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Feb/March 2021 Book Recs

I’ve found myself sputtering on the reading front so far in 2021. Normally I spend a good 30 minutes each day reading something. These days, I’ll dive into a new book, devour it in two or three days, and then wait a handful of days before picking up my next book. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been rolling with it.

Since my last update with January 2021 book recs, I’ve read a couple of really great novels that I want to recommend and share here. These are my top four.

The Alice Network – This is a historical fiction novel that’s actually based on more real events and characters than I originally realized while reading it. The author (Kate Quinn) talked about her sources at the end of the story. The novel is about the life of female spies during World War I, which is artfully paired with a tale about another woman’s search for her cousin post World War II. Each chapter changes perspectives and often takes you between France during World War I and 1947. I don’t want to give much away, but if historical fiction is an interest, pick up this book. I highly recommend it. If you like this book, then also check out Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale – one of my Top Ten 2020 picks. It is similar and also outstanding.

Oona Out of Order – Margarita Montimore’s novel is probably my favorite read of the year so far. It’s about a woman named Oona who jumps through time every New Year’s Eve, never knowing what year she’ll end up in until the stroke of midnight. It was interesting to see how her relationships changed and Oona figured out how to live her life out of order. She often jumps between decades, going from her twenties to her fifties. The author does a good job of exploring how strange life could be if you had the maturity of a 19-year-old when your body suggests to the world that you are 54.

I did find one thing particularly interesting. Oona takes actions with the intent to change the future, but every action is meant to impact her personal life. There are several mentions throughout the novel about 9/11, since the book largely takes place in New York City. However, the author never mentions why Oona doesn’t even try to stop major disasters from happening. I know that’s not where the author wanted to go with the story, but it struck me as something that should have been acknowledged.

Regardless, I loved this book. It’s everything I wanted The Midnight Library to be and wasn’t.

Last Tang Standing – Lauren Ho’s story here is described as a mix between Crazy Rich Asians and Bridget Jones’s Diary. I don’t think there’s a more apt description than that. The book is about Andrea Tang, a career-driven lawyer looking to make partner. At the same time, she’s battling family expectations. It’s a romance novel of sorts paired with a coming of age tale. I really enjoyed this one.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my love for the Harry Potter series. Mr. 8-year-old and I have been reading them throughout the pandemic. It took us 6 months to get through Book 4, but we finally finished in February. We’re slowing working our way through Book 5 now. We only watch the book’s movie after we finish the novel.

Happy reading!

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My Top Ten Reads in 2020

I started 2020 with the goal of reading 25 books throughout the year. Little did I know that I’d be home so much and able to get in significantly more reading time. With just a few days left of 2020, I’m up to 72 completed books! Thanks to the Goodreads app, I know that’s 24,389 pages read. Certainly my highest number ever.

Apparently, I rate books highly. My average rating is 4.2 stars out of five. Even though I read a book as short as 144 pages (Laura Vanderkam’s Juliet’s School of Possibilities) and one as long as 818 pages (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton), I average books with 338 pages. I will admit that books in the 300-400 range are my preference. There’s enough time to set up strong characters and a good plot without dragging it out forever.

So, which were my favorite out of the 72 books I read? I gave more books than just these 10 five stars. I’m calling these out in particular because I still think about them. I remember their characters and story, plus the way they made me think or feel. If you are looking to set a 2021 reading goal or add to next year’s “to-be-read” list, consider these.

Historial Fiction

The Nightingale – I’ve always had a fascination with World War II stories, particularly those related to the Holocaust. I think it’s largely because I just can’t imagine how people can allow something like that to happen and the great admiration I have for those who endured and risked everything to help the Jewish people. I picked up this book after I really enjoyed We Were the Lucky Ones when I read it in 2019. The Nightingale is about how the Nazi invasion of France impacted two sisters and their relationship.


