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 June 2020

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It’s officially summer, and I’m on break from my school job until late August. I like my summers to be as plan-free as possible, which works out great for me this year. My birthday is next week, so my biggest dilemma this week is deciding what dessert I want. Even though I feel like the world around me is on fire right now, I have much for which to be grateful. Gratitude makes everything more bearable.

And now for what I read and loved in June! It was a great reading month, so I’m excited to share what books I finished.

What I Read

Queenie book cover

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie is a 25-year-old Jamaican Brit living in London. She’s reeling from a recent breakup with the love of her life who said he needed space. His lack of communication is breaking Queenie’s heart, so she looks for love elsewhere with men who don’t treat her as they should. Her work life is as messy as her dating life. Queenie works for a newspaper but is doing subpar work in which she quickly gets distracted. She longs for true love and to be a great journalist who covers essential issues, but she can’t quite get there. I was rooting for her through every step of her journey. This novel has some lighthearted moments, but it also has important things to say about friendship, love, and mental health.

White rage book cover

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson

My desire to read diversely has grown stronger over the past few weeks, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been wonderful to see the New York Times bestseller list full of titles by Black authors. One of the books I knew I wanted to read was White Rage. In it, Carol Anderson explores Black history from the Civil War to the present day. There was so much information in this book that was new to me. I learned a great deal about what life was really like for Blacks post-Civil War, and how colossal the battle was against ending segregated schools. White Rage is a slim book but is packed full of insight. It’s a must-read book I know I’ll turn to again and again. 

Rodham book cover

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I love history but have little interest in alternative history. I’d heard a lot of buzz about Rodham, though, so I decided to check it out to see if the buzz was valid. I started the book expecting to dislike it, but instead, I could hardly put it down. As you might have guessed from the title, Rodham tells the story of what might have happened to Hillary Clinton if she hadn’t married Bill. This book contains so many things I love: a strong protagonist, juicy politics, fascinating real-life history, and sweet female friendship. If you’re on the fence about this book like I was, give it a shot and let it surprise you. 

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Pizza Girl had been on my TBR since January, so I was thrilled when it was finally released last month. It’s about an 18-year-old girl who has just finished high school. She’s pregnant and is living with her mom and boyfriend. Both of them love and support her, but she’s not quite sure what to do with their affection. Her father has died, and though his alcoholism made their relationship weak, she’s still feeling the effects of his death. One day a woman named Jenny calls the pizza place where our heroine works and requests a pie with pepperoni and pickles, the only thing her son will eat. Pizza girl heads to the woman’s house with her order and becomes immediately captivated by Jenny. I appreciate what Pizza Girl is trying to do, but I wish it had more depth. The relationship between Jenny and the pizza girl is fascinating, yet it left me with a lot of questions, too. I like this book and think it’s worth reading but wanted more from it. If you like offbeat stories and appreciate writers like Ottessa Moshfegh and Halle Butler, you’ll probably enjoy this debut.

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracism is a new concept for me. I’ve learned there’s a difference between being someone who isn’t racist and someone who is actively antiracist. The latter is what matters and is what Ibram X. Kendi explores throughout his book. I appreciate the style in which Kendi writes. He links chapters together and shares his own story alongside thoughts from Black scholars. How to Be an Antiracist contains chapters focused on a single idea, such as biology, success, color, and survival. Kendi is a professor, and it’s evident from his writing that he’s an outstanding teacher. I learned a lot and would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about what it means to live as an antiracist. 

What I Loved

Page 1 books logo

Page 1 Book Subscription

Page 1 recently offered a sale on their monthly book subscription service. I love books, sales, and getting mail, so I quickly subscribed. (I’d subscribed before and only quit because I was out of room for more books. That’s still true, but now the world is falling apart, and I no longer care about that small detail.) What I love about this subscription is that it’s a surprise. You tell Page 1 some of your literary likes and dislikes, and they choose books based on your preferences. I got my first box last month but had already read the book they sent. Thanks to their 100% satisfaction guarantee, I told them I’d already read the book, and they sent another, allowing me to keep the first book. This subscription is fun, and it supports an indie bookstore with fantastic customer service. Check it out.

Flippy Tablet Pillow

I just bought myself a new iPad as an early birthday gift. (I can’t be the only person who buys themselves presents, right?) I wanted my time with my new toy to be as enjoyable as possible, which meant I needed to get a Flippy. And so I did! I heard of this from the oh-so-wonderful Instagram account Things I Bought and Liked. The Flippy makes using my iPad more convenient and comfortable. It’s excellent for sitting down and reading, and also good for using in the kitchen when I have a recipe on my iPad. I also like using the Flippy with my Kindle. Is this thing a tad extra? It sure is, but I have no regrets.

