Literary Superlatives: The Books Most Likely To. . .

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One of my favorite things to do is make lists. I like to make lists of anything and everything. I especially enjoy lists that include additional lists. Welcome to this blog post, which features ten bookish categories and six recommendations per group. This post was a delight to write and reminded me of many of my favorite reads. I hope this is as fun for you to read as it was for me to put together. Enjoy the superlatives!

Most Likely to Make You Cry

A little life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Moving to New York to pursue creative ambitions, four former classmates share decades marked by love, loss, addiction and haunting elements from a brutal childhood.

I rarely cry when I read, but I sobbed like a baby when I finished this book. Yanagihara’s real, deeply sympathetic characters earned my compassion and empathy. I felt like I was in a daze for a while after finishing A Little Life. I’m thankful for books like this that leave a mark.

For more tear-jerkers, try:

  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Most Likely to Change Your Mind

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

From the National Book Award–winning author comes a bracingly original approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves. Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

When I started seeing the word “antiracist,” I assumed it referred to someone who wasn’t racist. After reading How to Be an Antiracist, I realized antiracism is much more than a position or belief system. Antiracism is about our actions and decisions determining our way of being. There’s a reason this book has appeared on many recent book lists featuring Black voices.

For more blow-your-mind books, try:

  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

Most Likely to Make You Laugh

Southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

A riotous collection of essays on the art of living as a “Southern Lady” that explores subjects ranging from marriage and manners to women’s health and entertaining.

Helen Ellis is from Alabama but moves to New York City with her husband. The essays in this collection discuss how she assimilates to NYC while keeping her Southern roots. The mark of a good humor book is that it makes me laugh out loud, and this one did that repeatedly.

For more funny books, try:

  • Calypso by David Sedaris
  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
  • Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
  • One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Most Likely to Open Your Eyes

Random family book cover

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Follows two teenagers coming of age in the midst of the Bronx drug trade as they experience budding sexuality, teen parenthood, and gang identity in a social examination of the challenges of family life in the face of violence.

This book opened my eyes to many things, but the most impactful thing was finally realizing how poverty is the root of so much trauma and pain. This book is a difficult one to read, but I’m thankful I read it. I think about the characters a lot and often wonder what their lives look like today. (This book was published in 2004.)

For more eye-opening books, try:

  • Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
  • Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Most Likely to Inspire You

Becoming book cover

Becoming by Michelle Obama

An intimate memoir by the former First Lady chronicles the experiences that have shaped her remarkable life, from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago through her setbacks and achievements in the White House.

Becoming is one of those rare books that I want to hand to every high school student I work with at my schools. Obama’s passion for education and her drive to succeed should make this book required reading for any student.

For more inspiring memoirs and biographies, try:

  • Educated by Tara Westoever
  • I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
  • Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon
  • First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
  • Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

Most Likely to Keep You Reading
All Night Long

The guest list book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

An expertly planned celebrity wedding between a rising television star and an ambitious magazine publisher is thrown into turmoil by petty jealousies, a college drinking game, the bride’s ruined dress and an untimely murder.

For this category, I looked for books I read in just a day or two. This thriller is the most recent addition to that list. I love many things about The Guest List, including the twists, but the star of the show is the setting: an abandoned island that’s rumored to be haunted. 

For more unputdownable books, try:

  • Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
  • The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
  • The Dry by Jane Harper
  • The Lies We Told by Camilla Way
  • The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

Most Likely to Keep Your Book Club Talking for Hours

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Add this to the list of the books that I want to hand out to everyone. No other books have opened my eyes to the horrors of slavery the way this book did. Though slavery is a thread running through the stories in this novel, Homegoing is full of love and hope. There is so much to talk about thanks to the book’s long list of characters. 

For more book-club-friendly books, try:

  • Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Most Likely to Encourage You

Miracles and other reasonable things book cover

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

The author tells her story of recovering from a traffic accident and how this experience changed everything she believed about God.

Sometimes I need a pep talk, and this book provided one. It’s also one of the most beautifully written and compelling stories I’ve read in a long time.

For more encouraging books, try:

  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
  • Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair by Anne Lamott
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  • The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

Most Likely to Surprise You

Behind her eyes book cover

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

The secretary of a successful psychiatrist is drawn into the seemingly picture-perfect life of her boss and his wife before discovering a complex web of controlling behaviors and secrets that gradually reveal profound and dangerous flaws in the couple’s relationship.

I can’t think of another ending that surprised me as much as the one in Behind Her Eyes. While this book isn’t my favorite thriller, it is the one that kept me frantically turning pages until the last twist. Sometimes–like when there’s a global pandemic happening–that’s all I want. 

For more surprising books, try:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Most Likely to Make You Feel
Warm and Fuzzy Inside

We met in December book cover

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis

An American, Jess, follows her dream and moves to London where she becomes enmeshed in a love triangle with Alex and Emma all who live as housemates in a grand, Notting Hill house share.

Warm and fuzzy stories are what I read the least, but sometimes I need a palette cleanser for the more substantial stories I gravitate toward in my reading life. We Met in December is a lovely book with a feel-good story. It was the perfect Christmas break book and one I can see myself revisiting when I want a sweet tale.

