Visiting Namibia ~ A Bumpy Adventure

Almost a full year ago a friend texted me and asked if I would be interested in going on a travel tour of Namibia, Africa with an all women’s group. I must admit, I had to look up where Namibia was (in south west Africa, next to South Africa and Botswana). Once I did that, and watched an introductory video about the tour, I was in! My travel buddy and I love to find fun places to travel that are new to both of us and this was definitely one neither of us had ever visited. I spent two weeks in South Africa in 2016 and loved my safari drives and my shark cage diving adventures. She spent time in Ethiopia, South Africa and a few other places just this past summer. We were ready to see something new!

Before I left for the trip, I looked up books about Namibia, because I thought it would be interesting to read fiction set in the place where I was going to be for two weeks and I wanted to learn more about the country. I am so grateful that I found and bought two books that I read during my trip specifically about Namibia, as I learned so much about the people, the traditions, and the history of this beautiful and often uninhabitable land.

I read Mama Namibia first, a fictionalized story based on the true events that took place during the German genocide of the Herero people in what was then South West Africa, now Namibia, in 1904. I knew nothing about this history, which was the breeding ground for the horrors that would be perpetuated during the Holocaust. This story was beautiful, in its love of the Herero culture and the land of Namib desert, and it was horrifying in the retelling of a brutal war that wiped out 80% of one of the 12 tribes of Namibia. When I met our local tour guide and driver, and I learned the tribes they were from (Dama and Herero), I had very specific knowledge of some of their past and their traditions, and they appreciated that I had read this book and wanted to learn more.

The nonfiction book is a history of Namibia, from the time under German rule, to the time under South African apartheid, to the support from Angola and Cuba and the UN to gain independence in 1990 (it’s still a new country!). I learned how the choice to make the country’s primary language English was to avoid the languages of the oppressors, but was still controversial because each of the 12 tribes speak different languages and only children to go to school are guaranteed to learn English. Learning so much about a place while I was there made me regret not having done this for so many of the places I have travelled to in the past, and determined to read up on future places.

During our 12 day tour of Namibia, we spent a LOT of time in a very bumpy bus. You get to see a lot of a country this way, but just imagine a group of American and Canadian women in a bus with no working air conditioning, on roads that are unpaved most of the time, driving through ever-changing desert landscapes for hours on end. We did our best not to be crabby, and to be grateful for each spot where we could use an indoor bathroom and purchase bottled water. While my eyes and throat stung from the dusty roads blowing into our open windows during this hot summer time, every day I turned to my friend and said, “I can’t believe how different each place looks.” From the dry, brown deserts to the fields of green trees, to tumble weeds and small brush, to cactus, to red sands of the Kalahi Desert, to canyons, to the place where the desert meets the sea, where the Skeleton Coast begins, you never knew what we might see outside of that bus. We saw giraffes on the way from the airport to the first hotel, and many other days after that!

Some of my favorite days were when we were able to enjoy safari game drives, in the Kalahi, Etosha National Park, Twyfelfontein, and Okonjima. I could watch animals all day every day, especially in their natural environment! I kept an on-going list of all the animals we saw on the trip and it is staggeringly long! Pictured below is an oryx, the national animal of Namibia, zebras, spring boks, and a leopard.

I also saw animals on a whale watching cruise, where both a seal and a pelican literally jumped up on to the boat and sat next to me!

In addition, we enjoyed a hot air balloon ride over the Namib Desert, which was stunning! We also had the very personalized experience of a cooking class and dinner in someone’s private home, where the people there taught us about three of the local tribes by sharing their clothing, food, and some customs with us. We also bought bulk groceries to a private Himba Village, where through translators, we were able to speak to the local tribeswomen who generously showed us some of their traditions. These included how they crush up red red ochre and mix it with an oil to spread over their hair and body 2-3 times a day for beauty, skincare and sun protection. These are a group of people who do not bathe with water to clean themselves, but rather they heat up the camphor plant and create a steam in which to “bathe” themselves for a clean fragrance. The people we met were kind, caring, and happy, yet surprised that so many of our all women’s group were unmarried. One woman asked me, “Where are you from? Are there no men there?” 😉

I am so grateful for a job in which I am able to take vacation time for such a trip, with colleagues who helped me plan ahead to ensure the work was covered in my absence. I’m grateful that my job and my life provide me with the time and means to save up for such a unique, adventurous vacation. I appreciate my travel buddy Sue, who I have known since our first day of freshman year of college, when we were both 17 year old know-it-alls from New Jersey! I’m grateful to know so much more about one of the youngest country’s in Africa and its rich history. I wish more people could learn about foreign lands through both reading and traveling, as my life is better for both experiences.

Note the rainbow (there were actually 2) and the lightning strike captured!
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October 2022 Reading Update

October was a surprisingly good reading month for me! Not sure how it worked out, but I had three 5 STAR reads and lots of 4 STAR reads! This month I read:

