Category Archives: around the world in 80 books

Ella Builds a Wall: Anti-Bullying Book for Kids

Wow, this is a surprisingly deep kids' book that teaches children how to deal with bullies in genius but simple ways.

Today I want to stop and take a second to address something that’s not directly finance related: bullying.

When I was growing up, bullying made you tough, supposedly, though it hardly ever happened to the “tough” kids. With boys it sometimes but not always got physical, while girls for the most part stuck to tearing each other’s souls apart with words.

As time went on, anti-bullying campaigns became a thing. People started advocating for children who went through emotional abuse in schools, in particular. While society definitely didn’t reach perfection, things appeared to be moving in the right direction.

Without delving into the specifics of why, things have shifted culturally and quickly. Bullying is largely touted as a sign of strength. Violence and hate crimes have been on the rise in the US as of late.

This is the world I’m raising my kids in, and it makes me ill. While I hope we can make a speedy U-turn back to progress, and I know I can raise my own children to be kind, charitable and empathetic, I can’t protect them from the entire world. Bullying is something I have to prepare them for.

Ella Builds a Wall

One way I’m choosing to instill good values and resilience in my kids is by making sure there are good morals and role models in the literature they consume.

When teacher and fellow personal finance blogger Ruth McKeague released her book Ella Builds a Wall, I knew it would be one of those books. The important kind. The kind you read again and again, and discuss later in context of real life situations.

Her work did not disappoint. In it, a girl named Ella is getting bullied at school. Frustrated, she joins a karate class, where she thinks she’s going to learn how to kick some butt.

Instead, her instructor teaches her how to control her emotions. She teaches her how to build emotional walls around herself to protect her feelings, and how to use blocks to defend herself if, and only if, someone attacks her physically.

She also learns to not build walls of outward hatred or self-loathing around herself, separating herself from the rest of the playground kids.

Ella’s walls are metaphorical, but insanely important to understand. When she finds herself jealous of a peer, she recognizes and subdues the emotion, leading to a beautiful friendship.

When her bully gets violent with her again, she defends herself until a teacher arrives to witness what is actually happening.

And when the bully, in his punishment, starts building walls of anger around himself, wallowing in his misery, she extends kindness to try to pull them down.

What We Learned

My kids enjoyed learning the karate blocks in the book, but I was impressed with how much they understood the emotional lessons, too. When I asked them about the walls Ella tore down, they told me about the jealousy and anger. They told me about the bully, and the kindness Ella extended to him.

Overall, regardless of which era you’re living in, the takeaways were valuable lessons that many adults still haven’t mastered:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Mindfulness
  • Self-Worth
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • You are allowed to defend yourself in physically threatening situations.
  • You are not only allowed, but should, stand up for others when you see them becoming victims of bullying.

If you want a quick tie-in to money, when you have these skills, you’re more likely to have a larger network of friendly faces in your career. You’re also more likely to negotiate for higher pay when you believe in yourself and feel like self-advocacy is a strength rather than something to be ashamed of.

But mostly, you’ll just be a better person.

Bring Home a Copy of Ella Builds a Wall

If you want to take on this complex subject with your kids, this book makes it simple. I’d highly recommend picking up a copy.

Ruth is Canadian, so the prices are CAD rather than USD, but after you pay for shipping it comes out to around $15-ish USD, anyways.

How have you dealt with bullying?

Whether you’ve experienced it yourself or have seen your child experience it, whether it’s happened in the schoolyard or in the workplace, I’d love to hear your experiences with bullying and how you’ve handled it. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Summer Reading #Giveaway Extravaganza

Those of you following the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge know that it is possible to read on a crazy tight budget. Saving money on books isn’t the only thing to be concerned with, though. Reading enriches our lives by expanding our viewpoints and challenging our beliefs. It helps us learn academically and empathetically.

My good friend Meredith runs a monthly virtual book club, and every year I partner with her and a bunch of other fab bloggers by compiling a kick-off to summer book list, including why we think you’ll love each tome.

In addition to sharing our picks, we celebrate the start of summer reading in a big way–with a fantastic giveaway for a $250 Amazon gift card and SEVEN free books! So tune in below for the 20 Best Summer Books List and then make sure to enter the Rafflecopter at the end for your chance to score big. And this year we have a fun bonus–WE ARE GIVING AWAY 100 COPIES OF THE BOOK CLUB’S TOP ALL-TIME PICK, too! 