For more warm and fuzzy books, try:

  • One Day in December by Josie Silver
  • How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
  • Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

What I Read and Loved in July 2020

Photo by Corey Agopian on Unsplash

Despite the stress and mental exhaustion from living during a global pandemic, July went by quickly. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m more than okay with it. I celebrated my birthday, my mother’s birthday, and my grandmother’s 96th birthday. I also watched Hamilton (along with everyone else, I think), and it blew me away and basically turned me into a new peron. More on that later. 

Because of the aforementioned stress and mental exhaustion, I preferred television and music to books throughout July, though I did finish four titles (and am in the middle of reading this one). But before I talk about that stuff, let’s talk about the books!

What I Read

Bring me back book cover

Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris

Finn and Layla are driving home from vacation when they stop at a service station. Finn gets out of the car to use the restroom, and when he returns, Layla has vanished for good. Ten years later, Finn has moved on and has fallen in love with Layla’s sister, Ellen. They’re engaged, and once they made that news public, things from Layla’s past started showing up, including clues that Layla herself might be alive and closer than they think. 

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Though there’s a lack of character development, Bring Me Back is gripping and held my attention, and that’s where my compliments end. The ridiculously unbelievable ending ruined this entire book for me and made me wish I hadn’t read it. I can’t remember another conclusion that I hated as much as I hated this one. I wanted to throw this book across the room, go pick it up, set it on fire, and then bury its ashes in the backyard. Since it was a library book, I opted to return it instead. If you’ve read this, what did you think of the ending?

Dear Martin book cover

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce is a Black teen with a bright future ahead. He attends an elite school and is bound for an Ivy League college. When Justyce goes to help an ex-girlfriend who’s intoxicated, the police approach and assume Justyce is trying to steal her car. He’s handcuffed for hours. This incident brings to the surface issues like police brutality, racism, and belonging that Justcye tries to process by writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Martin is a slim YA book that I read in one day. Nic Stone has so much to offer her readers in its pages. Justyce is a compelling, profoundly sympathetic lead character whose questions are more timely now than ever. This novel is one I would hand to any teen who likes realistic fiction, and I think it would be especially great for reluctant readers. 

Home before dark book cover

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie is the daughter of Ewan Holt, the author of the bestselling book House of Horrors in which he tells what he claims is the true story of the few days his family spent living in Baneberry Hall. Ewan’s book recounts the strange and spooky events that led his family to leave the house behind in the middle of the night, without possessions or looking back. Maggie feels as if this book has defined her life, and she hates it. 

When Ewan dies, Maggie realizes he never sold Baneberry Hall. She has a business in which she restores old homes, so Maggie heads to the property to fix it up and maybe even get some answers for what she knows are her father’s lies. When strange things start happening, Maggie wonders if House of Horrors contains more truth than she thought. 

Riley Sager is one of my favorite contemporary writers. His thrillers are consistently addictive, and Home Before Dark is no different. The novel is a book within a book; chapters alternate between Maggie’s point of view and passages from House of Horrors. I almost had to put this book in the freezer, so I think this novel creeps closer to horror than any of Sager’s previous work (except for maybe Final Girls). If you’re a Sager fan or just need a good thriller to keep you occupied, don’t miss this one.

The Dilemma by B. A. Paris

Even though I was still angry at B. A. Paris for Bring Her Back, I couldn’t say no to this title when OverDrive told me my library hold was available. One of the reasons I couldn’t say no was because my Kindle was right next to me, and I didn’t want to get up to grab anything else. Anyway. 

The Dilemma revolves around Livia and Adam, a happily married couple with two adult children. Livia is about to turn 40, and she’s throwing herself the lavish birthday party she’s been dreaming of and planning since her 20s. There’s a secret Livia knows about, though, that’s weighing on her. And on the day of her party, Adam is carrying a secret of his own that might change everything. 

I knew nothing about this book going in, and that was for the best. The Dilemma is more of a family drama than a thriller like Paris’s other books, yet I still found myself getting nervous and holding my breath in certain parts. If you need a good escapist read, I think this novel will be just the thing. I couldn’t put it down and have forgiven B. A. Paris.

What I Loved

MOVIE/THEATER: Hamilton

I’ve wanted to see Hamilton as long as I’ve known about it. When I found out it would be streaming on Disney+, I heard choruses of angels singing as glee filled my heart. Despite that, I tried to keep my expectations reasonable. I thought there was no chance that Hamilton could live up to the hype. I’m thrilled to say I was wrong. These words will probably sound hyperbolic, but watching Hamilton was one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve ever had with a piece of art. I was in awe from the first second to the final gasp.

MUSIC: Folklore, Taylor Swift

God bless Taylor Swift for making the album I didn’t know I needed. I’ve listened to Folklore on repeat since its surprise release and find it incredibly soothing, fascinating, and lovely. My heart has a soft spot for 1989, but I think Folklore might be Swift’s best work yet. 

