Friday, September 13, 2019

Read Alikes: Part 1

I just finished Little Fires Everywhere the other night.  I sat at my son's soccer practice with a tear in my eye considering what the book said to me.  Pulling back from the story for a minute I could immediately see the overarching theme of motherhood.  How hard it is, how the past influences our choices with our children today, how we all think we are doing the right thing.  It made me think about other books I had read with similar ideas...

When I finished A Curious Beginning last month I had the same feeling.  I closed the book and began to think of the other books and series I have read that were reminiscent of the tone, motifs, and plot.  A few sprang immediately to mind.

Both of these experiences had me itching to write this post.  It may become a series of posts or it may be a one-off, but either way, here some read alikes I've noticed in my adventures with books.

Little Fires Everywhere   I finished this (at the soccer field) and was impressed with the way Ng dealt with motherhood in all its complexities and nuances.  At the core of the book are mothers and daughters who are trying to communicate and finding varying degrees of success.  As a mom of teen daughters, this is v. relatable and also something that does not get talked about much.  So that got me thinking about other books that I've read like this...

You're Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation is a nonfiction book about a researcher who studied patterns in conversations between moms and daughters.  She has a whole section dedicated to communication during the teen years.  I found this highly informative and still use some of the tips, tricks, and understanding I got from this book. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette I had a different reaction to this book than most readers.  It made me cry a little.  I mean, I wasn't weeping, but seeing Bernadette go through the crises of sending her daughter away to school and wondering who she is now that she is not "Bee's mother" hit close to home for me.  I have a few years to go before I'm an empty nester and the idea that society expects moms to be a super mom while their kids are at home leaves me feeling like I want to scream, "There is more to me than my kids!" How many times have I met someone at a dance recital or band concert and introduced myself as "Finn's mom"?  The book doesn't offer answers but reminds you that you are not alone in your love for your child and your need for creative expression.  Bernadette is one of my favorites. 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a nonfiction look at a mother's experience raising kids with the goal of excellence.  The author lets you inside of the good, the bad, and the ugly of her experience and when I finished I found I was more compassionate to myself and other moms. 

Ginny Moon  I love this book.  It is about a teen is in the foster care system.  She goes to live with a family who wants to adopt her.  Ginny is often torn between her biological mom and her foster parents and the reader gets a very raw portrayal of what it means to be a family.  Communication issues are worsened for Ginny and those around her because she has Autism.  It is so good...and by good I mean, yes, I did cry. 

A Curious Beginning  This was another book that made me think about other books I've read (and loved) like it.  It's the late 1800's and Veronica Speedwell is alone in life.  She loves hunting butterflies and adventuring and it's a good thing because she's about to be swept up in a big adventure to learn about her family of origin and why her aunts made her move from town to town.  This is a fun, historical, mysterious book.  If you're looking for deeply researched historical ficition you might not like it, if you are looking for a thriller you might not like it.  Books like this make me so happy...I wish there were more TV shows in this vein too (Psych is the best I can think of). 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an obvious comp.  This is also a fun, historical, mysterious series that involves a heroine with an unlikely interest (chemistry).  In Bradley's books, Flavia is running around town solving murders and getting into trouble while dealing with family issues.  I have read all of them and love them dearly. 

Caraval is not an obvious comp.  It's totally fantasy: they live in a magical world.  But, it has strong female characters, a nice little romance, and mysterious elements to keep you turning the pages.  I've only read the first, but my daughter loves all of the books in the series. 

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges I thought of this nonfiction book as a read-alike because Veronica is so strong and self-assured.  When I read characters like that I feel more confident and brave about my own situation.  This book gives practical tips to stand up to the bad guys (and situations) in everyday life.  The superman pose has come in handy many times around here.

Bellweather Rhapsody  Less fantastical, this book takes place at a musical festival for teens in New York.  I loved the band culture in this creepy mystery that made me laugh and gasp alternately.  I think this may be one of the most underrated books.  I read it years ago and still think about the characters and the setting. 

I'll be Your Blue Sky  Something that links this book is learning about something you didn't know before (band geeks, chemistry, butterflies), in this book you learn about how women escaped domestic abuse in the past when it was even more difficult to get away from your abuser.  It's not a cheery subject, but the story had a lot of hope, a little mystery, and female characters you could root for.'s part of a series.

A Study in Scarlet Women is very similar to the Veronica Speedwell books.  It takes place in England around the same time and Lady Sherlock is a witty young woman who despises convention.  This would be good to dip in and out of while you're waiting for Bradley and Raybourn to write more.

