Reviews

2021 Book Reviews

This post will be updated throughout the year with a review of every book that I read.

Stats to Date: Aug 28, 2021

Number of Books: 36
Number of Pages: 11,345
Female Authors: 22
Male Authors: 14
LGBTQ Authors: 4
Non-American Authors: 5
Fiction: 16
Nonfiction: 20
Audiobooks: 16
Kindle Books: 19
Physical Books: 1


My Calamity Jane (The Lady Janies #3) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows • Fiction, Historical Fantasy
My thoughts went through many ups and downs while reading this.
0- 10% of the book: “I love this! How fun!”
11- 30%: “Ehhhhhh I’m starting to lose interest.”
31-40%: “Do I want to finish reading this?”
41-60%: “Oh, I’m enjoying this again!”
61-75%: “This is GREAT! Some really unexpected twists!”
76-85%: “This got intense and sad and scary. I thought this was supposed to be a comedy?!”
86-100%: “What a fantastic ending! And the comedy came roaring back in! I really liked this!”
Full Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3315030638

The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe • Memoir
This was FANTASTIC. Exactly what you want out of a memoir structurally, and though the author could have misstepped badly with a snarky, funny tone in writing about his struggle with depression, he walked the line very well. It was often LOL funny (I listened to the audio book, and the author’s narration is spot on, alternating between deadpan, sarcastic, genuinely introspective and vulnerable; his line delivery was perfect) but also deeply moving and heartfelt.
Relatable for those who have suffered from or loved someone who suffers from depression, I think it’s also insightful and informative for those who have no idea what it’s like or who doesn’t know how to interact with a depressed loved one. Definitely a good way to kick off the year’s reading.

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole • Sci fi romcom
TL;DR: This is a romcom by George Orwell, a Black Mirror Romance novel. It’s as if the show Upload and the movie Mr and Mrs Smith had a baby written by Mike Chen.

This book completely surprised me! I thought it was going to be a quick, throwaway feel good romance, and then it became a legit sci fi thriller with some really dark dystopian themes thrown in for good measure. I was very pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t just about a human and robot falling in love (though, tbh, I think I might be a sucker for stories about emotionless creatures learning to emote), but that there was a Bigger Story lurking behind all of the kissing. There are much Higher Stakes than “does this robot want to bang me?” and then WHOA they got real big, real fast.

Full Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3383165013

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen • Travelogue, Political History
This book is many things: part travelogue of an American abroad in the middle East, part journalistic exploration of middle eastern political history, part entreaty to Americans to look beyond our privilege and rose-colored history books to see the negative, often deeply hurtful impacts of our empire. I think this book is an important, challenging read that more Americans should take on. It’s the kind of book I wish had been assigned to me in a high school or college history class because then it could have been presented in context with organized history lessons and philosophical discussions about the Big Ideas within the pages

Highlighted  quotes and passages: https://www.goodreads.com/notes/36002411-notes-on-a-foreign-country/5850153-ashley?ref=bsop

Full Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2234616580

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse (The Thorne Chronicles #1) by K. Eason • Sci fi fantasy
This was a lot of fun! The world (or universe, rather) was detailed and fascinating, I loved all of the historical details and thought the setting was vivid; I could easily picture a TV version of this world. The characters, full of depth and many layers. I loved Rory a lot, and especially loved her entourage. The love interest was well-developed (no instalove here) and the villain believable. The writing style won’t be for everyone. It’s very self-aware and perhaps might be too smart for its own good at times, and while the structural formula of many of the chapters becomes expected after a while, the story was engaging enough that I didn’t care. Recommended for fans of: the YA series The Lady Janies; the Hulu series The Great; the Princess Bride (movie or book).

Full Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3595437454

I’ll Never Tell by Abigail Haas (Previously published as “Dangerous Girls”) • Contemporary Mystery
I really enjoyed this! From the non-chronological story structure to the very cinematic-feel of so many scenes to the vast list of suspects, this had me guessing until the very end. It honestly felt like I was watching a mini-series, the way it was structured, jumping backwards and forward in time, how some scenes were only dialogue, how quick paced it was while still allowing for some truly emotional moments.