MOVIE: Palm Springs (Streaming on Hulu)

Palm Springs is a surprisingly sweet and funny romcom starring Andy Samberg (Nyles) and Cristin Milioti (Sarah). Nyles, a guest at a wedding, finds himself in a time loop in which he experiences the wedding day over and over again. He’s drawn to Sarah, the maid of honor, and wonders what forever might look like with her. I enjoyed this film immensely.

MOVIE: Troop Zero (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Troop Zero is such a sweet little gem of a movie. McKenna Grace plays a girl who’s lost her mother and is obsessed with outer space. When she hears about an opportunity for Birdie Scouts to record their voice on NASA’s Golden Record, nothing will stop her from taking her shot (Hamilton reference for the win!). The film also stars Viola Davis, Allison Janney, and Jim Gaffigan. Its cast and earnestness make Troop Zero a delight.

The baby-sitters club poster

TELEVISION: The Baby-Sitters Club (Streaming on Netflix)

I was unprepared for how much I was going to love this show. I was obsessed with The Baby-Sitters Club as a kid and would read any of the books I could get my hands on. (I still have my collection because I can’t bear to part with it.) I knew the characters as well as I knew myself. Thankfully, this new show keeps all the characteristics of my beloved babysitters yet modernizes them and the books’ plots for today’s audience. I’m eagerly awaiting season two. 


That’s it for me. What did you read and love in July?

What I Read and Loved in June 2019

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I’m finally on summer vacation from work. So far, my days have included a lot of sleeping, lounging, reading, TV-watching, and general laziness. I cannot recommend these things enough.

I’m excited to share what I read in June, but I’ve decided to switch up these monthly recaps a bit. In addition to the books I read, I also want to include things I loved throughout the month, whether it’s a podcast or a recipe. I’d love for you to share your favorite things too in the comments below.

Let’s get going.

What I Read

The Ruins book cover

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan
Rating: 4/5

When Irish detective Cormac Reilly first started his career twenty years ago, he was called to a house in the middle of nowhere in which he found a woman who had overdosed on heroin. She left behind two kids, Maude and Jack. When The Ruin opens, Jack has just committed suicide, but his sister and girlfriend don’t believe that’s true. With the past resurfacing, Reilly is told to re-open the investigation of Jack’s mother’s death, which also might not be what it seems.

I enjoyed this dark and twisty crime story. Reilly is an engaging, well-developed character who never forgot Maude and Jack and what they went through. The blurb on the cover of this book says it’s perfect for fans of Tana French, and I agree. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

The Night Before by Wendy Walker
Rating: 2/5

Laura was devastated by an awful breakup, which led her to leave her life in New York City to move in with Rosie, her sister, and brother-in-law. Laura decides to give online dating a try, but when she doesn’t come home from a date, Rosie knows something is wrong and sets out to find her. Due to an incident in Laura’s past, Rosie doesn’t know whether Laura might be a victim or a perpetrator.

Though this book is entertaining, it lacks depth and nuance. I like thrillers that have well-rounded characters and believable twists, and I don’t think The Night Before has either.

The Woman in Cabin 10 book cover

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Rating: 3/5

Lo is a travel journalist who finally has a good assignment: she gets to spend a week on a new luxury cruise that offers beautiful scenery, pampering, and fine dining. One night in her cabin, Lo hears what sounds like a scream and a body thrown over the side of the ship. She looks outside and sees blood on a partition next to her room. When she reports what happened, the head of security doubts her story. All the guests are present, the blood has been cleaned up, and Lo has a few reasons why she might not be the most reliable witness.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is a fun read that’s perfect for summer. The novel has solid pacing and just enough creepiness to keep things interesting.

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
Rating: 4/5

Though I read three thrillers in June, this nonfiction book was the most gripping page-turner I read all month. Beth Macy’s account of America’s opioid epidemic is utterly fascinating. She weaves together threads of poverty, addiction, politics, and a corrupt pharmaceutical company and presents a story as compelling as it is heartbreaking. If you’re looking for a better understanding of opioid addiction, this book is a must-read.

My year of rest and relaxation book cover

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Rating: 4/5

This novel’s protagonist has a life many young women envy. She’s a young, thin, beautiful blonde who is living in NYC, thanks to her inheritance. She works at an art gallery and has an older man who’s interested in her. She’s unsatisfied and unmotivated, though, and begins seeing a psychiatrist who gives her exactly what she wants: the ability to numb everything she doesn’t want to feel and the chance to just sleep for a year.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is worth all the hype it’s received. This novel is an absolute delight and one I wish I would have read sooner. (If you like this book, check out The New Me by Halle Butler. It has a similar theme and tone.)

What I Loved

PODCAST: To Live and Die in L.A.

Journalist Neil Strauss hosts this show which investigates the disappearance of Adea Shabani, a beautiful 25-year-old aspiring actress who came to Hollywood to chase her dreams. This true-crime podcast is the first I’ve ever binge-listened. (Is that a thing? I think it’s a thing.)

MOVIE: Yesterday

Jack has been trying to get his music career off the ground for over ten years with no luck. As he’s heading home one night after a gig, the entire world loses power for twelve seconds, and something strange happens: certain things that were once beloved no longer exist. Jack remembers the Beatles, but no one else does. He knows this is his chance to make it big, so he passes off their music as his own and quickly becomes the most famous musician in the world.