Let me know in comments if you have any read alikes for these books...or if you just finished something really great and you're looking for something similar.  Maybe I can help out!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Reading Recap: August Edition

August should be dubbed "anxiety month" around these parts.  My children and I were all suffering from anxiety about the transition that would come on September 3rd: the beginning of school.  

We wanted to make every moment count so we squeezed as much meaning as we could into every single thing we did together.  A trip to the grocery store became a bonding experience where we discussed consumer skills, popping into the library to return books became a family affair in which I could recount with nostalgia all of the library classes they used to go to when they were babies.  We were pretty annoying and terrible. 

When there was an opportunity for rest, we were frustrated we weren't doing more: "What do you mean that we are just going to hang out here, we should go to the movies or make a craft project or do SOMETHING!"  

For a solid month, my kids lamented the change in their sleep schedules and the necessity of homework.  We toyed with the idea of "practicing" waking up but never actually got around to it.  Earlier bedtimes were often threatened, but we couldn't make ourselves follow through on that.  

Despite our fears, the first day of school went off without a hitch.  Sure we were tired and over-emotional but everyone made it through.  
Usually, it's one or the other...sometimes though, we're all crying. 😢 
Despite the weird vibe around here, I also got some reading done.  Not as much as I would have liked but plenty for a summer month with four kids around me at all times and a ton of mom guilt about "living in the moment."  

Here's what I read:

Lock Every Door

This was good.  I mean, not Pulitzer good, but it was just what I wanted.  At one point I was concerned that the story was going in an unlikely direction, but Sager totally faked me out and ended up scaring me real good.  If you need a thriller that requires just a smidge of suspension of belief and is well written and makes you turn the pages like you're flipping through a magazine...look no further than Riley Sager.  I needed to know how this book resolved and it was completely satisfying (and thought-provoking). 

Glass Houses

Another Gamache because I am so close to catching up in the series.  I thought the mystery plotline was put to the side in this book but I literally didn't care because the character development was ON POINT.

I have one more book to go before I get to the newest in the series.  When I finally catch up, I think I'll probably have a good cry and then go listen to the audiobooks just for fun.  Three Pines is a good influence on my world view. 

Saving Winslow

Sharon Creech has written a few books I've read in the past and enjoyed.  When I saw this one was about a miniature donkey I had to get it.  It was a sweet, seemingly simple story.  You can tell Creech loves kids and animals in the way she writes them.  Winslow isn't likely to make it and a little boy and his friends and family rally around the miniature donkey, showing courage and love despite the unfavorable odds.  If you need a quick read that will restore your faith in humanity and give you a little hope, this would make an excellent choice. 

A Curious Beginning

I started reading this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and was totally blindsided.  I looked at the cover and description and rolled my eyes.  Butterflies?  Give me a break.  Well, don't give me a break.  I loved it!  It took me about 20 pages to decide that this would be a great series to read while I'm waiting for more Flavia deLuce books from the beloved Alan Bradley.  It has a similar cheeky tone.  It's not typical historical fiction (Veronica and Flavia would probably be sent to jail for the ways they stand up to the patriarchy), it is highly enjoyable.  

Looking back, it was a month of books that I really enjoyed and wanted to read.  Months like that are what make reading fun.  💕 

What did you read in August?  Link or comment below...

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Status Update: End of Summer

It's the final week before school starts around here.  That means we are scheming to get to the beach once more and trying to cram 1,000 fun activities in (laser tag, arcade, movies) before those yellow buses come around. 

We hosted a big party last weekend.  Like BIG.  63 guests.  We had never done anything like this before and I worried I made a terrible mistake but it was great.  Everything worked out and fun was had by all.   

When my schedule is full of cleaning, parties, work, and fun, I always think, "I will have no time for reading" and yet somehow, love finds a way.  

I am reading in all of the nooks and crannies of time that I can find.  A few minutes before my daughter gets in the car after volleyball camp, a few minutes before dinner, and a very few minutes before bed.  (I am tired.)

All these times all add up and by the end of the day, I'm surprised that I've crushed another 50 pages or so. 

This time of year also makes me reflect on what we did right and what we got wrong this summer.  My kids and I are a bundle of nerves before we have to implement a new routine and schedule.  A combination of anxiety, a full schedule, and deep thinking makes me turn to books when I need to catch a break from my brain. 

I love the way I can escape into a good book and it requires enough of my focus that the rest of the world literally fades away. 

