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Reading Goals and Fall Updates

Reading Recap: October-December

Fall was a whirlwind that I have just found myself stumbling out of, exhilarated, exhausted, and excited for what is to come. The tennis team qualified for states, Youth Volunteer Corps took their first field trip of the year to Heritage Humane Society after completing a successful bake sale/donation drive, my US Literature students finished Their Eyes Were Watching God and Of Mice and Men, my AP Language and Composition students finished their introduction to argumentation, rhetorical analysis, and narrative writing and read Outliers and Of Mice and Men, and my yearbook class is already done with their first two deadlines. My family moved to Virginia, and we are all living under the same roof again. I attended a Learning and the Brain conference in Boston that set me into motion to explore executive functioning. As a result, I am taking a 2 credit graduate course this winter about the topic. While I’m immersed in learning every day in my own classroom, part of me is thrilled to be a student again. I officially became a board member for Bacon Street Youth and Family Services in November, and I’ll be actively involved in the gala planning again this year. I applied for (and won!) a profit share through a local coffee shop for Bacon Street, and it’s always so rewarding to see how the skills I’m teaching my students translate to the real world. I’ve also had more articles published by Spotlight News, and it’s been amazing to promote and support some of my favorite organizations and individuals. There is another huge surprise coming, but I’m waiting for a couple more details to be finalized to publicly announce it.

Thanks to Alex Wallace, I have SEVEN (can you believe it?!) author interviews pending that will be released over the next couple of months. I’m excited for these authors to share their reading recommendations, publishing and writing journeys, and stories with you.

If we’re being honest, I did not meet the numerical goal for my reading goals this year. I set out to read 75 books this year, but I will read 49 or 50 by December 31st. However, I’m not disappointed by this. I don’t want to focus on the quantity of books read but rather on the quality. Quality, for me, doesn’t always mean literary accolades and deep knowledge. Sometimes (alright, a decent amount of time this year) quality is a well-written romance book. Quality is finding books that satisfy the itch for something. Sometimes it’s a happily ever after. Sometimes it’s learning something new. Sometimes it’s poetic language and character-driven, meditative stories. Sometimes it’s revisiting an author or concept that I love. I have so much awe for people who read 100 books a year, and while I’ve tried in years past, that is not who I am or can be as a reader right now. I credit my 50 to supplying me with a constant stream of audiobooks to review. Between the 50 minutes it takes to drive to my boyfriend’s house and the half hour it takes to drive to work, I have lots of time to escape into a different world. But again, in the name of honesty, I don’t always listen to an audiobook while I drive. Some days I want to listen to my angsty music. Some days I want to sing along to Taylor Swift. Some days I listen to a podcast. A lot of days I call my mom or boyfriend on my way home from work. Some days I need a break from reading because my book has become dark and depressing. Some days I need to binge my book because I have to find out what happens next. Some days I just have to go to the library and move slowly from shelf to shelf and fill my arms with books. Some days my TBR pile doesn’t move. You are a reader if you read one book or one hundred books this year. The number doesn’t matter, but the enjoyment and fulfillment you received does. I’ll set a goal of 50 books for next year because it keeps me motivated to read. It’s roughly one book a week, but I know my reading doesn’t always fall that neatly. When I was sick this summer, I read book after book because I was stuck at home with nothing to do. When the school year began, my mind was consumed by so many other things that reading was not always the priority. Now that I’m on break, I relish consuming books in 2 or 3 days. I love the thrill of curling up in bed for hours with a story and watching characters grow and change and the world around them shift. 2 more books to go for this year. 2 more stories left to unfold.

Before I release my top books of 2022, let me catch you up on what I’ve been reading…

The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor-the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I have loved following the British Royal Family ever since Will and Kate’s wedding. Mom and I woke up early and watched in our pajamas the real life fairytale, and I still have the People Magazine from that event. My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to England this summer, and the top item on my list is visiting a castle. Tina Brown’s writing is witty and biting and confiding and scandalous and absorbing. She is an expert in her subject matter, and while there is a great deal of personal scandal, this doesn’t feel like a gossip rag. Instead, there is research and years and decades of observation and context. My take away: no one in the Royal Family is free of blame, fault, or depravity. Everyone has had their own scandal, their own manipulative ambition, their own hurts they’ve thrown on others with little care for the consequences (which always seem to be too few). There is both a pressure and a protection that we cannot understand fully, and the Institution is, as a whole, a mess. It’s a soap opera, but it’s real life. It’s a train wreck you can’t look away from. It’s one of my favorite reads this year. I highly recommend this lengthy account on audio because the Charles impressions alone are worth the listen.

