For every book, there is a reader - but not every book is for every reader. That's where I'm coming from in this new book series on my blog. Inspired by the wonderful podcast, What Should I Read Next, which encourages readers to identify three books they like and one book they don't in order to help guide them toward their next book choice, I'm going to share a book that falls under one of three categories:
Loved It: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb
Goodreads Rating: 4.37 out of 117,591 ratings
This book is a memoir about Gottlieb's dual experience as both a practicing therapist and as someone who is in therapy. She reveals truths to the reader (at least this reader!) by breaking down the invisible barrier between patient and therapist.
Gottlieb finds herself in therapy after a shocking breakup that turns her life and her self image upside down. It was really interesting to read what it was like for her - a practicing therapist - to find a place on the couch and to see how that experience informed the way she helped her own patients. I also thought the "inside baseball" view into what it's like to be a therapist was really interesting.
The patient stories - including a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a newlywed with cancer, a woman threatening to kill herself on her next birthday if her life doesn't turn itself around, and a woman in her twenties who self sabotages with alcohol and dead-end relationships - were the real heart and soul of the book, told with such compassion and an engaging narrative arc that I became invested in what the hell was going to happen to each person. I laughed, I cried (and cried some more), and cheered each one of them on over the course of the book. They felt like friends, and they also acted as mirrors in many ways.
I think that's something especially effective about this book - it held a mirror up to me so I could see some of my own issues and unhealthy ways of thinking reflected back at me in a way that felt both resonant and fresh. I also enjoyed reading about some of the science behind why people do what we do, and think what we think. I came away from this book with a deeper appreciation for therapists, and for the common problems so many of us face in life. Gottlieb is insightful and offered a unique-to-me perspective that's stuck with me as I navigate the ins and outs of my own life (and with my own therapist).
Liked It: Well Met, by Jen DeLuca
Goodreads Rating: 3.88 out of 28,759 ratings
Well Met is a contemporary romance that finds our heroine, Emily, at a crossroads in her life after a bad breakup with a truly horrible person - the kind of guy who let her drop out of college to financially support him while he completed his degree only to dump her because she's a college drop out. Emily is homeless and jobless when her older sister and teenage niece get into a serious car accident, leaving her sister with debilitating physical injuries that make caring for her daughter difficult over the summer. Emily to the rescue!
She shows up, moves in, and jumps feet first into care-taker mode - which includes becoming a cast member in the local Renaissance Faire so her niece can take part in it, too. The Faire introduces Emily to new friends and helps her become part of the community. It also introduces her to the man who simultaneously pokes at all her insecurities, infuriates her, and turns her on. This is an enemies to lovers trope and, although it's told from a single point of view (Emily's), DeLuca did a great job creating a fully developed love interest out of Simon, in large part because of Emily's strong sense of empathy.
"Emily to the Rescue" is an on-going theme in the book, and one that I can relate to. One thing I found frustrating was that we never got more than just a surface-level acknowledgement that "rescuing" is Emily's thing. I would have loved for Emily to dig deep and learn why she pins her self-worth to rescuing others. Overall, she's a wonderful character - funny, self-aware in so many ways, crippled by her very relatable insecurities in many other ways, giving and thoughtful. And funny (I know I already said that). The humor in this book is a huge part of its charm.
Key impressions for me of Well Met are that the romance between Simon and Emily was a deeply satisfying, sexy, slow burn that intensified, page by page. But what I appreciated most was that the true love story was between Emily and herself. Her story arc was to learn to love and appreciate who she is, and decide not to settle for anyone who couldn't love and appreciate her just the same. I enjoyed this one and am looking forward to the second book in this series (out now!), called Well Played.
Wasn't for Me: A Sweet Mess, by Jayci Lee
Goodreads Rating: 3.55 out of 975 ratings
A Sweet Mess is a contemporary romance with such a good setup. I really thought the foundation of the plot was clever. Aubrey runs a successful bakery and is focusing all of her time and energy on expanding her business. Except for the brief amount of time (and considerable energy) she expends on a one-night stand with a really hot guy who's just passing through town. She has a great time with the guy and thinks that's that. However - the hot guy, Landon, is a big-time celebrity food critic who is accidentally served from her bakery a really disgusting piece of cake that was baked as a special order for a child's birthday. It was a simple mistake that snowballed. Landon writes a scathing review about Aubrey's bakery (not knowing she was both the baker and the one-night stand), which torpedoes her business and reveals each of their true identities to one another. Cute, right?? This is where the wheels started to fall off for me.