I liked this film even more than I thought I would, even though the plotline has a few holes. I’ve loved the Beatles ever since I was a little kid, and this movie reminded me of why.

GADGET: Chef’n VeggiChop Hand-Powered Food Chopper

I LOVE THIS LITTLE CHOPPER SO MUCH. I’m not a good or fast chopper, so I use this a lot. Even though it’s not motorized, it’s fast and powerful. It can handle crunchy carrots just as well as it handles hardboiled eggs. This is one of my most used kitchen tools.

Worthwhile Links

My June Blog Posts

Reading Recap | November 2018

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Smith walks her readers through a concept she calls cozy minimalism. She wanted a life with less stuff but didn’t want the stereotypical home of a minimalist with white walls, gray furniture, and few possessions. The answer to Smith’s problem is cozy minimalism which allows for a warm, welcoming home made up of well-curated and thoughtful belongings.

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Smith’s approach makes a lot of sense to someone like me who’s intrigued by minimalism, but concerned about losing character and uniqueness at home. I appreciate how Smith shows before and after images from her own house, letting readers see what cozy minimalism actually looks like. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Anyone who feels burdened by their stuff, but still appreciates a cute throw pillow will like this one.

Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More
by Erin Boyle

Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Boyle tells readers about her own journey toward a simple life and encourages them in their efforts to declutter, spend wiser, and create a home with beauty and sustainability. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

This book is a pleasure to read. There’s a lot of white space on each page which lets the beautiful images of Boyle’s home really stand out. I also like that Boyle addresses making better environmental choices while making purchases. That’s something I don’t think about often enough.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Fans of Boyle’s blog, Reading My Tea Leaves, will love this one. People looking for inspiration about embracing a more mindful life and minimal home will appreciate this too. 

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Nine people embark on a visit to a health resort called Tranquillum House. Some are there to lose weight, others to help heal their marriage, and some to deal with grief. Though the story is told through the eyes of all nine main characters, the primary character is Frances, a romance writer whose career seems dead.

At first, Frances embraces the healthy smoothies and midnight activities, but things start to get weird quickly, thanks to the resort’s mysterious leader. Soon, all nine guests are brought together in a way they never expected. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The thing that makes me enjoy Liane Moriarty’s books so much is her characterization. There are few things I like more in fiction than a well-rounded character. Characters don’t have to be likable, relatable, or sympathetic, but I do want them to seem real. 

Frances’s disappointment and frustration seem real. Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe’s grieving seem real. Ben and Jessica’s marriage struggles seem real. A lot is happening in this story, but Moriarty always makes it about her characters and their growth. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Moriarty’s fans will probably like this one, though I can see it being more divisive than her previous work. Readers who enjoy a well-paced story with dynamic characters will enjoy their trip to Tranquillum House too.

THE LIES WE TOLD BY CAMILLA WAY
RATING: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Clara is living a happy life with her boyfriend Luke. One night Luke doesn’t come home, and Clara starts to worry. She has a feeling something’s wrong, so she contacts Luke’s best friend Mac and Luke’s parents to help her find him. 

As the search for Luke continues, secrets from the past are finally revealed, and the repercussions of those secrets will haunt Luke and his family forever.  

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

This book is everything I want a thriller to be. It’s fast-paced, has surprises all throughout, and goes much darker than I expected, which I loved. I’d heard nothing but praise about this book before I picked it up, and I can say that it’s deserving. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Thriller and mystery fans will be fully engrossed in this story. 

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Laurie is riding the bus and looks out the window. She locks eyes with a man sitting on a bench outside. She feels an instant connection and he does too. The man, Jack, gets up and starts walking toward the bus but it drives away.

After a year spent thinking about and longing for this man she met but not really, Laurie’s best friend Sarah introduces her new boyfriend who just so happens to be Jack. 

One Day in December follows Laurie, Jack, and Sarah over several years of their lives as they intersect in interesting ways. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

This book easily could have been a cheesy, predictable story about a love triangle, but it’s not. For one thing, Josie Silver is funny, and I love finding funny fiction writing. Another thing I liked about this book is that the characters are flawed, but they see this in themselves and are working to become better people. I never ever read romance, so I was surprised by how much I loved this book.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Romance readers will enjoy this one, but I think non-romance readers might too. If you want a lighthearted, sweet, and seasonal read, One Day in December is a great option. 

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Priestdaddy is a memoir about Patricia Lockwood’s life with a zany Catholic priest for a father. She and her husband are forced to move back home with her parents for a while, so she explores her family as an adult and reflects on her childhood and her relationship toward Catholicism. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Lockwood made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.  She’s a poet, so her writing is lovely whether she’s talking about something funny or serious. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

People who are interested in religion and don’t mind poking fun at it’s weirder aspects will probably enjoy this most. And if you’re like me and are continually searching for well-written and funny books, make sure to give this a chance. 


Have you read any of these books? What books did you finish in November? 


