Quick Lit – April 2017

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here at the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 20 books in April, plus finished two read-aloud chapter books with the boys. Skim til you see something you like!


01 Perfect StrangerThe Perfect Stranger – Megan Miranda
This was so convoluted and hard to follow. I think she was trying to weave a masterful web of suspense, but fell short by making it too complicated and then having to tie together so many threads. Leah is trying to rebuild her life after a professional disaster that leaves her fleeing everything she knows with her friend Emmy by her side. in her new idyllic town things start to go south and Leah is caught in the middle, trying to decide how much of her past she needs to reveal. Not necessary to read her first book before this one.


02 The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
This reads almost like a verse novel. You get right into Starr’s head as she deals with the emotional and societal fallout from the defining moment of her young life: watching her friend get gunned down by a cop. Starr is no sheltered child though, she also saw a friend get killed in a drive-by shooting at just ten years old, her daddy has been to prison, and she is surrounded by gangbangers. When her eyewitness account becomes pivotal, she has to decide where she stands and what bravery looks like to her.
This novel is absolutely riveting and emotional and illuminating. Highly recommended.


03 Sun is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also A Star – Nicola Yoon
I gave this one five stars. It’s probably more like 4.5, but let’s go ahead and err on the side of generosity while I’ve still got all the warm fuzzies and the wet eyes.
Natasha and Daniel meet through a series of unconnected events that maybe shouldn’t have happened. his poetic heart tries to convince her science-y one that love at first sight is real and they are meant to be. But she finds it hard to live in the moment because her family is being deported that same night, to move back to Jamaica. Read this one. It’s fun and quick and sweet and you won’t be disappointed.


04 And Every Morning the Way HomeAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer – Fredrick Backman
This short story was sweet and darling. And sad. it reminded me of my grandpa, my daddy, the way my daddy is as a grandpa to my boys. it reminded me of my grandma and the way she loves my grandfather now, as her memory disintegrates. It’s just lovely. And heartbreaking. But mostly lovely.


05 The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom
I thought this was a beautifully written novel about Belle and Louvenia in the late 1700s/ early 1800s. Louvenia is a young Irish girl who is sold into bondage and becomes friends/ adopted family with the slaves that live on the plantation. Belle is one of those slaves. In this novel you see the girls grow up together. you see how their race determines their futures even though they are both enslaved.


06 Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea – Rita Septys
Oh, I loved this book. I loved the way the characters came together, each telling their own story but expertly interwoven throughout the novel. It is heartbreaking and sweet and eye-opening and sad. I loved every word. looking forward to reading more from Ruta Sepetys.

 


07 The CrownThe Crown – Kiera Cass
Is it bad that I’m mostly glad to be done wth this series? take my advice and stop after book 3, even if I do feel like the VERY end of this one redeemed most of book 4. Eadlyn gets her ish figured out eventually, but blah blah blah blah blah.

 


08 ColumbineColumbine – Dave Cullen
This is so tough to listen to, but absolutely amazing in the depth of research and the way Cullen put the tragedy together to make it more digestible. unless you yourself were an FBI investigator on this case, there’s guaranteed to be something in here that surprises you or haunts you. even if you feel like you were inundated with the news of this tragedy when it occurred. the build up prior and the fallout afterward are interspersed with accounts of the tragedy itself. not for the faint of heart or the HSP reader, but very interesting reading for the rest of us who can almost stomach it.


09 The Sound of GravelThe Sound of Gravel – Ruth Wariner
This memoir was heartbreaking and, at times, terrible. Ruth Wariner grew up as part of a polygamist sect in Mexico. Her mom was second wife to the sect’s founder, who was murdered. she then became second wife again to Ruth’s stepfather. living off of us government assistance in definite substandard housing, this is a story of abuse, poverty, and, ultimately, survival.




10 Radium Girls

The Radium Girls – Kate Moore
This was so interesting, but also devastating. the radium girls changed the face of American industry and health and safety law, but to do so, many of them had to die terrible deaths. this nonfiction retelling reads like fiction, as you draw near to so many of these girls and follow them to their doom. their fight is inspiring.


11 The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
I liked this sweet fantasy story of witches and monsters and dragons and fear and joy and magic. The protectorate leaves the youngest baby in the woods once a year for “The witch” in the woods. The witch collects these abandoned babies and takes them to villages of joy, not outstanding why they get left in the woods. The sorrow of the protectorate is complete. The joy of the villages and their star children is sweet and full.


12 I Liked My LifeI Liked My Life – Abby Fabiaschi
oh man did this one wreck me. I spent the whole book wondering if what we think happened really happened and what it took to get Madeline to that point in her life. she is clearly not ready to leave her family, as she spends her time in the afterlife observing and influencing her daughter Eve and her husband Brady. As a stay at home mama that often feels underappreciated, and like the things I do every day don’t matter THAT much, this book hit a little too close to home to be comfortable, but ultimately broke my heart while mending it. well done Abby Fabiaschi, at completely transporting us.


13 Flight of DreamsFlight of Dreams – Ariel Lawhon
this is a fictionalized account of the Hindenburg disaster, based on the lives of the real people who died in and survived the explosion. I liked the story well eggnog, although it did drag at points. I thought Lawhon did a good job not letting her research take over the story. The final author’s note kind of irked me a bit. She took the actual details of the real people’s lives and then crafted a story about what may have happened on the ship you cause it to explode, crafting their personalities, the things they said and did, and the day to day events from her own imagination. I a sense that’s fun and lovely, but I wish she would have given them pseudonyms, different from those of the actual passengers and crew, in order to not conflate the story with historical accounts. it just kind of rubbed me the wrong way.


14 The Idea of YouThe Idea of You – Amanda Prowse
Lucy is single, 39, and yearning to be a mom when she meets Jonah. They marry and attempt to start their own family while blending with Jonah’s previous family. The story itself was heart-wrenching (especially for anyone who has ever miscarried).The thing that drove me nutty was the way Lucy talked to Jonah. The way they fight, the way she dishes out advice about things she wouldn’t know about, etc etc. I kept getting so annoyed with her.