Rather than simply write a retraction and explain what happened, Landon invites Aubrey to appear on a new cooking show he's producing. She is whisked away to a villa in California's wine country for two weeks to prepare for her appearance on the show. And of course they wind up sharing the villa, and a whole lot of sexual tension. Sort of. The chemistry between Aubrey and Landon never clicked for me. I couldn't at any point understand what the heck she saw in this guy. He was arrogant and patronizing, and the few moments I could recognize as, "Ahhh...humanity!" felt forced and trite.
Rather than building, their romance chugged along as they did the same things over and over and over again: she likes him, he pushes her away, he likes her, she pushes him away. The repetitiveness of their push/pull extinguished any momentum of the story and was, frankly, exhausting.
The setup for A Sweet Mess was fantastic but couldn't sustain itself. I can suspend my disbelief in almost any story as long as I'm rooting for the characters, but that lack of chemistry is why this book wasn't for me.
That's what I've read lately - how about you? Is there a book you've loved, liked, or wasn't for you? Let us all know down in the comments!
I'm a white woman who has called the Midwest home for most of my life. That life of mine is what it is because I was born white. I didn't always know this, but I certainly do now. And I know it's my responsibility to continually educate myself on my blind spots.
I needed to learn the language and the history of race in America so I can confidently articulate what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, in my day-to-day life. Maybe you do, too. The work of Ijeoma Oluo and Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson were foundational components of my education.
It's not the job of any black person to educate me - it's my job to get educated - so I'm especially grateful for these books.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
"In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to "model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life."
"Generous and empathetic, yet usefully blunt . . . it's for anyone who wants to be smarter and more empathetic about matters of race and engage in more productive anti-racist action."--Salon
White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue And Other Thoughts On Cultural Appropriation, by Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson
"American culture loves blackness. From music and fashion to activism and language, black culture constantly achieves worldwide influence. Yet, when it comes to who is allowed to thrive from black hipness, the pioneers are usually left behind as black aesthetics are converted into mainstream success—and white profit. Weaving together narrative, scholarship, and critique, Lauren Michele Jackson reveals why cultural appropriation—something that’s become embedded in our daily lives—deserves serious attention. It is a blueprint for taking wealth and power, and ultimately exacerbates the economic, political, and social inequity that persists in America."
What books are you reading or have you read that have helped shape your understanding of and participation in conversations about race? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Following in the footsteps of March, April was another reading-heavy month. If there were any doubts as to how I'm managing self-quarantine, let this clear that right up: I'm reading. A lot.
April's selections were split 50/50 across fiction and non-fiction. Not something I did on purpose, but in retrospect I can see how that makes sense. I bounce around between the need to escape from reality and a curiosity for how other people handle life. Do you tend to favor one genre (or sub-genre) over another, based on what's happening in your life?
My two favorite books this month were The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley and Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. The Authenticity Project is a work of contemporary fiction that follows the intertwining lives of six strangers brought together by a green notebook making its way across London (and a bit beyond). Each person who comes into possession of the notebook writes his or her deepest secret and then passes it along. The notebook brings each of them together in unexpected (and sometimes, not so unexpected) ways. It also included a couple of twists that kept me on my toes, along with a satisfying ending. Pooley's writing style is fluid, and she injects a lot of humor and heart into this story.
Books for Living was published in 2016, and I stumbled upon a used copy at my favorite neighborhood bookstore (Cream and Amber, in downtown Hopkins, MN if you're wondering). This work of non-fiction is a follow-up to Schwalbe's best-seller, The End of Your Life Bookclub, and I hoped it would be the perfect thing to pick up and put down before bedtime. It was. In each chapter, Schwalbe introduces a book that provides context and texture to his own life. The books span genres and include a mix of classics and contemporary selections. What really stole my heart and made this a book I looked forward to opening each night was Schwalbe's affable tone, vulnerability and openness to sharing personal stories and insights that wove into the books he chose to highlight.
The two books I liked the least this month were It All Comes Back to You by Beth Duke and Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller and Dr. J.J. Petersen. I read Marketing Made Simple as part of a book club at work (my job is in marketing for a tech company). I had moderate expectations for the book and it didn't manage to meet that mediocre bar. I know this is lazy, but I don't really care to expend much more energy talking about it, so I'm not going to. If you're interested in marketing and want to know more about why I can't even with this book, let me know in the comments and we can chat about it there.