A picture of Taylor Swift

This Is Taylor Swift Spotify Playlist

I’ve tried to listen to new music this year, but when I’m stressed, I want to listen to something I already know and enjoy. Enter this Taylor Swift playlist. I’ve had this on constant repeat for the past few weeks. It’s been with me at work, in my car, and at home. I just love Taylor so much, you guys. Pretentious teen Andrea never would have admitted such a thing, but here we are.


What did you read and love in June? I’d love to hear!

What I Read and Loved in May 2020

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Despite the chaos in the world, May went by quickly. I started going back into my school libraries for a few hours a week and liked the sense of normalcy that provided.

In another act of normalcy, I put together some book lists, one of my favorite things to do. I shared two blog posts featuring Black Lives Matter reading options. Here’s the one for adults, and here’s the one for kids and teens.

Now let’s get to what I read and loved in May.

What I Read

Her every fear book cover

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Her Every Fear focuses on Kate, a Londoner who swaps apartments with her American cousin Corbin. They’ve never met, but the opportunity is too good for Kate to pass up. Kate heads to Boston and hopes to gain back some of the peace and independence she had before a former boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly killed her. Trouble follows Kate, though, when one of her new neighbors is found dead. Corbin quickly becomes a person of interest in the case, and Kate slowly learns that he’s not the person she thought he was. Peter Swanson has become one of my go-to thriller writers. His books are consistently gripping with exciting twists. Her Every Fear is no different. 

Behind closed doors book cover

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

This novel centers on Jack and Grace, a seemingly perfect newlywed couple. Everything about them is impressive, including their home and appearances. What looks ideal from the outside is anything but on the inside, though. I typically love domestic thrillers involving a tumultuous marriage, but this one didn’t work for me. The plot seems too unbelievable, even for a thriller. I kept wanting to roll my eyes and toss the book across the room. It was entertaining, so if that’s all you’re looking for, this book will do, but if you’re looking for more, you won’t find it here.

Team of five book cover

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump
by Kate Andersen Brower

Here’s a list of things I love:

  1. Air conditioning
  2. Iced coffee
  3. Books about presidents
  4. Books about presidents and their relationships with other presidents

Brower starts off her book in the Oval Office, where she’s interviewing President Trump. She allows him an opportunity to relate to and empathize with former presidents, but he doesn’t take it. His break from the so-called presidents club sets the tone for this book about the relationships between Carter, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama, and Trump. Brower explores the tensions and friendships between these men in the light of our volatile political climate If you’re a presidential history nerd like I am, you’ll enjoy this entertaining glimpse into the lives of America’s leaders.

Behind her eyes book cover

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

All I knew about Behind Her Eyes going in was that it has a shocking ending. I can verify that it does, but the stuff before the conclusion is pretty good, too. The story revolves around Louise, a single mom struggling to find her place in the world post-divorce. She meets a man in a bar named David, and they kiss, filling her with hope and desire. He turns out to be her new boss, though, and the new friend she just met is his wife, Adele. As the story progresses, Louise gets more and more involved with both David and Adele. As in every thriller ever, things are much more complicated than they seem and everyone has secrets. My attention span has been pretty short these past few weeks, but this book was the perfect choice to hold my attention.

What I Loved

Dead to me poster

TELEVISION: Dead to Me

To quote the youths, I can’t even with this show. I haven’t watched anything this addictive in a long time. If you’re unfamiliar, Dead to Me is a series about two women who become friends after meeting at a grief support group. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini are fantastic leads who excel at both drama and comedy. I think the less you know about the show going in, the better off you’ll be. There are twists and turns in nearly every episode, so make sure you have lots of time on your hands when you start this series because won’t want to stop. 

PBS American Experience logo with the American flag

DOCUMENTARY: American Experience: George W. Bush

As I’ve already established in this post, I love presidential history. I was excited to see a new documentary in the American Experience series, especially because it’s about George W. Bush. I was in high school when the US invaded Iraq, so I knew what was going on, but had no depth of knowledge to understand everything fully. This documentary did what I hoped it would do; I learned a lot about not just Iraq, but about what led to the September 11th attacks, how that crisis unfolded, and how it changed the entirety of Bush’s presidency. If you have even the slightest interest in presidents or American history, make sure to check this out.


What did you love in May? I’d love to hear!

What I Read and Loved in March 2020

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March was certainly a chaotic month, and April promises more of the same. I always strive to be a grateful person, but more than ever, I’m thankful for things I usually take for granted, like having enough food to eat, a home where I’m safe, and a job that continues to support me as I work from home.

