My 10 Favorite Books of 2019

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2019 was a hot and cold reading year for me. There were months when I devoured books and others in which I barely read at all. I did manage to read many of the books I own but didn’t get around to as many new releases as I’d hoped. I set a goal to read 75 books but ended up reading 57 instead. 34 were fiction, and 23 were nonfiction. Most of what I read was in print, but 13 were ebooks, and one was an audiobook.

Despite my stops and starts, I did read some excellent books and want to share my top 10 picks today. All summaries are from NoveList, and all opinions are from my currently sleep-deprived brain.

2019 Releases

All this could be yours book cover

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Family secrets are revealed in the heat of a New Orleans summer.

WHY I LIKE IT: The family secrets to which the description refers center around a dying man named Victor. He’s a terrible person, and his family knows it. There’s his daughter Alex, a strong-willed lawyer and single mom who visits her dad in his final hours. Alex’s brother Gary is in Los Angeles, chasing his dreams and refusing to come home. Gary’s wife Twyla is falling apart and has a compulsion to buy more lipstick than she could ever use. And then there’s Barbra, Victor’s wife, who doesn’t want to face the dysfunction of her life and family. These characters are memorable and engaging, making for a page-turner of a book.

Daisy Jones and the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When singer Daisy Jones meets Billy Dunne of the band The Six, the two rising 70s rock-and-roll artists are catapulted into stardom when a producer puts them together, a decision that is complicated by a pregnancy and the seductions of fame.

WHY I LIKE IT: One of the best experiences while reading fiction is losing yourself in a story, becoming so absorbed in an author’s creation that you ignore the clock for a few hours. That was my experience with Daisy Jones and the Six. Because the book is written as an oral history, the characters and their interactions seem real. It was like I could almost hear the songs the band was playing. I expected to like this book, but it exceeded any expectations I had. (I’m excited about the TV adaption, too!)

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God book cover

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

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The author tells her story of recovering from a traffic accident and how this experience changed everything she believed about God.

WHY I LIKE IT: I’ve followed Sarah Bessey’s work for many years, and believe this book is her best yet. It’s a mix of memoir and theology, tragedy and spirituality, and stories of physical pain and unseen wounds. Bessey’s vulnerability is as beautiful as her writing, which is poetic and seemingly effortless. I’ve read many spiritual memoirs, and but none have been this creative or thought-provoking.

The Nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Follows the harrowing experiences of two African-American teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

WHY I LIKE IT: Due to its violence and depictions of cruelty, this was a tough book for me to read, yet I couldn’t put it down. Knowing that this novel is based on a true story makes it all the more timely and important. Ellwood and Turner, the boys of the title, are unforgettable. This is a short but powerful book.

Normal people book cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The unconventional secret childhood bond between a popular boy and a lonely, intensely private girl is tested by character reversals in their first year at a Dublin college that render one introspective and the other social, but self-destructive.

WHY I LIKE IT: Whether I’m reading literary fiction or a bestselling thriller, I enjoy novels with good dialogue. Without it, I’m not interested in the book, no matter how intriguing the premise. Normal People has excellent dialogue thanks to Sally Rooney’s sharp attentiveness to the awkwardness and complexities of young love and identity.

Backlist Titles

Dopesick book cover

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America
by Beth Macy

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In a book that includes deeply human and unforgettable portraits of the families and first responders affected, the author takes readers into the epicenter of America’s more than 20-year struggle with opioid addiction.

WHY I LIKE IT: If you pay much attention to American news, you’ll often see articles about opioid addiction. After reading some of them, I wanted to know more, so I picked up Dopesick. Beth Macy has crafted a fascinating, heartbreaking book about the history of the opioid epidemic, the lives impacted by it, and the damage left in its wake. If you think nonfiction is boring, this book will change your mind.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration and the realities of 20th-century Harlem.

WHY I LIKE IT: I’d heard nothing but praise about Homegoing and doubted it could live up to the hype. I was wrong, dear reader, and knew it within reading a few pages. This book left me stunned. Somehow, Yaa Gyasi has fit hundreds of years worth of history into 300-ish pages. I cannot wait for her new book, due later this year.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After losing her parents, a young college graduate in New York City spends a year alienating the world under the influence of a crazy combination of drugs.

