February 2018 Reading Wrap

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What an incredible month of reading! I whined about not having enough five-star reads in January and this month I found five five-star reads, some of which made it to my favorites list. With the exception of the one, each book perfectly suited what I needed at that moment. So many of them inspired my own writing in a month when I really needed some motivation to keep fighting the fight in the hope my work can be half as good someday!

Back Talk - Danielle Lazarin
At this point in time, I can confidently say Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is my favorite collection of short stories. She has beautifully depicted everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between, dealing with the complexities of relationships, desire, and emotion. A number of them harbor a quiet fury and I'm simply amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate such relatable but complicated feelings. Empathetic yet honest, these stories are for and about women and the quiet, powerful moments of our lives.
★★★★★

The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie
What an utterly delightful and highly underrated book. You could call this a romantic comedy, but with so much cleverness and sharp wit underscoring a funny tale that masks more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I initially checked this book out from the library but had to buy my own copy after reading only three pages because I was itching to underline all over the place. McKenzie's writing is so sharp, so playful, so insightful that I had to slow down and savor every sentence. I truly loved this book and know I will return to it again and again, both to enjoy these characters and their story as well as to learn from her craft.
★★★★★

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
What a beautiful, witty, thoughtful, heartbreaking book. From the start, I was hooked and curious about Janie's life thanks to all of the comical gossiping townsfolk. Hurston tells her story with heart, humor, and gorgeous imagery. I grew so attached to this main character and cheered her on as she tried to find herself and happiness as a black woman in the south in the 1930s. This certainly won't be the last time I join Janie on her path to self-discovery. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Ruby Dee who made it feel like an entire theater production. Regardless, this is an incredible book that everyone should read.
★★★★★

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi
This gorgeous, haunting, poetic debut explores identity, spirituality, mental health, survival, and the body in such a stylistically unique and profound way that will stick with me for a long time. The audiobook was beautifully performed by Akwaeke Emezi herself which I couldn't stop listening to after I began. I feel this is one of those instances where the audiobook enhances the reading experience. 
★★★★★

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz - Lara Williams
What a clever, clever book. Throughout this month I've struggled a bit with my writing yet every time I picked up this book I felt so inspired. Williams writes with such wit and subtle humor and isn't afraid to push boundaries. I found many of these rather short stories to be relatable as they're mostly centered around millennial women just trying to find themselves and their way in the world amidst dating, heartbreak, crumbling dream, and unreachable expectations. But these stories aren't as depressing as I'm making them sound, I promise. They are just so clever and I know I'll be turning back to this book again and again when I need some quick inspiration or jolt of courage to break the rules a bit.
★★★★★

This Will Be My Undoing - Morgan Jerkins
I'm just going to leave this quote here and say that you should read this blindingly honest yet powerfully tender book of essays. "One-sided feminism is dead. This book is not about all women, but it is meant for all women, and men, and those who do not adhere to the gender binary. It is for you. You. Our blackness doesn't distance us from other women; however it does distinguish us, and this requires further understanding. At the same time, my story is not a one-size-fits-all take about black womanhood. This is not your resolution but the continuation of your education, or maybe the beginning. We deserve to be the center; our expansive stories are worthy of being magnified for all their ugliness, beauty, mundaneness, and grandeur. I will not baby you. Instead, I will force you to keep your eyes on me and, in turn, us, and see the seams of everyday life that you have been privileged to ignore but that have wrecked us."
★★★★☆

Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
I love historical fiction for the way it can teach about events and encourage empathy for groups of people across time. I learned so much from this book about the relationship between Japan and Korea as well as the struggles of Koreans living in Japan from WWII to the present day. But I think I'm in the minority for not loving this book. In general, epics aren't my favorite (I mean, I'm a short story lover), but this book received so much acclaim I couldn't resist giving it a go. I liked it and see why others have raved about it, but I didn't love it as much as I wanted to. Such large periods of time passed throughout this book with characters appearing and disappearing that I had a hard time getting attached to anyone. The writing often felt clinical and detached to pack in all of the necessary information and huge events were often snuck in at the end of chapters, making it feel rushed or used for shock factor. I felt that maybe if more care had been given to depict these big events, I might have been more attached to these characters. But Like I said, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, especially to those who love historical fiction and epics.
★★★☆☆

