2015 Review Wrap-Up

Thank you for your kind words regarding my dad since my last post. I’ve fielded a few questions about my blog recently, and I promise I’ve not forgotten that it exists. Truth be told, I was a slow reader the past few months, but I still managed to read 33 books this year, which is actually more than what I read last year. I just can’t say that too many of them have been notable. So, instead of slogging through a majority of mediocre reviews, I’ll give you the highlights.

Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

I can wax poetic about Mindy Kaling. I have admired her all the way back to her blogging days. Of course, many knew her as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. And now, most people know her as the awesome showrunner and star of The Mindy Project. I loved her first book, and her second book did not disappoint. Her life has changed a bit now that she is famous and her book is mostly about that, but it’s also about what goes into her confidence and how she still has to negotiate and compromise in her life, despite her professional success. My sister-in-law accompanied me to a talk she gave that included a signed copy of her book. It was such a fun night, and definitely gave insight to more of her beyond the book. I can’t say enough good things, except that I loved her first book slightly more. 4/5

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

This is always on the “Notable Paperbacks” table. McCann tends to do the same thing in his novels, which is weave together different characters’ stories and tie them to a specific event. This story is tied to the day that Philippe Petit walked across a high wire between the World Trade Center buildings in 1974. He is included among the fictional characters, along with an ascetic Irish priest and his brother, two mothers of fallen Vietnam soldiers, and a prostitute. I enjoyed reading this book and seeing the developments between characters. I also liked that everyone’s story was complete. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to find out where everyone. ended up. 4/5

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

Lisa See has always been a go-to author for me. One of my book clubs was reading this, and I decided to join in. It’s a great undertaking to write your family history, especially when you still have family alive to read it. I think she had to walk on eggshells a bit and include some of her family members here and there. Although this book was about her family, I found it really to be about the history of Los Angeles. Her family was one of the first to settle here, so it was interesting to read about many of the areas I used to frequent when I worked near downtown. As a Los Angeles native, I really enjoyed that aspect. 3/5

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

I managed to get my hand on one more Liane Moriarty book. She seemed to be the author of 2015 for me, since I read three other titles by her this year. Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, but somehow, her memory has put her back ten years. The last ten years have gone and she has no idea what her life is anymore. She only remembers being blissfully happy, newly married and pregnant with her first child. Now, she’s a mother to three, and her marriage is in a bad place. As she tries to put together the last ten years, she wonders what her life has become and how to move forward. Again, I love how Moriarty can take a fluff book and put some serious subject matter in there to elevate the story. I enjoyed this book and it was a bright spot in my fall. 4/5

So, those were my favorites for the later half of the year. What were your favorite books of the summer and fall?

A Summer Dance Project: The Reviews

Since I was looking specifically for books that included ballet, but also told a good story, I’ve decided to rate them both with stars and ballet slippers. Stars are for the literary enjoyment, and ballet slippers are for the relevance that dance had in it.

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

We used to live near the Norton Simon Museum where there is a collection of Degas’s statuettes of ballerinas. It’s such a small little piece of the collection, but I love looking at them, and that’s what excited about this novel about two young sisters who danced for the Paris Opera while Degas was painting and sculpting ballerinas. Antoinette is the tough older sister, scraping together to take care of her two younger sisters in the drunken absences of their mother. Marie is literate and smart, and has just joined the Opera, excelling as a member of the corps, much to Degas’s notice. He asks her to pose for him for paintings and sculptures. At the intersection of three historic Parisian events, Antoinette leaves the Opera and is wooed by Emile, a hot-tempered young man that is consumed by Antoinette, much to Marie’s disapproval. Was it entertaining? Sure. Did it really say much about ballet? Not really. But I did learn about the young women who danced for the Opera and what opportunities performing in the academy provided for them. 3/5 stars; 2/5 ballet slippers