  • The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger – This is one of my new favorite genres – Cli-Fi or Climate Fiction. While it’s horrifying to think about what might happen to our earth because of real climate change, when authors use it to create a fictional catastrophe, I always enjoy the stories. Because really they are usually about who behaves better and worse when confronted with disaster. In this case, a Category 6 hurricane wipes out Miami and Houston and FEMA has to set up emergency tent cities for all of the displaced people. We follow one family on their journey and the choices they make along the way.
  • The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani – I heard two young students animately discussing this book during one of my class visits, so I had to read it! Their enthusiasm sold me, but I should have known… I am not a fan of Fantasy, especially middle grades fantasy, outside of Harry Potter. This was NOT HP. We follow Sophie and Agatha as they are kidnapped from their homes to join the school and train for their own fairy tale. However, Sophie, the fair-haired beauty obsessed with her looks and her future prince, ends up in the evil school and Agatha, the dark-haired girl, ends up in the good school. I kept hoping that looks would not matter, and they became even more important throughout the story. I kept hoping the girls would learn valuable lessons about how to treat one another and that only sort of happened. I HATED the ending and cannot believe this is the beginning of a popular series. Obviously I am not the target audience for this.
  • Curfew by Jayne Cowie – I LOVED this book! It’s horrifying but propulsive and I couldn’t finish it fast enough, but I just had to know who did it! The book starts with a dead body being found in a park. Then we follow three women’s stories leading up to this murder as we try to figure out who died and what happened. In this dystopian world, men are tagged and forced to live under a curfew, where they cannot be outside their homes between 7 PM and 7 AM, for women’s safety. All of the characters are so cleverly flawed you aren’t sure who to trust and this was such a fun read!
  • Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly – I can’t figure out where I heard this, since I assumed it was from the Currently Reading podcast, but can’t track that. Anyway… I LOVED this middle grades book! Iris is a young Deaf girl who lives with her hearing parents and is close to her Deaf grandparents. She loves fixing old radios and wishes it was easier for her to make friends at school. When she learns about Blue 55, a whale whose songs are at an unusual frequency, making it hard for the whale to make friends, she finds kinship in the story. She goes on an adventure to help Blue 55 feel heard. This is a sweet story about the power of communication, friendship, and feeling heard and seen.
  • When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff – This was a great book to read on a cloudy Saturday. I loved the story and wanted to know how it would end, yet the characters were all slightly likable and significantly flawed and dislikable! Cassie, a grad student at Yale, gets a call to come home when one of her younger brothers is arrested for rape. As the wealthy and privileged family comes together, secrets and lies are unveiled.
  • Face: One Square Foot of Skin by Justine Bateman [audiobook] – I don’t know how I found this while scrolling through Audible book selections, but I LOVED Family Ties as a child so I was interested to see what this actress wrote. This was a collection of short stories that were fiction, but meant to read like memoirs from different women. Each vignette was a story from a different woman, of all ages, and it was focused on their faces – how modern media and society judges women’s faces, how there is so much pressure to “fix” our faces as we age, especially as actors, but across all stripes of life. Each chapter repeated the same message, over and over again, so it got repetitive. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a larger message from the author, though she did a little at the beginning and the end. Basically, this is a reminder to love your own face, wrinkles and all, and don’t buy-in to the need to “fix” anything!
    • Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash our Power, and Change the Game by Abby Wamach – I LOVE Abby! I love her positive spirit and her marriage to Glennon Doyle and their honesty on the podcast. My boss and friend (AG!) loaned me her copy of this short and easy read after she read it. Abby shares 8 lessons on leadership and life, empowering people, especially women, to be there best. We are better together, in groups, supporting one another. I loved Abby’s story of whenever she scored a goal in soccer, she would begin to point to her teammates and coaches to give them credit. We need to point to our helpers more often and share credit!
    • Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield – I bought this book because the Currently Reading podcast recommended it on their Indie Press List. It is both beautiful and heartbreaking, and enchanting and annoying, all together. Leah has returned from 6 months in a submarine where something went wrong, but she is having a hard time sharing with her wife Miri. Miri thought Leah was dead, and is tiptoeing around the weird behaviors Leah has brought back home, like running the taps day and night, or bathing for hours on end. Both characters narrated alternating chapters as we slowly learn a little more about their past and present. This is part descriptive, lyrical narrative fiction and part sci-fi/horror. It was a very interesting read!
    • The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell – I heard this book described on my podcast and knew I would enjoy it as a quick-paced mystery. When Libby inherits a house on her 25th birthday, she also learns of the dark past of where she was born and what she was born into. As she unravels what is true about her parents and their life, we flash back in time to see how a nice wealthy couple ended up dead in their own home, with others living there and the world seeing them as a cult. The characters are raw and despicable, especially the way the children are treated throughout the story. But there are moments of resilience and caring as well. I heard there is a second book in this series coming soon and I feel like this stood alone well, but also left me wondering about some things that could be explored in the future (like Phin).
    • The Measure by Nikki Erlick – I LOVED this fascinating book! In this dystopian world, everyone 22 years and older receive a box. Inside the box is a string and a cryptic quote about the measure of your life. Soon the world learns that the lenth of the string signifies the length of your life. As the world grapples with this information, humanity does what is always does – freaks out, reacts out of bias, and begins to segregate the “short-stringers” from the “long-stringers”, providing less access to quality jobs, health care and more. We see the best and worst of humanity played out here, which is my favorite part of dystopian/ sci-fi books that feels close enough to reality to almost be possible. Would you want to know when you are going to die? How might that impact how you live, who you love, or what you do? This was such an incredible read!
    • Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover – Andree loaned me this book and it was perfect for my day of travel returning from my Hawaiian vacation. This is the second Hoover book she has pressed into my hands! Kenna returns to the town where her life came to a crashing halt, after a tragic accident, hoping to be able to meet her daughter five years after her birth. While Kenna works and saves up money, Ledger, a friend of Kenna’s daughter and her guardians, is both a blockage and a savior. As these two fall in love, we struggle through love, lust and heartbreak on the way to forgiveness. This was a sweet book!

Favorite Books This Month

Fiction: Curfew & The Measure

Nonfiction: Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash our Power, and Change the Game

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September 2022 Reading Update

Even though September is always a busy month, between the new school year starting up and my birthday, I still managed to read a lot this month. In fact, I have now officially read 100 books in 2022 already! This month I read:

Covers of the books I read in September 2022
  • Five Little Indians by Michelle Good – Through the Currently Reading podcast, I heard about this Canadian novel and knew I needed to read this. The author is a Cree woman whose mother was sent to a residential school. This book tells the story of five young children torn from their families, forced into abusive “schools” and what became of them when they left the schools. The stories are sad, bittersweet, hopeful, and full of real life. This is an important window book for any of us who are not Indigenous and have limited understanding of what those residential places did to children and families, in both Canada and the US.
  • How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny [Gamache #9] – While this is #9 in this series, it’s the first that I’ve rated with 5 stars. I am now so deep into the Armand Gamache world that I was hanging onto every word! I wanted all the sad parts to wrap up nicely, I wanted Jean Guy and Armand to find their way back to good health and a good working partnership, I wanted the corruption to be discovered and eliminated, and all to be well. This was a fast ride to a beautiful conclusion (though more drama awaits, I’m sure!). I LOVE the world Louise Penny has created!
  • Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard – I heard an interview with the author and loved hearing about her process for writing in general, and for this book in particular. I ordered my copy from Fabled Bookstore, who hosted the author interview and got a signed copy! This is one of her “fun, fluff” books that she wrote for her own enjoyment, and it was a fun read! In this book, we are reading about an actress set to play a role in a low budget film, based on a book. Throughout the book we see parts of the film script, the book within that script, the acting, and what is happening to the characters in real time. There are a variety of twists and we rush to the collision course at the end!
  • One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Having loved Taylor Jenkins Reids last few books, I think I put this backlist title on hold with my library awhile ago. It came up at the end of a long weekend, which was perfect for a quick, palate cleansing read. This is a cheesy romance, not nearly as good as her later books, but still a sweet story overall. Emma and Jesse have a perfect love story, until he is in a helicopter crash. Emma grieves and finds her way to a new life, only to have Jesse suddenly found in the ocean YEARS later (with limited details on that time, btw!). She must choose between her past and her present, thereby deciding her own future.
  • The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It by Natalie Wexler – I keep telling all of my educator friends to read this book so I have people to discuss it with. An educator in my Currently Reading group shared it recently and her description made me want to read this. This book is making me question so many things I know, I thought I knew, and I wonder about our education system. The author goes deep into the teaching of elementary reading, deep into Lucy Calkins and her Units of Study and her workshop fame, then does an overview of federal education from A Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind to today, and then explores a few individual classrooms doing something different that she supports. Her big premise is that we have done reading instruction wrong by focusing on skill and strategy instruction instead of knowledge instruction. She recommends that our curriculum be focused on building students knowledge of content (i.e. bring Science and History back to elementary!) with specific units/texts doing deep studies into big content areas to build students knowledge. “Core Knowledge” is a curriculum she is supporting in this context. As an educator who attended Lucy Calkin’s Teachers’ College Workshop training, ran reading and writing workshop in my class (in middle school), reading this made me angry, made me question my own practice and what I was taught, and had me learning, agreeing and disagreeing at different times. Education in America is such a challenge because we don’t have a federal system, and each state can make different decisions. Then within a state, districts have a lot of local control. For many educations, this feels freeing and we are able to personalize to the students in front of us. However, that leaves open gaps based on our own experiences, our resources, and how we interpret the state standards. We aren’t doing it all well, but we also aren’t completely broken either! Every educator I know is here for the right reasons, doing their best, and wanting to grow and learn. What this book did well is make me THINK!
  • Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt – What a beautiful book! This story follows an interesting cast of characters, including Marcellus the octopus, Tova the widower, and Cameron, the lost soul. As we get to know each of these beautifully real and flawed individuals, we learn to love them and hope they find love as well. Octopuses are fascinating, intelligent, adventurous creatures and Marcellus is a delight! I don’t want to give away anything that happens, but this book made my heart happy!
  • The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (Gamache #10) – I love this series, but this book was not my favorite! Clara is finally ready for Peter to return home, after their year of separation. Gamache has retired and moved to Three Pines (love this!). But Clara needs his help to find Peter. Their search takes them all over Canada, in some unbelievable travel situations with some weird people. The characters annoyed me in this one, and the ending made me a little annoyed and a bit sad.
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson [audiobook] – I listened to the audiobook version after a teacher told me about the book. The story follows a group of 6 young students who all go to a special class together. The teacher gives them Friday afternoons to spend time together, with no adults, to talk about whatever they want. Over time, the kids begin to share their personal stories, which include their parents deportation, jail, death and more, and their own fears and struggles. The Audible version had a conversation with the author and her young son at the end of the book, and it was a beautiful conversation to hear. This was a window book for so many reasons!
  • Tumble by Celia C. Perez [audiobook] – This was an unexpected surprise, by an author new to me! In this story we meet Addie, who lives with her mother and stepfather. When they ask her if she is okay with her stepfather adopting her, it brings up all the questions her mother has never wanted to answer. Who is her father? Where is he? Why doesn’t he want her? Addie goes on a research quest to figure out who her father is, and finds family in many places and ways. This has a fun cast of characters, some New Mexico flare, some wrestling fun, and more!
  • Book Lovers by Emily Henry – If you love a good, cheesy Hallmark movie, you will love this book! Nora is a NYC book agent, a tough “City Person” whose last 4 relationships have all ended with her ex boyfriends running off to live in a small town (a la Hallmark). When Nora’s sister Libby begs her to take a month off, to spend time in Sunshine Falls, NC (where a book she edited was based off of), she agrees only because of how much she loves her sister. Small town adventures follow, and romance blooms in the typical trope of enemy to lover, all while Nora names all the typical tropes of romance books. This is fun, funny, romantic and ridiculous all at once!