WHY I LIKE IT: What person hasn’t wanted to climb into bed and stay there for an indefinite amount of time? I have, and so does the narrator of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Grieving the loss of her parents and overwhelmed by the world, a woman decides all she wants is to sleep. A premise like this could have gone a lot of different directions, but Ottessa Moshfegh infuses her novel with compassion, warmth, understanding, and just the right amount of quirk to make this a compelling story.

Sadie book cover

Sadie by Courtney Summers

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Told from the alternating perspectives of nineteen-year-old Sadie who runs away from her isolated small Colorado town to find her younger sister’s killer, and a true crime podcast exploring Sadie’s disappearance.

WHY I LIKE IT: I love true crime podcasts and mysteries, so of course I love Sadie, which combines both. It’s a sophisticated young adult book that blends suspense with pitch-perfect restraint. The story didn’t go where I expected it to go, and the characters didn’t always feel what I expected them to feel. Sadie’s structure and writing make for an exciting and unique story, one which I’ve recommended to many students who have also enjoyed it.

Watching you book cover

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When a murder occurs in Melville Heights, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England, dangerous obsessions come to light involving the headmaster at a local school, in this place where everyone has a secret.

WHY I LIKE IT: One of my favorite story structures is a varied cast of characters who are all connected in ways that are slowly revealed to the reader. Lisa Jewell executes that structure so well, especially in Watching You. I was hooked from the first page and sped through this novel. It reminded me why I love mysteries and thrillers and is a definite highlight of my reading year.


Do you like any of these books as much as I do? What are your favorite books of 2019? Leave a comment and let me know!

What I Read and Loved in November 2019

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November included a lot of Christmas shopping, sweaters, and beverages consumed from the festive holiday cups at Starbucks. Needless to say, it was a good month. I love this time of year and am always filled with giddy expectation for Christmas.

I read some books I absolutely loved last month, so I’m excited to share them today. Let’s get to it.

What I Read

The family upstairs book cover

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

This is my most recent Book of the Month pick, and it didn’t disappoint. The Family Upstairs is about Libby, a 25-year-old adoptee whose life changes when she receives a letter informing her that she’s inherited her birth parents’ house. It’s worth millions, but is falling apart and has a dark history. Years ago, three dead bodies were found in the house and the children that had been living there mysteriously vanished. As Libby explores her past, the suspense slowly increases which makes for an extremely satisfying thriller.

Watching you book cover

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I enjoyed The Family Upstairs so much that I wanted to read more by Lisa Jewell immediately. Watching You is set in a posh Bristol neighborhood where several lives come to overlap. There’s the popular headmaster Tom Fitzwilliam and his beautiful wife whose teen son enjoys spying on the neighbors through an upstairs window. There’s newlywed Joey who develops a crush on Tom which she feels powerless to fight. Then there’s Jenna, one of Tom’s students who suspects that Mr. Fitzwilliam isn’t who he seems to be. Complicating things even more is a decades-old diary that raises a lot of questions. There’s a lot happening in this book, and I loved all of it. I devoured this story and can’t wait to read more by Jewell.

The silent patient book cover

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The patient to which the title refers is Alicia, a well-known London artist who was married to a popular photographer. She shot and killed him, and then stopped speaking, never to explain what caused her to snap. Theo is a psychotherapist who is fascinated by Alicia and her story. When a job opens at the facility where she’s kept, he applies, thinking he might be the one to help her talk and explain what happened. This book has plenty of twists, though I did figure out the last one before the big reveal. This is worth reading if you’re a thriller fan, but I liked the previous two novels I mentioned even more.