15 Bad FeministBad Feminist – Roxanne Gay
This was fun and funny and then sharp and biting and then acerbic and then witty and then perceptive. It was all the things. My first foray into Roxanne Gay’s writing, I really enjoyed her take on everything from feminism to racism to BDSM to literature, fiction, and movies. Narrated by Bahni Turpin, and I could listen to her read ANYTHING.


16 All the Missing GirlsAll the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda
I thought this was so well put together. I love that you have to piece together the story from the end to the beginning, and you have ideas about what happened, but you don’t know if those ideas have already been confirmed or if they will come to light later. I think this was just masterfully done.


16 PersepolisPersepolis – Marjane Satrapi
my first experience with a graphic novel. don’t hate on me if I say this doesn’t really feel like reading and I’m not totally sure I get the appeal? the story of Persepolis, based on the author’s own childhood, does give insight into growing up in Iran and provide for plenty of discussion. I’m just feeling like I could have learned much more (and have) from other books on this topic. hmm. might have to think on this a bit more. I will say it was a quick read, so I definitely didn’t feel like I was wasting reading time or anything to that effect.


17 Gospel Centered CommunityThe Gospel-Centered Community – Bob Thune
Lots of Christianese, but definitely a good convicting read for a community group to tackle together. We took nine weeks to go through the nine chapters, which were very readable and sparked a good discussion about what real community looks like and how to cultivate it in your own church group.


18 Waking GodsWaking Gods – Sylvain Neuvel
My goodness, I love these books. I loved the way they’re written. I love the way Neuvel immerses us in the story. I love that there are no boring parts. I just love them. This one picks up about 7 years after the last one left off, but you dive right into the action. Buckle up, because it’s a fun ride! Not to be read out of order though, so definitely pick up Sleeping Giants first!


19 Marriage PactThe Marriage Pact – Michelle Richmond
well, I read this as a galley on a recommendation from an acquaintance who had already read the galley… and I probably won’t be taking her advice again. Jack and Alice are a newlywed couple who are invited to be part of The Pact, an organization that aims to protect marriage, but does so mostly through rules and punishment and fear. The idea is interesting, I just didn’t really like the execution of said idea. Also, I realize this was a galley copy, but the number of spelling and grammar errors was just inexcusable. I assume this was written on my phone, because the same mistakes were made throughout.


Also finished: Paddington and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic as read-aloud books with my boys. Not posting reviews for those though!

Author Interview – Tsh Oxenreider

 

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Photo Credit: Holly Fish, photographer

 

Hi Tsh! Thanks so much for joining us over on Notes on Bookmarks today. I am so excited about your new book! As part of the Launch Team, I got to read it early, and I can honestly say that your memoir about your travels and the search for home spoke to me in so many ways. It felt like you wrote it for me! You can read a whole post with my take on the book and where I feel at home in the world here

So, let’s get this party started with the five-minute Tsh intro and then a little something not many people know about you!

Tsh is the author of Notes from a Blue Bike and Organized Simplicity, the founder of the community blog The Art of Simple, and the podcaster behind The Simple Show. Her writing has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, Real Simple magazine, and more. A Longhorn graduate of the University of Texas, where she studied English and anthropology, Tsh currently lives just outside Austin, Texas with her family and eats tacos several times a week.

Hmm… I guess maybe the thing people don’t know about me is my name really and truly is spelled T-s-h on my birth certificate. The quickest explanation for it is it was the 70s, and my parents were in an experimental mood (my brother was born five years later, in 1982, and they named him Josh, one of the most common names of the 80s). My dad says I was named after a protagonist in a book he read while my mom was pregnant with me. It’s set in the Soviet Union about a MI-6 pilot that was shot down in Moscow, and he falls in love with a woman named Tsh. But fun fact: I’ve been to Russia, and I’ve asked around – it’s an unusual name even for there! So I’m fairly certain the author just made up the name.

19 At Home in the WorldIn your new book, At Home in the World, we essentially get to journey with you and your family (husband and three kiddos) as you circumnavigate the globe. When you left for your big trip, you sold your home, eliminated many belongings and put the rest in storage, so you were essentially homeless for the year. As the author of Organized Simplicity and the creator of The Art of Simple, it seems like there might not have been much to let go of, but I’m guessing that a family of five, even one that lives simply, still has plenty of belongings. Can you tell us a bit about your “preparing to leave” process and what surprised you as to what you wish you had kept when you came home or what you wish you had been more ruthless about eliminating?

We still had to decide over every little thing, using the question, “What do we think we might need for the next year?” If you think about it, that’s pretty challenging to predict. We got rid of some stuff, more in the natural decluttering process people naturally do when you’re planning to fit everything into a storage unit, but we didn’t really get rid of a third more of our belongings until we returned home. We pulled up that storage unit door and immediately thought, “Why on earth did we keep these things?” It was glorious to have so little for a year—it taught me first-hand how very, very little we need in this life.

We ultimately each had about 3 tops, 3 bottoms, and 2-3 pairs of shoes for the year, and we were more than happy with this. So when I went through my clothes when we returned—even with my already limited wardrobe–it all felt a bit ridiculous. I know extended travel isn’t normal life, so I get why we have more clothes in the here and now… but it was still dreamy to have such a tiny amount of laundry for a school year.

Something I’ve been thinking about as I let your book marinate a bit is how you so perfectly capture that tension that we’ve all (I assume) felt between wanting to see this big beautiful world, and wanting a place to come home to and feel comfortable in, and recognize as a place of belonging. I myself can so sympathize with the fact that, even when we go away for just a few days, I am so GLAD to get to sleep in my bed again when I get home! Almost always, that is the thing I miss the most when we travel (that, and our pup). But that doesn’t squelch the desire to go, either. You slept in, and oftentimes shared, so many beds and spaces during your year abroad. If you can pinpoint the THING you missed the most during that year, what do you think it would be? (Other than the broader idea of “a home”, I mean).

