2018.39 – Educated

I must have gotten this book onto my library holds from a “most exciting books coming in 2018” list, because I can’t remember where I heard about Educated by Tara Westover. All I know is that it popped up to check out off my holds, and here I am.


I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book, except that wow, way to go Tara! She grew up in a Mormon survivalist family, with a dad who was suspicious of the government, didn’t believe in doctors, and didn’t trust public education. The first time Tara walked into a classroom was when she was 17, and a freshman at BYU. As she grows and earns her education, she slowly starts to see her family’s different beliefs, and must reconcile them with her new worldview.

She persevered and eventually earned her PhD!

One thing that really struck me about this book is that it’s not a history, it’s the present. Tara is only a couple years older than I am, and her childhood took place parallel to my very much opposite growing up experiences.

Here’s a video interview from CNN with Tara Westover. She talks about her book and growing up, and gives a little taste of her education journey.

2018.37 – Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg is definitely in my tops list for 2018!

I read Openly Straight back in 2014, and loved it. I’ve recommended it to friends multiple times. So, when I found out it has a companion novel, I jumped for joy!

This is one of the YA worlds I wish I could teleport into, too bad Natick is an all-boys boarding school. Ben is just so friendly and approachable, even though he has his own share of issues (don’t we all?). And Rafe, Albie, and Toby seem like so much fun to hang around. Plus, Hannah is a strong female figure, who shines a light on inappropriate boy behavior.

There were so many awesome references to other things I love, especially the work of Brené Brown. I appreciate that Konigsberg brings in Brown’s research on vulnerability, and integrates it into the book. For a reader who hasn’t read any Brené Brown, this can be truly life altering. I highly recommend starting with her book Daring Greatly and her TED Talk.

Books I love mentioning other books I love? Yes please! Cue the happy dance! At one point, Rafe was reading Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. I read it back in 2015, during my big David Levithan kick. (In case you’re wondering, there was a parallel John Green and Rainbow Rowell kick, that led to me reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which introduced me to David Levithan.)

By the end of the book, I kept looking up and realizing I wasn’t in their world. Total book hangover.

2018.36 – Americanah

I recently finished Americanah (ebook) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved it!

After reading so much Young Adult fiction this year, the thing that struck me most was the pace of the book. The plot went much slower, however it didn’t feel like it was dragging on and on. It was unpredictable, complex, but also enjoyable to read.

Culturally, I found myself a little lost, so I had to pause to research and learn more about Nigeria, Nigerian culture, and look up YouTube videos to hear how words are pronounced. I appreciated that it wasn’t so plot driven that I couldn’t allow myself a break to do some extra learning.

There are so many elements of this book I want to hold onto. One was the concept of race, which was amplified by the main character’s, Ifemelu, popular and anonymous blog “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” I loved that there were blog posts sprinkled throughout, and it made me think about how different people perceive each other, even within races. Additionally, it was interesting how Ifemelu mentions multiple times in the book about how race isn’t an issue in Nigeria. While I have zero background in this topic, it made me think in ways I never have before.

Also, reading this book made me think of one of my roommates when I was in grad school. She was from Nigeria, and didn’t seem very friendly. Now, I wonder if her being so quiet was less personality and more culture shock of being in the United States for the first time. In contrast, our other roommate, from India, was quick to chat with me and trade stories. But, she had a large group of friends, also from various parts of India, that she spent lots of time with.

I’m making a mental note that I need to reread this book in a few years. I think reading it a second time, and maybe finding a group of friends to discuss it with, would allow me to step back and better process beyond the plot and major themes.

I see there is an audiobook version for Americanah. I’m putting it on hold (though I might not listen to the whole thing), because I’m curious to hear how it is produced. It is read by Adjoa Andoh, a British actress. I want to hear the words and phrases is Igbo, and hear if there is a change in how Ifemelu speaks in the beginning, middle, and end of the book.

PS. If you haven’t seen her TED Talk, “The danger of a single story,” I highly recommend it!

Have you read any of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other books? If so, which one(s) do you recommend?

2018.35 – Smarter, Faster, Better

I recently reconnected with my friend Cristy from grad school, and she invited me to join her book club. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so achievement unlocked!

While they’ve been meeting monthly for the last 2.5 years, I joined for the first time in April 2018. The book this month was Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. I confess, The Power of Habit, also by Duhigg, has been on my shelf for a couple years, and I haven’t read it yet.

This is the type of nonfiction I enjoy: practical and filled with anecdotes to support points. It was a lot less “how to” and more about providing real examples. Even though it sometimes makes me roll my eyes, I wish there had been a conclusion paragraph with a personal challenge at the end of each chapter. This would have given me a boost for where to start with each big concept.

