My 2021 Reading List: Part 1

This time last year I had read over 50 books. 50 books in 5 months, that's how my 2020 started. This time last year I also couldn't physically leave my house due to stay at home restrictions thanks to COVID so there's that. Needless to say, reading was my main form of entertainment this time last year.

While I'm not quite at 50 yet (my schedule and the state of the world has changed a bit), I have made a decent dent in the first half of the year on my way to my 2021 goal of reading 50 books. I'm giving myself just a few more months to achieve it this year thank you very much. Without further delay, here are the books I read in the first half of 2021 along with my personal review, recommendation and of course a summary of the book itself.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

AlmostFab Review: Not going to lie, this was a book I started at the end of 2020 and finished at the beginning of 2021. It was a slow read and quite different than anything I've read before. Not necessarily in a good way.

Recommendation: Ehh, I would say skip it.

Summary: In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father's prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn't be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown's old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are: Shanghai girls.

Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

AlmostFab Review: Positioning is a book I read as part of a marketing book club I'm in and while I was skeptical at-first (kind of seemed like an old school marketing book), boy was that skepticism wrong. This is a marketing classic for a reason. It is chock-full of incredibly meaningful wisdom and advice that can be applied to your career in marketing or advertising and beyond really.

Recommendation: YES! A must-read for anyone in the marketing, advertising industry. Really, for anyone and everyone.

Summary: The first book to deal with the problems of communicating to a skeptical, media-blitzed public, Positioning describes a revolutionary approach to creating a "position" in a prospective customer's mind-one that reflects a company's own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors. Writing in their trademark witty, fast-paced style, advertising gurus Ries and Trout explain how to:

  • Make and position an industry leader so that its name and message wheedles its way into the collective subconscious of your market-and stays there

  • Position a follower so that it can occupy a niche not claimed by the leader

  • Avoid letting a second product ride on the coattails of an established one.

Positioning also shows you how to:

  • Use leading ad agency techniques to capture the biggest market share and become a household name

  • Build your strategy around your competition's weaknesses

  • Reposition a strong competitor and create a weak spot

  • Use your present position to its best advantage

  • Choose the best name for your product

  • Determine when-and why-less is more

  • Analyze recent trends that affect your positioning.

Ries and Trout provide many valuable case histories and penetrating analyses of some of the most phenomenal successes and failures in advertising history. Revised to reflect significant developments in the five years since its original publication, Positioning is required reading for anyone in business today.

Upgrade Yourself: Simple Strategies to Transform Your Mindset, Improve Your Habits and Change Your Life by Thibaut Meurisse

AlmostFab Review: This was one of the first books I read in the new year and truthfully the perfect book to kickstart the year. It was just the motivational kick in the butt I needed to start my 2021 off right!

Recommendation: Yes! Quick but impactful read.

Summary: In Upgrade Yourself, you’ll learn simple habits and strategies to transform your mindset and change your life for the better.

You’ll be introduced to the core—and only the core—of what you need to know to become the best version of yourself

You’ll discover:

  • how to reprogram your mind to remove mental blocks to success and create the life you want

  • what a holocaust survivor and a man without arms or legs have in common, and what you can learn from them

  • how an anonymous call changed Tim Ferris’s life, and how this information can change yours, too

  • how to sharpen your skills the Benjamin Franklin way

  • how a simple strategy can turbocharge your productivity, and

  • much, much more

By the end of Upgrade Yourself, you’ll have a stronger mindset, better habits and a more exciting vision, and will be able to build a happier and more fulfilling life.

Sabotage: How to Get Out of Your Own Way by Emma Gannon

AlmostFab Review: Emma Gannon has become one of my favorite authors after reading "The Multi-Hyphen Life," which connected with me on a deeply meaningful level. Sabotage is a really quick read but the message is so powerful and one that all of us could stand to read about. If you've ever gotten in your own way (let's face it we all have), this book is for you!

Recommendation: Yes! Quick but powerful read.

Summary: How do we get out of our own way? With personal stories and research-based insights multi-hyphenate Emma Gannon explores her own relationship with self-sabotage and presents a quick, meaningful guide to help you recognize your own forms of self doubt, identify what is holding you back, and the steps you can take to loosen its grip.

Dress Your Best Life: How to Use Fashion Psychology to Take Your Look - And Your Life - To The Next Level by Dawnn Karen

AlmostFab Review: As someone who thinks she has a pretty good handle on fashion and her own sense of style, my mind was absolutely blown after reading this book. I saw and felt the effects of reading Dress Your Best Life immediately as I was shopping with my mom and found myself strategically looking at everything I bought or considered buying.