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

As much as I try, I can’t quite decide how I feel about this book. Gil, a man with riches beyond his use or interest, walks across the country to his new home in Arizona for a fresh start. His neighbors have a glass-walled house, and he transforms from a curious observer to an integral part of their lives. He becomes like family to their young son and has a complicated relationship with the married couple. The book is meditative and slow and thoughtful. If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, Dinosaurs is a novel about nothing and everything. A reviewer on Goodreads mentioned the aimlessness of the novel and her enjoyment in it, and I found myself agreeing. Gil is slowly revealed to us, and the meandering path of the novel does not feel a sense of urgency or thrill. Instead, we can explore the slow growth and reflection of Gil’s relationships with himself and those around him and ponder what we owe to others, what we owe to the world, and how we are utilizing our time and talents.

This was a influencer copy.

My First Popsicle: An Anthology Of Food and Feelings by Zosia Mamet

Food is one of the links that connects my family together. At Christmas and Easter we make my great-grandparents’ Christmas bread (a pastry filled to bursting with almond filling) and bunny bread (no rabbits are involved in this rabbit shaped roll). My family and I shared stories about our day in the kitchen while we made dinner, and so much of the food we eat has an emotional connection. When I lived on my own for the first time, my mom gave me a binder filled with our family’s recipes, and I would make them when I was homesick. There are foods that remind me of Long Island when I miss it and foods that remind me of specific people and moments in my life. My First Popsicle has a wide variety of celebrities share how foods are linked to specific memories and emotions for them. It is heart-wrenching and humorous and heart-warming. It is meditative and reflective and exactly the kind of narrative writing inspiration that I want to expose my students to. The collection, as a whole, is strong, and there are multiple stories at the front of my mind over a month later. If you’re new to essays, this is a perfect starting point. The writing is accessible and has anecdotes that everyone can find a way to relate to. I highly recommend this as an audiobook because of the full cast recording. While not every celebrity reads their own stories, many do. There is something so special to me about people telling their own life stories. It feels personal, it feels confessional. It feels real.

This was a influencer copy.

The Tarnished by E.S. Christison

You can see my full review on an earlier post!

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

The Love Hypothesis was my first read of the year, and I could not have been more excited for Ali Hazelwood’s next full length novel. I read her three novellas this summer in anticipation of the new release, and I’m so relieved that her sophomore novel was not a disappointment. As usual, Hazelwood’s work is a smart and sexy enemies to lovers in the workplace romance where the guy falls fast and he falls hard. Miscommunication is a HUGE tope in this novel, and it’s low on my list of tropes because of the frustration that it causes for characters and readers alike. Hazelwood’s first book, in my opinion, was stronger, more original, and a little more emotionally resonant. There’s plenty of sweetness, plenty of angst, and plenty of tension to go around here, but there’s just something missing. Maybe, after reading five of her works in one year, it’s all becoming a little too formulaic. Maybe there’s only so much magic that can come from romance in a lab when people grow from dislike to love and perform a series of thoughtful acts. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t have the same series power as The Brown Sisters Series, for example.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng is one of a handful of authors I can say that I’ve read everything they’ve written. There’s a kind of satisfaction in reading all of an author’s work. You can see the questions they long to answer, the characters they love to create, and the worlds they enjoy inhabiting. There’s a familiarity there but also a newness as their work matures, evolves, and reacts to the world around them. Ng’s previous works embody one of my favorite genres: messy family stories in suburban towns. She explores Chinese-American identity in America, what it means to be a family, and what it means to experience loss. In that respect, Our Missing Hearts is familiar. Ng paints a portrait of a family experiencing a tremendous loss: a Chinese-American mother leaves her young son, Bird, and husband behind, and Bird must come to understand what pushed his mother to leave, what compelled her to reach out to him, and why she cannot return. There it is: a messy family story. However, this messy family story is dystopian. The horror of the story lies in families being torn apart if disloyalty to America is suspected. Children are sent away to new families in secret; they are the punishment for the sins (whether real or not) of the parents. They are the missing hearts in a mourning nation. Bird is not a missing child because his mother chose to leave, but what can she do to help others who have lost their children? Bird, unfortunately, does not feel like a deep or developed character. He is young and curious and serves as a vehicle for us to understand the limitations, dangers, and boundaries of his untrusting world. His mother, through flashbacks, shows us a greater degree of depth and change. She shows us how easily words can be misinterpreted and forces us to question how far we would go to help others when we could be hurt in the process. The story is a haunting one, and the ending left me filled with grief and frustration.

