Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Hilarious World of Depression

The Hilarious World of Depression
By John Moe
St. Martin's Press, 2020. 285 pages. Nonfiction

John Moe does vital work in combatting the discrimination and difficulty that people with mental illnesses have to struggle against just to function. With a realistic and stark honesty about his personal experiences, Moe builds a compelling narrative for readers (or listeners) to get an insider's look at the world of living with depression inside your own head.

The audio book is narrated by the author, who has years of public radio shows and a podcast (of the same name) behind him to make the audio engaging and fun to listen to. By including actual interview segments from the individuals he quotes throughout the book, Moe's experiences are further supported and joined by a chorus of celebrity and professionals that struggle with depression and illness every day. Topics discussed throughout the book include living with symptoms while undiagnosed, the weight of thinking there's something fundamentally wrong, thoughts of suicidal ideation, and living in the wake of a family member's suicide.

The Hilarious World of Depression provides a necessary window into how it is impossible to just "bounce back" when struggling with depression and pulls apart societal stigmas surrounding medication and therapy. Supported by a tapestry of voices the author encountered in his own interviews for his podcast, listeners will walk away with an understanding, validation, or renewed hope that help is possible.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Sky Painted Gold

A Sky Painted Gold
By Laura Wood
Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 376 pages. Young Adult 

Lou has dreamed of a fancy, high society life, but her family farm in a quiet Cornish village doesn’t exactly exude glamour. She often sneaks into and reads in the Cardew house, a grand house that has stood empty for years. Then, one day, Caitlin and Robert Cardew, the owners, return for the summer. When Lou hides in a tree one evening, watching one of the Cardew’s fancy parties, Robert Cardew surreptitiously walks over and starts chatting with her. Soon, Lou is swept into the hustle and bustle of high society, all the while feeling both excited, and like an outsider. 

This is a lovely coming-of-age story. Although the story is relatively predictable and the characters fit nicely into their roles, it was fun to get swept away with Lou into the high-life. The setting is immersive and expertly crafted, and the budding romance adds a nice touch. The bitter-sweet nature of growing up, discovering oneself, and becoming independent of our families really tugs at the heartstrings. For those who have enjoyed PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, or THE GREAT GATSBY, or perhaps aren’t quite ready to venture into those classics, A SKY PAINTED GOLD is a great option. 


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Light for the World to See

Light for the World to See 
by Kwame Alexander 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 96 pages. 

Kwame Alexander is well-known for his slam-dunk poetry in his Newbery Award winning book The Crossover. Light For the World comprises three of his latest poems, “American Bullet Points,” “Take a Knee,” and “The Undefeated.” This book may take you less than an hour to read from start to finish, but these bite-size poems pack a powerful punch. Alexander speaks out on racial injustice and the current struggles of Black lives in society, and he calls this book a “roll of thunder, a call to action. A rally in verse.” 

These poems beg to be read aloud, and I highly suggest listening to recordings of Kwame Alexander himself reading them. These recordings are available free of charge online. If you enjoy this book, you may also enjoy Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet Takes a Breath

By Gabby Rivera

Dial Books, 2019. 304 pages. Fiction. 

The night before she leaves for her dream internship, Juliet Palante comes out to her Puerto Rican family as a lesbian. Leaving behind her shocked and disappointed parents, she travels from the Bronx to Portland, Oregon to intern for her favorite feminist author, Harlowe Brisbane. Juliet spends the summer making friends with other women authors of color, exploring her sexuality, learning to communicate with her mom, and getting over her first break-up. She finds that Harlowe’s brand of feminism isn’t as inclusive as she thought and that sometimes your heroes will fail you. Juliet discovers more about who she is as a “closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx” and learns to love herself, “even the shameful bits”. 

This book is a delightful coming of age and coming out of the closet story. Juliet’s narration is honest and unfiltered which makes it feel really refreshing. She’s got a lot to say and a lot to learn about the world, and I like that the reader gets to discover this along with Juliet. The reader and Juliet learn about intersectionality, white feminism, and how to navigate the queer community. I like the complex, multi-dimensional characters and feel that they, and their experiences, mirror real life.


Tuesday, March 16, 2021


Dry: Delicious Handcrafted Cocktails and Other Clever Concoctions: Seasonal, Refreshing, Alcohol-Free
by Clare Liardet
The Experiment, 2018. 143 pages. Nonfiction.

A little book with a lot of flavor, this collection of alcohol-free cocktails is a must for anyone interested in exploring sophisticated flavor profiles of the world of mocktails. In addition to the perfect primer on mixology that covers common terms and gear, each simple recipe walks you through either the flavor profile or benefits of the particular mocktail. From dessert to clever pick-me-ups, there is sure to be a new favorite drink for you to add to your week.

