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

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

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

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

I want to show you more book cover

I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro

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

Night film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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

This will be my undoing book cover

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

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

What We Lost by Sara Zarr

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

Dear fang with love book cover

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

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


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

What I Read and Loved in June 2019

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

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

Let’s get going.

What I Read

The Ruins book cover

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan
Rating: 4/5

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

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

The Night Before by Wendy Walker
Rating: 2/5

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

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

The Woman in Cabin 10 book cover

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

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

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

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

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

My year of rest and relaxation book cover

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

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

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

What I Loved

PODCAST: To Live and Die in L.A.

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

MOVIE: Yesterday

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

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

GADGET: Chef’n VeggiChop Hand-Powered Food Chopper

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

Worthwhile Links

My June Blog Posts

Checking in on My 2019 Reading Goals

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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

via GIPHY

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

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

The 2019 books that meet this goal are:

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

Goal #2: Read more books
in translation.

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

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

Goal #3: READ THE BOOKS
I ALREADY OWN.

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

Goal #4: Read 75 books.

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


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

15 New Books I Want to Read This Summer

My summer break officially begins on Friday, and I cannot wait. People have been asking me what I plan to do over the summer, and my answer is absolutely nothing, which actually means sitting in front of a fan and reading a large stack of books.

One of my summer reading goals is to read a lot of the stuff that’s on my shelves already. I’ve owned some books for years and need to either read them or pass them on. I was excited about this plan, and then I realized how many library holds I’ve placed for books coming out over the next couple of months. Summer hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already buried in summer reading choices.

Today I want to share 15 new books that I’m excited to read this summer. My list includes mysteries, thrillers, essays, historical fiction, and some quirky novels. The first two books on my list have already been released, but the rest come out over the next few months. I know I won’t get to all of them by the time I go back to work in August, but I’m certainly going to try.

All summaries are from Goodreads.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it.

mostly dead things book cover

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.

Fake like me book cover

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

Release Date: June 18

After a fire decimates her studio, including the seven billboard-size paintings for her next show, a young, no-name painter is left with an impossible task: recreate her art in three months-or ruin her fledgling career. 

Homeless and desperate, she flees to an exclusive retreat in upstate New York famous for its outrageous revelries and glamorous artists. And notorious as the place where brilliant young artist Carey Logan-one of her idols-drowned in the lake. 

But when she arrives, the retreat is a ghost of its former self. No one shares their work. No parties light up the deck. No one speaks of Carey, though her death haunts the cabins and the black lake, lurking beneath the surface like a shipwreck. As the young painter works obsessively in Carey’s former studio, uncovers strange secrets and starts to fall–hard and fast–for Carey’s mysterious boyfriend, it’s as if she’s taking her place. 

But one thought shadows her every move: What really happened to Carey Logan?

Fleishman is in trouble book cover

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Release date: June 18

Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.

But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.

Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.

I like to watch book cover

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution
by Emily Nussbaum

Release date: June 25

From her creation of the first “Approval Matrix” in New York magazine in 2004 to her Pulitzer Prize–winning columns for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum has known all along that what we watch is who we are. In this collection, including two never-before-published essays, Nussbaum writes about her passion for television that began with stumbling upon “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”—a show that was so much more than it appeared—while she was a graduate student studying Victorian literature. What followed was a love affair with television, an education, and a fierce debate about whose work gets to be called “great” that led Nussbaum to a trailblazing career as a critic whose reviews said so much more about our culture than just what’s good on television. Through these pieces, she traces the evolution of female protagonists over the last decade, the complex role of sexual violence on TV, and what to do about art when the artist is revealed to be a monster. And she explores the links between the television antihero and the rise of Donald Trump.

The book is more than a collection of essays. With each piece, Nussbaum recounts her fervent search, over fifteen years, for a new kind of criticism that resists the false hierarchy that elevates one form of culture over another. It traces her own struggle to punch through stifling notions of “prestige television,” searching for a wilder and freer and more varied idea of artistic ambition—one that acknowledges many types of beauty and complexity, and that opens to more varied voices. It’s a book that celebrates television as television, even as each year warps the definition of just what that might mean.

Lock every door book cover

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Release date: July 2

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Whisper network book cover

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Release date: July 2

Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are four women who have worked at Truviv, Inc., for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Ames is a complicated man, a man they’ve all known for a long time, a man who’s always been surrounded by…whispers. Whispers that have always been ignored by those in charge. But the world has changed, and the women are watching Ames’s latest promotion differently. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough. 

Sloane and her colleagues set in motion a catastrophic shift within every floor and department of the Truviv offices. All four women’s lives—as women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversaries—will change dramatically as a result.

“If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one, “none of this would have happened.”

The Nickel Boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Release date: July 16

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. 

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.

Lady in the lake book cover

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Release date: July 23

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows. 

Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Release date: July 30

On a cold December evening, Autumn Spencer’s twin sister Summer walks to the roof of their shared Harlem brownstone and is never seen again—the door to the roof is locked, and no footsteps are found. Faced with authorities indifferent to another missing woman, Autumn must pursue answers on her own, all while grieving her mother’s recent death.

With her friends and neighbors, Autumn pretends to hold up through the crisis. She falls into an affair with Summer’s boyfriend to cope with the disappearance of a woman they both loved. But the loss becomes too great, the mystery too inexplicable, and Autumn starts to unravel, all the while becoming obsessed with murdered women and the men who kill them.

In Speaking of Summer, critically acclaimed author Kalisha Buckhanon has created a postmodern, fast-paced story of urban peril and victim invisibility, and the fight to discover truth at any cost.

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

Release date: August 6

Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die. text

The Yellow House book cover

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Release date: August 13

In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant–the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow Housetells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.

