Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
I think December is my least favorite reading month.
Every year, as the clock ticks closer to the new year, I start panicking about my December reading list. I have to finish my reading challenge! I meant to read these books in 2020! Did I read as many books as last year?
Of course, none of this matters. But still, it gets me all aflutter. Plus, it would be awfully embarrassing not to finish my own reading challenge.
So what did I end up reading in my panicked state? See my thought on my last two reading challenge prompts, a few recent releases, and the last-minute backlist audiobook raid.
December Reading List
Rachel Hollis, bestselling author of Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing, is back with a new book about overcoming grief and trauma. Most of the book focuses on her experiences after her brother’s suicide but a few chapters do refer to her impending divorce from husband Dave Hollis. Books take a long time to write, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she is not just capitalizing on her divorce. Though given the state of things, the title is a bit ironic. As to the book itself, I kinda hated it. Not because I’m anti-Rachel Hollis, I loved Girl, Wash Your Face. Sometimes her advice is okay and would work for some people, but many times her advice sounded downright wrong for most people.
Instamom Emmy Jackson is known for telling it as it is to her millions of Instagram followers. She knows exactly how to monetize her life as a “good-enough” mom. When Emmy’s online narrative pulls further from the truth it begins to strain her marriage. Meanwhile, an obsessed follower begins stalking the family, with a major grudge against Emmy.
People Like Her has the most accurate portrayal of influencer life I’ve read thus far in fiction. I loved that Emmy was a savvy businesswoman self-aware enough to contemplate how her lifestyle was influencing her family. I thought the stalker story was extremely compelling and although the ending was a bit overdramatic, I loved the epilogue. An all-around fun book to read that makes you think about how putting our lives online affects us.
Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
What happens when an admired but aloof woman in a middle-class suburb gets arrested for running a prostitution ring? Although starting with a tawdry premise, This Secret Thing is extremely PG. Nora’s arrest is always present, but she is barely mentioned. In fact, the book completely whitewashes over sex trafficking and the darker side of prostitution, making it seem like more of a white-collar crime. The story focuses on the lives of those around her: her daughter, mother, and former best friend. The presence of a police detective makes them each worried that their own secrets will come to light. In all, it’s a bubblegum story which, despite its many flaws, I enjoyed reading as a light distraction.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Lake Union Publishing through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
I needed to read a book about sports for the 2020 Reading Challenge, so I decided to pick up the audiobook memoir by the co-founder of Nike. In grad school, Phil Knight had a crazy idea that Japanese running shoes could overtake the domination of German company Adidas. He partnered up with his former track coach to help design innovative shoes and traveled to Japan to bring this crazy idea to life. Following the ups and downs of the journey that built a billion-dollar company, Knight’s memoir will hook you in with a band of eccentric characters and an underdog story with excellent narrative pacing. Knight’s memoir is exceptional and one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Sophia Amoruso went from a life on the margins – a school drop-out dumpster diving for food and surviving on shoplifting and odds jobs – to the founder of one of the fastest-growing retail companies, Nasty Gal. Amoruso’s book is part memoir, part career-advice, and part inspiration for girl bosses. I liked that she encourages women to push forward even when they don’t feel like they have enough education or experience. However, her jack-of-all-trades approach to genres means she’s a master of none, making me wish she had focused her topics a bit more narrowly.
In 168 Hours, time-management expert Laura Vanderkam taught that you have more time than you think. All you have to do is think about your week as not 7 days, but as 168 hours. Many readers felt that her book was too anecdotal, so Vanderkam collected thousands of time logs from successful women to see how they spend their time. In I Know How She Does It, Vanderkam uses the data to show you that you can have it all. I thought the book was interesting, but not inspirational. The biggest drawback is that it only focuses on a narrow subset of women, which limits its usability.
My husband listened to the audiobook of True Grit and couldn’t stop talking about it. Of course, I had to read the book and watch both movies. In the 1870s, teenager Mattie Ross seeks vengeance for her father’s murder. To track down the murderer in the Indian Territories, she hires Federal Marshal Rooster Cogburn who teams up with a Texas Ranger for the hunt. Mattie’s no-nonsense narration makes this classic Western story shine.
Hemingway’s debut novel has been on my to-read list for ages, so I thought I’d use the 2020 Reading Challenge to force my hand. While I enjoyed A Farwell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises just didn’t do it for me. It’s the story of a group of expatriates in Paris drinking their way through life and their vacation to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It felt like the ’20s equivalent of reality tv – a peek into the vacuous life of the slightly rich and slightly famous. Just be aware you also get a peek into 1920s slurs and prejudices.
Forget the black hats and broomsticks. Witches are real. They look just like ordinary women and their goal in life is to make children disappear. Roald Dahl’s classic children’s fantasy about a grandmother and grandson’s encounter with witches was a rather enjoyable read. Dahl is one of the most imaginative writers you’ll ever read and his unique style of storytelling is timeless.
In 1993, a hundred US soldiers were dropped by helicopters into a crowded Mogadishu market in the middle of the day to capture two Somali warlords. The quick in-and-out operation went to pieces when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, trapping dozens of soldiers in place overnight in a hellish fight against thousands of Somalians.
Bowden does an excellent job giving you a feel for modern warfare – showing the courage and determination of the troops but not glossing over the fact that war is hell and should not be undertaken lightly. I listened to the audiobook, which was a mistake for me. In the beginning, I had difficulty keeping the large cast of characters, but by the end, I was hooked on this powerful tale.
Chris Guillebeau gives you an intriguing look at the side hustle nation, people who decided to build up their own business instead of seeking traditional employment. In The $100 Startup, he focuses on 50 case studies of businesses earning at least $50K, most with a small initial investment. Nowadays, books like this are super common, but back in 2012, The $100 Startup was eye-opening.
When I started the book, I thought it was going to be an outdated dud, and the yawn-worthy audiobook narration didn’t help. Surprisingly, Guillebeau’s advice is rather timeless, focusing on both the bigger why but also getting into some of the how. I particularly loved his section on launching a product, and plan to use it for reference if/when I ever launch a product. If you’ve ever been curious about becoming an entrepreneur, this is an excellent starting point.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back in January to see which ones I read.
What books did you read in December?