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

There’s a blurb on the cover of this book that refers to the author as the poet laureate of dysfunctional families. I was only a few chapters in before I agreed. All This Could Be Yours centers on Alex, a divorced and hard-working lawyer and mother. When Alex gets the call that her father is dying, she heads to New Orleans to be with her family. Problems arise, of course, because her father is a terrible man married to a woman who has put up with his mistreatment for decades. Alex begs her brother to come be with her, but he’s busy pursuing his dreams in Los Angeles while his wife and daughter remain in New Orleans. Parts of this book are funny and others are heartbreaking. If you like messy family dramas, don’t skip this one.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount

Bibliophile is such a delight for the eyes. It’s full of booklists, interesting facts, and book recommendations, all illustrated by Jane Mount. This is the perfect coffee table book for any book lover.

What I Loved

Dublin Murders poster

TELEVISION: Dublin Murders

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend at work about Tana French’s books. I said that I don’t usually like watching adaptations of books I love, but that In the Woods would make great television. I told her I wanted it to be made into a series on a cable network that could capture the moodiness and darkness of the story. Well, guess what? I’m basically a prophetess because that very thing premiered last month on Starz. This show brilliantly captures the setting and tone of French’s first two novels, on which the series is based. The episodes release one week at a time or else I’d have binged the entire series ASAP. If you’re a fan of French’s books and don’t mind some creative liberties for a TV audience, I think you’ll love this show.

The gospel according to water album cover

MUSIC: The Gospel According to Water by Joe Henry

Joe Henry’s music is lush, folksy, occasionally jazzy, and absolutely gorgeous. His new album is no exception. I’ve been listening to this a lot and think it’s the perfect soundtrack for the gray, cool days of autumn turning into winter. “Orson Welles” might be my favorite track.

Lobby baby poster

COMEDY: Lobby Baby on Netflix

I’ve been a fan of Seth Meyers for a long time, so I was delighted to hear he was releasing a standup special. I thoroughly enjoyed this show about his family, wife, and sons, one of whom was indeed born in a lobby. Also, Meyers loves books! Yay!


What did you read or love in November?

5 Books That Deserve More Love

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After taking a blogging break in July, I’m happy to be back in this space. I haven’t read nearly as much this summer as I had intended, but I’m okay with that. Relaxing through other activities has been a nice change of pace.

Falling behind on my reading got me thinking about the idea for this post, though. Something all book lovers know is that it’s impossible to keep up with all the books that are published every week. I know I’m not alone in buying books faster than I can read them or checking out way too many from the library at one time. The sad truth for all readers is that we’ll never be able to read everything we’d like. Because of that, it’s easy to miss out on great books and authors.

Today I want to highlight a few books that deserve more love. It’s not as if these books haven’t had success, but I don’t hear them talked about as much in blogs or on Instagram as I do other titles. I’d love to hear what books make your list.

I want to show you more book cover

I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro

I read this book of short stories back in 2013, and I’m still thinking about it. Jamie Quatro is a gifted, lyrical writer who produces stories about our deepest emotions and beliefs. Quatro gets underneath the surface of things and creates characters who are confronting darkness head-on. The stories in this collection are distinctive and potent, touching on things like marriage, death, theology, and family bonds. If you like short stories, don’t miss this collection. (Quatro’s novel, Fire Sermon, is also fantastic.)

Night film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

I’ve talked about this book on the blog before (here, here, and here), and I’ll keep talking about it until more people fall in love with Marisha Pessl. I’ve read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, but I’ve never read anything like Night Film. It’s long, but it never feels long. It’s dark, creepy, and twisted, but isn’t too grisly for my sensitive self. It’s fiction, but thanks to the inclusion of articles, screenshots, and photos, it seems like real life. I was astounded by this novel about a mysterious death when I read it, and I think you’ll feel the same.

This will be my undoing book cover

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

Two facts about this book amaze me. One is that it’s a debut and the other is that the author is only in her twenties. This collection of essays feels like the work of someone who’s been writing for decades. Each essay is full of vulnerability and fierce precision. Jerkins is a natural storyteller who addresses hard topics but makes it look easy. Jerkins narrates the audio version of this book, and listening to her read her work made my reading experience even more powerful and authentic.

