QuickLit – September 2018

This month’s QuickLit features short and sweet reviews of the 22 books I read in September! Feel free to scroll until you find something you like. If you’re interested in listening to me CHAT about the books I’ve been reading lately, my lovely co-host Meredith Monday Schwartz and I debuted our podcast this month! You can find Currently Reading on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or the podcast player of your choice. You can even ask Alexa to “play Currently Reading” and she’ll help you out! We really spent some time figuring out what *the perfect book podcast* would be like and it seems that lots of our listeners agree! It would mean so much to us if you want to check it out. 🙂
Otherwise, you can just scan below to see what I read this month!

01 Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Oluo pulls no punches in this book. It is brutally honest and convicting. It is for white people who “could never be racist” as well as anyone who has been hurt by racism. It expands and explains the hurt, the misconceptions, the teachable moments. It’s definitely worth picking up and going on my list of favorite social justice reads.

02 Mother's ReckoningA Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Holy hell, this was rough. But also feels like it should maybe be required reading for every parent. And then maybe establishing your family with a family counselor should be required for every parent as well. And it wouldn’t fix the world, but it might go a ways toward helping us better understand and support our children, and those with mental illness, and especially better understand where those two roads intersect. This book is heartbreaking, but well thought and worthwhile all the same.

03 Every Note PlayedEvery Note Played by Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova writes such well researched, poignant dramas. The juxtaposition of a concert pianist with a man suffering from ALS who slowly but surely sees his body decline is horrifying and heartbreaking. I love the way she gives us the viewpoint of Karina as well as that of Richard, her ex husband. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a good one. The audio was well done, but the narrator for Karina was far better than that of Richard, I felt. 

04 Little Broken ThingsLittle Broken Things by Nicole Baart
My biggest critique of this book is that there are so many women in it with different relationships to one another that it gets a little hard to keep track of everyone until you really get a handle on the characters. Tiffany and Nora are friends who moved away from their hometown, where Nora’s mom Liz and sister Quinn live. Nora drops off Everlee, who she calls Lucy, to Quinn’s house, owned by their mom, and tells her not to let anyone know she’s there. Got all that? After you can wrap your head around all of the ins and outs of the relationships, you’re pretty much good to go on this ride, where we wonder who Everlee’s dad is, why she has to hide, etc etc. The mystery element is well-plotted if the buildup is a bit convoluted.

05 Last Night in MontrealLast Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
This book was interesting, but the timelines and jumping from one point of view to another left me disinterested and confused more often than not. Having to spend half of each chapter figuring out where we were in time was too much for this sleep deprived brain to handle.
Lilia disappears from her mother’s home when she is only 8 years old, spirited away in the middle of the night by her father. She spends her entire life as a migratory wisp, a nomad traveling with her father, staying for moments or evenings or months in one place before moving along.

06 The Best YesThe Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst
Fun and lighthearted while also being convicting. Just what I needed to remember in this time of decision and opportunity and balance. But mostly it was a reminder, because it didn’t feel groundbreaking to me. Overall, it seemed like Lysa had some good points about seeking Godly counsel and spending time in prayer and not stretching oneself too thin (by looking at emotional, spiritual, time, and money resources).  I did enjoy it though.

07 The Gospel Comes with a House KeyThe Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
I did NOT like this book. It felt like nothing I wanted. Christian books about hospitality are totally my jam, but this one is not that. This is a memoir about how self sacrificing the author is and about how only Jesus could make her ungay. And about how Christian pastor’s wives need to be serving everyone all the time, and should be giving to such and extent that they never get time or money to take care of themselves and enjoy their families. I feel like it sets a poor precedent for Christian hospitality. So many better titles in my coffers to recommend to you, if you like this idea!

08 The War I Finally WonThe War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I just totally adore this series. I can’t stop gushing about it. This one made me cry more than once, but it’s still just so great. Ada and Jamie continue to live in the English countryside as the British war with Germany heats up. They face loss and victory, heartache and joy. Ada has to learn how to trust, how to allow herself to really live. I know I’ll be recommending it across the board to everyone from 3rd grade to age 80.

09 I'd Rather Be ReadingI’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
I love this collection. I’m not a re-reader, but I know I will pick This up to read these essays again and again. I know I will turn back to these book darted pages for smiles and comfort and sweetness and even ideas in the future. This is absolutely THE love letter to books that I’ve always wanted on my shelves, and this little book will be with me for the rest of my days.

10 All the Pretty GirlsAll the Pretty Girls by J.T. Ellison
Really well put together thriller, if a bit gory and violent (yes, I *know*…. It’s a thriller). I followed along almost exactly with the way the author wants you to believe things are going to play out, and therefore thought I knew whodunit, but was wrong, and then was right, and then was still surprised. All without feeling like she had played me for a fool. Lieutenant Taylor Jackson is a great character to root for. I’m a fan.

11 MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I really enjoyed this. I an beating myself for not listening to Melissa 12+ years ago and reading it ASAP. Instead, I let it languish on my shelves, almost gave it away, and finally decided to pick it up.
This multi-generational saga starts in Greece at the beginning of the 20th century. It follows Lefty and Desdemona and their family, as told through the eyes of their grandchild, Calliope. You’ve got the fabulous Greek culture, you’ve got early 20th century immigrant experience, the auto boom, World War II. It’s all contained in these pages and they are so worth reading.

