QuickLit – May 2018

With my birthday, homeschool practicum, mother’s day, and a road trip all stuffed into May, it was a pretty full month. Still read lots of great books. Short and sweet (and honest) reviews of each of the nineteen are below… scroll until you see something that strikes your fancy!


01 Daughter of a QueenDaughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird
This was so well put together. We meet Cathy Williams toward the end of the Civil War, when she is “requisitioned” as a cook for the Union army, under General Sheridan. Cathy is the granddaughter of an Amazon queen, tall and muscular. As a recently freed Black woman, she is swept up in the end of the Civil War and opts to conceal her gender and join up with the peacetime army. Sarah Bird doesn’t write a lot (in the galley, at least) about why she chose to pursue this story, or how much of it is based in fact, or whether it’s even possible for us to know ANYTHING about women who served in the Buffalo Soldiers branch of the U.S. Calvary after the Civil War, but the tale she weaves is compelling and unputdownable. At 400 pages, this book breezed by. Definitely recommended for history aficionados.


02 How to Stop TimeHow to Stop Time by Matt Haig
This book was so compellingly done. I found myself talking about it to all kinds of people who haven’t read it but I think should! We meet Tom when he appears to be 41-years old. But the trick of the light is that he ages only one year for every 15 years he lives, from puberty onward. So, he’s lived through the plague, and Shakespeare, and rubbed elbows with Fitzgerald. He has to move regularly, to keep the people in his life from realizing his difference, so he’s been all over the world. The research that has to have gone into this novel is just astounding, and the way it’s put together (jumping from present time to the past and back again, but always following Tom’s life) is so great. Definitely recommended!


03 Knife of Never Letting GoThe Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This screwy novel is so totally out there it took me a good long while (probably at least 100 pages) to even piece together what was going on. Todd lives in Prentisstown, where he is the last “boy” about to become a man, as all the women are dead and gone. He is told this is due to an alien virus that was brought to earth 15 or so years ago, and allowed all men to hear each other’s thoughts (their “noise”) as well as the thoughts of animals. The virus was deadly for women. Todd is about to turn 14 -in a 13 month year, so he’s actually about 15- when he starts to figure out that things are not all as they seem. Prentisstown is a mess, so he is encouraged to leave by his caretakers and find other settlements with his dog, Manchee, at his side. As he strikes out, we accompany him on his journey to find out the truth and find what else is out there.


04 Frost and StarlightA Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
3.5 but rounded up because it’s SJM. This novella was so unsatisfying because I just wanted MORE. I mean, I loved getting back into this world with Ryhs and Feyre, and getting a glimpse into her other characters as they rebuild after the war, but bouncing from viewpoint to viewpoint means we don’t really get to dive deep with anyone at all. And only 270ish pages means there’s no real development, although there is somehow time for quite a bit of shopping. I just wanted… more.


05 As Bright As HeavenAs Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
This historical novel approaches the Spanish flu of 1918 from the point of view of an undertaker’s wife and three daughters, which brings it to life in an entirely different way. Pauline, Maggie, Evelyn, and Willa are uprooted to move to Philadelphia after the death of Pauline’s infant son (and the baby brother of the other girls) Henry, at just a few months old. They “confront” death in a tangible way when they move in with an uncle who agrees to leave his undertaker business to the family and give them a better life. But that means living with death on a daily basis as bodies are brought in and prepared for burial. As the Spanish flu epidemic ramps up, the death toll climbs and death becomes an ever closer companion. Meissner brings this novel together in just a fantastic way. Highly recommended.


06 Emma in the NightEmma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Emma and Cassandra disappeared from their childhood home three years ago, and now Cass is home. Where is Emma? Cass weaves the story of their disappearance, where they’ve been, and what has happened to them over the past few years, but the main psych profiler on the case just doesn’t buy into it and can’t figure out why. Even though the unreliable narrator trope can be frustrating, this one definitely took a turn or two that I didn’t see coming. I thought it was likeable, overall, but not compelling or thrilling. Just a standard thriller.


07 PuddinPuddin’ by Julie Murphy
Oh, Julie Murphy, I will read all the things you write. I didn’t know if we could follow on to Dumplin’ in any way that I would truly appreciate, but this spin-off novel takes a different turn and follows two of the side characters from the original story: Millie and Callie. Millie is big and vivacious and full of love and friendship. She lives large and is on her way to accepting herself exactly as she is. Callie is the co-assistant captain of the school’s dance team. She is tiny and lithe and judgmental and rude. The two are thrown together in response to a teen prank gone wrong, and their unlikely friendship. This book is about so much more than teen friendship or bullying or body acceptance. It’s about learning to live into exactly who you are and follow the path that’s right for you instead of worrying about anyone else’s ideas for your life. So fun to buddy read this with my reading friends!


08 Far From the TreeFar From the Tree by Robin Benway
Oh, this book. This book is phenomenal. Robin Benway takes three siblings who are essentially separated at birth and walk three different journeys through the adoption/foster care universe. We have Grace, who is adopted by a childless couple and raised as an only child. We have Maya, who is adopted by a different childless couple that is unexpectedly blessed with a biological child just a short time later. She feels like she doesn’t fit in with her adoptive family as they are all light-skinned and light-eyed, but they love her well. And then we have their half-brother Joaquin, who is bounced from family to family, adopted and rejected and sent back to the system, struggles with anger and is scarred inside and out from his time in the system. The three meet right at the end of high school, and we get to walk with them as they learn about love and family and blood relationships versus the ones you are adopted into and how they are different and how they are the same. The whole book is just so wonderful. I couldn’t put it down, even when it meant walking through the grocery store on Mother’s Day weekend, with tears running down my cheeks.


09 Everybody AlwaysEverybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setback and Difficult People by Bob Goff
Reading the first five chapters, provided by the publisher! Can’t wait to read the rest!

Update: Now I’ve read the whole book, and have to say, I just love Bob. He puts his stories together the way that a pastor gives you a great illustration that you can’t get out of your head for days or weeks afterward. He has lived so MUCH life and met so many interesting people, and really just seized the day over and over again. And all that living leads to some great insights into the human condition, the way we love others, the way we relate, the ways we deal with fear, and the way we forgive. He can make you smile and laugh, while also leading you to weep or mourn with him. And it doesn’t feel forced or contrived in any way. Truly loved this book.


11 Colour of Bee Larkham's MurderThe Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris
10 days. 9 days to get actually interested in this book. And then one more day to finish it. Yeesh. I wanted to love it so much! I love the entire concept of this kid who doesn’t process faces, but DOES process sound as color. I love that he did or saw something, and we’re trying to piece it together with him, but his sensory processing differences make it so hard. I love that we don’t know who to trust. But seriously, the buildup and the development of the story is just not there. It shouldn’t be this hard to get into something that otherwise has so many qualities that you know you’ll love. I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend this one, because it just went too slow. But, if you feel like you’ve got interest in this type of story, hit me with other recommendations for the unreliable narrator/SPD combo, because I am FOR it! This book releases June 12th.


10 Since We FellSince We Fell by Dennis Lahane
Welllll, I waited two weeks to review this book and I barely remember it at all. That doesn’t bode well, huh? At the time of finishing it, I gave it three stars, because I did really enjoy the way that Lehane put this love story/mystery together. Main character Rachel is essentially an agoraphobe after a breakdown on the air (she’s a journalist). She has to come to grips with the world around her, however, when her otherwise perfect life seems to not add up. We learn at the very beginning of the book that she shoots her husband, but what it takes to get to that point is a convoluted mystery, full of half-truths and full-on-lies. Just a compelling, if apparently a bit forgettable, read in general.


12 Loving My Actual LifeLoving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me by Alexandra Kuykendall
Author and mama Alexandra finds herself going through the motions of motherhood, not dreading, but also not really enjoying any part of it. She embarks on a 9-month experiment (a la The Happiness Project) to focus in on certain parts of her life to wring more enjoyment out of her days. Although she has specific goals for each month (and an evaluation process at the end), the months themselves read more like sporadic journal entries. I thought the premise was interesting, but the execution could have been better planned.


13 Tell Me MoreTell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
Kelly is a fantastic, unfiltered (read: don’t listen around your kids, or recommend it to your straight-edged church friends), humorous author while dealing with some really TOUGH stuff. She buries her dad and one of her best friends within just a few months, and is therefore going through some terribly difficult grief while she pens this collection of stories and tidbits. The “12 Hardest Things” are all vitally important, but so counter-intuitive at times that it feels good to have this collection of them all in one place. I love the way she puts “Tell Me More” into practice with her daughter, the way she embraces “You Are Enough”, and the way she juxtaposes “Yes” with “No” (the two simplest chapters). I feel like this one deserves a spot on my shelves when this no-buy year is over.


14 Children of Blood and BoneChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I could NOT put this book down. Well, I did, because I had to, because Life and Kids and Husband and Eating and such. But not because I wanted to! The story just totally sucked me in, and I loved the way that Adeyemi made this entire world come alive with her characters and setting. (Dystopian/fantasy Nigeria). Zelie is the daughter of a Maji, but her mother was killed along with almost all the rest of them when Zelie was just a young girl. Now, magic is gone and the descendants of the Maji are referred to as maggots by their racist king and countrymen (you can tell who has Maji blood based on their stark white hair). But Zelie has the chance to bring it back. The cliffhanger at the end of this novel for book #2 has me salivating to get my hands on it!


15 Bring Me BackBring Me Back by B.A. Paris
Screwy psychological thrillers are my favorites! Although I did eventually guess where this book was going, it was so far into it that it still felt like it was a shock! Layla goes missing from a car in Paris and all we really know is that her boyfriend wasn’t entirely truthful about the moments leading up to her disappearance. Now, 12 years later, he is set to remarry and has moved on with his life, when it seems as though someone wants him to believe that Layla is back. I tore through this novel in less than 24 hours. This book releases June 19th!


16 Rewiring EducationRewiring Education by John Couch
This felt more like a pat on the back to the author than a real non-fiction book about how technology can “unlock every student’s potential”. There are a few stories of real-world application, but mostly I feel like we get to hear that he worked with this guy, got to shake hands with this one, and really loved developing this program that revolutionized something or other. I get that you can’t write a how-to book about bringing technology into classrooms because it just changes too fast, but mostly by the end of this book, I felt really vindicated that at least our homeschool “classroom” is getting really close to that ideal 1-to-1 teacher-student ratio that Crouch champions. He says it’s only possible with the use of technology. But other than rethinking a “ban” on technology for educational purposes, I didn’t really feel like this was anything truly groundbreaking.