What We Lost by Sara Zarr

Young adult author Sara Zarr has received critical acclaim, yet she’s not nearly as popular as many other writers in the YA world. I’ve enjoyed all of her books, but this one is my favorite. It tells the story of Samara, a pastor’s kid whose world is falling apart. Her mom just got a DUI, her dad spends more time at church than he does at home, and a girl gets kidnapped in Samara’s town. As Samara’s family crumbles and her worldview shifts, Zarr explores her faith evolution with tenderness and honesty. That’s one of the qualities that makes her work so unique and special to me.

Dear fang with love book cover

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

This charming book about a father/daughter duo on an overseas trip is just fantastic. Vera is a teen girl who recently suffered a psychotic break at a party. Her dad is just beginning to get involved in her life and decides what she needs is a change of scenery. The two head to Lithuania for the summer, the homeland of Vera’s great-grandmother. On their trip they encounter family secrets that have long been buried, proving that you can’t run from your problems. This book is a gem.


What books do you think deserve a wider audience? What are some underrated favorites? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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

Checking in on My 2019 Reading Goals

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Since it’s about halfway through 2019, I think it’s time to revisit the reading goals I set for myself at the end of last year. I didn’t even remember all of the goals until I went back and read the blog post, which I took as a bad sign. I’m doing better than I thought I was, however, so I should probably get myself a book to celebrate.

via GIPHY

Goal #1: Read more books
by people of color. 

Last year, only 10% of the books I read were by a person of color. This year, I’m at 15% so far. I’m happy the percentage is higher, but I want that number to keep growing.

The 2019 books that meet this goal are:

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh

Goal #2: Read more books
in translation.

This category is my biggest failure since I’ve read 0 books in translation so far this year. Some of the unread books on my shelf that meet this goal are:

  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
  • Young Once by Patrick Modiano
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Goal #3: READ THE BOOKS
I ALREADY OWN.

I’m happy to say that Goal #3 is going quite well. Out of the 35 books I’ve read in 2019, I own 54% of them.

Goal #4: Read 75 books.

According to Goodreads, I’m one book behind on keeping up with this goal, but that’s better than I anticipated, so I’m happy with that.


Are there any books by people of color or books in translation that you recommend? How are your 2019 reading goals coming along? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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

The Something of Books

Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

― Ray Bradbury,
Fahrenheit 451

I work in a high school library and made a banned books display a couple of years ago. I chose the words above to be the centerpiece, not merely because of the censorship flowing through Bradbury’s novel, but because I loved this quote on its own. Sometimes when people ask me about my favorite books, I can’t explain why I like something. When I read a poem or a complicated text that I don’t fully understand, I can still find it beautiful and essential. I echo Bradbury’s words in those moments: “There must be something there.“

fahrenheit 451 book cover

Reading is an endless search to find that something. For some, it’s comfort. For others, it’s entertainment. William Nicholson writes, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Realizing there’s someone else in the world who thinks what you think or feels what you feel is a wonderful thing, especially when those thoughts and feelings are dark and isolating.

I think about the link between reading and loneliness a lot since working with teenagers. I feel a unique duty to these kids to be able to point them toward books that will inspire and teach them, but also toward books that will lessen the blows of that still-familiar teenage feeling of aloneness. A fictional character can say to them what someone else might not: “You’re okay. You’re not the only one. Life gets easier; I promise.”

Before I took my current job, I never read many young adult books, even as a teenager. I still don’t consider myself well read in the world of YA lit, but I do have a few favorites that I recommend frequently. When I dipped my toes into the water of YA books, I was surprised at how stellar the writing is and how adult the subject matter can get. I realize that sounds snobbish, but it’s true. I’m thankful for great writers like Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers, and Laurie Halse Anderson, who not only address hard topics but do so with eloquence.

Some of my favorite young adult books

For me, the element of surprise is one of the best things about reading. Not only does surprise open my eyes to whole new genres, but it gives me pause. A beautifully written sentence or paragraph makes me slow down and take note. Sometimes I end up seeing more in the long run by focusing on one small thing. Throughout my reading life, I’ve had my eyes opened so many times to new ideas and unique ways of seeing the world. Whether it’s discovering a whole new genre or reading a line of poetry that invites me to pause and see something ordinary in a new way, those moments of newness and wonder are necessary elements to the something of why I read.

