Top 5 Friday: Books I Read in One Sitting

One of my favorite literary delights is finding a book I just can’t stop reading. Today I’m sharing five books that provided such pleasure. All of the books I’m talking about were ones I read in one sitting. They’re entirely different from each other, but the one thing they have in common is compulsive readability. Keep reading to see what I just couldn’t put down.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The wife of the title is Clare who’s married to Henry. They’re deeply in love, but their relationship is complicated because Henry moves in and out of time due to a newly-diagnosed medical disorder. We see Henry and Clare at different ages and stages of their lives. Henry can’t control when he time travels, and that adds gripping suspense to the story and raises the stakes immensely. Their struggle to have a typical family and marriage is what makes this book so captivating.

I’m not typically a fan of science fiction, fantasy, or romance, yet I devoured all 500 pages of this book which includes aspects of all three genres. I read this over ten years ago, and I can still remember the way it broke my heart and held my attention.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

I wasn’t afraid of flying, and then I experienced some turbulence flying through a storm. (I do not recommend flying through storms.) Since that awful flight, airplanes and I don’t get along. Sometimes I have to fly, though, and during one of those mandatory flights, I brought this book with me. I’m usually too antsy to read on a plane, but I ended up reading this straight through. Kaling’s wit had no trouble holding my attention. I truly enjoyed reading about the beginning of her career, her time on The Office, and her love of comedy.  This lighthearted yet honest book was perfect for that moment when I felt nervous and out of control.

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

A couple of summers ago, I was really sick with pneumonia. All I had the strength to do was sprawl on my couch. I knew I needed a fast-paced book to hold my attention, so I picked up Big Little Lies.  I had low expectations because I’d heard this book referred to as chick-lit. I’m not a fan of that term or the books that are often ushered under its umbrella. It turns out my doubts were gone by page three.

This book tells the story of Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, mothers whose children attend the same elementary school. Someone dies at the beginning of the story and as the novel progresses we get more and more clues about who it was and how it happened. Moriarty’s pacing is pure perfection and her ability to write fully fleshed out characters keeps me coming back to her work.

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murato

This book tells the story of Keiko Furukura who lives in Tokyo. Her parents always thought she was a bit different. In college, she begins working in a convenience store. Convenience stores in Japan are much bigger and nicer than they are in America, so her employment was especially exciting. When Keiko is in her mid-thirties, she’s still in the same job. She’s single and doesn’t socialize much. Her life is far from what society expects it to be. But for all her quirks, Keiko seems quite comfortable with that. I enjoyed this book and related to the desire for a simple life. This quirky story is one that’s stayed with me.

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I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

This book offers a powerful indictment against the evil that is white supremacy and explains how it must be renounced for genuine reconciliation to occur. Austin Channing Brown describes a college trip in which she and some fellow students take a bus tour to see various sites important in Black history, a journey that changes her life and influences her to become the activist she is today. Her stories about the discrimination she’s faced are heartbreaking yet beautifully told. Brown is a person of faith whose convictions are shaped by deep compassion and understanding. This is an important book, especially for those of us in the Church who sometimes struggle to see and address the racism that is all too pervasive in our ranks. This book is reasonably short, but Brown is able to fit so much in its pages. It was gripping like the best nonfiction always is. (From my Goodreads review)


Do you ever read books in one sitting? If so, what books are on your list?

 


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Top Five Friday: Bookish Websites

When I first started using the Internet, I was in elementary school. My family had our own PC which made us the coolest people ever in my young mind. I was as familiar with the tone of the dial-up connecting as I was the sound of my own name. I had several floppy discs and was blown away by the idea of a search engine. If you hadn’t noticed yet, the Internet has come a long way. That’s good news, especially for book people.

Today I’m sharing five of my favorite literary websites. I like each of these sites for different reasons and rely on them often. Plus, no floppy disks are necessary, so that’s nice.

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The Millions

I’ve been a fan of this site for a long time. Twice a year they do a considerable book preview, and these posts always result in me adding way too many books to my ever-growing TBR. My favorite thing about the Millions, though, is their essays. Sometimes they’re about specific books or writers, but some are more general. No matter the topic, I’ve found the pieces on this site to be well-written and thoughtful. (My favorite contributor is Nick Ripatrazone who mostly writes about poetry.)

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Literary Hub

Like the Millions, Lit Hub offers excellent essays, interviews, and criticism, but I think Lit Hub offers more diversity, both in the genres they cover and the inclusion of writers of color. Besides the consistent quality of the writing, another thing I love about this site is an offshoot they launched called Book Marks. It’s a bit like Rotten Tomatoes in that it shares the newest books, rounds up their reviews, and lists how many were positive and negative.