17 Baby TeethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Hannah and her mom, Suzette, are locked in an epic battle for daddy’s heart, only Suzette doesn’t know it. Hannah is a smart, sometimes sweet, seven-year-old girl, who doesn’t talk at all, but she’s pretty sure Daddy can only love one of them and Mommy has cast a spell on him so that he loves her more than Hannah. Written from H and S’s alternating points of view, this book will take you on a distrusting roller coaster of terror, basically. You’re never sure what Hannah will do next, how Suzette will interpret her actions, or what kind of intervention Daddy will provide. The whole thing is just shudder-inducing. I really enjoyed it, in the only way you can: with a grateful heart that this isn’t your life. This book releases July 17th!


18 Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
So glad I finally had time to move this one up my TBR into the currently reading spot! Charlie (Charlotte) is an unwed mother who decides to bail on her abortion appointment in order to try to find her cousin, Rose, missing since WWII ended a few years ago. She approaches Eve Gardener, an alcoholic PI, with hands severely damaged from a previous injury, to help her find Rose. Evelyn was a spy during WWI, and the story jumps back and forth from Charlie’s present-day 1947 to Evelyn’s recollections of 1919, paralleling their stories in surprising ways. Charlie and Eve are both spunky, brave, damaged heroines, and it is so easy to get sucked into their stories. This novel came highly recommended to me, and I will pass it along as the same.


19 Milk and HoneyMilk and Honey by Rumi Kaur
This book is a beautiful, sensual collection of poems that I’m pretty sure I need on my shelf. It was great hearing it read by the author, but I’d love to keep a copy as well (high up, where the kiddos can’t reach it). Rumi doesn’t shy away from sex or rape or body image, and her short poems use words economically and perfectly to show her comfort with these subjects. I truly enjoyed every moment of listening (and even slowed down the narration from 2x to 1.5x so I could enjoy it, are you proud of me?).


 

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QuickLit – April 2018

Well, guys, I’m happy to report that this may have been the *best* reading month of my life in terms of titles finished! I read TWENTY-SIX books this month! What?! I blame the #25infive readathon as well as a weekend away for my husband, both of which meant I spent a bit more time reading than normal. I also read some true gems that I’m so excited to get to share with you! Reviews are below in the order I read them.


01 The Light We LostThe Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Gabe and Lucy meet on September 11th at college in NYC as the planes crash into the twin towers. Their relationship is fraught with emotional resonance from that day forward. This novel has gotten a heck of a lot of buzz, but I didn’t feel like it was anything SUPER amazing, or even super emotional (and pregnant me: I cry at all the things, so that says something). It was an easy read, with decent depth, but nothing I’d plan to read again. Liked it fine.


02 The Girl in the TowerThe Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
I liked book #2 in this series better than the first one, surprisingly. That’s not usually how this works….
Vasya is orphaned and must make her own way in the world. This book has all kinds of girl power and girl adventures all over it. It’s fantasy and fun and snowy and Russian and I really enjoyed it quite a bit more than I expected to. Is that weird? Anyhow, from day 1 it’s been listed as a trilogy, and I kind of figured I wouldn’t care to finish, but now I definitely will seek out book 3 when it releases.


03 Braving the WildernessBraving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown
Borrowed this one from Morgan, and devoured it in two days, because I was trying to make myself settle down and not power through too quickly. Clearly, that worked out well….
Brene (we’re BFFs in my head, so I get to call her by her first name) is so great at getting right to the heart of the matter, whatever that matter is. This book from her approaches, head on, as per usual, the situations we find ourselves in when our outer world does not align with our inner beliefs. Standing alone in the wilderness can be SO hard, but is so vital to finding the people and tribe that will genuinely come around you so you can truly belong. Strong Back, Soft, Front, Wild Heart. Might just have to get that one tattooed on my arms.


04 Grace Like ScarlettGrace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss by Adriel Booker
Adriel’s book is powerful and tough. It is convicting and sweet, like holding hands with a friend. This book speaks to the grief, the loss, the doubt, the hurt of losing a baby from Adriel’s personal experience of 3 miscarriages, as well as the survey responses she collected from hundreds of women. As someone who has walked this road myself, I didn’t really expect to find *my voice* represented in these pages, but nevertheless, I found myself here, reliving some of the pain and grief of my own miscarriage, as well as the anxiety I faced afterward when I got pregnant again.
Not that I would wish this pain on anyone, ever, but if you are walking this road or know someone who is, this is a beautiful and compassionate way to process your grief, and comes with some incredible pre-order bonuses for those who order before release day (journal, audio meditations, grief coloring pages).
Releases May 1st.


05 American FireAmerican Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
I don’t think I would have even picked this up if it weren’t a buddy read with some online book club friends. I felt like this string of arsons that “captivated the nation” should have come up on my radar at some point, but I never even heard about it! Either the reach was overemphasized, or I’m just not that into the news. Whoops.
Anyhow, even if you weren’t captivated by the initial events, this non-fiction look at these events will indeed captivate. Hesse does a great job bringing you into the story from the arsonist’s point of view, as well as that of the firefighters and policemen. It feels like it shouldn’t be real, but it is, and that’s what makes it all the more enticing.


06 The Sun Does ShineThe Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
Oh man, this was fantastic. Highly recommended as a book flight with Just Mercy (could read them in either order, as they approach the story from two different sides). Anthony Ray Hinton is not a perfect man, but he is sent to death row by a racially-biased judge, jury, and prosecutor for a crime he didn’t commit. There is no evidence linking him to the case, the gun evidence is fabricated, and his own ballistics expert (the only one the state could afford to give his appointed attorney) is blind in one eye. Basically, it’s a total clusterf*ck. Hinton is on death row for thirty years before being exonerated (this isn’t a spoiler, as it’s part of the introduction) and has to figure out how to live life in a small cell with death literally just a few feet from his door. This book is emotional, filled with faith, suffused with joy and hope, and just amazing on so many levels. There’s an emotional hangover in it for you, if you’re up for it, but even if you’re not, it’s worth putting on your shelf. I just couldn’t put it down, couldn’t stop talking about it, and couldn’t wait to finish it up so I could revel in a great ending. This book will appeal to the book-lover in you as well as the justice-seeker.


07 The Cruelest MonthThe Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
I totally dig these as audiobooks now (give it time, folks). And reading this one the week after Easter, when the story is set starting on Easter weekend was the BEST. We take a darker turn in this, the third of the Armand Gamache novels, as the story really gets going with a seance. Is cozy little Three Pines being invaded by demonic forces? Yikes. I wasn’t sure I was going to be on board. But Gamache shows up, as usual, and susses out the clues, with numerous case twists and turns along the way, as well as a few professional “wrenches” thrown in for good measure. The whole story developed much more steadily than her previous books, and I can see Penny’s writing getting better as we move along. #4, here I come!


08 Reincarnation BluesReincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Wowzers. This was fun. In a Christoper Moore/Carl Hiassen kind of way. It’s crazy and irreverent and silly and ridiculous. We meet Milo when he is living his 9,994th life as a fisherman that gets eaten by a shark while surfing. He is sent to the afterlife, as he has been 9,994 times before. This isn’t his first rodeo, but he might be coming up on his last, and he needs to get himself sorted out before life number 10,000 ends. We get little glimpses and biographies of his lives, which do not occur in chronological order, so he jumps from 2600 BC to 2600 AD and everywhere in between. He sees war and peace, and does good and bad. He is a bug and a small animal, and a soldier and a husband. The whole premise is just so fantastical and insane, and Poore does a great job weaving each of these stories together along with Milo’s time in the afterlife/between lives. I breezed through this in just over a day, and would definitely recommend it.


09 And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Imagine you are invited to an island with 9 other people you don’t know. Each of you is put into a room in a house with a “10 little soldier boys” rhyme on the wall (each of those soldier boys from the poem ends up dead) and then the first guest dies. This classic game of cat and mouse pits each of the guests against each other. As readers, we are trying to determine if one is a killer, and if so, who? Or if there is someone else on the island picking people off. Or if it’s just a weird confluence of events. The entire thing is just so well put together and will leave you guessing until the end. Dan Stevens does the narration (on *hoopla!*), and he is wonderful at all the things. Listen to it!


10 Arlo FinchArlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August
Picked this up from the library after I listened to the author’s podcast about the writing, selling, publishing and publicizing of his book (called “Launch” if you want to check it out… so fascinating!). I figured I’ve had good luck in the past with podcasters turned book authors so it was at least worth a look.
Well, I wasn’t disappointed. Arlo Finch is a 6th grader who gets relocated to Pine Mountain, CO. He’s just a normal kid with a normal-ish family. He joins the Rangers (a boy scout-ish type of group), because pretty much every 6th grader does as a way to be involved and starts to learn about the outdoors and the local stories and traditions. And that’s when things start to get weird. Arlo will appeal to all the kids. He’s part of the real world, and he attends a real school, so everything feels like it could really happen. But it’s also fantastical and fun and a little bit scary (not too bad, I did allow my 7.5-year-old to pick up the book when I finished, and I think he’ll be totally fine reading it). Recommend for fans of middle-grade lit, fantasy, and adventure. I truly think this story could become a big hit if it gets into enough hands!


11 Wednesday WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
This middle-grade novel has been recommended so many times and so many places that I knew I had to read it eventually. It’s got all the classic vibes to it: middle-grade student who has a running animosity with his teacher, classroom pets, Shakespeare, the Vietnam War. What’s not to love? This’ll be a great one for my kiddos to get into as they get a little older so they “get it”, definitely nothing inappropriate that would keep me from giving it to my oldest right now. Would be a fun family read.


12 The BellesThe Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Dang, this was interesting, if a bit long in the setup. In this dystopian world, everyone is born looking like a shriveled gray grub, like a dried out husk. Except for a select few, The Belles. The Belles also have the ability to use power and powders to shape and form the features of others, for a cost. They are in high demand by the rich and famous, and, although the changes to form are painful and temporary, they are constantly being asked to try new and innovative techniques. I felt like the author’s note at the end of the book should have been included at the beginning, as this entire storyline springs from her own childhood/young adult desire to be “beautiful” as the world defines beauty. It’s this impossible standard set out in front of women, young and old alike, and the world she creates to confront it is both haunting and terrifying. Definitely recommended.


13 Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Simon is a student at Creekwood High. This book starts out with a fellow classmate reading his email, figuring out that he is gay, and threatening to tell everyone if he doesn’t follow through on a blackmail proposition. Reminiscent of Tell Me Three Things in the email format that shows up between chapters and the falling for someone you’ve never met aspect, but also feels fresh and new. Simon has to navigate his high school world, decide when and if to come out to his family, and questions the entire idea that anyone should “come out” at all… and why not everyone – homosexual and heterosexual alike? This is a fun YA novel with some great deeper questions embedded in it.


