What I Read and Loved in October 2019

Photo by Lyndon Li on Unsplash

How is it nearly the middle of November? I don’t understand how this happened. The last thing I knew, it was September. Then I blinked, and suddenly it’s November. October was a busy blur, but I managed to read five books, four of which I enjoyed. 

I’ve missed writing in this space, but I did have two new posts (here and here) go up on Teen Services Underground in case you’re interested. 

What I Read

The need book cover

The Need by Helen Phillips

Despite all the positive buzz The Need has been getting, this is the October read I didn’t like. My impression of the novel was that it’s a domestic thriller about a woman who comes face to face with an intruder in her home. While that’s how the story begins, things turn speculative and science fiction-y very quickly. If you like that type of fiction, I think you’d probably enjoy this book. I don’t, however, so The Need didn’t work for me. 

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God by Sarah Bessey

There are few spiritual writers I respect as much as Sarah Bessey. She addresses complicated and occasionally controversial religious matters with such grace and nuance. In this book, Bessey recounts the terrifying car accident that filled her body with pain and her mind with thoughts of God’s absence. The vulnerability Bessey displays while working through physical and emotional trauma is commendable, and reminds readers who struggle with faith that they’re not alone. Anyone who feels as if their version of God might be too small will find a lot to love here. 

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

I’ve been a fan of Leslie Jamison since her first nonfiction book, a collection of essays called The Empathy Exams. I liked that book and ended up loving her next release, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath even more. This latest essay collection solidified Jamison as one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her prose is just gorgeous. As with any collection, there were a couple of essays that fell flat for me, but overall, I loved this book, especially the essays toward the end focused on Jamison’s family and transition to becoming a stepmother. 

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Riley Sager is the perfect October author. His books are creepy without being too scary for gore-phobic folks like me. This latest thriller is about a jobless and recently single young woman named Jules trying to make it in NYC. When she sees an ad looking for apartment sitters to stay in one of the city’s most famous buildings, she can’t believe she’ll be paid to live in luxury for three months. Even though she’d heard disturbing rumors about the building and its residents, Jules doesn’t believe they’re true, at least not at first. Thriller fans will enjoy this fast-paced tale about a woman in over her head.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

I closely followed the headlines of the #MeToo movement when it first emerged, reading the articles about Harvey Weinstein by Kantor and Twohey, along with the New Yorker piece by Ronan Farrow. I was curious about this book, but wasn’t sure I’d gain much insight from it since I felt I knew the story well already. While it’s true that I didn’t necessarily learn much that I didn’t previously know, I’m glad I read She Said because it reveals the bravery and strength of the women who shared their stories. Though most of the book focuses on the build up to the explosive Weinstein article, Kantor and Twohey also write about Christine Blasey Ford and the Kavanaugh hearing. My favorite part of the book came toward the end in which the authors describe a meeting they hosted between Ford, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, and several  non-celebrities who all shared their stories of assault with each other over the course of a weekend. The book is worth picking up for that powerful story alone. 

What I Loved

PODCAST: Office Ladies

The Office is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s one that I can watch over and over again, especially the first four seasons. I was so excited when I heard that two of its stars were starting a podcast about the show called Office Ladies. Each week on the podcast, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey recap an Office episode, offer fun behind the scenes info, and share their memories from that time in their lives. I’m loving the show so far, and think any Office fans will, too.

BEAUTY: RMS Beauty Wild With Desire Lipstick in Temptation

This lipstick is like autumn in a tube. Though the shade is described as a “classic pinky-mauve,” I find that it goes on deeper than it appears. It’s moisturizing and lasts for hours. I want this entire line of lipsticks now.

GADGET: iPhone 11

Before I got this phone, I was still using an iPhone 6. We had a lot of good times together, but its 16 GB of storage space and the always-near-death battery just weren’t working for me anymore. My new and shiny phones holds a charge all day long (!), has plenty of room for my music, photos, and podcasts (!), and makes me feel as if I’m living in the future thanks to the facial recognition feature. I feel so fancy now.


That’s it for me! What did you read and love in October?