The Assistants - Camille Perri
Sometimes you need a good, light girly novel to help you forget a bad day and this book is exactly what the doctor ordered. You know what I'm talking about. An adorable love interest, funny and borderline-obnoxious friendships, loads of pop culture references, heavily veiled feminism, a ridiculous plot we've all fantasized about, and tidy, happy endings. If this book isn't made into a fun romantic comedy starring someone like Reese Witherspoon or whoever the latest romcom ladies are, it will be quite the waste. Next time you need a quick weekend pick-me-up read that will make you smile and forget your problems for just a second (or give you ideas about embezzling enough money to solve all of your problems), pick this one up.
★★★☆☆

Force of Nature - Jane Harper
I got hooked on this sequel to well-done Australian mystery. I managed to read most of this during Olympic commercial breaks, something I'm not usually good at. While at times cliche and predictable with some details that were a little too convenient, I enjoyed this followup. I love how she created settings that act as dark characters; intense, spooky, and integral to the story. While I didn't like it as much as the Dry and the allure of Aaron Falk faded some, I do look forward to more of her work and I'm interested to see what setting she'll use next.
★★★☆☆

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance - Elna Baker
I first heard Elna Baker on This American Life where she shared a story about being Mormon and single and overweight in NYC. Despite admitting to being a pathological liar, her stories were painfully honest and so relatable, particularly her struggles with her faith and trying to navigate two different worlds, neither of which feel fully hers. She hit every emotion on the spectrum for me and the reading experience felt as cathartic as a good long talk and cry with a close friend. At times the writing wasn't fabulous, some of her statements problematic, and jokes sometimes felt flat, but I really enjoyed this book and had a completely unexpected reading experience.
★★★☆☆

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July
I uh... did not like this collection. This is one of those rare moments where I can easily separate the writing from the stories and say the writing was great, maybe even excellent, but I disliked the characters and narrative. And it made me sad that her possibly excellent writing was used on stories I never want to read again. At first, I enjoyed her unusual imagination and way with words, but each story continued to feature depressing, lonely women with strange sexual fantasies. It almost felt like she tried to write as many stories under this theme that she could. It didn't feel empowering or thoughtful. It just felt sad and weird. I craved some variety and eventually the moments where I paused in amazement at her clever imagery just made me depressed that I could not like this book. I should say that maybe had I read each one as individual pieces without tying together her other work, I may have enjoyed her stories more. 
★★☆☆☆

January 2018 Reading Wrap

January 2018 Books

I built up quite a stack for my January reads! I didn't read a whole lot in November or December so I think I was trying to make up for it by starting off 2018 with a bang. Unfortunately I'm a little depressed that I didn't LOVE most of these books. I liked all of them, none getting less than three sars, but I wanted more five star reads that would leave me with a major book hangover. But I'm looking forward to February as I've already started a few fabulous book and there's a number of upcoming releases I'm really looking forward to. In the meantime, here are the rankings!

The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin
I don't use the word lightly when I say this book was spell-binding. I could tell you that I loved this book because the way Benjamin unpacked the themes of family, religion, and destiny really hit home for me at this particular point in my life, but honestly, this is a stunning novel that I would love ten years from now. Benjamin carefully explores four sibling's thoughts and choices throughout their lives after a mysterious woman reveals to each of them the date of their death. Despite each character living wildly different lives and infuriating me on many occasions, I found I could relate to and learn from each one of them. I cried on multiple occasions, underlined many profundities, and suffered from a major book hangover once I finally put it down. 
★★★★★