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Dancer by Colum McCann

This expansive and beautiful novel is based on the life of Rudolf Nureyev, the famed ballet dancer who defected from the Soviet Union to dance with the Royal Ballet. You might recognize him from his guest role on The Muppet Show. In McCann’s typical style, Nureyev’s life story is told from the perspectives of those in his life, observers to his talent, ego, and artistry. This is a brilliant technique because there remains an air of mystery about him. Only one narrator got on my nerves because there were no gaps in his endless thoughts and dialogue. Those were difficult sections to get through, but were exactly how I imagined that character to be, which I give McCann credit for. He would get on my nerves in real life, too. But really, I loved this book! It had me watching video after video of Nureyev dancing, and trying to find out as much as I could about him. I highly recommend this read. 5/5 stars 5/5 ballet slippers

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Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland is a soloist with the American Ballet Theater. She is a Los Angeles native (they do exist!) who came to ballet at a late age for a dancer, thirteen. She quit her first lesson at The Boys and Girls Club where she went with her siblings after school, but was encouraged to keep dancing. Quickly, her talent developed, and Misty set off on a path to become a prima ballerina. But she hit some roadblocks and had to keep her eyes on the prize. She is beautiful and has certainly brought ballet back to the popular stage, but her writing isn’t spectacular and, sometimes, comes across as disingenuous. 3/5 stars, 4/5 ballet slippers

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Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

In the same vein as Dancer, Shipstead weaves together multiple perspectives to tell a family’s story. This family is rooted in ballet, and part of the story even includes a Russian defector of great fame. Astonish Me was the novel that started my great summer dance project, but was the last one I got to read. I really liked it. Shipstead’s style is on point and mature, but still tells a complete story that is interesting, which is sometimes lost in recent contemporary novels. I haven’t read Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, which has gotten mixed reviews, but I can say her sophomore effort is wonderful. 4/5 stars, 4/5 ballet slippers

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Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans

This title has been touted as the “definitive written history of ballet.” I knew I had to put this book on the list, but truthfully, I didn’t finish it. It is not that I didn’t think it was interesting. I just couldn’t get into it enough to keep me reading. I did find that she provides a comprehensive history of the music of the age and how it was performed, which is helpful in understanding the feeling around culture in general at ballet’s inception, but that might have been my downfall, as I studied lots of music history in college and I just wanted ballet!

 Do you have any ballet book recs I’m missing?

Book Reviews: February Reads

Well, then, I can’t believe it’s almost the end of February. The month flew by. I haven’t had as many weekends to devote to reading, so I’ve been relying on audiobooks on my commutes.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is one of our little book club’s picks. A man is given the opportunity to think back on his childhood after attending a family funeral in his hometown. A particular little pond stirs up memories of a beautiful fantasy from his young life and his older friend, Lettie Hempstock. This short little novel was good, but was a little too full of symbolism for me. This was the first Neil Gaiman book I’ve read, and I know he’s quite popular. I hope more of his stories will leave a better impression on me. 3/5

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Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith explores one family as they deal with the sexual abuse scandal that plagued the Catholic church a few years ago. The McGanns are extremely devout, save for Sheila, the black sheep, who narrates the story. Her older brother, Art, is the priest accused of child molestation, and her younger brother, Mike, is sure he did it. Sheila is not convinced, so she comes up to see what she can do to help Art clear his name. Their mother remains in denial, and their father is oblivious, in his demential stupor. While each member of the family deals with this shocking accusation, the past unravels opening up a lot of questions and revealing a few answers. This family drama was captivating, but also hard to listen to at times because Haigh never shies away from the raw details. It’s definitely worth a read/listen. 3/5