12 What I Saw and How I LiedWhat I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Historical fiction mystery. 15 year-old Evelyn, her mom, and stepdad head down to Florida and spend the late summer and fall at a hotel. Post World War II. She meets Peter, who served with her stepdad Joe in the army during the war. Relationships are messy. Lies are told. I liked this plenty, but it didn’t draw me in like I feel like it could have.

13 Matchmaking for BeginnersMatchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
I didn’t realize I had already read one of Dawson’s books until the end of this one. But I liked it quite a bit more than the previous one I had read (A Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness). I picked this up as a Kindle First read, and then I wasn’t sure I’d even read it. But it was a fun read after a week of heavy ones, so it fit the bill. Blix is an eccentric older lady, who is going to die soon, and she’s a self-proclaimed matchmaker. She meets Marnie, her great-nephew’s fiance and knows that she is meant to be part of her life. Marnie is a bit of a mess, goes through a breakup, etc etc. She ends up living a “big life” in ways she definitely didn’t expect, and you keep wondering how this is going to resolve without Marnie looking like a total toolface. It does… kinda. She still kinda carries that self-centered vibe with her until the end.

14 Maybe In Another LifeMaybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’d call this novel a book version of Sliding Doors. Was that a book first? I don’t know.
Hannah moves home after a breakup to LA, where she no longer has a home because her parents picked up and left to move to London when Hannah was in HS. She meets up with her ex-boyfriend, Ethan, one night right after her return and then she needs to make a choice: go home with Ethan or go home with her longtime friend Gabby. We follow both timelines. The chapters switch back and forth between leaving Ethan at the bar and leaving the possibilities open with him or going home with him. We see this one decision change the course of her life and see how the thigns that were already in place play out in each timeline. It’s SO cool. It’s like a girly version (i.e. no blood and guts) of Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch, or a more interesting version of How to Walk Away, by Katherine Center. Definitely read it!

15 I'm Still HereI’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
I don’t have the right words for this book and the ways it spoke to the circumstances in Brown’s life, and the ways she helps us white women to see the racism inherent in our interactions and comments, and the ways she affirms the struggle of the Black women in her life. Brown is a racial sensitivity trainer, often for religious organizations, so she has seen and spoken to and been involved in some super tricky situations. She uses all her knowledge and experience to really clearly outline white guilt and white fragility and affirmative action and separate but equal and, just… life. This book is absolutely a must-read, for anyone. But especially for white Christians.

16 GhostGhost by Jason Reynolds
This one was talked about so highly on the Great American Read that I decided to pick it up. Went into it knowing nothing about nothing. Ghost (Castle Crenshaw) is a young Black boy whose life has not been easy. His father tried to kill him and his mother before being sent to prison. He has no great male influence in his life. But that changes at the track one day. His coach, his mom, and his teammates show him what it means to show up, to be committed, to care for one another, and to trust each other. This was a great YA read.

17 TKAMTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book sits very differently with me now than it did when I read it as a teenager. Then, I read it as the story of a young girl, who idolized her father (and brother). Atticus was mostly definitely a good man who deserved to be idolized.
Now, and especially with the reading and listening I’ve done of late to writers of color and women of color, I find this book to be a portrayal of white southern culture in the 30s. We get nothing from Cal, from Tom or Helen Robinson. These pivotal characters of color are not remotely fleshed out.
Lee’s later (earlier) novel Go Set A Watchman seemed to cast doubt on Atticus and his infallible character. And I kind of feel like it was maybe deserved? Even though I didn’t feel like that when I read GSAW a couple years ago. I’m not saying that I love this book less than I did then. I’m saying it’s a different story because I’m a different (and I hope, more knowledgeable and more informed) person now.

18 Lethal WhiteLethal White by Robert Galbraith
I spent entirely too long caring only about Robin and Strike instead of their investigation. It finally got interesting about 1/3-1/2 way in and then I couldn’t put it down. This case centers on a minister for culture, blackmail, accusations of strangling a child from a mentally unstable young man. It seems to be easily disconnected and dull as we get the entire story set up, but then things start coming together and happening quickly. Overall, I’d recommend it, but tell the reader to push through the boring bits to get to the good stuff.

19 MarchMarch: Book One by John Robert Lewis
Excellently done. Drawings are black and white, which seems totally appropriate. Can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of these. And possibly find a Lewis biography, because: dang. At Obama’s swearing in, John Lewis is met by a young mother and her two young boys. He has to go, but he tells them the story of his life, starting from a young age, going through the Montgomery bus boycott, the non-violent resistance and civil disobedience of the civil rights movement, the times he met Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s amazing.

20 The Power of HabitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
I’d like to review the power of The Power of Habit. I feel ARMED with all this knowledge now! How habits are formed, triggered, changed. Between this and Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, it feels possible to change anything about the way one behaves. Duhigg has the research about habits themselves and Rubin shows us how to harness that research.