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter - Sue Monk Kidd
A beautiful, courageously personal, lovingly researched book about one woman's faith struggle and feminist awakening. It took four months of reading, studying, underlining, and journaling for me to finish. I am so glad she shared such intimated detail about her faith struggle so I could learn from her experiences and feel less alone in my own. I've passed this book onto Josh, but I keep stealing it back to look over my notes or reflect on a passage. I know I'll keep coming back to this book for a long time. I'll just tease you with this beautiful quote that I think perfectly summarizes this book: "The only way I have ever understood, broken free, emerged, healed, forgiven, flourished, and grown powerful is by asking the hardest questions and then living into the answers through opening up to my own terror and transmuting it into creativity."
★★★★☆

The Animators - Kayla Rae Whitaker
I went into this book fairly blind, trusting in recommendations from authors and bookstagrammers, only knowing it was about two friends working in the male-dominated animation industry. Immediately I fell for these two women, despite their flaws and sometimes dysfunctional relationship, and couldn't wait to get to know them better. But somewhere along the way, the story started to fall flat for me. It simultaneously felt like too much yet not enough. Twists and turns ensued and I just wished we were back in NYC watching two friends navigate their careers and social lives. That being said, I couldn't stop thinking about this book and loved Whitaker's vibe. I often related to main character Sharon and regularly marveled at the way she put feelings I know so well into words. I look forward to reading more books by Whitaker and won't ever look at animation the same ever again.
★★★★☆

Nasty Women - Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding
When I first saw Nasty Women I thought it might be up my alley, but after reading Nicole Chung's included "All-American" essay on Longreads, I know I had to get my hands on a copy of the book. These all-female writers kept me busy as I read, underlining all over the place and regularly stopping to discuss with Josh. While not every writer wowed me and I didn't necessarily agree with every point made, I loved how inclusive these editors were, even including two essays on a similar subject but with wildly different opinions. It's books like these that help me become a better intersectional feminist by showing me different perspectives and issues I've never had to deal with so I can speak up and help.
★★★★☆

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert
I first read this book two years ago, when I first started dreaming up an ice cream business while also trying to find my place as a graphic designer. Even in that awkward place in my life, I found a lot of inspiration from this short book about creativity. I loved the way Gilbert turned inspiration into an actual being you need to nurture and work with. Now as I pursue creative writing, it felt like a good time to revisit a book on conquering your fears to pursue your passions. Firstly, I'm amazed at how vividly I remember most of this book after two years. Secondly, it feels like a whole new reading experience when I have a totally different project to focus on. I love how applicable her advice is to all sorts of pursuits. Like many self-help/inspirational books, this has its share of fluff, repetition, and cheese, but Gilbert offers her own experiences and a lovely new perspective that turns the usual advice upside-down. It's a fun and quick read for anyone who needs a kick in the pants to pursue those creative passions that bring them joy.
★★★★☆

I'm Fine And Other Lies - Whitney Cummings
I received this from Putnam Books and was admittedly wary to read it- I don't normally love self-help books or celebrity memoirs, not to mention I didn't previously know who Whitney Cummings was. But I began reading and found the audiobook at my library to listen to on our 24-hour road trip and I enjoyed myself! Listening to Whitney (we're already on a first-name basis) was like chatting with an experienced, hilarious friend who shares a wealth of helpful and not overly self-assured advice. Not every chapter, anecdote, or tidbit of advice wowed me, but I had fun and enjoyed Whitney's perspective.
★★★☆☆

Turtles All The Way Down - John Green
I should preface by saying I don't typically read YA and when I do, I'm rarely super impressed. It's just not my favorite genre. But I'd heard good things about John Green's latest and was particularly intrigued by the themes of mental illness. So I grabbed a library copy and jumped in! I really enjoyed Green's depiction of compulsive thoughts and struggling with mental health, as well as how he portrayed its effects on Aza's relationships. I honestly would've loved a book just about that. What I didn't enjoy was the unnecessary mystery and over the top philosophizing of these few teenagers. Their language and seemingly endless knowledge about authors, astronomy, art, medicine, diseases, poetry, and more at the age of seventeen felt incredibly inauthentic to me. Overall it was an enjoyable enough read and one I'd recommend to Green's target audience, but not necessarily to everyone as a whole.
★★★☆☆