I have noticed, though, that at different times I've hidden in different genres.  When we were moving, I read classics.  Slipping back into timeless Literature gave me a sense of security I needed.

 When my daughter had surgery, I read YA fantasy.  Having to learn the ins and outs of a new world kept me from letting reality spin me out of control. 

When my dad passed away, I read historical fiction.  Stories about people who lived good lives and fought good fights gave me hope to carry on. 

Now, facing transitions and self-evaluation I am reading murder mysteries.  I'm not sure what this one says about my current situation but gosh, I really love a good murder story. 

What do you read when you get busy or times get tough?  Have you noticed patterns in the genres you turn to during different circumstances? 

Friday, August 16, 2019


I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister.  I teach kids in China how to speak English each morning over the internet.  I have friendships to maintain, a home to care for, and I am a resident of this world.  If you can identify with any of these things then you too probably face some amount of stress. 

I know I do.


When I saw the book Burnout on bookstagram I knew I had to read it.  I bought it and set it aside, a bit intimidated.  Honestly, a book with the subtitle, "The secret to unlocking the stress cycle"  seemed like it would stress me out more.  

After reading You're Wearing That?  I thought my reading life could use some more nonfiction.  And then I heard Annie Jones talking about Burnout on her podcast and I thought, "Ok...I'll give this a try." 

From the start, I liked the voices of the authors (twin sisters), who felt like friends who were looking out for me.  They had great insight into the stress cycle women feel and how the patriarchy rigs the system.  The research they used was reliable but they also included anecdotes that made the science go down real smooth. 

Here's what I learned:

1.  Modern life doesn't help us complete our stress cycles.  We need to be active, creative or connect in some way (30 minutes of exercise, dance, 20-second hugs, good laugh or cry) in order to signal to our bodies that the stress is behind us. 

2. "Planful problem solving" (doing what you can to plan for problems) and "Positive Reappraisal" (changing your view of problems to opportunities) can help mitigate some of the things that cause us stress. 

3.  Watch out for relationships where you're being a human giver (someone whose value is only found in their good appearance, pleasant mood, and care for others).  This is draining and an impossible way to live.

demanding kids ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ 

4.  I can counteract some of the damage done to society by the patriarchy by practicing self-acceptance and seeing myself as "the new hotness."  I am hot, right now, stretch marks, zits, and lines around my eyes.  And so are you.  And so is she. I can redefine "hot" and resist some of the stress that comes from society.  

5.  Connection is required.  Introvert or otherwise.  We need each other and there is scientific evidence to back that up.

6.  Getting rest is crucial and an act of rebellion against a society that says busyness and exhaustion are signs of a good life and getting proper sleep is selfish. 


7.  We all have a "madwoman in the attic"--that voice in our head that pushes us to be a human giver.  I sat with this idea for a while and thought about what my madwoman looked like.  She is a version of me from the upside-down: a mess, slovenly, disorganized, and weak and she yells at me that there is no difference between me and then I work extra hard to prove her wrong.  I'm still considering the implications of this. 

8.  Self-compassion allows you to heal without inflicting more damage.  Practicing gratitude makes you aware of the good people in your life and the ways circumstances have worked out in the past which can give you hope for the future.  Not necessarily earth-shattering, but very good reminders. 

These things scratch the surface of what I learned.  There were multiple studies and facts provided in the text that made me tell whoever was near me and call my husband at work.  It's been three weeks since I read it and I feel better equipped for those times I feel overwhelmed by stress and I now incorporate completing the cycle in my daily life.  I'm not perfect, but I did just get back from a vacation with my mom and my mother in law and didn't lose my cool.  That is PROGRESS, my friends!  

I think Oprah would be proud. 
Overall, my new approach to stress is hopeful and healthy and if nothing else, that makes reading Burnout a smashing success.  

Have you read it?  Share your thoughts in comments.  

Friday, August 9, 2019

Reading Recap: July Edition

Despite being at home with four kids I did a lot of reading this month.  I think I've learned the value of little moments here and there reading just another few pages.  I never leave home without a book.  And, during the summer months, I make everyone read so it becomes a family activity. 

Disclaimer: Whenever we have reading time I always have to yell to get my kids to come and then the first five minutes is spent grumbling and fidgeting and making rude noises.  But once they've settled, they read for way longer than I ever expected and only grudgingly get up to move on to the next activity.  But it always starts with yelling. 

