The Unpretentious Reader

Book review: Devoted

Devoted, by Jennifer Mathieu


Imagine: You’re a 17-year-old girl whose future has been reduced to being a wife and mother of as many children as you can bear. You live at home and are homeschooled with your multitude of younger siblings, some of whom you – not your parents – are responsible for feeding, teaching, and putting to bed. You have virtually no contact with the outside world, and your sole purpose in life is serving God and doing whatever your father says (your father has all control over your life, since you’re a girl). Welcome to Rachel’s world.

Rachel starts to get curious about life outside her religious cult when, during her very limited time allowed on the computer, she discovers the blog of someone who recently “escaped” the cult and now lives a normal life. As guilty as Rachel feels for reading this, she also begins to wonder what that might be like – to live in control of your own life, your own destiny, and your own body. As things begin to intensify for Rachel at home, she starts to consider the possibility of running away.


Oh my GOSH, you guys, this book. Obviously drawing inspiration from the Duggars, Devoted covers what it’s like to grow up in a very specific cultish religion (Quiverfull – though it’s never mentioned by name in the book, unless I missed it). I am unashamedly fascinated by cults and extreme religions (why I read Under the Banner of Heaven earlier this year), especially when reading stories about people who have escaped said cults. I empathized a lot with Rachel and just wanted to reach through the pages and save her so many times. She’s taught to believe that anything outside of what she knows, of her very strict belief system and family structure, is scary. Wrong. Bad. She’s taught to be ashamed of her body. She learns from an early age that she must submit to the male authorities in her life – first her father, then her future husband. She is given no agency. No authority over her own body, her own self, and her own choices. It’s maddening…and heartbreaking. Little girls are growing up RIGHT NOW in environments just like this. Today.

I also appreciated so much how the author made a conscious choice to not bash all other religions (something she could’ve easily done), while simultaneously talking about the very real and harmful effects of Rachel’s specific religion. She really delved in to Rachel’s thought processes and revealed just how screwed up her environment was, and how it led her to think in a very inflexible, closed-minded way. If Rachel were a real person, she’d be in desperate need for some cognitive behavioral therapy.

Anyways, enough of my rambling. I loved Jennifer Mathieu’s debut novel, The Truth About Alice, and had a feeling I would love this one too. Spoiler: I did! 😉 This was a quick, sobering, and at times emotional read, and if you’re also fascinated by cults/extreme religions, I think you’ll like it, too.

Life lately, vol. 4 (Bryce Canyon)

Two separate weekends in March, I got out of Salt Lake and headed down to southern Utah for a change of scenery – first Danny and I went to Bryce, UT, and two weeks after that, some girlfriends and I visited Zion National Park. The weather was a far sight better than what we’d been getting in SLC last month, and sometimes it’s just nice to be a tourist in your own state. Here are some photos from the first trip to Bryce Canyon. Enjoy!

PS. All photos taken with my trusty Nikon D90.

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DSC_5526 DSC_5538 DSC_5539 DSC_5578 DSC_5600 DSC_5602 DSC_5604 DSC_5613 DSC_5618 DSC_5619

Living in Utah has so many perks, y’all.

Have a great weekend!!

Trying new things.

You’re never too old to try new things, amiright?

When I first started this blog a few months back, I set some goals for 2016, and one of those goals was to get mentally and physically healthy. I received a Fitbit for Christmas (thanks Mom and Dad!) and since January I’ve managed to get 10,000 or more steps each and every day. I also joined the gym where I work and went a handful of times….but I’m not a very good gym person. I know this about myself, and I accept it.

I basically hate all forms of exercise except hiking (which I even tend to hate in the moment; it’s really more of a hate/love relationship with all the love happening when I make it to the top of the trail, and not a moment sooner), so I’ve been on the lookout for new activities that will be both enjoyable AND a good workout for my body and/or mind.


New activity #1: YOGA!