The book goes through different aspects of productivity, such as goal setting and focus. Each chapter could stand alone, and there isn’t an overarching theme for the book (other than productivity). This didn’t bother me too much. I could have easily read it over the span of a few months without issue.

This was a good book, however I think I’ve read a few others on productivity and work/life that I’d recommend more (including Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin and Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi).

2018.32 – The Beauty that Remains

I listened to The Beauty that Remains, by Ashley Woodfolk, on audiobook. It’s a heartwarming and heartbreaking multi-perspective story dealing with the death of someone you love. Autumn, Shay, and Logan all experienced the trauma of losing someone close to them, and are struggling to come to terms with death and their new life. One thing I particularly liked about the audiobook is there is a different audiobook narrator for each of the 3 main characters.

Confession: I put this book on hold at the library, and completely forgot about it until I got the notification that it’s my turn. I must have seen it on Twitter and added the hold. Because, that’s what I do.

The theme of dealing with death in our own healthy and/or unhealthy way transcends any age group, not just YA. Plus, the great unifier of all three stories is music, which I can relate to. Music has a way of helping us examine our darkest places, and bringing them into the light.

Without giving anything away, I love how the story develops from 3 separate stories and begins to weave together. It’s slightly predictable, but there are some super sweet twists in there!

Even though I’m not always pro book-to-movie, I can definitely see this one turning into a movie in the next few years. The characters are dynamic and likable, even with their flaws.

This is a book I want to share with my students, knowing many have and will deal with the death of a loved one, how to find support, and how to find the strength to carry on.

2018.31 – The Upside of Unrequited

I’m just slightly obsessed with Becky Albertalli. I love love loved Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and immediately put her upcoming book Leah on the Offbeat on hold. In the meantime, I decided to check out The Upside of Unrequited. It was instant love. In fact, I just had to finish it today, so I spent the afternoon sitting on the couch listening to the audiobook while playing games on my phone, then crocheting. Totally worth it.

A couple weeks ago I remember seeing a YA author thread on Twitter talking about characters, and reusing the same minor characters in unrelated books. [This is not a spoiler, don’t worry.] I super love that I get to see a bunch of old friends in this book. I had this silly thought of, “oh cool, Abby is in Atlanta, what a coincidence that I keep seeing Atlanta pop up in books…oh wait…”

She brings the magic of adorable YA love, friendship, family dynamics, LGBT terms and homophobia (minor in this book), body image, and real honest thoughts.

And, real talk, I need to make and eat edible cookie dough. So I searched for recipes. How appropriate that I found this one from What Molly Made! I think I’ll be making and this over the weekend.

Leah doesn’t come out until April 24th. I’m 2nd on the library holds list for the audiobook, but it only shows one copy right now. Pre-released books never show more than one copy, so fingers crossed they get multiples!

I haven’t had this kind of I-must-read-ALL-your-books-please-write-more feeling since I read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, then finished up the rest of her books. And, to a slightly lesser extent, after reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, then reading all of their books!

I’m excited to recommend this book to my students! Because I know they’ll love it!

2018 Q1 Reading Updates

Time for an update!
I have read 28 books so far this year: 14 audiobooks and 14 books (8 ebooks + 6 books). That’s 3665 pages and 64.975 hours of books! I account for listening speed in my data too; I listen to most audiobooks on 2x, so a 12 hour books is really reported as 6 total hours. My goal is to always have my number of books greater than or equal to the number of audiobooks. And, I’m definitely on track to finish 100 books this year.

I’ve read far more YA books than any other category (22/28)! It’s definitely one of my favorite genres. I blame the influx of YA authors I’ve followed on Twitter in the last few months, leading me to buy and/or checkout their books. It has been a fun adventure, especially seeing all the book releases and book announcements.

I really enjoy collecting data on what I read. It’s fun to watch my trends and charts, and insanely gratifying to enter a completed book onto my spreadsheet. Because nerds will be nerds!

It’s so cool you have a book blog, Mari!
I’ve heard this quite a few times lately. This is a goofy little side project, just for funsies. In fact, I see it as so much fun that I don’t consider it to be work, thus I am allowed to write book blog posts on Sundays (read more about my work/life balance rules).

Blogging helps me better keep track of what I’ve read and reflect on why I liked a book. I always wanted to keep up a book blog, and I’ve had numerous failed past attempts–finally this one formed a habit!

Favorite Books from Q1
These favorites are in no particular order. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read this year, so these are some that stood out.

How do I have so much time to read?
How do you have so much time to binge Netflix shows? Or work out? Or garden? Or [insert hobby here]?