Favorite Books This Month

Fiction: Five Little Indians & Remarkably Bright Creatures

Nonfiction: The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It

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August 2022 Reading Update

August is always a busy month because we go back to school. A new school year brings so much positive energy, but also less reading time. I’m trying to listen to more audiobooks on my commute, which helps with my reading count! This month I read:

  • The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen – This is a tense, fast-paced mystery that I was turning the pages of, trying to figure out who to trust and who was evil. Marissa and Matthew go to unconventional therapy with Avery after Marissa cheats. Avery has a 10 session plan to fix people and she has some suspicious methods. Each chapter is narrated by Avery or Marissa and they both seem hard to trust, as we learn a little more about them, their secrets, the past and the present. I enjoyed this!
  • Class Act by Stuart Woods (Stone Barrington #58) – Stuart Woods passed away just this week, so I felt the need to dip back into this series. I’m sad that I will be finished with it in just a few more books now. I have grown to love the main characters of Stone and Dino and their ridiculous adventures. Stone’s wealth and hijinks with women and criminals continues in this book, where there are many contracts for murder put on various people throughout the entire story, with no one trustworthy around!
  • The Shore by Katie Runde [audiobook]- When I heard this took place at the Jersey Shore (in Seaside, which is right next to where I spent every summer of my childhood, and where “Jersey Shore” was filmed), I had to read it! I loved the nostalgia it brought up for me as she described summer shore life, the rental properties, the boardwalk, and the rides. What I didn’t realize is that this was a sad, depressing book! Margo and her daughters, Liz and Evie, are going through the worst summer of their life as their husband/father is dying. They each narrate chapters as they go through their time with him and their time trying to have a “normal summer” outside of the house. They each deal with their grief in their own ways, with some alcohol, sex, online activity, and more. This an LGBTQIA inclusive book with interesting characters, some are lovable and some despicable!
  • The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg – I have NO IDEA why I originally purchased this book, but I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night recently and I decided to pick up my Kindle and find a book to read that I already had available to me. This was in my collection, again no idea why. Molly is an author who has written previous memoirs about her life and marriage and the restaurants her husband has created. They live in Seattle with their daughter. One day Molly goes to jury duty and can’t stop thinking about the female lawyer. For a year she can’t stop thinking about this woman. So much so that she and her husband try an open marriage so she can explore what this might mean. This is a story about love, family, fluidity, and so much more. I LOVED how Molly shared her inner thoughts as well as the research on how so many more people, especially woman, are more fluid with their sexual orientation that we might assume. She explores so much and so honestly as she goes through pain and fun and everything in between.
  • Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins – This was the perfect summer thriller – a quick read, it takes place on the beach/ in the ocean, and it’s fast-paced! When Lux and boyfriend Nico are hired to sail two women to the deserted island of Meroe, Nico thinks it will be easy money and Lux wishes it was the beginning of their life of adventures. Brittany and Amma seems nice and the trip starts off well. At the island, they meet Jake and Eliza and eventually the group of 6 settle into life on a deserted island – sharing meals and drinks and partnering off for adventures of sun, surf and jungle. But the rumors that the island is haunted or cursed start to feel true as bad things begin to happen to the group. I couldn’t stop reading as I was holding my breath waiting to figure out what would happen!
  • The Hangman (Gamache 6.5) by Louise Penny – This was a min story that didn’t extend any of the on-going stories from the characters in Three Pines. There is a man found hanging from a tree, and Gamache is called in because it’s suspcious. He investigates and eventually solves the mystery. This was much quicker than Penny’s usual books, with limited details and a faster pace. It was a good in-between story!
  • Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King [audiobook] – I don’t know why I never read this King book back in my high school days, but was happy to read it for my Stephen King Summer book club. I bought the e-book and then decided to get the audiobook from my library. I ended up listening to it and loving the narrator. Because King’s writing is so specific (detailed, long-winded, with limited breaks and no chapters) that audio worked great for me on this one. I loved listening to Dolores narrate the story of how she killed her husband and how she was the housekeeper and caretaker for Vera for decades. Such a simple story but so much about these wild characters!
  • The Beautiful Mystery (Gamache #8) by Louise Penny – This was such a different Gamache story, in that it was not in Three Pines, the cozy town we are used to. Gamache and Jean Guy go to a monastery on a remote island off the coast of Quebec to solve the murder of a monk. These monks, who live in almost complete silence, are famous for a recording of their incredible Gregorian Chants. Somehow, those chants are connected to the murder. In this one, Jean Guy and Annie, Gamache’s daugther, have been dating in secrete for 6 months, and they are getting ready to tell her parents. But a lot unravels before that can happen. This one made me listen to Gregorian Chants and ended with me holding my breath at the ending and dying to read the next one right away!
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang [audiobook] – I know that teachers in my district read this book and it’s been controversial for at least one parent, so I’ve been meaning to read it. It wasn’t what I expected at all. Mia Tang and her family emigrate from China to CA. They end up managing a motel for a very mean boss. As they work hard and save the little money they make, they are always trying to help others. Mia is busy learning English, making friends at school and as she works the front desk of the motel, and trying to find ways to earn extra money for her parents. There are a lot of sad stories in here about racism, discrimination, and how immigrants are often treated in America. In the author’s note, Yang shares how many of those sad stories happened to her and her family, which made me even sadder. There are lessons for kids and adults to learn here.
  • Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney – I thought I had read other books by this author, but I think this was my first. This was a thirrler, narrated in alternating chapters by Adam and his wife Amelia, as they spend a creepy weekend in a Scottish chapel turned hotel. Interspersed are letters Adam’s wife wrote him but never shared on each of their anniversaries, detailing the ups and downs of their marriage. There are a number of spooky twists and turns, expected and unexpected, in this story and I enjoyed the ride!
  • Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brene Brown [audiobook] – I bought this beautiful hard cover book when it came out, but it’s been on my shelves for almost a year now unread. I finally decided to get the audiobook from the library and loved it! I love listening to Brenen Brown’s audiobooks because she has such joy in her voice as she shares her research. And I still have the book to flip through for the beautiful pictures and to reread sections. Brown details 87 emotions by defining them, sharing examples and non examples and how knowing this can help us be better for ourselves and to connect with others. It’s fascinating how so many of us have never learned to talk about our emotions, much less label them to this level of specificity.
  • A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza – What a bittersweet story of a family trying to connect. An Indian-American Muslim family’s story is told across decades, and from various perspectives. We see how three children raised by the same two parents can end up so different. We see how parents who just wanted to do their best for their children carry regrets, shame, and sadness along with traditions and expectations. I loved the characters and I was so sad when they couldn’t find successful ways to connect, to find common ground. I appreciated learning a lot about Muslim and Indian culture in authentic ways as each holiday or event was celebrated.
  • An American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killers of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan – I devoured this book in one day! I LOVED it, which sounds bad since it was a disturbing look into a serial killer, but it was so well written and such a propulsive story. When Israel Keyes is arrested for the murder of Samantha in Alaska, the police and then the FBI quickly realize they are dealing with someone smart and calculating. He gives some details of his past and potential other kills that lead them to believe he is a serial killer who killed in many states across the US. As they unpack the details and attempt to find evidence, Keyes continues to play games from his jail cell. This was fascinating and disturbing.
  • Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan [audiobook] – I saw a 5th grade team in one of our schools reading this books with students, so I wanted to read it. I loved listening to the audiobook because the book is narrated in alternating chapters by the two main characters and the accents were so entertaining and fitting for the characters. Ravi has just moved from India to NJ with his family and he is shocked by the challenges he faces in his new school (being made fun of for his accent, biases, and more). Joe is used to being picked on, because of his disability and a specific bully in his class. As we see each school day through Joe and Ravi’s eyes, we see the ways in which students and staff can be kind and cruel to one another. I imagine many great conversations with a class who reads this together, as there are many lessons to be learned in this sweet book.