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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I can’t believe it took me so long to read Patchett’s latest novel. I have loved every book I’ve ever read by her, and this was no different. State of Wonder is a modern-day telling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which I read in high school literature. Dr. Marina Singh has been tasked with retrieving the body of her research partner, Dr. Anders Eckman from the jungles of Brazil, and the even more difficult task of finding Dr. Annick Swenson, who Anders went to find in the first place. Dr. Swenson has been working on groundbreaking fertility research and hasn’t produced anything for her sponsor, so Marina is tasked with finding out more information about her drug research, but it will be difficult, as she has a distinct history with Dr. Swenson. I’ll be honest in saying I was a little concerned that the whole thing would be a rip-off of Conrad. But it really is more than a re-telling. It’s a whole new story that stands on its own. It’s captivating and moves quickly once they make it to the jungle. 4/5

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I’ve been doing a good job of incorporating non-fiction into my reading list. Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamperini, the former Olympian who served in the United States Air Force in the Pacific theater during World War II. In an unfortunate turn of events, Zamperini’s plane went down in the Pacific Ocean, and he drifted with his best friend, Captain Alan Philips for over a month, until they were captured by the Japanese. This is when the meat of the story begins. Zamperini was a POW of Japan, but was tortured, beaten, and labored to near death for years, along with many other POWs. The horrors that they went through were unbearable. Zamperini is still alive, at 97, and his story is incredible. The film version is coming out later this year, and I do encourage you to read it before it does. 4/5

Harry Potter Update: I just finished Goblet of Fire and it’s still my favorite! I can’t believe how many little details I had forgotten. I can’t believe I’m over halfway through.  And I can’t believe somebody didn’t slap Ron when he didn’t consider asking Hermione to the Yule Ball until it was too late.

How do you feel about audiobooks?

Book Reviews: Two Teen-Fics and a Memoir

Just because it’s not raining doesn’t mean I can’t have a rainy reading day. And it’s been nice to mix things up a bit with some buzz-worthy YA novels and a popular memoir.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell has made quite a name for herself in the YA circle with two books released last year. I also have to say, that YA, in general, is having a real heyday with great titles being released regularly. I knew I’d have to check some out. Fangirl is the story of Cath who has been obsessed, or engulfed, in the Simon Snow series since its release when she was a pre-teen. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I’m sure a lot of us can relate. Cath doesn’t just read the books and create memes. She also writes a very popular fanfic that has gained a huge following. But now, she’s in college at a big school a few hours away from home. Her twin sister is embracing college life, while Cath doesn’t even know where the dining hall is. She worries about her father, and she can’t get rid of her roommate’s best friend, who eats her granola bars and waits for her to let him in, even though he’s never read a Simon Snow book. He’s only watched the movies (gasp). Slowly, Cath starts to come out of her shell, but it takes some rough transitions to get there. I totally remember being overwhelmed by college, even though I went to a small school. I didn’t have a roommate, I was nervous about making friends, and I was straight-laced. I mean, that just screams party, right? Rowell tells such a relatable story about the challenges of a first-time college student, and the difficulty of making yourself known in the real world. I loved it. 4/5

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I immediately picked up Eleanor & Park after reading Fangirl. Eleanor is new. She’s tall, has big, curly red hair, and manages to put together outfits that attract a lot of attention. Park has always been there. He’s quiet and lays low, trying very much not to attract attention, and his safety lies in the fact that he’s a kid from the neighborhood- a kid everyone knows. When Park lets Eleanor sit next to him on the bus, they start a silent friendship, that buds into a first love. Eleanor’s never experienced someone being so kind. She has to fend for herself, even though that means often leaving her younger brothers and sister behind. And Park has to open up and defend Eleanor to everyone because she doesn’t look or act like any girl out there. Their love is so full and sweet and emotional. Rowell completely captured the angst of teenage love, and the struggles of being different. This isn’t just a simple story of teenage love. Every step feels complicated and difficult. But it’s really tender, and I felt like my heart grew a size, and I may have shed a tear or two. It’s so good! 4.5/5