14 The Austen EscapeThe Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
This was another FUN story from Katherine Reay. I really just enjoy her stuff. In this one, Mary is feeling stuck at work and in love and her longtime BFF Isabel whisks her off for a 2-week vacation to Regency England, where they live in a home styled in the Regency/Austen time period and are allowed to dress up and take meals as if they are actually in the 1800s. Isabel is doing a Ph.D. about how Austen makes us all, as readers, lose our minds a little bit and want to escape the real world, so this trip counts as “research” for her dissertation. Fun, right? The whole setup and execution was just lovely, and you get to immerse yourself in the world of Austen and bath, right in the middle of the 21st century. Fair warning: it makes you want to just pack up your bags and go, though.


15 Tattoos on the HeartTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle
Buddy read with Sasha and Morgan, since we were outvoted for the book club readalong. This book is fantastic. Father G (Boyle) runs Homeboy Ministries in downtown LA, which provides services from jobs to tattoo removal to counseling to Catholic services in Spanish and English. His stories, like those of many wonderful priests and pastors, are poignant and funny and heartbreaking and exciting. They bring “the power of boundless compassion” to life, and really cause the reader to re-think his or her pre-conceived notions about what a “homeboy” can be and do and what they deserve. Sadly, MANY of these stories lead us to get attached to a certain real-life character from his stories, only to learn that, after turning his or her life around, they were still killed in a random act of gang violence. The heartbreak in these pages is real, but so is the compassion and the life-change. Read it.


16 Rethinking SchoolRethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child’s Education by Susan Wise Bauer
Oh, man, this was good. I want to talk about it with everyone. I’ve brought it up in the 4 days since I finished it with at least 4 people, because I felt like there’s just so much goodness contained in these pages. I couldn’t help thinking about my own education, growing up, the things we’ve chosen for our own kids, the struggles we’ve faced even while homeschooling, the struggles that I’ve heard about from other parents. It’s just illuminating on so many levels. Whether you’ve got a child struggling in school, or a kiddo being bulled, or a kiddo with an IEP, or a suspected diagnosis or suspected giftedness, or you feel like it’s all going just “fine”, this book is compelling and it’s for you. I borrowed from the library, but suspect it will make its way into my personal library as well.


17 More than Just Making ItMore Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated by Erin Odom
Erin’s book is great, and not just for those who are “barely making it” or “financially frustrated”. Although I’ve been in both of those places in my life, my experience pales in comparison to hers. What I found most illuminating in this memoir of sorts is that Erin talks about the process of barely making it from a Christian perspective: the shame, even within the church, of having to apply for assistance, declare bankruptcy, or ask for scholarships. Erin’s experience as a journalist leads her stories to come together well, and be exceptionally well-researched and put together. She just released another book this week, called You Can Stay Home With Your Kids, which is mostly about living on one income. I felt that this broader overview of her entire financial journey to date was a great starting point, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she releases.


18 Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins
So, I guess I could just sum this up with “read all the other reviews”, but I’ll do only slightly more than that. Paula Hawkins was greatly lauded for The Girl on the Train. I’d definitely call this one a sophomore slump. It’s like she tried to accomplish too much with too many viewpoints and too little background to put these people together. I listened on audio, and I do think the different voices of the multiple narrators helped me to place people a bit sooner. But, each time the narrator changed, I had to stop and think “wait, is this that person’s son or that person’s friend?” It felt like a waste of time and/or brain power. The story and plot came together fine by the end, but overall I felt this was rather skippable.


19 How to Walk AwayHow to Walk Away by Katherine Center
I thought this was good, mostly fun, somewhat poignant, and a bit funny. There were definitely pieces of dialogue that made me chuckle out loud, and most of you know I’m a sucker for the Scottish dudes, so it doesn’t hurt that one shows up here. Overall though, I’d classify this as “level 2 chick lit”. It’s not simple-minded or useless, by any means, and definitely touches on some deeper themes (injury, depression, recovery, betrayal, etc), but it’s mostly a feel-good novel that’s easy to breeze through. Releases May 15th.


20 Barking to the ChoirBarking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle
Well, as you may have guessed, I couldn’t get enough of Father Boyle, and was only too happy to see that his second book is available on Scribd, for which I got a free 3-month trial recently! You can try it out for two months for free if you’d like to give it a shot. Just click that little link up there.
This follow-on to Tattoos on the Heart is just as fantastic and amazing as Father Boyle’s first book. He is charismatic and entertaining, and full of fun and sass, as all good priests should be, I feel. So many of these stories will stick with you long after you finish turning the pages of his books, (or listening to the audio, as the case may be). Decades of service to the gang members of LA have led to a treasure trove of real life change. And, if you’re a word nerd like me (mom, this aside is for you), you really won’t be able to get enough of the literary and verbal conundrums highlighted in these pages. I found myself smiling and even laughing out loud often.


21 HeartbreakerHeartbreaker by Claudia Dey
This story is told in an interesting way. From three different points of view (the girl, the dog, and the boy), we gradually piece together the life of Billie Jean Fontaine, mother of Pony, wife of The Heavy, and resident of The Territory, a secluded outpost with cult like beginnings way out in a desolate frontier. I picture unsettled Alaska, perhaps? Because it’s freaking cold there for so much of the year. So little is introduced at the beginning of this story that you’re left piecing together not just Billie Jean’s life, but the entire setting from the ramblings of “the girl”, moving forward and backward in time. Once you wrap your head around it (I’d say that happens around when the dog takes over the narration), the story flows, but it may be difficult to let yourself get that far in.
Releases August 21st.


22 This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
I lost track of how many people told me I needed to read this book after we passed about five of them. Judd and his siblings are sitting shiva after the death of their lapsed-Jew father, who apparently wanted this rite observed as part of his dying request to his family. All the family and personal drama is present, as we join Judd and his two brothers, his sister, their spouses and significant others, as well as his mother for this week of mourning. Half of this book is dramatic and heartbreaking, and the other half is hilarious and cringe-worthy. It’s worth the read, to be sure.


23 They Both Die at the EndThey Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
The premise here is so interesting, but so simple: technology has been developed that allows DeathCast to know when a person has entered their last day of life. So, a special phone call goes to your phone between midnight and 3 AM to inform you that you’ve entered your last day. You officially become a Decker (as in: on deck for death), which is how we meet Mateo and Rufus. Even knowing for the entire book that “they both die at the end”, you can’t help but get wrapped up in the stories of Mateo and Rufus, as well as their unlikely friendship that forms on their Last Day. These two young men are so different, yet find the common ground to bring out the best in each other, and the whole thing is just riveting. I couldn’t put it down, and finished this YA novel in less than 24 hours. Looking forward to reading his back catalog as well as his future novels!


24 Girl with the Lower Back TattooThe Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
I may or may not live under a rock, but I knew absolutely nothing about Amy Schumer before reading this book *hides in shame*. This may not come as a surprise to anyone else, but I found her writing hilarious and pointed and light and ridiculous. Her chapter in this book on gun violence (penned after a shooting at a theater screening her movie, Trainwreck) is absolutely not to be missed. I listened on audio and laughed through so many chapters… don’t even get me started on the well-endowed hockey player. I had to pull over. Just so disarming and funny. Seriously, pick it up for a laugh (most of the time). Not for little ears.


25 Shalom SistasShalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World by Osheta Moore
Osheta Moore is a spicy, spunky Southerner with a pure heart for Jesus. My favorite kind. This book draws from her Lenten practice of seeking Shalom, God’s peace for his kingdom in her current life circumstances, no matter where she’s landed. Drawing on the points of her Shalom Sistas Manifesto (which you can see on her website – http://shalominthecity.com/), this chapter dives deep into the practical steps of peacemaking in your personal life, your relationship with God, with others, and with the world. I feel like this would be a great companion to so many of the books I’ve read, podcasts I’ve listened to, and conversations I’ve had lately. It’s just so APPLICABLE right now.


26 Love and GelatoLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
This one is simple YA, with a predictable plot and character arc, but that doesn’t make it not fun and not good. Lina is reeling from the death of her mother, who reveals, essentially on her deathbed that her father is named Howard and he lives in Florence, Italy and Lina needs to go live with him for a while to get to know him. When she arrives, a few months later, she is led down a trail of recreating her mother’s experiences in Italy via her journal, all while trying to fit in with the local ex-pat kids and getting to know Howard. There are boys and love and gelato and drama and revelations galore. Anyone want to plan a trip to Italy with me?

QuickLit – March 2018

Hello, readers! Welcome to my March roundup! I had another wonderful reading month, and am looking to forward to sharing some fun reviews on current and upcoming books with you. This weekend we are looking forward to celebrating Easter as a family (I killed the Easter bunny this year and told my kids the candy and goodies come from mommy and daddy – and usually grandma as well… pretty sure my kids are going to be okay, so that’s a relief!). Here’s my little (big – 22 books) March roundup! Stay tuned to the end for a quarterly update on my new year’s resolutions!


01 Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
I honestly thought I had read this book in the past, but now I feel like I’ve been missing it my whole life. This was exactly the comfort, fun, redeeming read that I needed after the two duds that I finished last month’s reads with! My most favorite part? My avid-reader 7-year old PUSHED it into my hands when he finished and begged me to read it next. And then my mama came to visit and said, “this was my favorite book growing up, I have multiple copies”. It’s a book for every generation. 🙂 Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace and Mr. and Mrs. Murry. The whole world built in this novel is just phenomenal. Cannot WAIT to watch the movie with my little bookworm!


02 Little Men

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Another classic that I totally loved and am just shocked at the “I hadn’t read this before” status of my life!
I think maybe I had a preconceived notion in my head about classics being boring? But this book about Jo March (post Little Women = Bhaer) and her house full of children and her school for boys is just charming in all the ways. I was totally captivated by each little boy’s story and personality and charm. The narrator did a phenomenal job infusing each character with his or her own voice. The pranks and lessons and hijinks of the kiddos, the loving support and patient teaching of Jo and Mr. Bhaer are just all so endearing. I loved it.


03 Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks
I found this one really predictable. What is supposed to be a big twist about 1/3 of the way into the book was easy to see from page 10 and I’m not usually very good at guessing plot twists. The other “twists” were not earth-shattering, and I felt like I’d read chunks of this book before in various other woman-centric thrillers (Behind Closed Doors, The Last Mrs. Parrish, etc). Overall, I’d say it was fine, but there are other psychological thrillers that I’d definitely recommend before this one.
Vanessa is struggling through her recent separation and divorce from Richard, her too-good-to-be-true ex-husband. As we piece together the fragments of her life and those of the new wife, we have to separate her truth from his truth from actual truth, always a tricky balance.


