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 SingSing 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 ManThe 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 ElsewhereElsewhere 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 LifetimeThe 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 BookBy 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 KitsSetting 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 SkyBeneath 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 KnewIf 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 JongLilli 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 MidwestKitchens 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 MarriageAn 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 OverratedOverrated: 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 CakeThe 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 PowerThe 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 PachinkoPachinko 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 OriginOrigin 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 ChildrenThe 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 FuryFire 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 GatheredWe 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 DoesLove 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 ParentingScreamFree 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 YouThe 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 FuriesThe 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 StormsEmpire 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 JoySpark 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 HappenedWhat 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 CrenshawCrenshaw 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 HugoThe 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. ParrishThe 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 UltimaBless 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 MineJasper 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 DreamlandDreamland: 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 FaithFierce 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 SoloSolo 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 AloneThe 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 ClocksRed 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 EssentialismEssentialism: 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 TerroristWhen 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 YouNever 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 TruluvThe 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 NightingaleThe 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.

QuickLit – October 2017

Here’s my fantastically fun roundup of my October 2017 reads. Short and sweet reviews of each of the 18 books I read this month (I abandoned one other that I was supposed to read for a book discussion but I just COULD NOT get into it).  Scroll until you see something you like!

01 Love And Other Consolation PrizesLove and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Jamie Ford does it again with the poignant, sweet, historical novel based on the raffling off of a child during the Alaska Yukon Pacific world’s fair in 1909. Yung/Ernest Young is a child brought over as an orphan from China when he is only 5 years old. He is shuffled from orphanages to boarding schools and never adopted since he is mixed-race (half Chinese, half Caucasian). We get to see Ernest’s life from his golden years, as he interacts with his aging wife and grown daughters, and from his childhood, after he is raddled off and subsequently raised in the premier brothel of Seattle. The sense of place, characters, culture, and history, are all so well-developed in this novel. Recommended.

02 Young Jane YoungYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
I picked this up because so many friends loved it, but I probably would have anyway since I loved Storied Life so much. This book isn’t like that at all (ha!), but it is great, and well-written.
I grabbed the audio on Hoopla and really enjoyed the same story told from 4 different perspectives (although when I had only gotten through the first one I was wondering how in the world she was going to fill the rest of the book). The plot of this one centers around a relationship/affair between a congressman and a young – half his age – intern in his office. Aviva Grossman is our main protagonist, but we hear from other people in this drama as well. Definitely enjoyed this and it makes you think twice about who pays the price in a scandal of this sort.

03 Swimming LessonsSwimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
This one was a bit slow and plodding to me. It drew me in right away and then seemed to throw on the brakes. I think that’s because there really wasn’t that much to say. I liked the juxtaposition of the old letters reminiscing about older memories with the more current events happening now. I did think it was well written, it just didn’t interest me as much as I expected it to after the first 3 pages.

04 How To Fix a Broken RecordHow To Fix a Broken Record by Amena Brown
I will hereby admit that I had heard Amena speak before, but not perform, and hadn’t read any previous books. So, I was a fan, but not a lunatic obsessive. In this book, though, she reveals herself and her journey in such vulnerable and beautiful ways, it’s going to be hard to maintain that status. Amena’s writing (about everything from songs that changed her life to the broken records we all play in our heads to the chance to discover her ancestry to the churches she attended and what they meant throughout her life to the loss of a baby and the desire to get pregnant) is poignant and reflective and beautiful without feeling *poignant* and *reflective* and *beautiful*. Instead, it feels more like a dear friend talking to you over coffee, but with a great turn of phrase and depth of feeling.
*I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are my own.*

05 Ender's GameEnder’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Full Cast Audio Play
Listened to the Full Cast audio play (for FREE) on Audible channels. This was a fun way to listen to this one! So many voices, it really brings it to life. Ender as a character and the world building that OSC does during this novel are both fantastic. Ender (Andrew) Wiggin is a child who is basically “bred” to be the next pilot in a war against the species that almost ended humanity the last time they met. As a young child, he is taken from his parents and siblings in order to train to be an army commander. I’m a fan, but despite the setup for the next book at the end, I feel fine leaving this after book 1.