I'm always on the lookout for interesting flavor combinations and this recipe book doesn't disappoint. One of the things I love about mocktails is that you can make them for anyone. Good mocktails are an experience both lovely and delicious. Each recipe is accompanied by vibrant photos that provide serving suggestions, as well as a range of flavors from creative sodas like a Blueberry-Mint Julep to adventurous remakes like a Beet Virgin Mary. If you're curious about what is beyond soda and syrups, then Dry: Delicious Handcrafted Cocktails and Other Clever Concoctions is a good place to start.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It
By Ethan Kross
Crown, 2021. 242 pgs. Nonfiction

Ethan Kross is an award-winning psychologist and a professor at the University of Michigan. He studies how to control emotions in order to have more self-control in daily life. In the book Chatter, he explains the importance of the inner voice in our daily lives. Using groundbreaking research from his own lab as well as case studies and his own experiences, he explains how the conversations we have with ourselves shape our lives, our work and our relationships. 

Let's be honest, most of us have a voice in our heads. This book helped me realize that it is normal, but that it is very important that we learn how to interact with the voice. Sometimes that voice can be our inner coach that encourages us to do something scary or hard. Other times it turns into our inner critic that spirals us into fear and inaction. When we give in to the negative self-talk, or as he refers to it, chatter; our health is worse, our mood goes down, and our relationships are not as good. I really liked that he had science to back up what he was teaching but that he did it in a way that was easy to read. 
Kross gave specific examples of things we can do to control our chatter. One of the simplest recommendations is to use your name or the word "you" when you are talking to yourself and don't use "I" or "me". It helps distance yourself from the emotion. For example, instead of saying, "I am really mad." I could say, "Amber is feeling really mad." It's a simple change but it works! I also loved that the back section is a categorized summary of the practical tips that were covered in the book. I learned a lot from this book and plan to start using many of the tools to control my chatter.


The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids


The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids 
by Jessica Joelle Alexander 
Penguin Audio, 2016. Nonfiction 

 Danes are consistently rated the happiest people on Earth. We know it’s not because of sunshine or warm weather, so why are they so happy? Author Jessica Alexander is an American married to a Dane, living in Denmark, and uses her personal observations as a parent on Danish approaches and her professional knowledge as a licensed psychotherapist to connect Danish parenting with happier kids and adults. She builds her book around the word PARENT as an acronym: Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No ultimatums, and Togetherness. 

 Danish culture emphasizes we over me, or the whole over the individual, especially in family time and this is heavily reflected in their parenting. Other than some culturally influenced differences, the principles described here are positive parenting strategies. If you enjoy the principles in this book, I’d recommend looking at some other positive parenting resources for a more in-depth look at how to add these tools to your parenting toolbox. My personal favorite is How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber. 


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Robert T. Kiyosaki
Plata Publishing, 2017. 352 pages. Nonfiction.

Robert Kiyosaki presents the basics of financial literacy by presenting the fiscal policies he learned from two men, his father and his friend's father. His father worked a traditional job, considered his house an asset, and believed in education (meaning a college degree) as one of the greatest driving factors behind lifelong success. His friend's father believed in taking financial risks when it made sense to do so, assets being only defined as things that make your money, and that and education (meaning a college degree) is only as useful as the financial education you pair with it. Kiyosaki walks you through the story of his own financial literacy journey from when he was a child and he collected toothpaste tubes to melt down and literally mint money with to today. He helps explain what assets should be, and how traditional assets like a house, often aren't an asset at all. 

After finished this book, much of the financial advice the flies around the internet finally made sense. Kiyosaki gives you a framework with which to evaluate and analyze financial information you hear in passing as potentially useful or potentially useless. It isn't a traditional book of finance that describes a specific type of investing or financial development. No, Kiyosaki presents the basics that schools don't teach, so that his readers can start to understand the financial world by its most basic units: assets and liabilities. This book is for anyone that might want to get started with becoming financially literate.


Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
Viking, 2020, 288 pages, Science Fiction

At a moment when everything seems to be going wrong and she is looking for an exit, Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library—a library full of books detailing all of the ways Nora’s life could have turned out differently. Nora learns how her life would be if she’d stayed with an old boyfriend, become an olympian, made it big with her old rock band, or realized her dreams of becoming a glaciologist. With each new life Nora tries out, Nora searches for the answer to what makes her actual life worth living.

If you’ve ever wondered how your life would have changed if you’d made a different decision, this book is for you. Haig keeps the tone fairly light even when Nora discovers that there are timelines that are even darker than the one she’s currently living, and he shows that even brighter timelines have downsides. The result is that the book becomes a life-affirming celebration of the little details of our day-to-day lives, and a promise that we can always make new choices tomorrow.