It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

20 Best Summer Books:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Femme Frugality: “Psychology, philosophy and theology have a way of blending together. In this book, psychologist Viktor Frankl relates his experiences as a prisoner in Hitler’s concentration camps, using it as a way to underpin his philosophy that man can get through anything if he assigns meaning to life. Great for anyone going through a difficult time, or anyone who has detached from organized religion but is still seeking the meaning of life.”
  2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Lindsay of See Mom Click: “If you’ve ever felt like the days are slipping by and you’re just trudging along, The Happiness Project is a must-read. Rubin’s writing really speaks to me, the perfect balance of hard facts and science combined with practical wisdom about proactively making yourself happier and living in the now.”
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. Wendy of ABCs and Garden Peas: “An inspiring, food-filled story of the Kingsolver family’s adventure as they move to a farm in southern Appalachia and begin living their lives in a way that works with the local food chain. This year’s 10th Anniversary Edition also gives readers a glimpse into how their family has carried their inspiring “real food” journey with them throughout the next decade.
  4. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. Mikaela Fleisher of Iris and Honey: “Christina Baker Kline brings an artist and his muse to life in this novel that blends fact and fiction. Based on Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, Kline gives readers a truly beautiful glimpse into the life of the woman behind the painting.
  5. Red Water by Kristen Mae. Kristen Mae of Abandoning Pretense: “An Amazon best seller, Red Water will slither under your skin and stick there. Erotic, raw, and disturbing, and with deeply flawed but relatable characters, Mae’s sophomore novel is a dark, unflinching examination of the psychology of self-loathing and the secret, unspeakable lust for depravity that lies dormant within us all.”
  6. My Lame Life: Queen of the Misfits by Jen Mann. Jen Mann of People I Want to Punch in the Throat: “My Lame Life is a great summer read for teens and adults because it’s a funny and endearing book that is entirely relatable!”
  7. Famished by Meghan O’Flynn. Meghan O’Flynn: “Famished is a bestselling psychological thriller that explores the darkest parts of the human psyche. Hailed as “Thrilling, emotional and depraved,” this novel is one you won’t want to put down.”
  8. Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. Stephanie of When Crazy Meets Exhaustion: “While not a new publication, Jenny is every one of us: frazzled Mama juggling parenthood and work. When she realizes a family meal is the best shot at quality time with her husband and kids, so begins her journey to make it happen. It’s part cookbook (fabulous, EASY recipes) and part narrative. Witty, relate-able, and educational (I learned how to cook things, you guys!) I was went through Jenny-withdrawal when I finished the book!”
  9. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Shari of Adore Them pick: “Jon Ronson is an incredible author who combines objective observations with his own take on these experiences. For this book he spent years meeting people who had been subject to public shaming. It is fascinating (& horrible) to see how one tweet could ruin someone’s life.”
  10. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Kim Bongiorno of Let Me Start By Saying: “The story is told in alternating voices of three best friends as they begin their senior year: one knowing she is OUTTA THERE, one being OK with staying exactly where he is because he has his stories to escape into, and one not feeling like he can or is deserving of going anywhere but right where his father’s crimes put him. I felt so many things while I read this, but mostly that I will now read literally anything this author writes from now on.”
  11. The Most Beautiful by Mayte Garcia. Suzanne of Toulouse & Tonic: “I devoured this book about Prince by his ex-wife Mayte Garcia. At first I was afraid it would be exploitive but after reading reviews carefully, I gave it a try. It was so worth it. A great portion of the book is the story of HER life. It’s interesting and insightful. The parts of her life she shared with Prince are handled in a respectful but honest way. I feel like I actually know something about this enigmatic man now. I still miss him but 4 me, it brought a little peace.”
  12. Redemption Road by John Hart. Lydia of Cluttered Genius: “Redemption Road caught me from page one and had me guessing the entire way through. I don’t generally choose murder mysteries or thrillers, but Hart’s novel has me wanting to find the rest of his books to read more!”
  13. Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center. Natalie of a Turtle’s Life for Me: “Everyone is Beautiful is a heartwarming and humorous look at one woman’s journey through marriage and motherhood as she tries to find small moments of personal fulfillment. The epiphanies and insights she gains along the way are told in a light-hearted manner, but resonate deeply in a way that will have you thinking about it months later. I read this with my book club and we found we were bringing it up again even a year later, because it struck such a deep chord with us.”
  14. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Dani of Meraki Lane: “I loved this book. It explores so many emotionally sensitive topics – infertility, adoption, motherhood, and interracial marriage – and the author did such an amazing job of jumping back and forth between the United States and India. She described each with such vivid detail, and the story truly encapsulated the meaning of the word ‘family.’ It was an easy, yet complex read, and the ending brought me to tears. I highly recommend this one!”
  15. The Twelves Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. Jana of Jana Says: “I LOVED this book. Dark and twisted and violent and a thriller complimented with a father/daughter/coming of age story told between alternating POV and bouncing back and forth in time until it all catches up to itself. It’s so well done and well written and I cannot recommend it enough.”
  16. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Kimberly of Red Shutters: “It’s the story of a family, torn apart by slavery. One branch of the family aids in the slave trade in Ghana, later becoming involved in conflict with the British, and finally finding their way to America. The other side of the family is sold into slavery and generations later experience an America of incarceration, poverty, and drug abuse. Despite its challenging subject matter, Homegoing is captivating, an extraordinary story about hope, connection, and loss. I couldn’t put it down, and when it did end, I was disappointed–I wanted more. That’s the sign of an extraordinary book!”
  17. The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles. Janine of Confessions of a Mommyaholic: “This is the beginning of a supernatural, romance YA series that struck all the right notes for me. Honestly, think it could be in the leagues of Twilight or even Harry Potter as the writing was superb. Plus, the storyline was unique, fast moving and heart tugging, as well. Therefore, recommend as the perfect summer vacation read.”
  18. The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian. Rabia of The Lieber Family: “Lianna’s mom has disappeared. The most plausible explanation is that her frequent sleepwalking took her over a bridge to her death. But on closer inspection, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. And the good looking detective assigned to the case is trying to help, isn’t he? So what really happened? I can’t wait to find out!”
  19. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Anne of Once Upon a Mom: “I haven’t read this one yet but it looks amazing! It’s a story about a quirky kid with an even quirkier grandma who, after her death, leaves a a series of letters apologizing to people. I’m looking forward to finding out about all of Grandmother’s secrets!”
  20. City Mouse by Stacey Lender. Carrie of Normal Level of Crazy and Meredith of The Mom of the Year: “This defines a beach read for me! So relatable to our own lives as it is all about mom trying to find out exactly where she fits in the in the scheme of suburbia–all that goes along with it. Plus, when a book is described as ‘The Stepford Wives meets Bad Moms’, how can you go wrong?”