I’m also grateful for books and the escape they provide in times of stress. Keep on reading to see what books I devoured last month (and for a lengthy list of other things that have helped keep me sane).

What I Read

Here for it book cover

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

I was unfamiliar with R. Eric Thomas before I read this book, and now I want to be his best friend. He writes a humor column for Elle, which, according to the site, “skewers politics, pop culture, celebrity shade, and schadenfreude.” Here for It is so funny that it made me laugh out loud several times, but Thomas also knows how to be serious, like in the essay where he talks about a friend’s death. If you enjoy writers like David Sedaris and Sloane Crosley, don’t miss this gem of a debut.

The girls in the garden book cover

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

Everything I love about Lisa Jewell’s books is present in The Girls in the Garden: a lush English setting, characters whose lives intersect in surprising ways, and the perfect amount of suspense. The setting for this book is an urban London neighborhood where the houses share a communal park that serves as their backyard. One night after a neighborhood party has ended, a teen girl is found battered and half-naked in the grass. As the book progresses, readers learn more about who she is and who might have left her for dead. If you’re looking for a great page-turner, this is it.

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

If you’re sensitive to stories of abuse, it’s probably best to skip this one.

When we meet Vanessa Wye, she’s a grown woman working at the concierge desk of a hotel. She used to attend boarding school, and one day a former peer reaches out to her about a teacher there she says abused both of them. Vanessa doesn’t see it that way, though. The man, a then-42-year-old named Jacob Strane, loved her, and she loved him. What her peer sees as abuse, Vanessa sees as her life’s great love story. The novel goes back and forth between timelines, giving readers Vanessa’s point of view as a teen and an adult. First-time novelist Kate Elizabeth Russell beautifully captures the way Vanessa must reinterpret her past and come to terms with her life. My Dark Vanessa is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2020. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Eight perfect murders book cover

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Malcolm co-owns and manages a bookstore that sells mysteries. Soon he’s thrust into the middle of his own when an FBI agent comes into his store and starts asking him questions about a list he posted online. Years earlier, Malcolm published a blog post on the bookstore’s website that listed eight perfect murders from various books. The FBI agent suspects someone is using Malcolm’s list to kill and wants his help. Peter Swanson has delivered another great mystery with this book, which is perfect for fans of thrillers and suspense stories. This novel is such a fun, twisted, and exciting book, and an ideal choice if you need a good distraction right about now.

Then she was gone book cover

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

One day, fifteen-year-old Ellie was walking to the library, but never came home. Ten years later, her family is still trying to pick up the pieces, desperate for answers about what happened to her. In an effort to move on, her mom, Laurel, starts a new relationship with Floyd, a charming man who quickly sweeps her off her feet. But the more Laurel gets to know Floyd and his young daughter, the more questions she has about what really happened to Ellie. Then She Was Gone is a fine book, but it’s my least favorite Lisa Jewell novel so far. I saw the ending coming and wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the story wrapped up.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I’ve been a fan of Matt Haig since I read his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. I love that book and think it should be required reading for anyone struggling with anxiety and depression. In this follow-up, Haig talks about what it’s like to live in a world that’s continually provoking anxiety. People are more connected than ever, yet loneliness is still a huge problem. We have more options today than we’ve ever had before, but that much freedom can provoke plenty of worries. Haig’s short chapters and helpful lists give readers a lot to think about, and his vulnerability in sharing his own mental health struggles is refreshing and appreciated.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
by Casey Cep

Furious Hours is divided into three parts: the story of the alleged serial murderer and fraudster Reverend Willie Maxwell, the trial against Maxwell’s eventual killer, and Harper Lee’s attempt to chronicle these stories in the long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Each part is interesting, but I think the book could have been a bit shorter. Casey Cep is a great writer who provides a lot of detail, and I didn’t think all of those details were necessary to the overall story she’s trying to tell. Still, Furious Hours is a fascinating book that’s perfect for true-crime lovers who are also interested in American literature.

What I Loved

All I can say in this time of great distress is thank God for streaming services that fill me with endless entertainment and stories of people who are crazier than I thought anyone could ever be.

The McMillions docuseries on HBO is an excellent fraud story, and I’m convinced that Doug, the FBI agent, needs his own show.

Like nearly everyone else in the world, I watched and was amazed by Netflix’s Tiger King. I listened to the podcast version of this story, but seeing these characters come to life onscreen was certainly an experience I won’t soon forget. Some of those images are seared into my mind forever.