Although I read the hardcover version of this book, there is a small part of me that wishes I’d had the audiobook version, which is read by actress Carey Mulligan


Think Like a Monk

Think Like a Monk: Train Your Brain for Peace and Purpose Every Day
By Jay Shetty
Simon & Schuster, 2020. 328 pgs. Nonfiction
Jay Shetty is a social media superstar and also hosts a popular podcast. In this book he shares valuable wisdom he learned during the years he was a monk. When he made the decision to become a monk, his family considered him a failure. He had just graduated from college and had a promising future in a large company. Instead he decided to dedicate his life to meditation and service. During the long hours of meditation he learned to get to the root of his true fears and to become selfless. In the book, he also talks about the importance of learning to breath correctly, skills for having better relationships, and the value of service.

I really enjoyed this book! I listened to the audiobook on Libby and it is read by the author. It felt more like having a conversation with a really good life coach. A lot of what Jay Shetty shared wasn't new, but the way he explained things resonated with me and made me consider what I could change in my life. I also appreciated that he gave examples of different types of meditation exercises for various situations. He also helped remind me of the importance of writing down the things I am grateful for. The thing I enjoyed most from this book were his personal stories of being a monk. He admitted that it was not easy and he struggled with a lot of the things he was expected to do as a monk, like waking up early, doing menial chores, and serving and loving everyone without expecting anything in return. His main message was that we don't have to be a monk to think like one. We can make small changes every day to retrain our brain and learn a new way of showing up in our lives.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Eat a Peach

Eat a Peach
By David Chang
Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2020. 288 pgs. Biography

David Chang is best known as the chef and owner of Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan's East Village, although he has by now opened several more restaurants in addition to Momofuku.  Chang is surprisingly open about challenges he has faced, including serious struggles with mental health that nearly cost him his life.  Chang isn't afraid to admit when he was wrong or made mistakes, and what it cost him to learn those lessons.  What he has learned along the way is relatable and even inspiring, and his journey as a chef becomes almost secondary to the description of his growth as a person. 

It seems like the chef biographies I have read have all included stories of hard work and overcoming big challenges.  But Chang's book stands out from the pack.  There is a vulnerability, a readiness to admit imperfections, and a steely determination that I haven't often seen in biographies.  There were even a few passages that I wrote down because they paint the world in a light I hadn't considered before.  His observations have an unexpected wisdom, insight, and depth that make this an inspiring read.  There is plenty of adult language in the book, but fans of biographies and stories of overcoming hardships should find a lot to love here.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A Court of Silver Flames

by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 757 pages. Fantasy.

Sarah J. Maas returns to her Court of Thrones and Roses series with a new installment following Feyre's oldest sister, Nesta, and the Night Court General, Cassian. Following the events of the Hybern War, Nesta still hasn't made peace with her new body and new life. Nesta, always quick to anger, turns her hate inward with a deep dive into self-destructive behaviors until her family has had enough. She is forced to train with Cassian, which ignites her anger and the passion she's determined to ignore.

As Nesta fights to find peace despite her hatred, she discovers that the end of the War only brings a different type of battle, and the power to end it lies deep within herself. If only she can find the courage to confront it.

A Court of Silver Flames fits perfectly with the story and characters the author developed previously. Nesta and Cassian's story is filled with emotional tension, ethical dilemma, and steamy romance. With masterful narration and action, this book is a fun read and impossible to put down.


Monday, March 1, 2021

The Best-Laid Plans

The Best-Laid Plans
by Sarah M. Eden 
Covenant Communications, 2021. 134 pages. Romance 

Newton Hughes has long dreamed of pursuing a career in law, an acceptable choice for a gentleman of status and wealth. His parents, however, disapprove of his ambition, urging him instead to take his rightful place as a gentleman of leisure—with a suitable wife of their choosing, of course. 

 Ellie Napper would like nothing more than for her parents to abandon their incessant efforts to marry her off to the greatest possible advantage. Her lack of matrimonial enthusiasm drives her family mad, but she refuses to feign frivolity in order to make herself more palatable to potential suitors. When Ellie and Newton are introduced through their mutual acquaintance, Charlie Jonquil, they commiserate over their shared plight. In desperation, they hatch a plan: Ellie and Newton will feign an interest in each other—enough to convince their parents not to push them toward unwanted matches but not enough to cause whispers or expectations. Their plot quickly spirals out of control, but the greatest complication is the one they didn't see coming: their plan never included falling in love. 

This is the perfect book to read if you are a fan of Sarah Eden’s Lancaster and Jonquil series. It introduces new characters that will lead into a new series of books and the romance is so sweet and simple. The story has a Cinderella quality and is fast paced and keeps you glued to the pages. It is a short book so perfect for those searching for a quick and fun read. If you have not read any of Eden’s books you don’t to read them in order to understand and enjoy this book.