Reading Recap | May 2019

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

April was a rough month, so I only managed to read one book. I made up for it this month, though, and read eight. It feels so good to be back into my reading groove, and several of the books I finished in May are fantastic. Let’s get to them.

Normal People book cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Connell and Marianne attend school together but are in different social circles. Connell actually has a social circle, but Marianne is the odd loner. She comes from a wealthy family, and Connell’s mother is their housekeeper. While Marianne and Connell would never speak to each other in school, they start talking when Connell comes over to pick up his mom. They quickly enter an on-again, off-again relationship which Normal People chronicles over many years.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Sally Rooney writes excellent dialog; I thoroughly enjoyed Connell and Marianne’s conversations. I also appreciated Rooney’s sympathetic treatment of mental illness in this novel.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

People who enjoy character-driven literary fiction will like this book a lot.

Book Love book cover

Book Love by Debbie Tung
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Book Love is a graphic novel that reads like a love letter to books and reading.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The illustrations are lovely, and the author’s enthusiasm for books is contagious.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Book lovers will find a friend in Debbie Tung and will enjoy this brief, sweet book.

The New Me book cover

The New Me by Halle Butler
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Millie is thirty and struggling. She can’t hold down a job and has to use a temp agency. Her only friend treats her terribly. She has to rely on her parents for financial support, and her mother warns her that the end of it is coming soon. When Millie gets assigned to work in a trendy new office, she hopes to become a permanent staff member and that hope fuels her longing for reinvention.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Halle Butler has written a character who isn’t exactly likeable (*gasp!*), but who I was rooting for anyway. This is a slim, quick read, but has a lot of great things to say about image, consumerism, and feeling stuck in life.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Readers who enjoy quirky characters and satire will probably enjoy The New Me the most.

I'll be there for you book cover

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

I’ll Be There for You tells the story of Friends, one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of the ’90s and early 2000s. Kelsey Miller talks about things like what life was like for the cast members before Friends, what led to the show’s creation, and how the cast rallied together for equal pay.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Whether you’re a huge fan of the show or not, this book is an interesting read that sheds light on why Friends became such a big deal. I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know, but I wanted a light book and this book delivered.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Fans of the show and pop culture enthusiasts will get the most out of this book.

southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Southern Lady Code is a humorous essay collection about womanhood, friendship, and life in New York City when you have southern roots.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I knew that Helen Ellis is hilarious because I read and enjoyed her collection of short stories, American Housewife, but Southern Lady Code exceeded all of my expectations. It’s witty, but has some sweet, heartfelt moments, too.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Fans of David Sedaris and Nora Ephron will find a lot to love in this book.

The White Album by Joan Didion
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

The White Album is a collection of Didion’s essays from the late 1960s and ’70s.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I’ve always been interested in this time period, so I like the historical aspect of the book. I had a hard time connecting with most of these essays, though. This is the first Didion book I’ve read, so I think my expectations were too high.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Even though I didn’t care for this book much myself, Didion is beloved by many readers who probably adore this collection.

Interior States by Meghan O’Gieblyn
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Interior States is an essay collection about religion and culture in the Midwest.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Just like with The White Album, I think my high expectations for this book left me a bit disappointed. I love religion writing and I’m from the Midwest, so this book seemed right up my alley. While I did enjoy several of the essays, I was hoping for more depth regarding O’Gieblyn’s faith journey. While she does address it throughout the book, her reasons for leaving Christianity behind were glossed over a bit too quickly for me. It turns out I was more interested in her story than in the Midwest’s story.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

If you’re interested in religion and its cultural impact, you might really like this book.

State of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts by Nick Hornby
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Louise and Tom have just started attending marriage counseling thanks to some infidelity and lack of communication. Before they head into their weekly sessions, they meet at a pub across the street for a drink and talk about their relationship. This book includes ten of those conversations.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I’ve read a lot of books by Nick Hornby, and he’s one of those authors who I know will deliver an interesting read infused with humor, even when the book is about a serious topic. That combo is precisely what I got here in his latest release. This short book is mostly just dialog, which Hornby writes exceptionally well. I could have read many more conversations between Tom and Louise.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

If you’re like me and enjoy books that give you a inside look at a complicated marriage, I think you’ll really like this.


