Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

Spending a Day with Dava Shastri

Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

A five-star book review

If you could find out what people say about you after you die, would you want to do so?

Confession: I did lot know if I was going to rate Dava Shastri’s Last Day as a five-star read until the last few chapters. This debut novel by Kirthana Ramisetti is a character study of a determined, complicated woman who has taken her fate into her own hands, determined to enact her own decisions before cancer does it for her. But, she discovers that prematurely announcing her death has lasting effects on her children. That is the premise for this book, but its pages are filled with so much more.

What I Liked about Dava Shastri’s Last Day

  • The premise – I think it’s natural to want to know what people say about you when you’re not there. Unless you’re one of those completely self-assured individuals who can genuinely say, “Screw them,” that question is always at the back of your mind. But, hearing your eulogy or legacy amps up that experience. Dava read, listened to, and witnessed others’ responses to her death, and some of it surprised her, not in a positive way.
  • Dava – The protagonist of this novel isn’t necessarily a likable character. She’s deeply driven, a bit egotistical, and extremely controlling. But, as her last day unfolds and we learn more about her past and how those events influenced her life, I started to empathize with her. Revealing more of her experience would give away spoilers, so I’ll just say that her story is complex and full of emotion.
  • The children – Much like their mother, the Shastri-Persson children aren’t lovable characters at first encounter. They run the spectrum of deeply committed to Dava’s foundations and work (daughter Sita) to wandering through life courtesy of their trust funds (son Rev). The children attribute their lives and their own decisions to Dava’s influence, and they’re not wrong. Their mother is a force in their lives, but as I made my way through this book, I found myself rooting for their growth and own decision-making.
  • The philanthropy: Dava made her billions in music, first as a producer and then as an investor in an iPod-like device. But her real impact comes from her foundations. Likable or not, Dava is a philanthropist who wants to support artists, especially women. She wants to make an impact with her money, and I admire that.

Dava Shastri’s Last Day was a surprising read for me. The more I read, the more I became invested in the stories of Dava and her children. A complex novel about family, secrets, and ambition, it’s a book that left me thinking about my own legacy, and that makes it a five-star read.

The Importance of Moxie

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
A 5⭐️ Book

I heard about Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu when the Netflix movie with Amy Poehler released and eagerly bought the novel, but like so many books on my TBR, it got pushed down in the stack.

I added Moxie to my 22 in 2022 challenge list and definitely knew I wanted to read it soon. So, searching for an audiobook to keep me motivated for my workouts last week, I decided to listen to this one and check it off my list.

Friends, I was wrong to have waited so long. This book is fantastic! A YA novel about high school girls taking back their agency and using their voices to stand up against sexual harassment and violence? Yes, please!

What I Loved about Moxie

  • The Message: I couldn’t help but think about my high school experiences while listening to this book. I was the target of several instances of sexual harassment. One moment in the library continues to haunt me. I didn’t stand up for myself out of embarrassment, but I wish I had. This book gives inspiration to young girls, and I want my daughters to read it so they know that they are empowered to stand up for themselves, if they ever experience sexual harassment, and that I will stand and fight with them.
  • The Characters: I loved the protagonist Vivian and how she gained inspiration to show moxie from her mom’s ‘90s Riot Grrrl past. I loved Lucy and Claudia. I loved Vic’s mom and grandparents. But most of all, I loved the message of this book: that girls can do anything.
  • The Setting: Moxie is set in a small town in Texas, and being a girl from Nebraska farm country, I could relate to the small-town politics and experiences.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I definitely want to watch the Netflix version of Moxie. I hope that it stays true to the novel!

Unbound: The Story of #MeToo

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

A Five-Star Book

Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of the Me Too Movement that opened the door for thousands of women to finally raise their voices and share their stories of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment. Ms. Burke is a powerhouse, a woman who stands for so many BIPOC, for so many women and girls who do not have the words or the voices to speak up. She empowers us all to speak up and calls for the end of the horrors of sexual assault.

Ms. Burke begins her memoir by sharing the morning when her words, Me Too, became a viral hashtag that finally gave a voice to the silent suffering. But her memoir is much more than a recounting of how Me Too began. It is a vulnerable, painfully real story of truth that began when she was sexually assaulted as a child. With her truth, Ms. Burke shines a light on the meaning of #metoo, demonstrating that it’s not just a hashtag but a highly nuanced movement to hold others accountable for sexual violence.