21 Uninvited GuestsThe Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Fun and silly with a bit of weirdness. It’s 1912. Emerald Torrington is getting ready for her birthday party when a nearby railway line suffers and accident and the survivors are sent to the Torrington home for shelter. This happens right as the party guests start to arrive as well. It’s a bit of a mess, of course, but the show must go on. How should we feed these people? How do we entertain ourselves with the study taken up with all these “guests”? What in the world is happening in there anyway? I found myself laughing at the situations, even when it was getting a bit creepy.

22 Where You BelongThis Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick
I liked that this was like a place attachment experiment. But I also happen to love books that fall into the “stunt journalism” genre (i.e. I tried to live like this for a year and here’s how it turned out)… this feels kind of like that. Warnick outlines some guidelines for place attachment and then spends time telling us how it looked in her life as she attempts to root herself in her current city, Blackburg, VA.
It feels like a checklist: here’s what I’ve already done to love where we live, here’s something else I could do to love it more or love it better. Warnick is really readable, but I feel like the chapters are each a bit too long.


QuickLit – August 2018

This month was a big one for me! I was attempting to finish up the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge (expert level) so I was plowing through books left, right, and sideways! I managed to finish my last of the 40 titles on August 30th, so I officially squeaked in under the wire and am feeling pretty proud of my accomplishment. I had one other huge accomplishment this month: I finished War and Peace! Read on for quick reviews of that and the other 20 titles I read this month.

01 Peace Like a RiverPeace Like A River by Leif Enger
Felt very similar to The Outsiders to me. More family, less friend group. More adventure, less drama (but still plenty of that). But similar. It’s a well-written story, and I love this family: Reuben, Swede, and Danny, three siblings along with their amazing dad. I counted this as a Story that Features a Father for my reading challenge, and it certainly fit the bill, as their dad is so involved and caring. He is *almost* the star of the show.

02 Into the WildInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Liked this far more than I thought I would. In my ignorance, I did not realize this was a nonfiction title until I started it! This is a harrowing tale of Alex’s adventure, the way he gets sick, and the reason he dies (not a spoiler – we know he is dead from the first pages). Krakauer researches meticulously, interviews so many people, and even corrects his own misconceptions from his original article.

03 You Think It I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Although I’m definitely a fan of Curtis Sittenfeld, this short story collection left me feeling kind of unsatisfied. I wanted MORE from each story, like they cut off too early and were too spare. That’s not to say any of them were bad! They were nice stories, I just feel like she’s better suited to long-form fiction.

04 20000 Leagues20000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne
Classic adventure of Captain Nemo and his crew. Totally groundbreaking at the time! My kiddos will love this one in a year or two. I’ll have the bigger boys listen to the audio also, as it went well for me, but I think the text might feel a bit plodding for them. And then, the movie, of course. Because that’s sometimes what gets kids excited about these classic tomes.

05 Castle of WaterCastle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
Reread on audio this month. Original review published below. Still loved every second.

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.

06 Good Morning MidnightGood Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
I Could. Not. Put. This. Down. Such an interesting premise. Loved the two perspectives. Loved the plotline and scenery. I wanted everyone to hush up so I could just keep diving into this book! It’s been described as Station Eleven meets The Snow Child, and all I can say to that is Yes Yes Yes. I loved both of those, so I should have known I would love this one too! And I did! And also: that cover. All the heart eyes.

07 RelishRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Well, that was fun. This one’s a keeper, for sure. I’ll be pulling it off my shelves for recipes and just to read again. I’m always up for a love letter to food, and Knisley delivers. I also asked my husband if he would hug me for a long time every day if I worked in a cheese shop and smelled like cheese when he got home. He says I already smell like spit up most days, so he’ll pass.

08 Stretched Too ThinStretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter, and Thrive by Jessica Turner
Jessica does it again. Her books are relatable, important, and impeccably researched. I’ll be pushing this one into the hands of every working mom I know! But the caveat here is that you don’t need to be a working mom to get a lot from this book. Jessica tackles taking care of your marriage well, parenting your kids well, and prioritizing self-care in this book. Perhaps if, like me, no one pays you a paycheck, you might not get a ton out of how to ask for telecommuting options or managing that part of work-life balance, but lots of it is applicable even if you are “just” a volunteer somewhere!

Full disclosure: I’m on the launch team for this one so I got to listen to the audiobook early, but I also bought my own copy!

09 The Blue CastleThe Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
The Blue Castle is a re-read for me, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Valancy is a hypochondriac “old maid” that is coddled and almost abused by her controlling mother. She is a disappointment to her family and basically gets walked all over by each of them. When she gets a terminal heart diagnosis, she decides to buck tradition and live her own life. And when she does, we all benefit. Because the story that results is so sweet and fun and joyful.

10 A Rule Against MurderA Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Book number 4 in the Gamache series didn’t disappoint. I’ve heard book 5 (Brutal Telling) is the best, so I’m not rushing to pick it up. Because then I will have finished “the best one!” In this one, Gamache is already in Three Pines celebrating his anniversary, when, you guessed it, a murder occurs. He’s back on the case, even while on vacation and the way this one comes together and gets solved is still making me smile. I love me some Ralph Cosham (the narrator of these first 4 books, and some of the susequent ones but I’ve been warned he eventually changes), and the way he brings the story to life on audio.