May’s Blog Posts

Reading Recap | April 2019

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Today’s reading recap is the shortest one yet since I only read one book in April. It was a stressful month for a lot of reasons, including this one, so I didn’t have the mental capacity to read like I normally do.

The book I managed to finish is one I’d been looking forward to reading for months, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s about mental health which is perfect since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is a subject I care a lot about since I’ve struggled with anxiety and phobias throughout my life and know many other people who have walked that road, too. Thanks to medication and a stint in therapy, my anxiety is under control. Hope and healing are possible.

And now, the recap!

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

This book is a candid account of Heather B. Armstrong’s struggle with suicidal depression and the medical treatment that saved her life. Armstrong’s doctor referred to her a clinical study at the height of her illness, and she decided to go for it since it seemed like her only hope. During the trial, Armstrong received anesthesia ten times until she was nearly brain dead, an experience she compares to shutting down a computer in an attempt to get it working again. The results of the procedures are astounding and fascinating.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

If you read Armstrong’s blog, you’ll know she’s capable of being hilarious, profane, and deeply poignant all in the same paragraph. Her trademark style is present here, but the book is cohesive and structured well throughout. Armstrong makes complex medical information easy to understand and shows incredible vulnerability when describing her struggle to live a happy life. The love she feels for her mother and two daughters is beautiful to witness. You’ll be rooting for her on each page.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

Anyone interested in mental health or those who have been affected by depression.


April’s Blog Posts

Reading Recap | March 2019

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

March was a fantastic reading month for me. I read seven books, and three of them received 5-star ratings. This post is long enough since I have many books to share, so let’s jump right in.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Effia and Esi are half-sisters born in Ghana during the 18-century, and Homegoing is the story of their descendants through the modern day. Each chapter reads like a short story about a different character.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

Everything. I marvel at how Yaa Gyasi fit so much depth and history into a relatively short novel. Each chapter is well-written and full of characters who are stuck in impossible circumstances. I’d heard nothing but good things about this book, so I thought there was no way it could live up to the hype. I’m glad I was wrong. Homegoing exceeded all my expectations. It’s a stunning accomplishment, especially considering it is Gyasi’s debut.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Everyone, especially those who enjoy epic stories set over a long time period.

I Found You book cover

I Found You by Lisa Jewell
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

I Found You tells the story of a single mom who finds a strange man with memory loss on the beach outside her home, a new bride whose husband has just vanished, and two teenage kids on a family vacation that went wrong twenty years prior. The less you know about the plot of this book going in, the better your reading experience will be.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

The vague plot outline I described above might not sound like it should work, but Lisa Jewell combines those three stories in ways that are consistently suspenseful, surprising, and ultimately satisfying. This is the first book I’ve read by Jewell, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

Most suspense fans will enjoy this, as long as they’re okay with flashbacks.

Daisy Jones & the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

The Six are rising rock and roll stars in the late 1960s. Daisy Jones is a singer/songwriter who’s trying to get her voice heard. When Daisy performs with the Six one night, the chemistry she has with the band’s lead singer Billy Dunne is electric enough to make her a permanent part of the group. Daisy Jones and The Six tells the story of the band through all their highs and lows as they experience addiction, love, and fame like they never dared to imagine.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote this novel as an oral history, and that structure makes it seem more like a documentary than fiction. I suspected I’d like this book, but what I didn’t predict was that it would be such a page-turner. Billy and Daisy are captivating protagonists, but each band member has an individual storyline and unique identity. This book inspired a blog post all about my favorite books about music.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

I think this story has wide appeal, but literary fiction fans who appreciate nostalgia will be especially captivated by this story.

Before she knew him book cover

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

Hen and her husband Lloyd have recently purchased a house in the suburbs. Their neighbors Mira and Matthew invite them over for dinner, hoping to make some new friends. During a tour of the house, Hen spots a trophy in Matthew’s office that she’s sure is connected to a man who was murdered several years back. Due to her bipolar disorder and previous trouble with the law, no one believes Hen when she tries to convince them that Matthew isn’t who he seems to be.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

I’ve read a lot of thrillers, and Before She Knew Him is more original than most. The suspense in this book doesn’t come from the usual “whodunnit” question, but from wondering about motive, former victims, and who might be next. In addition to all the twists, this novel also has interesting things to say about mental illness and how it affects female credibility.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

Thriller fans looking for something different will enjoy this novel.