They Both Die At The End - Adam Silvera
Again, YA is not my jam so don't let this discourage you too much if you are a fan of YA. Thanks to a system called Death-Cast that can somehow accurately predict the date everyone dies, two random boys in NYC receive a call at midnight informing them that sometime in the next twenty-four hours they will die. Left with only that information, we watch as they come to terms with their sentence and live out their last day. I really enjoyed the concept of this book, but i wish it had been explored a little more as it left me with so many questions and thinking of loopholes in the story. I occasionally found myself bored or confused by the decisions these characters made and more than once I was incredibly annoyed by their personalities. But Silvera had me emotionally invested to the point that I may have shed a tear or two at the end, despite the title's very clear warning.
★★★☆☆

Getting Off - Erica Garza
When I first read the prologue of this memoir of sex and porn addiction, I was hesitant to continue. I felt blinded by the sheer rawness of it all, how she bares all without apology. I knew it would not be an easy or comfortable read and that it would challenge me. But then she said this: "Sometimes I wonder- if there had been more research and more discussion about sexual addition in women, would I have changed my behavior? Had there been more available examples of vulnerable, open, honest, women sharing their journeys, would I have been more willing to embrace the possibility that I wasn't alone and unfixable?"
I can't imagine how hard it must have been to write so candidly about something so rarely talked about, an addiction rooted in shame and loneliness. An addiction that's largely seen as a man's problem (and, lately, a man's excuse for violence and inappropriate behavior towards women). Garza is an excellent storyteller that kept me hooked and feeling for her, relating to her. I especially loved how she peppered her story with facts and surveys about sex and porn addictions so I learned more about the problem at large. It was, in fact, a very rough read, but I'm glad Garza shared her story so I could learn from her. 
Thanks to Simon Books for sending me a copy of this book.
★★★☆☆

Delicate Edible Birds - Lauren Groff
I've read some stories by Groff in the past and didn't love them, but she's so well-loved and respected in the literary community, I thought for sure I just needed to give her a proper chance and read her collection. But I still think I'm missing something. I absolutely loved the first story in the collection, "Lucky Chow Fun" and really gained a lot from it. But most others fell flat for me. Often I found myself bored until some big moment in the middle and then I'd get bored again. I just think hers is not my style. That being said, I always learn a lot for my own craft when reading short stories so I don't regret this read at all! And I'm still willing to give her another shot as I've heard great things about "Fates and Furies" and the literary world is already buzzing about her book to be published later this year.
★★★☆☆

The Disaster Artist - Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
We saw The Room for the first time a few months ago while we were in Austin and become OBSESSED. Over the next few days, we couldn't stop quoting it or scrolling through the IMDB reading the facts about the production. It is truly the most bizarre movie I have ever seen. I mean, how did a movie as awful as that even make it onto the big screen?! This book certainly answered all of my burning questions. Hilarious but heartfelt and filled with raw humanity, actor Greg Sestero tells about his friendship with producer/director/writer Tommy Wiseau and dishes the behind-the-scenes details of creating The Room. Sometimes the writing felt over the top, repetitive, or bogged down with needless detail, but it was entertaining and did the job of explaining how such a movie came into existence. I do recommend James Franco's "The Disaster Artist" for a condensed look, but if you want to know ALL the mind-boggling details, pick up this book.
★★★☆☆

Top Ten Books of 2017

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What a year of reading! I've never read so many books before and I loved so many of them, but it was surprisingly easy to narrow down my favorites. As I went through my list, I kept saying "Yep! That's an all-time favorite" and miraculously ended up with ten 2017 reads that also happen to be on my favorites list. I wouldn't be surprised if I reread each and every one of these books this year. Also. These are all written by women, half of them by women of color! You go girls!

Goodbye Vitamin - Rachel Khong
I loved everything about this book, from the characters to the themes to the humor. The way she used California as another character in the book made me extremely homesick. 