11 Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
For Ford’s sake. This classic dystopian novel feels like something I definitely should have read before, but I honestly don’t think I have! It soared in popularity again after Trump’s election two years ago, and it’s easy to see why. This government-controlled, mass-produced, ultimately-efficient world is a stark wake-up call to the reader.

12 BlindnessBlindness by Jose Saramago
A brutal look at the human condition. Blindness spreads like an epidemic, from one person to another, with everyone seeing white. In Saramago’s book, he delves into the human response, the government response, the way society copes (or doesn’t), and it’s fascinating. And horrifying.

The writing style in this made it hard to connect with the characters and what they were saying, for me. “Being blind means names are meaningless” so no one is referred to by name. Instead they are “the man with the eye patch, the doctor, the woman with dark glasses”. And there are no quotes pre even paragraph divisions while people are talking. Just commas and a capital letter at the beginning of each phrase. Takes some getting used to! I do feel like this book is rather unique and ground-breaking though! I’m just not sure it qualifies for “scaring the Bajeezers out of me” like I originally planned.

13 VoxVox by Christina Dalcher
Goodness this book is terrifying. In a dystopian, post-Obama America, the president who takes the reins is a fundamentalist Christian who espouses the idea that women were made to serve men. Under advisement from his pastor (?), he institutes “bracelets” that count a woman’s words and deliver a shock if she goes over 100 in a given day. The premise is horrifying, if farfetched, and just gets worse as it develops. Especially awful in bringing this novel to life: when my fitbit would vibrate with “reminders to move” as I read, because I couldn’t put it down!

14 Girl Wash Your FaceGirl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis
I felt ambivalent about this book. Some stories were so interesting and life giving and some were SO meh. When Rachel is being really vulnerable and writing from her heartbreak, this book is unputdownable. When she is trying to be pithy and funny it just doesn’t do it for me. đŸ˜¶

15 The Air I BreatheThe Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life by Louie Giglio
I thought this was a lot of words that could have been a 500- to 1,000-word blog post. I mean, I like the introspection that Giglio does, and I appreciate him in general, but calling this a “book” seems like a bit of a stretch. I did definitely appreciate the general message though: where do you spend your time? That is what you worship. We are all worshipping something.

16 The SparrowThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
One of those books that gets pushed into your hands and you’re kinda like “um, I guess? Sounds a little crazy?” But then you love it. Jesuits in space. Father Emilio Santos, the linguist priest who maybe doesn’t believe in God. I am a total language nerd and this totally scratched that itch. Such a well-thought and curated story, even if it takes a bit of time to get into.

17 An Anonymous GirlAn Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Super readable, much less predictable than their first novel and far twistier, this sophomore thriller by Hendricks and Pekkanen is weird and crazy. Jessica sneaks into a psychology study on a college campus because of the financial incentive it offers. But Dr. Shields has some strange questions and decides to take the study to the next level based on Jessica’s answers. This one kept me guessing throughout. I received it as a galley and enjoyed it immensely.

18 Make It HappenMake it Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live on Purpose. by Lara Casey
My favorite part of this book is the final section, where Casey relates pursuing your goals to the cultivation of a garden. It’s a great metaphor and really well put together. The rest felt more like a memoir to me. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll enjoy it.

19 War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
You guys! I did it!!! Let it be known that at 8:08 this morning in Rio Rancho, NM, this mama of 4 finished reading War and Peace, Tolstoy’s 1500-page epic tome, published as a complete work in 1869. It was originally released as a series, and so that’s how I read it, using the Serial Reader app. The app breaks down the classics into magazine-article length chunks and sends you one serial a day to read. It took me 235 days, dutifully reading my “issue of the day”. I’m pretty excited about this HUGE accomplishment!

I’m giving this 3 stars because I liked certain parts quite a bit, but thought others just dragged on for days and weeks at a time.

20 The War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I loved this story of Ada and her brother Jamie. Ada was born with a club foot and her mother finds her to be a disgrace, so she is not allowed to leave the house. Web the children ofzs London are evacuated to keep them safe during WWII, she escapes with her little brother to live in the country where it’s safer. This entire book is just fantastic and comes highly recommended… By me and everyone else I know who has read it. Glad I already got the sequel from the library!

Definitely pick this up if you loved Wonder but can’t handle another book FULL of tears.

21 These Is My WordsThese Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Tuner
I loved this. All of it. To me, this feels like a bit more grown-up version of the Little House books. Journal form, but that same journey and settlement aspect. I really enjoyed that they are in Tucson for much of it, my old stomping grounds. It really made it hit “close to home” for me. I didn’t know much about this before I picked it up, but I certainly am glad I did!


QuickLit – July 2018

My July was eventful, as you may have guessed! I had a baby! A little girl. She was born the day before her due date on July 5th. That morning, at a standard appointment, we found out she was breech (I didn’t feel her turn, so we assume she had been breech for some time). The hospital system I delivered at does not allow for breech births, so when my contractions started in earnest that afternoon we hustled along to the hospital for a C-section. The recovery from that was pretty heinous, especially the spinal headache (worst pain I’ve ever been in… and this includes 3 natural non-medicated childbirths). That means my July reading was pretty hampered at the beginning of the month by pain as well as visitors – I can’t be the only one who feels like it’s rude to sit on the couch close to your visiting family and just bury myself in a good book instead, right? Still ended up being a decent reading month overall though with 15 books read, as I breezed through some great audio toward the end, and slowly worked through others.
Scroll until you see something that piques your interest!

