Hello everyone! I’m back with another set of mini book reviews! Books included are: The Lincoln Highway, Declutter Like a Mother, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Full Out, Call Us What We Carry, Hard Choices, How to Hide an Empire, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Project 333, and Girl Sleuth.
I had a sudden uptick in books I’ve read these past few weeks so I’m actually already ready to start part 19 too! But for now, I’ll focus on these ten. I don’t really give spoilers for the books, but if I do, I’ll provide a warning!
Note about my ratings: I’ve switched to using the StoryGraph to track and rate the books I’ve been reading. This site uses 1-5 stars, 5 being the highest, in 0.25 increments. Feel free to friend me on the StoryGraph – my username is StarringPamela there!
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
So, fun story… I decided to read all of President Obama’s favorite books of 2021! He always posts a “summer reading” list and a year end favorites on his social media platforms, and I got really curious. What does a former US President read? I have now read three of the 29 or so books (I forgot the total but I did count them) and this was the first.
This book is a historical fiction story following 18 year old Emmett Watson in 1954. Emmett was just released from a juvenile prison where he served a year of labor on a work farm after involuntary manslaughter. Emmett is going back home to pick up his 8 year old brother. The two boys were raised by their single father who passed shortly before the start of the book, and Emmett is now in charge of moving them as their farm was foreclosed upon. When the warden drops off Emmett in his home town, it is revealed that two of Emmett’s friends from the work farm hid in the trunk to escape. They drastically change Emmett’s plans to drive west to start a new life and the adventure takes them across the country in a crazy road trip.
After reading this book, I was honestly blown away! This story was so wild! I think in the moment it felt quite slow paced due to the writing style, but in hindsight it was pretty epic. The book only takes place over a week or so, but so much ground is covered and so many events take place that you’re left as overwhelmed at the journey as Emmett is. I don’t want to spoil anything at all in this book as it is just SO GOOD. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth the read.
I gave this book 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Declutter Like a Mother: A Guilt-Free, No-Stress Way to Transform Your Home and Your Life by Allie Casazza
This book caught my eye because of the declutter aspect. Casazza shares her past as a busy and overwhelmed mother who craved a simpler life without so much stuff. I didn’t relate to the parenting sections at all, so I skipped those when they came up, and I did find the information a bit basic. The best part was Casazza’s funny and non-judgemental personality for sure. I think if you’re looking for an easy read and a good place to start the decluttering journey, or need a bit of a refresher and motivator, this could be a good pick!
I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
I read this book as the January book club pick for the non-fiction book club I’m a part of through my local library. We picked it because we live right on a great lake and thus thought it was cool to pick a subject close to home. I live on near the shores of Lake Michigan and it’s crazy to think that not everyone has a lake as large as the Great Lakes nearby. These lakes are huge, deep, and have a huge impact on the lives of those around them.
This book was different than I expected. I thought it was going to be an informative book about the Great Lakes overall. I’m talking pollution, wild life, water supply, weather patterns, history, everything! Instead, we learned about the effects of a handful of invasive fish. Was it informative? Yes. Was it interesting? Yeah, actually. Was it really what we’d hoped to read? Not particularly. The consensus on this one was that it was interesting, but not our favorite book club pick.
I gave this book 3.75 out of 5 stars.
Full Out: Lessons in Life and Leadership from America’s Favorite Coach by Monica Aldama
The next book was Coach Monica Aldama’s autobiography! I loved the Netflix show Cheer, and loved Monica so I had to read her book! Normally, I do refer to authors by their last name, since that’s what I was taught way back in school to do. But considering Monica is known as Monica on the show, I thought it was fine to go with the first name. (Apologies Monica, if you ever read this and don’t agree! Happy to change it!)
I found her book so cool to read. It’s a pretty fast read, focusing on major life moments of hers from before the show aired, her thoughts on the sudden fame that came with the show, and highlighting major plot points of the show. I had no idea Monica and her husband had previously divorced before marrying again. That was super interesting to read about! And I really appreciated that Monica spoke about how the rush of fame affected her. Monica had already been used to the fame of the cheer world, which is an intense world from what I’ve learned. But Netflix level fame is so different. I loved that she also mentioned how the cheerleaders reacted to it too. This was also discussed in the show, but it was still cool to read about, particularly when she included insight into some of the team members like Gabi and Morgan. Due to the show and Monica herself, I’m 100% Team Navarro!
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman
I loved Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb”, so I knew I had to read her book of poems. And wow, they were beautiful. Gorman’s work is quite contemporary and political, highlighting things like the Black Lives Matter movement, the pandemic, and other important issues. Despite the heavy topics, Gorman’s poetry reads elegantly, beautifully, and is highly inspiring. My favorite poem in the book was actually “Practice Makes People”. I highly recommend picking up this book.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
I read another of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s many autobiographies! This time I read Hard Choices which features her years as the US Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term in the White House. It was super interesting, but it wasn’t as enjoyable to read as the other autobiographies of her’s that I’ve read for some reason. I think it was mostly because while her years as Secretary of State were really interesting, she did only serve in that role for four years, and a ton of other stuff was included both before and after the term. While it was nice for the context, it just seemed like we were spending so long on those other times instead of focusing on the State Department years. There was also quite a bit of passages that alluded to the possibility of another Presidential bid from Rodham Clinton, which would have been a lot more enjoyable if it had been successful. Still, it was a really, really interesting and informative read!