06 Sacred MarriageSacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
Finally picked up this book that I, embarrassingly, own in multiple formats… mostly so that I can read his new book, Sacred Parenting, afterwards.
I definitely learned a lot and highlighted a lot and felt convicted by this book, but I also feel that it’s a bit dated and masochistic. Every woman that gets upset is “hysterical”, almost everything is directed towards men (written by a man, so I get why, but still a bit annoying), and quite a few of the personal stories feel like “our marriage is awesome because we’ve worked really hard at chasing after Jesus” from the author. Just a bit annoying.

07 Castle of WaterCastle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge
Please hold while I finish wiping my eyes and blowing my nose……. (Mary, you didn’t warn me!)………
Okay, ahem. so, 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 about the crying thing.

08 100 Cupboards100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
I really enjoyed my first read of this series and will definitely seek out the others in time. The whole principle is just so interesting and I love the idea of it being an adventure for a couple of kids. I did think this was going to be more geared toward little kids, but it had plenty of “scary” moments so I will hold off on recommending it to my oldest son for a few more years. Overall, a solid read.

09 The Midwife's RevoltThe Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard
This historical novel is so well done. Daynard meticulously researched this time in history and it shows! Her main protagonist may be a work of fiction, but her experiences, her scenery, and her character are all closely aligned with early American history, when we first became a country. I really loved the feminine perspective of the way that women contributed to the Revolutionary War from home while their men fought the redcoats. Well done.

10 I Thought It Was Just MeI Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown
This book was really timely for me as we are dealing with some neighborhood issues and fallout and the person running the circus uses shame and accusation to get what she wants. It’s super hurtful and harmful for all involved. I’m glad to have listened to this collection of research and observations about shame and resilience right before and during the situation came to a head. Brene Brown asks the hard questions but has the great answers as well. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, this one or The Gifts of Imperfection would be a great one to start with.

11 Find Love in a BookshopHow to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
This is just a lovely, fun read, full of bookish sweetness, a bit of romance and music, and a whole lot of bookshop dreams. Emilia comes home as her father lays dying. She is, of course, left the bookshop that she grew up in, located in the English village of Peasebook. The plot just skips along in this one like a stone on water. Curl up with a cup of tea and enjoy it! Bonus likeability points: main character Emilia plays the cello. ❤

12 Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
With almost 602,000 ratings on Goodreads, there is surely nothing for me to add to this classic. Tom Sawyer is a typical little turd kid. He’s into mischief, distracted by girls, and always seeking adventure. His friendship with Huck Finn is timeless. The prose of the book feels very similar to “the guy version of Anne of Green Gables” to me. Anne is, of course, all of the above as well, so I feel like they make good complements for each other.

13 Dear FahrenheitDear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
This was short and fun and sweet and entertaining! I often feel like I’d like to write a letter to the books i read, or the authors of said books. I’m only knocking down a star because I’m absolutely sure this could have been totally filled with letters in her fun snarky tone instead of the lists at the end of the book, which felt more like fillers. I mean, she’s a librarian, so I get why she feels like she has to curate a collection for us, but the letters were just far more fun. My favorite letter was, absolutely: Dear library in Beauty and the Beast. All the heart eyes for that one!

14 Be Frank with MeBe Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne
I’d put this in the solid 3.5 star range for me. It has all the elements of books I love, but it just didn’t feel like a book I loved or was driven to reach for every day. It felt more like “better get through this one so I can move on to the next!” Frank is only young, but I’d seat this book in the “adorable curmudgeon” camp with regard to his behavior and the way he likes things a certain way. Fans of The Rosie Effect, a Man Called Ove, or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine should enjoy this one as well.

15 Charing Cross84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This collection of letters from author Helene Hanff to and from Marks&co bookshop in London is just fun and dreamy. Buying classic books across the pond for $1.35, her gushing about how they are the most beautiful books ever, and a 20+ year friendship between not kissy Frank Doel, her primary correspondent, but his co-workers and family. The whole tiny book is just delightful.

16 In The WoodsIn The Woods by Tana French
Definitely enjoyed this one and super excited about the fact that I’ve heard these just get better. I found this story plenty gripping and couldn’t put this one down. Detective Ryan and his partner investigate the murder of a young girl (trigger alert) outside of Dublin. When Ryan was young (before he changed his first name), he was part of a trio of friends in the same area, under investigation because 2 of the 3 disappeared without a trace. The current case brings back plenty of memories for him. Excited to see where this goes in later books.