As a Black woman, Ms. Burke explains how Black culture addresses sexual violence under a lens of not just taking care of others but with caution because of the countless Black men who have been violently accused and condemned and murdered by whites. This feels so wrong yet so relevant to what has happened in the U.S. for centuries. Her explanation was both vivid and heartbreaking.

Much of Unbound is about Ms. Burke’s realization that others have experienced the same type of pain and suffering. Their stories helped her to find her voice, and she returns that gift to others. This book is raw, honest, and brutal. But it is hopeful as well, as she encourages us to speak out and give others our voices.

I am thankful for Ms. Burke’s activism, her voice, and her courage to share her story. I do not yet have all the words for what violence and scars I carry in my past, but one day I will share my #metoo story. I hope it gives others’ strength to do the same.

Loving Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A Five-Star Book Review

I’m calling it. Lessons in Chemistry is officially one of my favorite reads for 2022! Bonnie Garmus exceeded all expectations with this book, introducing unique characters, exploring multi-layered plot lines, and delighting us with fantastic writing.

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, one of the rare females in her field in the 1950s. Because she’s a woman, her professors, bosses, and colleagues assume that she’s more suited for fetching coffee than trying to solve abiogenesis. She faces sexual harassment in every part of her work, but her strong will and intelligence keep her going.

Upon her first encounters with Calvin Evans, the golden boy of the laboratory that employs them both, Elizabeth is wary of befriending him. But soon, a sweet love – full of chemistry – blossoms. Yet, life doesn’t work out as a love story for Elizabeth, and by the 1960s she finds herself not working as a chemist in a lab, but hosting her own cooking TV show, Supper at Six. Her opinion that cooking is chemistry, her straightforward manner, and her rightful belief that women can be more than housewives.

The result? A story of growth, wit, and perseverance for Elizabeth and the cast of supporting characters, from her highly intelligent daughter Mad to her dedicated neighbor Mrs. Harriet Sloane to her TV producer Walter Pine.

What I Loved About Lessons in Chemistry

  • Elizabeth – She is hands-down one of the strongest female protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time. Her story is tragic but also triumphant, and that’s because of the depth of her character.
  • Mad – This little girl is just as blunt as her mom, and she’s equally bright, too. She’s young and innocent, but she understands that her mom has been through so much.
  • Six-Thirty – This former military dog is the loyalist, most loving dog. I loved when Ms. Garmus added Six-Thirty’s perspective to the chapters. From fetching Mad at school every day to learning 891-plus words, Six-Thirty has my heart.
  • The Resolution- I won’t give away anything to spoil the ending, but I will say that I was so satisfied with how Ms. Garmus completed this story.
  • The Message – Reading about the harassment, the bigotry, and the injustice that Elizabeth and other female characters faced in this book was difficult, and it made me question how much has really changed. as Elizabeth said many times: gender, race, religion, or creed makes no difference in a person’s abilities or what opportunities they should be given.

I hope you will read Lessons in Chemistry! I loved every bit of it.

Trigger Warnings: Harassment, assault

The Surprises of Honey Girl

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

A five-star book review – Includes spoilers

I ordered Honey Girl as one of my Book of the Month picks a few months ago, and oh how I wish I’d read it sooner.

This debut novel by Morgan Rogers was such a surprise for me. I thought it would be a sweet romantic comedy like many others, but Honey Girl stands out. It has heart. It tackles serious mental health issues. It is life-affirming.

What I Loved About Honey Girl

The representation in Honey Girl is amazing. Morgan Rogers is a Black Queer author who incorporates diversity into every page of her novel. The protagonist, Grace Porter, is a lesbian born to a strict, military father who is Black and a white mother who travels the world in search of herself. In a drunken frenzy after receiving her PhD in astronomy, Grace marries Yuki Yamamoto, an Asian radio host and waitress, in Las Vegas. That’s where the story begins, but Grace goes on a much more nuanced journey than only trying to get to know her wife. Grace’s friends are just as diverse as she and Yuki are, making this book a refreshing read.

This book is a romance, but it’s also described as a coming-of-age novel. Grace is struggling to find her home in academia. She is determined to be the best, and that means achieving the top position. She has been following the plan laid out by her father, Colonel, for eleven years, with her only rebellion being that she chose astronomy over medicine. Her job interviews sour Grace from the field as interview panels imply that her sexuality and race are “unsuitable” for a researcher. Despite being the favored student by her professor and mentor, Grace is distraught because her dream career has stalled.