01 Medium RawMedium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain
I finally rescued this book from my languishing TBR pile on my Kindle this month, after the devastating news about Bourdain’s death. This is mostly a collection of stories and vignettes of his life. From the best food he’s ever eaten, to the best and worst chefs he’s worked with, to the people who annoy the bajeezers out of him, to the way he has raised his daughter to look at food (and McDonald’s, which had me laughing out loud). Bourdain’s chapter on the best local foods he’s ever eaten had me absolutely salivating – and craving pho from Vietnam. But otherwise, I found this book to be mostly geared toward people who are true foodies and know the who’s who of the food world. For those of us that don’t rub elbows with Michelin-starred chefs, it’s more of a meander through a world we don’t inhabit.

02 Expecting BetterExpecting Better; Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
For a data nerd like me, this book is INVALUABLE, and would have been even more so if it had existed prior to my first pregnancy. Although I spent all four of my pregnancies flouting the conventional, American wisdom regarding pregnancy, I usually couldn’t justify it. I typically just said “we’re very European about pregnancy” with regard to questions about foods to avoid, drinking alcohol, weight gain, prenatal screenings, and the like. But Emily Oster, a statistician by trade, wasn’t satisfied with those answers. So, she took the time to look up the actual health studies that play into doctor recommendations. Thus empowered, she gives us the summary of the studies, the way that you could interpret the results, and even the way she chose to make decisions based on this knowledge. I’ll be referring anyone I know, who wants MORE answers and more thorough knowledge, to this book on pregnancy. I was so glad to borrow it from my dear friend Elizabeth, and learned so much even at the very tail end of pregnancy number four.

03 StardustStardust by Neil Gaiman
As an avid lover of the movie, I was pretty sure I’d love the book, and of course, I was right. Per the bookworm manifesto, the book is always better than the movie. I’ve only read a select few of Gaiman’s works, and this one was absolutely delightful. For those unfamiliar with the premise, Stardust takes place in the Village of Wall and the village beyond the wall, which really belongs to another realm, one with fairies and kings and witches and cloud pirates. These characters are brought to life in the film with an all-star cast, who I couldn’t help picturing as I read through the story. I want to push this shorter book into the hands of anyone facing a reading slump. You’ll devour it and be ready for something fun or heavy afterward!

04 Return to AtlantisReturn to Atlantis (Choose Your Own Adventure) by R.A. Montgomery
Does that cover bring back memories, or what? In Return to Atlantis, I also got to return to my childhood. As part of the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge, I *had* to pick up one of these titles from the library. I actually chose three to bring home so that I could let my kiddos Choose Their Own Adventure as well. We went to space, were abducted by ant people, and dove beneath the sea. Sometimes we died, sometimes we saved the world, and mostly we had a great time. The books themselves are not nearly as exciting as I remember them being. I kind of want someone to pick up this series/concept and make it into something new and great. But even so, the walk down memory lane was certainly fun.

05 Crazy Rich AsiansCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Kwan’s novel is ridiculous and fun and dramatic and exciting. It felt like a peek into the lives of the uber-rich as well as a glimpse into modern Asian culture, and I’ve never really read a book that gave me either! So, this ended up feeling totally new and different to me, while similar enough to the contemporary fiction/drama books that I’ve read in the past to not leave me wallowing in the mundane details of their lives…. I’m looking at you other-super-popular-and-recent-Asian-culture-book. Definitely recommended although I’m not sure how fast I’ll be looking for the next book in the series. Perhaps I’ll leave these as summer reads and look into it next year.

06 Jesus FeministJesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey
Having never read Sarah Bessey’s blog, I didn’t have the “disappointed these are mostly blog posts in book format” reaction that other reviewers have noted. Instead, I found this to be a fresh way of looking at the Bible and the church’s treatment of women. I recommended it to my mom right in the middle of the book and I stand by that recommendation now. I feel like we get so caught up in Paul’s letters that we forget that the way that Jesus treated the women around him was truly revolutionary. He does not relegate us to less-than status, does not tell us to sit down and be quiet, does not put us on the shelf to look pretty. And any book that reminds us of that is a good one in my
 ahem, book.

07 Brightly BurningBrightly Burning by Alexa Donne
Oh, this was so fun. Jane Eyre, but reimagined, up in space, after the apocalyptic freezing of Earth in another ice age. The characters are different, the plot is futuristic and crazy, but the feeling of the original is still there. Enough so that I want to go back and reread the classic that inspired this retelling, but I also feel like people who don’t love Jane will enjoy this novel anyway! It’s a quick read, and it’s worth putting it on your TBR stack.

08 Benjamin ButtonThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Benjamin Button is another “book I read after the movie”. Two in one month? What the heck? This short story by F.S.F. is endearing and sweet and still feels totally original 100 years later. Not a spoiler when the text is 100 years old, right? Benjamin Button is born an old man and he ages backward throughout his life, gradually becoming younger and younger. When he is 18 years old, he looks 50 and attempts to enroll in college with disastrous results. The fleshing out of the story for the movie is incredibly well done, and it leaves the actual novella feeling underwhelming. Perhaps it’s because Brad Pitt is… you know, Brad Pitt, but Benjamin Button in the novel seems much more self-centered and much less adventurous than his movie counterpart.

