Book Chats

Best Books of 2020: Literary and Historical Fiction, Plus Some Geeky Reading Stats (and Pie Charts!)

In 2020, I read 205 books this year totaling 67,188 pages. I know reading was all over the place for a lot of people, but for me this was my best reading year on record, both in terms of quantity and quality (as evidenced by the plethora of 4 and 5 star ratings). At the same time, I genuinely think I was harsher with ratings than ever before. If I didn’t like something, I felt no pressure to pretend otherwise. If you want to see everything I read in 2020 and follow what I’m reading in 2021, check out my Reading Challenge on Goodreads. Also just be friends with me on Goodreads in general because I want to see what you’re reading and talk about it!!!! 

I’m going to start with some stats because I think it’s interesting, but if that’s not your jam, skip down to the book list!

Of the 205 books I read in 2020

156 were Fiction, 46 were Nonfiction, and 3 were Poetry collections.

164 were by female authors, 36 were by male authors, and 5 were by nonbinary authors or more than one author.

142 were by white authors and 63 were by authors of color

In terms of genre, 57 were general contemporary fiction or contemporary literary fiction, 36 were mystery/thriller/crime, 28 were memoir, 18 were general nonfiction,17 were romance, 15 were fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction, 14 were historical literary fiction, 9 were horror, 8 were YA, and 3 were poetry collections.

For reviews, I gave 43 5-star reviews, 84 4-star reviews, 62 3-star reviews, 12 2 star reviews, and 4 books I did not rate.

Now that my nerdiest self is satisfied, on with the rest of my favorite books of 2020!

I’ve divided my favorite literary fiction into historical literary fiction (meaning anything set before the present day) and contemporary literary fiction. I’m also tacking on my favorite romance and favorite fantastical/speculative fiction books at the end.

Best Literary Fiction (Historical)

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

It’s 1953 and Tehran is a hotbed of political turmoil and activism. Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop is an island of calm in the middle of it all. When Mr. Fakhri introduces his two favorite customers, Roya and Bahman, romance blossoms. The teenagers are giddy with joy, but on the night before their secret wedding, tragedy strikes. The couple is caught up in the violence of the coup d’etat and are separated…possibly forever? Heartbroken, Roya moves forward, eventually moving to California and building a life there. But when a chance encounter brings Bahman back into her life 60 years later, everything comes rushing back.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

This book is not going to be for everyone, but this might have been my favorite book of the whole year.. If you have no background in the Christian church or interest in Christianity, I doubt this will interest you, but it spoke perfectly to my own spiritual history and struggles with faith. The Dearly Beloved tells the story of two couples who are brought together in 1963 when the two husbands are hired to co-pastor a church. Charles is an academic who was struck profoundly by the unwavering sense of truth . His faith transcends understanding and is strong and unwavering. Meanwhile, his wife Lily is an avowed atheist. He does not try to change Lily’s mind, and she does not try to undermine his beliefs and his career. Meanwhile, James is an activist and an idealist with a passion for social justice. Although he isn’t sure he believes all the tenets of the Christian faith, he has come to believe that the church is the best vehicle for him to serve people in need. His wife Nan on the other hand is a devout believer from a long line of devout believers. This is a quiet, but beautiful story about these two couples over a long period of time as they each wrestle with their beliefs, support and challenge one another, and experiences the trials and triumphs of life together.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

This book really took me by surprise. I am not typically drawn to historical fiction, particularly not set in Biblical times, but I gave this a try because I adore Sue Monk Kidd. This is the story of the fictional wife of Jesus, a woman named Anna. Not only was I engaged by the beautiful writing and storytelling, the character of Jesus the man as he is portrayed through the eyes of Anna was so compelling. I especially loved how Kidd took the words of Jesus from the gospels and wove them gently into conversations in a way that made me see Jesus as a real person instead of this disembodied voice reciting aphorisms. There is also a big feminist slant to this book since it is told from the perspective of a woman in a time when women were often treated as property. It’s really just lovely. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I don’t know what there is to say about this that hasn’t already been said. It is worth the hype. Identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella grow up as light-skinned black girls in the small town of Mallard, Louisiana (Side note: Mallard is a fictional town, but the characters actually go to the town where I went to high school several times in the book, so that was fun). At the age of 16 the twins run away to New Orleans where they end up forging separate lives. Desiree ends up returning to Mallard with her dark-skinned daughter years later after escaping from an abusive husband. Meanwhile, Stella has made her own life in California where she has been passing as white, marrying a white man and keeping her past a secret. This book is a fascinating exploration of racism, colorism, identity, and family. It’s expertly crafted and (in my opinion) it deserves all the praise it’s been receiving. 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s Homegoing is one of the best books I have read in recent years, so I was eagerly anticipating her new release. Transcendent Kingdom is nothing like Homegoing, yet I found it equally moving and provocative. Gifty’s beloved older brother died from a drug overdose after getting hooked on painkillers following a knee injury. Her mother ebbs and flows through tides of severe depression. Gifty sees the way her mother suffers and the way her brother suffered and has channeled her own pain into studying the science behind addiction at Stanford Medical School. Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty through the past and into her present as she tries to use science to make sense of what she has seen and experienced. It explores themes of grief and love, of science and faith, of addiction and depression, of despair and hope. Part of my love for this book has to do with my personal connection to some of the characters’ experiences, specifically the extremely religious upbringing and having a sibling with an addiction, but I think this would be a compelling read even without those extra connections. 