It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

And that’s it, friends! Our list of the 20 Best Summer Books you need to kick back with during all the sun-soaked days ahead of us! As promised, the giveaway for a $250 AMAZON GIFT CARD and copies of some of the titles on this list (Red Water, Famished, My Lame Life: Queen of the Misfits, The Sleepwalker, Homegoing and Redemption Road) is below!

UPDATE: BONUS! You’ll also win a copy of my fave: Man’s Search for Meaning!

No better way to keep your reading stash well stocked and you can use the gift card to grab some other titles that are on your own wish list. Sweet!

As long as you are 18 or older, live in the continental United States, and enter before June 16, 2017 at 5:30am EST, you are eligible to win!

It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

Also as promised, we are tickled to be giving away 100 COPIES of the favorite title our book club has ever read, This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel! Read the whole post HERE to find out why it is such an exceptional book, and then hop over quickly to enter the giveaway! Thanks to the generosity of Flatiron Books, copies will be sent to the first 100 people who enter the giveaway* (The grand prize winner included! The same giveaway deadline and rules as above apply.) We could go on and on about This Is How It Always Is, but to put it simply: it is important, life-changing, and beautiful. This isn’t just a book you want to read, it’s a book you need to read.

*Note: remember each person can gain multiple entries, so don’t assume that all 100 copies have been claimed when the entries total goes over 100! Meredith will be updating on social media how many copies are left if you want to check in on this as the giveaway progresses!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thanks for joining us in this kick-off to summer reading celebration with this list of the 20 best summer books! Happy summer and happy reading, friends!

It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!


***Thank you to Flatiron Books, Jen Mann, Kristen Mae, Meghan O’Flynn, Macmillan Publishers, Anchor Books, and Vintage Books for providing copies of the books for the giveaway. All opinions are entirely our own.***

Book photo in second graphic:, Image ID:9056658, Copyright:belchonock

Last image credit:, Image ID:13362963, Copyright:coolfonk


It’s back! Massive #SummerReading #Giveaway

I’m so glad this giveaway is becoming an annual thing! If you’ve been following along my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge, you’ll know why I join some of my favorite bloggers every year to bring it to you.  I’m all about reading for fun, for education, for expansion of the mind.  But I’m also about doing it frugally.  This giveaway should help you do just that with eleven fab titles AND a $225 Amazon gift card!