TL;DR – solid, non-linear mystery storytelling, with a believable situation and new evidence details being dropped throughout to keep you page turning.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3869831280

The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by Lynne Murphy • Nonfiction, Linguistics
Despite US English deriving from UK English, the two Englishes have radically diverged, with other nationlects and dialects emerging as well (such as Black American English, South African English, and “Global” English). But the language differences are a result of differing cultural and political biases and assumptions, which she delves into in great detail. The book provides so many historic and linguistic tidbits it’s hard to remember the specifics, but because you get a high-level history of the evolution of the English language, looking at how and why words, syntax and pronunciation change over time, you’ll come away with a less pedantic view of the English language (and language in general) and a deeper appreciation for the way the language will change during your own lifetime. You may also find any unexpected prejudices that you hold towards American or British English will dissipate, and that you find more joy in the differences between our ever-evolving languages.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3451260934

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright • Memoir, Religion
This book will piss off a lot of people. A formerly Jewish Christian missionary who frequently drops the F-bomb and calls out the raging hypocrisy within the American Christian church? Yeah, this could get controversial. If you can put aside the R-rated language, overlook some of the hyperbolic self-deprecation, and actually hear her message, it’s a powerfully truthful one and one that many people who find themselves entrenched in the American church system could benefit from contemplating.

Who would I recommend this to? Anyone who has done mission work (to help you reflect on the impact, good or bad, that you may have had, and to ask questions about the ethics of future work); anyone who may be struggling with their faith/religion; non-Christians who would like a funny, relatable peek into the American Christian institution.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3363272611

True Story by Kate Reed Petty • Crime mystery
TLDr: The reading experience and creative format far outweigh the plot.
This book was NOT my jam. I was really enjoying it until the final reveals. It felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me. NOT INTO IT.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3343921455

The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson • Nutrition, History, Science
I LOVED this thoughtful examination of our modern food habits and culture. Rooted in historical analysis and hard data, the author dissects how our foot habits, traditions, and preferences have completely changed in less than 100 years, from what we eat, how it’s prepared, how we eat it, when and where we eat it, to how the food industry has ruined a lot of our eating habits and altered our preferences through marketing and processed convenience foods to how monoculture farming has eradicated variety and flavor in many of our foods.

Highly recommend this book for anyone interested in eating, cooking, nutrition, agriculture and food production, or histories of very specific topics. This was fascinating and fun from page 1.

Highlighted passages: https://www.goodreads.com/notes/44662554-the-way-we-eat-now/5850153-ashley?ref=bsop

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3188206041

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost • Memoir, Comedy
This hilarious memoir won’t change your life with insightful philosophical musings and it won’t warm your heart with tales of overcoming adversity or trauma. It’s not going to win any literary awards or inspire anyone to make big changes in their life. But this memoir will entertain you from page 1, even if you dont know who Colin Jost is.  Definitely would recommend this to fans of celeb memoirs, behind the scenes looks at the entertainment industry, or SNL enthusiasts.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3592495889

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson • Sci fi, LGBTQ, Dystopia
BEST READ OF 2021 SO FAR. Character and plot driven. Beautifully detailed world construction. Complex multiverse theory presented in easy to grasp, visual language. Thoughtful exploration of trauma’s effects on our past, present, and future (which all exist concurrently, since time is flat). Complex LGTBQ+ characters presented without fanfare. I could NOT stop reading this but I didn’t want to rush through it because it was such a gorgeous book in terms of themes, language, and world building. I did not want it to end but I also needed to know what happened!! Seriously, this world just burst off the page, sucking me right in. GO READ THIS BOOK RIGHT THIS SECOND!!!

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3482071856

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson • Linguistics, History
This is so fun and interesting. Explorations into English like this reinforce my admiration for the English language, its flexibility and ingenuity and habit of adopting words from other languages. We can never be too pedantic about our language because it breaks more of its own rules than it follows. Recommended for any English speakers just starting their linguistical study of their native language or anyone who is curious to the reasons for English’s seemingly random and inconsistent spellings and pronunciations (there ARE reasons to the madness, and they are so interesting).