This was a influencer copy.

The Last Karankawas by Kimberly Garza

I’m going to start by saying that this isn’t a book for everyone. This is for a niche audience who likes character-driven novels, novels where the setting feels like its own character, and novels where the plot is more of a meditative meandering among a community over the course of three generations. It feels almost anthropological in nature as Garza examines the way a dozen characters weave together over the course of their lifetimes in a small Filipino/Mexican/American community in Texas. If it was marketed as a series of short stories, I think it would be more accurate to the feel of the novel. It’s breathtaking and reflective and a punch in the gut. There are relationships that overcome hardships and relationships that crumble. There are those who leave and those who can’t help but stay. There are those haunted by ghosts and those who watch their loved ones drift away. Overall, it is a brilliant first novel, and I am anxious for Garza’s next work.

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez

The summary felt like a perfect Hallmark movie. The opening felt like a perfect Hallmark movie. I wanted a light, fluffy Hallmark movie. This was not a light and fluffy Hallmark movie. Alexis’s car breaks down on the side of the road. She is stunning in her glamorous black dress but devastated after an emotionally abusive relationship recently comes to a close. Country hunk with a heart of gold Daniel pulls her out of the ditch and happens to see her at the town’s only bar moments later. Sparks fly, flirting begins, and a one-night stand happens. Daniel is the perfect Hallmark man. He’s a carpenter who runs a generations old home as a B&B while also being the town’s mayor, the foster-dad to an adorable baby goat, and owner to a troublesome rescue dog. Did I mention he’s a great cook too and happens to help every person in his small town? Alexis is a doctor from a long line of successful doctors. However, her toxic family never thinks she’s good enough for them, and they always seem to love her abusive ex. Alexis can’t possibly conceive of leaving her snooty friends and family legacy behind to spend her life with Daniel because they’re “from two different worlds.” I’m glad that modern romance is bringing awareness to what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like and are providing information about vital, life-saving resources for women who are survivors of domestic violence or emotional abuse. I like that Alexis, because of her years of mistreatment, isn’t immediately trusting and ready for a relationship. I did not love how stuck in her ways she was, how she would not continue therapy to work through her complex emotions, grief, and anxiety, how she would not consider change, and how she perpetuated the idea that she must suffer to continue her family’s legacy (while watching her brother choose to leave the entire continent to free himself from his family’s judgment and marry the woman he loves). Her lack of commitment became tiresome, especially as Daniel tried to prove over and over again that he would consistently love and support her. The happily ever after, while sweet, came too late in the book for me, and I wished that Alexis had more strength to welcome Daniel into her life earlier. The idea that a blue-collar, outdoorsy man from a small town can’t romantically be involved with a doctor from a big city to me just seems like an out-dated trope. Yes, they had different upbringings, but their core values are the same. There is always room for compromise, and I wished there was more exploration of those kinds of conversations. If you’re going to read it, do yourself a favor and choose the audiobook. Dual narrators are one of my favorite features of romance audio, and it’s even more my favorite when Julia Whelan is a narrator. Yes, that does sound nerdy that I have a favorite narrator.

Coming next time…

I’ll be posting my reviews of While We Were Dating, The Tipping Point, and Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty before I post my top reads of 2022. Enjoy your New Year and let me know your reading goals for next year!

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