There must be something there. I want each student who walks through the doors of my library to sense that truth. I want them to develop their own reasons for reading. I want books to become a joy and not a chore. Not every student is going to become a reader, but I want even the ones who don’t to be curious about how any character could stay in a burning house for the sake of some words bound together.

5 of My Favorite School Novels

We’re halfway through May now which means the school year is finally winding down. I have about four weeks left until I’m on summer vacation from my library job. Thanks to all of the graduations, tests, and year-end checklists, I’ve thought about school a lot lately, and I’m using that as inspiration for today’s post featuring some of my favorite novels set in a school or focused on students. A couple of these books deal with suicide, so if that’s not a topic you’re comfortable reading about this would be a good post to skip. Let’s dive in!

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne meet in high school. He’s popular but poor. Marianne is a social outcast, but she comes from a wealthy family full of terrible people. Though these two would never speak at school, they’re brought together when Connell shows up at Marianne’s house to pick up his mother who works as the family’s maid. They soon embark on a romantic relationship that Connell is desperate to keep secret so as not to jeopardize his social standing. Normal People follows Connell and Marianne through their high school love and explores how their bond is deepened and tested throughout college. Sally Rooney has important things to say about class and gender, and her dialog is fantastic. I’d been looking forward to this novel for months, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth book cover

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

During his eighth grade year, a bullied boy named Tristan kills himself after a love letter he wrote a girl is shared on Facebook. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth tells the story of the students who were involved in Tristan’s life, examines their guilt in the aftermath, and presents a harsh yet realistic look at life in high school. In addition to the students, readers meet Molly, an earnest new teacher hoping to make a significant impact on her students. The novel switches back and forth between perspectives, and I was fascinated by each one. I haven’t heard many people talk about this book, but it’s worth your time and attention, especially if you work with teens like I do.

Dare Me book cover

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s books are adult fiction, yet she writes teenagers so well. In Dare Me, she tells the story of a high school cheerleading squad living in the aftermath of a suspicious suicide. As an investigation into the death begins, the girls form new alliances, bond with their cool new coach, and treat each other with a viciousness masked by pompoms and the perfect routine. This book is chilling and impossible to put down. Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and Dare Me is an excellent place to start if you haven’t read her work before.

The Secret History book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In the first few pages of The Secret History, readers find out that a student at an elite college has died. The rest of the novel explores why and how. Richard is the main character, and when he transfers to Hampden College, he joins a group studying Greek classics under the direction of a professor the students nearly worship. Donna Tartt explores friendship, morality, literature, and devotion with great care and nonstop drama. The Secret History is suspense fiction at its finest, and one of my favorite novels of all time.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics book cover

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Blue lives with her professor father and has moved a lot for his work. When she’s a senior in high school, she and her father finally settle down, and Blue falls in with an eccentric group of students and their beloved teacher. Special Topics in Calamity Physics has been compared to The Secret History because of its plot, but this book has a lighter tone, though it too involves death and mysterious circumstances. This novel is what got Marisha Pessl added to my “I’ll Read Everything They Write” list. I’ve never read anything else quite like this book. I adore it, and I think literature-lovers who appreciate quirky fiction will, too.


What are your favorite school novels? What should I read next based on these books? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

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

8 of My Favorite Short Books

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Last month, I wrote a post about my favorite long books. I’ve been in a reading slump this April, and sometimes when that’s the case, I want to pick up something short. These past few weeks have been stressful for many different reasons (like this one), so I haven’t had the stamina for a long book.

With that in mind, today I want to share eight of my favorite short books. (I define short as being less than 250 pages.) If you too are in the midst of a reading slump, maybe something on this list will spark your interest and help you get your momentum back.