Recommendation: 100% Yes! I was feverishly taking notes the entire time and finished it in a weekend.

Summary: You may get dressed every day without really thinking about what you're putting on, but did you know that what you wear has a powerful effect on how you feel? Or that your clothes influence the way others perceive you? By making a few adjustments to your wardrobe, and learning to style from the inside out, you'll not only elevate your look, but level up your entire life.

Dawnn Karen is a pioneer in the field of fashion psychology, and she has spent years studying the relationship between attire and attitude. In Dress Your Best Life she goes far beyond well-known makeover advice, pushing you to ask yourself: Are my clothing choices hurting me or helping me to achieve my life goals? Her book will help you discover your unique style story, become a smarter shopper, use color to your advantage, match moods to clothing choices, and embrace new or different standards of beauty. This knowledge is a power that you'll exercise every time you open your closet door or walk into an important meeting in just the right outfit.

Packed with practical tips and cutting-edge advice, Dress Your Best Life will teach you to harness the power of fashion for the life you want to live.

House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder and Survival Deborah Ball

AlmostFab Review: I always find myself getting a little nervous before diving into a book like this as I assume it's going to be a slow read and take me forever to get through. The House of Versace could not have been more different than that. From the moment I cracked open the book it was SO compelling and I walked away from this book feeling like I truly learned so much about the Versace family and brand.

Recommendation: Yes! If you have any interest in fashion and this prolific fashion brand and family dynasty, I recommend picking it up.

Summary: Versace. The very name conjures up images of outrageous glamour and bold sexuality, opulence and daring. All of course true, but only half the story. Versace is also the legacy of a great creative genius from a poor, backward part of southern Italy who transformed the fashion world through his intuitive understanding of both women and how a changing culture influenced the way they wanted to dress. The first book in English about the legendary designer, House of Versace shows how Gianni Versace, with his flamboyant sister Donatella at his side, combined his virtuosic talent and extraordinary ambition to almost single-handedly create the celebrity culture we take for granted today.

Gianni Versace was at the height of his creative powers when he was murdered in Miami Beach. The story was front page news around the world and the manhunt for his killer a media obsession. His beloved sister Donatella demanded no less than a funeral befitting an assassinated head-of-state to be held in Milan's magnificent cathedral. In what was the ultimate fashion show, the world's rich and beautiful - Princess Dianna, Elton John, Carla Bruni, Naomi Campbell, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, Anna Wintour and others - gathered to mourn a man already considered one of fashion's great pioneers.

Deborah Ball, a long-time Milan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, conducted hundreds of interviews with Versace family members, Gianni Versace's lovers and business rivals, models such as Naomi Campbell whom he helped shoot to international stardom and fashion industry icons, including Anna Wintour, the legendary editor of Vogue.

Ball vividly recounts the behind-the scenes struggles - both creative and business - of Donatella as she stepped out of her brother's long shadow and took control of the House of Versace. The book offers the first inside look at the enormous challenges Donatella faced in living up to Gianni's genius, her struggle with a drug habit, her battles with her brother Santo and the mystery of why Gianni left control of his house to Donatella's young daughter, Allegra. House of Versace is a compelling, highly readable tale of rise from obscurity, a painful fall and ultimate redemption as the Versace empire returned to health - for now.

Bringing together fashion, celebrity, business drama, jet-set lifestyles, and a notorious crime, House of Versace is an old-fashioned page-turner about a subject of enduring fascination.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

AlmostFab Review: This novel is unlike any I've ever read. There's a reason The Vanishing Half took the literary world by storm in 2020. It's an incredible story of love and the strong, overwhelming desire to fit in, despite what it may cost you in the process.

Recommendation: YES! I loaned my book to a friend to spread the good word of this amazing novel.

Summary: The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

Wise as Fu*k: Simple Truths to Guide You Through the Sh*tstorms of Life by Gary John Bishop

AlmostFab Review: The best chapter of this book was the last. That sounds really bad but truthfully, the very last chapter was a summary of the best parts of this book. It had a handful of great takeaways but it wasn't anything earth shattering.

Recommendation: No. While it had some good nuggets, I didn't love it. Summary: In Unfu*k Yourself, Gary John Bishop taught millions of readers how to silence the negative, self-sabotaging voice in their head to thrive. In Wise As Fu*k he expands on his ideas, redefining what it means to be wise and showing how to tackle problems and improve our lives and those of others.

