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183: 2021 Reading Challenges and Our Mid-Year Check-In

In this Unabridged podcast episode, Ashley, Jen, and Sara share about our reading challenges. We each talk about where we are with the Unabridged Reading Challenge, and then we give updates on where we are with our individual challenges including the Uncorked Challenge, the Beyond the Bookends Challenge, the #21backlistin2021 Challenge, and the Tournament of Books. In case you missed it, we first shared about our picks in Episode 162, so check that out to learn more about our picks!

Bookish Check-in

Ashley - Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown (Amazon |

Jen - Alex Michaelides’s The Maidens (Amazon |

Sara - Kelly Yang’s Parachutes (Amazon |

Mentioned in Episode

Ashley's individual challenge pick - The Uncorked 2021 Reading Challenge

Jen's individual challenge picks - Tournament of Books and #21backlistin2021

Sara's individual challenge pick - Beyond the Bookends Reading Challenge

Sumi Hahn’s The Mermaid from Jeju (Amazon |

Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom (Amazon |

Chanel Cleeton’s The Last Train to Key West (Amazon |

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Amazon |

Give Me One - Technology You Cannot Live Without

Listen in to hear our responses to this Give Me One topic, and join us on Monday @unabridgedpod to share your thoughts!

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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Bookish Check-In

Book cover of Kelly Yang's Parachutes

Sara said, "I am reading Kelly Yang's Parachutes. It is actually my June Beyond the Bookends Reading Challenge pick for an own voices book. We read Kelly Yang's Front Desk a year or so ago, which is a middle grade read that we all just adored. I saw this actually saw this on, and also has an awesome sales page. I always just Google 'Libro FM sales audiobooks,' and this was listed, and you can just purchase them. This one was there. I knew I loved Kelly Yang's Front Desk. So I thought—I hadn't heard about Parachutes, but I thought I would go ahead and give it a go. This is actually a YA book—definitely, definitely YA. It is about a girl named Claire who lives in China, and her parents decide to send her to private school in America to finish her high school career because she did poorly on one of the Chinese exams that are given to try to place students when they're going to university. So, she scored poorly, and her parents were worried that she wouldn't get a good placement, so they sent her to America to go to a private school. They're very wealthy, and so one perspective is her—that's Claire. Then the other perspective is Dani: Dani is a student at this private school that Claire is going to be going to. She is a scholarship student. She and her mom work for a cleaning company that cleans the houses of the kids that go to that school. Basically what happens—the way that their lives intersect—is that Claire is placed at Dani's home as her host family, so it's Dani and her mom and then Claire and Claire takes a room there because Dani's mom needs more money to be able to live. So there's all of this really rich discussion about classism. There are a lot of really interesting dynamics between the parachutes. That's where the name comes from: the parachutes come from China and go to school in America, but are not American citizens. Then the American Born Chinese—there are a lot of very interesting dynamics between those two groups. This book also takes into account sexual harassment by people in power. There is a sexual assault, so there are some trigger warnings in it. But golly . . . it is just so rich with information, and the author's note by Kelly Yang at the end is so powerful. I just finished it, so, I am cheating a little bit, but I just really loved it. I thought it was really powerful. I learned so much. I didn't even realize that parachutes was a name that was given to students who came over to America to attend private school, and I mean, just the exploration of class and race dynamics. I mean, it was really, really good. I really loved it. So that is Kelly Yang's Parachutes."