I’ve always been envious of people who are extremely flexible, having never been one myself (I can’t even touch my toes without bending my knees a bit). I have friends who practice yoga, though, and they convinced me to come try it. I was intimidated due to the aforementioned lack of flexibility, and while it was definitely hard, I can say with all honesty that I really enjoy it and would like to continue. The biggest surprise has been the mental benefits of yoga – I can’t believe how calm and relaxed I feel after a yoga class. It’s hard to empty your mind during normal life, and I can see yoga as becoming the place where I get to do that each week.


New activity #2: CLIMBING!


I’ve only tried it a few times, but I think I like it. I guess I liked it enough to go buy a brand new pair of climbing shoes, haaaaaa. But really, I think this is a good activity for both mental and physical health. It is HARD – unbelievably hard – when you have zero upper body strength. And so far I’ve only been able to make it up half the wall (27 feet), and don’t even ask me to try to follow a certain route yet. So much of it is mental: fear of falling, fear of not being able to continue, feeling stuck, feeling like your arms are about to give out. I’m still struggling with all of that, but there’s this nagging voice that keeps telling me if I can just break through the mental barriers, this could be something I’d really enjoy. So for now, I’ll keep trying.


New activity #3: PAINTING!


Obviously this isn’t any form of physical exercise, but It was SO FUN that I’m counting it as a mental health activity win. My bff Tracy and I went to a painting class earlier this week and I enjoyed every minute of it, from the sweet college student artist who instructed the class, to the way everyone’s paintings managed to turn out beautifully yet differed so drastically in the end. It made me wish that painting supplies weren’t so expensive because I would totally try to paint more if it wasn’t such a colossal waste of money (for someone who doesn’t have any real painting talent, that is, haha). I would definitely take another class, though!

What new things have you tried lately??

5 apps I’m loving

And just like that, March is halfway over. I didn’t mean to let so much time pass between blogging, but it just sort of happened. While I wasn’t blogging, I did read Carry On and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. I’d say it was different than anything Rainbow Rowell has ever written, but in a really good way. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

This post, however, isn’t about books (GASP). I just wanted to pop in and talk about a few apps I’ve been really digging lately!


1. Poshmark


My friend Olivia turned me on to this app and I’m officially obsessed. Poshmark provides a way for people (mostly women, let’s be real) to sell new or used clothing, shoes, accessories, handbags, etc. They take a small percentage off the top of anything you sell, and if you’re buying, you pay a flat $6 shipping rate which isn’t terrible when you’re getting a pair of $15 Franco Sarto heels, NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW. I decided to start selling some of my own clothes and shoes that have just been collecting dust so I can feed my shoe habit. It’s a really cool way to pare down your closet, make a little money on the side, and buy gently used (or even new) stuff from other sellers at a huge discount.

If you’re interested in joining, sign up with the promo code JKZAW and you’ll get a $10 credit to immediately purchase something!



This app was a total product placement on the latest season of House of Cards but I don’t care. It is super fun and addicting, albeit a little stressful. I play it in short bursts, and it’s not the type of game you can look away from, so playing and watching TV doesn’t work well. Basically, you start out as this tiny circle, and you eat all of those colored dots to grow bigger. The bigger you grow, the slower you move. As you get bigger, you can start to eat other bigger circles (which are actually other players) and so on. Really fun game – but I would suggest only playing when you’re connected to wi-fi. The few times I’ve tried to play without wi-fi have been sluggish/laggy because there are so many other players connected.


3. Afterlight


Everyone has their favorite photo editing app, and mine is Afterlight. I love this app and use it for 99% of my iPhone photos. It’s easy to use and has a ton of filters, but my favorite part is the actual photo editing tools it also provides – things like adjusting contrast, saturation, high/mid/low tones, clarity, and more. It easily connects with your social accounts so you can upload straight from the app, or save the image to post later. I know there are a ton of good photo editing apps out there, and I’ve used a number of them – but Afterlight continues to be my favorite.