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This has been on my TBR list for a long time. I tried reading it when it came out, and I couldn’t get into it, so I thought I’d table it for a little while. Cheryl Strayed lost her mother at 22 to a quick and brutal battle with cancer. She went on to ruin her marriage, get involved in drugs, and decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, on her own. Most of the story-telling is Strayed’s day-to-day on the trail, the difficulties of carrying your life on your back, and the fears that can get you when you’re hiking alone. But it also flashes back to the complicated moments in Strayed’s history, her abusive father, her family’s small house in the woods, and the dissolution of her marriage to her best friend. Along the way, she loses things, gains friends, and struggles to keep money in her pocket, especially in the face of a Snapple lemonade. I will admit that I am not outdoorsy. I didn’t know how much I could relate to this story. I literally cringed at some of the tales. But I can appreciate when anyone takes on a challenge and opens up to some soul-searching. I was surprised at the many negative reviews, chastising the author for messing up her marriage and taking on a risky journey with little experience. But I don’t think that Strayed is naive in her telling of these things. She makes it pretty clear that there were problems with her actions. Also, this is not a wilderness guide. This is one young woman’s story of her own re-emergence, her own discovery, and forgiveness. She’s really open and honest and brutal about things she’s experienced. And it was a good read. 3.5/5

What are you reading?

New Year Book Reviews

It’s only the third week of January, and I’ve already finished four books. I don’t know if this is setting a healthy precedent for 2014, but oh well. I might as well share them with you, because if the past three weeks are any indication, this year will be full of satisfying reads.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Admittedly, I finished this read just before the holidays, but I was pretty busy and the review escaped me. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics. He is high functioning on the Autism spectrum, which might be clear to the audience, but not to Don. He lives his life with exact routines. He knows exactly how much sleep he needs, eats the same 7 dishes for dinner each week to save him time at the grocery store, and follows all the rules. But Don would like a wife, a life partner, and he decides that the most logical way to attain one is to survey several women based on his criteria, and find Mrs. Right. Don employs the help of his only friends, Gene and Claudia, and finds that maybe finding a wife will not be as simple as matching criteria. This book was pretty hilarious, especially because I listened to the audio version, and I could hear the lack of emotion in Don’t voice, and how he thinks the way he lives life is completely normal and the most logical way to be. If you know someone on the spectrum, it’s really helpful to get into this guy’s head and understand what he’s thinking. It may help you to relate. 4/5

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Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

I like to think of myself as a put-together person, mostly. I have a job, make dinner five to six nights a week, and never drink enough to be hungover. However, I also still wear shoes from Payless, don’t know how to properly fold a fitted sheet, and won’t put anything on the walls because I’m to scared too commit to interior design. Kelly Williams Brown addresses all of these things in her guide book to becoming a grown-up. I will admit that I didn’t read this book thoroughly, but I did skim through and see lots of helpful tips in an easy-to-read, relatable format. There are tips from moving to cooking to advancing your career and budgeting. It’s a handy book to have around, and I recommend it as a good gift for a college graduate! 3/5

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Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

After reading The Chaperone early last year, I became a little more interested in the Children’s Aid Society and their efforts to find homes for orphans in the early 20th century. Vivian Daly, formerly Niamh (pronounced Neeve) Power, immigrated through Ellis Island with her whole family from Ireland. Unfortunately, a fire orphaned Niamh, the oldest in the family, and she was sent on the Children’s Aid Society train to Minnesota to be adopted by a family. Orphaned children were brought from big cities out to the country and were put on display for couples to select them. Some families had good intentions to adopt these children and others were looking for free labor. Molly is a teenager in the foster care system, and to stay out of juvenile hall, she must complete community service. Molly ends up in Vivian’s home and finds out her story and how they are not much different from each other. While the story is interesting and at times, heartbreaking, it sometimes read a little slowly and predictably. 3/5