Schitt’s Creek is one of my favorite discoveries so far this year. I love love love this show and have already watched several episodes multiple times. I will never get tired of Moira and David on my television screen.

I was not expecting how tense I’d feel while watching a baking show, but when a custard doesn’t set or a tiered cake comes crashing down, part of me withers and dies inside. In spite of that, The Great British Baking Show is exactly the kind of entertainment I need right now.


What did you read and love in March? What should I read and watch next? Let me know in the comments! Stay safe and healthy.

7 Elements I Look for in Books (And 35 Titles That Deliver)

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February was an awful reading month for me. I only finished one book, though I started several. There were books I was excited to read, but once I started, I quickly realized they weren’t for me. This situation got me thinking: what do I look for in a book? What elements pique my interest enough for me to want to read something? I thought about those questions, and today I’m sharing my answers.

Element #1: Good Writing

My #1 criteria for a book is good writing. I want beautiful prose and sentences that give me pause. I want writing that moves and surprises me.

When I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, it was easy to tell from the language that Vuong is also a poet. Normal People by Sally Rooney has excellent dialogue, which makes it feel like she eavesdropped on two people trying to navigate their relationship and wrote a book about it. When I read Leslie Jamison’s newest essay collection, Let It Scream, Let It Burn, I was reminded of how lovely her writing is and why I keep picking up her work. No other essayist makes me laugh like David Sedaris does. He combines hilarity and heartbreak like no one else, especially in his latest, Calypso. The profound and heartfelt letters from a preacher to his young son in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson have stayed with me for years.

Good writing makes for books that get inside my head and stay there.

Element #2: Well-Developed Characters

When I read fiction, I consider characters before plot. I’ve read several books that have a great plot yet zero character development. No matter how entertaining those books might have been, they were ultimately unsatisfying.

After reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, I felt like I knew the unnamed narrator because Moshfegh described her emotional crisis so intimately. I enjoyed Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid because the ever-so-complicated Alix Chamberlain seems like a real blogger, someone whose Instagram I might follow because her life looks perfect on the outside. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is a novel that’s precious to me because of Yale and Fiona, Makkai’s two protagonists whose lives intertwine over the years. I remember sitting in my car listening to This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel and feeling such concern for Rosie and Penn as they figure out the best way to support their child. When I heard that Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was being turned in a TV show, I was thrilled because Elena and Mia captivate me because of their different worldviews, and I want to know them even better.

I’m fascinated by people (even fictional ones) and want nothing more than to learn what makes someone who they are. Good character development gives me that and is one of the many reasons I adore books.

Element #3: A Vivid Setting

When I read, I like to feel immersed in a text. I want to see the world inside the pages clearly in my mind.

That experience is precisely what I got when I read In the Woods by Tana French. I felt the eeriness of the dark, creepy woods and the chilly Irish air. I felt the stifling Australian heat when I read Jane Harper’s The Dry. I imagined I was in the middle of a busy and loud NYC restaurant as I made my way through Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 is mostly set on a luxury cruise, and the confined spaces make the tension even higher. Though I don’t like snow in real life, I enjoyed it in The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley because it stranded a group of friends at a remote lodge, provoking excellent drama found in the best thrillers.

I love plenty of books that don’t have a vivid setting, but I always appreciate it when I find a book that takes me someplace new and uses setting to add to the story.

Element #4: Knowledge

When I was a child, my mom tells me I’d come up to her and ask, “Mommy, will you learn me?” I’ve always loved learning, and when I want to know about something, my first instinct is to read.

I wanted to know more about America’s opioid epidemic, and Beth Macy’s Dopesick certainly delivered. I finished that book with a mix of sadness and anger because of what I’d learned. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick shines a light on what it’s like in North Korea, a place unlike any other in the world. One of my favorite things to learn about is presidential history, and The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject. Their stories about the relationships between presidents were riveting and inspiring. I think Missoula by Jon Krakauer should be required reading for anyone about to go off to college because his reporting on rape and justice on a college campus is an essential addition to the conversation about sexual assault. I work with teenagers every day, so I picked up American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales, hoping to learn more about their social media habits. What I found out shocked me.

Thanks to the internet and the spread of media, learning is easier now than it’s ever been. For me, though, nothing beats a book when I want to know more about a topic.

Element #5: Entertainment

Though I’m passionate about learning, sometimes I want a book that will just entertain me.

Gillan Flynn’s Gone Girl was the book that hooked me on mysteries and thrillers because I couldn’t put it down. I raced through Lisa Jewell’s Watching You, wholly wrapped up in the lives of the people whose lives intersected in the upscale English neighborhood she created. Though it’s long, I devoured Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty in one sitting. I did the same with Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Few things entertain me the way humor does, and Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead, and None of This Will Matter is a hilarious and thoughtful essay collection.