For sure, it was my bed that I missed the most. I don’t have a fancy bed, but it’s mine, and it’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It represents being home to me. I didn’t realize how picky I was about things like sheets and pillows until I slept on a bajillion of them, all slightly different from each other. Plus, once we came back we slept in other people’s beds stateside because we housesat or stayed with family while we figured out where to live. We were more than ready for our bed when we finally came back… The first night on our own mattress was heaven.

A close second to my bed was my white owl coffee mug I’ve affectionately named Hedwig. He represents being home, too, and I missed having my morning coffee with him. It was so fun to unpack him and get him back in my coffee rotation.

thesimpleshow-artYour podcast, and your new-ish addition of rotating co-hosts, has really brought to life the three aspects of this work that I really love: home, travel, and books. All three are encapsulated here! People who are interested in the book, but haven’t yet ordered, can listen to the entire first chapter on audio by checking out episode 65 right here! Since the book itself captures the tension between travel and home, can you tell us a bit more about the books of your travels? You mention reading on your loaded Kindle Paperwhite during the trip, and I’d love to hear which books really stuck with you or will always remind you of a certain place. I know when I read somewhere unique, the place often gets solidified in my memory as part of the book, so I can just imagine how some books from that year must be inextricably linked for you to the places you got to visit!

My daughter and I both read Red Scarf Girl in China, and it really helped us both better understand the Chinese mindset. I picked up Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden in a used bookstore in Chiang Mai, just for fun (because I still prefer paper books over the digital version, all things being equal). I read The Storied Life of AJ Fikry in Australia, so I will always think of our quiet, slow time in the Sydney suburbs when I see that book cover. I re-read my friend Emily’s book A Million Little Ways because it was in the library of the Sole Hope guesthouse in Uganda, and that was fun – felt like talking to a friend, which helped with the loneliness. Probably most significant for me was reading All the Light We Cannot See while we were in France—it just so happened that it was finally my turn from the library’s wait list while we were there. It literally happened when we were in the air from Morocco to France, so it was a lovely surprise when it auto-downloaded the next time I opened my Kindle after we landed. That’s now one of my favorite books, and I think it’s partly because I read it where the book largely takes place.

As I read through your book, one of the first things that happened was a conversation with my darling husband about how we dated, engaged, and were married with travel as one of our guiding principles (we visited 7 countries together before we had kiddos!), but having three kids seemed to have minimized that desire. Despite our prayers that our children would travel to experience, see, and love the world, we became daunted by the idea of road trips and plane flights and sleeping in hotels. The conversations spurred by At Home In The World have already led to two upcoming family vacations planned (along with the other travels we had planned for this summer) and discussions about a bigger, overseas trip for next year. And all that it took was a reminder from you that WE ALSO love to travel! Even though this is a memoir, and not a how-to guide, what are you hoping your readers get out of this book? How do you hope they apply your story to their own lives?

I have heard so many stories like this, and I absolutely love it! It thrills me to no end to hear of adults being reminded of their love for travel after reading this book, then deciding to go ahead and book flights for an adventure with their kids. I can think of no greater outcome. Even if it means starting with a weekend venture only a few hours from home, that’s worth it to me.

I also genuinely love hearing from people who say they really have no interest in travel, and they love that At Home didn’t shame them for it. I truly want people to feel at peace wherever they call home, and perhaps take their own, unofficial form of a Vow of Stability.

Whether or not people actually take a big round-the-world trip with their kids, I want people to not idolize travel, and instead remember the privilege it is to see the world so easily in our modern age. And yet, it also means so many people from around the world live near us, more than ever before. I hope it also encourages people to reach out to those who might seem different than us—maybe we don’t share a first language, maybe our neighbors were born in another country—and get to know them just as people. What a great outcome that would be for this book!

I feel like the desires you express for your travel in this paragraph from the first chapter are so practical and small that they make it seem doable for each of us:

“I want to see a thousand tiny places, smell their flowers, and taste the sauces made by their people. I want to feel the difference between the textures of grit in Sri Lanka and Morocco. I want to meet the woman who bakes the best bread in the smallest town in New Zealand. I want to find the best vantage point to see Bosnia from Croatia. What do the Grand Marnier crêpes taste like in Rouen? In Paris? There are untold numbers of tiny places and extraordinary people who occupy them. We will perhaps see a hundred of both.”

PrintYes, we may want to see the whole world, but that’s impossible. And it’s certainly impossible to see and appreciate and know the whole world. So let’s remember that we are tiny, that the space we take up is minute, and embrace the actual physical space and people that are around us this moment. As Jill Briscoe said at this year’s IF: Gathering, “My mission field is between my own two feet.” Do you feel like you were able to achieve all of these small desires for your travels? Do you feel like you will ever go and see all the places you want to visit? Do you feel like the desire to travel will ever be satisfied? Or do we all embrace the tension, and live in the already/not yet of home and away, the impossible search for heaven on Earth?

I know I won’t ever see all the places I want to see, and that’s an okay place to be, because this side of heaven, we won’t ever feel fully satisfied. As CS Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in the world will satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Our year of travels taught me that the beauty of exploring the world is best tempered with the beauty of the ordinary life of home. I love my home more because I enjoy time away from it, discovering new places. And I love traveling because I know I have a home to hang my backpack when I’m done.

Thank you so very much, Tsh. For being here, for sharing with us, for your beautiful book. I can’t wait for all my friends to read it as well. It really is one of my favorites I’ve read this year and I cannot wait to see where it gets to go! #AtHomeInTheWorld

Thanks, Kaytee!

At Home In The World (of books)

My parents are travelers. They have been to so many amazing places. And, starting when I was very young, they never had any qualms about bringing their children along. Some of the most memorable moments from my childhood are centered on the times when they took us somewhere new. We spent a summer driving up and down the California Coast, splashing in tide pools, visiting the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and Disneyland.