Favorite Books This Month

Fiction: Dolores Claiborne & A Place for Us

Nonfiction: An American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killers of the 21st Century

August 2022 books
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July 2022 Reading Update

What a great reading month for me!! I love summer reading, especially when I had a long plane trip and down time in which I could read a lot this month! I also discovered that I actually can do adult fiction on audiobook, at least occasionally. I read so much that I had to make two photo collages to capture it all, so I separated them by fiction and nonfiction (and realized afterwards that I still missed some covers in those pictures and had to add a 3rd mini collage!). In July I read:

  • A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park – I first heard about this children’s book when I saw many of our upper grade classes reading it over the last few years. I saw it again referenced in 6th grade History/ Social Science standards and decided I needed to read it myself. For adults, this is a very quick read. The story is based on elements of the true story of “The Lost Boys” of South Sudan, when thousands of people, many young boys, were forced to flee their homes, travel to refugee camps in Ethiopia, and then again to Kenya. This story follows Salva, a real “Lost Boy” and his harrowing journey, along with an alternating timeline of Nya a girl fetching water from a far a way pond each day. We see Nya’s village get a well as we see Salva’s journey all the way to America. While short and lacking significant emotions or connections to the characters, we still get a glimpse into the violence of the war in Sudan, the endless walking that refugees did to survive, and the value of clean water. I’m glad that story included elements of Salva’s work to give back instead of other charitable work that often feels more like White Saviorism and very performative. I think our students can learn lessons about the access to water and education in different countries and perseverance.
  • IT by Stephen King – After being too scared to read this as a child (simply because of the images of “the clown”), I have finally finished this monster (1.200 pages!) of a book! I’m glad I read it. IT, while often represented by the clown, is really a manifestation of people’s fears. The story is about 7 children who come together in the 50’s to avoid nasty bullies and to try to defeat IT, after it kills one of their brothers and many other children. The children are brought back together in the 80’s, all adults now, called back to Derry, Maine, when IT starts killing children again. The adults return, but they all learn that they don’t remember what happened in their childhood, none of them have children, and all who left the town are very rich. The longer they reminisce, their memories start to slowly return. The final scenes are flashbacks to how they fought IT in their childhood and how they fight IT in the present day. Like King’s other books, this is graphic, full of horror and some over-the-top ridiculous fantasy-like plots (more than usual for him on this part), and LOTS of detailed description. The childhood scenes reminded me of the friendship between the boys in Stand by Me, the movie based on one of his other stories. Each of the characters is well developed and we grow to care about them all in different ways. I’ve enjoyed the book club discussions about this, and I’m only a little scared to watch the movie with our group!
  • The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark – This is a typical thriller, narrated by both Kat and Meg. Meg, we learn, is a con artist who rights the wrongs committed by men against women who loved them. Kat is a journalist looking for a good story to make her career, while also questioning her fiancee’s truth, as he is a recovering gambling addict. While I enjoyed this propulsive read, and I wanted to know how it all ended, each of the characters was more dislikable than likable. They all lied, cheated, stole, and otherwise were deceiving. But disliking them as I read was fun too!
  • Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson – This was a recommendation from my Currently Reading Patreon group and I’m so glad I got it! The story centers around a Dude Ranch in Reno, Nevada, created to help women get divorced in the late 1930’s. Women stay there for 6 weeks to gain residency in NV to finalize their divorce. During these periods the women make friends with each other and with the small staff who work there. The narrator, Ward, was a young man when he worked at the ranch and he is reminiscing about one particular group which included Emily and Nina. These woman become fast friends, get into a lot of fun trouble, and drag Ward along in all of it. The ending made me happy and a little annoyed with one of the characters, and I loved it all! I read this in one day, on my plane ride home from vacation.
  • All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King [audiobook] – After hearing Abby and Glennon interview B.J. King on their podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, I knew I wanted to listen to this audiobook. I remember B.J. from my childhood, specifically around tennis and the negative treatment about her being a lesbian. At that age, and until now, I didn’t know how awfully she was outed in a negative and public way, what a strong advocate she IS for women’s rights and equality, and how passionate she is about leveling the playing field for all. I appreciated her candor about her eating disorder, the way women were treated in the tennis world for most of her career, and her own homophobia and that of others that kept her in the closet much longer than she wanted to be there. She changed the world for young girls and women athletes in all sports. She is a force to be reckoned with. I’m glad to know more of her story and her impact.
  • Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand – Hilderbrand’s books are always a good mix of fun, realistic characters with normal flaws and a little romance. In this case two families come together on Nantucket for Jenna and Stuart’s wedding. Jenna’s mother died 7 years ago and left her a notebook of ideas for her future wedding, which is the guiding force behind every detail. Everyone surrounding the happy couple is struggling in their own relationship and there is a lot of messy, complicated, silly, fu that happens throughout the weekend. This was a little angsty, a little silly, and a lot of comfort all rolled into one sweet story.
  • Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour – This was a sometimes sad, sometimes sweet story with two parallel storylines that converge. We meet Sara as she is escaping a rough life in Washington, after her girlfriend is found dead. She travels to LA to start all over. We meet Emilie as she is finally finishing college but still without a clue what she wants to do. We follow both of their lives, in and out over a few years, until they meet. There is something hopeful in the story as you wait for them to get it right, and also for their lives to truly begin, without the chaos. I loved their sweet love and their confusion and what they learn about each other and themselves.
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick [audiobook] – For the life of me I cannot remember where I heard about this book (some podcast or FB post I’m sure). I usually cannot listen to fiction books on audio, but I was able to track this sweet story throughout my commute this week. Arthur Pepper’s wife died a year ago, and he is still grieving that loss, and the loss of a close relationship with his two adult children. When he finds a charm bracelet in his wife’s belongings, Arthur goes on a quest to learn about the charms. His his journey he learns about his wife’s past before they met and he learns a lot about himself as well. This story was full of lovable characters and found family!
  • Differentiated Mentoring and Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner by Vicki S. Collet – I received a free copy of this book in order to review it for AASA’s magazine. As an educator who has been an instructional coach most of my career, I always enjoy reading other books on coaching and mentoring. Collect outlines her version of a coaching cycle as: Model, Recommend, Question, Affirm and Praise. Each part of the cycle gets its own chapter, with examples, details, and a note-taking guide for coaches. I appreciate the depth that she goes into, as this would be a great resource to someone new to coaching. I also appreciate that she acknowledges that this is not linear – a coach may move in and out of each of these phases while working with a teacher, based on the needs that arise. Overall, this is a useful book for those new to coaching and mentoring and a good refresher for more experienced coaches.