4. Audible


This is more of a service I’m loving rather than just the app, but whatever. My blog my rules. I signed up for Audible recently, which if you’ve been living in a cave and don’t know, is an audiobook-listening service by Amazon. I’m not sure if I’ll keep it long-term (it’s a teeny bit pricey) but for right now it’s been really great. The app remembers the place where you stopped listening last, even if you close the app or open from the web application. The sound quality is great, and browsing available book titles to purchase is really easy – but the one downside is that you can’t actually purchase audiobooks within the app. I have no idea why, but I find this so annoying! They do make it fairly easy to purchase a book on Audible’s site, though, and downloading the purchase to the app is pretty seamless.


5. Snapchat


Yeah, yeah, I know. Snapchat isn’t new. But I’ve been really digging it lately! I follow some friends plus a few bloggers, and I especially love the story feature. It’s a fun way to share snippets of your day with friends (stuff I wouldn’t deem “important enough” to post on Instagram, necessarily, but still want to share with people). There are so many creative ways to use the tool, though, in addition to just sharing random stuff with friends. I’ve seen people use it to do quick and dirty product reviews, or “report on” something that’s happening to them or around them live, or whatever. It’s fun!

If you’re on Snapchat, you can find me by searching the username “emilylikestacos” OR by opening the app to the camera and scanning my snapcode:


Book review: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town


Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven) meticulously reports on a number of sexual assaults that occurred at the University of Montana over a period of 5-ish years, and focuses on how the cases were handled both in court and by the city’s attorneys and police force. Nonfiction told in narrative-style, Missoula is both eye-opening and sobering.


Everyone should read this book.

I repeat – everyone should read this book.

Because what happened in Missoula, Montana is not an anomaly. It’s the city Krakauer chose to write about, sure, but rape is an epidemic happening nationwide. Krakauer cites study after study, statistic after statistic, leaving the reader with just one thought: “How could anyone NOT see this problem? How could anyone deny this is happening?”

The author explores the many common misconceptions about rape and its victims, and casts light on the fact that rape cases are simply not treated the same as any other case. Rape victims are asked questions such as, “Do you have a boyfriend?…because sometimes we get girls who have cheated on their boyfriends and don’t want to admit it.” I kid you not.

The reality is, false rape allegations make up 10% or less of total allegations. Meanwhile, a whopping 80% of rapes are estimated to go unreported to police. 80%. Krakauer explores this phenomenon, and provides example after example of why victims might choose not to go to police. At one point, he cites a study where participants were asked varying questions, and I can’t remember the exact details, but basically a number of young men ended up self-identifying as rapists without even realizing it. In other words, you could’ve asked these men if they had ever or would ever rape another person, and they would have answered noeven though their survey answers indicated otherwise. That is terrifying.

The overwhelming message Missoula sends is that we MUST do better as a society. We must advocate for victims, we must default to believing victims until proven otherwise, and we must protest laws that destroy what little progress has been made. Even my own state is about to vote on a bill that would limit the role of victim advocates in sexual assault cases. Why? I have no idea.

Missoula is essential reading. It’s extremely difficult, and it won’t feel good – but it’s absolutely essential.

Life lately, vol. 3 [San Diego edition]

I spent last weekend with two of my oldest friends in one of my favorite cities of all time. It was a whirlwind weekend, but I think we made the best of our time together. Here are some of my favorite photos from our three days of perfect weather, delicious food, and sunny, beautiful beaches. PS: These are all iPhone photos, hence the less than great quality.

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On the plane and ready to get out of the Salt Lake smog!

On the plane!

See that gray mess below? PEACE OUT, UTAH.

Plane view 1

California: much better view!

Plane view 2

Literally the first stop after Alisa picked us up from the airport. (#priorities) Not pictured: the most delicious pineapple juice mimosa. Snooze A.M. is THE BEST breakfast, hands down. And yes, that’s a flight of pancakes!

Snooze breakfast

Breakfast then pedicures. Treat yo’self!


Friends for over 16 years. I feel old!

Alisa and Tracy <3

Alisa and Tracy <3

West coast sunsets…can’t beat ’em.


On our walk to dinner.


A poorly lit photo of some pretty good tacos and REALLY good refried beans. (Not pictured: our waiter who thought we were hilarious)

I really don’t have words for this one.