Interested in my full review of my recommendation? (I’m #11 on the list.) Check it out here.

What’s that, friends? You feel that gorgeous sunshine on your back and hear those birds chirping? Yup, it’s officially SUMMER! And to all the readers of the world, that means one very, very important thing: it’s time to dig into that summer reading list!

Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!

Been a little too distracted by the end-of-school insanity to bone up on what all the hot summer reads are? No sweat! We’ve got you covered. Twenty of us blogging gals have teamed up with The Mom of the Year and Normal Level of Crazy virtual monthly book club to create a list of exactly what belongs on your summer reading list.

Not only do these books come highly recommended (along with the reason you need to be reading them!), we are giving eleven of them away to one of you, along with a $225 Amazon giftcard. I know, it’s insanely awesome! More details on the giveaway at the end of the post. For now, log into Goodreads, grab a notepad or settle in with however you track your to-read list and start adding these titles.

Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!

20 Books that Belong on Your Summer Reading List:

Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it!

  1. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini (Toulouse and Tonic) is a GREAT summer read. Leah Remini doesn’t hold anything back, from her decades-long experience with Scientology to celeb encounters along the way, especially experiences within Scientology. If you want to hear all the dish on Tom Cruise, including his “Scientology arranged and groomed” girlfriend and then his marriage to Katie Holmes, get the book now. Her honesty and lack of pretense is refreshing. I couldn’t put it down!
  2. The Storied Like of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (The Not So Super Mom) This is a bit of a quirky book, but it is perfectly quirky without falling into the creepy or just plain confusing. A.J. Fikry is not the most immediately likable character but you find yourself rooting for him (and his bookstore) anyway. I appreciated that he was a bit of an oddball, because who in our lives isn’t without their own idiosyncrasies? I enjoyed the themes in this book–loss, romance, mystery–all peppered with humor and the format–each chapter moves the story forward in time and serves as an ode to one of Fikry’s favorite books–was different but enjoyable to any book lovers who try to find themselves in the stories they read.
  3. Smart Women by Judy Blume (Meraki Lane) I was a huge Judy Blume fan when I was a kid (Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself was my favorite!), so it’s no surprise I jumped with joy when I discovered she writes novels for adults as well, and this book did NOT disappoint. If you like a light read with a little racy romance thrown in, this is the perfect summer pick!
  4. A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan (Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms) A great novel with a fresh, funny voice guiding it, this book tackles the classic struggle of moms trying to have it all and stuck with us to the point of recommending it to others long after we turned the last page.Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!
  5. Beyond the Break by Kristen Mae (Kristen Mae) Quoted from Melissa Mowry of One Mother to Another‘s review on Amazon: “This book absolutely crushed me. The writing is hauntingly beautiful and full of depth, with well-rounded characters and gorgeous imagery. As a card-carrying heterosexual, I expected to feel a little squirmy about the girl-on-girl aspect and was just reading because I love this author’s writing. I was SO WRONG. The sex was, in a word, mind-blowing. None of that lazy, euphemistic smut book language (you won’t find talk of anyone’s blossoming flower here) just seriously hot, almost artistic love scenes. Hazel is a flawed but loveable main character with a haunting past and so much dimension. Claire is absolutely magnetic; even I was attracted to her. You owe yourself the pleasure–and I do mean pleasure–of reading this book. It will change everything you thought you knew about love, sexual attraction, and chemistry.”
  6. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume (Herd Management) Summer Sisters provides a fascinating view into the inner workings and dynamics of a close female friendship over the duration of their journey from young teens into adulthood. Many women will be able to relate to the power that female friends have over one another’s hearts, and their ability to shatter them completely sometimes. Riveting, relatable, and emotional.
  7. The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews (Confessions of a Mommyaholic) This summer/beach town set book is the absolute perfect read this summer while you are sitting beach or poolside that is filled with just enough intrigue, suspense, drama, romance and more.
  8. Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher (See Mom Click) This is one of those books that draws you in and won’t let go, even after you’ve put it down. Senna Richard wakes up on her 33rdbirthday, locked in a house in the snow in the middle of nowhere, full of clues she has to piece together to gain her freedom. Not just a mystery, but a rip-your-heart-out love story, the author keeps you guessing while you become totally wrapped up in these characters’ lives.Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!