  • Upgrade by Blake Crouch – I LOVED this book! I also loved the other Crouch book I’ve read, and I need to go back and read more of his backlist. I often say I don’t like Sci-Fi, but some of my top-rated books each year are always Sci-Fi. In this, Logan is poisoned with something that upgrades his DNA so that he is stronger, smarter, faster, and better at everything. We follow him as he goes on an adventure to figure out what happened to him, the science behind it, and what he can do to help the world recover from the disasters people have created.
  • The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism by Jennifer Gunter – I heard this Ob/Gyn doctor speak on Glennon Doyle’s podcast, and wanted to dive into this book. I am doing research in preparation for the menopause transition and appreciated the depth of information shared in this book.
  • Rick by Alex Gino [audiobook]- I loved George/ Melissa by Gino and knew I would enjoy this middle grades story. Melissa is a character in this, but Rick is our main character. As Rick begins middle school, he is exploring who he is, who is friends are, and how to support different identities when you aren’t sure what your own identity might be. This is a sweet story about inclusion, acceptance, and diversity, with strong LGBTQIA+ (or Quiltbag+) themes.
  • Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities by Susie Wise – My friend and equity mentor Fabi, recommended this quick read to me. This is a great look into the importance of belonging and how we, as facilitators, can create structures and situations that can help people feel a greater sense of belonging. Reading this and Elena Aguilar’s PD Book in the same summer gave me lots of ideas for ways to enhance meetings that I facilitate (with big and small groups) in more purposeful ways. I appreciated the assortment of people the author highlighted in this book (from authors to scholars to local leaders of DEI work) as a way to teach into the difference between belonging and othering and why it matters.
  • The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard – I love Catherine Ryan Howard. Her books are always propulsive and fun! This is an early book (maybe her first?) and it’s not as great as the more recent ones, but it’s still so good! The story is told by Allison in the present and Allison in the past (when she was a Freshman in college, falling in love, then finding out that her boyfriend was a serial killer). We follow as she wonders if she ever knew him or what really happened, when she is forced to return to the scene of the crime.
  • Unpack Your Impact: How Two Primary Teachers Ditched Problematic Lessons and Built a Culture-Centered Curriculum by Naomi O’Brien & Lanesha Tabb – I LOVED this professional book and highly recommend it for all primary teachers, equity leaders, and elementary site and curriculum leaders. These two educators take typical Kinder and 1st grade lessons and thematic units and flip them upside down in order to engage students with authentic questions and exploration tied to STEM and History/ Social Science while ensuring they provide representation across all texts. The rationale set the stage for the importance of creating educated citizens and fun learning. The ideas go from very small tweaks a teacher could make to huge shifts in planning thematic units that provide greater access for all students and acknowledge all identities. This was a phenomenal, easy to read book with ideas that can be implemented immediately.
  • Answers in the Page by David Levithan -[audiobook] I LOVED this LGBTQIA+ affirming middle grade story. When a 5th grade teacher selects a class book with one line that could be interpreted to mean that the two main characters are gay, uproar ensues. Donovan’s mother puts in a complaint about the book. So Donovan and his friends want to finish the book so they know what the big deal is. At the same time, we are reading a separate timeline where Gideon and Roberto meet and fall in love while working together on a school assignment. The book ends when the Board votes on whether or not to ban the book, with parents and students speak for and against it. This was a beautiful story that is really a love letter to good teachers, good books, and positive representation.
  • Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine by Michele Borba, Ed.D. – I received a copy of this book through a professional organization in which I am a member. The author came to speak at one of our virtual meetings, but I was unable to attend. Summer was a good time to pull this off the shelf. While there was nothing surprising or new in it, this book summarizes the significant importance of educating the whole child, of character education, and Social Emotional Learning, all of which are priorities in my school district. Borba outlines seven character strengths that our children need to be taught in order to thrive in this stressful world: Self-Confidence, Empathy, Self-Control, Integrity, Curiosity, Perseverance, and Optimism. Each chapter details the value of this strength, how to model it and teach it for kids, the role parents play in developing these skills, and words from kid interviews that highlight why we need this right now more than ever.
  • Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman [audiobook] – I think I heard about this from a Listener Press on CR, but I’m not sure. I wanted another middle grades book for a quick audio this week and this was fun. Set in the 80’s Bug is living in Venice during the time of a serial killer in town. Her upstairs neighbor, Phillip, has his nephew visit for the summer. Frankie and Bug start off rocky, but join forces to solve the mystery of the local criminal. Along the way, we learn secrets about people and find how to love ourselves and one another.
  • Carmen San Diego The Sticky Rice Caper – One of my nephews asked me to read this graphic novel when I was visiting. He and I then watched the first episode in the series on Netflix. It’s cute for kids! I can’t get the original song out of my head, from the 90’s TV show!
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots- This was a fun read! This is a world of super heroes and villains. When Anna, a spreadsheet nerd who works as a temp for villains, is injured by a famous Super Hero, she decides to calculate the damage that super heroes do. This leads to her helping take down the heroes, in epic battle after battle. It was more violent and dark than I expected.
  • Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell – I knew I would enjoy this book, because I love a good cult-gone-bad story! I appreciate how the author dives into the language that cults use to create a sense of belonging, a community, where people are more likely to do outlandish things to continue to belong. She explores the history of religion in cult-development, the fitness craze of America (Soul Cycle) and social media influencers. It’s interesting to see the way she breaks down language use in all of these areas, and the commonalities and extreme examples. In the end, it’s also great to hear her say that it’s not bad to want a community, to want to be a part of something (just not a cult!).
  • Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classrooms Second Edition by Paul Emerich France – I believe I got this book as part of one of my professional memberships. I’m not sure, but it was sitting on my work bookshelf and I decided to pull it out this month. I’m so glad I read it! The author shares his experiences as a teacher, including when he worked at a tech-start-up charter school, why personalized learning is not about technology apps or individual students interests, but rather engaging students in interesting and purposeful work, and more. I appreciated his specific examples, the lesson and unit plans he shared, and his personal stories that, while sad, highlight the significance of equity work and the importance of representation in our schools and classrooms.
  • You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation by Julissa Arce – I heard Julissa speak at this year’s SDCOE Equity Conference and she was so impactful. I loved this book. She combines her own history (of growing up illegally in the US, in Texas, just across the border from her Mexican family) and the history of Latinos in America. I really appreciated her discussion of the problems with Hispanic being an Ethnicity and not a race and how the census makes it hard for people of Latino descent to be counted accurately.
  • A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (Gamache #7) – I am so glad I’m deep into this series now. I love the detectives Gamache and Jean Guy. I love most of the quirky townspeople of Three Pines. In this story, I HATED Peter, Clara’s husband who just can’t be happy for her and her late-in-life art success. He is awful, while Clara is just humble and lovely and kind. I’m so glad she got a solo art show, but sad her childhood best friend was murdered at her after show party. It was a cozy mystery for sure.