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I love Adichie so much, but this is my favorite thing I've read of hers so far (which is saying a lot because I love everything I've read by her).

Lucky Boy - Shanthi Sekaran
This is another case of a writer that made me homesick with descriptions of California, but the story of these two women and the son between them hit me so hard. It's a stunning novel.

Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
What a beautiful, tragic, sweeping novel that I wish everyone would read. I was particularly fond of the short story across generations style. I may reread it soon.

Man V. Nature - Diane Cook
I generally take my time when reading short story collections, breaking them up story by story and digesting slowly. But I couldn't do that with this. I was hooked. And loved it. I wish I could write the way Cook does.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky - Lesley Nneka Arimah
I've already reread a number of stories in this collection and count a few of hers as my all-time favorite short stories, particularly the titular story. Just whoa.

Hum If You Don't Know The Words - Bianca Marais
I listened to this one and was literally taking any excuse to keep listening to this heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Seriously. I took lunch breaks out in my car with the audio going so I could keep listening.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
I didn't read this classic until this past year just before binging the entire Hulu series. So amazing and it's really opened my eyes up to how much I love feminist dystopian novels.

Glass Houses - Louise Penny
I'm fairly certain that as long as Louise Penny keeps publishing one book a year, she will always be in my top books of the year. 

Braving The Wilderness - Brene Brown
This is a case of a book that found me at the exact moment I needed it and one I know I'll need again. I'm pretty sure I've felt that way about each of her books.

I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of any of these books and give them a read! Hopefully you'll love them as much as I did.

Silver Linings of 2017

You know how some people start off a new year by picking a word that will inspire their goals or mantra or whatever for the year? I don't do that because my life and mind changes too much to commit to year long goals, but looking back I think I can sum up 2017 in one word. "Grow". Get it? Get it? Okay, but seriously.

It was a rough year. An uncomfortable year. A sad year. I shed a lot of my cozy insulation which left me feeling raw and exposed, but prepared me for a new skin. So while I didn't always love the growing pains, I love who I am becoming because of it. I feel so different and I wouldn't be surprised if I looked back on 2017 as an incredibly significant year in the entirety of my life.

And beyond my own life, I felt that 2017 was a rough year for many in this country. So much has happened that has left me and many many others stunned or hurt or angry. But looking back, I can see growth and change for the better. Despite the insanity, there were quite a few silver linings of 2017 that brought me joy and contributed to this new change within me.

So I want to share the silver linings of 2017, both in my own life and outside of it.

First things first, #metoo. Talk about growing pains, this was a painful movement. It's painful for women to share these stories and it's painful to see the backlash. But women are coming out stronger and more committed to standing together and standing up for one another. We're creating space for ourselves and each other as we speak up, demand justice, and move into the roles we were always meant to have. I'm grateful to the women who risked it all to make their voices heard and to those who have challenged the status quo to create change.

Elizabeth Warren persisting. 

Strengthening old friendships and making new ones.

The spotlight shining on diverse books. The world of literature is changing as the stories of minorities hit shelves and reach bestseller lists. The number of women of color on the "Best of 2017" lists brings me so much joy and I'm glad I've had plenty of opportunities to read their incredible work. A few of my favorites have been
"What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah
"Lucky Boy" by Shanthi Sekaran
"Goodbye Vitamin" by Rachel Khong
"Stay With Me" by Ayobami Adebayo
"The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas
"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
"Hunger" by Roxane Gay
I've learned so much from these incredible women.

Going to therapy. It took me much too long to finally schedule an appointment, but it's really helped me. Also, the people in my life who are open about going to therapy helped me get there and help me feel confident talking about it, so shout out to them, too.

The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu. So good. And so appropriate for right now.

Starting a bookstagram. At the time I really needed some sort of creative outlet, and turns out taking pictures of my books and writing posts about them was the answer! I've enjoyed the creative process of it all while documenting all the books I read and frankly I'm amazed people even care to follow along. Turns out the bookstagram community is awesome and I love talking books with new and old friends!