17 29 Gifts29 Gifts: How A Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker
I thought this was a short, fun examination of the ways that giving and gratefulness can affect our daily lives and cultivate happier, healthier, more open hearts. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if it weren’t an inexpensive audible deal of the day a few months ago, but I did enjoy it. I’m knocking it down in the rating though for two reasons: 1) while I appreciate that the author saw great changes in her physical health and struggles with MS during her challenge, I was annoyed with her attitude about the entire thing. 2) During this challenge, the author and her husband had to ask for a $16K bailout loan from her parents due to her inability to work regularly and the medical bills that piled up after her diagnosis. Then, every time she hit a milestone of some kind they would “go out to celebrate”. What? Let me tell you how you avoid 16K in unnecessary credit card debt…. stop going out to eat every time you have a good day! -Sorry, I know I’m getting really judgy here-
Of course, those things annoyed me but not enough to not finish this book and be inspired to start my own giving challenge. November starts in two days, and I think that would be the perfect time to move forward with a challenge of this nature.

18 Fierce KingdomFierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Could not put this one down, even though it seriously screwed with my head for the two days I was reading it! Lincoln and his mom Joan are getting ready to leave the zoo at closing time, and she hears some pops. As they near the exit she sees a man with a gun. Insanity ensues. Gin Phillips takes one of my favorite places (the zoo) and turns it into a scary game of survival. We get to examine the way a mother loves her child and the bond between them in such a unique way. It’s rather astounding. Kept me on the edge of my seat. I was dying to know what happened even as I couldn’t stand to read anymore.


QuickLit – September 2017

Wowzer, readers, did I ever have a month! I pledge to read my shelves in September, mostly because I bought a new bookshelf in August for my physical TBR shelf, and I couldn’t fit all my to-be-read books on it! That was embarrassing. So, this month, I decided to tackle some of those that have been sitting there begging for me to read them on my Audible account, Kindle, and physical bookshelf. I read a LOT of books…. but I STILL can’t fit all of them on my shelves! Are they having book babies? Here are short reviews of the 23 that I read this month.

02 Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
I felt like this was irredeemably sad, especially for a young adult book! I found myself zoning out, mostly for self-preservation. I did appreciate the history and the personal family connection, but yeesh, young adult stories about the Holocaust/ Soviet evacuation of Lithuania…. I’m gonna go ahead and give a hard pass to these stories in the future.

01 All Grown UpAll Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
This “novel” reads much more like a collection of short stories that jump around in place and time and settle around the life of Andrea. She came off to me as rather self-centered and whiny (I believe I told my husband this book was about a snatch who boohoos her life in NYC the whole time). I’m not even really sure why I finished it, except to say that it’s less than 200 pages, so it’s not some giant time commitment. The part that annoyed me most is how even though we’ve been introduced to someone multiple times before, we are still given their descriptors like it’s the first time: Nina my co-worker, Greta my sister in law, Indigo my best friend…. yes, we know….


04 Of Mess and MoxieOf Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker
Audiobook is totally the way to go on this. Jen is fantastic, and you feel like you’ve got your BFF chatting in your ears. She made me double over in laughter while tears squeaked out of my eyes; she made me ponder the depths of my knowledge of God; she made me look at my friends and my marriage with brighter eyes; she is fabulous. I love that she takes a little hatchet to her previous books as well, because a little (but not too much) self-deprecation never hurt anyone.

03 The Almost SistersThe Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
I loved this book. Family and comics and sisters and the South and race relations, all wrapped up in a sweet, messy package. Leia is a comic book artist, a big one, and she ends up pregnant after a sexy run-in with Batman at a ComicCon in Atlanta. At the same time as her unexpected pregnancy, her sister’s marriage turns sour, and her grandmother starts losing her marbles. She pulls these threads together in such a fun, wonderful way. This was my first Joshilyn Jackson novel, but it won’t be my last. ❤ ❤

05 A Court of Wings and RuinA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
SJM is a fantasy master. This is almost 700 pages of awesome writing. That is all.
Actually, I’ll add that this third installment gives all the fantastic Rhys and Feyre relationship without the terrible Tamlin drama (a wee bit but not like the previous books). I loved it.