It All Comes Back to You on the other hand...whew. This one is complicated. The book is set in both present day to tell the story of Ronni, an assisted living nurse who has been left a life-changing amount of money if she writes the life story of one of her favorite residents who has died; and the past, as it jumps back in time to tell the story of that vivacious resident, Violet. I stayed up late (11:00 p.m. on a work night!) to read the book because the story was engrossing and well-written, with plenty of twists and turns for the two characters for whom it was mostly easy to root for. I say mostly because Ronni's story at times became a little muddled, especially a life-changing romance that just never quite felt right to me. One of those major plot twists came at the very end of the book, and it left me with such an overwhelming sense of ickiness and dismay that I couldn't possibly encourage anyone to put themselves through it. Unless you like that kind of thing, in which case by all means.
What I Read in April
March was a prolific reading month; it's evident how I'm coping with COVID-19. I can't recall any other period in my life when I've consumed 14 books in 4 weeks. (We'll see what April looks like!?) I definitely went for "comfort" selections, leaning heavy on two specific genres: romance and cozy mystery.
This month, I dove deep into the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jaqueline Winspear and couldn't get enough of them. The research and writing are outstanding - the books are set in London, post World War I - and I really enjoy Maisie as a protagonist. She's smarter and more empathic than I'll ever be, that's for sure. The stories are multi-layered and so satisfying, but what I love most is that Maisie is such a dimensional character, with flaws and issues that fold into every mystery she solves in new and fulfilling ways. For example, Maisie struggles to balance a desire for companionship and the lifestyle society says she should want with maintaining agency as a woman with a career - relatable.
From the romance side, I really enjoyed Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. It took me a few tries to get into the novel, because I didn't click with one half of the romantic duo: First Son, Alex Claremont-Diaz. So glad I stuck with it, though, because I came to appreciate him more - and his depths were revealed - as the romantic foil to England's Prince Henry. Reading the book placed me right back into how it feels to discover new love - the highs, the lows, the vulnerability of giving your heart to someone and asking for theirs in return. (Sigh) The story was exactly what I needed - I laughed; I flipped pages, goofy grin on my face, heart melting as the relationship developed between the two men. The pace was excellent, the writing style smart and fun, without falling into the trap of being tedious and "too cool."
Of everything I read in March, there was only one selection that was not for me: In the Woods, by Tana French. I'll revisit French as an author sometime down the road, because I appreciated her writing style and ability to weave a complex story. But In the Woods was too dark, and offered too little resolution at the end for where I am in life right now. At this particular moment, I need massive doses of hope and happiness tied up in nice little bows by the time I get to the end of a book.
What I Read in March
Have you read anything from my March list? If so, what did you think? What's on your nightstand right now? And do you find that your reading preferences have shifted over the past few weeks, or are they unchanged? (So many questions!)
If you're like me, you're starting to get that Christmas itch. I've been not-so-secretly watching Hallmark movies since they began airing back-to-back in October. And with Thanksgiving days away, the official start of the holiday season is upon us. Which means it's a great time to start stocking your eReader with books to carry you through long car rides, air travel, and much-needed quiet moments to yourself. I hope you'll add my short story, Christmas at the Cosmo, to your reading queue.
It's a story I wrote while living in downtown St. Paul at an apartment complex called - you guessed it - The Cosmopolitan.
Christmas at the Cosmo follows Dave and Lila, a couple who have hit that "next step" point in their relationship. One hangup? Christmas. She doesn't know why Dave objects to all her favorite Christmas traditions, and he doesn't understand why Lila is so crazy about the holiday. Secrets from the past are affecting their present. With five days to go until Christmas, can Dave and Lila find common ground and get back on track towards, "I do?"
(Spoiler: Yes. Only happy endings up in here. But it's still fun to read how they get there!)
Download a copy of Christmas at the Cosmo to your Kindle (or the free Kindle app if you have a different eReader), for $2.99. And if you have any holiday-themed book recommendations, I want to hear all about them down in the comments.
This is a place to celebrate all the parts of yourself that come with age and experience. I'm here to share with you what I know and to explore with you the many (many) things I don't.