Full Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/205759357

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold • Sci fi, YA
I wish I could spend time living inside of David’s brain. Another masterpiece, equal parts weird and heartbreaking and thrilling and thoroughly unique. Even though I had no idea what I was even reading for the first 30% (straight pandemic dystopian? time travel? alternate universe? some other supernatural woo woo?), I was enthralled by the gorgeous writing and the detailed world and the interesting cast of characters.

I don’t want to say too much; I think going into this one knowing very little will make it a more impactful read. It is absolutely genre-twisting, bizarre, creepy, page-turning, tense, mysterious, and even has a little bit of realistic and appropriate romance tossed in for good measure. What an incredible book.

Highly recommend to fans of mind-bending sci fi like the German Netflix series “Dark” and dystopian stories.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune • Fantasy
This sweet, beautiful story about the transformative power of love and acceptance absolutely bowled me over. I did not want to stop reading this book. Every time I picked it up , I felt like I was being embraced in a warm hug. I love love loved all of the characters. I adored Linus and his sweeping character arc from nervous, timid, uncertain, and rule-following to confident, adventurous, and bravely standing up for what’s right even when it could cost him everything. The setting was so vibrantly rendered, so cinematic, that I couldn’t help but see this whole book as a miniseries; it would be so fun to see come to life on screen! It was funny and romantic and so sweet. I can’t wait to read the author’s next book!

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3415151398

The Switch by Beth O’Leary • Romantic comedy, contemporary
A pure delight of a book! The characters, the dialogue, the setting all came to life off the page in full color. Characters that could have been two dimensional became multifaceted, and even though you can tell how the main romance will end about halfway through, it doesn’t matter because the road to the end was so much fun.

While this could classify as a romantic comedy, the primary character arcs arent really tied to the romance plots but rather how well (or poorly) the characters handle grief as they mourn the loss of a family member. The friendships and non-romantic relationships in the book take a higher place in the story hierarchy, for the better. And there were a few scenes that were legit tense and high stakes in their narrative drama (the birth scene in particular!) I loved the characters in this book so much!

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask • History
Who would think that a book about ADDRESSING could be this riveting?! A total page turner for me. I could not put this down and annoyed my husband with a million fun facts that I learned while reading. There wasn’t one uninteresting page. 100% recommend to anyone looking for a unique, fascinating romp through history around the world.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3628661763?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Some quotes I found interesting: https://www.goodreads.com/notes/48896881-the-address-book/5850153-ashley?ref=bsop

Yes, My Accent Is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar • Memoir
I liked this memoir a lot more than I initially expected. Being a British-Indian who studied and worked in America, Nayyar brings a lot of cross-cultural insights to his experiences in America, in the acting world, and in his dating life. This isn’t a life-changing memoir and you won’t get any juicy behind the scenes Big Bang stories, but it was a fun read full of heart and humor. I listened to the audio book and particularly loved his performance of his writing; it felt very authentic and natural. He’s a good story teller.

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman • NF, Food History
This in-depth investigation into the flavors that make up the American palette is chockfull of fun facts, recipes, research, and a lot of history. I enjoyed the structure of the storytelling, with a chapter dedicated to a specific flavor (black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, siracha), and the pages within diving deep into the history of how that flavor came to be in America and on America’s plates.

So many thought-provoking questions asked and immigrant experiences to think about! America’s food menu would be NOTHING without immigrants! The last two chapters I found really interesting as (a) MSG is so controversial yet I knew nothing about it (I am now much more informed!) and (b) who would ever think of siracha as a standalone “American” flavor?! The author does a great job of making her case for this flavor. The epilogue asks what flavors will become rooted in the American experience in the future, and she poses some unique contenders!