  • Verity – Here’s a caveat from the get-go. I haven’t read a thriller in years before this book in 2020, so I haven’t explored this genre since my high school years of devouring Stephen King novels. However, I’ve read a few other thrillers since in 2020, and Verity still stands out as a favorite thriller and overall book for 2020. I don’t want to give much away, but it’s about an author who goes to live with a family. She moves in to help finish a novel the mother of the family (Verity) started before she had an accident and couldn’t finish it.
  • The Hate U Give – This is a novel written for young adults, but I suggest a broader audience. It’s about a high school girl of color who lives in a poor neighborhood and goes to school in a neighboring fancy school district. She is forced into the public light after her best friend is murdered in front of her eyes. It’s a thought provoking and moving read.
  • Little Fires Everywhere – I enjoyed the interconnectedness of the characters in this novel as a single mother and her daughter move into a progressive, planned community. You see how this family reacts to and intersects with the Richardson family.
  • Such a Fun Age – It’s a realistic tale of how a young Black babysitter and white suburban mother react and relate to each other when the babysitter is accused of kidnapping the baby one evening at the supermarket. Disclaimer: I cringed reading the perspectives of multiple characters in this book and didn’t really like any of them, which is why I initially gave the book only four stars. However, the plot and points I walked away with afterward jumped it to five stars a few months later.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – This is a classic book I read in high school years ago. I sort of remembered the plot and the main takeaways, but I wanted to reread it. I’m so glad I did! It is a powerful story of life in a small Southern town in the 1930s through the eyes of a young girl named Scout. The story is in many ways a coming of age tale as Scout sees how her community reacts to the trial of a Black man. Now I have to decide whether I’m going to read Go Set a Watchman or not because I’ve heard mixed reviews of it.


  • Alexander Hamilton – This is a lengthy and detailed biography of Alexander’s incredible life and exploration of his accomplishments. It’s dense and long, but a thoroughly good read. I’m not typically the type to pick up a nonfiction title like this, but after being swept up in the Alexander Hamilton musical craze this summer with many others, it was a great deep dive into one of America’s Founding Fathers.
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy By Getting More Done – This is another title by Laura Vanderkam that details time management strategies and time tracking in a way that makes sense to me as a busy and structured working mother.
  • The Four Tendencies – Rubin’s book details four main personality types that give some insights on how you may respond to expectations. This book really helped me relate to others and see their perspectives of work and expectations. It led to some great conversations with my husband, even though he didn’t read the book himself.
  • The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Out of all of the books I read this year, this one was the highest rated on Goodreads. I’m not surprised. This book provides accounts from hundreds of individuals significantly impacted by the events of 9/11. You are hearing directly from those involved. Each chapter takes you to a different place as the day progresses, ranging from the Twin Towers, Pentagon, PA, and the President’s plane. It was not an easy read, but it was impactful and well done.

Well, geesh, this exercise was enlightening. I seem to have an interest in exploring the many facets and manifestations of hatred: where it comes from, what people do with that conscious or unconscious hatred, and how we can overcome it. Hatred can be covered by how people view each other so differently (all of my fiction titles), what people do with hatred directed toward them (Alexander Hamilton), or how to help others when they are being targeted (The Nightingale and The Only Plane in the Sky).

My 2021 list is not particularly long at the moment, and I’m hoping to read at least 50 books next year. Please share any particularly good books you’ve read that others should check out. I’m always looking to add to my to-be-read list!

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October 2020 Book Recs

A large portion of October has been spent working through Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, but I’m not even close to finished yet. Hopefully I can share my review of that book in November.

This month I finished five books, and I highly recommend them all!

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done – This is another book from Laura Vanderkam. I have read several of her books and often listen to her Best of Both Worlds podcast. This book is one of my favorites of hers because is embraces my reflect, plan, live philosophy. Vanderkam tracks her time more diligently than I do with the same focus of trying to make the most out of her life and her time.

My favorite takeaway from this book is the notion that you have three selfs: past, present, and future. She presented these various versions of yourself in a way to advocate for taking actions today as your present self that past and future self will appreciate. For instance, my past self likes to look back on happy memories we’ve made as a family and my future self likes to have plans to look forward to and enjoy. As a result, I should focus my present self on creating memories and being in the moment with them as they are happening.

Sex and Vanity – This is Kevin Kwan’s newest book. He is the author of the Crazy Rich Asian series that I loved. This book is in the same vein and was a pleasure to read. It’s about Lucie Churchill, a young woman who feels trapped between her father’s English upbringing and her mother’s Chinese heritage, and how she comes to accept herself and find love along the way.