My perfect reading life consists of a balance between books that teach and entertain me. The best books do both.

Element #6: Creativity

I’ve read a lot over the years, so it’s a particular delight when I find a book that offers originality.

Providence by Caroline Kepnes was a mixture of horror, mystery, thriller, and romance, all coming together to create a novel that I love and have recommended. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is a combination of essay and poetry, which perfectly captures the racial tension in modern America. Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks is a novel written in the form of lists. I was skeptical, yet ended up charmed and surprised by the book’s depth. Something I love almost as much as a good book is a good podcast, so when I heard that Sadie by Courtney Summers is partially written as a podcast, I was sold. Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (which I’ve referenced about 4782 times on this blog) includes photos, articles, and screenshots, making an already creepy novel about ten times spookier.

No matter what form creativity takes, I always appreciate and remember it.

Element #7: Honesty

Like most people, I just want Brené Brown to be proud of me. I value vulnerability, which is only possible with honesty.

In The Wondering Years, Knox McCoy talks about his evolving faith and the role pop culture plays in it in a way that makes sense to me, someone who grew up in an evangelical world just like he did. Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey helped bring about the #MeToo movement because of their courageous reporting and the frankness of the women who shared their stories with them. Their book She Said is a must-read. Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up encapsulates the messiness and confusion adulthood can bring, something we don’t talk about nearly enough. Kristi Coulter’s Nothing Good Can Come from This is a funny and smart story of giving up alcohol in a world that seems to be obsessed with it. When I read Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, a blunt memoir about growing up with Steve Jobs as a father, I realized how many assumptions I made about what it would be like to grow up around so much wealth and prestige.

All of these books taught me something thanks to the honesty of their authors who faced the chaos of life head-on and then wrote it down.


What about you? What elements do you look for in books? What is it that makes you love your favorite book? I’ve love to hear your thoughts!

10 Books for Black History Month (And the 11 Other Months, Too)

February is Black History Month, and I couldn’t let the month go by without sharing some of my favorite titles by black writers. Diversifying my reading has been a priority for me over the past few years, and following through on that goal has been wonderfully illuminating. Reading books by people who don’t look like me, have grown up in different environments than I have, or who have faced discrimination that I will never know is incredibly important for developing my empathy and understanding. Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Americanah book cover

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

At its heart, Americanah is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who fall in love as kids. They go their separate ways, however, when Ifemelu heads to America and Obinze goes to London. This novel has much to say about immigration, identity, and finding your place in the world. It’s beautifully written and engaging from beginning to end.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is the story of Michelle Obama’s life from her childhood in Chicago to her role as First Lady of the United States. All of the political stuff is as fascinating as you imagine it is, but Obama’s focus on family and education are my favorite parts of this outstanding and inspiring memoir.

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

If you’re paying attention, you know that the publishing industry is primarily white. That seems especially true when it comes to the mystery genre. I think Bluebird, Bluebird is the first mystery I’ve read by and about a person of color. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews begins investigating two murders in the small town of Lark. One of the victims is a black lawyer from out of town, and the other is a local white woman. Attica Locke has delivered an unputdownable mystery that’s also a smart look at racism and justice.

Born a crime book cover

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah

You probably know Trevor Noah as host of The Daily Show, but you’ll know him a lot better after reading this fantastic memoir. In it, Noah talks about growing up biracial in South Africa during apartheid, what it’s like to grow up poor, how his mother survived an abusive relationship, and how he found his way to comedy. Born a Crime is funny, sad, and ultimately hopeful.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is in a rare category of books that left me stunned. Somehow, first-time novelist Yaa Gyasi includes 300 years of Ghanian history in a mere 320 pages and does so beautifully. Each chapter tells the story of a different person who is a descendant of either Effia and Esi, two sisters born in the eighteenth-century. Homegoing is an unforgettable and frank look at the horrific legacy of slavery.

I'm still here book cover

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

In this memoir, Austin Channing Brown discusses what it was like to grow up black and Christian in a predominantly white culture. Brown cares deeply about racial justice, and that passion shines through each page of this book. I’m Still Here is a good book for anyone to read, but it should be required reading for white Christians who want to do better about honoring black lives and stories.

The mothers book cover

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

When Nadia is seventeen, she gets pregnant by Luke, the pastor’s son. How Nadia handles this pregnancy is what fuels the drama of this excellent novel. The Mothers is a page-turner but is also a smart meditation on grief, secrets, and love.

The nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys was a novel that I couldn’t stop reading even when I wanted to put it down. It’s about a terrible reform school in Florida that leaves physical and emotional scars on its students. Two of those students are Elwood and Turner, who face abuse, violence, and racism. The Nickel Boys is a bleak, haunting, but ultimately essential story of life in the Jim Crow era.

Sing unburied sing book cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of my favorite novels from the past few years. At the heart of the story are Jojo and Kayla, two young biracial kids living with their grandparents. Their mostly-absent mother, Leonie, is in and out of their lives due to drug addiction, and their father is in prison. He’s about to be released, though, so Leonie loads up the kids and her best friend and sets off on a road trip to pick him up. Like The Nickel Boys, this novel can be a challenging read due to its bleak subject matter, but it’s also a gripping look at how love can sustain us even when things are falling apart.

An untamed state book cover

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

I think Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer. She writes essays, memoir, short stories, and criticism and executes each flawlessly. An Untamed State is her first and only novel about a woman named Mireille. Like Gay, Mireille is of Haitian descent but currently living in America. On a trip to visit her wealthy parents in Port au Prince, Mireille is kidnapped by violent criminals who want money from her father. If you’re a sensitive reader, know that this book contains some rather graphic depictions of assault. It’s a difficult but excellent novel.


What other books by black authors should I add to my reading list? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

What I Read and Loved in January 2020

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

I’m usually glad when January is over since it often feels like a slog. After the excitement of the holidays, January comes as a kind of cold and dreary buzzkill that makes me want to curl up in a blanket every second of the day. And there’s usually snow, which is gross and terrible and limits my shoe choices. The good news is that I read some great books in January and made some new discoveries that I’m excited to talk about today. Let’s get to it.

What I Read

On earth we're briefly gorgeous book cover

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Since Ocean Vuong is a poet, I knew the writing in this novel would be beautiful, and it is. It’s written as a letter from a son to his mother in which he discusses growing up, sexuality, heritage, and family. My only criticism of the book is the somewhat choppy narrative style. Just as I’d be getting into the flow of a particular story, it would end, and another would begin. Even so, this novel is definitely worth reading if you love good, realistic prose.

Good girls lie book cover

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

This thriller is set at an elite private high school for girls in a small Virginia town. When the novel opens, a student has been found dead. The novel explores who this person was and why they were killed. I’ve read one of J. T. Ellison’s books before, and my issues with that book are present here, too, in that there’s not enough character development and too many twists. Good Girls Lie is entertaining from beginning to end, but doesn’t offer much else.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Alix is a white 30-something influencer who’s recently moved to Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. She hires a black woman named Emira as a babysitter to help care for her three-year-old daughter, Briar. When an emergency happens at Alix’s house one night, she calls Emira and begs her to pick up Briar and get her out of the house for a bit. Emira takes to the girl to a nearby high-end grocery store where she’s accused of kidnapping the child. The exchange between her and the security guard is all caught on tape. Such a Fun Age starts there and goes on to explore how Alix and Emira handle the fallout from this incident. This novel is a smart, thoughtful story about race, class, and privilege that I absolutely devoured. I imagine this book will be high on my best of 2020 list.

twenty-one truths about love book cover

Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

Do you know what I love almost as much as I love books? Lists. When I heard about Twenty-One Truths About Love and learned the entire thing is structured as various lists, I was intrigued but skeptical. My skepticism abated quickly, though, as I got to know Daniel, the novel’s protagonist. He’s a struggling bookstore owner and soon to be a first-time father. His finances are getting worse every month, and he can’t bear to tell his wife. Daniel is a sympathetic, funny, well-rounded character, especially considering this book’s structure. There was one plot point that I found to be silly, but otherwise, this novel is charming and inventive.

What I Loved

TELEVISION: Next in Fashion

Netflix’s new fashion competition show is an absolute delight. The designers are insanely talented, producing beautiful clothes in less than 48 hours. And unlike a lot of other competition shows, this one is exceedingly positive, with cast members appreciating and showing kindness to one another instead of tearing each other apart to win. Prepare to want a whole new wardrobe after watching this.

Power bank

TECH: Power Bank

One of my favorite Instagram accounts is @things.i.bought.and.liked. She continually has good recommendations, including beauty, lifestyle, and home products. She recently recommended this power bank, and when I saw it, I knew it was The Thing That Would Change My Life™. And it has! Instead of keeping track of cords for my phone, Kindle, wireless headphones, Bluetooth speaker, etc., I can use this one device to charge all of them. The cables fold into the device itself, and the power bank charges through an outlet. I love that it’s self-contained and small enough to fit in any handbag. 