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

This was one of several eerily apt books about pandemics to come out in 2020. This follows nurse Julia Powell working on an improvised maternity/influenza ward during the Spanish Flu epidemic in Ireland as she does her best to serve her patients in the midst of utter chaos. When help arrives in the form of Bridie Sweeney, a volunteer helper who knows absolutely nothing, Julia resigns herself to making do. But Bridie surprises and inspires her with her quick intellect and unflagging energy. Set over 3 days at the hospital, the story is equal parts hope and heartbreak as patients die rapidly from this aggressive new flu and new babies enter the world, sometimes at the same moment.  

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

This is a gorgeous retelling of The Iliad which imagines the same events with Patroclus and Achilles as lovers. Achilles is kind of a douche, but Patroclus is such an endearing character, you can’t help but love him. The writing is beautiful and evocative and the story (especially the ending) is even more compelling and devastating than the original. I don’t think you need to be super familiar with The Iliad to enjoy this, but maybe look up a character list or something to keep all the characters straight. 

Best Contemporary Literary/General Fiction

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

This is the story of two families in LA, one Korean-American and one African-American, who have both been rocked by the same incident. Grace Park’s sister Miriam hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, but Grace has never really understood why. She sets out on a quest to reconcile the two most important women in her life. Meanwhile, a police shooting of a black teenager has brought Shawn Matthews back to the murder of his own sister years earlier. As LA erupts in racial tensions and violence, the Matthews and the Parks are brought together in an unexpected way.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

It’s been several years since I read Olive Kitteridge and now I want to reread it. Olive, Again is Elizabeth Strout at her best. This follows her typical format, reading more like linked stories than a traditional novel. She continues the story of Olive Kitteridge, a widow and retired school teacher living a quiet life in Crosby, Maine, while weaving in stories from the members of her community. Olive is no-nonsense and even a bit prickly at times, but ultimately she is looking for what we all want – connection, community, and meaning in our lives. I think I liked this even more than the first one.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid 

This is another book that everyone and their mother has talked about this year. When I first read it I thought it was just OK, but over the year it has continued to stick with me. Emira is a young black woman navigating the confusing world of her early 20’s while working as a babysitter for a wealthy white family. When Emira’s boss, Alix Chamberlain, calls her on a night out with friends begging her to come over last-minute, Emira jumps at the chance to make some extra cash. Emira takes 3-year-old Briar to a local supermarket while the Chamberlains deal with a family emergency, but the night takes a turn when a security guard at the supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar. Alix Chamberlain is outraged on Emira’s behalf. Although Emira shrugs it off and moves on, Alix can’t seem to let it go. The novel turns into an interesting commentary on performative allyship and what happens when good intentions become self-serving. 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. 

Backman’s newest novel is about the world’s worst bank robber. It’s about a hostage crisis. It’s about a father and son police team learning to work together. It’s about grief. It’s about how to make a marriage last. It’s about connection and empathy and hope. It’s funny. It’s tender. It’s almost unbearably sweet. And I just loved it.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

It took me two tries to actually get through this book because I found it so disturbing, but it’s supposed to be disturbing. I am so glad I came back to it and finished it. When Vanessa Wye  was 15-years old, she was seduced by her 42-year old high school teacher, Jacob Strane.  17 years later, Strane is being accused of sexual abuse by another former student who contacts Vanessa hoping that she will come forward as well. But even after all of these years, Vanessa is unable to accept that what happened to her could have been abuse and  not a genuine experience of first love. 

This book is a riveting, brutal portrayal of how trauma can shape a person’s life. It explores the psychology of grooming, the abuse that is inherent in relationships with a power imbalance, how people can become trapped in cycles of abuse and even be unable to see and understand their own trauma for what it is. It is a brilliant depiction of a topic that will (and should) horrify you.