04 Last Equation of Isaac Severy

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
I just absolutely enjoyed this mathematical adventure and mystery. Family drama ensues after the untimely death of the patriarch Isaac Severy, father to three, grandfather to many, and mathematician extraordinaire. He leaves clues to the mathematical equation of his life’s work with his foster granddaughter Hazel, who is decidedly bookish instead of numbers-brained like her adoptive siblings. As Hazel struggles with the loss of her grandfather, the impending loss of her bookstore at home, AND being dumped by her lousy boyfriend, she also needs to piece together clues, attempting to beat the others also seeking out Isaac’s equation, and we are along for the ride. This is an exciting and fun debut novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


05 A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
I definitely found this interesting and listened to it in a single day, but I felt like it was written mostly for the shock value instead of the idea of really illuminating the struggles of addiction and recovery. At one point, he’s getting some dental work done with no anesthetic, because he’s in rehab, and the whole scene is just wretched. It’s so descriptive, it’s so interesting, but holy hell, so much swearing. I’m glad I always listen through headphones, because this entire book is nutso with the f*cks and the assorted other words he throws in. The relationship with his parents/family was also very illuminating to me. I just don’t see myself being able to recommend this to many readers.
Of note: I finally moved this up my TBR list because all the sprinkles on the front and the spine meant my 18-month-old kept getting it off the bookshelf to bring it to me and tell me about the “balls”. I was tired of having it handed to me multiple times a day. 😛


06 Philosopher's Flight

The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
To the men the earth, to the women the sky, as God willed it.
Wow, I wasn’t sure if I was gonna like this one or if it was going to feel like more of the same (men writing women badly), but I REALLY enjoyed it! I loved the story of Robert Weekes, and the way he shakes up Philosophy, a field almost exclusively practiced by women. In this novel, Philosophy is not a field of debate add Socratic mind exercises, but of flight and *almost* magic. It is taught to women because they seem to have the innate talent for it, auth men attempting the draw the same sigils and instead almost fizzling out in their efforts. so when Robert, raised by his mom and 3 older sisters, comes along asking to admitted to the premiere women’s college and attempting to be the first man to fly for the Rescue & Evacuation Corps, he is essentially laughed out of the big city. This story felt like a mix of The Power (women have the power, men have to deal with it), and The Boys in the Boat (Cinderella story that you think there’s no way you’re going to care about). I definitely recommend it!


07 Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
I binge-listened to this one in just one day and felt like I was losing my mind right along with the main character. What was real? What actually happened? Who was messing with me? I couldn’t put it down long enough to even pee. 🙂 (Good thing it was audio instead of paper). Anna is a reclusive agoraphobic psychiatrist. She runs her own online community helping to counsel other agoraphobic patients, but cannot leave her own home. She watches her neighborhood through her windows, documenting via her long-range zoom lens so she feels involved in the lives of her neighbors without ever leaving the house. The entire premise is so hard to swallow but then just so well fleshed-out, it’s hard not to get swept up in this unreliable narrator story. I have to say it did bring about reminiscences of The Woman in Cabin 10 (so if you liked that one, pick this up).


08 Us Against You

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
Backman is amazing. That is all. I’m one of those “all-Backman-all-the-time” girls, like I will read ANYTHING from him, but this follow-on to Beartown is just so phenomenal. I found myself highlighting (a FICTION BOOK??) throughout, as he has such an artful way with words. He can dissect the human experience down to a well-placed sentence that just makes you smile or tears your heart out in three words. On that note: prepare for your heart to be torn out. Gah. SO much crying.
After Beartown (the novel) ends, Beartown (the town) continues on, attempting to figure out where they go from here. Most of their star hockey players have left for neighboring Hed, and those that have stayed are looking at the dissolution of the Beartown Hockey Club. It’s a mess. Keep reading. You don’t have to like hockey, or even winter, to find something that will resonate with you in this book.
This sequel releases June 5th, but that means you have time to read Beartown now if you haven’t yet!


09 Little Life

A Little Life by Hayna Yanagihara
This cry-fest of a book is a lifelong saga, mostly following Jude St. Clair and his closest friends, Willem, Malcolm, and JB. Jude, and really, the rest of them, are young college kids coming of age in, I’d guess 90s?, New York City. There are, as might be expected, drugs, and sex and drama of all kinds. But much of the drama comes from Jude’s ongoing struggles with pain, cutting, and coming to grips with the trauma of his childhood. This book is not for the faint of heart, in more ways than one. At over 800 pages, you’ll need strong arms just to lift it (haha – but I listened on audio, so I just had to commit to 32+ hours of listening to a great narrator), and it’s 800 grueling pages that will emotionally destroy even the most hard-hearted reader at least a few times. As much as I appreciate the overall story, I also felt totally exhausted by this book and kind of felt like the author was just looking for more and more ways to make me want to die a little more inside over Jude’s life. Triggers ABOUND in this book, so if you are HSP or anything along those lines, I’d recommend passing it by and choosing something else for your emotional devastation.


 

10 Still Me

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
I definitely enjoyed this one more than After You! This sequel lets us revisit Louisa as she remakes her life in NYC. She is funny and charismatic and it’s really just fluff, especially compared with the other two in the series, but it’s fun fluff and I liked it plenty. Feels like a totally fitting end to the series though, so I’m not thinking I’ll prioritize anything else that’s part of this sequence. I do like Moyes in general though, so I’m hoping she moves on (or back) to historical fiction after this!


11 We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be Feminists by Cimamnda Ngozi Adichie
If you have 43 minutes, you can knock out this brief (not easy, not flippant) read from Adichie. Centered on a series of short observations of how masculinity/ feminism have played out in her own life, sad the call for everyone, man or woman, Black or white, to step up with their voices and actions to end these injustices (“why did you not address her?”), this short but powerful read is definitely worth your time.


12 Dear Ijeawele

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This letter, from Chimamanda to her friend that just brought home a baby girl, is so digestible and easy to read while also being convicting info the best way. This is a short read and listen (63 pages, 1 hour), so I feel like everyone should just go ahead and make time for this one in their reading day, because it’s worth it. I went on a small Adichie flight, as I listened back to back with We Should All Be Feminists. Both are great, but this one is more polished while also being friendlier.


13 Educated

Educated by Tara Westover
I rarely can’t decide between 4 and 5 stars, so I’d call this a solid 4.5, even though I keep going back and forth. Tara Westover has had an amazing, unbelievable life full of pain and heartbreak and delusions and abuse. yet, she manages to break away from her fundamentalist/crazy Mormon family and make her own way in the world, against all odds. This memoir reads less like history and more like a novelization of a terrible childhood shot through with hope, which makes it all the more compelling every time you remember that she lived this life along with her six older siblings. Highly recommended for fans of Glass Castle, Sound of Gravel, or my fellow homeschool moms who need a “you’re doing okay” reminder, because, whatever you’re teaching them, it’s more than Tara learned at home.


14 Stranger in the House

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena
Super quick read, kept me guessing, but no giant surprises that had me gasping. I feel like this is Lapena’s sophomore slump, and it’s not a terrible one, so I’m definitely looking forward to whatever is next from her! Karen is in an accident after driving recklessly (so unusual for her), and cannot remember what led her to run the red light while speeding due to amnesia. Her husband Tom is worried about her and concerned she might be keeping secrets. Not a super compelling premise, but the short chapters kept me turning the pages and I breezed through this one in about 24 hours.


15 The Hating Game

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
The Hating Game is the perfect romantic steamy fluff to get you out of a reading slump, or out of the “I’ve read too many thrillers lately” funk that makes you think that *maybe* everyone is trying to kill you. This is not a bodice-ripper and it’s not excessive, but it is fun and exciting and sweet and sultry. Even knowing that much, and seeing what I usually read, you’ve probably guessed that this is a wee bit out of my wheelhouse, but to you, dear reader, I’d say “well, maybe a girl needs to switch it up every once in a while!”. Lucy and Joshua work together but they are arch-rivals and spend entire days antagonizing each other, repeatedly calling HR for offenses that the other has committed, and generally being rude to each other. When they are pitted against each other for a promotion, the animosity reaches fever pitch, and… you can guess where I’m going with this. Overall, I found this to be a fun page-turner, palate-cleanser. Pick it up if you need a little zip in your romantic reading life.


16 Parenting

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp
This may be the most foundational Christian parenting book I’ve ever read. It eally does down deep into the actual mission of patenting instead of getting caught up in the methods of behavior and obedience and etc etc. Tripp clearly lays out what God desires of us as parents, since we stand in as his ambassadors here on earth. I wanted to highlight every page (but refrained because I want my husband to read it and form his own opinions without my notes and highlights). I’ll keep this one on my shelf and foresee reading it again and again.
Taking off one star because I found it really repetitive – which may be just what an exhausted parent needs or might be because it would be better read as a 14-week parenting study, but it annoyed me a tad.


17 You

You by Caroline Kepnes
Creepy creeptastic creepfest. Definitely a page turner, definitely a thriller, just one that makes you as the reader feel all icky inside. Joe works at a bookshop, and he’s super excited to meet you. You are Genevieve Beck, Beck to your friends. Joe doesn’t appreciate your friends, he wants you for himself. Writing this in the second person may have been a small stroke of genius, because you really internalize the dialogue like Joe is actually talking to you, and watching you, and desiring you. If it doesn’t make you look over your shoulder in a crowded room, I’d be surprised.


18 Fatal Grace

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
This is the second novel in this beloved series, and I already feel like I was right to give Penny another chance. Slightly better than the first, and great on audio, I am definitely inclined to keep going (I hear she really hits her stride around book number 4? Or 5? Which feels like a big commitment, but these are easy to breeze through, especially on audio). I am interested to see how many residents of Three Pines Penny can kill off before it starts to feel like everyone in the town is dead. This one takes place about a year and some months after the first book, with a character that moved into the previous (from book 1) dead woman’s house. Gamache has to piece together the case, based on the fact that almost no one in town liked this person at all, so why wouldn’t they all want to kill her. The setting is winter time, and it’s bitterly cold outside. I’m glad the next takes place in springtime!


18 Running with Scissors

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
I mean, it was fine. It was not funny (I’m not sure why I expected that? perhaps I’ve misplaced my love of David Sedaris?) Burroughs had a rough but interesting childhood. I feel like this was kind of like a disjointed version of The Glass Castle, where you’re just jumping from story to story in random order. My BFF tells me this is just the starter though, so maybe now that the background is established, future books will be better. We’ll see if they make it onto my TBR.


