Book Review

18 Favorite Books from 2018

I truly believe that you become what you read.
The books you read fill your mind and heart.
They inspire you to become more and to do more.
Some books leave a lasting impression,
while others change your life.

I love looking back to the books I read over the year and reflecting on the important lessons they taught me. I read a total of 49 books this year and here are my 18 favorite books from 2018:

1) Becoming – Michelle Obama

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“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” Michelle Obama

One of the most important lessons I took away from Michelle’s journey is the importance of nourishing children with the belief that they are good enough, smart enough and capable enough. We see the importance of this kind of teaching, as Michelle was equipped with these beliefs growing up. In turn, these beliefs helped her every time she found herself sinking in the games of the political world. I admire her strength, confidence and humility. This was one of my favorite books of the year.

2) Educated – Tara Westover    

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“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create” ― Tara Westover

Tara was born into a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. She lived with five siblings and Mormon parents who did not believe in formal education or medicine. Tara takes us on her journey as she breaks away from an abusive family member and her father’s extreme beliefs and travels all the way to Cambridge to pursue a higher education. The important lesson I learned from this book is how education can transform you and provide you with the tools to feel liberated and confident.

3) Good Vibes, Good Life – Vex King

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“You’ll keep getting the test until you’ve proven that you’ve learned the lesson. You’ll keep seeing the signs until you take them seriously and act on them. You’re always being guided to live a greater life, as a greater person” – Vex King

Once in a blue moon, you come across a book that opens your eyes and motivates you to become the best version of yourself. This book by Vex King did just that for me. I loved every second of it. This is the kind of book that you may revisit often when you need a dose of motivation, a reminder for self-love or a mantra about positive vibes. The importance of self-love is the lesson I took away from this gem of a book.

4) Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal,

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“In traditional Indian morality tales, wayward children were the primary cause of heart conditions, cancerous lumps, hair loss and other ailments in their aggrieved parents.”Balli Kaur Jaswal

A big theme in this book is about traditional families and the shame attached to their daughters when they step out of line from what is expected from them. Womanhood is explored through the perspectives of women from different generations. Culture is explored through the perspectives of immigrant parents and their modern children. The biggest lesson from this book is that every person has a story to tell and there is a writer in all of us.

5) Circe – Madeline Miller

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“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” – Madeline Miller

 Circe is born into the house of Helios, God of the Sun and a Titan. Feeling like an outcast amongst the gods and goddesses in her own home, Circe turns to the mortals for companionship and soon discovers her powers for witchcraft.. It is not long until the all-powerful Zeus feels threatened by Circe’s powers and sends her into exile on the Isle of Aiaia. I love stories in which you follow a character as they endure brutal hardships only to discover their full potential. The lesson in this book was all about self-worth and personal growth. I loved watching Circe gain strength and find herself on a lonely island.

6) Sea Prayer – Khaled Hosseini

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Oh, but if they saw my darling. Even half of what you have. If only they saw. They would say kinder things surely– Khaled Hosseini 

They say great things come in small packages. Sea prayer is a very short illustrated book that took my breath away. It reads like a letter from a father to his son. The author was inspired to write this short story after the death of a three-year-old Syrian refugee as he was fleeing for safety with his family. Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying face down in the water is an image I may never forget. Knowing that this little angel inspired Sea Prayer made the story pull at my heartstrings. The author’s proceeds will benefit UN Refugee Agency. More information on the website: www.khaledhosseinifoundation.org.

7) Bloom for Yourself – April Green

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“Sometimes, there is no reason whatsoever than the simple truth that the universe just wants to watch you bloom”April Green

Bloom for Yourself is a lovely collection of poems about self-love and healing. April Green’s poetry is like a breath of fresh air. It is as if the words find a home inside your heart long after you have put the book down. These poems are small reminders to help you realize your worth in a world that can make you feel very small. I suggest keeping this book on your nightstand and reading a poem or two before sleeping and when you wake up. Start and end your day with these beautiful words.

8) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

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“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun in sugar” – Gail Honeyman

 I love books that introduce us to unique characters. Eleanor Oliphant is such a memorable character. You find yourself rooting for her and wanting to give this fictional character a big hug. From her tragic childhood to her socially clueless ways, she grabs your attention from the very first page of this book. The big lesson: the journey to self-improvement is hard and long, but it is a journey we must take.

9) It Ends With Us – Colleen Hoover

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“Just because we didn’t end up on the same wave, doesn’t mean we aren’t still a part of the same ocean” – Colleen Hoover 

I purchase Colleen Hoover’s books without even reading the synopsis. That is how much I trust this author to move me with her words. This book was by far my favorite book she has ever written. The theme of the book came as a surprise to me, so I do not wish to ruin it for anyone thinking about reading it. All I can say is, it is an important book for both women and men to read. I loved seeing how far the main character goes in her journey of self-development.