Overall, interesting, well-researched and well-written! I wish I hadnt listened to this as an audio book, though due to the number of recipes included in the book.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto • Rom Com Mystery
What a wild ride! I loved it! You certainly have to suspend some disbelief given that this is a romantic comedy thriller: while I couldn’t ever predict how they’d get out of the situations, the scenes were tense and stressful, but never too gritty or bleak; you always know this has to end with a happy ending given the genre (and title and cover and general tone of the whole story). At times, I got definite Jane the Virgine style vibes from the mix of romance, comedy, intense family dynamics rooted in non-American culture, and MURDER. lol.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3969596097?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig • Speculative
I just love Matt Haig’s brain! What a wonderful, beautiful exploration of depression and rediscovering the will to live told through the concept of the multiverse and the infinity of possible lives to live. I dont want to say too much about this because I this going blind into this story serves it well. It’s far less speculative than I was expecting, so if that was holding you back, don’t let it! Alternatively, if you want a very sciencey approach to the multiverse theory, this isn’t that.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3529892671?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran • Memoir
This was everything I want out of a memoir: an interesting childhood and unique worldview different from my own (Tran was raised by immigrant parents in PA during the 70s/80s), an insightful peek into a culture I do not know (both late 70s Punk Rock and Vietnamese-American), stories that range the emotional gamut (incidents of both emotional and physical abuse to awkward teen hookups), very nuanced details that make a story both incredibly specific and universal at the same time (Tran’s inner conflict over being both a Punk and a literary nerd during the teen years), and a strong structure to tie all of the stories together (each chapter links to a literary classic in some clever way).

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3592498450?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever by John McWhorter • Linguistics
This one hell of a good ride. Linguistic nerds will revel in the historical and etymological journey through nine of the most profane ‘bad’ words in the English language. McWhorter’s writing is smart, witty, and rigorously researched yet accessible for non-academic types; at times it may be like having a really nerdy conversation with an English professor, sometimes the jokes he makes are either over my head or out of my wheelhouse but it’s such a fun, enjoyable conversation, you just roll with it.

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird • Speculative
I could not stop reading this book! It was one of the scariest things I’ve read, in that existential-this-is-too-realistic-please-make-it-stop-kinda-way, but it was utterly engrossing. I lost time reading this. I wanted to stay up past my bedtime reading this. The tough subject matter (a fast acting virus that kills men) was intense but never bleak, always full of hope never despair, so even though the pandemic plotline felt almost too real, the way in which the story was told (not to mention the specifics of the book virus) was so unique that I kept saying, “Just one more chapter…” I had to know more!

This story hit me on so many emotional levels. I cried. I was scared. I was intrigued. I was nervous. I was hopeful and optimistic and so sad, and pensive about the What Ifs. I really enjoyed it and think it would make a kill limited series – like 3-4 seasons of 8-10 eps. This would be very thought provoking.

Perfect for fans of the following books:  The Power, World War Z, Invisible Women, The Handmaid’s Tale,

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4084482792?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Yearbook by Seth Rogen • Memoir (Audiobook)
I loved this memoir. Hilarious, insightful, unexpectedly deep, with lots of lovely funny stories from his childhood, tons of great behind-the-scenes movie stories and some thoughtful essays on various topics. The narration of the audio book was FANTASTIC, probably one of my favorite audio books ever due to the fact that every single piece of dialogue in the book that’s not Seth Rogen is read by a different actor; every “character” in his life is cast, and its brilliant.

The Wreckage of My Presence: Essays by Casey Wilson • Memoir (Audiobook)
This was just a lovely audio book memoir. I really enjoyed her writing style, all of her stories, the way she infused humor in all of her stories even the tough ones, the sad ones, the ones about the hardships of womanhood and motherhood. It felt very open and honest and raw. This was just the right pace and mix of types of stories and essays from a mid-level celebrity. Absolutely entertaining and delightful.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin, Lacey Lamar • Essays (Audio book)
The good: the willingness of Lacey Lamar to share all of these ridiculous and sometimes insane experiences — my jaw legit dropped at some of them. The not so good: this is just a collection of stories that are all about various types of racism, big and small, that Lacey (and even Amber herself) has experienced; there’s no overarching narrative thread or any sort of character arc for any of the people in the stories.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3969603410

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman • Literary Fiction
It’s not often that I can’t finish a book; usually, I decide within the first 10% whether or not I’m going to read it. I made it to just past the 50% mark of this one before I finally threw in the towel. I just can’t. This book seems to be universally loved, and MANY of my book friends ADORED this book. So I wanted to love it, or at least like it. But….. my god. I just dont understand the acclaim. If you loved this book, maybe dont read my full review ……. 😬😬😬😬😬😬

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4194251707

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters • Speculative, Thriller
This is another book where I made it about halfway and I just can’t anymore. I dreaded opening this every time, and yet again it’s a wildly popular novel with rave reviews that I wanted so badly to love. But my god, I hated this book. And I have a lot to say about it.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4097586605

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan • Romance, Contemporary
SUPER cute, romantic, and sexxxxxxxy. Verrrrrrrrrrry enjoyable, not explicit or graphic, very sweet and funny. I’ve cast Ben Barnes and (a younger) Christina Hendricks as the leads. It’s a wonderful little meditation on the intersection of faith and love and modern intimacy. Would make a fun little miniseries. A lovely palette cleanser after the two previous disappointments.