The Women's March. I attended the Indianapolis demonstration and I can't express how it made me feel. After an awful awful election year, gathering together to stand against hate and stand up for women's equality, refugees, immigrants, and minorities was empowering and healing. I love my fellow women and it was an honor to gather with many of them that brisk morning.

Wonder Woman. Powerful representation of women in film for the win!

Giving myself permission to write and signing up for a short story class. I've always loved writing, but never pursued it as a creative outlet, but this year I finally let go of all the voices in my head telling me I'll never be successful so why try? I signed up for a short story class that taught me so much and put a fire underneath me to actually complete some stories. I now meet regularly with my fellow classmates for a writing group and I love learning from them. Writing has been so good for me and I've enjoyed the process so much.

Incredible therapeutic music that I screamed sang in my car on bad days and danced to on my good days:
"Praying" by Kesha
"Heaven I Know" by Gordi
"Pray" by Sam Smith
"Hold On" by Wilson Phillips
"I Don't Mind" by Joseph
"Open Hands" by Ingrid Michaelson
Oh Wonder's new album "Ultralife"
HAIM's new album "Something To Tell You"
Gregory Alan Isakov's album with the Colorado Symphony
All of Lord Huron

Our vacation in Portland. Good food, good weather, good people, good time spent with Josh. As of right now it's my favorite city in the US, maybe because it made me feel more like ME than I've felt in a long time. I can't explain, but it lit a fire in me to keep that feeling going and to not abandon who I am and what feels right to me.

Josh's hair. It took a turn in a beautiful direction this year and brought me so much joy. So luscious. So full.

Stranger Things. I didn't watch any of it till this year so binge watching 2 seasons at once was awesome. Also. Steve Harrington could have his own line in this list of silver linings. Actually, Steve Harrington's hair could have its own line.

Being together with all of my siblings. Unfortunately my grandpa passed away this fall and as much as I hated the circumstances, I'm so glad I got to be with my whole family. It's been too long since we've all been together and that trip home was so good for me.

Two weeks with family for Christmas. We had a lot of vacation saved up for the end of the year and got to spend two whole weeks in Utah with Josh's family and my family came in town, too! I haven't ever been able to see both sides of the family on Christmas day so that was really cool. But in general, having a lot of down time to just chill and chat and play games with the family was the greatest.

International Day of the Girl "Freedom" video. Those girls give me chills.

And I'd include this on lists I'd do for any year, but Josh. I think our relationship has gotten a lot stronger throughout this year and I didn't think it was possible, but we've grown closer. He's been there for me and my crazy 200% and I've been able to be completely open with him about all of my struggles. That's an amazing thing to have.

I hope your 2017 had a lot of silver linings, too. May 2018 bring even more!

November 2017 Reading Wrap

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Considering I managed to read many short stories and did a lot of writing in November, I'm amazed I managed to read this many books. With Christmas coming and some unexpected big expenses, I had to cut my book budget so, for the first time, I took advantage of my local library. I love being able to reserve books online and browse through their selection and not have to stress about money! Pretty sweet things, those libraries. I'm sorry I didn't appreciate them fully before.

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling

Josh only read the first Harry Potter way back when he was a kid, so we've been slowly going through the Jim Dale audiobooks for his enjoyment and it's so much fun! We'll be doing a lot of driving for the holidays and as we go about shopping, so it's a fun way to enjoy the drives. I love how much Josh is enjoying himself and after we read each book, we watch the movie and he gets so into all the little details. Sharing a world you love with someone you love is a lot of fun. It seems I always end up reading Harry Potter around Christmastime and it just feels so cozy.
★★★★★

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller
A friend from the bookstore recommended this to customers and since I had a childhood obsession with Greek mythology, I had to give it a go! I'm so glad I did. This book took me right back to that childhood fascination and I was immediately hooked on this complex love story amidst a long and bitter war. Though this is fiction, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus felt incredibly real and human, with jealousies and egos and disagreements amidst passionate love and deep friendship. If you're looking for a good escape read or listen, I highly recommend The Song of Achilles. 
★★★★☆