Also me

I don't mind the heat because it forces me to slow down and not feel so guilty about reading on the couch for an hour with a cold glass of seltzer next to me.  It's the same for rain and snow.  I guess I just love extreme weather for the reading benefits (not the damage and destruction they cause, though, that part really sucks).  

So, here are the books I read this month:

Watching You
I've seen this book a few times at bookstores and was curious about it but never actually bought it.  It was available on Libby so I listened to it at the beginning of the month.  It was an enjoyable, suspenseful read that played with the theme "looks can be deceiving." 

The story is set in a small British town and rotates perspectives of people who live on the same street.  By the end, I was surprised, not necessarily by whodunit, but by how wrong surface judgments of other characters could be--which then made me reflect on my own casual judgments, which are all probably completely off base. 

v. awkward

A Great Reckoning
Maybe one of my favorite Gamache books, but honestly, I think that every time I finish another one.  I just love seeing the characters grow and change over the course of this series.  In this installment, we get to learn more about Gamache as a child and gain insight into what happened after his parents died.  As always, Louise Penny books make me hungry and I never drink more tea than when I'm in the middle of one of her novels.  Even in the hottest week of summer.  There are worse problems to have.

it's fine.  not a problem really.  just bring me some tea now!!!

The Gown
This was the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club pick for June.  I have yet to finish one of those books on time but I still enjoy them whenever I read them.  This was a case of the right book at the right time.  At the time, I didn't want anything too heavy or hard.  It is historical fiction which isn't usually my jam, but the book was so well written and the characters so engaging that I couldn't put it down.  I even googled one of the characters to see if she was a real artist. And she was not a real person.  #fictionburn

A Place for Us
This novel has been on my shelf since last summer.  I don't know why I didn't read it before.  I'm not sure why I read it now.  But I'm so glad I did.  It is a beautiful, heartbreaking story of a normal family.  Except this normal family is Muslim and they are trying to live in America pre and post 9/11.  While the actual events of 9/11 play a very small role in the story, the repercussions change this family forever.  
so good even Ruby wanted to read it
The author did an excellent job of elevating the mundane.  Showing how the same incident (a disagreement between siblings, a sister telling on her brother, a dinner conversation) can be perceived by different family members and how something as simple as a conversation can have lasting effects.  

The prose was so beautiful, I highlighted so many passages.  The final section had me crying and I did not want to close the book on these characters.  I am a better wife, mother, and human because of A Place for Us.  This is going on my lifetime favorites list.  

Rumple Buttercup
I debated if I should include this book.  It's not really a picture book--there are chapters, but the chapters are short and I read it in a half-hour.  The pictures are simple but resonant.  

And that's why I'm including this: it's a simple but resonant book.  Rumple is a little monster who loves bananas (like me) but is too shy to be around people.  He learns that everyone has some things that make them different and that diversity makes the world better.  He learns it's ok to be himself in the world.  This is a lesson I need to remember and one I think is valuable to kids and adults alike.  And I like the format: it's not preachy or like the author is trying too hard.  It stays with you because the message is delivered gently and in the form of this weird looking little monster who is also completely lovable.  

Listen, Slowly
Listen, Slowly is about a 12-year-old girl who travels with her dad and grandmother to Vietnam to discover what really happened with her grandpa during the war. This sounds exciting to me, but to Mai/Mia, the middle school protagonist, it is practically torture to be ripped from her friends and her world in Southern California.

I bought this book a long time ago and I heard Liberty Hardy talking about how much she liked it on the What Should I Read Next podcast. I decided to pick it up because it is short, it is summer and I like seasonal reading, and I love stories about other cultures.

Mai/Mia's voice could have gone awry, sounding too snarky or sounding too sweet. Instead, Lai strikes a careful balance with each of her characters, making them sound realistic because there is both sweet and snarky to Mai and her grandmother is both honorable and a little rebellious and her dad is trying to do the right thing but also overtired.

people are complicated and that's how they should be written

Bonus: I learned a lot about Vietnam, the culture, the language, the country.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I listened to this while running.  It wasn't high brow literature, but it was a good story.  Listening to it was great because the narrator had a fantastic accent and knew how to say the names which would have been v. challenging to read.  
sometimes names and words in other languages make me feel like this...that's what audiobooks are for!
Precious, the main character, has had a tough run, but then she decides to open a detective agency.  She takes on local cases and is constantly surprising men who think a woman could not possibly be a detective.  The novel made me smile and I have a warm place in my heart for Precious.  I will probably listen to the next installment, especially because the first book left off on a cliff hanger which is not always my favorite, but I was ok with it for this book.  