We spent a summer in Australia and New Zealand. We snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef and climbed Franz Josef Glacier on the South Island of NZ all within a few weeks of each other (as a mom now, I cringe at the idea of packing for that difference in temperatures!). I remember being on a New Zealand train and learning how to knit with NZ wool from NZ sheep. I remember a volcano that exploded in Rotorua that left the cars, trees, and streets covered in Ash. I remember the Syndey Opera House and seeing those sweeping curves rise up from the water like a flock of birds.

We spent a summer in Europe, taking trains from London to Paris to Berlin to Rome to Florence to Milan. We took small boats from Venice to Murano and Burano to see the glass and lace factories that have been there for generations. We fed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. We ate fettuccini carbonara with a raw egg cracked on top of it at your table. We snacked on Brie and escargot, and still talk about our favorite Parisian waiter. We watched the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and tried to make the Beefeater soldiers laugh.

My family also enabled or empowered me to strike out on my own. That meant two additional trips to Europe, one with my high school orchestra, where we traipsed around small towns in Germany (the cello was on the bus with me!),  and visited the Czech Republic to see the red roofs of Prague. I also spent six weeks in Spain studying abroad in the summer between when I finished my Bachelor’s degree and started my Master’s degree. They took care of my new husband while he studied at home and I drank Calimocho (wine and coke) with my young undergrad friends who called me abuela.

My husband and I traveled together as well, as soon as we got started on our journey of wedded bliss. We honeymooned in Jamaica, staffed a small clinic in Baja, Mexico, built houses with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Guatemala. We sailed on catamarans in Belize and St. Thomas.

And then we had some babies! We took our boys all over the place when they were tiny and free to fly and nursed to sleep on the plane. They went to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Penasco. We got stamps in our passports and theirs together, as a family.

 

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Cancun, MX

 

And then we stayed home for a while, and I turned to books for adventure. We were overwhelmed and exhausted by the idea of packing all the things, and flying somewhere and who would get sick, and who would misbehave. But when I open a book for the first time, I am so excited to discover a new world (or re-enter a favorite one, if this is the next in an already-loved series). I cannot wait to meet new characters, explore new landscapes, or feel new feelings. I am thrilled to fall in love for the first time (again!), run away from a killer, or experience the prejudices of racism. Maybe this time I’ll grow up in the south, see the world through the fingers of a blind man, or live in India. I might be part of these characters’ lives for a week or a year or three generations. Every single new book that I open reveals another facet of the world I love to explore.

As I jump from book to book, I am transported from space stations on Mars to springtime in Manhattan, from the battlefields of WWII to a dystopian future I could never imagine. Great fiction takes me there, for far less than the cost of a plane ticket, or time machine.

Non-fiction involves the same transportation, but always somewhere in this world. Perhaps I know myself better; perhaps I walk a hard road alongside the author, or perhaps I recognize the seedy underbelly of a society that I have never seen before. When non-fiction authors open my eyes, they force me, or maybe just help me to look further inward and outward than I have in the past. These authors open up new worlds that exist right here around me, instead of only in the pages of their books.

And that’s what today is about. Today, Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home In The World, just showed up at my house. I got to read it already, so I can tell you it’s a beautiful reflection on travel and the love of adventure that my parents gave me from in my earliest memories – and that I hope to instill in my own children. It’s also an ode to the homebody, to the desire to put your roots down deep and have a favorite chair and a favorite restaurant and your own pillow. It’s a happy juxtaposition of wanderlust and belonging.

And if you’re like me, or if you’re not, and you love the places of this world but maybe can’t afford plane tickets for everyone right now, or can’t handle the headache that might come with the travel, be sure to grab a copy of Tsh’s memoir. It will take you around the world while you sit in your favorite chair. It costs less than as a fast food meal for the family, but she will share with you the flavors of four continents and 20 countries.

So, what’s next for me? Well, I’m gonna keep reading my books and seeing the world that way, but we’ve also put two new family trips on the calendar for this summer because I read this book. Tsh prompted me to remind my husband of our early adventures and ask him if we are instilling that love of adventure in our kiddos. The answer was to book flights, and make hotel reservations, and go exploring. Because I want to be at home and rested and comfortable, but I want to remember how small I am as well, and see its sights and feel its climates and revel in its wonders.

*disclosure: I was provided with an advance copy of this book by the publisher, but I also bought my own copy, with my own money because I love it that much. Links used are affiliate links: no cost to you but a little kickback to me*

A Bookish Remake

Everyone who’s anyone has already said their piece about the new live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017) with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. There’s the whole controversy about LeFou, there’s the wah-wah about adding new songs and making it longer. There’s this, that, and the other all in the news. So, why would someone who writes a blog about “bookish” things have anything to say about the new version of this beloved childhood film?

Well, if you’re anything like me (fellow bookworms, can I get an AMEN!?), you’ve been walking around since the early 90’s telling anyone who wanted to know that Belle is your favorite princess. Why? Because she loves to read, and that makes her “rather odd”. And, like Belle, you’ve always got your “nose stuck in a book”, so there’s “no denying she’s (I’m) a funny girl”. Right? Are you singing the song yet?

belle

Let’s continue: also, if you’re anything like me, there was just a niggling little doubt in the back of your mind. Let’s put aside the fact that Belle falls for a Beast, and talk about the fact that, despite her loathing Gaston for his inability to love books like her (among other things), this doesn’t seem to stand in the way of her budding relationship with the Beast.

gaston

In point of fact, Belle finds out that the Beast cannot read either, and rather than shaking her head at him – see above GIF, she takes the time to sit with him and teach him about her favorite past time.

beast

This can’t just be me that this bothers, right?? Look at the Beast giving some serious side-eye up there.