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8 Books for Reluctant Adult Readers

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

I love a good book list, and as someone who works with teens, one of my favorites is the Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Looking over this list made me wonder what books would be good for reluctant adult readers. If I was to present a non-reader with a book, which one would I choose for the best chance to ensure their enjoyment? Today I’m sharing 8 titles for different types of people. I’d love to hear your recommendations too.

FOR THE PERSON WHO LIKES A LOT OF DRAMA: 
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is perfect for the person who claims they hate drama, but not-so-secretly loves it. There’s a large cast of characters, gossip, intrigue galore, and a suspicious death. Plus, fans can binge the excellent HBO series if they haven’t already. 

FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES TO LAUGH:
Calypso by David Sedaris

While you can’t go wrong with any Sedaris books, I think Calypso might be my favorite. In this collection of essays, Sedaris tells readers all about his new beach house called the Sea Section. I laughed out loud several times while reading about his family’s adventures there. Sedaris is indeed at his best and funniest in this book. 

FOR THE PERSON WHO IS ALWAYS IMPROVING:
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

If you know someone who’s always looking for ways to better themselves, hand them this book. Duhigg explores habits and how people have used them to stop gambling, lose weight, win football games, and more. I was fascinated by the stories in this book and have tried to put Duhigg’s advice to work in my own life.

FOR THE MUSIC-LOVER:
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

When I read this book, I knew of Carrie Brownstein because I’d seen a few episodes of Portlandia, the TV show she starred in alongside Fred Armisen. I’d never listened to her band Sleater-Kinney, yet I was captivated by her story from start to finish. Brownstein is a great writer, so I think music fans will relish the stories of her musical journey, the riot-grrrl era, and the Pacific Northwest music scene in the early ’90s whether or not they’re a fan of her music.

FOR THE PERSON WHO CAN’T RESIST THOSE BUZZFEED QUIZZES: 
Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

Anne Bogel is known for her bookish blog and excellent podcast about the reading life, but in this book, she tackles a new topic: personality types. This book is less than 250 pages, and in it, Bogel presents brief overviews of personality categorization tools such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and more.  This is a great starting point for a person wanting to know more about what exactly it is that makes us who we are. 

FOR THE PERSON WHO ENJOYS FASCINATING TRUE STORIES:
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

by Lawrence Wright

Before reading Going Clear, I knew virtually nothing about Scientology. I was familiar with it because of stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but the inner workings and belief systems were unknown to me. In this book, Lawrence Wright does a deep dive into the church and what he uncovers is absolutely fascinating. This is the perfect read for those who like digging into truth that’s stranger than fiction.

FOR THE PERSON WHO’S ALWAYS ASKING FOR ADVICE: 
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life by Dear Sugar

by Cheryl Strayed

If you know someone who can’t quite make up her mind, throw this book into a gift bag and hand it to her. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of advice Cheryl Strayed offered to readers of the Rumpus when she wrote their Dear Sugar column. This isn’t a traditional self-help book with steps laid out or specific action plans; instead, Strayed offers gentle words of encouragement and wisdom to those needing someone to listen. 

FOR THE PERSON WHO CARES ABOUT FEMINISM AND POP CULTURE: 
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer and cultural critic, and her work in this book is no exception. Gay tends to write about serious topics, yet her essays in Bad Feminist can be quite funny. I was even entertained and mesmerized by her essay about a Scrabble tournament. Short pieces like essays are a great way to hook reluctant readers, I think, especially when the essays are as excellent as the ones in this collection. 


What books would you recommend to reluctant readers? Was there a particular book that turned you into a book lover? 


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A Look at Christian Faith in Mainstream Fiction

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I’ve been a Christian almost as long as I’ve been alive. My dad was a pastor for many years, so I grew up in the church and have chosen to remain there. Despite my faith, I have little interest in consuming most contemporary Christian art. I’ve seen my share of Christian movies over the years, and I cringe at the memories. My Christian CDs have been put away for a long time now. I have little interest in reading Christian fiction. That’s not to say all Christian art is bad; it’s not. But sometimes it feels more didactic than beautiful. Even when I agree with the message, I don’t want to watch a movie or read a book that’s preaching to me. 

Thinking about these things made me want to reflect on the books I’ve read that deal with Christian faith, specifically novels. Some of my most beloved, 5-star books focus on faith. Instead of featuring protagonists that are just a cliche of what culture thinks when they hear the word “Christian,” these books have characters that feel the tension of the holy vs. the ordinary. Faith has shaped their lives, whether they wanted it to or not. There are no tidy endings. Today I want to talk about some of those books that handled faith so well and realistically. I’ll start with my favorite.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson 

Gilead is written in the form of a letter by the Reverend John Ames. Ames is nearing the end of his life and has chosen to write to his young son, telling him about his past and family. This book talks about slavery, death, loss, and parenthood in ways that are profound and moving. Reverend Ames offers his son wisdom about God and life that I find deeply meaningful. Robinson (a person of faith herself) depicts Ames’s faith in a way that feels so very real.  Whether you’re a believer or not, I think this book is a must-read. It’s simply gorgeous and one I cherish.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

This book is set on the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes. He lives in Harlem with his family and desperately yearns for the love of his father, Gabriel, a preacher. John feels pulled in two different directions: one toward God, and one toward the world. He’s also trying to figure out what it means to be black in a mostly white world. The tension John feels will be relatable to any believer, no matter your faith tradition. His longings and questions are universal and palpable thanks to Baldwin’s talent as a writer. This is the first book I read by him, and I knew immediately that I’d found a new favorite author. Baldwin is supremely gifted and his work here shines. 