19 White Houses

White Houses by Amy Bloom
This isn’t a long book, and it should have felt breezy and quick, but instead, it dragged for me. The way the timeline jumped around from “present-day” 1945 to 13 years ago to Hick’s childhood and back again was just really hard to follow. It felt like someone was dead or dying and then they were spry and healthy, without any recollection of why or how we got back there. I just had a really hard time holding my interest because of that. It’s also pure fiction, but based on historical places and events, so it’s hard to separate if I should just pretend it’s completely fake (hard to do when the secondary characters are Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt), or dive deeper into the life and times of the Roosevelts.


20 Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
This autobiographical medical mystery is completely fascinating and hard to release when you finish. Susannah Cahalan has her life together as a journalist for the New York Post, when things start to unexpectedly fall apart. She starts having panic attacks, manic episodes, followed by seizures and losing her memory. This memoir is pieced together from her own recollections, her parents’ observations, and video of her hospital stay during that time (roughly a month), as she remembers very little of it herself. Cahalan approaches her own psychosis with a journalist’s desire for depth and investigation while also weaving a narrative that is unputdownable.


 

21 Force of NatureForce of Nature by Jane Harper
Decent follow-up to The Dry, Harper’s debut novel. I have to say, because it was said about the first one so often and it applies here as well: Harper does a great job at making the setting a character in her books. In The Dry, you are just overwhelmed by the heat and the draught. This book is set in the bush, in the Giralang Range of Austrailia. It’s like a forest of Eucalyptus trees, it’s winter, so it’s rainy, and you can feel the sky heavy overhead and the trees whispering with water droplets even when the rain stops. It makes the reader so present in the story.
In this mystery, Falk is working on a financial case, when his main informant goes missing on an Executive Adventures retreat in the wilderness. Meant to encourage teamwork, five women and five men are sent (separately) on a three-night adventure in the bush, and one doesn’t make it out. Since it has to do with his case, Falk gets pulled

into the investigation.


Of note – one quarter of the year is done, and I have two big reading goals this year, so let’s do a quick goals update:

  1. To read more than 200 books. At my current rate, I might hit 240 (woot!). But we’re also having baby #4 this summer, so it’s totally possible and probable that my reading will decrease at that time. I have noticed in the last month-ish that NOT having a nursing baby has really slowed down my Kindle reading, because I don’t just sit quietly in dark rooms for long periods of time. We’ll see how adding that back into the mix affects things.
  2. To have a no-buy year. Three months in, I have not purchased ANY books for myself (happy dance). However, the super-close, amazing library with small wait times and within easy walking distance of my house and free galleys have been dictating quite a bit of my reading time. To date, 60% of the books I’ve read this year have been library books, and another 18% have been galleys. That leaves only 22% (14 books) as mine before the year started. I’m still moving books off my TBR shelf, but I certainly haven’t moved sixty of them. I may have to institute one or two no-buy/no-library months to really see some progress in this area. We shall see!

QuickLit – February 2018

Here we have the short sweet reviews of the 20 books I plowed through in February. I’ll be linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy in the middle of the month (if I remember to do so *face-palm*), but mostly I just like to share the amazing -and not-so-amazing – books I’ve been reading lately so you can find something great to add to your own stacks!


01 Sing Unburied Sing

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesamyn Ward
I wouldn’t put this on my “top reads of all time” shelf, but I did enjoy it plenty. I feel like it would make a great part of a book flight along with other social justice reads, and other YA fiction (like Dreamland Burning). A bit of a weird turn with the supernatural that I wasn’t expecting here, but still definitely a great read.


02 Chalk Man

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor
Good and creepy. Nothing is exactly what you expect. “Oh, he did it, never mind it was her, nope it was… what??!” Flashes back from present time to 30 years ago, when the main character was a 12-year-old boy hanging with his middle school gang. They get caught up in the middle of a mystery/death and you’re wondering the whole time who the perpetrator is. I thought it was well done, if a bit excessive on the “well, we would come to find out….” cue mystery music.


03 Elsewhere

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
This was a sweet little fun look at the afterlife by Gabrielle Zevin. Her books have gotten weightier and deeper, but this one is still a fun read! I recommend it. It takes everything you think life after death might be like and turns it on its head in a totally fun Benjamin-Button-esque type way. 🙂


04 Deal of a Lifetime

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

This little novella from Backman is another emotional yet lovely little journey. Definitely pick up the paper copy, as the illustrations are totally charming. The story mostly centers on a father and his son, as it’s written in the format of a letter from father to son.


05 By the Book

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn
Sweet bookish fun. The author definitely knows her 19th-century English authors, and she shows it with the main character/professor’s knowledge, but it feels a little bit forced. Like “look at how much I know about this stuff!”. The plot and characters of this little novel are charming and sweet, though. A perfectly lovely bookish escape.


06 Setting Free the Kits

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George
Well, I don’t quite know what I was expecting in this one, but I can tell you it wasn’t this. A coming of age novel mainly about Robert and his childhood friend Nathan, whose zest for life and adventure is always pushing the limits. Nathan’s dad dies very early in the story and that’s not the last time we as readers are struck dumb by a death. I did have a friend tell me it was sad, but I didn’t expect to be weeping every 80 pages (on the plane, in the restaurant, etc etc… this was my book for a travel day). I give this 4 stars for its unexpected depth and emotional resonance. It’ll stick with me


07 Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
This novel, based on a true story, is just unbelievable. I’d compare it to the Nightingale in total selfless bravery displayed during WWII and the way this young kid really came into his own and faced up to fear, the Nazis, death, and loss in a truly astonishing way. I had to keep reminding myself that, though this is a novelization, this was someone’s real life. Pino Lella is witty, sweet, faithful, and brave, and you will love becoming immersed in his story.


08 If You Only Knew

If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free by Jamie Ivey
This revealing and vulnerable memoir from Jamie Ivey is well written, well narrated, and just all around great. Noting that I’m trying to save any 5-star ratings for “change your life” books, I firmly put this one in that camp, as it encourages us to be brave, vulnerable, tell our stories, love the glory of Jesus that shines through the sinful cracks in our lives, and embrace the imperfections we find in others. Jamie has a podcast that made her a master storyteller, and this book proves that. *listened on hoopla, the best service ever invented, does your library have access? If so, get ON it!*


09 Lilli de Jong

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton
Lilli de Jong is a young Quaker girl who is reeling after the sudden loss of her mother. Her betrothed moves to Philadelphia to make his way in the world and they spend one night in each other’s arms before he leaves. As you can tell from the cover, this night results in a child. As Lilli struggles with how best to love her child (give it up? attempt to be a mother?), we get to examine what it really means to be a mother, the desperate situations that young unwed mothers have to endure, and the way that, especially early-20th-century society was so firmly set against them. This book just tore me open as I felt the little one kicking in my own body, and made me so grateful for all the ways that I’ve been so lucky on this motherhood journey. Definitely a must-read, but very emotional, book.


10 Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
This book is all the Midwest feels and niceness wrapped up in a pretty cover. The accents on the audiobook narrators, with their solid Swedish/Norwegian/Finnish/Minnesotan voices are my absolute favorites. I loved the cooking, the chili and spiciness in this sometimes “bland” cooking culture just makes my heart happy. This sweet story will leave you smiling and I’m so sad it took me so long to finally read this one. Loved it.


11 American Marriage

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I really loved this book. I think it’ll stick with me for a long time. It’s rough. It’s really rough. But also really well done. And thought-provoking, and well-crafted. I love that part of the story is told through letters between Roy and Celestial. I love that life doesn’t take the turns we think it’s going to take, even when it seems we are doing all the right things. I love/and also HATE that it’s about something that could so very well happen to any Black man in America today, and the family fallout and the marriage fallout and the friendship fallout and the personal fallout. I just think it’s an important book that is also accessible and ultra-readable. I binged this in one speedy day (multiple narrators totally bring it to life) and it was definitely a “could not put this down” book for me.


12 Overrated

Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? By Eugene Cho
I felt like this had/made some really great points, but it dragged quite a bit for me. And I think that’s because it felt rather unfocused? I’d like it more if it were a bit more distilled into action points and what really matters instead of a lot of “Look what I did” and lists of “how you are hurting by helping”, which are GOOD, definitely, but don’t help me to really assess the ways I/we are giving/hurting/helping/empowering/disempowering cultures around the world with our methods and madness. Instead, it made me feel more frozen into the “well, clearly, nothing is the right move unless we can give up a whole year’s salary to help others?” camp, which is obviously not what he’s going for.


13 Coconut Cake

The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert
This book was rather predictable, and I saw whole plot arc coming from the first 40 pages, but it was sweet and fun and lovely (just like I imagine coconut cake must be). Lou owns a restaurant (French, because her overbearing fiancé said so, but she could cook anything anywhere). Al is a scathing food critic who writes under a pseudonym and hates living in Milwaukee. You already know where this is going, right? Doesn’t matter. It’s still a fun read, and I enjoyed it.
Made a lovely, if unintentional, book flight with Kitchens of the Great Midwest – another fun foodie Midwest jaunt, albeit with more serious themes sprinkled in.


14 The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman
This was SUCH an interesting look at the alternative reality that would exist in the matriarchal society where women, literally, have the power. The premise: young women around the world entering puberty simultaneously discover that they also have the Power, a literal surge of electricity in the palm of their hands that they can learn to control and use. The Power becomes an “epidemic” of sorts as it flips society on its head and men are left struggling with the idea that they are not equipped in this way. I thought this was such an interesting social commentary on the way we treat women, the way we treat men, the ways that the genders relate to one another. Highly recommended.


15 Pachinko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I picked this one up as a TBR shelf-languisher that had been sitting there staring at me for over a year. Thankfully, I had 3 fun friends to read it with at the same time and discuss it with and encourage me to keep going, because it just didn’t hold my interest the way I thought it would. This novel has been praised over and over again as a “sweeping generational saga” but I’d say it was heavy on the saga and low on the sweeping. The writing was plenty fine, but it wasn’t the totally gorgeous and captivating read I was expecting. I think this was a case of “too much hype, not enough oomph” for me.


16 Origin

Origin by Dan Brown
I tore through this one on audio, the first time I’ve listened to one of Brown’s books instead of reading it on paper. Honestly, he’s never been an excellent writer, by any

 

stretch of the imagination, but the plots and science he writes are both compelling and readable, and sometimes THAT is what makes a book. Robert Langdon is called to Spain on a moment’s notice by a former student (Edmond Kirsch) who is a front-runner atheist in the “war” between science and religion. During Kirsch’s presentation, which promises to completely shake up the world and the way we view religion and our origins, Kirsch’s presentation is interrupted and left unfinished. Everyone *needs* to know what happens, of course, but the religious community (especially the three main monotheistic religions) is firmly set against it. As often happens in Brown books, we are locked in a race against time to see which side of this debate prevails. All in all, a gripping story, if a bit formulaic with regard to his other Langdon novels.