Well, have no fear book-lovers. If you’re one of the five people who hasn’t seen the new live-action version of B&TB, hitch up, Phillippe, girl, and get to the movies! In the 2017 Disney remake, they changed just a few things (how Maurice gets to the Beast’s castle, how he gets caught, a few bonding moments for the title couple, etc), but one of the most important, for book lovers, at least, is that…. TADA! The Beast is well read! He had a very expensive education! 🙂 The first REAL conversation he and Belle have together is about her favorite book and then he takes her to the library to show her his favorites!

library

live library

And that, my friends, is enough to make one fall in love. Even with someone who otherwise appears to be a Beast. Yes? ❤ ❤ ❤

QuickLit – March 2017

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here at the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 21 books in March, but a few of them were 200 pages or less, which is what led to such big numbers this month. Here’s the rundown!title image


01 The OneThe One by Kiera Cass

More drama for America and Maxon. Good stuff in this one, though! And even though there are more books after this one, it feels like a good wrap up spot.
I’ve borrowed #4 but am taking a break for the next in the Red Queen series. As I dive back into that one, it seems they have many similarities, so I will say that if you enjoyed the one you might enjoy the other, although The Selection series is definitely a bit more “fluffy”.


02 Glass SwordGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Oof, I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as the first one the series. It felt like endless plans for battles, and then the battles themselves, and then hating each other and adoring each other. The constant mood swings made me feel manic-depressive.


03 Study in CharlotteA Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Kind of felt a bit like this one was trying too hard to be witty. This story centers on the modern day descendants of Holmes and Watson at boarding school. They are equally maddening and endearing, like their predecessors. Overall, this retelling was fun and interesting enough, I’m just not sure it scratched the itch I was expecting it to satisfy.


04 The HeirThe Heir by Kiera Cass

I almost abandoned this one as soon as I realized what the premise was. But I persevered, because these books mostly feel like candy to me: completely devoid of nutritional content, but tasty nonetheless! I don’t want to ruin anything in the previous books, so I’ll say that this one felt a bit like a rerun, but I still enjoyed it enough to finish it, and still requested the next one from the library. I would have been equally pleased with the series ending on book 3, though, so you may want to consider that before continuing on?


05 Just MercyJust Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This book is eye opening and heart breaking. Tt will remove the scales from your eyes in regard to prison sentences, the death penalty, institutional racism, and the cycle of poverty. I found myself alternately crying, shaking my head in disbelief, shuddering in anger, and dumbstruck. Bryan Stevenson brings his decades of law experience and leadership of the Equal Justice Initiative to bear in this moving, non-fiction memoir. It is not to be missed.


06 KindredKindred by Octavia Butler

Dang, this was crazy. Dana is a black writer in 1976 America who unwillingly travels through space and time back to a plantation in pre-Civil War America. The stark contrast in society, personhood, and value are, of course, hard to acclimate to. The premise behind this book feels kind of similar to Outlander, but with the additional insanity of race relations and slavery thrown in the mix. Highly recommended, even if it’s mostly so I have friends to talk to about this one!


07 Range of MotionRange of Motion by Elizabeth Berg

One of my favorite internet friends, Sasha of Pathologically Literate, knew I would love this one and she was right. It is such a beautiful reflection on love and life and friendship and loss and grief and joy. I borrowed it from the library but found myself really wanting to dog-ear pages and underline quotes and read paragraphs again and again. Berg is a stunning writer and I’m looking forward to finding a few more of her books to dive into. Thanks, Sasha!


08 Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Hhhuuuuhhhh??? @$#$&%@@=<:; <— Me being a spazz after finishing this crazy-ass book. This book is a total mind trip. It’ll mess with you in the best way and you’ll have to figure out the end before you go to sleep. Sarah Pinborough kept me guessing all the way to the end. And even then, I felt like I needed to start at the beginning and re-read with the twist in mind. There’s a reason the hashtag for this one is #wtfthatending.


09 Cold TangerinesCold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist

I love Shauna Niequist. I really do. But this isn’t my favorite thing of hers. She has really come into her own over the past few years, so this book from 10 years ago feels a bit underdeveloped and more like a collection of blog posts. I still love her, but would recommend choosing something else to read by her if you’re just getting on the Niequist train, like Bread and Wine, one of my favorite books of 2013, or her newest book, Present Over Perfect.


10 TriggersTriggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speak

After slowly working through this book together over the past six months, my bestie Krysta and I finally finished up our Triggers study today!!! We were fueled by coffee, friendship, and prayer. Are we perfect mamas now? Not a chance. Do we still get “triggered” to anger by the things our children do? Absolutely. But we are better able to identify and manage those triggers in order to build happier, healthier relationships with our boys, and we are better for it. I’d highly recommend picking up a copy to ALL parents and would happily meet with local moms who want to discuss what we’ve learned!


11 The House GirlThe House Girl by Tara Conklin

This book started out slow for me, but I appreciated how well it came together. Lina is a young attorney trying to make her way up to partner, and she is tasked with finding a plaintiff in a reparations case. Josephine is the house girl of a wealthy southern plantation owner, and has a close relationship with the mistress of the house, but dreams of freedom. I listened to the audiobook and constantly wished they had used at least 2 narrators. I do think that would have enhanced the experience a bit! But the story of Lina and Josephine really captured me by the end.


12 Life-Changing Magic of Not GivingThe Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

This book is loosely based on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but instead, focuses on “tidying” your mental/emotional/social “barn”. I did indeed laugh out loud a few times and then find it super self-serving. Not like she was trying to snag the Christian crowd with this title, but the book is essentially about hedonism: “embrace what you love and f*ck the rest”


13 WaywardWayward by Blake Crouch

Unlike my feelings about most sequels, this one really held my interest. I also appreciated that it wasn’t as graphically violent as the first book in the series. I thought I figured out where the end was going and decided it was probably going to ruin the series for me, but then the twist kept me going and now I can’t wait for number 3!