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon needs a job after the startup he does marketing for goes out of business, and he stumbles across Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore with a “Help Needed” sign. He’s not to open the books and has to keep a detailed log of the visitors to the bookstore every evening. Well, Clay lets his curiosity get the better of him, and he realizes that this bookstore is the pathway to a club, of sorts. Clay employs his genius friends: Neel, that guy you’re glad you were nice to in elementary school because now he’s rich and has lots of toys at his disposal; Mat, his genius artist roommate; and Kat, the devoted Googler, as if Google is a religion. Clay even uses the help of forums and websites, like any Generation Y’er or millennial would do, to find out what is going on in Penumbra’s bookstore. Again, this is written in an easy and relatable style. Clay’s internal commentary can be pretty funny, and pretty spot on. Anyone who is into design and typeface, and just the old meeting the new, will really enjoy this book. It’s sort of like The Da Vinci Code, but a little more laid back and cool. 4.5/5

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2013

I was struggling to write a recap of 2013, because I don’t want to. I was struggling to say something at the end of 2013 and then Allie wrote her top 10 books from this year post, and I thought it would be neglectful of me to not follow suit. Goodreads tells me I read 36 books this year (a lot for me!), and so I will reflect on which I loved most. And I can proudly say that I actually reviewed EVERY book I read this year, so you can follow each title’s link to the corresponding review. So in no particular order, here is the list of the top ten fiction books I read this year.

  1. The House at Tyneford
  2. Middlesex
  3. Me Before You
  4. The Language of Flowers
  5. The Book Thief
  6. The Girl You Left Behind
  7. The Night Circus
  8. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
  9. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
  10. And the Mountains Echoed

And the two non-fiction books I read also left an impression on me, so they get an honorable mention:

  1. The End of Your Life Book Club
  2. Lean In

Happy New Year! I hope you find 2014 to be a good year, and that you can enjoy a few good books as well.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 12

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

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It was a struggle to really find a book that fit this description. When I first read this book, I was inspired. The story was captivating, and I was so swept up in the work that the Central Asia Institute was doing to educate girls and women in Afghanistan. Education for women is still very important to me, but I was frustrated at hearing that some of the book was falsified. Even more frustrating was the issue that funds going to the organization were not being used as intended by the donors. I don’t think I could love this book anymore, which is sad.

Have you been disappointed by the true events surrounding a book that you’ve read?

30 Day Book Challenge Day 9

Day 9 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

lean in

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In my review, I mentioned that I don’t like self-help books. I was worried that this book would be a list of how the workplace is not built for women and how we’ve been excluded from it. But I found that this book was very helpful in vocalizing the issues women face in climbing the corporate ladder, and where they come from. It really helped me figure out where I limit myself at opportunities for growth and why. I really got into it, and I try to think back to the book when I consider my career and the trajectory I would like it to go on. This book will also come in handy when we think about starting a family and will be figuring out what to do that fits our family’s needs with work thrown into the mix. I also came out of the book inspired and with a sense of pride about my abilities and work, and I needed that right then.

Book Reviews: Catching Up, Part 2

I’m going to go a little out of order, because I’d like to end on a high note.

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The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – In the midst of his mother’s terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Will Schwalbe, a writer and publisher, spoke with his mother about what he always spoke to her about, books. They started a book club of two. Mary Anne Schwalbe didn’t just read. She suggested books, she kept up with her charity work, she kept up with her children and grandchildren. She led a fulfilling life and career, and never stopped going even while being treated for cancer. It’s not all rainbows. Schwalbe is candid about his mother’s discomfort during her treatment, but it was delicate. I love reading about books and book discussion (obviously). But I also appreciated the thoughtfulness in Schwalbe’s memorial to his mother, and the conditions of grieving and facing your life. I thought he tied the books well into the story, and I now have a few books to add to my reading list. 5/5