17 Five Love Languages Children

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
If you haven’t read the first of Chapman’s books, The Five Love Languages, this book will seem like a revelation. If you have, you’ve probably already been thinking about the love language of each of the people in your life, especially your children. This book will help you more clearly identify not just the love language of each of your children, but specific ways to show love through their specific languages. Chapman and his co-author Ross Campbell, who specializes more in child psychology, successfully and clearly adapts his template to the young people in your life and even gives you a quick primer on love languages for grown-ups as well, in case this is new to you.


18 Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
Page 3 and already a glaring typo. This is going to be rough…
This book is a dumpster fire, just like 45’s presidency. If you are a Trump-supporter…. JK, you won’t read it anyway. But it’ll feel like it’s just insult piled upon insult with no REAL reporting to back any of it up (why is nothing cited? not even quotes from news articles?? this is ridiculous). If you are left-leaning, it will feel like Wolff threw together his worst notes from his worst days observing the Oval Office and tried to sell it. It will also confirm any suspicions that you had that this man is totally unfit to lead our country. But did we need that confirmation? Especially with so many f*cks and name-calling thrown in? We’ve got physical descriptions of people bordering on just flat-out verbal abuse, we’ve got typos galore, we’ve got no real semblance of a plot or themes. Each chapter just wanders where it wants to, regardless of the title. It’s just a flat-out mess. Save yourself the reading time and broaden your horizons instead, because this was tragic to even finish. I spent the whole time alternating between binging thin mints, banging my face into my fist, and trying not to fall asleep.


19 We Are Gathered

We Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman
Sadly, I’d peg this as the worst book I’ve read so far this year (followed closely or perhaps eclipsed by my other current read…). We are forced to sit through a wedding from the points of view of various attendees as they reflect on the nuptials as well as their lives to this point. The most interesting story came from a holocaust survivor, but the first one is what really turned me off to the book from the outset. A girl/bridesmaid with a port-wine stain birthmark spends her time fantasizing about how to recast the people in her life into movies where they get their karma kickbacks for the way they’ve treated her. The whole thing just seemed so self-indulgent and useless. I hesitate to give 1-star ratings so I’m just going to abstain, but if you read this far you know where I stand.


20 Love Does

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff
I applied to be on the launch team for Bob’s new book coming out in April, Everybody Always, and then realized I needed to move this one up my TBR list and FAST! My library had it on hoopla so I devoured it in one day. I love Bob’s personality, the way he goes after life with both hands outstretched, the way he’s always up for an adventure, and the way he loves his family. This memoir/inspirational book will make you smile and make you want to live bigger and better with your arms open, ready for whatever God puts in your path. It’s a great book to read at the beginning of the year and I can’t wait to help get his next work into the world!

QuickLit – January 2018

Since I did my Best of 2017 wrap-up, I skipped my December QuickLit post! Now my site feels a little bit naked. Votes as to whether I should write one really delayed post or just let it go?
Following are the short, sweet reviews of the 21 books I read in January. Started off this year with a bang! Four were 5-star reads for me, but plenty of them were EXCELLENT as well. Skim til you see something you like!


 

01 ScreamFree Parenting

ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel
Although I found some parts of this (admittedly a bit dated) book revolutionary, I feel like it was mostly repetitive. Let me splain…. No, there is too much, let me sum up: If we reframe our thinking as we are responsible TO our children instead of FOR our children, it will be easier to have a calm, measured response to the daily trials of parenting. Instead of feeling like each mis-step is a reflection of what our parenting is or what our children will become (causing anxiety about the heavy load), we need to “put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others” and not give our children the too-heavy responsibility of calming down their parents. Runkel basically asserts that every time we lose our cool, we are essentially “screaming” at our kids “CALM ME DOWN”, which, of course, doesn’t teach them anything except for the idea that they are responsible for our emotions. I do think this’ll stick with me as I approach this new year of parenting, but time will tell if it has any lasting effects to change my own thinking in this way.


02 Road Back to You

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
This was a GREAT read/listen. I felt it was the most succinct and approachable guide to the Enneagram that I’ve read By Far. I guess that could be because each time I’ve learned and retained a bit more about it, but I really felt like Cron EMBODIED what it means to be each type and really talked about what it looks like in day to day life so much better than many others have done. Highly recommended for personality geeks like me!


03 Heart's Invisible Furies

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Sweeping and beautiful, a lifetime is contained in these pages. We get to see Cyril’s life unfold, every seven years, from birth onward. And it is brutal and heartbreaking and amazing and awful and lovely. It is a full life. I loved this book. A slow start, but then I could NOT stop reading. Pick this one up for a slow burn and a lifetime of reading contained in a solid 500+ page read.


04 Empire of Storms

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Holy sex-and-violence, Batman. This is an intense book from cover to cover. I was glad to finally tie in the story of the Blackbeak clan (because those chapters were seriously starting to annoy me in the previous book or two). But we’ve got so many additional new characters now as well, and I honestly thought, until I was about 50 pages from the end, that this was going to be the finale of this series. Obviously not. Book #6 will have to wait, because I’ve got lots of reading to do! (But I will read it eventually…)


05 Spark Joy

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Mildly useful. I feel like this is the “level up” version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but then it’s also geared toward those who got stuck somehow? I guess it’s just not super clear to me who this book is supposed to be for. I feel it would have been better to add an addendum or 10 to the original book and call it the revised and expanded version.


06 What Happened

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Really well done. I didn’t expect to become nearly so emotional while listening to this book as I did, but the fact remains that hearing Hillary twerk the take in her own words (and with her own voice), bright me to tears more than once. This book talks about everything from debate prep to scandals, to stupid email inquiries, to Comey, to election night, and the day she decided to run. It’s really well written, comprehensive in its scope and substance and I really enjoyed it, even the crying parts.


07 Crenshaw

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
It is decided: I will always always always make time for Katherine Applegate books. This one is about a little boy who is getting moved around and maybe looking at homelessness and his childhood imaginary friend that shows up again, just when he needs him. It’s got some tougher topics, but after I finished, my oldest (7 years) read it through twice in a row and loved it too. She is a magician with animals and friendships and words and tough situations and depicting love. I love her writing, I love how speedily it flows. I love her characters and short chapters and sweet resolutions and teary-eyed smiles. ❤❤❤


08 Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book was a powerful statement to the way women can wield power and change their lives. Evelyn makes no apologies for being a self-made woman who relied, often, on her sex appeal to get what she wanted and become famous. But the world never got to see who she really was and her authorized biography is changing all of that. It’s so easy to forget that Evelyn Hugo doesn’t really exist, because TJR so masterfully weaves her into the culture of old Hollywood. This was a great pick for my weekend (sick) readathon, as it felt like being fully immersed in the life of this starlet.


09 Last Mrs. Parrish

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Read this one in a day during the #TBCreadathon2018 and while I did find it compelling enough, and did tear through it pretty fast, it also felt kind of “done before”. Like it didn’t have anything new to bring to the table. Amber sets out to steal the husband and life of Mrs. Daphne Parrish. She builds a whole life in order to create a false friendship between them, always with her eyes on Mr. Jackson Parrish. But, of course, this perfect life isn’t everything it appears… nothing is.
This one had elements of Behind Closed Doors, Behind Her Eyes, and other women-centric thrillers of the past few years. It’s not unreadable, so pick it up if you need something to get you back on the reading train.


10 Bless Me Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Picked this as my “book set in your home state” for this year’s reading challenge. I liked plenty about it, but felt like it definitely wasn’t the “book for me”, if you know what I mean. Of course, it’s a classic for a reason, and this coming-of-age story about Antonio in the llano of New Mexico is richly detailed and full of superstition and magic and Mexican culture. And for that, I loved it. But it was also a rough read about a little boy confronted with the realities of death and I just wanted to stop reading and hug him instead.


11 Jasper and Riley's Mine

Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine by Caroline Starr Rose
This was great fun. Adventure and intrigue and two young boys looking to strike it rich in the Klondike gold rush of the late 19th century. Caroline Starr Rose does meticulous research to really bring her stories to life, and, even though they are middle grade novels, they are thoughtful and intelligent, not dumbed down at all. If you’re interested, I also did an interview with Caroline about her first two novels in verse: May B, and Blue Birds, which you can find here.


12 Dreamland

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opium Epidemic by Sam Quinones
This was a super interesting look at the way the heroin and opiate craze hit at the same time, fed off each other, and took over small-town America. It’s scary how many factors had to come together to make this a silent epidemic, taking American cities by storm. It made me so grateful for the fact that someone very close to me that I love very much made it through an addiction to opiates to the other side. It makes me grateful that my husband started practicing medicine after the ultra-addictive nature of opiates came to light instead of during their golden era, where doctors turned into pill machines… like the one he took over for. It’s a difficult road and I’m glad it’s finally being discussed and brought to light.


13 Fierce Faith

Fierce Faith: A Woman’s Guide to Fighting Fear, Wrestling Worry, and Overcoming Anxiety by Alli Worthington
I don’t think that I’m Alli’s target audience for this. Or, at least, I didn’t. I got the galley copy because I’ve enjoyed her books in the past and was invited to be part of the launch team, but once I read the description I wasn’t sure it was in my wheelhouse. Anxiety? Fear? I’m a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky gal!
However, I can say that I definitely caught myself nodding along to this book over and over again, highlighting passages, and just generally devouring it like it was water of life. I did not expect this. Alli’s writing has really matured over the past two years from her first book to this one, and I honestly believe this is a book for every Christian woman. Whether we admit it or not, we all fear something, and we all have a hard time believing, sometimes, the promises of God, and become anxious over our lack of control over our lives. You may think, like me, “fear doesn’t rule my life, I don’t need a book like this” but this book is for all the ladies. 🙂
*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*


14 Solo

Solo by Kwame Alexander
The music plus the verse novel format of this one make the audiobook an unforgettable must. The son of a rock and roll star, Blade is a teenager trying to get out from the sex and drugs shadow of his father, while still trying to chase the music. Alexander’s verse is direct and deep, as we expect from the writer of Crossover. I do feel like this one will have broader appeal across the board, even though the themes are more mature: I’d call this young adult rather than middle grade lit.