06 Peter PanPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie
2017 may be “the year of the classics that I’ve always loved but never read” for me. Peter Pan is so much more conniving and selfish in written form. Mr. Darling is so much more endearing and sweet to his children. I loved getting to “revisit” this adventure for the first time in written form. Audible narration by Alan Munro is lovely (although his voice for Tinkerbell when heard at 2x is completely ridiculous! $1.99 on Kindle. Great on audio!

07 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
In the same vein as The Rosie Effect and A Man Called Ove, Eleanor Oliphant is endearingly oblivious to the social norms of the world around her. She has her routines, and is happy to continue in them until her life gets disrupted by a co-worker and a crush. This book is sweet and quick and oh so readable. I loved it. Warning to HSPs: as I am not a Hightly Sensitive Person, I really enjoyed all of this book, but there are some topics that are tough. Eleanor had a rough childhood and her relationship with her mother reflects that throughout the book. There are details about that relationship. If this sounds like something that might not work for you, skip it.

08 Does This Baby StraightDoes This Baby Make Me Look Straight? by Dan Bucatinsky
Definitely some laugh out loud funny moments, stories that make you shake your head, and sweet reminiscences. Mostly a collection of stories that reminds each of us that families are made in every way, and, no matter what yours looks like, the common thread is love. Dan and his partner and their two kiddos embody this perfectly.

09 The Bookshop on the CornerThe Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Warning: if you have ever had the desire to open your own little bookshop, this will fuel your dreams to kingdom come! Very charming and sweet story, full of bookish love, and British humor, and Scottish countrysides. All lovely things. Nina is me in my dreams. Her relationship status is a take-it-or-leave-it aspect of this book. But if you love books and bookshops, it’s worth picking up with or without the romance.

10 More of LessThe More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Already Own by Joshua Becker
Another inspiring book about minimalism. This one is well done, succinct, and inspirational in that it’s not JUST about paring your possessions, but about finding charities, people, and places to spend your newly freed-up money, time, and donate-able items. A great reminder that beckoning minimalist isn’t about getting rid of the world, but rather about being able to invest in it more fully.

11 Words in Deep BlueWords in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
This is a sweet, fun story that I will also be filing under “so you want to own a bookshop”. The Bookshop in this story has this unique Letter Library in it, where people leave notes and letters and underline favorite passages and argue with one another about the content of their favorite writings. I could not love this idea any more.

12 Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
This novel is part southern mystery (great on audio with the two narrators’ accents), part exposé on the adoption/baby market of the 1930s and 40s. Follow Avery (in the present) as she unravels the secrets of her grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Rill (1930s) as she and her siblings are taken from her parents and placed into an orphanage. Heart wrenching and difficult, but very well written.

13 Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
This one by Roald Dahl is pretty short, but it’s just super fun. Both of my boys couldn’t wait to read the next chapter each night. The sillines sof Mr. Fox and his family are just too much fun for kids to resist. As mama, I was equally happy with this one. Now to watch the movie with the kiddos! If you haven’t seen the claymation release from a few years ago, be sure to check it out. My favorite part is the “cussing”. 🙂

14 Coming CleanComing Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
This memoir recounts the childhood of Kimberly Rae Miller. She grew up with a father who hoards paper of all kinds, and a mother that tries to fight it but eventually succumbs to the situation and adds to it with a Home Shopping Network addiction. Throughout her childhood and young adult life, Kimberly feels she has to shield her friends from her home life, is called upon by CPS, and often finds herself living in squalor. Every time the family moves, she feels like it will provide a fresh start, and then the home again falls into disrepair. Such an insightful look at the childhood of hoarding parents.
Free on Prime reading library.

15 Still LifeStill Life by Louise Penny
Plenty of cozy mystery and fall in this novel. I made it through this time (96% on audio and then read the last 15 pages when my headphone died). I mostly remembered the first 1/3, so that part felt a lot like skimming. it would appear I abandoned this one last time JUST before it started it get more interesting. glad I stuck with it. probably won’t go chasing after the next ones in the series, but I’ll be glad to have them on the back burner for fall reads in the future. I do love the “softness” of Gamache, and the way he hasn’t let the job make him mean or jaded. he’s a great main character to build a series around.