The Hate U Give – This is a book by Angie Thomas. Actually, it has a bit of a similar theme to Sex and Vanity, with a more obvious focus on the protagonist’s situation of being trapped between two worlds. Starr Carter is a high school girl from a poor neighborhood who is going to school in suburban, upper-middle class neighborhood. Her friend is shot and killed by a police officer and she’s the only witness. The novel focuses on how Starr reactions to this situation and determines what to do next while attempting to fit in at home and at school. It’s a powerful, eyeopening story that is extremely well written.

U.S. Presidents – Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy winner, has written a number of children’s books. I figure what better way to get more history in an easily digestible format. I picked up his book U.S. Presidents and devoured it in a couple of hours. Sure, there was certainly some material in there that I already knew, but there was plenty more that I learned about our various presidents. Did you know that Lincoln signed a bill to start the Secret Service on the day of his assassination? Or that Teddy Roosevelt road a horse for 100 miles in one day to stop army soldiers from complaining about riding 10-15 miles per day? I even read sections to the boys, which they seemed to enjoy. Double win!

I Was Told It Would Get Easier – This is Abbi Waxman’s newest novel, which I enjoyed more than her 2019 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I Was Told It Would Get Easier is about a mother daughter pair taking a tour of colleges together with a number of adventures that occur along the way. I like how the story is told, jumping between the perspective of the daughter and mother where you see they are more alike they either one likely knows.

I think I’m going to start weaving classics into my “to be read” list in 2021. Any recommendations?

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September 2020 Book Recs

I love reading in the Fall. The idea of cuddling up on the couch with a good book and soft blanket sounds heavenly! This last September was typical for the mid-Atlantic. We started the month in Summer and ended in Fall.

Here are quick reviews of the four books I read last month.

Last month I mentioned my new-found love for the Bromance Book Club series. This month I read Lyssa Kay Adams’ second book in her series called Undercover Bromance. This book follows the same male book club but this time focuses on a different member. Braden Mack is a Nashville nightclub owner who can dish out the romance advice to others but has a hard time finding lasting love in his own. It’s another light, fun read with several reappearing characters from the previous novel. I can’t wait for the third book to come out later this year!

Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years was a five star read for me about Dannie Kohan, an ambitious Type-A lawyer who lives in New York City. Dannie has her life all planned out (I can relate!) but gets thrown for a loop when she falls asleep one night and seems to travel five years into the future where she has a totally different life with a new apartment and new man in her life. She seems to forget this dream until four and a half years later when her best friend starts dating the man from Dannie’s dream. I thoroughly enjoyed this non-traditional love story.

I was so excited when my library reservation for Hamilton: The Revolution became available earlier than expected. I reserved the audiobook version because it had a shorter hold AND I wanted to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read sections of the book. Overall, I loved hearing about how the story came together and details about the various collaborators and actors involved. This book is was written by Lin as well as Jeremy McCarter. Lin narrated the footnotes that he personally wrote. My only complaint is that the footnotes are read at the end of the book reading, so you lose the context for the comments. Many times this didn’t matter, but I may need to borrow the paper copy of the book so I can catch all of his notes.

The Absence of Mercy by John Burley is a thriller about Dr. Ben Stevenson, the small town coroner who is responsible for examining the bodies gruesomely murdered by a killer. I had a hard time getting through this book. The story was told in the eyes of too many (all male!) characters that I sometimes got them confused or couldn’t keep them straight. And, without spoilers, I think the book missed an opportunity to explore the perspective of Ben’s wife, dealing with a possible serial killer so nearby and threatening her family. The book also seemed to just end and felt unfinished. I’ve liked other novels by John Burley, so I would try another, but this one certainly wasn’t my favorite.

Please let me know if you’ve read anything particularly good lately that I should pick up.

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Aug 2020 Book Recs

I read nine books last month, and I want to share with you a couple of my favorites! I had a few really good ones that I just have to share.

Verity by Collen Hoover was excellent. I stayed up way too late one night to finish it. It’s a thriller about a woman writer who agrees to finish writing a book series for another author. The original author is injured, so her husband seeks out a new author to finish the series for his wife. Admittedly, I haven’t read much in this genre. I had a few years in high school where I read everything from Stephen King, but that’s about it. And Stephen King’s work is now just too graphic and too far in the horror realm for me. I definitely picked up some more thrillers after enjoying Verity so much!