Maggie Rogers album cover

MUSIC: Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life

This album isn’t a new discovery, but it’s the one I’ve been listening to all month. “Back in My Body” has been on constant repeat lately, and “Light On” is another favorite.

20 of My Favorite Contemporary Writers

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Have you ever loved an author’s work so much that you’re willing to read whatever they write next? Donna Tartt could write a review for her local hardware store, and I’d read it. David Sedaris could write about his sock drawer, and I’d curl up with that book right now.

Today I want to share 20 of my favorite contemporary writers. (To make this list, I had to have read at least two of their books.) Most of these writers are names you’ll probably know since you’re reading a book blog, but maybe there will be a discovery or two. Let my fangirling commence.

Megan Abbott

What she writes: Crime fiction and suspense

Why I like her work: Her books are unputdownable, keeping me in my chair until the final twist is revealed.

Where to start: You Will Know Me

Jami Attenberg

What she writes: Domestic fiction full of dysfunctional characters

What I like her work: I love books full of flawed yet fascinating characters, and Attenberg always delivers.

Where to start: All Grown Up

Sarah Bessey

What she writes: Poetic spiritual memoirs chronicling the evolution of her faith and theology

Why I like her work: Bessey is a skilled writer who can discuss complicated theology with a gentle touch.

Where to start: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women

Brené Brown

What she writes: Candid nonfiction about shame and vulnerability

Why I like her work: Few books have been life-changing for me, but Brown’s truly have been. I can’t think of any other writers doing the type of work she’s doing.

Where to start: The Gifts of Imperfection

Gillian Flynn

What she writes: Dark, twisted suspense

Why I like her work: When I read thrillers, plot is important, but good characters are my first priority. Flynn writes complex (and terribly messed up) characters so well.

Where to start: Gone Girl

Tana French

What she writes: Crime and mystery fiction

Why I like her work: Tana French is the queen of her genre. Her prose is fantastic and her character development is second to none.

Where to start: In the Woods

Roxane Gay

What she writes: Everything: cultural criticism, essays, memoir, fiction

Why I like her work: Gay is an incredibly engaging writer. She can make any topic interesting. She’s as funny as she can be heartbreaking.

Where to start: Bad Feminist

Jane Harper

What she writes: Atmospheric mysteries set in Australia

Why I like her work: I appreciate books with a strong sense of place, and that’s where Harper excels. When I read her books, I feel like I’m right there in the world she’s created.

Where to start: The Dry

Leslie Jamison

What she writes: Memoir, essays, criticism, fiction

Why I like her work: Her prose is gorgeous. She writes like a poet.

Where to start: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Lisa Jewell

What she writes: Fast-paced mysteries and thrillers

Why I like her work: I like books that are suspenseful, set in England, and full of compelling characters and stories. Jewell gives me all that and more.

Where to start: Watching You

Anne Lamott

What she writes: Spiritual essays, memoir, fiction

Why I like her work: Lamott is unabashedly herself. Her work is thoughtful, joyful, and always worth reading.

Where to start: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Liane Moriarty

What she writes: Character-driven suspense and domestic fiction

Why I like her work: Moriarty’s books have a lot going on. Sometimes when books are plot-heavy, characterization is sacrificed. That’s not the case with her work, though. Her characters are as well-developed as her stories are gripping.

Where to start: Big Little Lies

Haruki Murakami

What he writes: Surrealist fiction

Why I like his work: Murakami’s fiction is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. It’s weird, wonderful, and hard to explain.

Where to start: Norwegian Wood

Celeste Ng

What she writes: Complex literary fiction that grapples with identity

Why I like her work: Ng’s novels are beautifully written, well-paced, and memorable. I find myself thinking about her characters long after I’ve finished her books.

Where to start: Everything I Never Told You

Marisha Pessl

What she writes: Twisty mysteries and suspense

Why I like her work: Pessl crafts superb, inventive stories that keep you guessing and thinking until the last page.

Where to start: Night Film

Riley Sager

What he writes: Creepy suspense

Why I like his work: Sager’s novels are the definition of page-turners. I know I can count on him to deliver a book I want to read in one sitting.

Where to start: Final Girls

David Sedaris

What he writes: Humorous essays

Why I like his work: Sedaris is hilarious. That’s all you need to know.

Where to start: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Donna Tartt

What she writes: Psychological and atmospheric literary fiction

Why I like her work: When I read Donna Tartt, I feel wholly immersed in the situations she’s created for her complex characters.

Where to start: The Secret History

Barbara Brown Taylor

What she writes: Spiritual memoir and religion

Why I like her work: Some spiritual books can come across as preachy or too sentimental. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about spirituality and religion with tenderness, care, insight, and great love for the Church.

