December 2021 Reading Update

I was still on my medical leave this month, which means I had PLENTY of reading time to make this my best reading month ever! This month I read:

  • This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel- I heard about this author on a reading podcast, but by the time my library hold became available, I had no idea what this book was about. It’s a beautiful story (5 stars from me!) about a family. The parents, with their sweet love story, have 4 boys and Rosie, the mom, is hoping their last attempt will produce a girl. When Claude, their fifth son, is born, they continue on with life. But soon Claude shows and tells them that he is a girl. As Claude becomes Poppy, the entire family has to learn more than most people, in order to support the youngest of the group. This was so beautifully told – raw, honest, loving, fearful, hopeful.
  • Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner – I’m so glad I found this book on my library’s website, thanks to the One Book One San Diego partnership with KPBS. Heumann tells the story of life in a wheelchair after polio, from not being allowed to attend school, to not have access to enter buildings, and do what most of us take for granted every day. As she retells her activism, you learn that she helped write IDEA and that she led a 25+ day sit-in to ensure that Section 504 was signed into law, two massive legislations that regulate how we serve students with disabilities in school. She worked in Clinton and Obama’s administration, and she has been a tireless advocate for people with disabilities, uniting individual groups into a collective community. She helped turn the fight for access into a civil rights issue, one that still gets lets talk and air time than any other civil rights of our times. Anyone without a disability should read this book, to get a small but important glimpse into what you don’t know and why it matters.
  • A Glimmer of Death by Valerie Wilson Wesley – I heard about this cozy mystery from one of my reading podcasts. I always love finding another author who does a mystery series, and this is number one in the Odessa Jones series, written by a Black author, with many Black characters, which is not what you find most often in mysteries. I loved Odessa, and her kind spirit as she is surrounded by wacky people, a murder, and more death. I did guess who the killer was long before it was revealed, but I still enjoyed the build up to the end.
  • Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty – I have loved most of Moriarty’s novels. They are always big, sweeping stories with many characters and lots of craziness! This one had all of that in one family, as we learn what happened to Joy, the mother who suddenly goes missing. Her four children have their own issues; some suspect their father of wrongdoing and others do not. There is also the mystery of Savannah, a stranger who sows up at Joy’s door and stays with them for a while. While I enjoyed this book, I think it was a little too long. With a little editing, it could have been 50-75 pages shorter.
  • The Brutal Telling (Gamache #5) by Louise Penny – The farther I get into this cozy mystery series, the more I love the fictional town of Three Pines, in Canada, and all of the sweet people who live there. This one was particularly sad because one of the main characters, Olivier, was a suspect for the murder of The Hermit in this book. I don’t know what this means for his future, or for that of his partner Gabri and their Bistro and B&B. There were a lot of lies and a lot of deception in this story.
  • The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez – This is a cute romantic comedy in a book, kind of like reading a Hallmark movie (but a little steamier!). Sloan is driving when a dog suddenly runs out into the road, and then jumps into her sunroof! This is the meet cute between Sloan and Jason via his loveable dog Tucker. As Sloan cares for Tucker, she and Jason begin to get to know each other over the phone. They quickly turn into something more before they even meet in person. As they get to know each other, and secrets they withheld at the beginning, they face challenges to their relationship. It’s a sweet story with fun characters that were very un-LA-like! I read that they are turning this into a movie and I can picture it, though I’m sure the movie will be disappointing, as just about all books-to-movies are.
  • Pony by R.J. Palacio – I loved this sweet, YA book, by the incredible author of Wonder. Pony is about Silas, a young boy whose father is suddenly taken away, and his adventure to find him. Along the way, he meets friends, strangers, a special Pony, and is supported by his lifelong ghost friend, Mittenwold. I loved Silas and his sweet heart throughout the entire story!
  • One Two Three: A Novel by Laurie Frankel – I began this month loving a Frankel novel, and now I’ve just finished second one that I enjoyed just as much. Frankel builds such realist worlds, filled with people just like us, living life and working through challenges. In this case, our story takes place in Bourne, a tiny town ravaged by poison, that we learn more about as the story unfolds. Our three narrators are triplets nicknamed One, Two, and Three (for the number of syllables in their names and their birth order). Mab, Monday, and Mirabel each have their own challenges (first love, life on the spectrum, and life in a wheelchair with technology as your communication avenue), and they serve as our heroes as well. This was not a fast-paced book, but I loved getting to know all the characters and the entire town.
  • Under the Whispering Door by T.J Klune – After loving two of Klune’s books earlier this year, I was happy to get this book as soon as possible. This was very different from the previous two, yet there were similar themes of love, grief, family, and friendship. Wallace Price learns he is dead when a reaper comes to collect him from his own funeral. Wallace starts out as a curmudgeon, but slowly begins to see how much better life could have been if he had been nice. He makes friends with humans and other dead people at the stopping point on the way to what’s next. I loved the characters in this story and want to have tea at Hugo’s shop.
  • A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham – This was my Book of the Month selection; I never go wrong when I pick the mystery choice! I liked this, and the various twists and curves that came throughout the story. Poor Chloe is an anxiety-wridden adult, whose father was jailed as a serial killer when she was a pre-teen, when many young girls went missing in her small hometown. When girls start going missing in her new town, the past comes back to haunt her. Because I’m used to this style, I tend to doubt every character, assuming if they are portrayed as “good” than they are probably too good to be true and they are probably the secret killer. I had two guesses about who to suspect in this story and I was about 45% correct. It’s a good one!
  • TH1RT3EN by Steve Cavanagh – This book literally had my heart racing at some points, as I was reading as fast as I could (which is pretty fast!) to find out what was going to happen next, and who was going to live or die. Eddie Flynn is a lawyer who gets hustled into joining the defense team for a famous actor accused of killing his wife and body guard. Eddie believes Bobby is innocent, but there is no proof to support that. A lot happens early on with the defense legal team, and then the attempts to search for information on who might have committed these murders. At the same time, every other chapter is narrated by a man who impersonates other people to get on the jury. We know the man is bad, and has killed, but we don’t know who he is. This was a wild ride and such a good mystery with lots of twists!
  • Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May – I remember hearing about this book last summer and adding it to my TBR with the intent to read it in winter. The timing worked out, because my hold at the library came through this month, while I was still in my own personal rest and retreat. In this book May explores her own need for rest (after health problems and job stress) as well as how other cultures rest and retreat, particularly in winter. This was like taking a quiet walk down a tree-lined lane with a mentor or guide, reminding us of the power of rest. This book made me want to swim in ice cold water (sort of!), to take more walks, and to value the rest I’ve been able to get.
  • The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – I loved this suspenseful book! Jake is a one-time successful author who finds himself teaching at a writer’s workshop program. He meets a pompous student who claims to have a story no one has ever written or read, great enough to make him rich and famous. He tells Jake the plot. Years later, Jake learns that the young student died, never having written the book. What could Jake do? He didn’t want that plot to go to waste… What follows is surprising and not, with twists and turns, and lots of despicable characters. I read the last 70 pages so fast because I couldn’t wait to see how it would end.
  • You Were Always Mine by Nicole Baart – I loved this book and I have no idea where I heard about it. It showed up in a stack of books I put on hold at my library, and it didn’t sound familiar. Maybe I just saw it while browsing library books and decided it sounded good. I was right! Jess is a woman who, while separated from her husband, learns of his accidental death. The entire story is Jess’s search to understand the last few months, what her husband was doing, and how to get herself and her children through their grieve. This is also about motherhood, of both biological and adopted children. I knew that the “bad” character was sketchy throughout the whole book, but I was surprised at the end by how sketchy they were.
  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray – I have a weird narrative I tell myself where I believe I don’t like reading historical fiction Then a book like this comes along to remind me that I do like well-written historical fiction, especially about fascinating women from history. This is a story about Belle, a woman who served as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian and made incredible decisions about art long before women were inovlved in that world. What was most fascinating, however, was the Belle was an African American who was able to pass as a white woman for her life, fitting into this rich society with a big secret. This was an interesting look into wealth, art, and racism in American in the early 1900’s.
  • The Collective by Alison Gaylin – This was a creepy, sad, bittersweet story about a mother overcome with grief by the murder of her teenage daughter. Camille’s daughter was killed by a frat boy who was exonerated for the crime, and Camille just can’t get over it. She wants justice for her daughter. When she is invited to a private online group of mothers in similar circumstances, she finds a community, and then a lot more. This was fast-paced and fun, yet horrifying as well.
  • Will by Will Smith and Mark Manson – I have always liked, but not loved Will Smith. I enjoy some of his music and some of his movies. I always enjoy listening to a celebrity memoir read by the author. In this one, Will Smith truly showed his best and his worst. He grew up aiming for nothing less than perfection, which created a great drive in him, but also a massive ego. He told us he was the biggest selling movie star MAN Y times throughout this book. He also, near the very end, admitted many of his flaws and how his drive nearly hurt his marriage and other relationships. This was an interesting look into a big life.
  • Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman – I preordered this book after hearing Amanda recite her poetry at President Biden’s Inauguration ceremony. I thought she was so talented and she inspired me to want to read more poetry. The book was supposed to arrive in September, but was delayed until this month. I read a little every day, to try to make myself slow down and consider the message behind each poem. I am not a poetry reader in general, and haven’t always enjoyed it in great quantities. What I appreciated about this collection is the way Amanda captured the depths of despair from the early days of the pandemic, to the anger and frustrations across the country about that and race relations, to the weariness of 1.5 years of living in a pandemic. I was intrigued by her use of text shape, other resources for inspiration, and structure. I’m glad I own a hard copy to look through and read in person.
  • So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta – I always enjoy listening to a celebrity memoir read by the author, especially when I like their work. I know Retta as Donna on Parks and Rec and she is as funny in this memoir as her character was on the show. I learned so much about her in this book – she is from NJ like me, she went south for college like me, and she moved to CA for acting (not for the weather, like me!). This was a quick, fun listen!
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – After loving A Gentleman in Moscow by Towles earlier this year, I was excited to read his newest book and it did not disappoint. This story is about Emmett, who was just released from a work camp and reunited with his younger brother Billy. Emmett and Billy are going to move to CA and start a new life, but some work camp friends and lots of misadventure interrupt their plans. The Lincoln Highway is a road that runs from Times Square in NYC to CA and Emmett and Billy see parts of it, just not the parts they were expecting right away! I loved this story, told from the point of view of many of the characters, jumping across time and through their lives.
  • We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza – I loved the structure of this tory. Two childhood best friends, Riley and Jen, alternate the narration as their worlds go the biggest challenge of their lives. Jen and her husband are white, and when he, as a copy, shoots a young Black man, while she is pregnant, their world turns upside down. Riley is Jen’s Black best friend, and a TV reporter who will cover the story. Two friends who never talked about race are living through the racial upheaval that is a reality in American throughout this story and we witness their very real struggles.
  • The Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling – What a cute middle grades story! My friend and her child, who is my nephew, told me about this story when my nephew agreed to read and discuss one book a month with me starting right after Christmas. I loved reading about Jack’s Christmas Eve adventure to find his beloved stuff animal DP, with the help of a new friend, Christmas Pig (CP).
Fiction reads of December 2021
Nonfiction and poetry reads of December 2021