Book cover of Leah Johnson's You Should See Me in a Crown

Ashley said, "I am reading Leah Johnson's You Should See me in a Crown. I had been wanting to read this one and then saw that it was available on audio, and it was a great listen. I would have loved it in print as well, but this is about Liz Lighty, and she is a remarkable young woman in high school. She's in band—she's really focused on music. She's a great student, yet she finds herself . . . right at the beginning, she realizes that she has not received the scholarship she hoped to receive for the college of her choice. Because of that, she really doesn't have a way to go, and so she's trying to navigate that. In their community, the prom queen and prom king get a $10,000 scholarship. So, it is this interesting situation where Liz Lighty, who you can tell is not exactly the kind of person who would be super concerned about winning for prom finds herself in a predicament where her best pathway toward the future that she thought she had lined up for herself is by pursuing an election of herself as the prom queen. That's the premise of the story, and it is that dynamic of a school that is entirely focused on an event and how that can be really cutthroat and everyone can be all consumed by it. So you see all of that, kind of the workings of all the things that they go through every year, all the traditions, all of the adults in the community who are tied up in this prom situation leading up to the crowning of the king and the queen. You also see Liz working to find her way, but she's working to find her way in herself and also in the community, so it's interesting because in a lot of ways she has kind of tried to be small and to stay out of the spotlight. Then she comes to find, as the story progresses, that that's not her true self and that in a lot of ways she is made to be in more of the center of things and that she is comfortable there. She does know her place, and the place that she's tried to fit herself that whole time in high school is actually not the place that she really should be or is best suited for. So she's having some of those revelations, she definitely makes some missteps along the way, but all of the missteps are very understandable as we know her as a person. She's trying to navigate all the parts of herself, and so in doing that, she wants to cover up some of the things that she thinks people will not be accepting of, but sometimes her attempts to keep those parts of herself private hurt the people she loves. So I think we just see a lot of the ways that it's hard to navigate yourself in this space that you think you are different from the space, that that's hard, but also that in doing it, you're empowering not only yourself, but the people around you. There's a lot of celebration of that. And so I just absolutely loved it. This was definitely a book I thought of you, Sara, because it was definitely a book that I wanted to hug and that I just had that really great feeling about loving the characters, loving what is coming to pass for them and celebrating all of the achievements with them as they go. Again, that's Leah Johnson's You Should See Me in a Crown. I think that Johnson does a remarkable job of hitting some really important issues with nuance and exploring them in a meaningful way but also maintaining this really hopeful, really happy feeling throughout the book that I think is a hard hard line to walk. So yeah, I loved it."

Book cover of Alex Michaelides's The Maidens

Jen shared, "So I am reading, ironically, thanks to's ALC program, The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. I was anxious to begin this because I absolutely loved The Silent Patient. I thought it was a thriller whose twist totally worked for me., so I was anxious to see what the next installment from this amazing author would look like. It's a tough one to describe. I feel like the plot's a little slippery, so I'm just going to lay out parts of the premise, but it's got a lot of threads that it's weaving together. Right now. I'm almost exactly halfway. But the main character is Mariana, though it does alternate between some other perspectives that are unnamed at this point. And Mariana is a group therapist: it begins the book with her, and she has a difficult patient who she's dealing with who wants their relationship to be—not in a romantic way, but he just wants a lot of attention from her. He basically wants a one-on-one therapist, and that is not what she is trained to be. She is also grieving the death of her husband, Sebastian: he died, I think, a year ago, and she is still contending with that loss. She gets a call from her niece Zoe because there has been a murder on her college campus, and she thinks that it is her friend, Tara. And indeed it was. So Mariana travels to the college campus where she also attended college and where she met Sebastian, and so she has all of these memories there that are sort of intertwined through the book. She goes to the college campus to comfort Zoe, and it turns out that the psychologist that the police have called in to help investigate the murder is someone that she went to school with, so she is able to get increased access to the case and to information about the case beyond what she would normally have. So Zoe really thinks that the person who killed her friend is this classics professor, Edward Fosca, and Zoe just thinks that his relationship with Tara was inappropriate and that he is the most likely suspect, so Mariana starts kind of an investigating him or trying to learn more about him, and she and Zoe attend a lecture, and he's kind of like a rock star in campus. His lectures are packed out—people are sitting on the floor to listen. He has this group of girls, and they call themselves the maidens. They are the ones that are invited to study with him more closely than his normal students, and they are all beautiful and have these connections to wealthy or important people when they're at his lecture. They're all dressed in white, and so it's very much this strange, strange kind of group. So that's where I've left off. So, I feel like we are set up with all these really interesting threads. Mariana, definitely—she is narrating her part—and she definitely, I would say, is an unreliable narrator because she's dealing with so many other things. So yeah, it's very intriguing. It's good. I can't give spoilers because I don't have anything figured out yet. I just feel like the groundwork is laid for this really intricate investigation, and also just to see the way Mariana's character is coming together is really fascinating. So that is The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, and I'm loving it so far. It's very atmospheric and just what I was kind of looking for right now."

Main Discussion—Reading Challenge Check-in

In the main discussion Ashley, Jen, and Sara discuss their individual reading challenges and how they are doing on the Unabridged Reading Challenge. All reported to be doing well, so far in both their individual challenges and the Unabridged Challenge.

Give Me One - Technology You Cannot Live Without

Listen in to hear our responses to this Give Me One topic, and join us on Monday @unabridgedpod to share your thoughts!


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