10) The City of Brass – S.A. Chakraborty

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“Greatness takes time, Banu Nahida. Often the mightiest things have the humblest beginnings”S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri is a con woman living on the streets of 18th century Cairo, where she swindles money from many Ottoman nobles during palm reading and healing rituals. One day, Nahri accidentally summons a djinn warrior and as a result she is introduced to a magical world and the City of Brass. This is an intriguing story filled with magic, folklore and mystery. Look out for the sequel being released in the New Year.

11) The Hating Game – Sally Thorne

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“Both love and hate are mirror versions of the same game, and you have to win. Why? Your heart and your ego. Trust me, I should know”Sally Throne 

This book was my favorite romantic comedy pick of the year. I read it during the holidays and I could not stop smiling and laughing. This is the story of Lucy and Josh, two coworkers working in a publishing company who hate each other. Or do they? The work place banter is absolutely hilarious and the more you get to know these characters, the more you will love them.


12) The Cruel Prince – Holly Black

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Sharpen your blade. Harden your heart” – Holly Black

One of my most favorite young adult books this year was The Cruel Prince. The story opens with a brutal murder that leaves three sisters without parents and at the mercy of the killer. Ten years later, the sisters are all living in Faerie having been raised by their parent’s murderer. What I love about this story is that each one of the characters is majorly flawed. I love the idea of an anti-hero and that is what you get here.

13) Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

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“After all this time?”
“Always” – J.K. Rowlng

I reread the entire series this year and I can tell you it was like therapy for my adult heart. I spent the summer revisiting Hogwarts and tagging along with Harry, Hermione and Ron. I laughed and cried just like I did when I first read these books and it felt wonderful. For anyone looking for a fun escape, I recommend reading this series again and again.

14) Dear Martin – Nic Stone

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“Dear Martin, can you explain why everywhere I turn, I run into people who wanna keep me down?”Nic Stone 

Justyce is a good student with a bright future ahead of him. But when a police officer roughly puts him in handcuffs one night, he starts questioning the world he lives in. He starts wondering if he would have endured the same treatment if he was white. He begins writing a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in an attempt to help him work through everything that unfolded after that encounter with the police officer. This is such an important book to read and it is so well written.

15) Braving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

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“When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?”– Brene Brown.

I knew I would enjoy this book when Brene mentioned J.K. Rowling in the very first chapter. One of my favorite quote from the book is when Brene imagines J.K. Rowling telling her: “new worlds are important, but you can’t just describe them. Give us the stories that make the universe. No matter how wild and weird the new world might be, we’ll see ourselves in the stories”. This set the tone for the rest of the book.

16) When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect timing

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“We all know that timing is everything. But we assume timing is an art. Timing is really a science” – Daniel H. Pink

The most interesting part of this book for me was when the author breaks down time to when we are most productive based on our sleep patterns. As we get older, we get a sense that time is just flying by. So how do we make use of the time? When is the best time to make decisions? When is the best time in the day to work on your creative projects? This book covers it all and more.

17) Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

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“Remember, every treasure comes with a price – Kevin Kwan 

 Imagine finding out that your boyfriend is one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors. Rachel Chu is stunned when she visits her boyfriend’s family home in Singapore. She never saw the big mansion and private planes coming. As she is swept into the lavish life she meets some interesting people who are hell bent on sabotaging her relationship. I loved the drama, but more importantly I enjoyed reading about the culture in Singapore.

18) Legendary – Stephanie Garber

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Not everyone gets a true ending. There are two types of endings because most people give up at the part of the story where things are the worst, where the situation feels hopeless. But that’s when hope is needed most. Only those who persevere can find their true ending.”― Stephanie Garber

I really enjoyed reading this sequel to Caraval. The world that the author creates is beyond magical and filled with such colourful characters. The writing is poetic and the villain in the story is truly captivating. We are taken away into the world of Caraval, a performance where the audience participates in the show. They are warned that it is just a game and nothing is real. But for sisters Tella and Scarlett, it starts feeling very real. This was a delight to read.

And there you have it. I’m grateful for all the amazing books I had the chance to read this year and I’m excited to see what 2019 has in store for me.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

Shazia.

Book Review

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Do you ever look at people and think, “What is their story?”
I sometimes find myself thinking this whenever I see someone displaying some kind of emotion.
I have thought about this when I saw someone silently wiping away tears during a bus ride.
I have thought about this when I saw someone leaving the hospital with an extra skip in their step and a smile on their face.
I have thought about this whenever I met a bully who liked to terrorize people just to make themselves feel better.

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama, teaches us the importance of owning our stories and who we are becoming,

This book begins with Michelle home alone, making a grilled cheese sandwich and eating on her porch. Of course, this is not the White House. This was a scene of her life after Barack Obama’s presidency came to an end. It was a beautiful way to open the book as it gives readers a glimpse into the transition she was going through at the time. Michelle realized in that moment of serenity that she had so much to reflect on and share.

