be when I grew up, Julia Roberts.

Michelle from was pleasantly surprised by this title and it sounds like she had a hard time putting it down. As I have been tracking my reading a little more closely thanks to the Rock Your Reading Tracker created by SarahsBookshelves I have realized that I Michelle and I have some overlap in reading taste.

Some Suggested Flight Picks:

Imposter Syndrome by Kathy Wang:

I'm not finding a whole lot of reviews about this one, but what I can find leads me to believe that this is more than just a cooperate, spy thriller, that it is also a bit of a character deep dive. I am so intrigued by the premise of this, but am nervous about the lack of reviews.

Some Suggested Flight Picks:

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen:

This title received a stupendous review via Publishers Weekly and they're using all the words that draw me to a book such as: gripping, illuminating, haunting, and captivating. This title also spans three-decades, which I am a total sucker for!

@inbedwithbooksnola calls this book "touching and essential." @shelf.explanatory had a hard time putting this one down and it sounds like this was a book with memorable characters.

My May 2021 Book of the Month Box:

I think Things We Lost to the Water has my name all over it, but I'm also leaning towards one of the new add-ons, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland. It sounds a lot like something we would see on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I cannot even begin to tell you how much I adore that show.

What's in your BOTM box this month?

The Mile Markers of Life

21 November 2018

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
I recently made myself read another Kristin Hannah novel. As per usual it destroyed me and will likely haunt me for years to come. My poor book has some serious water damage.

I like to keep notes whenever I'm reading.  I always have, but these days I'm finding it much more convenient to keep those notes via Litsy. Are you on there yet? I've found I'm much more likely to scroll through that timeline and look back on my notes than I am with any of the many notebooks scattered around my home.

While reading The Great Alone I stumbled across a quote that made me stop and think. I touched briefly on this via Instagram, but I quickly realized that I wasn't quite finished with my reflection. Don't you just love when something in a book makes you spend some serious time reflecting?

Books are the mile markers of my life. It's a simple little line that packs punch and for me, at least, I think there is some truth to it. What follows will be a little bit of a timeline of some of those books that stand out as the mile markers of my own life.

I found one of these books on Mrs. Herr's shelf in the third grade. I initially read the series all out of order, not understanding that there even was an order to such things. The first one I read was the one that has the storyline where the girls find Arabian Nights on Elizabeth's parent's shelf. I remember being so surprised by it, because Mrs. Herr had been raised Amish and seemed super stuffy. Maybe she didn't know what was in the book, but I'll be forever grateful that it just happened to be on her shelf. It was the one that really ignited my love of reading.

I bought this at the book-fair in 5th grade all because Kim bought it too. It was such a magical tale and it helped me to realize that there are all sorts of stories out there where anything you could possibly think of could and would happen. My copy barely has a cover at this point and I cannot wait to share it with my kids.

Harry Potter was forbidden in my home, so I bought it anyway on the recommendation of Jamie who said it was his favorite book. I hid that book and stayed up late every night until I finished it, then I hid it in the laundry basket. Why I thought that was a good place I'll never know. Maybe I wanted to be caught? My mom found it and asked me about it. I told her that she was wrong and that she should try reading it before she decided it was bad. She did and then my dad did and I received the next two in the series for Christmas.

This was the very first grownup book I ever read. To be honest, I was probably a little young for it, but I loved it. From that moment on I hardly ever returned to the kid's section of the library.
I became incredibly depressed during my first semester of college. I had done that stupid thing where I followed other people to a place that I didn't even really like because my first plan didn't quite pan out. I learned about the importance of a backup plan real quick. These books helped me through that semester and for that I will always be grateful.
This is one of the books I read when I made the biggest leap of my life. I moved across the country to Utah where I knew only a handful of people. Books definitely kept me company and this is the one that sticks out the most.

The Freedom Writer's Diary by Erin Gruwell-

I got into audiobooks during the time I was driving around interviewing for my first post-college job. This was the book I was listening to when I went on the interview that landed me the job.
I started grad school right after my undergrad program ended and I remember feeling so intimidated. You see, despite doing well in school I've never really thought that I was very smart. This was the first book we read and we had to post a discussion essay about it for everyone to see. I was incredibly stressed and then I read some of the other essays and realized that maybe, just maybe, I was more intelligent than I gave myself credit for.
This is the book I was reading when I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter. The author happened to make a stop at a local bookstore around the time that I finished, so I went and met her. She remains the only author I have ever met, but it was just a cool reading experience all around.

This is one of those books I read in the witching hours while up with my first. Knowing that I would be reading this book made it so much easier to get up. I got through it pretty quickly, because my daughter NEVER slept.

My husband and I went on a little anniversary trip when my daughter was a little over 2(?). I brought this book with me, so that I could really relax by the pool and maybe worry a little less about how little e was faring with Grandma.

I read this while pregnant with my second. I was highly emotional and borderline narcoleptic. This was the right book to keep me awake and resulted in a good cry.

Loving What Is by Byron Katie

This book helped me to change my thinking about so much. It helped me get a better handle on my anxiety and helped me realize just how powerful my thoughts are. I would recommend this one to everyone.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett -

I still don't completely know what I want to be when I grow up, but the essay, The Getaway Car, helped me realize that I would like to try to write. I would really like to see my name on the spine of a book in my local library. Now I just need to do it and keep doing it!

Are there books from your life that you would consider mile markers?
What are they?

It's Okay to Change Your Mind

09 July 2018

One of the many things I have always hated about politics is the inevitable moment found in just about any debate when one of the candidates will call out someone for being a flip-flopper. As if it's a bad thing to change as you continue to learn and grow. 

As if it is untrustworthy when one is able to see and potentially understand many different sides of an issue. If it were any other sort of situation, wouldn't we be inclined to think of such a person as empathetic?

Granted, there are times when it becomes apparent that something like money may have resulted in a change in opinion. That's a different ballgame that I do not support.

This month marks 10 years of Utah residency. As I've been reflecting on who I was when I arrived and who I am at this moment I've realized that the way I see the world has changed.

My opinions on some subjects have been strengthened. My beliefs in others have morphed and in some cases have dissolved entirely. I am not the same person, but all of those original beliefs have definitely played a role in shaping my journey and where I am in that.

All in all, I no longer fully believe that all leopards are incapable of changing their spots. Despite what others may say, you are allowed to change your mind and so is everybody else. 

I think that danger comes when we refuse to question and examine our thoughts and beliefs. When we refuse to evolve or refuse to allow that evolution for organizations and others around us. 

Maybe we spend less time name calling and feeling defensive and more time listening. Maybe we try spending more time meeting others where they are in an attempt to really understand where they are coming from. Maybe we try to be open to the possibility that we don't really know anything, so that we can remain open to learning. 
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