The cassandra book cover

The Cassandra by Sharma Shields
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

Mildred is a young woman living with her verbally abusive mother in a small Washington state town during World War II. When Mildred gets the chance to leave and begin work at the Hanford Research Center, she’s thrilled to start her own life and help the US win the war. She becomes a secretary for a physicist whose work is top secret. But Mildred has these terrifying visions about what it is they’re really doing at Hanford and suspects how it’s all going to end.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

Mildred is a strong character who I was always rooting for throughout this novel. The Cassandra has a feminist perspective that is wonderful to see in historical fiction.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

This novel is loosely based on the Greek myth of Cassandra, so if you know and like that story, this book might be worth checking out. Historical fiction lovers who like stories with a lot of grit will probably enjoy this, too. (I was unfamiliar with the myth and don’t reach for a lot of historical fiction, so I was definitely not the target audience for this story.)

How the Bible Actually Works book cover

How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Books Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers–and Why That’s Great News by Peter Enns
Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

The Bible is often presented as an answer book for all of life’s questions. In How the Bible Actually Works, Peter Enns argues that what the Bible offers isn’t an index of answers, but is a collection of stories about how those seeking God found wisdom and how modern-day believers can find it, too.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Peter Enns is one of my favorite biblical scholars, and this book is an excellent example of why. Enns is as funny as he is knowledgable which means that when he writes about the history of the Bible, it’s not only educational but also immensely entertaining. This book is filled with some challenging concepts, but they’re presented so that those of us who don’t have PhDs from Harvard (like Enns does) can understand them.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

Progressive Christians who are looking for ways to read the Bible with fresh eyes will enjoy this book a lot.

The Child Finder book cover

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

Naomi is a woman with a dark past who uses her tragedy to help other people. She’s known as the Child Finder, and in this novel, she’s working to find a little girl who disappeared in a snowy Oregon forest three years earlier. The child’s parents still believe there’s hope, even though the situation seems dim. As Naomi works to find the missing girl, she has nightmares about what happened to her years ago and starts to piece together some of the memories of her story that she’d forgotten.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I love books with a strong sense of place, and Rene Denfeld has undoubtedly created that with The Child Finder. The icy and snowy setting of the mysterious forest would make this a perfect winter read. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Naomi and her story. She’s a strong woman who is committed to the truth and bringing closure to desperate families.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

This novel addresses child abuse head on, so keep that in mind if that’s a triggering subject matter for you. Otherwise, I think people who appreciate good, dark suspense novels will really like this book.


Have you read any of these books? What was the best book you read in March?


March blog posts:

Reading Recap | February 2019

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

February was another good reading month for me. I read five books and liked all of them. I own three of the books I read, so I’m thrilled my owned books outranked my library books this time around. Yay for reading goal progress!

Spoken from the heart book cover

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Spoken from the Heart is a memoir by the former first lady about her childhood in Texas, her early career as a teacher and librarian, her husband’s early political aspirations, and the eight years she spent in the White House.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

Last month I read and loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and what I liked so much about that book is here, too. All of the political stuff is wonderfully interesting, but I also enjoyed learning about Bush’s life growing up. I certainly relate to her passion for literature and libraries and admire her journey from someone who was promised she’d never have to give a speech to someone speaking out on the world stage on behalf of women and girls around the world.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

People who are interested in politics will be the best audience for this book.

The Dreamers book cover

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

A freshman girl falls asleep in her bed and doesn’t wake up. And then it happens to another girl in her dorm. And then it happens to another one. Soon there’s an epidemic and doctors can’t figure it out. The patients aren’t dead; they’re breathing and dreaming, but nothing can wake them up. Chaos and panic soon run amok in the small, idyllic Southern California town where sleep is to be feared.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

The Dreamers is a page-turner. The plot is fascinating, the characters are well-developed, and I never knew what was going to happen next. In addition to all that, the writing is quite lovely.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

I’d recommend this to literary fiction fans who appreciate unique tales.