When the shit storms of life hit us, many of us don't know what to do--whether it's losing a job, suffering a broken heart, or just feeling a lack of purpose. We need wisdom to help us navigate forward. While the internet is full of seemingly good advice, it isn't helping us actually change our lives. Wise As Fu*k breaks through the bullshit, providing insight to inspire us in the four areas we need it most: love, loss, fear, and success.

Written with his widely admired no-nonsense style, Wise As Fu*k provides a welcome fresh perspective to help us transform how we approach a variety of life's problems. But Bishop makes clear, the work doesn't stop there. Now that you've unfu*ked yourself and and are wise as fu*k about these touchy areas, you can apply the lessons to make a positive impact on the world.

Live, Love, Explore: A Roadmap to the Life You Were Meant to Live by Leon Logothetis

AlmostFab Review: As an avid traveler myself, Live, Love Explore was such a fun read. Not only did it induce MAJOR wanderlust, but there was much to learn from Logothetis' incredible adventures.

Recommendation: Yes!

Summary: Part travel memoir, part self-help book, Live, Love, Explore is a guide to finding meaning and adventure in your everyday life and discovering the road you were always meant to walk. By bestselling author, Leon Logothetis, from the Netflix Series, The Kindness Diaries.

Leon Logothetis's life was well plotted out for him. He was to do well in school, go to university, get a job in finance, and spend the next fifty years of his life sitting behind a slab of wood, watching the rain-slicked streets of London from thirty floors above. For a long time, he followed that script, until one day, he finally realized he was living someone else's life--a good one--but not one of his own choosing.

So he walked out of that life, and discovered the one that took him around the world. Since then, Leon has driven a broken-down English taxicab across America, offering people free rides; ridden a vintage motorbike around the world, relying solely on the kindness of strangers; and followed a fellow traveler through India without ever knowing where he was going. He has visited more than 90 countries on every continent. Along the way, he learned something about the human spirit and about the heart of this world. He learned that he needed to shed his old ideas about who he was supposed to be in order to feel his soul rise to the surface and become the person he always longed to be.

The wisest words he heard, and the greatest lessons he learned, came from everyday people he met on his travels. He became their accidental student, and after years of sharing those lessons through TV shows, college tours, books, and in the media, he realized that he had also become an accidental teacher. His experiences are more than a collection of stories, they have become a way of life--the Way of the Traveler.

So, what is the Way of the Traveler? It's a roadmap to living your best life, loving with all your heart, and exploring the world--both the great and adventurous one waiting outside your door, and the even greater, more adventurous one waiting within your soul.

Weaving together Leon's hilarious and heartwarming stories of his misadventures on the road with simple but profound exercises to help you uncover your true path, Live, Love, Explorewill teach you how to live fully and without regrets. It's not to say that everyone who reads it will have to go to the ends of the world. Because you don't have to go to Mongolia to discover the truths that lie inside. No, those life lessons can just as easily be learned from the people all around you--the chap serving you coffee at Starbucks, the woman sitting next to you on a plane, your co-workers, family, and friends. There's an entire world of people willing to teach you their lessons if you're willing to learn. And by opening yourself up to new adventures, by recognizing that you have the freedom to choose your own road, you'll find something else that has been hiding in plain sight: you'll find the life of which you have always dreamed... and the curiosity and courage it takes to make that life happen.

How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World's Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz

AlmostFab Review: While there were definitely good stories and lessons learned from the world's most inspiring entrepreneurs and businesspeople, personally I didn't love it in book form. I would say stick to the podcast, which is great!

Recommendation: No - stick to the podcast.

Summary: WALL STREET JOURNAL #1 Bestselling Business Book

Based on the highly acclaimed NPR podcast, How I Built This with Guy Raz, this book offers priceless insights and inspiration from the world's top entrepreneurs on how to start, launch, and build a successful venture.

Great ideas often come from a simple spark: A soccer player on the New Zealand national team notices all the unused wool his country produces and figures out a way to turn them into shoes (Allbirds). A former Buddhist monk decides the very best way to spread his mindfulness teachings is by launching an app (Headspace). A sandwich cart vendor finds a way to reuse leftover pita bread and turns it into a multimillion-dollar business (Stacy's Pita Chips).

Award-winning journalist and NPR host Guy Raz has interviewed more than 200 highly successful entrepreneurs to uncover amazing true stories like these. In How I Built This, he shares tips for every entrepreneur's journey: from the early days of formulating your idea, to raising money and recruiting employees, to fending off competitors, to finally paying yourself a real salary. This is a must-read for anyone who has ever dreamed of starting their own business or wondered how trailblazing entrepreneurs made their own dreams a reality.