09 CirceCirce by Madeline Miller
Circe is brilliantly written and beautifully put together. Greek myths are interwoven throughout, and Circe plays a role in all of them. Her life as a goddess, as an exile, as a witch, are all so well done. I tried and failed to read The Song of Achilles at one point a few years ago, but this does make me want to go back and pick it up again. Miller’s writing is just totally on point. The audio of this was fantastic, and I raced through it pretty quickly considering the fact that I had a baby and out of town guests for like 9 of the 12 days it took me to read it (I can’t bring myself to delve into headphones when people are hanging out visiting us…).

10 The Thorn BirdsThe Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
This might be my favorite “family saga” that I’ve ever read. The Clearys, a family of boys upon boys and a single girl, is such an endearing group of people. McCullough captures their flaws, their thoughts, their motivations, without leaving us with a totally internal novel. Instead, this tome (700+ pages) is fully plot-driven AND character-driven, and she does a great job at both. We are totally immersed in the back of beyond of Australia. We’ve got an interlude in Rome with the Catholic Church. We’re led to fully fall in love with each of her characters and become totally invested in their lives. There’s a reason this is a beloved classic, and I’m for it.

11 Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
While I was reading this book, I described it to several people as “totally screwed up”. But I still couldn’t put it down. I picked it up as a “book that challenges a viewpoint” for a reading challenge this year, and it definitely does that. Wavy is the daughter of a drug dealer and his wife (and often watched over by one of his many girlfriends). She is damaged. Really damaged. By all the awful things her mother has said to her over the years, leading her to believe that she is dirty, that eating is dirty, that touching someone is dirty, that getting a hug is dirty. Even from her own parents or her little brother. When Kellen enters Wavy’s life and starts taking her to school and watching over her in a parent sort of way (the kind of parent that someone should have… taking an actual interest in her life and well-being), it’s no wonder that her affections develop into something more. As a young man, but definitely a man (mid-20s), Kellen doesn’t know how to deal with it. The whole book is just totally bizarre, and you find yourself examining what you want to happen and how you want the situation dealt with. If you are in need of a viewpoint challenging book, definitely pick this one up.

12 Scarlet LetterThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I didn’t like this. It’s a classic, I get it. It’s definitely interesting (in parts), but oh my word, the introduction is 1/4 of the book and it just DRAGS on forever about nothing. No one cares about what this guy found in the attic! The setup here is so long and arduous that the story itself gets buried. I read this via serial, and even in 10-minutes-a-day chunks, it was just tortuous to get through. I understand the discussion and examination that comes from reading a book like this, but I honestly may have been turned off of all classics for life if THIS was the book I was forced to read in school. Blerg.

13 Katie Met CassidyWhen Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri
Katie is reeling from a fresh breakup when she walks into a work meeting with a handsome dude… who turns out to be Cassidy. Cassidy is obviously not a man, but a polished woman, who has embraced a masculine wardrobe and haircut. It gives her power in the boardroom, and Katie is drawn to it, in ways she wouldn’t expect. I was surprised that this LGBTQ romance was chosen as a Book of the Month last month, as it seems a bit out of their usual genre. But, overall it’s a fun little romance. I breezed through it quickly (it’s only 6ish hours on audio), much like Perri’s other book, The Assistants. This one has a little less depth than that one though, and overall I liked her first novel better.

14 Secret Book and Scone SocietyThe Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams
Cozy mystery lovers: this book is for you. I loved this novel from Ellery Adams, who I’m excited to say is part of my favorite book group. She gave away a few copies in the group. As the reviews started rolling in, I knew I needed to push this one up to the top of my TBR stack, and I wasn’t disappointed! Adams prose and setting reminds me quite a bit of the Louise Penny novels, except with a younger group of protagonists. They are fun and feisty and damaged. You’ll want to pop into Nora’s bookshop, Miracle Books, for some bibliotherapy but only after getting a scone from The Gingerbread House bakery across the street, where Hester will make you a scone based on what she gleans from her conversation with you. It’s really all so lovely. I’m looking forward to seeking out more of Ellery’s work in the future when I need a good comfort read!

15 Summer at Little Beach StreetSummer at the Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
I read this as “a book that takes place on the beach” for my summer reading challenge. Definitely should have sought out the first one (Little Beach Street Bakery), first. But this one can be read alone. And it’s much more *summer-y*. Polly is a baker in Mount Polbourne. She lives in a lighthouse. With her boyfriend Huckle. And their puffin Neil. What?
The entire novel has so many weird little details like this. But the overall story arc was fun. And the more intense action right toward the end kept me interested enough to finish. I did have to switch to audio about halfway through though. Blame the newborn, if you must, but I was falling asleep reading this even in the middle of the day.

QuickLit – June 2018

Who can believe the year is half over?! What in the world is happening? Here’s my June QuickLit roundup of 17 titles, which you can skim through at your leisure. I’m also including an update on my 2018 reading goals at the end of the post!