I usually read before bed. And, I often bring a book with me when I know I’ll be waiting for something, such as recently when I needed to get a smog check. Other times, it’s just my unwind or relaxation activity. Just like some people binge watch shows (just one more episode), I sometimes find myself up until 1am finishing a book.

I listen to audiobooks on my commute to work, at the gym, or while cleaning the house. Or, if I’m really in a lazy mood, while playing mindless games on the couch.

Recommend me a book!
I’m always taking book recommendations! Fill out this form to recommend me a book!

2018.28 – The Belles

I finally go to listen to The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton! I don’t often say this, but I wish I read it rather than listen to it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the audiobook narrator. I appreciate she had different voices for each character; however, her voice for Princess Sophia was whiny and a bit obnoxious. It perfectly fits the character, but it started to really annoy me and made it a bit difficult to finish.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The middle was a bit slow, and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. But the end. I couldn’t get enough! I am so thankful this is a series, because the end left me hanging! There were so many twists and turns at the end…

Here’s the first part of the summary on Amazon: “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.”

The idea of Beauty is a commodity is very interesting, and highlights how much society will do just about anything to be beautiful. And, the pursuit of Beauty blinds us to the rest of reality. I loved that Camellia is a strong character, makes mistakes, and also is headstrong and stands behind what she believes in.

Can I have a pet teacup penguin? Please, and thank you.

I can’t wait for the sequel to this book!

2018.27 – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is another fantastic read! I listened to the audiobook, and adored it

Simon vs the Homo Sapeins Agenda by Becky Albertalli.

I don’t usually want to see a book to movie, but I’m seriously considering going to see Love, Simon…in theaters. For perspective, the last movie I saw in theaters was Finding Dory. So, this has to be a big deal.

I think my favorite part of this book is the emails between Blue and Jacques. They’re just so real. And, it leaves me wondering Blue’s true identity for the entire book, I kept guessing, second guessing, worrying, and changing my mind.

And, to make it even better, Simon totally gets me. As evidenced by this exchange in the book:

“What’s a dementor?”
I mean, I can’t even. “Nora, you are no longer my sister.”
“So it’s some Harry Potter thing,” she says.

On a more serious note, this book is a wonderful account of a kid growing up, wrestling with and accepting his own identity, coming out, and navigating a budding first love. I love how it approaches the whole idea of “coming out” — I don’t have any experience with that, except how ridiculous it is that I never had to come out as straight, because that’s not a thing. Another favorite quote, “Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement.” Yes, awkwardness must be the norm! There are so many moments when it felt like I was a high school kid, sitting at their lunch table hanging out with friends.

PS. If you liked this book, you may also like Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg. And anything by David Levithan. Or Rainbow Rowell. Or Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

2018.24 – Dear Martin

Dear Martin, by Nic Stone, is not only a book I loved, but also a book I needed to read. I don’t think I have the right words to do this book justice.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

I appreciate the influx of YA books that deal with racial injustice, police brutality, and institutional racism. I didn’t know we needed these books, which clearly illustrates why they are essential.

As I read The Hate U Give last summer, I vividly remember Starr reminding herself what to do when she gets pulled over by the police. I thought to myself, “my parents never taught me what to do if I got pulled over.” Then a few seconds later, “oh…” realizing why it was never a necessity.

This moment haunts me still, knowing just how much I don’t know. Whose fault is it that I grew up in privileged naiveté, thinking our society was doing just fine? Mine? My friends? My parents? My teachers? All of the above? That all doesn’t matter now. The important thing is that it’s my responsibility to continue to educate myself, empower my students to look at the world through a critical lens, and seek out ways to promote equality. I’m grateful for books to lead these conversations, make me question the way I and others see the world, and challenge me to ask more questions.

On to Dear Martin. Justyce is from a rough neighborhood, but attends a prominent prep school outside of Atlanta. After he is put into handcuffs by a white police officer for doing nothing, Justyce begins a quest to follow the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One particular thing I loved about the book is that it is told in the 3rd person, yet the “Dear Martin” letters are in 1st person. This dynamic made the letters even more powerful, as it was a window into how Justyce was feeling and thinking.

And, I seriously love Doc, who teaches the Social Evolution class. I don’t usually vote for book to movie, but I’d support this one just to see the classroom scenes! The discussions are rich and powerful. I had to reread them multiple times, just to process all the viewpoints. Jared’s white-centric lens is what perpetuates institutional racism, as he has incredible trouble hearing anything that doesn’t fit into this box. We can’t let the Jareds of this world block us from having these conversations!

I’m grateful for the We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices for pointing my reading journey in a more inclusive and diverse direction. I’ve added so many books to my to-reads list, and pre-ordered quite a few on Amazon. Definitely check out both of these communities!

I highly recommend this book! And, it’s going on my all-time favorite books list!