  9. Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker (Shakespeare’s Mom) In this collection of personal essays, Parker writes beautifully about her encounters and relationships with various men in her life – everyone from her grandfather to ex-boyfriends, to, in an essay that manages to be both brutal and hilarious, a male goat. I read the whole book in one day. I had to ignore my children and personal hygiene to do it, but finding myself sucked into the book’s spellbinding word-webs was totally worth it.
  10. Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins (Andra Watkins, New York Times best seller and 2015 National Book Award nominee). Sarah Cottrell of The Huffington Post calls it “one literary ride you do not want to miss!” Reader Claris explains why everyone should read Not Without My Father in her Amazon review: “Andra really made me stop and think how important each moment in life is. If we live in each moment – really LIVE – we won’t be as likely to miss making that moment an important memory. I expected to read a story about a memorable walk, but it turned into a thought-provoking quest to truly focus on the wonderful family and friends that I have and not miss making memories with them.”
  11. Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyangi (Femme Frugality) This true story of alternative education in WWII era Japan serves to inspire. If you’ve ever known a kid that doesn’t seem to fit into a traditional education system, Tetsuko Kuroyangi’s story will warm your heart and give you hope. Kuroyangi, after getting kicked out of a traditional school, grew up to be one of Japan’s media sweethearts and a great, hands-on philanthropist.
  12. A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley (The Whimsy One) will take you on a waltz between present day and the 18th century as Sara (present day) tries to decipher a journal written by Mary during the Jacobites uprising in Paris (1732) what she discovers in the handwritten pages is not at all what she was expecting.Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!
  13. Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos (Jana Says) I fell in love with this author after reading another one of his books but this one, a stunning, sad, sometimes funny, heartbreaking, (mostly) realistic portrayal of a marriage in crisis and its subsequent implosion during a summer long Midwestern heatwave, solidified him in my top 5 favorite authors.
  14. What Alice Forgot By Liane Moriarty (Tamara (Like) Camera) This book gripped me – I felt all the joys and pains. I recommended it to both of my sisters who are still postpartum.
  15. Mosquitoland by David Arnold (Kiss My List) You will not regret spending an afternoon curled up with this smart, funny, and poignant novel about a teenage girl’s bus ride back to her mom in Cleveland. Mim’s journey from Mississippi is filled with people who could be fascinating main characters in their own books.
  16. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (The Golden Spoons) Hawley alternates between perspectives of different characters as well as switches from past to present in this story of 11 people – some connected, some seemingly out of place – whose lives are changed or lost when their private jet goes down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard on a foggy August night.Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!
  17. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (The Lieber Family) This second Cormoran Strike novel follows our detective as he investigates the disappearance and later death of a controversial, not-well liked author whose last novel didn’t have anything nice to say about…well, anyone!
  18. You: A Novel by Caroline Kepnes (Pulling Taffy) If you love a good, creepy thriller, with an occasional chuckle, this is a great summer read. By the end you will be rooting for the serial killer and hoping his intended victim dies (Please. End. Her. Incessant. Whining.)
  19. The Show by Filip Syta (Normal Level of Crazy) I’m taken by Amazon’s description of the book,Think of the greatest tech company in the world. Imagine getting a job there. Picture the perks: free gourmet food, free booze, a gym, a swimming pool, and a holiday bonus . . . every month. Brilliant coworkers. No dress code. Great parties. More money. Everyone’s admiration.” You know there are inevitably problems that will arise, but it sounds so exotic in comparison to my world, that I can’t wait to dig in!
  20. The Tulip Factory by Kacie Davis Idol (The Mom of the Year) Amazon’s description makes it sound like the perfect dreamy, fun summer book: “Before they exchange even a single word, Corrine knows that James will change everything. And sure enough, their serendipitous meeting in a North Carolina coffee shop sets off a whirlwind of desire and possibilities for the two.”

Wa-hoo! Summer is here and that means summer reading is here! Looking for the perfect beach book or captivating read to get lost in this season? We've got the list of the top 20 books that belong on your summer reading list. They all come with the reason WHY you need to snatch them up, not to mention this INCREDIBLE giveaway--11 books, a $225 Amazon giftcard...seriously, you have to check this out to believe it! Here's to fantastic books!