This lost feeling really resonated with me. I could relate to Grace because of my own experience after my Master’s program. You work so hard in school and do everything right, but then when you graduate, you lose that student identity. I felt lost for a few years after I got my Master’s and eventually started my doctorate program to get back some of that identity and ultimately prove something to others. That is a disheartening sentence, but it’s the truth. I still question whether I’m living up to my potential and my worth as dictated by those two degrees.

But back to Grace. Her mental health is hurting, and I cheered for her when she came to that revelation. Ms. Rogers described mental illness in the most realistic way I have read in a very long time. From anxiety and depression to a damaged self-esteem to the struggle of finding a proper mental health therapist, Grace’s story felt real in every aspect.

Those are just a few of the reasons I loved this book. I especially loved Grace’s found family of roommates Ximena and Agnes, as well as her coworkers Raj and Meera. Honey Girl is a love story between two lonely creatures who find themselves bound by marriage. It is a beautifully written debut from an author I will be following closely. It is a book that I highly recommend!

Enjoying Black Cake

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

A Five-Star Book Review

I went in blind when I started reading Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, having only seen rave reviews of this debut novel on Bookstagram. I can say now that those reviews were totally on point. This book is beautiful!

I describe Ms. Wilkerson’s writing as magic, and here’s why.

Why You Should Read Black Cake

It has everything. Sometimes I love a book because of the plot and characters. Sometimes I love it for the author’s writing style. Black Cake is one of the rare finds that has both for me to love. Ms. Wilkerson’s writing ability is on par with the best in contemporary fiction. She builds a narrative that is complex but well-defined, that leaves a mystery and then shows you the truth when you least expect it, that uses sentences and paragraphs and chapters to capture your whole heart.

I love a generational story with multiple timelines, but some books try to do too much across those different narratives. Black Cake is not one of those books. Ms. Wilkerson uses short chapters to shift the storylines and bring all characters to life across decades. The pace of these chapters ebb and flow like the sea, which is nearly a character itself in this book that takes you from an unnamed Caribbean island to the Mod years of London to 2018 in Southern California.

Identity is at the center of Black Cake. Byron Bennet May think he knows who he is, but his sister Benny is still working to find herself. Their parents, Bert and Eleanor, don’t accept Benny’s decision to quit university or her bisexuality, and she’s walked out of their lives in order to find herself. But neither Byron or Benny truly know their parents, as they learn from their mother’s voice recording after her death. Soon, they see that both their parents aren’t who they think they are and have struggled to form their own identities.

Finally, while the core of her novel is about identity, Ms. Wilkerson takes us on a journey that addresses so many social and emotional issues. From today’s climate of racism in the U.S. to sexuality, from environmental protection to assault, from parent-child relationships to colonialism, this book is full of horrors, insights, and calls to action.

I loved this book so much, and I hope you will read and love it, too.

The Glory of HOSAB

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J Maas

A Five-Star Review (Minor Spoilers)

If you’ve been on Bookstagram or BookTok in the past two months, you’ve seen tributes to Sarah J Maas’s newest book, House of Sky and Breath, which is the second in her Crescent City. There’s good reason for this adoration, in my opinion. HOSAB is a great book – a long one too, clocking in at 800+ pages!

What I Loved about HOSAB

  • Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar: This couple is end game. They’re complicated protagonists with a deep love for each other and a desperation to live a quiet, uneventful life together. Bryce is another one of SJM’s queens, right up there with Feyre (A Court of Thorns and Roses) and Aelin (Throne of Glass), and her tormented angel Hunt is just as great of a character.
  • The circle of supporting characters: Ruhn is my favorite side character in Crescent City. He is a classic bad boy with a heart of gold, and I am here for that journey. His friends Declan and Fynn give off vibes like Cassian and Azriel, another excellent entourage. We see more of Juniper and Fury, Bryce’s BFFs, and they are so good as well.
  • The world-building: I don’t know how SJM creates these fantastic worlds with multiverses and unique histories. My brain doesn’t work that way, so I have to be content with reading about them in books like this.
  • The representation: I have seen criticism of SJM’s previous series for the lack of diversity, and I agree. Bring on the diversity of characters, Sarah! HOSAB brings more representation to our eyes, and I hope that this prevails in future books.
  • The ending: I’m not going to spoil anything, but that ending! Wow. I had no inclination that SJM was leading us down that path. I went back and re-read the last chapter just to make sure that I read it correctly. Perfection!