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a debut novel by Kathleen West that just published this year. It’s about two mothers in a high school who are dealing with drama and rumors in a highly privileged school. One mother is a teacher with a “liberal agenda” and the others is a “micro-managing, theater mom” of two high school students. It was a quick read in short chapters from various characters’ perspectives that felt all too real.

And my favorite new series goes to the Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. The first book in the series goes by that same title. It is utter fantasy, hilarious, and totally fantastic. It’s like a Hallmark Christmas movie with less cheese (though some!) and lots more laughs. It delivered exactly what I wanted and did it well. It’s about a bunch of celebrity men in the Nashville area who formed a book club to read romance novels and learn how to communicate and form better relationships with women. (Remember, I said it was fantasy!) I read some sections to my husband who politely didn’t mock my book. Just his facial expressions alone, paired with the far-fetched story line, had me belly laughing harder than I have in years.

Let me know if you’ve read anything particularly good lately. I’m always looking for more recommendations.

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July 2020 Book Recs

I just squeaked in three books in July. I had a hard time getting back into reading this month after putting Olive Ketteridge in my Did Not Finish pile. I exasperated the issue by starting the month with the very long novel Americanah. Here’s my short review of each book I read last month.

Let’s start with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I wanted to like this book. I kind of did enjoy it. The storyline was interesting. It’s about a young woman from Nigeria who moves to America to further her education and learns what it means to be Black in America. At the same time, her former boyfriend moves to the UK and has his own experiences as an immigrant Black man. Ultimately, the couple meets up again in Nigeria and we see if their love can endure their changes. See? Cool plot, right?

I had two issues with the book. One, it was about 200 pages too long. Two, I felt the book had a bit of an identity crisis. It was trying to be too much. It was a lecture on the America culture and what it means to be Black in America disguised as a novel. The female protagonist is a blogger, so many of her blog posts about American culture are included throughout the book. There were entire conversations added just to have characters debate and share hot political topics, not to advance the storyline or influence character development. I am totally fine with a lecture-based book. I would have read it. I just didn’t like the mixture of fiction and lecture.

Afterward, with a friend’s recommendation, I read Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. I gave it four out of five stars. This book was more my speed. It was about two sisters who grew up in 1950s Detroit and how their lives diverge from their expectations. It was an interesting exploration of how two siblings who grew up in the same house can have such different life experiences and outcomes.

I ended the month with Emma Straub’s All Adults Here, which I gave five stars. It reminded me of the TV shows Parenthood or This Is Us in many ways, since it’s about family and their multiple dramas. The book is criticized for trying to tackle too many topics in one book, but that didn’t phase me. Like in real life, everyone has their own dramas, life experiences, and challenges that they are dealing with to reconcile their identity with their actions.

This month, I’m looking forward to reading Verity by Colleen Hoover. I have a bunch of library holds coming available soon too, so it’s stacking up to be a great August.

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My 2020 2nd Quarter Book Recs

I started the pandemic barely finding any time to read, but then we eased into a routine and I found I needed an escape from reality. An easy way to do that was to pick up a library book. From April through June, I read 17 books. Here are the top 5 that I gave 5 stars on Goodreads.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a fun, thoughtful read that is now a Hulu mini-series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I love the exploration of multiple characters and their relationships with each other as Shaker Heights adapted to artist Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl joining this wealthy suburb of Cleveland. The interplay between the Richardsons family (in which Reese Witherspoon plays the mother and local journalist) and the Warrens kept me reading.

Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is a historic narrative of how people close to the attacks in PA, NYC, and DC grappled with the day. It was a long, well researched book that broke my heart hearing of the losses, tragedies, tough decisions, and experiences of those impacted. I’m glad to have read it. I’m even more appreciative that this information was documented.

Oh my goodness, I loved Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better! It really helped me to understand my Questioner/Rebel husband who is the complete opposite of me, the Obliger. Basically, my husband needs to understand the logic behind any decision he makes before he’ll do it, and the more you push him to do it the less likely it is to happen. I knew this, but now I understand why a bit more and have some strategies to communicate better with him. I’m mostly an Obliger. If I tell someone I will do something for them, I’m all over it. It will happen, and you can count on me. Now, if I promise myself I’ll do something (like exercise every day), forget it. I’ll break promises to myself everyday to make room to meet an obligation to someone else. This book led to some great conversations with my husband. I highly recommend it.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was an engaging read that ended up being more suspenseful than I anticipated. This novel is planned to be a Hulu mini-series as well starting Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Manny Jacinto. Kidman’s character runs the resort with help from Jacinto and other staff. McCarthy and eight others portray the guests in for an experience of a lifetime that they will surely never forget.