16 Four TendenciesThe Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
I’m obsessed with the Four Tendencies and want to talk about it with everyone, so I love that Gretchen wrote a whole book about them. Here she discusses how to identify your tendency (I’m an Obliger, which I’ve known forever), what that tendencies strengths and weaknesses are, how they relate to others, etc. She also looks at different tendency pairings to dive deeper into the benefits and challenges that you might experience if, say your spouse is the same tendency as you or an opposite tendency, or if your child is. Such a great deep dive into one of my favorite topics. I’m sure I’ll be pulling this book out again and again.

17 ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
I didn’t find this one QUITE as quick and compelling as The Martian, but definitely enjoyed it! Artemis is the first city on the moon and Jazz is the young, spunky smuggler who is always trying to make a buck by providing the citizens and visitors with forbidden items. She gets pulled into bigger and bigger scheme as she attempts to make life on the moon work for her. This novel is so fast-paced and fun. highly recommended. I’m sure that, like The Martian, the science isn’t 100% infallible, but it’s still intriguing and interesting without being dumbed down or overwhelming. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an Advance Review Copy!

18 Loving Grover ClevelandThe Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane
I thought this was a wee bit crazy (pun intended). This book is about a small group of teenagers at a summer camp for kids with “heightened mental and emotional states”. each of them is struggling with something awful. This isn’t exceptionally written or particularly noteworthy or memorable, but it came together well.

19 Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
It took me six months to read this sweeping epic classic, but it was 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.

20 Reading PeopleReading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything 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, Highly Sensitive People, 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. Currently $2.99 on Kindle.

21 Strengths FinderStrengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath
I just HAD to finally get into Strengths Finder after finishing Reading People by Anne Bogel. I love that this research-based draws on interviews with 100000+ people and focuses on promoting the talents we already possess instead of trying to shore up weaknesses. Let someone who is good at that thing do what is hard for you! you have other gifts, and SF is about finding what those gifts are and using them to your advantage and the advantage of those around you.
PS. not that strengths are extroverted or introverted in themselves, but my Strengths together basically scream extrovert.

22 Mrs. DallowayMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
This was definitely a case of right-book-wrong-time for me. Or maybe “I can see that this is good, but I do not like it”. I was so bored by this classic novel. The only redeeming factor for me was the narration by Juliet Stevenson, who just has a great voice. The characters, the plot, nothing did it for me on this one. Too bad, but onto the next!

23 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. Only 99 cents on Kindle.



QuickLit – August 2017

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here at the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 12 books in August, including 2 chapter-book-read-alouds with my kiddos, both by Roald Dahl, the master of children’s fiction in my book! This month was a bit slow for me also (I know, lots of excuses lately) because I LEFT MY KINDLE ON AN AIRPLANE! Although Delta assures me they’ve been “looking for it diligently”, it has officially been 3 weeks since we got home and they haven’t located it yet, so I’m ready to hold a small service in memoriam. Thanks to my mama for providing me with her Kindle Paperwhite, which sat unused on her desk for three years. Glad to say it’s already been used more in the past five days than in all those years combined. Happiness all around.

Here’s the quick recap of what I read this month. Skim until you see something that piques your interest!

01 Every Last LieEvery Last Lie by Mary Kubica
I have really enjoyed Mary Kubica’s writing in the past. Enough to interview her for this website! With that in mind, I had high hopes for this one as well, but it just didn’t live up to my expectations. It seemed almost dumbed down for the reader, repetitive and slow and somewhat predictable. I just didn’t love it, even though I expected to. Sorry to not be willing to rate this higher. I had a friend that said it felt like she was just churning these out as quickly as possible because of the success of her first one, and that feels about right.

02 Charlie and Glass ElevatorCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
Definitely not on RD’s list of greatest hits, this book basically centers around two adventures for Charlie and crew: going to space and then messing with the ages of his grandparents. I felt it wasn’t really enough to build a story on. My kiddo did enjoy it, but not so much that he was begging to read it, which is why it took more than two months to read this slim volume aloud.