01 The Wedding DateThe Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
I loved that this romance combined the traditional tropes with the added white/black romance that we so often miss. And that it wasn’t just a side-detail in the story, but an actual conversation piece between the protagonists and their friends. Alexa and Drew make for a very fun meet-cute couple, and I’d definitely recommend this one as a great story as well as a bit of a steamy read.

02 Grown Up Kind of PrettyA Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Big and Mosey and Liza are all part of the same family of women. Big (Liza’s mom) had her super young, and Liza had her daughter (Mosey) super young as well. That means grandma, Big, is only about 40ish with a teenage granddaughter. Liza suffered a stroke recently and is mostly non-verbal. The story starts with an old tree in the front yard being removed, and a small baby-sized skeleton being discovered by the tree. The story unfolds via all three women’s viewpoints as they piece together their history and the mystery behind this tiny body. Jackson does a great job putting the story together, as always, revealing it slowly without the reader feeling like she’s just getting dragged along.

03 Secret GardenThe Secret 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.
Re-read in 2018 using the Serial App. It was nice to slow down and savor it. So enchanting.

04 Language of ThornsThe Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo
A collection of fairy tales in short story format, retold in ways you didn’t imagine. Bardugo pulls together familiar elements to make something totally new. You’re sitting there reading, thinking that you know how this story goes or how it will end, but you’ll nearly always be wrong. This collection is just delightful, and highly recommended.

05 Hamilton AffairThe Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs
Part of my post getting-to-see-Hamilton reading binge, this fictionalized retelling paired with the musical and the Chernow biography really helped bring Hamilton to life for me! Cobbs is a historian by trade, so much of the novel is based on actual fact, while it gets novelized through the day-to-day details that we can guess at, but are impossible to know for sure. I thought she did a wonderful job weaving his story together in a totally readable way, and would definitely recommend this one as a great option for people who want more Hamilton in their lives but aren’t ready to commit to the giant Chernow tome. 🙂

06 Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
This is SO worth diving into for Hamilton fans and history fans and biography fans. There are, of course, long periods of history that hold very little interest for those of us that aren’t total nerds about it, but this biography condenses even the driest parts into easily-digestible pieces that leave you wanting more. These 800+ pages (32 hours audio) just flew by, in that I was totally okay with Hamilton taking over my life for a week. It’s so easy to get sucked into his story and so easy to understand why Miranda read this and decided it was time for a Hamilton-inspired fever to sweep the nation.

07 Perfect MotherThe Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
The Perfect Mother kind of feels like a story you’ve already read before, I’ll bet. A mommy group decides it’s FINALLY time for a night out on the town, and while they are out one of the mommies has their baby abducted from her home while the sitter sleeps on the couch. It’s horrifying and traumatizing, as a mommy expecting a baby, especially (makes me even more thankful to have a multi-year relationship with a sitter we really trust!). Molloy builds the chapters and the story in a predictable way, but then there’s a twist you (or at least, I) didn’t expect, which really is the part that makes this book worth it. Either way though, it’s a quick read because it keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what happened.

08 Coming CleanComing Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines
This is basically a journal of Haines first 90 days of sobriety, and he doesn’t promise it’ll be pretty or get all wrapped up in a bow or even have a plot. But it does have an overarching theme as Seth struggles with his faith, his ability to trust in a God that would allow his baby boy to be so sickly, his desire to drown the fear and anxiety with alcohol. There are some deep faith questions asked and (sort of) answered in this book. It is so worth a read. I’m sad that I let it languish on my Kindle for so long, but glad I finally picked it up for a summer reading challenge!

09 Kiss QuotientThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
I spent entirely too much time blushing in front of my kids as The Kiss Quotient played through my earbuds today and yesterday. I don’t usually “do” romance, but I loved the premise of this one and it did NOT disappoint!
Stella is a brilliant Econometrician (is that even a thing? It’s definitely a job I’ve never heard of!) who has Asperger’s. Her mom is pushing for marriage and grandkids, but dating and sex are *awkward* on many levels. She hires an escort, Michael, to essentially show her the ropes.
Even if it was a bit steamier than I usually reach for, I’m going to heartily recommend this one as a summer heartthrob. Maybe don’t buddy read it with your… Mom though (insert awkward giggling here).

10 DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
Buddy read with a bunch of book club friends. Plum is an overweight woman who works for a fashion magazine answering emails. She is scheduled for an extreme weight loss surgery in just a few weeks and dreaming of her post-fat body, when everything gets turned upside-down. First, she is approached by Leda, who passed along a copy of the book Dietland, an expose on the empire created by a woman named Varina, who pioneered the “skinny woman bursts through a picture of her fat self” movement. The situation spirals from there, as Plum is taken under the wing of Varina’s daughter and encouraged to re-think her surgery plans. All this is happening while a female revolution is taking place, led by an elusive and generic “Jennifer”. The whole book is just a bit crazy overall but gives you so much to think about with regard to body image, fat-shaming, diet culture, and the feminist movement.

