What I Read and Loved in January 2020

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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?

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!

The Best Books I've Read in the Last Decade

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With a new decade soon upon us, many lists have appeared ranking the best whatever of the last ten years, like this one from Lit Hub, which ranks novels. Their list inspired me to start thinking about one of my own. I’ve tracked each book I’ve read since 2010, so I looked over all of those titles and tried to narrow it down to a top ten. This project did not go well at first. After several drafts and deep breaths, though, I’ve finally put together a list that feels right. To avoid a nervous breakdown, I focused only on fiction (sorry, poetry and nonfiction). I might change my mind tomorrow, but as of now, here are the novels I’ve loved most during the past ten years. 

Stoner book cover

Stoner by John Williams
Published in 1965 | Read in 2010

When Stoner appeared in 1965, it didn’t make much impact. It received praise but wasn’t popular. When New York Review Books published the book again in the 2000s, it became a cult hit. A former coworker recommended the book to me, raving about how good it was. I knew he was right within a few pages. I’ve seen Stoner referred to as a perfect novel, and I tend to agree. It’s a quiet, unassuming story about the life of William Stoner, a midwestern man who pursues his love of literature, gets married, has a daughter, and must face his share of regrets and disappointments. This novel is for readers who love character development and appreciate stories about the ordinariness of life. I’m grateful Stoner finally got the attention it deserves. 

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published in 1992 | Read in 2012

I wish I could remember what led me to Donna Tartt, but I don’t. What I do remember, though, is finishing the last page of The Secret History and wishing I could start all over again, never having read it before. I wanted to experience the book again for the first time because the story and eccentric characters enthralled me. The novel takes place at a college in New Hampshire, where a small group of classics students becomes devoted to a mysterious professor. In the book’s first few pages, readers know that one of those students has died. What we don’t know is what led to his death and how the others were involved. Tartt’s prose is gorgeous, and her ability to build suspense even after revealing a major plot point at the very beginning is unmatched. The Secret History is fiction at its finest. 

Gilead book cover

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Published in 2004 | Read in 2015

You might not think a novel written in the form of a father’s letter to his son would make for fascinating reading, but you’d be wrong. Gilead is a stunning meditation on faith, family, and what makes us human. I rarely write in my fiction books, yet it seems as if every other sentence of this novel is underlined. If you appreciate thoughtful, reflective literature, don’t miss this gem. 

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French
Published in 2007 | Read in 2018

One of my biggest reading regrets is waiting so long to read Tana French. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the reigning queen of the police procedural. In the Woods is everything I want in a suspense or mystery novel: it’s well-written, has a moody setting, is full of well-rounded characters, and contains just enough creepiness to keep me on the edge of my seat. French starts her Dublin Murder Squad series with Rob, a detective with a lot of baggage. He started life as Adam, the boy who was left behind when two of his friends vanished in the woods one day. They were never found and Adam couldn’t remember what happened, so he changed his name and everything else about his life. When a young girl is found dead in the same woods where his friends disappeared, Rob must face everything he’s been running from, whether he’s ready or not. (If you’re a fan of this book, check out the new Dublin Murders series on STARZ. It’s fantastic.)

Night film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published in 2013 | Read in 2013

Saying that Night Film is a suspense novel feels like saying the Beatles were a rock band. It’s true, but there’s so much more that needs to be said. Pessl’s second novel tells the story of a young woman’s apparent suicide. Her father is an iconic and reclusive horror filmmaker. When a journalist gets suspicious and starts investigating the death, he sets out on a journey that will keep you turning the pages all night long. Night Film makes the reader feel as if she’s in one of the horror films the book references. This novel is creepy, engaging, well-written, and utterly brilliant. I love it. 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published in 2015 | Read in 2016

No other novel has wrecked me the way A Little Life did. I was an emotional mess for several days after finishing this 720-page masterpiece. The book is about a group of four male friends but focuses on Jude, a deeply-wounded man who is no stranger to trauma and heartache. A Little Life follows him, Willem, JB, and Malcolm throughout a few decades of their lives. Though this book contains some genuinely bleak content, it’s a love letter to friendship, the families we choose, and the families who choose us. 

The nix book cover

The Nix by Nathan Hill
Published in 2016 | Read in 2017

Two things surprise me about The Nix. The first is that it’s a debut novel, and the second is that it works. It’s over 500 pages, goes back and forth in time, is full of different characters, addresses topics like academia, war, relationships, politics, and old family myths, and somehow it not only works but exceeds any expectations I had for it. At the center of this sweeping story is Samuel, a bored college professor whose only joy in life is a video game. After being out of touch with his mother for years, they reunite, and their reunion sets off a series of events and remembrances. There were so many different threads throughout this novel, and I knew there was no way Hill was going to weave them all together in the end. I was wrong, and he did. The Nix is an outstanding novel, and I cannot wait to see what Hill does next. 

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published in 2016 | Read in 2019

Homegoing isn’t a long novel, yet it encompasses over three hundred years. The story begins during the eighteenth century in Ghana, where we meet two sisters named Esi and Effia. Their lives diverge, and the rest of the novel follows their descendants to present-day America. Homegoing is not only an excellent piece of fiction, but it helped me understand how the shameful legacy of slavery affects generations. 

Sing unburied sing book cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Published in 2017 | Read in 2017

Jojo and his little sister Kayla live with their grandparents in Mississippi. Their black mother, Leonie, is a drug addict, and their white father is in prison. When he gets released, Leonie packs up the kids and her best friend and sets out on a road trip to pick him up. Sing, Unburied, Sing is set mostly during that trip. Jesmyn Ward tells a beautiful story about family, love, addiction, and the ghosts that haunt us. The relationship between Jojo and Kayla is precious, and the presence of their caring grandparents lends some joy to an otherwise sad novel. I read this book in one day because I couldn’t put it down. 

The great believers book cover

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Published in 2018 | Read in 2018

This novel goes back and forth between two timeless. One focuses on Yale, an art gallery director living in Chicago during the mid-1980s. The other is about Fiona, the little sister of one of Yale’s friends, who heads to Paris in the early 2000s in search of her daughter. Yale is presented with an opportunity to acquire an incredible collection of art for his gallery. However, while he’s achieving personal success, his friends are all dying of AIDS, including Fiona’s brother. The Great Believers is a novel about friendship, art, and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. The stories of Yale and Fiona intersect beautifully. If you read and loved A Little Life as much as I did, make sure you read this one, too, as it has a similar tone. It’s a novel that has haunted me ever since I finished it. 

What I Read and Loved in October 2019

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

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

What I Read

The need book cover

The Need by Helen Phillips

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

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

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

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison

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

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

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

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

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

What I Loved

PODCAST: Office Ladies

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

BEAUTY: RMS Beauty Wild With Desire Lipstick in Temptation

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

GADGET: iPhone 11

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


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

5 Books That Deserve More Love

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

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.