Fiction: 17

Nonfiction: 4

Poetry: 1

Young Adolescent: 2

Audiobooks: 2

Author/plot addresses a different race/ethnicity, orientation, religion than me/ Own voices work: 8

Female author: 20

Male Author: 4

Nonbinary Author: 0

Library books: 15

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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2 Responses to December 2021 Reading Update

  1. Andree Grey says:

    I just finished Pretty Things yesterday! Just in time to come back to work! I am going to put TH1RTE3N in my cart as my next book up. I love visualizing you reading as fast as you can! Rest up these last few days!

    Andrée Grey, Ed.D.

    From: Reflections on Leadership and Learning
    Reply-To: Reflections on Leadership and Learning
    Date: Friday, December 31, 2021 at 4:10 PM
    To: Andree Grey
    Subject: [New post] December 2021 Reading Update

    ⚠ EXTERNAL: This e-mail originated from outside of Encinitas Union School District. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognize the source address and know that the content is safe. Please forward this e-mail to if you believe this e-mail is suspicious.

    Amy’s Reflections posted: ” I was still on my medical leave this month, which means I had PLENTY of reading time to make this my best reading month ever! This month I read: This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel- I heard about this author on a reading podcast, but by the tim”

  2. Pingback: The Reader in Me 2.0 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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