11 CalypsoCalypso by David Sedaris
He’s back and better than ever! I was SO glad to power through this collection of stories while laughing so hard I wiped tears from my eyes. Definitely recommended on audio (one story was recorded at a show I WAS AT! So that was fun), as Sedaris’ voice really brings his words to life! Even having heard some of these stories before when he read them aloud the last time I saw them, I just couldn’t get enough. The one about road rage just had me dying all over again. And the Fitbit encouragement to move made my side hurt. Just read it, really. It’s worth your time and your giggles, I promise.

12 Monsoon MansionMonsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes
This story feels unbelievable at times. Like, can this all have really happened? But Cinelle Barnes admits right at the beginning that, like most memoirs, some characters may have been combined and some details may have been changed, and childhood memory isn’t always the most reliable, but this is a real memoir with real stories about her childhood in the Phillippines. And it doesn’t disappoint in terms of drama, suspense, and even horror at the atrocities she faced growing up in a crumbling mansion as her parents fell from riches to despair. I found this read totally compelling, and wasn’t really ready to let it go at the end.

13 Their Eyes Were Watching GodTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Although this seems right up my alley, I just could not get myself into the story. I mostly felt like I just wanted everything to turn out right sooner rather than later for Janie, our protagonist, and then be done. Instead, even though it’s not that long of a book, it felt like she just couldn’t catch a break and I got a bit annoyed instead of developing compassion for her life and circumstances. Bummer, because it’s a classic and I wanted to love it!

14 Pretty BabyPretty Baby by Mary Kubica
Overall, I found this to be a solid psychological thriller from Mary Kubica, and definitely got sucked into the story. She weaves it together in a masterful way, which leaves you guessing from one minute to the next how it all comes together, and when the sh*t is going to hit the fan in every which way. Heidi sees Willow on the train platform a few days in a row, notices she has a baby with her and is bleeding-heart enough to invite her into her home. Her husband doesn’t know what to think; her teenage daughter is standoffish and defensive, per usual; but Heidi is just thrilled to have a baby in the house again. We know from the outset that something weird is going to happen or has happened, but it takes 300 pages to really start piecing it together.

15 Read-Aloud FamilyThe Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie
My first purchase of 2018 for myself! I decided to get around my book-buying ban by calling this a “homeschool resource” because I was assured that I’d be referring to it again and again, so it’s more like a reference book. I imagine my enablers will be happy to know that they are correct. Sarah Mackenzie’s wisdom from her podcast on this topic has been artfully distilled down into this book, to the tune of me wanting to buy 10 more copies so I just have them on hand for everyone I know. Especially the people who ask me about how I got my own kiddos so addicted to reading and how they want to change the reading culture in their own homes but don’t know how. (What? You don’t have these conversations??). Sarah has all kinds of knowledge as to how to incorporate reading, how to get your kids to fall in love with reading, what to do with audiobooks or late readers, why it’s important to keep reading aloud even to your teens, what to do with fidgety listeners, and even how to ask good questions about the books your kids are reading in order to create a book club culture in your home. Finally, book lists at the end (20 titles for each of 4 age ranges) will enable you to start building your personal collection in a meaningful and intentional way. The whole thing is just gold.

16 Ramona BlueRamona Blue by Julie Murphy
Ramona Blue is our title character in this YA novel from Julie Murphy. I’ve loved her other books, so I may have gone into this one with slightly over-elevated hopes, which is why it didn’t get another 5 star rating from me. But, overall it’s a solid story about a teenage girl about to graduate from High School in a small town, where she is one of only a handful of gay teens in town. Her childhood summer friend moves to town for his senior year and they basically meet up to mourn their summer girlfriends gone awry. You see where this is going, right? Yeah, so did I. But it’s still a cute story, and a plenty fun “Pride Month Read”.

17 I Will Always Write BackI Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda
Although I spent a solid 30% of this book being super annoyed with middle-grade and teenage Caitlin ( I get it, you’re a typical American, self-obsessed teenager), I definitely understand why it was put together the way it was. It really takes the time to show us that this pen pal project wasn’t about stoking a fire that already existed for a third-world country and its inhabitants. It really did change the lives of both of these young people for the better. I dare you to try to read or listen to this exchange (audio was fantastic) without crying by the end.

2018 Reading Goals Check-In:

Goal: Read 200 books in 2018
Status: I had finished 125 before July 1st. That means I’m ahead on my goal, but I’m also due with baby #4 ANY DAY NOW, so we’ll see how that affects the rest of the year!

Goal: Read enough from your shelves that they all fit on one shelf
Status: I can fit all my physical TBR books on one shelf in our bedroom! Yay! According to Goodreads, I have finished 61 books from my shelves this year, which is almost half. I’m happy with that progress!

Goal: No buying any new books during 2018
Status: As noted above, I did purchase a book for myself this year. So, just the one. And I justified it as a “homeschool resource”. It’s not a novel! I do have a number of favorites already from the year that are going on my “to buy in 2019” list!

Goal: Read longer books than last year
Status: Last year, I felt like I gravitated toward shorter books sometimes in order to get my “books read” number up higher. I ended the year with an average pages/book stat of 304. Currently, my average pages/book for 2018 is at 333 pages, so I’m doing well on this. I’m also SLOWLY working through a couple tomes that should push this up even higher, so I’m happy with this progress!

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?).


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!