The Pleasure of My Company book cover

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin
163 pages

This brief, sweet story is about a man named Daniel who lives alone and suffers from OCD. He only leaves his house to go to Rite-Aid, and to get there, he has to use sloped driveways since he can’t step over curbs. A psychiatry student named Clarissa visits Daniel regularly in an attempt to figure out what’s going on in his head. When her abusive ex-husband shows up and threatens to take away their son Teddy, Daniel steps in and tries to save Clarissa and the boy. Through his relationship with these two, Daniel starts opening up and being able to embrace the world around him. Steve Martin narrates this audiobook, so if you’re a Martin fan like I am, that’s a great way to read this gem of a book.

Glaciers book cover

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
174 pages

Glaciers is a novel about a day in the life of Isabel, a twenty-something library employee working with damaged books in Portland. She lives a quiet life, loves anything vintage, and has unrequited feelings for a man at work. If you like books that dive deep into a character’s head and emotions, this is the novel for you. There’s not a lot of action or plot; instead, readers are allowed into Isabel’s head as she reflects on her past and thinks about her future. Glaciers is a charming, well-written delight of a book.

Dept. of Speculation book cover

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
179 pages

Though I’m happily unmarried, I love reading novels about marriage, especially when things aren’t going very well for the couple in question. Dept. of Speculation is about an unnamed woman known throughout the book as “the wife.” She and her husband used to write long, reflective letters to each other in which they would consider their lives and the world around them. In this novel, the wife is reflecting on her role as a mother, spouse, and lover of art and culture. I can’t believe how much depth Jenny Offill was able to reach in such few pages. Dept. of Speculation is a tightly constructed, excellent book about female identity and longing.

If Beale Street Could Talk book cover

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
197 pages

A few months ago, I started reading An American Marriage. I’d heard nothing but praise about the book, but I realized it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get into it, even though I made it halfway through the novel. After I read If Beale Street Could Talk, I realized how similar the plot is to An American Marriage. Both books are about couples who are forced apart when the man is arrested and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. While An American Marriage didn’t work for me, I loved If Beale Street Could Talk. Baldwin’s characters are well-developed, and their love is evident throughout the story. If Beale Street Could Talk is a compelling story about love, race, and the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love.

Interpreter of Maladies book cover

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
198 pages

When I read work by an excellent short story writer, I’m always in awe of their ability to tell a complete, meaningful story in so few words. Jhumpa Lahiri is an excellent short story writer, and Interpreter of Maladies is a beautiful example of the form. Many story collections can be hit and miss in terms of quality, but I love each story in this book.

When you reach me book cover

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
199 pages

When You Reach Me is a middle-grade novel, a type of book I never read. Something about it caught my interest, though, so I decided to give it a try. It takes place in New York City during the late 1970s and includes three storylines revolving around a sixth-grade girl named Miranda. Her mom is about to appear on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid, she and her best friend Sal have a falling out, and she starts receiving mysterious notes, including one that says, “I’m coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Somehow, Rebecca Stead ties these storylines together and throws in a bit of sci-fi and references to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, too. This novel is a beautifully written and engaging story, one I couldn’t put down. I am so glad I gave this book a chance. It was a good reminder that a particular age range shouldn’t dictate what I read. 

Frances and Bernard book cover

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
208 pages

When I heard that Frances and Bernard was inspired by Flannery O’Connor and her friendship with Robert Lowell, I was immediately interested as my love for O’Connor knows no bounds. This book is an epistolary novel comprised of letters between the two title characters who are writers that meet at an artists’ colony. Their bond is beautiful, as is Carlene Bauer’s prose. Frances and Bernard is a sweet story about friendship, love, creativity, and connection.

Gilead book cover

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
247 pages

Like Frances and Bernard, Gilead is also an epistolary novel. Rev. John Ames is an older man with a young son, and he decides to write him letters about his life and faith since he knows he won’t be around to tell him in person. Gilead is a masterpiece about family, memory, and God. It’s deeply theological yet also profoundly human. It’s one of my favorite novels of all time and truly deserves all the praise it’s received. This book is a modern classic.


What short books would you recommend? Do you find reading short things helpful sometimes?