Now that you’ve got the whole list, I know you’re dying to immediately lose yourself in book pages, but don’t forget to first enter the fantastic giveaway here! Eleven of these books (Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, The Storied Like of A.J. Fikry, The Weekenders, Not Without My Father, Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, Beyond the Break, The Tulip Factory, The Show, A Desperate Fortune, Before the Fall, You: A Novel) are up for grabs in addition to a $225 Amazon giftcard!

Delight in the books and use the giftcard to get any others that are on your summer reading list–or for this sweet amount, even snag a new Kindle for reading on-the-go! As long as you are 18 or older and live in the continental United States, you are eligible to enter the Rafflecopter below. All entries must be received before 7/8/16 at 5:30am ET.

Here’s to a summer of fab books, friends! And as always, happy reading!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

****This post is not sponsored or compensated in any way. We are grateful to the following publishers for providing copies of the books for our giveaway: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Grand Central Publishing, Kristen Mae, Algonquin Books, Sourcebooks, Andra Watkins, St. Martin’s Press, Kodansha, and Inkshares. We bloggers have all chipped in together to provide the Amazon giftcard–because we love Amazon and we love you 😉 ****

Second graphic credit:, image ID:18594985, copyright:peshkova

Horizontal line of books in last graphic: depositphotos, image ID:6984753, copyright:aboikis

Abandoned Dreams: #WhenIGrowUp

How a book about an alternative school in WWII Japan reignited my childhood dreams.

It’s been a while since an Around the World in Books update, where I strive to read 80 books from cultures across the world for under $20 total. Here’s my running tally so far:

$0- Library books: RussiaNorwaySwedenMexicoSierra Leone, Spain
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: ScotlandEngland
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country
$0- Paid, and interesting, review: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Grand Total: $4.74

And today’s book was another eBook that I spent $1.99 on, but it turns out this one was well worth the cost. That will bring my grand total up to $6.73. Not a great number for only being 15 books in. I’m going to have to watch myself and not rack up anymore late fees!


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I’m pretty sure this book was recommended by Sarah, but it was definitely someone over at Suburban Finance.

Ohmigod. It was an amazing recommendation. The quick read chronicles the early education of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi herself. She got kicked out of her first grade classroom, but her mother never let her know that. Because she didn’t want to give her a complex.

She had an amazing mother.

Her mother then enrolled her in a very, very alternative school. The building itself was literally train cars lined up on the school’s property, with one for each grade. The children were allowed to work independently in each subject in whichever order they fancied, with the teacher there to support the learning process and answer questions. As long as they got all of their work done, they got to go on walks in the afternoon, which were hands-on science and history lessons in disguise.

It was magical. This book is nonfiction.

Unfortunately, this was also during WWII. The school was bombed, and subsequently never able to reopen.

It’s a tragedy.

The school’s headmaster, Mr. Kobayashi, had envisioned building this school his entire life. He was very involved in every aspect, making full-inclusion a part of the everyday curriculum long before our mainstream policies did so here in the States. He understood the way children learned, and fostered an environment where they could do so effectively and without fear of repercussion.

There is good news. His students went on to do great things, whether they were acclaimed for them or not. Kuroyanagi herself was acclaimed, and has done many amazing things over her lifetime. But she started out as an actress and talk show host, raising herself to celebrity level which allowed her to do a ton of charitable work across the globe. She accredits her success to her early education at Mr. Kobayashi’s school.

My only regret with this book is that I had not read it sooner. It’s been around since the 80’s…..

…why is it not required reading for anyone who will have to work with children ever? Seriously, if you have or work with kids, it’s a must-read. And a short one at that.

When I Grow Up…

I was highlighting all through this book, but there were a couple quotes from Mr. Kobayashi that really and truly hit home.

Mr. Kobayashi used to tell the kindergarten teachers not to try and fit the children into preconceived molds. “Leave them to nature,” he would say. “Don’t cramp their ambitions. Their dreams are bigger than yours.”

This was said in the midst of the human race tearing itself a part. There was so much hope in those words. There’s a lot of truth, too.

When we fit children, or ourselves, into molds, we too often stifle creativity. We lose solutions to future problems as we teach and learn that there is only so much we can do within the confines of our self-imposed black and white lines. Imagination dies a slow death in this way, and the curiosity we need to ask questions like, “Why did the apple fall from the tree?” slowly dissipates.

The wonder that embodies childhood helps us invent the world of tomorrow when we maintain it. Filling out bubbles on a sheet of paper only assesses our knowledge of what we already understand about the current world. It does not create tomorrow.