gone girl

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – After hearing all the hype, I knew I had to give this one a try. Nick wakes up to his wife, Amy, making crepes for their fifth anniversary breakfast. After getting to work, he gets a call from a neighbor and rushes home to find Amy gone. Gone. But Nick doesn’t seem to leap to action or emotion. And when it becomes a question of foul play, there Nick sits with all fingers pointing to him. Interspersed with Nick’s account of current events and their rocky marriage, are Amy’s journal entries chronicling their relationship. Then comes the twist, and it’s CUH-RAZY. But I will say, that twist takes over one hundred pages to set up, and it’s really hard to like either Nick or Amy leading to it. And I won’t say that Nick or Amy become more redeemable after the twist. I can see how the book was exciting to people, but I was frustrated by it, and more than upset. The twists and story were cool, but it’s hard to get over characters you don’t like. And I’m not a huge fan of the end. 3.5/5

the girl

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The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes – Because I devoured Me Before You, I put my name in immediately to get my hand on Moyes’ recent release. In a little village in Northern France during The Great War, Sophie Lefevre manages her family’s inn and restaurant. Although, restaurant is a loose term since the war. Sophie’s husband, Edouard, an artist, is fighting in the war, but to show her pride, she hangs her portrait in the inn. The Herr Kommandant is quite taken with the painting and quickly decides to keep an eye on Sophie and her family. Sophie can’t tell if this is a good or bad thing. Sophie’s portrait now hang’s in Liv’s house that her late husband designed and built. It remains her favorite part of the house, even years after he is gone, something she won’t let go of. Her debt is amassing, she has little work, and she doesn’t even like her house much. Liv meets Paul, and sparks start flying, but things get complicated when his work may take away the only thing Liv prizes most in the world: Sophie. In a desperate race to find out what happened to Sophie, Liv uncovers the rest of Sophie’s story. I loved this book! I sped right through it and didn’t want it to stop, even when I sat weeping at the very end. I think Moyes is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. 5/5

What did you think of Gone Girl? I know you read it.

Book Reviews: Catching Up, Part 1

Somehow, it is October. And somehow, I completed six books since we last talked about books. And ridiculously, I have completed twenty-nine books thus far this year. I didn’t set a goal for myself or expect to read so much, but I did, and I feel like I’ve had such a fulfilling year when it comes to reading. I have no intentions of slowing down, with many books sitting in various formats ready for me to devour.

Here are a few book reviews to let you know what I’ve been up to.

goonsqaud

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – When I worked at Barnes and Noble, this book was released and had received tons of accolades. I kept the book in my head as a book to read, but never really got around to it until two years later. The book is a little weird. Following the trajectories of two people who work together, Bennie Salazar, the has-been music producer and his assistant Sasha, we learn a little bit about music culture from the early seventies to a decade beyond our current time. While the book’s purpose is a little bit of a social commentary on rock culture, it gets all wrapped and convoluted with the introduction of too many characters. There are too many little perspectives that don’t tell us much about the supposed “main” characters. The whole thing just gets muddled and, again, weird. This one just wasn’t that great for me. 2/5

newlyweds

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The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger – Amina is new to America. She has just married George and moved to Rochester, NY from poverty stricken Dhaka. She’s had to leave behind her parents and follow all the steps of her careful plan to have them come live with her and George. The plan will take at least three years. She really loves George and George loves Amina, but both of them have to overcome some significant cultural differences to build a happy marriage. This book was intriguing to me because of the Bangladesh connection, but I honestly just found it a telling picture of a new marriage. New is the important word because everything is so new to Amina, but she adjusts well, thanks to her education, determination, patience, and sacrifice. 3/5

lean in

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – I’m sure you have heard all the buzz about this book. I was skeptical going into this book. I tend to be put off by “self-help” books. I was also concerned the book would be victimize women. But this book really challenged me and didn’t talk about how women are at a disadvantage in the workplace, but rather why. And the answer is pretty simple. We do it to ourselves. This book made me think about how I conduct myself in business, how I can advance, and how I hold myself back from many professional achievements. I walked away frustrated, but also optimistic. A thought or anecdote from this book pops into my head almost daily. I now know which questions to ask and which conversations to have (with myself, work, and with my husband). I encourage anyone (Yes. Anyone.) looking into professional achievement to read this book. 4/5

Have you set any reading goals for yourself this year?