After the Rain: Gentle Reminders for Healing, Courage and Self-Love by Alexandra Elle

AlmostFab Review: After the Rain was not what I expected it to be. It was better. Alex Elle delivers poignant tales from her own life woven throughout the book and mixes it in with self-affirmation and moments of reflective meditation. This is one you'll keep on your shelf and revisit for years to come. When your soul truly needs it.

Recommendation: 1000% YES. Such an important and transformative read.

Summary: In After the Rain, celebrated self-care storyteller Alexandra Elle delivers 15 lessons on how to overcome obstacles, build confidence, and cultivate abundance.

Part memoir and part guide, Elle shares stirring stories from her own remarkable journey from self-doubt to self-love.

This soulful collection is filled with illuminating reflections on loss, fear, bravery, healing, love, acceptance, and more.

- Readers follow along her journey as she transforms challenging experiences--a difficult childhood, painful romantic relationships, and single parenting as a young mom--into fuel for her career as a successful entrepreneur and author driven by purpose and pasion

- Filled with Elle's signature candor and warmth

- Includes empowering affirmations and meditations for readers to practice in their own lives

After the Rain is a soulful guide to help you embrace all the beauty, love, and opportunity life has to offer.

Eiffel's Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris's Beloved Monument and the Extraordinary World's Fair That Introduced It by Jill Jones

AlmostFabReview: It was certainly interesting to learn more about the Eiffel Tower and how it came to have its place not only physically in Paris but in the history books forever but the book itself was not my cup of tea. It was extremely quote heavy so it didn't read like a fluid story.

Recommendation: No.

Summary: In this first general history of the Eiffel Tower in English, Jill Jonnes-acclaimed author of Conquering Gotham-offers an eye- opening look not only at the construction of one of the modern world's most iconic structures, but also the epochal event that surrounded its arrival as a wonder of the world. In this marvelously entertaining portrait of Belle Époque France, fear and loathing over Eiffel's brash design share the spotlight with the celebrities that made the 1889 Exposition Universelle an event to remember-including Buffalo Bill and his sharpshooter Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, and artists Whistler, Gauguin, and van Gogh. Eiffel's Tower is a richly textured portrait of an era at the dawn of modernity, reveling in the limitless promise of the future.

Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad with Lori Tharps

AlmostFab Review: Ibtihaj Muhammad is someone whom I've always admired for her fearlessness and her ability to break through any perceived barriers to accomplish her Olympic dreams. It was even more powerful learning more in-depth details about her journey to Olympic success.

Recommendation: Yes - an inspiring and insightful read.

Summary: Growing up in New Jersey as the only African American Muslim at school, Ibtihaj Muhammad always had to find her own way. When she discovered fencing, a sport traditionally reserved for the wealthy, she had to defy expectations and make a place for herself in a sport she grew to love.

From winning state championships to three-time All-America selections at Duke University, Ibtihaj was poised for success, but the fencing community wasn't ready to welcome her with open arms just yet. As the only woman of color and the only religious minority on Team USA's saber fencing squad, Ibtihaj had to chart her own path to success and Olympic glory.

Proud is a moving coming-of-age story from one of the nation's most influential athletes and illustrates how she rose above it all

Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes by Brian Metzler

AlmostFab Review: Definitely not a book I would pick up on my own but nevertheless it was a unique read that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Considering the subject matter is not something I would traditionally be interested in, the book was written for avid runners and non-runners alike.

Recommendation: Yes! Especially if you're a runner.

Summary: Sports journalist and veteran shoe tester Brian Metzler takes runners and kicksologists deep inside the $10 billion dollar running shoe industry with a behind-the-curtain look at what makes iconic running shoe brands tick. Kicksology follows a shoe from inspiration to store shelf to show how innovative ideas evolve into industry-wide trends and fads. Metzler tours shoe labs where scientists advance our understanding of shoes and running mechanics as well as the domestic and overseas shoe factories where the world's favorite kicks are assembled.

A dedicated shoe nerd and running junkie, Metzler shares his love of great shoes in this fascinating look at the intersections of shoe culture and history, science and storytelling, intel from the innovators with on-the-ground insight from top runners.

Kicksology is filled with information as entertaining as it is surprising, tapping into the passion runners have for their kicks and feeding their curiosity about what makes a great shoe.

Hello, Fears: Crush Your Comfort Zone and Become Who You're Mean