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

Essie is a teen girl who’s pregnant. Her father is a pastor who preaches a fire and brimstone faith. To complicate matters even more, her family stars in a hit reality show that definitely didn’t script a pregnancy. Essie’s mother and the producers of the show scramble to figure out what to do. They decide to fabricate a love story between Essie and a local boy Essie chooses. As the novel progresses, we learn some secrets about Essie’s family and learn her new love interest has a secret of his own. This novel reveals how much damage people can do when they only care about what their faith looks like to an audience. Essie’s story got a lot darker than I thought it would, so this book isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does a good job of revealing the darker side of celebrity and religion.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett 

This novel is another one that involves a pregnancy. This time it’s 17-year-old Nadia who’s pregnant. The father is Luke, the pastor’s son. Nadia is grieving the suicide of her mother and Luke isn’t ready to be a dad. Bennett tells the story of what choices they make and how those choices haunt them and their families for years to come. The title refers to the church mothers, who help narrate the story. Bennett excels at showing how deeply entwined people can become in their church and how sometimes boundaries are erased due to a sense of belonging to a higher, heavenly family. 

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

Maggie is a loving wife, mother, and poet. She meets a fellow poet named James at a conference and they enter into a friendship that slowly morphs into something else. Maggie is a religious person who struggles with the moral choices in front of her. Quatro writes absolutely gorgeous prose that expertly captures the yearning and guilt Maggie feels. I read this book in one sitting because I was so captivated by not just Maggie’s story, but the way Quatro wrote it. While this book deals with the temptation of infidelity, any believer will be able to relate to Maggie as she’s drawn to something she knows will only end badly.


Other than Christian faith, the one thing that connects each of these novels is a sense of authenticity. One of the problems I often have with Christian art is that it seems superficial, as if God can’t handle hearing our doubts, longings, and questions. These books present a view of faith that is genuine and messy, and I appreciate that frankness.


What similar books should I read next? What are some of your favorite books about faith? 


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How to Find Your Next Book

Between my Goodreads TBR and the hundreds of unread books I own, you wouldn’t think I’d be looking for new books to read. You’d be wrong, however, because I can’t help myself. Since I work in libraries, I tell myself hunting for new books is research for my job. Sometimes it is, but most of the time I just want a new, shiny book to read. In today’s post, I’m sharing my favorite resources for finding books. You can never have too many (or so I tell myself).

ANY NEW BOOKS NEWSLETTER

If you want to know what books are coming out each week but don’t want to spend time browsing various websites or stores, the Any New Books newsletter is for you. Other than the convenience, my favorite thing about Any New Books is that you can subscribe only to the lists you’re interested in. I get weekly emails about biographies and memoirs, mysteries, general fiction, and religion because those are my favorite genres. Being able to customize what’s coming into your inbox is a smart feature and one I appreciate. 

NETGALLEY & EDELWEISS

If you’d like to read and review new books before they’re released, sign up for NetGalley and Edelweiss. These sites are geared toward professionals like librarians, book buyers, and reviewers, but even if you’re none of those things, it’s worth creating an account. You visit the site, see what books you’re interested in, and either download what’s automatically available or put in a request for access. Back when I had zero online presence, I had a NetGalley account and was still approved for a lot of titles, so it’s worth a try even if you think you won’t get access to anything. The emails NetGalley sends out previewing new titles are helpful too. 

BOOK SUBSCRIPTIONS

Like most people, I enjoy getting stuff in the mail, especially when it’s books from Page 1 Books or Book of the Month. I mentioned both of these services in my gift guide for book people, but they’re worth a second look. They’re both subscriptions, but different kinds. (This isn’t an ad; I genuinely love these services.)

With Page 1 Books, you fill out a form indicating what you like to read, and they send you a handpicked book each month. The book comes beautifully wrapped and includes some bookish goodies. If you’re concerned about getting a book you already own or don’t like, just let Page 1 know, and they’ll send you a replacement and let you keep the other book. I love love love this subscription. Their prices start at $65 for a 3-month subscription.

Book of the Month allows readers to choose what books they receive. Each month there’s a selection of 5 books. These are hardcover new releases and can include fantasy, romance, thrillers, literary fiction, and much more. A monthly membership costs $14.99, and you can add on up to two more books for $9.99 each. You also get access to BOTM’s past selections until they sell out. If there’s nothing that interests you in a certain month, your credits will roll over to the next one. 

WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT? PODCAST

I’ve been obsessed with podcasts lately. The first one I ever listened to is What Should I Read Next? With Anne Bogel, and it’s still a favorite. (Anne’s blog is lovely, too.) Each week on the podcast Anne interviews a guest. They’re asked about their reading life and list three books they love, one they don’t, and what they’re reading now. With that in mind, Anne suggests three books they might enjoy reading next. I’ve gotten a lot of good recommendations from this show. Occasionally there are guests whose reading taste is entirely opposite of mine, but I still enjoy listening. Hearing readers talk passionately about books is always enjoyable, whether I want to read those books or not.  


There are many resources out there for finding books (including your local librarians), but these are the ones that continually work for me. What about you? How do you find your books? 


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Books that Have Opened My Eyes

One of the best things about reading is that it opens your eyes to people, beliefs, and situations that are outside what’s familiar. I’ve lived a privileged, middle-class life, so it’s important that I learn from stories different from mine. Many books have made an impact on me, so today I’m highlighting a few of them that illuminated a specific topic.

Please note: Two books deal with rape and sexual assault, which I do address.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE EFFECTS OF POVERTY:
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

I knew about poverty before I read this book, of course. I knew poverty could hold people back, but I didn’t fully understand its ramifications until I read Random Family. This is a remarkable work of journalism by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc that follows a group of people living in the Bronx over several years of their lives. Their stories are full of addiction, drugs, sex, prison, broken relationships, and violence. It’s easy to say, “Just get an education. Just get a job. Just leave that situation.” But poverty often acts as a blockade. If you’re poor and might lose your housing, dealing drugs and making thousands of dollars might sound great. But dealing leads to more and more problems and the cycle keeps on going. This book showed me how easily poverty traps people and how difficult it is to transition to a better life.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO RACISM:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness 
by Austin Channing Brown

One of the most striking things about this book is the author’s name. She reveals that her parents named her Austin so people would hear it and assume she was a white man. They knew this would make job searches easier and might allow her a foot in the door she might not have as a black woman. Reading that broke my heart. A child entering the world should be a time of joy; parents shouldn’t have to think about the future and prepare for eventual prejudice as they’re holding their newborn. This is a slim book, but it’s full of insights about race, and specifically speaks to the Church about what we can and should be doing better to advocate for and welcome people of color.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA: 
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

I read (and loved) Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist, so I knew she’d been raped as a 12-year-old. Hunger is the story of how that assault changed her life and her relationship with her body. With awe-inspiring vulnerability, Gay writes about how being overweight became a fortress to keep people away and how her family watched her spiral out of control and weren’t sure what to do. She talks about bad decisions she’s made, her relationship with food, and what she’s doing as an adult to manage her trauma. There are no easy answers or tidy endings here. This is a powerful memoir that shows just how much one event in a person’s life can completely change everything. Roxane Gay is one of the best writers alive today.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE WAR ON DRUGS:
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

In this book, Johann Hari presents a well-researched history of the war on drugs, revealing all the ways in which that war has caused additional damage and suffering. He includes powerful stories about Billie Holiday, drug cartels, and needle exchanges, among others. Hari weaves all of these threads into a convincing argument about the future and reform of the drug war. This is a gripping, thought-provoking book from start to finish.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA:
American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales

I work with kids every day, so I was curious about the role social media plays in their lives. I was unprepared for what I learned in this book.  Journalist Nancy Jo Sales interviews teen girls, so readers get firsthand knowledge of just how important social media can be to them. I was surprised that even when girls are getting bullied and have to deal with being oversexualized, they remain dedicated to their online worlds. My one complaint about this book is that most of the subjects Sales interviews are middle-class or higher, so there isn’t much information about how poorer kids interact with technology. I think that’s a big missing piece, but this book is still worth reading, especially for those of us who engage with kids on a regular basis. After I finished reading, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist while I was growing up.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO MISOGYNY AND RAPE CULTURE:
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

There are aspects of all these books that shocked me, but I don’t think any of the other books left me feeling quite as disgusted as Missoula. Jon Krakauer explores how little seriousness is sometimes given to rape and assault allegations, especially when the alleged perpetrators are people the community admire, like college football players. If I could, I’d make this book required reading for every person heading off to college. They need to know just how drastically rape and assault can change lives, whether justice is served or not.


What about you? What are the books that have opened your eyes?

A Gift Guide for Book People

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

As you might have noticed from the music, store Christmas tree displays, and crowded malls, the holidays are quickly approaching. I relish this time of year, including shopping for the people I love. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to put together a bookish gift guide. Whether you’re searching for a gift for a friend or want something special for yourself, I’m sure there’s something here for you. Let’s get shopping.

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  • Author Bookmarks | $5
    • I bought these for myself a while back, and they’re delightful.
  • Harper Perennial Olive Editions | $10
    • If you know someone who loves classics, the latest editions of the Olive series are beautiful.
  • Books Washi Tape | $3.55
    • Someone who keeps a planner or book journal would love this cute tape.
  • Edgar Allan Poe-ka Dot Pouch | $12
    • A friend gifted me this pouch years ago and it’s still going strong. It makes me happy every time I see it.
  • 100 Books Scratch-Off Poster | $15
    • How fun is this poster? If you get great joy from crossing off items on your to-do list, scratching off the squares might serve as a good push to read those classics you’ve meant to read.
  • Powell’s Literature Water Bottle | $12
    • When I use this water bottle, I feel more hydrated and well-read.