In my happy place.

The chaos that is Hodad’s!


Single file, please.


Burger + potato wedges + la cerveza.


Our Valentine’s Day dinner: sandwiches, extremely disappointing pasta salad, delicious seafood dip and crackers, champagne, and pie. We’re classy.

V-Day Dinner

Last day spent on the Mission Beach boardwalk.


Beach hair.


Why can’t I wake up to this view every day?


Until next time!!! Love these girls.


Book review: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies, by Liana MoriartyPremise

A group of parents are getting ready to send their respective children to kindergarten at a primary school in a small Australian beachside town. The book switches perspectives between three main characters, each more different and intriguing than the last, and each with her own secrets to hide. Early on you find out that something terrible happens at the school’s parent trivia night, and the book follows the events leading up to the night. It’s a good mix of mystery and humor.


This is not the first book I’ve read by Liane Moriarty, and it certainly won’t be the last. She tends to write about a lot of characters which can sometimes be mentally taxing, but she does it in such a brilliant way that I don’t mind. Each one is unique and complex, and the character development throughout the story is spot-on. You immediately become invested in their lives, their decisions, and their drama. Moriarty’s writing is clever, piercing, and sometimes downright hilarious. The book manages to be both entertaining and sobering at times, covering a wide range of serious issues while simultaneously exploring the sometimes-petty drama of being the parent of a kindergartner. It’s a remarkable look at the way high school doesn’t always seem to end at high school, and gossip and cliques tend to exist for long after.

I flew through this book in just a few days. I loved everything about it! If you enjoy humor and witty writing, don’t mind keeping up with all the characters, and like a little bit of mystery, then you’ll enjoy this book. I’d probably categorize it as a beach read. I felt the same way about The Husband’s Secret, another great one by Moriarty, and I plan on reading What Alice Forgot soon. Also – I just found out that HBO is making a mini-series on Big Little Lies which I am SO excited about!


PS. Fans of Jojo Moyes, have you seen the trailer for Me Before You??? It looks so good!

Leaving on a jet plane

Del Mar Beach

Sorry for the lack of posts this week – I’ve been too busy getting ready for SAN DIEGO this weekend!! This trip came together in the best of ways: completely and utterly spontaneously! I had a companion fare ticket through Alaska Airlines that was going to expire, and after a quick chat with my bestie of 16+ years, Tracy, we decided that we obviously needed to put it to use. Minutes later, we had texted our other bestie from high school, Alisa, who lives three hours away from San Diego, and she immediately agreed to the idea! The next day, tickets were purchased, an Airbnb rental was booked, and all we had to do was wait a few weeks until it was time to leave.

San Diego is quite possibly my all-time favorite city, and I’m thrilled to get to spend a few days there with two of my oldest friends. I’m never happier than when I’m at the beach, in the sun, sand between my toes, and breathing in the salty, ocean air. Can’t. Freaking. Wait.

Also, I’ve got two books I devoured last week and loved, and I’m itching to write reviews for them – so stay tuned for that sometime next week.


I hope you all have a FABULOUS weekend!

Life lately, vol. 2

A curated list of photos from my life over the past few weeks. Enjoy! 

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Half a week’s worth of groceries from Sprouts. (I buy everything else at Target. RedCard for liiiiiife.)


The TOD (Taco of the Day) at Taqueria 27, complete with MASHED POTATOES.


Personal best.


Kale, Chicken, and Gnocchi Soup from Budget Bytes:


I was at the top for the briefest of moments…and then Bekah resumed the throne literally an hour later.



Pad Thai from Tea Rose Diner. Good food, but the service was disappointing this time around. 🙁


My sweet mom sent me the coziest, warmest, softest blanket in the mail, and I’ve been cuddling with it ever since. 🙂


New obsession.


Utah has the best sunsets. Just. The best.


Mid-morning snack that I eat M-F.


Visits to the yarn store. ❤️


Another gorgeous Utah evening + a dirty window.


I hope you have a great weekend!!