This got me thinking about my own childhood dreams. I wanted to write novels about adventure and friendship when I grew up. I’d fold thick stacks of standard white paper in half and staple them together at the center, creating my binding. I’d write words and draw pictures.

To give you an idea, the one I remember most was one where my three best friends and I were trying to catch and stop a nefarious crew of criminals. Our quest led us to my family’s ethnic homeland, where my great-grandmother’s spirit rose from her grave as she gave us vital information that would help us catch the deviants.

What genre is that?

The real question: who cares?

It was in those pages that I allowed myself to create. It’s where I first manipulated idioms. It’s where I first learned to love writing. It’s where my imagination went to thrive, to ask questions, and to create solutions.

Abandoned Dreams

Obviously, like most childhood dreams, it died. I’m not writing adventure/friendship/ghost stories/mystery novels as I sit here today.

I can actually remember exactly how it died. I was working on Windows 93 in my family’s basement. I was typing away at a story about a girl who found out that she had a twin she had been separated from at birth. That twin had recently died. That twin had been a witch.

My main character had magic blood in her, too, and the school was looking for a replacement for her sister as they had one representative from each magic family. So they uprooted her from her perfectly normal life, and forced her to acculturate into a residential school where her biological family’s reputation for magic powers preceded her.

I worked really hard on this. I was probably about three-quarters of the way through the first book by the two month mark. But then, at the two month mark, Harry Potter came out.

It was totally going to look like I ripped of JK Rowling.

So I quit. My idea was no longer original. And who was I but a young girl in a suburban basement, when compared to a grown adult who knew how to market and was wise enough to not initially reveal that she was a woman? Because sexism? (I had no idea she wrote her first outline on napkins on a train at this point.)

A few years later, I read Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I loved it. I started devouring everything of his I could get my hands on. There was a prevailing theme that ran through his work. It went something like this:

Sorry, kids. There’s no way to make money as a writer anymore.

I gave up on my dream when someone else had a similar idea to my own. I buried it when my literary hero told me it was impossible.


Fitting the Mold

To be honest, I’ve never felt like I fit the mold. But I sure as heck tried. I started placing greater importance on numbers and practicalities. I convinced myself that my adventure novels weren’t going to rock the world, anyways. I gave up imagination for logic, ignorant to the fact that the two work best in concert.

I continued studying language. Our language. Other languages. Both of my careers have focused around it, actually. Mr. Vonnegut, something amazing happened. The internet popped off. I now get paid to create content based around personal finance because of new technology.

And yet, he was still probably right. I get paid to write. But it’s a far cry from the fiction I had envisioned in my youth. In all honesty, it’s a dream I’m not overly anxious to get back to.

But it’s still really sad that I left it behind.

In my adult life, I now try to actively create. Not for money. But for the process of it. To exercise my imagination. To put my hands to something that doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. To paint or write or dream just because I want to.

I think that’s the goal of personal finance, specifically when we start talking about financial independence. To get to a point where we can create the life we want to, simply because we want to. To not be tied down by obligations and practicalities.

But when we get too entrenched in the numbers and working out the practicalities of today, we can sometimes stifle that childlike urge that was our initial motivator.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

With that in mind, I want to ask something of you. What did you want to be when you grew up? The “crazier” the better. Leave it in the comments, or if you want to get really fancy, post a pic on Twitter with the hashtag #whenigrowup. I’ll do a compilation post of all of our dreams.

Maybe you don’t still identify with them today. But the lack of inhibition from your childhood is something I’d love to bring back. Because when we stop trying to fit the mold, we can do amazing, creative things.

Again, from Mr. Kobayashi:

Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.

Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:

Canada: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat recommeded by Messy Money
Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg recommended by Savvy Working Gal
Nigeria: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Kenya: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen recommended by Christine from The Wallet Diet
China: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Costa Rica: The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica
France: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr recommended by Our Next Life
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
Jamaica: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James recommended by Jana of Jana Say
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing

Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the PyramidReading, in many ways, is like traveling.  It can transport us to places we’ve never been, and teach us things we didn’t know we wanted to learn.

That was very much my experience while reading 
Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid
 It took me to places like Cambodia, Kenya, the Philippines, India, and more.  (For this reason, it’s going into the Around the World in Books challenge.)  It taught me about the billions of unbanked across the world.  Initially, I was reading with the anthropologically ethical question of imposing our own societal values on others heavy on my mind.  While I still don’t think we should impose money on those that don’t already use it, that’s not who this book is about.  It’s about people who do use money, but don’t have access to banking services.  Or safe storage of their cash.  Or credit history.  Or, in some cases, even a legal identity.