14 Essential EnneagramThe Essential Enneagram by David Daniels

All that this book did for me was confirm that I’m a 2. I don’t feel like I learned much of anything about myself as it was SO bare bones regarding each type. I’m hoping that the otter enneagram books I have will help me dive deeper into what my type really means, how I interact with others (I believe my husband to be a 3), and help me to learn more about the enneagram and its modern applications. I have to assume there are better options out there for all of this, so don’t waste your time or money on this cursory overview.


15 Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I loved the “play” aspect of this with so many actors and voices portraying the audiobook version. BUT I do recommend at least glancing through a paper copy if you’re going to listen to the audio version, or else you’ll be super confused about what’s going on! The plot itself is interesting and funny and smart. I’ve never read anything else by Saunders, so I’m not sure if this is representative of his work or not, but I do recommend this one.


16 WonderThe Wonder by Emma Donaghue

I felt compelled to finish this one, but not because it was so plot- or character-driven that I couldn’t stop, but rather because I paid good money for this book and it sat there for months taunting me with its unfinished-ness while I worked through SO many great library books!

The story of Lib and the miraculous Anna who doesn’t eat is part mystery, part drama, part wrestling with God. It would be a great premise for a shorter story, but trying to turn 7 chapters into almost 300 pages was a recipe for dull moments. I’m sure you have something more interesting in your stacks to be read, so I’ll recommend a pass on this one.


17 Exit Pursued by a BearExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This was a fantastic story about high school senior Hermione, who suffers a tragic sexual assault at cheer camp, and then rises above. But she can’t do it alone, and her parents, best friend, coach, team, and psychiatrist rally around her to raise her up. It’s like a fictionalized lesson in how to deal with the tough shit that teenagers and going adults get confronted with all the time but aren’t equipped to handle. Great story, well written, and a fast read.


18 Marriage lieThe Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle

I liked this one overall, but felt like the beginning was too drawn out and the end was too hasty and glossed over. Of course it’s about lie upon lie upon lie, thus: the marriage lie. I feel like I was expecting another twist toward the end that never came and the other ones were predictable enough that I wasn’t shocked. Definitely a decent story, I just feel like there are others I’d recommend first if you’re looking for a domestic thriller.


19 At Home in the WorldAt Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

I absolutely adore this travel memoir from Tsh Oxenreider. I’m a longtime fan of her blog, The Art of Simple, and her podcast, The Simple Show, and this book is like a longform version of both. Tsh’s voice is clear, lyrical, and honest. She absolutely brings her #WorldWideOx travels to life in these pages, and you’ll find yourself both eager for adventure and grateful for home, exactly as she intended. You’ll enjoy your own prefect tension between wanderlust and cozy hominess, both/and. You’ll want to scoop up your kids and take them to see where you met your spouse, and watch their eyes light up at a great wonder of the world or UNESCO world heritage site, and see them make friends everywhere in the world despite the lack of a common language or culture. I can’t wait to read this book again and to give it to friends to read for the first time. And I’ll be honest and say I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion while reading.

Perfect gift for the parents that gave you your own wanderlust, the recent graduate, the empty nesters debating their next adventure, and the mom sitting next to you at school pickup every afternoon.

*I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*… but I also bought a hard copy for myself with my own cash-money!


20 Enneagram Made EasyThe Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele

I thought this was an excellent, concise, readable treatment of the Enneagram. The drawings add levity and sass to what could otherwise be a very dry subject, as noted in my other book review on this topic this month. Of the two, I’d definitely recommend this short version if you’re still wondering if you’ve pinpointed your type correctly. You’re bound to feel like the descriptors of one of them just fit.


21 AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

First, I listened to this one on audio and found the narration so lovely. I’m not sure if the narrator IS Nigerian, but her precise accents for the Nigerian, British, and American characters really brought this novel to life for me. I thought she did a wonderful job.

The novel itself is a convicting sweeping story that fictionalizes the horrors and trials and systematized racism faced by American and non-American Blacks in 21st century America. The part that makes this so compelling is that the main character is the outsider in more than one sense. She doesn’t JUST face the racism inherent in our white-centric culture, she sees it from the outside, so she is more able to name it and see the differences from her home country of Nigeria. The entire book is just so well put together. Highly recommended.


Happy reading, friends! Hope you found something here that belongs on your own TBR list. Have a suggestion for mine? Leave it in the comments!

Quick Lit – February 2017

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here at the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 17 books in February, even though the month started kind of slow for me. By the end, I had picked up a new series that I couldn’t put down!



01-rise-of-the-rocket-girlsRise of the Rocket Girls
by Nathalia Holt

This was great stuff, guys. The history of the US space program basically started with Caltech/JPL and was built upon the minds of the women computers who did the math and had the smarts to get us there. But they were rarely recognized for their contributions. I look forward to reading the book-to-movie biography as well, Hidden Figures, which focuses in further on the African American women who propelled NASA foward. But this one was a great starter. Fantastic biographical history from Nathalia Holt.


02-the-best-of-adam-sharp

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

Not nearly as sweetly endearing as the Rosie Project/Effect. This book is full of songs and sex and infidelity. So, take that as your warning (not against the songs, of course, those were fantastic). I live the IDEA of this main character, Adam Sharp, but couldn’t stomach his actions and motivations. It was entirely too gratuitous.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*


03-red-queenRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I thought this was a great (dystopian, YA) read about the Red and Silver blooded people in Victoria Aveyard’s world. Mare Barrow is red-blooded (aka, normal, human) young girl who finds herself thrown into high society with the silver-bloods (who all have unique “powers”), when she has lightning shoot out of her hands. Cal, the silver prince, saves her, and she becomes engaged to his brother Maven. I listened to this on audio and, even at 12+ hours, it just flew by. Can’t wait to get the next one from the library!


04-nothing-to-proveNothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Jennie just knocks it out of the park with this book. I believe it will absolutely speak to every woman, no matter where she is at, because we all struggle with feeling like we’ve got SOMETHING to prove. Jennie gently takes you by the hand and reminds you that all your enough-ness is found in Christ’s good work for you on the cross. It may have been a whirlwind book to write, but it came together in a beautiful way: both challenging and comforting.