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  • Library Stamp T-Shirt | $28
    • This is perfect for any library lover.
  • Book Smart Tote Bag | $19.99
    • Make sure your bookworm best friend has something to carry her books in.
  • My Ideal Bookshelf | $24.99
    • This book is full of beautiful illustrations by Jane Mount and contains so many great reading recommendations.
  • William Shakespeare Library Candle | $25
    • Candles are lovely all year long, but especially when it gets cold outside. I might like reading Shakespeare more if I had this candle.
  • Reading Journal | Starts at $32.95
    • How cute is this journal? It’s customizable, too!
  • Reading Rest | $30
    •  This reading rest is ideal for someone who’s always reading on their lunch break.

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  • Personalized 5 Book Set | $195
    • A set from Juniper Books is on my bookish bucket list. Their work is just stunning.
  • 1984 Sweatshirt | $50
    • Wear the books you love with a literary sweatshirt.
  • Bookends + Lamp | Starts at $58.80
    • This is both functional and beautiful, a solid combo.
  • Book of the Month Subscription | $79.99 for 6 months
    • You know your sister wants to read more, but neither one of you know where to start. With a BOTM subscription, she can choose her own titles.
  • Custom Ideal Bookshelf Print | $95
    • If you know your BFF’s favorite books, this would be such a thoughtful, meaningful gift.
  • Page 1 Books Subscription | $70 for 3 months
    • If you like the idea of a book subscription but want something more personal than BOTM, Page 1 is a perfect choice.

May your holiday season include much bookish goodness.

My Favorite Political Books

With the U.S. midterm elections coming up tomorrow, I’ve had politics on my mind. I have zero desire to debate political beliefs or watch cable news, but I do love reading about politics and presidents.

Today I want to share some of my favorite books that fall into those categories. Some are biographies of presidents, others are memoirs, and some are extensive histories. Whatever your political leanings, I’m sure there’s something on this list that will pique your interest.

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The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity
by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

In this book, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy explore the relationships between presidents from Hoover to Obama. Because of the ever-widening divisions in American culture between Republicans and Democrats, you’d think the stories in this book would include tales of alliances between members of the same party and bickering by those who were opposed to each other. Yet in several cases, it’s Republicans and Democrats who have the closest relationships, such as Hoover and Truman and Clinton and Bush 41. It’s refreshing to read about how rivals overcame their political battles and entered into deep friendships. This is easily my favorite political book.

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The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
by Chris Whipple

According to Chris Whipple, the average amount of time a White House Chief of Staff stays in their position is 18 months. If you wonder why it’s not longer, read this book. Chiefs of staff have included men as varied as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Rahm Emanuel, and James Baker. Some have been incredibly effective (like Baker), and others have kept on ascending until they were second in the line to the presidency (like Cheney). Their stories are utterly absorbing from start to finish. If you have even the slightest interest in politics, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
by Jon Meacham

I picked up this biography because I’m a fan of Jon Meacham, but also because I was curious about George H. W. Bush. One of the reasons he intrigued me so much was because I noticed how people from both sides of the aisle seemed to talk about him with respect (not always, of course, but seemingly more often than not). After reading Destiny and Power, I understand why. This book is worth reading just to hear about Bush’s time serving in World War II. He’d be the first to tell you he’s not a perfect man, but his heroism is admirable, as is his dedication to his family and ideals.

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Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker

9/11 happened when I was in high school. Before that, I never paid much attention to who was in the White House. After the attacks, President Bush was everywhere and impossible to ignore. He was on every TV screen, newspaper, and website. It was the first time in my life that I’d ever thought much about the presidency, so I was immediately drawn to this book because of that first young awareness. Peter Baker’s history of the Bush/Cheney dynamic is as impossible to put down as any suspense novel I’ve ever read. It’s well-researched, thoughtful, and essential reading for anyone curious about Bush 43 and the complicated relationship he had with Dick Cheney. If you think history is boring, this book will probably change your mind.

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Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
by Katy Tur

Katy Tur is a broadcast journalist who delivered NBC’s Trump coverage during the 2016 presidential campaign. This book is her story of that time. For a year and a half, Tur followed Trump around the country. She attended his rallies, was the victim of his insults, and consistently called him out on his lies. Tur’s stories about life on the campaign trail are fascinating, and I admire her tenacity and respect for truth. If you’re still bewildered by what happened in 2016, this book will give you a greater understanding of how Trump got elected.

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Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents by Bob Greene

The five presidents the title references are Bush 41, Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon. Bob Greene talks to each of them (except for Reagan, who I believe passed away before this book was completed) and reveals portraits of five complex, deeply human,  and very different men. This book is one of the shorter ones I’m sharing today, but it packs so much into its 300 or so pages. Greene captures presidents at their most vulnerable and stripped down. This book is engrossing from start to finish. Go read it.

But most importantly, go vote. Elections have consequences. Make your voice heard.