These people face major barriers.  Many of them don’t have any documentation of who they are, which makes it impossible to get banking services, or even state-run benefits.  In some places, even if they could get a bank account, fees and low interest rates don’t match the inflation in their region; they’d actually be losing money by keeping it in a savings account.  Many people move for work, sometimes abroad, and sometimes in their own country, sending remittances home.  Remittances are collectively one of the largest transfers of wealth on our planet, and they come with very high fees to generally low-wage workers.

So I learned a lot.  But perhaps my favorite quote in the book was this one.  It’s a concept that’s rung true with me for a long while, and it was a kind of relief to see it echoed in such a well-written book:

“The lack of affordable and adaptable banking services is an issue that should concern everyone, not just the people who are living at the bottom of the pyramid.  At its worst, a lack of banking creates a downward spiral of disenfranchisement, widens the gap between rich and poor, encourages outlaw or extralegal behavior, and inhibits the social mobility that keeps any society vibrant and open.  An accessible and reliable banking system helps to create stability and overall prosperity.  Low-income workers waste less time in check-cashing lines, spend less money on usurious back-alley services, have legitimate identification, feel connected to the economic fabric of their society, are encouraged to save, have access to credit, and participate in retail commerce.”

Mobile Payments Since 2000

One of the things that blew my mind was that in these countries where access to banking is such a problem, mobile banking was initiated in the year 2000.  I didn’t even have internet at my house in the year 2000, and there were people in the Philippines sending money to each other over their brick cell phones.  (Something else I did not have in the year 2000, though an adult in my household did.)

One of the reasons it worked so well there and in other countries, and didn’t pop off here in the US nearly as quickly, is because we already have an infrastructure in place with widespread (though not 100% inclusive) banking services.  Rather than starting from scratch, we feel the need to scaffold on the systems that are already in place.  This is much harder.

That’s not to say that some serious innovation wasn’t needed to make mobile banking happen in these countries.  It was, and it’s amazing what some of these great minds are doing in the countries I read about.  Part of it is technology, but a large part of it is also entrepreneurship, and building a business around your customer’s unique needs.

An Identity is Crucial

Mobile banking in these countries isn’t necessarily done through a bank.  A lot of times it’s partnered with a mobile service provider and their representative small business owners in villages in remote locations.  Even if it’s not traditional banking, you still have to verify who a person is before you start putting your hands on their money.

In Kenya, where every person has a state ID, mobile banking took off like wildfire.  Contrast that with India, where there are billions of people in villages who don’t have so much as a birth certificate, and you can see some of the barriers that come up even with brilliant innovation.  India has taken longer to adapt to the new methodology, but it is high on their government’s priority list, and a new ID system is being put into place using biometrics.  Biometrics.

Credit Scoring of the Future

Once people have an identity, there needs to be a system in place to get them credit.  This allows them to expand their businesses and build their communities.  Traditional credit models don’t work; it’s the harsh Catch-22 of having zero credit, but not being able to establish any unless you can find a cosigner.  Not an easy feat when most of the people in your community are in the same boat as you are.

So there are new credit models being drafted.  A lot of it includes monitoring mobile payments, watching transactions as money goes in and out with the mobile user’s permission.  But a lot of it, as in pretty much every model, also incorporates social media.  Watch what you tweet, people.  It may end up affecting your credit score in the future.

Innovation Leads to Innovation

When people started having access to mobile payments, there were other needs that started arising in the market.  B2B services like payment processing became necessary.  So new companies sprang up. There have also consequently been ventures in providing low-cost, green energy to people who previously had no electricity on a scalable basis.  This has been made possible through mobile payments and the technology that came along with it.  Government payments, like benefits and tax refunds, are also experiencing massive innovations.  Bitcoin exists, posing a potential to replace paper currency altogether.  Banking, instead of remaining the pyramid that it was, is becoming a platform.


Highly.  Initially I was going to say if your eyes glaze over when someone talks about finances, don’t bother.  But as I read more, I realized that when we talk about banking, we talk so much about how people live their lives that this book really did transport you in many ways to the reality of fellow human beings we’d otherwise never hear about.  What I’ve talked about is just the tip of the iceberg.  It was incredibly interesting, and made me aware of such huge progress going on in the world that I was previously completely incognizant of.



*I have been compensated for my time reading and reviewing this book.  Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and my own.*