03 GraceLacedGraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart by Ruth Chou Simons
RELEASES TODAY! This book is just stunning in every way. It contains 32 devotions that are so manageable and easy to read, but encourage a depth of faith in just 2 pages a day. The paintings, photos, and lettering make this book feel like an experience more than just something to read. It is akin to walking through an art gallery while meditating and praying. I will give this book as a gift in the future, of that I am sure. So happy to be part of the #gracelacedbook launch team. I did receive a copy for review from the publisher, but have since ordered additional copies to give away. It is definitely worth your pennies to own the paper copy of this one!

04 A Court of Mist and FuryA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I had a hard time deciding between 4 and 5 stars for this one, it’s SO good. Maas continues her story of Feyre and Hamlin and Rhys (OMG, all the heart eyes) in a dark, twisty, sensual, epic way. It’s so readable and just so good. These 625 pages just flew by. I probably would have finished this in 3 days instead of 10, but I was on family vacation and then, oh the humanity, LEFT MY KINDLE ON THE PLANE!! So sad there is a waitlist for the next one in this series! (Which I just got my hands on yesterday, so expect that review in September’s QuickLit!)

05 Being MortalBeing Mortal: On 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.

07 Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
So fun and sweet and easy to listen to. I loved getting to meet Rishi and Dimple and delve deeper into the Indian culture that nurtures him and pushes her. This nerdy couple is just what I hoped for and I found myself all kinds of wrapped up in this story by the end! I’d give it 5 stars, but this isn’t a beautiful, life-changing amazing book, just a fun one.

06 Side HustleSide Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau
This book is just the kick in the pants you need to get your side hustle started! This 27-day program mirrors Chris’ podcast (Side Hustle School) in a few ways as it introduces you to stories about side hustlers as how they got started. But it also breaks down the process into very concrete and small, manageable daily steps, starting from the very first one: figure out why you want a side hustle. Without a clear goal in mind, what’s going to keep you going? If you’ve thought of a side hustle as a way to earn extra income (I have), and want someone to take your hand and lead you through the process, this is a GREAT book. This book was certainly enough for me to launch my OWN Side Hustle, which you can check out here!
*I received a complimentary advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review* #sidehustlebook

08 Royal WeThe Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Well, this was certainly fun! If the pacing was a bit off, it was mostly made up for by the fact that the British royal family is the perfect subject for fun, fluffy ridiculous fiction, and I essentially enjoyed every minute of it. Since I finished this book in the middle of the month, I had two friends write to me to ask for a light-hearted read, and this book was at the top of my list for recommendations!

09 Reset Child's BrainReset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time by Victoria L. Dunckley, MD
I think this book could be condensed quite a bit and be just as, if not more, helpful because it wouldn’t be so daunting. there is so much great research in here and helpful case study examples, but I found myself skipping and skimming so I could get to the sections that were more practical. To that end, I did find it immensely practical and put SO many post it notes on the side of my library book to mark passages. I will be trying my own reset (For myself and my children, and probably my husband 😮), and then recommending this to everyone I know. If you’re interested in just the nuts and bolts of the program, you can check out the companion website here.

10 Bridge Across the OceanA Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner
I thought this book was… fine. It certainly wasn’t what I expected it to be about, which is fine. It just seemed a bit forced, and maybe disjointed, to me. We’re following the stories of Brette and Annaliese and Simone and an unnamed ghost character? And of course they end up coming together, but it just seemed kind of weird and ridiculous. Still, a quick read and I wouldn’t recommend AGAINST it. so, 3 stars it is.

11 Elephant in the RoomThe Elephant in the Room by Jon Ronson
“The idea of Donald Trump and Alex Jones and Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon having power over us — that is terrifying.”
Well, terrified we are…
I picked this up because I really enjoyed Jon Ronson’s work about the internet and public shaming (So You’ve Been Publically Shamed). It’s just a little 48-page account of his friendship with Alex Jones and his experiences at the Republican National Convention. But, without the benefit of the hindsight we now have: that Trump does win the election. Mostly, it was just terrifying in the worst way. Like, all your nightmares from this book come true and that’s the world you wake up in the next morning.
I read this book for free on Prime Reading. I feel like I need to delve deeper into that collection to see what else I can find!

12 TwitsThe Twits by Roald Dahl
This wretched couple exactly embodies the humor of Roald Dahl to a T. So funny. My kids and I were both laughing through this whole book. BUUUUUUT, I did keep hoping I wasn’t giving these brothers any ideas as to how to be mean to each other!