All Grown Up by Vi Keeland • Contemporary Romance

I don’t want to get too spoilery b/c too be frank, I didn’t know much about it going in, but OOOOHHHHH this one is FUN!!!! It avoids most of the frustrating tropes of the “no we can’t be together” genre, but I will say it took about 10% too long for Val to give in because what comes after is even better! Very sexy, funny, surprising in a few ways, very satisfying and much more realistic than I expected so it was a lot easier for me to let go and enjoy this one. Also did I mention it was sexy? lol VERY R-rated in all of the best ways.

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell • Sociology, True Crime (Audiobook)

Another engrossing linguistical deep dive with Amanda Montell. Let this lady take me on a language tour of our world’s niches and quirky corners. The witty and playful way she peels back the layers on a subject you think you have a solid understanding of makes you keep turning the pages. I found myself thinking “Huh, I hadn’t thought of it like that.” or “Oh, wow, she’s totally right.” dozens of times! I had never thought about language being the tool that people in power wield to lure in victims and keep them ensnared. She shows this over and over again, through detailed analysis of the language used by actual cult leaders as well as through social media influencers, MLMs, fitness gurus and clubs, startups, and Trump. The writing is accessible, well-researched, and enthusiastic peppered with insightful commentary by the author and lots of dark humor.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3760679173

Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness • Memoir (Audiobook)

When I first started listening to the book, I was worried his ‘over the top’ persona might start to rub annoying at some point, or all of his flip little “honey”s and verbal quirks. But very quickly, his story sucked me in and his willingness to show vulnerability in the sharing of his life story endeared him to me. I loved this memoir so much and am now really interested in trying out the show! JVN has a new fan!


Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4201518447

When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins • Language history, memoir

This book is a mashup of a memoir and a history of the French language, with some meandering Bill Bryson-esque asides through linguistics, culture, and expatriotism. A lot of reviewers hated it for the very reasons that I enjoyed it: instead of being fully a memoir or fully a language history, it was a little bit of both, which worked well for me.
I would recommend this to language nerds before I would suggest it to memoir fans, but I would certainly think anyone who’s ever fallen in love with a language (French in particular) would enjoy it.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2302921173

Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope by  Karamo Brown, Jancee Dunn • Memoir (Audiobook)

Things I liked:
– his overall message, and willingness to share some very raw, tough stories (specifically his struggles with domestic abuse). Memoirs always ring more authentic when the writer clearly is willing to get vulnerable.
– I always love behind the scenes information about how TV shows are created so all of the background on Queer Eye was interesting

Things that didn’t work for me:
– the structure. The book is organized by topic rather than chronologically, which meant there was a lot of jumping back-and-forth and I had trouble following the general timeline of his narrative.
– because of the structure, there was a lot of repetition. I felt like I heard about the same stories multiple times, so then I got confused about where in the book I was. It just felt like this wasn’t edit it very well.
– some of the writing felt a little self congratulatory and a little self righteous

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4201518447

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green • Essays, Memoir

This is John Green’s best work, and would appeal to anyone, even those who do not enjoy his fiction.

It’s a series of essays that review things in our lives the same way that we tend to review things on amazon. But unlike reviews, these essays go much deeper then the actual topic of what they’re reviewing, raising thought-provoking questions, or providing insights we may not have thought about. For example an essay in which he reviews polar bears may actually dig deep into climate change and the effects it has on our planet and on humanity. Or in the essay where he reviews the worlds largest ball of paint, he talks about humans’ need to create and how we define art. Many of the essays are autobiographical, delving into the realm of memoir. Some essays are very funny while others might make you cry. They will all make you think as he has an uncanny ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate topics.

I give the Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.

Full review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4037161095

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