I gave this book 4.75 out of 5 stars.
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
I saw this book on TikTok so I checked it out as soon as I could! It was a really fascinating read about the history of the US, focusing on the territories that the US acquired. I did know quite a bit about this history already, such as how the US gained areas like Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Texas, Alaska, etc. But it was still really informative and I learned a ton about how the territories in Asia impacted WWII, for example. It was already really cool to read about how the big technology advances between WWI and WWII changed the US need for those territories, leading to a lot of changes in the US empire. Also, it was crazy to read about how people serving in WWII didn’t know they were going to defend a US territory when they were sent to the Philippines. Of course, sometimes I’ll still come across posts on social media about people who didn’t know New Mexico is a state so there’s that. Anyway, I would highly recommend this book.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
This was the second book I read from President Obama’s 2021 book list. Cloud Cuckoo Land follows multiple characters past, present, and future, all tied together by an Ancient Greek codex, almost lost to history. The past is represented by Anna, a young orphan, and Omier, a soldier, in 15th century Constantinople. The present follows Zeno, a Korean War veteran and now librarian, and Seymour, a mentally unstable and easily manipulated domestic terrorist, in present day Idaho. And the future centers around Konstance, a twenty-second century passenger of the Argos, a spaceship headed to a new planet who is a part of the first generation of many that will live the entirety of their lives en route to their new home.
The book was just… incredible. It’s kind of crazy, since I remember a time when these multiple characters with separate but intertwined plots were annoying to me, and now I can’t get enough of them. When they are done well, they are magical, and Cloud Cuckoo Land is done very well. This story has stayed with me longer than others. Since I read so much, it often feels like the stories are in one ear, or I suppose, eye, and out the other. But this was a really powerful and moving read, and I am so glad I chose to read it. As the internet once said, “Thanks Obama!”
I gave this book 4.25 out of 5 stars. Honestly though, I’m thinking I rated this way too low though. I’m changing it to 4.75 stars!
Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really is So Much More by Courtney Carver
This was a really easy and quick read. I had to wait awhile to read this one, since I put it on hold back in January I think, along with everyone else who was like “NEW YEAR NEW ME” and all that. Anyway, this book focuses on Carver’s simple but intriguing challenge of selecting 33 items of clothing and only wearing those for 3 months to learn that you do not need a million pieces of clothing to make great outfits. Carver spends the book explaining what does and does not count in those 33 items (examples: a pair of shoes counts as one item, pj’s do not count as an item unless you wear them out of the house – which she does frown upon!). Then, Carver gives suggestions for how to split the 33 items (as in, how many shirts to pants to shoes to accessories), how to select the items (it’ll be easier if most of it can match), and what to do with the other items you didn’t select (put them away to start!).
I did like the idea, but I’m far too lazy to try it out. Especially since I have such a hard time letting things go even when I know it isn’t an item I like! Even so, I got some inspiration from it, and really did enjoy the idea. I would recommend reading the book if you are interested and, if you try the challenge, please let me know how it goes! (And now I’m considering it just for a blog post LOL.)
I gave this book 3.25 out of 5 stars.
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak
This was February’s library non-fiction book club pick! I have never read a Nancy Drew book in my life, so I wasn’t thrilled at this pick. But we always vote and most of the book club was older women who did enjoy Nancy Drew in their lives so they beat out the rest of us! Even so, I’m always willing and determined to try out the books we pick. This book follows the origins of Nancy Drew in the 1930’s, and the history of the books. It also follows the lives of Mildred Wirt Benson, the original ghostwriter for Nancy, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the woman who took over her father’s publishing business after he died and continued to foster the Nancy Drew series.
There was quite a bit of drama in the history of Nancy Drew! The books were among the first time a female protagonist was featured in a children’s series, back when women weren’t necessarily encouraged to be independent. Then, there was the humans behind the series. Mildred was an educated journalist, who later struggled with being cut out of Nancy’s story when she was not given credit for her work as a ghost writer and could not provide her opinion on how her creation was later portrayed in the updated series and other adaptations. Harriet, on the other hand, had to beg her father to let her attend college because she was only expected to be a wife and mother, not a business owner struggling to keep the Stratemeyer Syndicate afloat during the Great Depression. Even with the struggles each female, real and fiction, faced, it was really cool to read how the rose above the challenges and reached success in her own way.
I will say, I was honestly pretty bored reading the book since I just really had no real interest in Nancy Drew. However, there were really cool insights into what life was like for women throughout the 1900’s and how Nancy Drew grew and evolved as the story progressed. I did have the added knowledge of ghostwriters, as I’ve learned a bit via TikTok ghostwriters, so I was able to provide some context for why ghostwriters exist to the other book club attendees. I have checked out a Nancy Drew book to at least give one a try, so I’ll have to report back on that later! Anyway, I would really only recommend this book if you are or were a big Nancy Drew fan. It is interesting even if you aren’t a fan of the series, but I think it would be a lot more interesting if you have that added draw into that history.
I gave this book 3.75 out of 5 stars.
So those are the most recent ten books I’ve read! Let me know if you have read any of these or plan to. I’d love to know!
Thanks for reading!
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