I was so sad to read the news that Stuart Woods passed away last week. He was one of the first authors that I found whose series I could jump into anytime I needed a pallet cleanser, a reset on my readerly life, or just a fun, outlandish, rich adventure. The Stone Barrington series has been my go-to for YEARS. I’m glad I still have about 5 left to read in the series, and there are still two more he already wrote that will be published this year, but it’s sad to see the end of his writing.

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: Upgrade by Blake Crouch & Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Nonfiction: Unpack Your Impact: How Two Primary Teachers Ditched Problematic Lessons and Built a Culture-Centered Curriculum by Naomi O’Brien & Lanesha Tabb & All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

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Happy 10th Birthday to this Blog!

I clicked PUBLISH on my first post 10 years ago today. Never would I have dreamed that I would still be adding posts a decade later. Writing on this blog for the last ten years has been a learning journey, a reflection tool, and a fun way to capture some big life events. For the first six years of its life, I celebrated my blog’s birthday with a round up reflection post (see 1st2nd, 3rd4th, 5th 6th and 8th birthday posts). I’m not sure why I didn’t write a post in year 7, but I can blame the pandemic on the lack of a 9th post!

Since July 2020, my word of 2021 was daring and my word of this year is connection. Last year was my best reading year ever recorded on this blog (thanks to my 6 week medical leave full of reading!). Also thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t done much traveling in the last two years. I did manage a girl’s trip to Austin, Texas, some visits to Las Vegas to see my nephews, and a trip to Memphis, Tennessee with good friends. I also made it to Boston, MA for a rescheduled concert and to Seattle, WA with my favorite group, New Kids on the Block.

Even when I only publish one post a month, my reading updates, I still think about writing other posts. I have an entire folder of drafts that have been started, but not finished, for a variety of reasons. I love that I have no pressure to post any more or less than I do, as I have always used this blog for myself and my own reflection, that I’m willing to share in public. I’m happy when other people read my blog, and I LOVE when people comment on the posts or tell me personally that they have read and enjoyed something I wrote. But I have not set up a required schedule that I must follow. I write when the mood strikes, when I really need to reflect on something, and when I am drawn to share my thoughts.

Here are a few stats about my 10 years of blogging:

  • 484 posts
  • 2014 – the year I wrote the most words (34,000!) and received the most written comments
  • 2013 – the first full year I wrote the least words (8,000!)
  • Average words per post – fluctuate from 300 to 1,000
  • The word that people search the most that leads them to my blog: reflection
  • Most read post of all times: Core Values
  • Most read post of 2022: Carbon Footprint

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June 2022 Reading Update

The end of the school year is busy. The end of this school year, when we could finally get back to so many fun events, was busier than ever. It seemed like we had night events every night for the last 6 weeks of school! While I enjoyed so much of that, there was not as much time for reading as I would like. Add to that a travel weekend full of concert fun and my list looks sparse this month. This June I read:

  • Finding Me by Viola Davis [audiobook] – I love listening to a memoir read by the author, especially with a beautiful, storytelling voice like this incredible actress. I heard good things about this from a variety of sources, but honestly could only name a few of the movies or shows I have seen Davis in. Her memoir was so much more than her journey to being a hard-working, talented, and finally celebrated actress. It was really a story about a childhood full of abuse, in a family that loved big with little money or support, in a town of mostly white people, where a young Black girl wanted to become an actress. Viola worked so hard for every step in her career, supporting her family as much as possible along the way, after overcoming some truly horrible situations and experiences. It was hard to hear some of her stories, so I cannot imagine how hard they were to write about or perform in this audiobook. I have so much more respect for her as a person and a performer after hearing her stories. This is the value and importance of taking time to listening to the stories of others, especially people who have very different lived experiences that I do.
  • Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome – I saw a teacher reading this to her 5th graders and she told me it was good. I thought it was a fictionalized version of Langston Hughes’s childhood, but I was wrong! I young boy named Langston recently moved to Chicago with his father after his mother’s death. As Langston struggles to find his way, he stumbles into a library that changes his life. He learns who he was named after, he learns he enjoys poetry that reminds him of home, and he learns about himself and his father along the way. This was a short, sweet story!
  • The PD Book: 7 Habits That Transform Professional Development by Elena Aguilar and Lori Cohen – My love for ALL of Elena Aguilar’s books is well-documented on this blog (see…). I appreciate that she brought in a co-author for this interesting look behind the curtain at how to facilitate purposeful professional learning for adults. I appreciate the level of detail included in this book. Elena and Lori are skilled facilitators of in person and virtual workshops of varying lengths, with diverse audiences. I underlined and tagged multiple points to remember in every chapter. I plan to use the what-why-how agenda template for future meetings, along with other valuable resources.
  • True Biz by Sara Nović – I LOVED this book! I started it, then had to put it aside for my book club monster reading, and was happy to get back to it and then finish it in about a day. I love the characters of Charlie, Austin and February, two Deaf students and a CODA (Child of deaf adults) who now runs a Deaf school. As they all struggle, we, as the reader, learn about Deaf culture, the challenges with Cochlear Implants, and the value of ASL. Years ago I worked at a school that had a DHH program, and I wish now that I learned more about the students and staff in the program, took time to learn ASL, and understand the pros and cons of C.I. You don’t know what you don’t know – this book can teach people a lot about the Deaf community.
  • *** As part of my Stephen King summer book club, we are reading IT. This is a 1,200 page book! In June I read the first 890 pages, for our first meeting. We will finish the book in July and watch the movie (eek!), so it will be on my July list. However, since I read more than 2+books worth of pages already, I wanted to document it here for June as well.