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Book Riot

The thing I like best about this site is that they cover a wide array of books and writers. If you can think of an incredibly specific genre or title, I’m willing to bet Book Riot has talked about it. The quality of the writing on this site is more hit and miss than the Millions and Lit Hub, but there’s a lot of good stuff to be found if you’re willing to wade through the variety of their posts to find something that interests you. They post a lot of content every day, so there’s certainly a good chance there will be something that you want to read.

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NoveList

I talked about NoveList in my post about how I use my public library, but I love it so much that I’m mentioning it again. This site is different than the others because it’s a subscription service. To see if you have access, check with your local public or academic library. If you do have access, I don’t know of a better source for finding book recommendations than NoveList. You can find book recs all over the Internet, of course, but what’s great about NoveList is how precisely you can search for books. You can find titles by searching for things like a strong sense of place, a specific time period, writing style, and more. NoveList is also an excellent resource for those of us who work in libraries. When I needed to brush up on my readers’ advisory skills, I turned to NoveList for their excellent articles about various book genres and how to get the right books to the right patrons. I use this site all the time and know my job would be much harder if it didn’t exist.

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Goodreads

Goodreads combines two of my favorite things: books and lists. I’ve been using the site to track my reading since 2010. (You can find me here.) I enjoy setting reading goals each year, and their challenge tracker is fantastic. There’s something incredibly satisfying about finishing a book and adding it to my Goodreads list. I also love keeping track of what my friends are reading. I use the site to find quotes, and I enjoy entering their giveaways. I won a copy of The Girls by Emma Cline once, so I’m convinced I’m going to win again any day now.


Are you a fan of any of these sites? What are your must-visit bookish sites?


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Top Five Friday: Where I Buy Books

I have six bookcases, three of which are pretty big. All six are overflowing at the moment (a privilege for which I’m thankful). Despite my crammed and sagging bookshelves, I continue to buy books. Some books are just so pretty, and some books are super cheap, and other books call to me, and I must answer their call or the books will be sad forever. I trust you, dear reader, understand completely. Today I’m sharing my favorite places to buy books in case you too are a hopeless collector.

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BOOK OUTLET

I didn’t know about Book Outlet until about three years ago. When I found out about it, I felt as if I had just entered a new, higher plane of existence. THEY’RE SO CHEAP, YOU GUYS. I’ve found new releases in hardcover for under $5, a few special editions, and some popular paperbacks for less than $2. I appreciate Book Outlet because your money goes so far on their site, but do know they don’t have the selection you’ll find through an ordinary bookseller. Their inventory changes all the time, so this site is best for browsing instead of hunting for something specific.

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LIBRARY BOOK SALES

The greatest library book sale finds I’ve ever stumbled across has to be the Robert Caro LBJ biography set I discovered during a $3 a bag sale. Not only did I get the first three volumes of that set in pristine condition, but I also filled up the rest of my bag for $3 total. Three dollars! As in less than a latte for a bag full of books! Library book sales are your friends. They can be hit and miss, sure, but you can find some absolute gems if your timing is right. One time I cut off the circulation in my arm for a while because I was carrying so many heavy bags of books from the library to my car, but my temporary numbness was totally worth it.

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MY LOCAL INDIE

I love indie bookstores, and I’m lucky to live in a city with a great one. It’s big, has a wonderfully curated selection of new and used books, and is always full of so much beautiful light thanks to all its pretty windows. In addition to books, my indie has a good assortment of magazines, gift items, and beautiful stationery. The staff is friendly, and the displays are always impressive. I know I can find what I’m looking for and am happy to support a local business that brings so much literary goodness to the community.

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THRIFT STORES

When I enter a thrift store, I’m drawn to the book section first thing. I approach feeling like a hunter searching for its prey. There’s excitement in each step as I walk up to the first shelf. Sometimes I score a brand new hardcover for a dollar, and other times I wonder who donated the decade-old computer books and what employee thought someone would actually buy them. But the duds are worth looking through to find the gems. And if outdated technology books are your thing, a thrift store will be your bookish oasis.

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BARNES AND NOBLE

I feel like shopping at Barnes & Noble means that I prefer Fox Books to The Shop Around the Corner, but there’s room in my heart for both the big box store and the little indie. I like B&N because of the atmosphere. There’s a ton of seating, and it smells like a mixture of new books and coffee (a.k.a. the best smell ever). B&N also offers great deals to its members. My $25 annual membership pays for itself thanks to all the 20% off coupons I get throughout the year. A trip to this bookstore always relaxes me, whether I buy anything or not. (Let’s be honest here: I usually buy something.)


As a bonus item, check out Bookfinder when you’re shopping for books online. It’s not a site where I buy books, but a place that tells me where to buy them. When I want a used copy of an older title, I always use Bookfinder because it does all the searching for me by telling me what sites have the title I want and who’s offering the best price.