The Power - Naomi Alderman
I'd been anticipating this dystopian fiction ever since it made the Bailey's Prize list and I snatched it up as soon as I could (thanks Book of the Month!). Alderman fed into why I love dystopian novels as she turns everything we know upside down and lets us imagine a different future where, in this case, women have all the power after they learn to harness the physical electric energy within them. I didn't realize how much patriarchy was ingrained in me as I tried to imagine men relying so heavily on their female counterparts and women rising to the extremes that give them control over men's bodies. Unfortunately I didn't love it as much as I wanted to, as the narrative style felt a little jumbled and much of it contrived. I struggled with the middle section, but tore through the first and last sections and finished with quite the increased heart rate. It's an intense, fast-paced book that gives you a lot to think about!
★★★★☆

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
For the entire summer, I felt like I saw this book all over and people were recommending it up the wazoo. So I assumed it was a light summer read. It was not. Think "A Man Called Ove" but much darker. I don't think I thought it was as funny as others thought it was. Yes, there were moments I laughed, but once secrets were revealed, I felt a bit blindsided and couldn't find the humor anymore. BUT. I shouldn't judge books based on my preconceived notions. Honeyman sheds some light on tougher subjects and gives us a glimpse into the people around us who may not act the way we want or be as kind as we expect. I enjoyed this book and would recommend the audiobook for the fun accents with a talented performer. Well done, just be prepared.
★★★★☆

A Kind of Freedom - Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
I'm rather surprised I haven't heard more about this book. Spanning three generations, "A Kind of Freedom" gives readers a glimpse of the ongoing effects of Jim Crow on one family in New Orleans. Each sharing their own unique story, the experiences of Evelyn, her daughter Jackie, and grandson T.C. broke my heart and taught me so much about issues I'll never face. If you enjoyed Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" and survived her never-ending cycle of building up and tearing down your home, you will likely appreciate Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's debut. I look forward to her work in the future!
★★★★☆

Asking For It - Louise O'Neill
This book is quite literally the stuff of my nightmares and one of the scariest books I've read. I knew it would be rough going in. I didn't select this book for entertainment, I read it for education. And in a way, this was one of the most educational books I've read about rrape becaues it really challenged me. Main character Emma is not a sympathetic character. She's a mean girl, shallow, vain and beautiful, who wants to prove her beauty by getting attention from men. And she doesn't stick up for or believe a friend who was sexually assaulted. So when Emma gets raped herself, it's hard to put yourself in her shoes and be on her side. O'Neill does not make this story easy for you to swallow. There are no neat and tidy happy endings (as there never are for victims of rape). She doesn't sugarcoat it. She's an amazing author for bravely penning this story and I'm grateful she's bringing these issues into light. Read at your own risk. It's rough.
★★★★☆

New People - Danzy Senna
I don't know any other author that gives me as complicated emotions as Danzy Senna. Last year I read her collection of short stories "You Are Free" and while I enjoyed her prose and social commentary, I found many of the characters completely detestable. But I'd heard good things about "New People" so I decided to give it a go! And once again, I was hooked and laughing at the snarky social commentary, but absolutely hating the characters and screaming at their decisions (which made it oddly fun?). I'd say I hated this book, but I kept picking it up after deciding I was done and I feel so strongly about it so... If you read it, let's discuss these crazy people.
★★★☆☆

Top Ten Audiobooks

Top Ten Audiobooks

I love audiobooks. Shoutout to my mom for starting us young and playing audiobooks during road trips to Disneyland or family reunions. I forgot about them for a while and then I had a boring data entry job in college and started listening to audiobooks to keep me awake and happy. Currently I use Libro.FM (your subscription supports independent bookstores!), OverDrive, and Hoopla (two different library audiobook platforms). Between the three platforms, I manage to listen to a lot of audiobooks and often it's the only thing that keeps me cleaning my house or entertained on longer drives.

So here are my favorites! And since I know a lot of people like to listen to audiobooks with family in the car (hi Mom!) I've included my own parental guidance ratings so you've been warned...