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: True Biz
Nonfiction: The PD Book: 7 Habits That Transform Professional Development

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How Meditation Has Changed Me

I have been cultivating a daily meditation habit since November (after various sporadic attempts on and off over the last few years). Since November 1 I have only missed about 7 days total, which is the best I have done with this habit over the last decade. This time around, I have been using the Calm app. I do a 10 minute session every morning and it’s part of my work day morning routine. I haven’t found the perfect rhythm on weekends, which is when my streaks tend to get broken.

While catching up with a friend recently, I was sharing my new habit and he asked me if I noticed any changes. This was the first time I had taken time to pause and reflect on the benefits of regular meditation. I’m so grateful he asked because I truly believe that this has positively impacted me.

Being present helps me find beauty in small things

People often say, “How do you quiet your mind?” about falling asleep, taking a nap, or about meditating directly. I used to say that my mind was never quiet and I could never sit in silence for 10 minutes. One of the things I’ve learned from meditation is that the goal is not to quiet your mind. The goal is to be present, and to recognize when your mind has wandered. The longer I do this, the more I am able to stay present, focused on my breathing, for longer stretches at a time without as much distraction. That’s not to say my mind is quiet the entire time. It’s not! But I am getting better at realizing when my thoughts are taking me back to relive a past conversation or ahead to plan a future conversation (where my thoughts often go!), and bringing my attention back to the breath.

In addition to the in-the-moment improvements, I feel that the practice of meditation has helped me slow down some of the time. Anyone who knows me knows that I talk a million miles a minute, I drive too fast, I walk fast, and I work very fast. I still do all of those things, but when I am having conversations with people, I am more intentional about slowing down, being more present, focusing on the personal connection. I attribute some of this to meditation and some to intentionally trying to live out my word of 2022.

Many of my friends are Type-A personalities like me, and our brains are often on over-drive all of the time, especially when we need to shut down and get some much-needed rest. In recent conversations I have been able to share that I notice a change in myself in this area, especially at bedtime. I find that my mind is not drowning in thoughts, like it once was. This is something I am able to recognize thanks to my friend asking me to pause and reflect, and thanks to many days of practice. I love seeing my daily meditation streak rise (as of today it is 75!) but more importantly, I love feeling more grounded.

My Calm app stats as of June 2022

In addition to my Calm app, I find that 1-2 minutes of deep breathing can also have a significant impact on calming my nerves, getting me back into the present, or helping me take a pause. As part of a wellbeing section of my weekly newsletter this year to our leaders, I have been sharing the Greater Good Science Center’s keys to well-being. Taking time to read these tips reminds me of the value of journaling, reflecting, and meditating, which is literally listed on each key along with research citing the value!

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May 2022 Reading Update

May was another month full of nonfiction reads and more audiobooks than normal for me. During stressful or just busy times, audiobooks are so helpful to me. I also had random books become available from library holds all at once, so the fiction I read was added to my TBR months ago and just popped up this month, for the most part. This is what I read this month.

  • The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward – This is a creepy horror story with some wild twists. The story begins with narrations by Ted, his cat Olivia, and Lauren, a young girl Ted seems to be hiding in his home. As the story continues we learn more about each of them, along with Ted’s past, and some other big events. I don’t want to give anything big away, but if you like mysteries with some highly graphic horrific details, this is a fun read!
  • Do You Mind if I Cancel? by Gary Janetti [audiobook] – Gary just came out with a new book and as I was waiting to get it I realized he had an earlier book I never read. I know him more from Instagram and his husband Brad than from his TV writing. But I love his sarcasm and this was a fun, quick listen to his collection of essays. These essays were mostly about his childhood in Queens, his brief acting class one summer in Oxford, his years as a Bellhop in NYC hotels, with brief hints to his future husband and life as a writer in LA.
  • Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski – I loved the book Burnout by this author (and her sister), which was all about the stress cycle. I heard about this book when the author was interviewed on Glennon Doyle’s podcast. This is a book every young woman should read! It’s very informative, full of science, research, and personal anecdotes of people’s stories we follow throughout the book.
  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller [audiobook] – I’ve had this book on my TBR for awhile, since the Brock Turner trial when her victim impact statement went viral and we learned her name. However, it wasn’t until I heard her interviewed on Glennon Doyle’s podcast that I realized I wanted to hear her story in her words, which was when I checked the audiobook out of the library. This is not an easy read. Chanel was unconscious when she was sexually assaulted on the Stanford campus. She remembers being at a party with her younger sister (Chanel was a college graduate already at the time), and then she woke up in a security office being told only parts of what probably happened, unaware of what the next years would bring when she agreed to press charges, before even fully knowing what had happened to her. Hearing the physical and emotional toll this one event had on years of her life was devastating, yet hopeful because she showed such strength and determination in her writing, especially her victim impact statement and her desire to help change the system for other victims.
  • Start Without Me by Gary Janetti [audiobook] – I love Gary’s sarcasm, his fun memories of life in the 80’s, his obsession with TV in his childhood, and more. Each essay is short, fun, and full of his hunor. I loved listening him reading this.
  • Bury Your Dead (Gamache #6) by Louise Penny – I love this series so much! Penny creates these warm, cozy mysteries that make you want to move to Canada and sit by a fire during a snow storm! This story picked up where the last book ended, when Olivier was accused of murder and sent to prison. Gamache is doubting the facts of that case, while recovering from a horrible accident. He sends Beauvoir, also recovering, to Three Pines to dig into that case, while he ends up sucked into a murder case in Quebec. All of these story lines end well for some, and poorly for others. I love the main characters of this series!
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley – I’ve had this book on my TBR for awhile, because of Currently Reading. But last week I heard the author speak at an Equity Conference and had to get the book and start it immediately. I loved hearing her tell the story of how she’s had the idea for this story since she was in high school, and how, in her 40’s or 50’s she finally wrote the novel and worked to get it published. This is a great mystery about Daunis, a biracial girl who ends up working as a Confidential Informant for the FBI, who are investigated a serious drug problem on the reservation. This mystery kept me intrigued, while teaching me so much about Indigenous culture. What powerful representation for Indigenous youth.
  • Hello, Molly! by Molly Shannon [audiobook] – I love a celebrity-read audiobook/ memoir! I like Molly Shannon as an actress, but I knew nothing about her life. She lost her mother, sister, and cousin in a tragic accident when she was 4 years old. Her father raised her and her sister in a fun and wacky household, battling his own demons. Molly’s love of comedy and life shine through her stories. She seems like a genuinely nice person who worked hard to get what she wanted (career, family).
  • The Book of M by Peng Shepherd – When I first started this, I wasn’t in the right mood for a dark, pandemic book. I paused, listened to a few audiobooks, and then picked it up again and got into the thick of it. In this pandemic, when people lose their shadows, they lose their memories. We follow the story of Ory and Max, a married couple who have survived for years. When Max loses her shadow she leaves, so they don’t have to survive together in the end. This is a fascinating look at what happens when the world as we know it collapses, who come together and who tries to tear people apart.
  • The Light Through the Leaves by Glendy Vanderah – I loved Where the Forest Meets the Stars by this author, and loved this one even more! She writes beautiful literary fiction, that lives heavily in the world of nature. People who live best outside, with minimal distractions. In this story, we meet Ellis, a mom of 3 young kids, who, when distracted, forgets to put her infant daughter in the car before leaving one day. That mistake haunts her, as Viola goes missing, and Ellis’s marriage unravels. We also meet Raven, a teenage being raised in the woods by her eccentric mother, who swears Raven was a gift from the Ravens for her mother. We as the reader assume Raven is Viola, but don’t have confirmation as we get to know both stories at the same time. This story makes you want to hug a tree and your family! I LOVED it!