The Fire This Time book cover

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

The Fire This Time is a nod to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a classic examination of race. Using that as inspiration, Ward has put together a collection of essays and poems about what life is like for people of color in modern America.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

Ward recruited some wonderful writers for this collection, such as Claudia Rankine, Natasha Tretheway, and Kiese Laymon. As with most essay collections, some pieces are better than others. That’s true with this book, but the good essays easily outnumber ones I thought were mediocre.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

People interested in race and social justice will be inspired by this book.

The Lost Man book cover

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Nathan is the oldest of three brothers. Right before Christmas, his middle brother Cameron is found dead. Like Nathan, Cam had spent his entire life in the Australian outback, so he knew the risks and how to survive the oppressive heat. The family questions the circumstances of his death and eventually face a disturbing rumor about Cam’s past. Meanwhile, Nathan is forced to confront his grieving mother, the widowed sister-in-law he always avoids, and the terrible memory of his abusive father.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

Jane Harper might be the queen of settings. When I read her work, I feel like I’m actually in the outback, thirsty and covered in dust. Her descriptions of the landscape pull you even further into her expertly crafted mystery and family drama.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Fans of Harper’s first two books (The Dry and Force of Nature) will love The Lost Man. Mystery and suspense fans will undoubtedly be satisfied with Harper’s first standalone novel.

The Hunting Party book cover

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

A group of friends from Oxford always spend New Year’s Eve together, and 2018 is no exception. This year, Emma, the newest member of the group, has planned a getaway to a remote lodge and cabins nestled into the snowy woods. Thanks to a snowstorm, there’s no way in and no way out, so when a member of the group is found murdered, everyone knows the killer is in their midst.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

The Hunting Party has a delightfully creepy atmosphere and setting. The pacing is fantastic, and the twists are a fun surprise. This book is a highly enjoyable murder mystery.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Mystery fans who want a perfect winter read will enjoy this one.


What did you read in February? Leave a comment below and share!


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Reading Recap | January 2019

Photo by Holly Stratton on Unsplash

Hi there! I’m glad to be back. I’ve been sick with pneumonia and an unpleasant ear infection these past two weeks, so blogging was not at the top of my priority list. Taking my antibiotics and rewatching Parks and Recreation for the twelfth time held that distinction. Anyway, I’m finally feeling better, and I’m happy to be posting again.

Today I’m sharing what I read in January. I read nine books, so I’ll be brief with my thoughts on each one so it doesn’t take you thirteen hours to read this post. Let’s get started!

Garlic and sapphires book cover

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
by Ruth Reichl
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Ruth Reichl is the well-known food critic who once worked for the New York Times. This book is about when she moved to New York to start her new gig and the complications that ensued. Restaurants around the city knew who Reichl was and had her picture taped up in their kitchens. She knew she’d never be able to get fair service if the staff knew her, so she thought up several elaborate disguises in order to dine anonymously.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

This book is so much fun to read. Reichl’s passion for great food is evident on every page. I’d prefer a cheeseburger to most of the food Reichl describes in this book, but her excitement and joy when eating is contagious.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

People who love spending time in the kitchen will definitely enjoy this.

Becoming book cover

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Becoming chronicles Mrs. Obama’s life from her childhood in Chicago to the end of her husband’s administration.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

I love reading books about politics and presidents, so I knew I’d like that aspect of Becoming, but what I ended up loving most was the story of Obama’s early years. Learning how a black girl from Chicago’s south side ended up as First Lady was fascinating. I also appreciate that Obama repeatedly cites education as the key to her success.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Fans of the Obamas will love this, but readers of any political background should pick this up. Themes like family, love, and education should be universally appealing.

If beale st. could talk book cover

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Tish and Fonny are young and in love. They’re about to have a baby and start their own family when Fonny is charged and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Baldwin explores their relationship, their families, and how injustice tests everyone involved in this powerful story.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

The range of emotions I felt while reading this book is noteworthy considering its short length. Baldwin captures the sweetness between Tish and Fonny so well, which makes the idea of them torn apart deeply upsetting.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

If you’ve meant to read Baldwin or already love him, don’t miss this one.