Coventry book cover

Coventry by Rachel Cusk

Release date: August 20

Rachel Cusk gathers a selection of her nonfiction writings that both offers new insights on the themes at the heart of her fiction and forges a startling critical voice on some of our most personal, social, and artistic questions. Coventry encompasses memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about literature, with pieces on family life, gender, and politics, and on D. H. Lawrence, Francoise Sagan, and Elena Ferrante. Named for an essay in Granta (“Every so often, for offences actual or hypothetical, my mother and father stop speaking to me. There’s a funny phrase for this phenomenon in England: it’s called being sent to Coventry”), this collection is pure Cusk and essential reading for our age: fearless, unrepentantly erudite, and dazzling to behold.

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

Release date: August 20

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.

Red at the bone book cover

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Release date: September 17

Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson’s extraordinary new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of this child. 

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s birthday celebration in her grandparent’s Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, escorted by her father to the soundtrack of Prince, she wears a special, custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own sixteenth birthday party and a celebration which ultimately never took place. 

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.


What books are on your summer reading list?

Reading Recap | May 2019

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

April was a rough month, so I only managed to read one book. I made up for it this month, though, and read eight. It feels so good to be back into my reading groove, and several of the books I finished in May are fantastic. Let’s get to them.

Normal People book cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Connell and Marianne attend school together but are in different social circles. Connell actually has a social circle, but Marianne is the odd loner. She comes from a wealthy family, and Connell’s mother is their housekeeper. While Marianne and Connell would never speak to each other in school, they start talking when Connell comes over to pick up his mom. They quickly enter an on-again, off-again relationship which Normal People chronicles over many years.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Sally Rooney writes excellent dialog; I thoroughly enjoyed Connell and Marianne’s conversations. I also appreciated Rooney’s sympathetic treatment of mental illness in this novel.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

People who enjoy character-driven literary fiction will like this book a lot.

Book Love book cover

Book Love by Debbie Tung
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Book Love is a graphic novel that reads like a love letter to books and reading.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The illustrations are lovely, and the author’s enthusiasm for books is contagious.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Book lovers will find a friend in Debbie Tung and will enjoy this brief, sweet book.

The New Me book cover

The New Me by Halle Butler
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Millie is thirty and struggling. She can’t hold down a job and has to use a temp agency. Her only friend treats her terribly. She has to rely on her parents for financial support, and her mother warns her that the end of it is coming soon. When Millie gets assigned to work in a trendy new office, she hopes to become a permanent staff member and that hope fuels her longing for reinvention.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Halle Butler has written a character who isn’t exactly likeable (*gasp!*), but who I was rooting for anyway. This is a slim, quick read, but has a lot of great things to say about image, consumerism, and feeling stuck in life.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Readers who enjoy quirky characters and satire will probably enjoy The New Me the most.

I'll be there for you book cover

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller
Rating: 3/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

I’ll Be There for You tells the story of Friends, one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of the ’90s and early 2000s. Kelsey Miller talks about things like what life was like for the cast members before Friends, what led to the show’s creation, and how the cast rallied together for equal pay.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Whether you’re a huge fan of the show or not, this book is an interesting read that sheds light on why Friends became such a big deal. I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know, but I wanted a light book and this book delivered.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Fans of the show and pop culture enthusiasts will get the most out of this book.

southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Southern Lady Code is a humorous essay collection about womanhood, friendship, and life in New York City when you have southern roots.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I knew that Helen Ellis is hilarious because I read and enjoyed her collection of short stories, American Housewife, but Southern Lady Code exceeded all of my expectations. It’s witty, but has some sweet, heartfelt moments, too.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Fans of David Sedaris and Nora Ephron will find a lot to love in this book.

The White Album by Joan Didion
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

The White Album is a collection of Didion’s essays from the late 1960s and ’70s.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I’ve always been interested in this time period, so I like the historical aspect of the book. I had a hard time connecting with most of these essays, though. This is the first Didion book I’ve read, so I think my expectations were too high.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

Even though I didn’t care for this book much myself, Didion is beloved by many readers who probably adore this collection.

Interior States by Meghan O’Gieblyn
Rating: 2/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Interior States is an essay collection about religion and culture in the Midwest.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Just like with The White Album, I think my high expectations for this book left me a bit disappointed. I love religion writing and I’m from the Midwest, so this book seemed right up my alley. While I did enjoy several of the essays, I was hoping for more depth regarding O’Gieblyn’s faith journey. While she does address it throughout the book, her reasons for leaving Christianity behind were glossed over a bit too quickly for me. It turns out I was more interested in her story than in the Midwest’s story.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

If you’re interested in religion and its cultural impact, you might really like this book.

State of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts by Nick Hornby
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS 
BOOK ABOUT?

Louise and Tom have just started attending marriage counseling thanks to some infidelity and lack of communication. Before they head into their weekly sessions, they meet at a pub across the street for a drink and talk about their relationship. This book includes ten of those conversations.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR NOT) ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I’ve read a lot of books by Nick Hornby, and he’s one of those authors who I know will deliver an interesting read infused with humor, even when the book is about a serious topic. That combo is precisely what I got here in his latest release. This short book is mostly just dialog, which Hornby writes exceptionally well. I could have read many more conversations between Tom and Louise.

WHO SHOULD READ 
THIS BOOK?

If you’re like me and enjoy books that give you a inside look at a complicated marriage, I think you’ll really like this.


May’s Blog Posts

The Something of Books

Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash

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

― Ray Bradbury,
Fahrenheit 451

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

fahrenheit 451 book cover

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

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

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

Some of my favorite young adult books

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

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