05-survivors-guide-to-family-happinessThe Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson

I was expecting a little more fun and a little less drama in this book. Nina Popkin loses her adoptive mom right at the beginning of this book, and, for the first time in her life, is given a few clues about her birth mother. This leads Nina on a journey to find her mom, all while trying to manage her current life (which she’s not very good at). I found myself shaking my head at her decisions constantly, and also maybe giving her older boyfriend all the heart eyes. In my head, he looks like George Clooney. 😉 Full of family drama, like The Two-Family House, but less polished. *I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*


06-elizabeth-is-missingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

This book reminded me of Still Alice, but with a darker undertone and not so heartbreakingly sad. As my own grandmother goes through the final stages of Alzheimer’s, I felt like this book showed the inner workings of outer conversations that I myself have had with her. Maud is concerned about her friend, Elizabeth, whom she hasn’t heard from in a while. She writes herself notes to keep the information straight that she gets from others, but the notes often contradict each other. Add to that the fact that her own sister went missing when she was just a girl and it’s hard to keep all the stories straight. You will be equally curious to solve this mystery.


07-second-mrs-hockadayThe Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

I really enjoyed this one! At first, I was annoyed with most cardinal numbers being omitted (not sure if that was intentional or just an issue with the galley), but eventually it didn’t matter because I was so drawn in by the story. Placidia is a young bride that marries a civil war soldier who has to return to war the day after their nuptials. Two years pass and all the things happen. Court cases and drama and mystery all conveyed through letters. I’m sure I’ll be recommending this one often! *I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*


08-carrying-albert-homeCarrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

I liked this family saga about Elsie and Homer Hickam (sr.). It’s a touching adventure. Albert is Elsie’s alligator and he’s getting too big to keep so they go on an epic road trip from Coalwood, Virginia to Orlando, Florida to carry Albert home. I found it fun and endearing. The couple turns into an unlikely entourage/menagerie that runs into famous writers and survives unlikely circumstances, all on their way to Florida, where they will have to decide if their love will survive this journey and a lifetime in a rural town. All in the name of love.


09-the-unfinished-angelThe Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

I thought this was an easy middle-grade read, and I think my kids might enjoy it someday, but I didn’t love the as this angel (main narrator) talked. She has supposedly been around humans for hundreds of years, but can’t keep her words straight? For some reason that bugged me. Also, the plot felt like quite a bit of build up for not much movement. I wanted to like this, I really did. I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm.

 


10-youll-grow-out-of-itYou’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

I found this memoir amusing and self-deprecating and easy to read, but it certainly wasn’t the funniest I’ve read, which is to say that it didn’t live up to the hype for me. It could be because I read it instead of listening, as is my preferred way of digesting humor memoirs anymore. Jessi Klein is sure to give you a few laughs though, if you snag this one. Just be sure you’re not easily offended before you pick it up! Full of situations and language that will make your grandmother blush (but not your mother, if she’s anything like mine!). 🙂


11-pinesPines by Blake Crouch

Creepy and thrilling and so interesting. I enjoyed this book and honestly couldn’t put it down. Some parts were graphically violent, so be forewarned, but I do look forward to diving in to the next book in the series. Not sure where he’ll take it from here, because this one can stand alone. But it’ll be fascinating to read, because he’s a talented writer! One of my surprise favorites from last year was his newest novel, Dark Matter. That one inspired me to pick up this one.


12-food-a-love-storyFood: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

I heart Jim Gaffigan. He is hilarious, but snarky, but “safe to play in front of the kids” as well. That’s a hard line to toe, and he does it. This book is a great collection of stories about food (warning: do not read or listen while trying to lose the baby weight, as you will crave all the things). I can see myself listening to this again in the future, especially since I kept laughing out loud and then repeating jokes to my hubby. Some of my favorite material is the stuff that centers around my current location: NM green chili jokes are PERFECT! Good stuff. Highly recommended.


13-the-assistantsThe Assistants by Camille Perri

Tina and Emily are assistants at a huge media conglomerate, who have been working hard and diligently for years but are still hobbled by student loan payments. In a mostly innocent turn of events, Tina is able to pay off get loans using company money and it all spirals from there. This book was fun and funny, and even had a great Rom-com subplot that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved that the author poked fun at her own tropes and pop – culture references. Recommended.


14-the-selectionThe Selection by Kiera Cass

Oh man, I tore through this one in a single day and then dove straight into the next in the series. This book is like The Bachelor, mixed wth The Giver, mixed with Hunger Games. It’s not high literature by any means, but it’s definitely fun! America Singer is a 5 (in a caste system ranging from 1 to 8) when the Crown Prince becomes eligible for marriage. She enters the Selection for a shot at becoming his bride, although she isn’t interested in the prize, just wants her family to stop hounding her about it. YA love triangle ensues.


15-the-eliteThe Elite by Kiera Cass

As with many series, I didn’t love this one as much as the first. Lots of drama with little forward momentum in the plot. I don’t want to fill up my review with spoilers, so I’ll avoid any plot summary herer, in case you decide to pick up the first one in this series. My so-so review didn’t stop me from starting book 3 as soon as this one was finished! I finished that one after March started, so I’ll include its review next month!

 


16-manage-your-home-without-losing-mindHow to Manage Your Home without Losing Your Mind by Dana White

I’m pretty organized, so hypothetically this book wouldn’t be “for me”. Even so, I found myself nodding along, getting inspired and tackling some of my pain points as I read through this fun, sassy book. I decided to pick it up after hearing Dana on The Simple Show, one of my favorite podcasts, and was a bit embarrassed to find that I already owned it on Kindle. Oof. Maybe if there’s a “keep your TBR and kindle under control without losing your mind” book, I should pick that one up next!