Harry Potter series - JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale
Duh. One of the first audiobooks I listened to, thanks to my grandparent's books on tape collection. Jim Dale is amazing and the audio is perfect for those that haven't read the full series yet (like Josh...). The UK version with Stephen Fry is also good.
PG - PG13

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries - Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham
Sadly, Cosham passed away after narrating book #10, The Long Way Home. Robert Bathurst reads the remaining books and does a nice job, but Cosham will always be the voice of Gamache to me. Penny has created what I call literary mysteries, with excellent writing, many historical and literary references, wonderful characters, and a setting I want to live in, despite all the murders. This is my favorite series of all time and they continue to get better and better.
PG13 (language, including Fbombs if those are particularly offensive to you)

World War Z - Max Brooks, read by full cast including Simon Pegg, Masi Oka, Mark Hamill, Common, and Max Brooks himself as the interviewer.
This audiobook got me through a ten-hour drive without sleeping at all (possibly because nightmares were sure to ensue) and almost wishing the drive was longer so we could finish it all. Josh re-listens to it regularly. The interview style format of the book works perfectly for audio and the full cast is marvelous. Be warned: It's ultra creepy. And nothing like the movie, so banish Brad Pitt from your memory.
R (violence & general creepiness)

The Nix - Nathan Hill, read by Ari Fliakos
This is a beast of a book that Fliakos makes much more digestible and addictive in audio form. He is incredibly funny and seamlessly moves from one type of voice to another.
R (sexual content)

Salt To The Sea - Ruta Sepetys, read by Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, & Michael Crouch
This young adult historical fiction novel is incredibly well done and shines light on a lesser known part of WWII history in Eastern Europe. The excellent narrators bring these four teenagers to life and you won't want to stop listening.
PG13 (violence typical of WWII stories, though most is referred to subtly)

Hum If You Don't Know The Words - Bianca Marais, read by Katharine McEwan & Bahni Turpin
I started reading this book, but as I am not as familiar with South Africa, I stopped reading and started listening to it so I could truly hear the accents and different languages. It's a beautiful story and I loved having the voices of McEwan and Turpin in my head.
PG (Might lean into PG13? But it's definitely appropriate for teens)

Watership Down - Richard Adams, read by Ralph Cosham
I had never read this classic book, but I've always had an obsession with rabbits and after listening to Cosham narrate the Louise Penny books, I wanted more of him! And boy did he deliver. It's so well done and entertaining. I particularly loved his interpretation of the rabbit language.
PG (unless kids are especially sensitive to rabbit violence, in which case PG13)

Maybe In Another Life - Taylor Jenkins Reid, read by Julia Whelan
I can always count on Reid for a good romantic read when I need something light. Her narrators always deliver, but I really enjoy Whelan (who also narrated "One True Loves"). Reid gets you hooked on her alternative realities plotline and Whelan brings the characters to life.
PG13 (light language and sexual content)

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller, read by Frazer Douglas
This retelling of Achilles and Troy had me totally hooked and got me out of quite the reading slump/Netflix addiction. Miller writes a gripping story and Douglas performs masterfully.
PG13 (sexual content and violence)

Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike
I'll always be a huge fan of the Kiera Knightley "Pride And Prejudice" movie and I loved listening to Rosamund Pike narrate this beloved classic. I felt like she used the voices of the movie which made it so fun to imagine and replay in my head with those actors.
PG

Honorable Mentions:

Magpie Murders - Anthony Horowitz (PG)
Born A Crime - Trevor Noah (R)
Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave (PG13)
The Hunger Games Series - Suzanne Collins (PG13)
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng (PG13)
Sourdough - Robin Sloan (PG13)
Radio Girls - Sarah-Jane Stratford (PG13)
One True Loves - Taylor Jenkins Reid (PG13)
Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan (PG13 - R)
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick (PG - PG13)
Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey (PG)
My Brilliant Friend (and whole series) - Elena Ferrante (PG13)