15 The Great Alone

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
13-year-old Leni and her POW father and her hippie mama move to Alaska in 1973 to escape “the man”, and hopefully help her dad heal. But Alaska is dark and brutal and beautiful. This book brings it to life in a way that I’ve never seen. Fair warning: I spent at least the last 15% intermittently battling tears. This is not The Nightingale, but it is AMAZING. Highly recommended. I’d put this novel between the YA and coming of age genre. It has some tough domestic violence situations, for those that are triggered by such scenes.
*I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review*


16 Red Clocks

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
I definitely enjoyed this one, but think I would have enjoyed it more if the format wasn’t so disjointed. It takes a while to figure out the characters and how they relate to one another. It also is a bit weird/ embarrassing to walk around reading a book that intentionally looks like a giant vagina on the cover. So, just FYI: Kindle or audio may be a better option for this one! Those items aside, this is a thought-provoking dystopian (but feels SO close to the current debates about abortion and women’s rights) novel that will leave you pondering it and its implications well past the final page.


17 Essentialism

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
So good. I’m on a no-buy year for 2018, but I know I’ll be asking for a hard copy of this book that I can highlight and underline and re-read each year. It’s so great, succinct, and vital. I took so many notes as I listened to the audio version, and I feel like it just has to get better and better each time you listen/read. Greg McKeown’s Scottish narration doesn’t hurt things a BIT, either. 🙂


18 When They Call You A Terrorist

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patriss Khan-Cullors
This is an important and powerful memoir from one of the BLM movement founders, Patrisse Kahn-Cullors. She starts in her early childhood, discusses her firsthand accounts of systemic racism and oppression of the Black (men, especially, but really all) people in her life. I understand why it was formatted the way it was, but honestly, I wanted more from the end. I loved the retelling of her childhood and young adulthood, but I wanted more from and about the movement itself, this movement that we see changing a generation, galvanizing a sea change like the civil rights movements of the 60’s. I feel like otherwise I would have made this a full 5-star read. It just kind of felt like after all that buildup, she ran out of steam at the end.


19 Never Anyone But You

Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson
This book took me 8 years (oops, DAYS) to read, partly because I feel like this male author was trying too hard to portray female emotions. Our two main characters are Suzanne (Marcel) and Lucie (Claude). I know this one will be compared to the recent smash hit of the Heart’s Invisible Furies, but it doesn’t hold a candle. Where that was funny and poignant and sweet and heartbreaking, this feels like a WWII spy novel that just happens to have two lesbians at its center. Of course it may just be unfortunate that I read the other masterpiece so recently, because I just kept comparing them in my head, and they aren’t comparable. So, for that I give it 3 stars. The plot moved… decently. The characters were…. interesting.
*I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review — otherwise, I might not have finished it*


20 Arthur Truluv

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
Oh, what a sweetly endearing novel about Arthur, Maddie, and Lucille, all of whom are a bit broken and sad, but each of which finds something in the others. It’s a quick, sentimental read, but not schmaltzy or overdone. Each character seems genuine and the plot moves along nicely. Thoroughly enjoyable for a binge read or a “curl up on the couch and enjoy it while you’re sick or sleepy” read. Both are lovely options. I devoured this one on my brand new reading chair…. my new favorite place in the whole wide world.


21 Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Lovely Russian fantasy read for the wintertime. Cold and frost abound. Feels kind of Snow-Child-esque in its sweeping winter scenes, so I’d recommend it as a read-alike. I have already reserved book #2 in the series, so I can keep up with the characters, whose names I will not even attempt to spell as I listened to the audiobook and they are all Russian names, so I have NO idea what they look like. 🙂


Full disclosure: I also abandoned Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks this month. I just couldn’t get myself to care about it at all. And don’t feel bad about that.

2017 Favorite Reads

I am so excited to bring you my list of my FAVORITE books from 2017 today. This year, I finished 217 books total. I rated them an average of 3.8 stars, but a full 43 of them received a 5-star rating from me. I do think I got more judicious about those 5-star ratings as the year went on, so as I whittled down the list, I found fewer than had earned that rating at the beginning of the year that really stuck with me until the end. I read 66,223 pages total this year, blowing away my previous years’ records by tens of thousands of pages (thanks, audiobooks!). I have narrowed down those hundreds of books to my top 10 (5 fiction, 5 non-fiction) for the year, and 5 of my favorite Classics that I read this year as well, as well as a few “honorable mentions” for each category. Which ones will you add to your To Be Read list??


Fiction Top 5:

Castle of WaterCastle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
Barry goes down in a tiny plane among the Tahitian islands, along with two other passengers and the pilot. He and newly – married Sophie (whose husband went the way of the pilot) wash up on the same shore. Dane Huckelbridge is an amazing writer. His prose is beautiful without being anywhere near overdone or bourgeoisie. He weaves in French speech but doesn’t leave us hanging as to what it means. He creates plot and drama without it feeling like there would be no book without it. Really, this was just masterfully done, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by 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.
BeartownBeartown by Frederik Backman
For fans of Backman’s previous work, know that this is so completely different in almost every way, with one important common thread: he writes the emotions and hearts of every person so well. He dives deep into the thoughts and feelings of his characters and embodies them completely.
Beartown is a hockey town. Beartown lives and breathes hockey. And when a tragedy rocks the town, they have to decide how to respond, who to believe, as a team, as a club, as a town. This book had me laughing and crying like his other novels, but also kept my heart on the edge of my seat.
Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
You guys, I can say that I’ve been firmly removed from the anti-Celeste-Ng train by this book. Her characters are so well-developed, I can see them in my head, I feel like we are friends. I love each of them in their own ways. No one is fully good or fully bad, they are all real people. The book starts with a fire at the Richarson home, burning it to the ground. Then, we back up: The Richardson family comes into contact with Mia and Pearl Warren when they rent their little duplex out in the picture-perfect community of Shaker Heights. Pearl becomes friends with each of the four Richardson children in different ways at the high school. Throughout the book, the allusions to fire and burning are artfully sprinkled throughout. The theme is so strong without being pushy. I just loved this entire examination of friendship, and motherhood, and community, and neighborliness, and art. It’s just great. Read it.
Miss JaneMiss Jane by Brad Watson
Oh, Miss Jane, I adore you. In the early 1900s, a baby is born to a couple on a farm. Conceived in less than lovely circumstances, one of the first things they notice about her is a genital defect, which will affect her fit the rest of her life. This baby grows to be Miss Jane, based upon the author’s own great-aunt and treated just as lovingly through these pages. Brad Watson is a vivid wordsmith. I’ve never read any of his other works, but do feel that this book will be treated well through history, and someday be considered a classic. It is intimate and emotional and the natural beauty portrayed through his words is unforgettable.

Fiction Honorable Mentions:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman


Non-Fiction Top 5:

Just MercyJust Mercy by Bryan Stephenson
This book is eye-opening and heartbreaking. It 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.
Being MortalBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
This phenomenal book draws on many years of medical experience and interviews with experts in the field to fully inform the reader about elder care, the history of death and dying in our country, and end of life decisions regarding health, death, and what life is left to be lived. it takes a realistic look at the medical system in order to give us a broader picture at what COULD be and the ways we can make the right decisions at the end of our (and our loved ones) lives, instead of the decisions that just pursue not dying at all costs. Highly highly HIGHLY recommended to everyone, ever. Especially those in the medical field. I feel like this book should count as a continuing education course in itself.
HungerHunger by Roxane Gay
This poignant and powerful reflection on Roxane Gay’s personal experience with sexual assault, eating to obesity, binging and purging, and self-acceptance needs to be on everyone’s to-read list. After hearing Laura Tremaine’s guest rave about it on Smartest Person in the Room, I moved it straight to the top. Read by the author, the audio is just superb. It feels like no one should tell her own story except her. Roxane is brutally honest about her trails and the way she has used her body to shield her body. It’s an important, timely read, and I know I’ll be thinking about it long into next year.
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 long form 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 perfect 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.
Reading PeopleReading People by Anne Bogel
As a longtime fan and follower of Anne Bogel, I was ready to pre-order and dig into anything she wrote, no matter the topic! All that to say there wasn’t any guarantee I was going to enjoy it. Thankfully, this book delivered in a big way!
Whether you’re a budding personality-quiz aficionado, just enjoy an occasional Buzzfeed insight, or love diving deep into all the personality frameworks, this book is for you. Anne distills everything you need to know about MBTI (and cognitive functions), Strengths Finder, Enneagram, the five love languages, etc into easy to read and digest paragraphs. For those of us that love her for her literary taste, you won’t be disappointed either, as she relates many of these frameworks and their variations to well-known literary characters (because, hello, Modern Mrs. Darcy!).
This was a delightful listen and read and I look forward to referring back to it again and again.

Non-Fiction Honorable Mentions:

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, and Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner


Classics Top 5:

Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
It took me six months to read this sweeping epic classic, but worth every moment. the complexities of this novel had me drawing character charts in my head at night. reading it through Serial Reader (app) was the best way to digest it in small bites instead of getting overwhelmed by it. highly recommended especially in that format.
Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The narration by Rachel McAdams on the audiobook for this is just perfection in every way. She so completely captures Anne’s spirit during the dialogue. This book is a classic for a reason, of course! even though I watched the movie over and over when I was young, I could swear I had already read the book as well. but now I’m not totally sure that is true. it seemed so much more this time than it ever was. So, whether it was a reread or not, I’m so glad I made time for this version. Avonlea has my heart.
Secret GardenSecret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Oh, this sweet and classic story is darling in every way. I felt sure that I had read it when I was younger, but if so, I had forgotten almost all of it and only remembered the film. the text, as expected, is so much richer and fuller than expected
this may be a book for children, but for me, it will be a book for every spring. It is perfection.
Parnassus on WheelsParnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
I love short little books that are easy to read but full of all kinds of happy fun. This is just one of those books! Helen lives on a farm with her brother. She spends plenty of time doing exactly the same thing every day, for 15 years. When a book wagon named Parnassus drives up with an offer to buy, she decides it’s time for an adventure and jumps in the driver’s seat. Bookish fun ensues, along with a little dose of love. This little novel was just a blast. I loved every second.
Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Binged it in one morning. Loved every word. I’ve long loved this story as a play or a movie (Muppet version for life!!!), but am ashamed to say I had never read it. Hearing Tim Curry’s audio narration was like watching my favorite replay of it but with so much more depth to every scene. I loved hearing the words that inspired the images I’ve known and loved for years, and I loved the extra scenes that often get cut from the reenactments.

Classics Honorable Mentions:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, and Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.