What are your favorite places to pick up books?

Top Five Friday: Classics I Failed to Finish

I’ve been an avid reader since birth (well, almost.) I know I read more than the average person. I have an English degree that required me to study everything from Beowulf to Zadie Smith. If there was an Olympics for reading, I might not be Michael Phelps, but I’d like to think I’d at least get a bronze medal or two.

In spite of my self-bestowed status as an Olympian reader, there are many classics that I have tried and failed to read.  Today I want to share five of them and briefly explain why they weren’t for me. Keep reading and behold my literary failures.

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Ulysses by James Joyce

Bless my precious heart for thinking this book couldn’t possibly be as daunting as people said. (It is.) Goodreads says this book is “a major achievement in 20th-century literature.” Even so, it’s just not for me.  I admire Joyce’s creativity, risk-taking, and lasting contribution to literature, but I think I only made it ten pages before closing the book and putting it back on the shelf.

One of my college classmates did read Ulysses in its entirety. I still remember him and think in a Chris Traeger voice, “Way to go, buddy. Way to go.”

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’ve always liked going to antique stores, even as a kid. When I was in middle school, I was in an antique store with my parents and found a beautiful copy of Pride and Prejudice. I decided to get it and read it. I did get it, but read it? Not so much. I tried, though. I’ve picked up this book at least five times and wanted to read it, but I just can’t make myself finish it. I can’t get into it at all. That didn’t stop me from buying another copy of it, though. I had to have the A in the Drops Caps collection. I tried reading that edition, thinking my brain might be tricked by the new cover, but no. I still can’t do it. Kathleen Kelly would be so disappointed in me.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If you weren’t upset enough that I don’t like Pride and Prejudice, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know I don’t like Little Women, either. I made it about 100 pages into this book (which is way farther than I’ve ever made it in P & P) but I lost interest and couldn’t make myself finish it. I own a beautiful edition of this book, so I keep it around for its looks, but I’m just not into its personality. Sorry, Louisa.

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Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding

To earn my English degree, I had to take and pass a comprehensive exam. The reading list was lengthy, including novels, poems, plays, and stories. I honestly don’t remember much that was on the list, but I remember this book. I am an avid rule-follower, so I did my assigned reading. I wasn’t the student who would just use SparkNotes and hope for the best. But as I read Joseph Andrews, I actually said out loud, “I hate you, book.” I briefly turned into a rebel and didn’t finish the book, but I passed the exam anyway. Joseph and I were never meant to be.

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Middlemarch by George Eliot

I hear Middlemarch come up all the time in people’s lists of favorite books, so it’s the only title on my list that I want to try again someday. I read quite a bit of this one and was really into it when I first started, but I lost interest around the halfway point. I’m not quite sure why, but I just didn’t care enough to go another 400 or so pages. Maybe the timing was wrong. I promise I’ll come back to you someday, George Eliot.


What are the classics that haunt you? What are the ones you just couldn’t force yourself to finish?

Top Five Friday: Mysteries & Suspense

Until the past couple of years, I’d never been a reader of genre fiction. I was all about realistic literary fiction and, when I was feeling especially wild, maybe a bit of magical realism. I’d pick up the occasional mystery or suspense novel when something like Gone Girl came along that was impossible to ignore, but I never sought out mysteries or suspense stories until recently.

I’ve found that when I’m feeling tired or stressed there’s nothing I’d rather pick up than an engrossing page-turner. Sometimes I need a plot-driven novel to get me out of my head, yet good writing is still a must. I want the beautifully crafted sentences, character development, and the strong sense of place that make me love literary fiction so much.

Today I’m sharing five novels that had the engrossing plot I was looking for and great writing. Since I’ve already mentioned Gone Girl, let’s start there.

gonegirl.jpgGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The girl in the title is Amy who vanishes from her Missouri home. Her husband Nick claims his innocence in her disappearance, yet few believe him. From there, Flynn examines their personalities and marriage with gripping tension and precision.

This is a twisted tale that lets readers into the minds of two fascinating characters. I enjoy stories about the inner workings of marriages, and this one didn’t disappoint. When I got to the end of the novel, I thought, “Of course. This is exactly how it should end.” That’s always a great feeling when you finish a mystery.

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The Dry by Jane Harper

A friend and coworker of mine (hi, Irene!) read The Dry and raved about it. I’d also read many positive reviews and was worried Harper’s debut novel couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Needless to say, it did. I love books with a strong sense of place, and this book delivers.

It’s set in a small Australian town during a drought. The heat and thirsty land are palpable as we read about Aaron Falk,  a federal agent who travels from his home in Melbourne back to the town in which he grew up. His former friend Luke is dead, along with Luke’s wife and son. Folks are saying it was murder/suicide, but Aaron’s not so sure. The novel explores the mystery of these deaths, but also Aaron’s past and connection to the victims. The next book in the series, Force of Nature, is also great.