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: Firekeeper’s Daughter and The Light Through the Leaves were amazing reads for me this month!
Nonfiction: No favorite, but I enjoyed it all.

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April 2022 Reading Update

This month I read a lot more nonfiction than usual, and it was all so different. This was a diverse reading month for sure.

  • The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb – I LOVED this book (5 stars for me!)! Ray is a young Black man who loves music when we meet him. Most of his family does not support his desire to play the violin, but his grandmother does. She gifts him a family fiddle passed down from when her great grandfather was enslaved. As we follow Ray’s study of the violin, we are also fast-forwarded to the present, where we learn that Ray’s very expensive violin was stolen. The story in the present goes back a few months, while the story in the past, tells us a lot more about Ray, his family, this violin, and the greed that comes with a valuable possession. I played the violin in middle school and I wished I had continued my studies. Reading this love letter to classical symphonies was a joy. It was also hard to read all of the very real racism that Ray faced, as only 1.8% of orchestra members are Black today.
  • Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad – I heard Gholdy speak at last year’s San Diego County Office of Education Equity Conference. She is a passionate teacher who helps us see the necessity in using historically responsive literacy to reach all students, especially our Black students. Her book is a lesson on the history of Black joy and literacy and a framework for educators to reach students of all identities.
  • The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan – Anne Bogel, of the podcast What Should I Read Next, recommended this series as being good for fans of Louise Penny. While I am waiting for my next LP book to be available in my library, I got started on this Rachel & Esa series. This is aptly described as a cozy mystery, where you are slowly learning about the characters (both police people Rachel and Esa and the crime they are investigating). This takes place in Canada, but focused on refugees and the history from Bosnia, and specifically the Srebrenica massacre, which was genocide of Muslims. I knew nothing about that, so being immersed in the characters and their culture was eye-opening. I also loved the storyline of creating a museum dedicated the mixing of cultures in Andalusia, SPAIN (Toledo, Grenada, my favorite places!)! I enjoyed this and will continue on in the series.
  • Tales from My Uterus and Other Undiscussables by Fabiola Bagula – My friend, who helped me with the questions I needed to ask to make the decision to have a hysterectomy, self-published this book about her stories and memories being a girl, an adolescent, and a woman who was gaslit by many doctors before her health was taken seriously. I love her brutal honesty!
  • Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho – These two Taiwanese-American girls because friends as children, and we follow their friendship as it ebbs and flows across decades. We jump from one girl’s journey to the other and back, experiencing snippets of their failed relationships, complicated relationships with their mothers, guilt, cultural experiences, and more. This was an interesting story, with a unique structure, as I felt like we never went deep into any one part of the story, yet by the end I was invested in both of their lives and wishing the best for their futures.
  • Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain [audiobook] – I loved Susan Cain’s first book, Quiet. When I heard her on a podcast talking about her new book, I was intrigued, though not as excited by this topic as I am by the study of introverts. In this new book, Cain explore why she has always loved funeral music. She explores the research on bittersweet – why we cry and when, how sometimes when we cry with joy there is also sadness mixed in. She shares her love of Leonard Cohen and sad music, and why it has an impact on us. I personally usually do not like slow or sad music, but I did listen to some of her recommendations off her playlist, to feel the mood she was describing. I could appreciate the celebration that crying is a good thing, as I am known for welling up with tears over the slightest emotional topic and I cry at commercials, books, and movies!
  • I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet by Shauna Niequist [audiobook]- I have never read anything by this author before, but Laura Tremaine has been friends with her for decades and speaks so well of her as a person and an author. I enjoyed listening to her read these essays, most of which were written during the first year of the pandemic. I love her love of NYC, which she has only moved to in the last few years after a life in the midwest. She speaks about her family, her writing, her faith, and vaguely about family and church crises from the recent past. I had to google to learn what she was referencing, but it wasn’t necessary to know the specifics to feel the pain and longing and growth she described. I am finding more and more that I enjoy essay collections.
  • Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice – I read this for Laura Tremaine’s Secret Stuff book club, and that was the only reason I finished it. If I wasn’t reading it for a book club discussion, I would have abandoned it before page 50! While I heard of this series decades ago, and my brother told me LOVED the movie, which I never saw, I never knew much about it beyond the movie trailer. I did not enjoy the writing style, as there were practically no chapters, with TONS of overly written narration that just went on and on – not my cup of tea! I was annoyed by all the characters and I wasn’t even satisfied by the ending. My least favorite reading experience in a long time. ** I did, however, enjoy the book club discussion. I’m always fascinated to hear other people describe what made them love a book that I did not enjoy reading. I realize that the writing style was too much for me to overcome, despite a semi-interesting plot (of crazy vampires!). It also seems that all vampire writing is derivative of Dracula, which I have never read.
  • Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon – Another disappointing read here. In this story, Oliver is bored with his life with his older partner Nathan. When Oliver visits a Bath House, to cheat on Nathan, he is choked and almost killed by Kristian, the stranger he meets there. As Oliver tells lie after lie to Nathan and the police, Kristian begins to stalk Olive. This gets messy and I didn’t like any of the characters nor all their ridiculous lying. I only finished it to know how it ended.
  • Vox by Christina Dalcher – This was horrifying and propulsive and truly a dystopian world we never want to see come true! In a post-Obama world, a new regime has taken over America. As they work to get us back to a Pure society, all women are forced to wear arm bands that count how many words they say – and they have a limit of 100 per day. After 100, they get shocked. Dr. McCellan is a neurolinguist who was studying aphasia (second book I’ve read about this in a week!) and she is brought in to help the government. Everything that happens next is tense and propulsive and I loved it!

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: The Violin Conspiracy
Nonfiction: I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet

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