Data Nerding:

Since I nerded out on data this year also, I’m delighted to share a little DEPTH about my reading life. I have statistics about all kinds of factors, but these are the ones I found most interesting:

I read 21 books by authors of color this year, which equates to 10% of the books I read (I’d like for this to be much higher next year). I borrowed or received galley copies for 57% of the books I read this year, which is a HUGE improvement over last year, as it means I spent less on the books I read (in fact, I used a library calculator to determine how much the library saved me this year, and the rough estimate was at least $1300 – I plan for that to be much higher next year!). The average number of pages per book that I read was 309. My ratio of female authors to male authors was 65%. It took me, on average 8 days to finish a book (because some took 180 and some took 1!). I read only six books over 500 pages, and 67% of the books I read were fiction.

QuickLit – November 2017

I’m celebrating another gangbusters month for me, friends! Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share on her QuickLit post, where we share short, sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately. Here are my reviews for the NINETEEN books I tackled in November. Some classics, some shorties, some super fun reads! Scroll til you see something you want to hear more about!

01 Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
It’s been a while since I did an “in one day” book binge of this nature, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t finish this book before bed. Eesh. Edge of my seat for hours on this one. Your imagination just completely steers the show, and I loved it. Malorie lives in a post-apocalyptic terror-filled world where people go insane and kill themselves if they SEE something outside and is raising her two children alone. Buckle up and take some Xanax, you’re going to need it.
02 Two Girls DownTwo Girls Down by Louisa Luna
Now, this was gripping. Alice Vega is called in as a PI to investigate the disappearance of two young girls, who went missing from their mother’s car while she ran into Kmart to grab a birthday party present. When Vega gets into town, she slogans herself with Cap, a disgraced police officer who resigned from the force and became a PI himself. His connections through his previous job prove invaluable as they attempt to track the girls down. This novel is plotted so well with so many twists and turns and plenty of action. Definitely some trigger warnings for those who need to know about such things. This book would be great for fans of the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling).
03 Sisters ChaseThe Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy
I enjoyed this one on audio (even though I’ve owned it in paper for 6 months and haven’t touched it), but wouldn’t call it “gripping” like the flap copy suggests. Instead, I’d call it a touching investigation into what it means to be sisters and what it means to lose a mother. Mary and Hannah lose their mother Diane when Mary is 18 and Hannah is 4. Mary is now Hannah’s legal guardian, and they spend their time crossing the country, looking for a new place to call home. Sarah Healy writes well, and the story is compelling and readable, but if you’re looking for something gripping, I’d move along.
04 Murder on the Orient ExpressMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
This was just great. My first Agatha Christie, but not my last. Dan Stevens’ narration (and his voices and accents!!!) is just completely spot on. He’s phenomenal. I love the way this comes together right at the very end. Just fun. But seriously, get the audio, because Dan Stevens.
05 Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
You guys, I can say that I’ve been firmly removed from the anti-Celeste-Ng train by this book. Her characters are so well-developed, I can see them in my head, I feel like we are friends. I love each of them in their own ways. No one is fully good or fully bad, they are all real people. The book starts with a fire at the Richarson home, burning it to the ground. Then, we back up: The Richardson family comes into contact with Mia and Pearl Warren when they rent their little duplex out in the picture-perfect community of Shaker Heights. Pearl becomes friends with each of the four Richardson children in different ways at the high school. Throughout the book, the allusions to fire and burning are artfully sprinkled throughout. The theme is so strong without being pushy. I just loved this entire examination of friendship, and motherhood, and community, and neighborliness, and art. It’s just great. Read it.
06 Theft by FindingTheft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris
Five months later, I finally get to put this on my “read” shelf! This is just what it sounds like: a collection of diary entries from David Sedaris, starting in 1977 and ending in 2002. His short, daily (but whittled down… we are not reading every single day) observations of the people and society around him are at times funny or poignant. At other times, it’s fun to see him develop as a writer as he becomes more well known in the literary world. I actually cried at one point (real tears, not “laughing so hard I cried” tears), something that Sedaris has never made me do before. I chose to read this one a year at a time rather than sit through it all at once. At the beginning, he says he pictures it as a book that you just flip open and read an entry, but I did enjoy the slow, sure development of him as a person, from young adult to 40 years old. So, I would read a YEAR in between other paper books, and highly recommend that simmering pace for this collection. If you’re looking to bust a gut, as you can regularly expect from his other works, this isn’t that book. UNLESS you listen to the audio version. I got to see him speak in mid-November after I had finished this one, and he read some of the stories aloud… I busted a gut.
07 To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I thought this novel was fun, but ultimately, forgettable. The premise is sweet: Laura Jean writes letters to the boys she has crushes on when she is “done” with that crush. Somehow, those letters are discovered and mailed to each of the boys, and Laura Jean finds out when they start approaching her to ask about them. She is mortified and tries to deal with it in such a 16-year-old way. There’s so much angst and drama in this one, it felt like a fun binge read, but I cannot imagine that I’ll even REALLY remember the details in six months. Pick it up if you need something fun and sweet, but don’t expect much more than that.
The Fifth Doll by Charli08 The Fifth Dolle Holmberg
Not my favorite of hers. I’d put so many characters and worlds that Holmberg has created above the ones from this story. the premise itself is definitely interesting, but I think it would have made a better short story. Matrona lives in a village that’s perfectly ordinary with perfect weather and lovely neighbors. There’s the odd madwoman and the drunk, but otherwise, it seems just fine. But it’s all an illusion, and as Matrona figures that out, we get rather dragged along on the journey. Charlie can do and has done better as an author. I will continue to seek out her books in the future.
09 Rabbit CakeRabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
This novel is about Elvis Babbitt and her family as they suffer through the loss of her mother, from suicide or accident, we don’t know. Her sister Lizzy is a sleepwalker, just like their mother, and often gets into tough or scary situations while asleep. Elvis and her father deal with their grief as well through the course of the book. In all, I thought it was very well done. Elvis is definitely aged in the middle-grade timeframe, but the themes and language in this novel disqualify it as a middle grade read. I do recommend this one, even though parts were a bit tough to listen to (I did the audiobook).
10 The BlindsThe Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
This book. Wowzers. Took me a while to get through but not for lack of wanting to read! Sheriff Cal Cooper helps run the town of Caesura, known locally as The Blinds, where no one knows their own history, but everyone has one. And as far as we know, very few are Innocent. Fran Adams, Cooper, and 6 other residents make up the original 8, the people who started the town 8 years ago. There are now quite a few more residents and a lot more drama, as we are faced with a suicide and a murder within just a few weeks of each other. Sternbergh’s plotting is tight and fast-paced. His characters are mysterious and interesting. As a reader, you’re not sure who to trust or where things are going next. Just how I like it.
11 Astophysics for People in a HurryAstrophysics for People in a Hurry by Niel deGrasse Tyson
I may be in a hurry, but I’m also amazed. Our universe is big, diverse, and astounding. Tyson describes it from the smallest atomic particles to the largest planetary scales. You will feel infinitely miraculous while acknowledging at the same time how incredibly tiny and insignificant we all are. I thought this was a great listen (narrated by the author) and would recommend it wholeheartedly.
12 Little House in the Big WoodsLittle House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Can my review of this classic just be lots of smiles and heart eyes? I’m pretty sure I’ve never read this one before, even though it kind of feels like it should be required kid reading! I read a few chapters out loud to the boys, but not the whole thing, because I’m also doing a read along with friends, so I can’t wait for those slowpokes! Anyhow, can’t wait to move on to the next one and read more about Laura and her family.
13 GeekerellaGeekerella by Ashley Poston
This was super fun geekery in fairy tale format. All the Cinderella elements are here, but with movie stars and remakes and fangirls and food trucks. The whole thing is just super fun and sweet. It was a quick audio listen and I’d listen again (if my TBR weren’t as out of control as it is) to catch all the fun details. Recommended for fans of fairy tales or other nerds like me. 🙂
14 Wind in the WillowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Although I do see why this one is a classic, it didn’t strike me as something one MUST read in order to fully comprehend the beauty of classic literature. It’s plenty fun, but I’ll stick with Anne and Tom and Huck for my childhood hijinks and leave Mr. Toad on the Disneyland ride where he belongs in my memories.
15 Same Kind of Different As MeSame Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
This was a quick but powerful listen about the true story of an unlikely friendship, told from the point of view of the two friends. I will warn you that I was a teary disaster face for the last 15% or so of this story. Highly, highly recommended social justice read. Shocking to me how little I knew/ know about the modern-day slavery that was sharecropping, but not shocked at all by how it plays into the current African American experience. This is simply a short but heartwarming and heartbreaking read, all stuffed into 240 pages.
16 Little House on the PrarieLittle House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Although I seriously enjoyed this book, just like its predecessor, it was definitely hard to read in parts. I didn’t read these as a child, so I don’t have the nostalgia factor to carry me through the charged descriptions of interactions between the white-settler Ingalls family and the native Americans they aim to displace as they move west to the Prarie. It was a different time, of course, and I recognize that. But it’s just hard to consider reading this aloud with my kiddos without some serious discussion. However, all that being said, the descriptions of Prarie life and settling a new homestead, and the seasonal way of eating and living are just enchanting to me. Of that, I could not get enough.
17 Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Reading challenge category: a book that takes place in New Mexico.
I read this book to check off a reading challenge category, and oftentimes I felt like I was kind of slogging through it. but I’ll tell you what: no one loves NM like the readers of this book love New Mexico. Every time Cather describes the landscape, the world slows down and you get a little taste of the beauty that is this state. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book where the setting is as much of a character as any protagonist. This is the book to read if you’re wondering why someone would wish to live a mile high in the desert in a land where no one shows up on time anywhere and it hardly rains. The slower pace of life in the 19th century means it takes 2 days to get from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, instead of today’s hour, and you get to enjoy the landscape the whole way there.
18 The Turquoise TableThe Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell
Good thing I liked this book and ordered my own copy because I accidentally set my coffee mug on the open page and I’ll have to replace the library copy anyway. Oops.
This goes right along with the neighboring/ hospitality bug that has bitten me over the past few years, ever since reading The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pashak. I envision a neighborhood that feels like community and Schell has great suggestions for ways to make that happen on a small scale instead of relying on the big parties and movements that happen occasionally but don’t change the everyday that much. Coffee and cookies and conversation around the table. Being present, Front Yard People. It’s on my list!
19 I'm Judging YouI’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
I had some serious highs and lows reading this book. some chapters seemed SO petty and ridiculous and like filler, some were SO vitally important and I found myself not just highlighting but tearing up and amen-ing my way through those chapters. I have to say that I wasn’t already familiar with Luvvie Ajayi, so I didn’t come into this with any preconceived notions about what this book should or shouldn’t be. The cover and introduction did make me expect slightly more humor and sass than I found herein. Which is fine! Do be aware that you (we) will be judged from everything from racism to social media oversharing to homophobia to desiring fame to misogyny and rape culture. There are zero punches pulled in this collection of essays.