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Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Like The Dry, this novel has a vivid setting. It’s set in a rural town in East Texas where racism runs deep. Darren Matthews is a black Texas Ranger who begins investigating the death of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman who was married to a white supremacist. Though they died days apart, Darren is convinced there’s a connection between the two victims. Darren’s marriage is in trouble, and he drinks a bit too much, but he pursues the truth with a passionate focus. He’s a well-developed character who I was rooting for the whole time. I’m excited about the next book in this series since Bluebird, Bluebird ends with an exciting twist.

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The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window is named Anna. She struggles with agoraphobia and drinks a little too much these days. She loves wine and spying on the neighbors who share her block in New York City. One day she sees a crime she shouldn’t have, and that causes her to unravel even more than she already was. Anna is a wonderfully complex character, and the story of how her phobia developed is as satisfying as watching her try to overcome it.

In some mysteries and suspense novels, it’s easy to predict where the story is headed. I thought I knew exactly what was going on in this book, but I was wrong. There were several twists I didn’t see coming, which made this such a fun read. So far, this is one of my favorite books of 2018.

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In the Woods by Tana French

This story is told from the perspective of Rob Ryan, a Dublin detective who’s still carrying baggage from a strange childhood event. When he was twelve, he woke up in the woods alone and bloodied, not knowing what happened to the two friends who were with him. Years later, Rob and his partner Cassie start investigating the murder of a young girl found in the woods in which Rob’s friends disappeared. He has a hunch the crimes are connected, but his identity as the kid who got left behind is a secret only his partner knows.

The mystery in this book is intense, but just as intense is the deep dive readers get into Rob’s head. We not only get to see him grappling with the murder investigation, but we learn more about his past and see how what he thought he’d overcome still haunts him.


What are your favorite mysteries and thrillers? Based on these books, what would you recommend I pick up next?

Top Five Friday: Books about Books

Some people like books and some people love books so much they want to read books about other books. I fall into the second camp. If you’re reading this blog post, I assume you do too. Today I’m sharing my top five favorite books about books.

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The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading
by Phyllis Rose

One day Phyllis Rose decides that she’s going to read through an entire shelf of books at her library. She chooses LEQ – LES because of the diversity of its stories and authors. I was unfamiliar with many of the books Rose discusses, but I think that’s part of what makes this book so enjoyable. Even if I didn’t have much interest in the book Rose was discussing, I was still captivated because her excitement for the project and passion for good books is contagious. Plus, any book that has the subtitle “adventures in extreme reading” is a book for me. This one doesn’t disappoint.

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Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby

Always interested in other people’s reading habits, I grabbed this book from the library shelf intending to skim a few pages just to indulge my curiosity about what Nick Hornby likes to read. My skimming quickly turned into actual reading which then led to that fun and frantic feeling of “I can’t put down this book.” What appeals to me so much about Hornby’s writing here is that he’s serious about books, but he doesn’t take books too seriously. He’s all for putting down a book that just isn’t working for him, even if it seems to be working for everyone else. He helped me feel better about my own propensity to buy more books than I can ever hope to read, and I’m always thankful when someone manages to affirm my literary choices. (“Literary choices” sounds better than “book hoarding.”)

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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This short book is an absolute delight. It’s a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a writer living in New York City, and Frank Doel, a used-book dealer in London. Their friendship ends up spanning over 20 years, and even the staff at Frank’s store come to love Helene. The pair’s letters are funny, sweet, and overflowing with their mutual love for books. This is a must-read for book lovers.

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My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force (editor) and Jane Mount (illustrator)

I’ve heard this book referred to as a coffee table book, and I suppose that’s true due to its size. (It’s not huge but is a bit bigger than an average hardcover.) But all the coffee table books I own are there for me to skim. I don’t pick up and read my coffee table books from cover to cover, but that’s precisely what I did with this book. It’s full of illustrations depicting the favorite books of people like Judd Apatow, Malcolm Gladwell, Dave Eggers, and many other creators. The most obvious thing about this book is that it’s beautiful; Jane Mount is a great illustrator. But besides the illustrations, it’s so fun to read about the books that have inspired others.

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My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

This book was so good that it held my attention when I was in the waiting room at urgent care with a bout of pneumonia. If that’s not a great endorsement, I don’t know what is. The “Bob” of the title is Pamela Paul’s Book of Books. In it, Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, has tracked every book she’s read since high school. Paul goes beyond just plot summaries and criticism, reflecting on her life as she talks about the literature that’s shaped it. I love how her life story is woven into what she has to say about the books she’s read.


What about you? What books about books are your favorites?