17-hag-seedHag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

I liked this one from Margaret Atwood. It’s not my favorite that I’ve read from her (Blind Assassin), or even my second favorite (Handmaid’s Tale), but it ranks up there! Felix is ousted from his beloved theater festival and ends up leading a Shakespeare class at the local prison. He eventually chooses the tempest and uses it to exact revenge. A fun retelling of the classic play. For another view on the same topic, check out Shakespeare Saved My Life, which is kind of like the non-fiction version of this book!

How the Heck Do You Read So Much?

I’ve got three kiddos! They are 6 years, 3 years, and ALMOST 6 months old. And I homeschool! But I read 123 books last year, and 19 last month. So, the question I get more often than any other, ever, is “how are you reading that much?”

No, we don’t live in a sty. No, we don’t eat boxed dinners every night. No, my children are not neglected. But I am always trying to fit a book in somewhere. Here are my favorite tips for getting more reading in to your life.

How I Read: The Methods

 

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My reading methods: paper, Kindle, and audio.

First tip: diversify your reading styles. This will make it easier to find time to read. I am almost always reading three TYPES of books at once. One actual, paper, printed book. One ebook on my Kindle Paperwhite (the absolute best for dedicated reading, because you can read in the dark or in the sunshine, and you can read without getting interrupted by text, phone, social media notifications!). And one audiobook in my ears. By diversifying my actual input methods, I always have something to read, and I can read or listen in almost any situation.

 

When I Read: Finding The Time

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My friend Erin sent me this picture so we could celebrate together that she found the TIME and space to read!

Second tip: finding the time to read is easier than you think! Since I have multiple books going at once, I find that each reading method lends itself to distinct situations. When I am cooking, I use either my Kindle or my Bluetooth headphones (like this, but these were great also) to read or listen. That way, the pages of my paper book don’t get messy from oil splatters. When I am doing dishes, folding laundry, or cleaning, I am listening to an audiobook, so my hands are free to get messy or be busy. While I drive, I keep one headphone in on one side so I can hear my kiddos and the traffic noise around me, but they listen to their music while I listen to my book. And when we are eating breakfast or hubby is watching a show after the kiddos go to bed, I am usually reading my paper book. Along with those specific times, I also try to squeeze in reading wherever I can. Kiddos are done with school and ready to watch a show? Mama gets a break to sit on the couch and read as well. I have to wait in line at a store or wait for a doctor/dentist/kid appointment? Grab a book to pass the time! Nursing the baby? Might as well read while you’re just sitting there! For further ideas on how to identify these pockets of time in your life,  I cannot recommend The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner ENOUGH! This book will help you find margin in your day and harness it for the activities that give you life. Guess what the majority of Jessica’s survey respondents said they wanted more time for? Reading!

 

What I’m Not Doing: Ditch the Distractions

social-mediaThird tip: ruthlessly cull time-sucking apps. If you want to read more, but can’t find any time to do so, my question is this: do you use Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter? All the time? I’ll be honest; I’m a social media junkie. There, I said it. That mindless scrolling will suck me in for hours if I let it. So, I took a few preventative steps: I uninstalled Facebook from my phone, AND cleared cookies on my browser so that I can’t log back in that way (2-step verification: recommended, but a total pain if you need to log in somewhere new!). That makes it easier to avoid the scroll. I ditched the Pinterest app and I never had the Twitter app. I kept FB messenger and groups as well as Instagram, to keep in touch with the parts of that platform that actually give me life, but only check in to the actual site once or twice a day from my PC instead of spending all day wasting time. I don’t have a show (or shows) that I watch on Netflix, but every once in a while hubby and I will pick one to watch together. That means most nights I’m reading for at least an hour or two after the kiddos are in bed. Which automatically gives me 360+ hours of reading per year. Installing an app called Rescue Time on both my phone and my PC really helped me clue in to where I was spending my online time. Being aware of it made me more likely to moderate it.

Deadlines and Money: Borrowing Books

 

library
I’m especially lucky because my library is less than a half mile away and it’s BEAUTIFUL!

Fourth tip: utilize your library. Whether you’re saying “but I could never afford 123 books a year!” or you just need an extra push, I recommend checking out books from the library. This will give you two important advantages. First, library books and membership are FREE!!! Most libraries also have ways for you to borrow audiobooks and kindle books for free online, so you can utilize the “multiple methods” tip from above. Second: libraries have deadlines! If you know that someone else is waiting for that book, or you’ll have to pay a fine if you return it late, you may be more likely to make time to read it so you can get it back on time. Or, as in the case of audiobooks and kindle books, if you know it will disappear at a certain time. Using the library can be a great way to move reading up on your priority list!

 

Reading BIG: Setting Goals

 

notes-on-bookmarks
My personal 2017 challenge

Fifth  tip: make a goal for yourself, or get thee to a reading challenge! My next tip works great for me since I am an Obliger in Gretchen Rubin’s Habits framework (go here if you want to find out more about what that means and take the quiz yourself!). I need accountability and external goals to reach! When I make a goal for the year, and share it publicly, I am more likely to grab a book than do almost anything else. If I have any free time at all, I want to spend it reading, so these goals are imperative to me. I use an excel spreadsheet as well as Goodreads to track my reading and motivate myself even further. I love checking off books as finished!

 

Bonus Tip: Crank Up The Speed

speedometer-148960_960_720For those of you that are audiobook lovers but feel like they take longer to listen to, I recommend slowly increasing the speed as you listen to your books. When you start listening to audiobooks, try moving the speed slider up just a bit to 1.1x. It won’t feel like anything has changed. A week or so later, move it up again by a little bit. Keep doing this until you get it to a faster speed that you can still understand, but before it sounds like Minnie Mouse is reading to you. I find it’s pretty easy to get to 1.5x pretty quickly. If you want to devour books even faster, keep going until you get to 2.0x (that’s where I listen) or more. Then, even when you pick up a long book, you can mentally cut that time in half and finish books in just a few days!

I truly hope one or all of these tips helps YOU to reach your reading goals this year!

Happy reading, my friends.