I ended the month on a non-fiction note and I will do a post to tell you more about this book because it was so good.  I learned a lot from the authors.  Their research was illuminating and the studies they cited often had me telling whoever was in earshot about them.  

Burnout looks at the stress cycle women deal with.  Some of it could be relatable to men, but the main focus was women.  The authors (twin sisters) offered some quality advice on how to complete the stress cycle...spoiler alert: it's not watching hours of TV and then falling asleep.  They talked about ways to cope within a system that's often rigged against women and how to quit striving to look like supermodels but instead live a healthy life with self-love and appreciation for others.  

I could go on and on, and I will, in my next blog post.  But for now, know that if you struggle with feeling stressed this book is immensely helpful.  I have felt so much lighter since I read it.  
📚 📚 📚 📚 📚 📚 
That's what I read this month.  I'm excited about August.  August means vacation and lots of reading and the beginning of fall sports.  For me, summer isn't too short or too long, it's just right.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

An Open Letter to Audiobooks

Dear Audiobooks,

I just wanted to write you a little note to tell you that I love you. 
calm smile, a glass of whiskey, eyes closed, Ron knows what's what
You make chores and exercise so much better.  Instead of trudging into the laundry room faced with folding six loads of towels and kids' clothes, I practically prance in there and am left feeling sad when the final sock is matched. 

Time spent in the car used to be an endless changing of channels to find a song that fit the ven diagram of songs I like and songs the kids can listen to.  Now my children remind me that we need to finish our audiobook and drives are spent getting smarter and building connection.  You make me a better parent, audiobooks.  

When I go through difficult times and long silences are just too much, you help me navigate quiet times in the way I used to as a kid: with bedtime stories and stories to fill up the spaces when I just don't want to think about the stress of life.  These escapes are essential and often, in your novels and nonfiction, I find answers I didn't know I was looking for.  

I'll be honest, though.  You're not perfect.  I have listened to some narrators who have swept me up into another time, another place.  But there are others, I'm sure you know the ones, that grate my nerves and make me abandon the audio format.  I shudder when I remember one narrator who I literally yelled at every time I put the book on or another who's accent was like nails on a chalkboard.  

make it stop!!!!
Despite your imperfections, I am grateful.  I know the list of books I finish each year would be much smaller without your help.  The way you elevate my work/travel time makes this enneagram type 1 feel so much more productive.  Without you, I'd probably be watching a lot more TV.  

You are a delight and a gift and I don't know what I'd do without you.  

Yours Truly,


Do you listen to audiobooks?  Who are your favorite narrators?  If you have never listened I highly recommend starting with Trevor Noah's Born a Crime.  It is hilarious and informative and his accent and voices make it a unique experience.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Best Book of the Summer (so far)

I've read a few books this summer and since I'm about at the halfway point I thought it would be a good time to look back to see what I've liked and what I didn't and consider what books I will read in the next month and a half to round out my summer reading. 


I've read thrillers that are fun, series that I love, and books that have surprised me in both the best and worst ways. 

As I perused my list I thought about what would make a book "the best" to me at any given moment.  Well, it should be something that resonated.  For me, the best books are books I think about for a long time afterward.  My reading experience matters too.  Did I connect with the characters and themes?  Did it feel like I was immersed in the world of my book or was it hard to break into?  Could I set it down and forget about it or was I actually frustrated with my real life for getting in the way of my reading? 

After considering these questions while looking at my book list I knew I had an obvious choice.

The River by Peter Heller

This book is everywhere and that is not a thing that matters to me.  For a loooooong time I've craved a modern story told in the Hemingway fashion.  I think this book achieves that on some levels (with less misogyny as an added bonus).  Writing about nature can be difficult: I get bored easily and it can sound trite real quick.  But this book took me out onto the water in a canoe and made me care deeply about the two protagonists, an unnamed woman, and the world of the river. 

The flashbacks and inner thoughts of characters were just as compelling as the actual plot.  Heller does not stick strictly to the rules of grammar and it made the flow of thoughts and dialogue seem more authentic and helped build the voice and characterization of Jack and Wynn who could have been too similar to separate. 

But you could read all this on any review.  What I want to tell you is I couldn't put it down.  I knew I was reading it too fast and tried to slow myself down, but I couldn't.  Books like that are often hard to find. 


So, that is my best book so far...what is yours?  Leave a note in comments and maybe I can add your must-read to my TBR before September rolls around and schedules begin again. 
who are we kidding?  I jam on my planner all year long.