Nothing good can come from this book cover

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

This book is a collection of essays about Kristi Coulter’s life as a sober woman. She acknowledges the seriousness of her addiction, but her writing is funny and full of wit.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

Coulter is frank about the toll addiction took on her life, yet writes about her journey with constant vulnerability infused with humor.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Goodreads says fans of David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, and Cheryl Strayed will like this, and I agree completely.

Looker book cover

Looker by Laura Sims
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

The unnamed narrator of this book is facing the loss of her marriage and is grieving over the fact she can’t conceive a child. She becomes obsessed with the actress, a famous woman who lives with her family on the same block. As the narrator’s life spirals more out of control, her obsession with the actress grows even more intense.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

The premise of this book intrigued me as soon as I heard about it, and it delivers on the tension. I wish the book had contained more depth, but it’s a fast-paced story with a satisfying ending.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

If you like suspense books with unreliable narrators, you’ll enjoy Looker.

For better and for worse book cover

For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Will and Natalie meet during law school. They eventually marry and have a son named Charlie. Their lives have grown a little dull until the principal of their son’s school—who’s a friend—is seen taken away by police due to some terrible accusations. Once they realize their son is involved, they set off a chain of events they could never have imagined.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

For Better and Worse is definitely a page-turner. Natalie is a fascinating character who keeps you guessing until the very last page.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Anyone who shares my love of thrillers and stories about complicated marriages will like this book.

Sadie book cover

Sadie by Courtney Summers
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

When Sadie is 19, her little sister Mattie is killed. She thinks she knows who’s responsible and without notice, she sets out to find the killer since the police haven’t. Meanwhile, a podcaster named West hears about the murder and Sadie’s disappearance. He puts it in the back of his mind until he gets a phone call from the woman who’s a stand-in grandma to Sadie and Mattie. She asks him to pursue the story and get some answers, so he develops a new podcast series called the Girls.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

Sadie is written in the form of the podcast and Sadie’s first-person thoughts. This style makes for a unique and effective structure that perfectly suits this suspenseful, brutal story.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Readers who don’t mind dark stories and enjoy unique narrative structures shouldn’t miss this novel.

No exit book cover

No Exit by Taylor Adams
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Darby is a college student who just found out her mom has cancer. She heads out to see her a couple of days before Christmas and gets stuck in a blizzard. She’s forced to stop at a rest stop with four strangers until the weather clears up. While walking around outside trying to get a cell signal, Darby sees something horrifying in a van parked out front: a little girl locked in a cage. Darby knows she has to save the child but doesn’t know how or who she can trust.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

No Exit offers a lot of exciting twists and turns. The bad news is that they don’t make much sense sometimes.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Fans of thrillers who don’t overthink every chapter will be most satisfied with this one.

Sugar run book cover

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

After serving almost two decades of her prison sentence, Jodi gets a surprise release. (Readers learn about Jodi’s crime through flashbacks.) Jodi’s plan is to go live in the house she inherited from her grandmother, but first, she stops to check in on the brother of the woman she used to love. During her journey, she meets Miranda, a mother of three who’s addicted to pills. Jodi and Miranda have an instant connection, and the two set out to build new lives together.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT
THIS BOOK?

What I like most about Sugar Run is the setting, which is West Virginia. I don’t recall reading anything else set there, so I enjoyed the glimpse of life in Appalachia.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

I’d recommend this book only to readers who don’t mind incredibly bleak stories. This is a tough read that grapples with things such as addiction, poverty, and violence.


I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading lately. What was the best book you read in January?


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My Favorite Books of 2018

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

I’m back after a Christmas break and am so excited to finally be sharing my favorite books of 2018. My favorites are determined by what books earned 5-star ratings from me on Goodreads. I’m stingy with my stars, so a 5-star book is one that had great prose, a strong viewpoint, and a story that stays with me. Out of the 60 books I read in 2018, only seven earned 5 stars. Five of them are 2018 releases, and two are backlist titles from the same series. Toward the end of the post, I’ll also list some honorable mentions. These titles are in random order as ranking them caused too much literary stress. Let’s get started!