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale was probably one of my favorites. I haven’t really gotten into many of the currently popular WWII era novels out there, but I couldn’t pass this one up. It’s a story about two sisters in France during the time of German occupation and how both chose entirely different paths during the war. The sisters couldn’t be more different, but they share a caring heart and resilience like no other.

I was surprised I didn’t care for one particularly popular book. I abandoned Olive Kitteridge. My issue was that each chapter introduces new characters, so I’d spend half the chapter figuring out who everyone is and how they relate to Olive Kitteridge. I would have done better, perhaps, if I could dedicate my time to read one whole chapter each time I sat down to read. In a world of constant interruptions from kids, that didn’t happen.

Right now I’m enjoying the 3rd Harry Potter book with the kids and making my way through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s lengthy novel Americanah. I’m well on my way to my 2020 goal of reading 50 books this year.

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March 2020 Book Recs

Oh my goodness, it feels like everyone under the sun is catching up on their reading during this pandemic. I always have a long holds list with my library so books stagger in about once a week for me to read. I thoughtfully add books to my holds list but forget what they’re about by the time they are available for me to read. It’s a surprise and gift every time I start a new book, which I just love.

Lately, though, the books have been rolling in. Holds that were for more than six months are now down to a number of weeks. I’m glad to see folks are making use of this downtime to stay home, read, and flatten the curve.

Below are the nine books I read in March with a quick few sentence review of each.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is a book I read to the kids that I loved reading as a little girl. It’s a story written in 1967 of a brother and sister who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. While there, they stumble upon a mystery and try to figure out who the artist is who created the museum’s newest statue of an angel. I enjoyed it as an adult as much as I did as a kid.

Next up was Washington Goes to War, which was recommended to me by a co-worker. I don’t often pick up a non-fiction book outside of the pop psychology category, but this was an interesting read since we live in the DC metro area. It is about David Brinkley’s knowledge and information about war-time Washington, DC around the time of World World II. I read it wishing it was more heavily cited though.

March also included another book recommended by a co-worker: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. This book could have been significantly shorter, or maybe that it’s that I’m already onboard with the idea of making checklists so I didn’t need a lot of convincing. There were many stories throughout that I’d already heard, like Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson.”

I turned it around with a much lighter read next with Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, & Royal Blue. This book was said to be similar to the Crazy Rich Asians series, which I loved. I wouldn’t say it was as good as Crazy Rich Asians, but it was a fun, light-hearted read that I enjoyed. It’s a romantic comedy where the First Son of the United States falls in love with the Prince of Wales.

Jenn McKinlay’s Buried to the Brim was my next read. It was the sixth book (and last) in the Hat Shop Mystery series. These are fun, easy reads that are corny and cheesy. I liken it to a Hallmark Christmas movie. I know exactly what I’m getting when I start the book, and it scratches the itch. It’s about a pair of cousins who own a hat shop together in London, make friends, flirt with romance, and always stumble upon a murder mystery.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary was a romance with well-developed characters. It’s about two people who work opposite shifts so they decide to cut their expenses and share an apartment. Although they don’t meet before sharing the flat, they start to learn about each other through notes that they leave each other.

I’d been waiting some time to read Celeste Ng’s family drama Everything I Never Told You. It is about how a Chinese American family relates to each other before and after the parent’s eldest and favorite child Lydia is found dead. The dynamics between all characters is explored in an engaging and thoughtful way. It was a moving read. I highly recommend it.

Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age was tough for me to pick up and finish because I disliked two of the three main characters. We certainly weren’t supposed to like them, even though they often thought their hearts were in the right place. The novel explores race and privilege with Alix Chamberlain, an upper-class woman who is used to getting what she wants, and her babysitter Emira Tucker. I actually think the book was a great read. Some reviewers complain about the ending, but I thought it was realistic, which is what has this book stand out from the others in this genre.

Last but not least was a classic. I introduced the boys, mostly Mr. 7-year-old, to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We are planning to work our way through the series, so what better time than a pandemic to get started!