Other Thoughts about HOSAB

  • In it for the long haul: Much like House of Earth and Blood (Book 1), this is a slow build to greatness with different points of view and more exploration of Midgard, the planet on which our story occurs. What does this mean? A heck of a long book. It took me about 3 weeks to read, with breaks for other books as I went along.
  • The steam: Audiobook lovers, I advise wearing earbuds with this one! HOEAB had some steamy scenes, but House of Sky and Breath brings the heat. I was blushing!

So, now I join the ranks of all the SJM readers who are impatiently waiting for the next book in the Crescent City series.

The Maid: Adventures with Molly

The Maid by Nita Prose
A 5-Star Book Review

It took me awhile to become engrossed in The Maid by Nita Prose, but once I did, I adored this book, primarily because of Molly, a unique protagonist with a penchant for telling the brutal truth and getting herself into troubling situations. Her character arc was full of growth and a satisfying conclusion.

Molly treasures her job as a maid at The Regency Grand. She takes pride in bringing hotel rooms back to “a state of perfection” and doesn’t let others’ behavior bother her too much. At the start of the book, she has made a tentative friendship with Giselle Black, the second wife of the unlikeable tycoon Charles Black, and is enamored by Rodney, The Regency Grand’s bartender. She helps Juan Manuel move from room to room at night as Rodney insists, and she is friendly with Mr. Preston, the doorman who had promised Molly’s recently deceased grandmother that he would look out for her.

Molly’s life is set to a highly orchestrated routine, despite losing her Gran and confidante. While money is scarce and loneliness plagues her at night, Molly embraces her role as part of The Regency Grand’s bee hive of workers. But when Molly discovers Charles Black dead in the hotel suite, her carefully scheduled routine turns sideways. Wrongly suspected of the murder, Molly must join together with this cast of characters to clear her name and right her world again.

A large portion of Molly’s growth comes from learning to engage with others. She is a very trusting person, determined to please others and to follow all rules. Without Gran as her anchor, Molly has difficulties reading social cues. There is no interpretation to what others say or do; she takes everything at face value. This isn’t ideal when she’s surrounded by characters with questionable motives.

Molly’s voice is fresh and unique. While Nita Prose doesn’t reveal any diagnosis, I suspect that Molly may have Asperger’s syndrome. Her thoughts, statements, and behaviors reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, the protagonist in another amazing book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I really appreciated this voice and representation.

The character development and plot resolution carry this book. It’s a fun, fast-paced read that I fully embraced. A five-star book for me!

Inconvenient Daughter

Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey

A 5-Star Book Review

  • Representation and the search for identity?
  • Complicated mother-daughter relationship?
  • A battle to define self-worth?
  • Beautiful writing that made me want to cry?

Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey checks all the boxes for me to make it a 5⭐️ book. I loved this surprisingly brutal novel because of it’s characters and prose, and I highly recommend Inconvenient Daughter as a next read!

Rowan Kelly lives on Long Island with her parents and younger brother, but from the moment her 5-year-old peers question where her “real” mom is at Kindergarten Drop-off, she knows that she is different. Rowan and her brother were adopted from Korea by a white couple, and while there are details available about her brother’s bio parents, Rowan knows nothing. From the outset, Rowan’s perceived other-ness drives her decisions and her search for acceptance.

What I loved about Inconvenient Daughter:

The Representation

Rowan’s story of being a transracial adopted child is not often one that I’ve seen in a novel, and I am here for it. I have friends who were adopted, and I could relate Rowan’s story to what they’ve shared about their own experiences. This book remained true to Rowan, despite all of her bad decisions, and her feelings about being adopted, not knowing about her bio parents, and questioning whether she was truly wanted by her Irish-Catholic parents who do not look like her.

The Complex Relationships

Rowan and her mom have the usual teenage girl/mom fights about clothes, school, and boys, but underneath those explosive arguments, Rowan believes that ultimately Mom did not want her, did not accept her, and will not be satisfied with Rowan’s decidedly average achievements.

The Search for Self-Worth

The bulk of this novel is about how Rowan grapples with the desire to be worthy of others. She seeks outward praise from her mom and in intimate relationships, which lead to startling consequences for this young woman.

The Writing

Ms. Sharkey uses multiple timelines to tell Rowan’s story, giving us a look at what happened in childhood and young adulthood and then switching to the present to let us feel how all of those experiences shaped Rowan in the now. The prose is stark – beautiful and dark while remaining simple and clear, making this book all the more powerful.

I listened to Inconvenient Daughter as an audiobook, but I plan to find a physical copy to add to my shelves because I loved it so much. At 232 pages, this short book packs so much into the story, and I know I’ll want to revisit it in the future – a true indicator that this is a 5-star book.