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Goodreads Summary: Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer–madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place–feels her inner world light up. Then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Why this book is a favorite: This book stands out to me because the relationship that receives the primary focus isn’t Greer and Cory, but Greer and Faith. I haven’t read many books that focus on female bonds, much less a relationship that features a woman over sixty. I appreciate the feminist slant of this novel and think Wolitzer tells a compelling story. After I read this book, I wrote that it was one that would stay with me, and that’s turned out to be true.

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Goodreads Summary: If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.

When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

Why this book is a favorite: I’ve been a Sedaris fan for years, and have read all of his essay collections. I’ve enjoyed each one, but I think Calypso might be his best. I laughed out loud several times, which hardly ever happens when I’m reading. Sedaris is hilarious, but what I admire about him is his ability to write both comedy and tragedy so well, and sometimes even on the same page. Calypso stands out because of that skill.

Educated by Tara Westover

The Goodreads Summary: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Why this book is a favorite: If this book had been a novel, I would have thought the story was too outlandish. The fact that Educated is a memoir makes it powerful and unforgettable. Westover’s story is fascinating from beginning to end, and her writing is fantastic too. That combination makes for a book I could hardly put down. I finished this in a couple of days because it’s so engrossing. There’s a reason why this book has been receiving so much praise. It’s certainly deserving.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Goodreads Summary: In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Why this book is a favorite: There are skills certain authors have that astound me. One of those skills is writing a lengthy novel with a lot of fully-developed characters and another is telling a story that goes back and forth between timeliness in an effortless way that makes perfect sense. Rebecca Makkai achieved both of those feats with The Great Believers. A lot is going on in this novel, yet Makkai never lets the story get away from her. It’s a beautifully constructed novel that’s full of love, friendship, tragedy, and healing. I said these titles are presented in random order, but I think The Great Believers is my number one pick this year. It’s outstanding.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1by Tana French
The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

NoveList Summary for In the Woods: Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.

NoveList Summary for The Likeness: This novel finds Detective Cassie Maddox still scarred by her last case. When her boyfriend calls her to a chilling murder scene, Cassie is forced to face her inner demons. A young woman has been found stabbed to death outside Dublin, and the victim looks just like Cassie.

Why these books are favorites: Tana French is the best thing that happened to my reading life in 2018. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries this year, and none of them are as good as her Dublin Murder Squad series. (I’ve only read two of the six books so far. I want to savor this series.) Both Rob and Cassie are fascinating and complex protagonists. The cases in both of these books kept me guessing. French creates such a strong, moody atmosphere and sense of place, a combination that made me feel as if I’d actually been transported to Dublin. I cannot recommend these books highly enough and am looking forward to reading the next volume.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

The Goodreads summary: Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents–artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs–Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he’d become the parent she’d always wanted him to be.

Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.

Why this book is a favorite: When Small Fry first appeared on my radar, I had little desire to read it because I wasn’t interested in Steve Jobs (or so I thought). As I started reading all of the Best Of lists for 2018, I kept seeing this book pop up. My library had the ebook available, so I decided to give it a try after all. I ending up devouring this story within a couple of days. Lisa Brennan-Jobs tells a complex and moving story from beginning to end, and it’s her story, not the story of Steve Jobs. I’m always interested in how relationships work, and the tumultuous bond between Lisa and her father is one I won’t forget. If you like memoirs, don’t miss this one. It’s heartfelt, vulnerable, and compulsively readable. I loved it.

Other Books I Enjoyed This Year

  • Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  • The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French
  • Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

And Now a Little Something for the Stats Nerds

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: These numbers don’t surprise me. I’ve always read a bit more fiction than nonfiction.

Formats: Though I really do enjoy audiobooks, my number is so low this year because I’ve been opting for podcasts instead. I got a Kindle Paperwhite this past year, so the high number of ebooks has a lot to do with how much I enjoy that device.

Books I Own vs. the Library: Since I work for libraries, the library number is always high. One of my goals for 2019 is to read more of my own books, though. I’d like to see that number be 50% or higher next year.


That’s it from me this year. In case you missed it, my reading goals for 2019 can be seen here. If you like what you see on this site, please make sure to share it. Thanks for reading!


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