Where to start: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Jesmyn Ward

What she writes: Memoir and devastating-yet-somehow-still-hopeful fiction

Why I like her work: I read a lot of fiction and end up forgetting many plot lines and characters, but that doesn’t happen with Ward’s books. Her stories are emotionally resonant and stick with you.

Where to start: Sing, Unburied, Sing


Who are your must-read authors? Do you share any of mine? I’d love to hear!

Book Options for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge

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Though I didn’t meet the reading goal I set for 2019, I did manage to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. If you’re unfamiliar, Modern Mrs. Darcy is a delightful book blog by Anne Bogel, who’s also an author and host of the spectacular What Should I Read Next? podcast.

I just want Anne to be proud of me, so I’m going to attempt her 2020 reading challenge. Today I’ll share some books that I’m thinking about reading for the prompts that will hopefully inspire you to take on the challenge yourself.

But first, let’s take a look at last year’s challenge and what I read for it. For most prompts, I read several books that could count, so I’m sharing my favorite per category.

What I Read for 2019’s Challenge

  1. Book I’ve been meaning to read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. A book about a topic that fascinates me: Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
  3. A book in the backlist of a favorite author: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  4. A book recommended by someone with great taste: Tenth of December by George Saunders
  5. Three books by the same author: I Found You, The Family Upstairs, and Watching You by Lisa Jewell
  6. A book you chose for the cover: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  7. A book by an author who is new to you: Normal People by Sally Rooney
  8. A book in translation: A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles
  9. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
  10. A book published before you were born: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Possibilities for the 2020 Challenge

A book published the decade you were born:

Beloved book cover

I was born in 1987, and Beloved by Toni Morrison is what sounds most appealing to me from that year. Plus, it’s been sitting unread on my bookshelf for far too long.

A debut novel:

Such a Fun Age, Pizza Girl, and Creatures book covers

The debuts I’m most excited about right now are Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, and Creatures by Crissy Van Meter.

A book recommended by a source you trust:

Book covers for The Dearly Beloved and The Dutch House

I’m a big fan of the Popcast podcast, and appreciate how often the hosts reference books. Co-host Knox McCoy said how much he loves The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. Since his literary tastes often align with mine, I’m looking forward to reading this story about faith and friendship.

I’m also eager to pick up Ann Patchett’s latest, The Dutch House, recommended by co-host Jamie Golden.

A book by a local author:

Book covers for Beautiful Ruins, The Arsonist, and Among the Dead and Dreaming

I’m lucky to live in a city with a several notable writers, such as Shann Ray, Samuel Ligon, Stephanie Oakes, Jess Walter, and Sharma Shields.

A book outside your (genre) comfort zone:

Book covers for The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and The City We Became

In 2018, I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December when I was seeking a lighthearted holiday read. I never read romance, but I enjoyed that book so much. I’m excited for her next release, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, even though the genre isn’t my typical fare.

In a preview of books coming out in 2020, I read about N. K. Jemisin’s new release, The City We Became. It’s a fantasy novel set in New York City about residents having to defend NYC from an ancient evil. Even though I never read fantasy, this book sounds intriguing.

A book in translation:

3 Haruki Murakami book covers

I first read Japanese writer Haruki Murakami over ten years ago when I randomly picked up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are still several of his books on my shelf that I haven’t read, though, including Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Kafka on the Shore, and Killing Commendatore. I also want to read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

A book nominated for an award in 2020:

Book covers for Death in her hands, American Dirt, and Transcendent Kingdom

It’s too soon to say for sure what books will be nominated for awards in 2020, but based on history and current buzz, I’m willing to bet the new novels from Yaa Gyasi and Ottessa Moshfegh will get nominated for something, along with American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, her debut. (EDIT: Or maybe not.)

A re-read:

Book covers for Stoner, The Secret History, and The Remains of the Day

I hardly ever re-read books, but it’s a habit I’d like to start. I love Stoner by John Williams, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, so those seem like good options.

A classic you didn’t read in school:

book covers for East of Eden, A Farewell to Arms, and Their Eyes Were Watching God

There are many classics I haven’t read, but three came to mind immediately for this prompt: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. These titles have been on my to-read list for years.

Three books by the same author:

I’m looking forward to reading more from these prolific authors:

  • James Baldwin
  • Tana French
  • Rebecca Makkai
  • Ruth Ware
  • George Saunders
  • Jami Attenberg
  • Ottessa Moshfegh

Are you participating in the MMD challenge this year? If so, what are you most excited to read?