The book is separated in three parts:
Becoming me
Becoming us
Becoming more

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Becoming Me:

Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” ― Michelle Obama.

To be honest, I did not know anything about Michelle’s childhood and I found this part of the book to be a delight. The way Michelle writes about her childhood is almost like she opened the front door of her house on the south side of Chicago and welcomed readers in. She introduces you to her caring mother, her strong father suffering in silence with a chronic illness and her protective big brother Craig. She shows you around the small house and takes you back to see their family car, the Buick. She takes you downstairs and introduces you to her strict Aunt Robbie who teaches piano. It really is an intimate tour of her childhood home and her close-knit family.

You understand that her parents sacrificed so much to see their children succeed. You also understand that a lot of the confidence Michelle has steamed from a supportive environment at home. There is a lot of family time in this section of the book and I smiled through it.

Michelle’s parents encouraged her to ask questions, to learn more and work hard. These are the values that you can find in later stages of her life. The values she returns to when she is told that she is not “Princeton material” by her guidance counsellor. She digs deep and pushes forward excelling in school and becoming a Harvard graduate and landing a job. She was also insightful enough to later realize that she was not feeling passionate about her job. It takes a lot of strength and determination to leave a well paying job behind and to pursue something that will give you purpose.

I think what I took away from her childhood is this: Helping a child realize they are good enough, smart enough and capable enough will instil in them the kind of confidence that will pull them up when life tries to knock them down. Michelle was knocked down many times in her life, but I truly think that her parents are one of the biggest reasons she stood back up and reminded herself that she was enough.

Becoming Us:

Alright, let me just get this out. Michelle and Barack are all kinds of adorable. It is almost as if you can feel the love between them when they look at each other. Their inauguration dance felt like some kind of political fairy-tale that left me screeching, “why are you two so cute” at the TV. It was only after reading their story that I appreciated their relationship that much more. Can I also say the choice of their wedding song made me melt? They are so darn cute!

Michelle is incredibly honest and open about her love for Barack and the struggles that come with being in a relationship with a man who has big plans for the country. She does not shy away from speaking about her feelings about politics and how it was at times a lonely place to be.

The most impactful part of this story for me was Michelle’s fertility struggles. It takes so much courage to write about something as painful as miscarriage. It also takes strength to write about fertility problems and the toll it takes on a woman. How your career takes a backseat as you go through the treatments and appointments.

You can really tell that she carried the values her parents taught her and passed it on to her two girls. You can also tell that none of it was easy. Being a working mother and the wife of a politician was difficult. Barack’s absence was felt in the household and she found it frustrating trying to keep her girls awake till their dad got home.

There is a quote in the book that reflects on when Michelle found a balance and accepted that Barack would be absent a lot of the time and how they would make the best out of it.

“I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us”

The thing I love most about Michelle and Barack’s relationship is the respect they have for each other. Things are not easy between them, but they communicate and again it boils down to that mutual respect. They are one hell of a team, and did I mention they are adorable?

Becoming More:

“We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.” ― Michelle Obama.

I have always thought Michelle Obama was an inspiration, but what I admired most about her was her confidence. Here was a woman who seemed to know who she was and that she was enough. I was often curious as to how she had so much composure and confidence while being in the middle of the political game that was designed to tear you down.

But it did tear her down.

She was not only a woman, but also the first black First Lady. She shares with us that being the first black family in the White House meant that they needed to work twice as hard and endure the backlash that came their way. It is sad to learn how much she was stereotyped as being an angry black woman, or how she was never really asked about her own career.

Tabloids always questioned how she spoke, how she dressed and how she behaved. It is frustrating that an accomplished woman with an intelligent mind and big ideas had to endure so much of this during the campaign trail and well into her time as First Lady.

“At this point, I’d been First Lady for just over two months. In different moments, I’d felt overwhelmed by the pace, unworthy of the glamour, anxious about our children, and uncertain of my purpose. There are pieces of public life, of giving up one’s privacy to become a walking, talking symbol of a nation, that can seem specifically designed to strip away part of your identity. But here, finally, speaking to those girls, I felt something completely different and pure—an alignment of my old self with this new role. Are you good enough? Yes, you are, all of you. ― Michelle Obama.

How much do we know about Michelle Obama’s career? I knew bits and pieces but I was in awe over how much this woman accomplished in her life and how she continues to strive to make a difference. She launched missions related to childhood nutrition and girls education. She met with veterans and started mentorship programs. She strived to change things and fought to make a lot of what she wanted happen.

Overall:

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There are not enough words for me to describe how much I enjoyed this book and everything I took from it. All I can say is that it is an important book to read. It is not a political book. It does not dive into the political wars between the Blue and Red. I’m Canadian, so I can’t relate to how intense American politics can become, although I have seen numerous discussions get incredibly heated over the years. I truly believe that Michelle’s personal journey is powerful enough to be appreciated no matter what political party you support. There is something for everyone to learn in her journey.

Highly recommended read!

Happy reading,

Shazia.