Best Fantasy/Speculative Fiction

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Shwab

I have a hard time calling this a straight-up fantasy because there aren’t like dragons or wizards or made up lands or anything like that. It is set in our world, but has fantastical elements, so I think people who aren’t into high fantasy would still like this. 

It’s 1714, and Addie LaRue wants a different life from the one carved out for her – marriage, family, housekeeping. She wants something more for herself. Mostly, she wants freedom to make her own choices and live how she wants. On the day of her wedding she escapes into the forest where she begs any powers that are listening to save her. When the Darkness answers her, she trades her soul for the chance to live a free life for as long as she wants. Her dream turns into a nightmare when she realizes her bargain also includes a curse – everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she moves out of their sight. We follow Addie back and forth over 300 years as she reconciles her life of freedom with the need to leave a mark and discovers ways around the curse.  

The characters (particularly Addie) were so well-drawn. The prose is lovely – immersive without being overly flowery. The magical elements weren’t too over the top. It’s a beautiful meditation on mortality and memory and to what degree the meaning of our lives lies in our connection to the world and to other people and our ability to leave a mark. I intentionally slowed down when I got near the end because I just didn’t want it to be over.

Best Romance

Beach Read by Emily Henry

January Andrews is a best-selling romance writer who’s not sure she believes in love anymore. She owes her publisher a new manuscript, but she is grieving the death of her father and reeling from the discovery that he had been having a long-term affair with an old high school sweetheart. In his will, he left the lake house he shared with his lover to January. Now January has moved into the lake house to get it ready to sell while she works through her grief and betrayal and tries to write her book. What she isn’t expecting is for her old high school rival to end up next door.

Augustus Everett is a serious literary fiction writer who is going through his own writing slump. He’s got an idea for a novel based on a real-life death cult, but can’t seem to get it off the ground. When January and Augustus realize they are in the same predicament, they decide the best way to break their writer’s block is to try to write outside of their usual genres. Augustus will write a romance, and January will write serious literary fiction. Shenanigans ensue. It’s so great. I laughed; I cried. I already want to read it again.

And that is IT! What’s the best thing you read this year?

My Top 10 Crime/Thriller/Mystery/Suspense/Horror Books of 2020

Merry Christmas (a little belatedly)! Hope you are all well and healthy and have had nice celebrations even if they looked a bit different this year. I’m trying to get all of my best books of the year posts up before we hit January 1st, but it looks like I won’t quite make it. Nevertheless, I am cracking on today with my favorite Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Horror books. I read 43 books in those combined genres, and these were my top 10.

This year I challenged myself to try out some genres I don’t typically read, specifically horror and romance (more on that later). In the past I would have said that horror was not a genre that interested me because I’m pretty easily scared and have very vivid dreams, and I’m not really into giving myself nightmares. However, I do like a certain type of thriller or crime novel, and I’ve realized there is some genre crossover with horror. Since even I have trouble differentiating which genre some of these fit into, I’m going to mash them all together and explain a bit more in the blurbs.

Best Mystery/Thriller/Crime

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (Domestic Thriller)

Before 2020 I had only read 1 Lisa Jewell novel (Then She Was Gone) but I remembered enjoying it, so I decided to give her new one a go. The Family Upstairs is a bit different to most of her other novels and fans seem to either love that or hate it. I (obviously) loved it. I went on to read 3 more Jewell books this year (so total of 5) and this is still my favorite.

Libby Smith has been waiting her whole life to find out the identity of her birth parents and who she really is. When Libby turns 25 she receives a letter that tells her not only who her parents were, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their Chelsea mansion. Libby quickly learns that the house has been abandoned for twenty-five years, ever since police found a healthy ten-month-old baby clean and fed in her crib while three dead bodies lay downstairs in the kitchen. What really happened to her parents? And what about the other four children who supposedly lived at the house and who vanished without a trace?

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin (Crime Thriller)

Rachel Krall is an investigative journalist turned true-crime podcaster, has just arrived in small-town Neapolis, North Carolina to cover a high-profile rape case for the new season of her show. Neapolis is a tight-knit and tight-lipped community and they aren’t all that pleased to have Rachel there. To make things even more uneasy, someone unrelated to the trial appears to be stalking her, and they desperately want her help to solve a twenty-five year old case that happened in the same town.  

I found the characters and the scenario to be believable. I liked the medium of the true crime podcast as I am an occasional listener of them. Goldin did an excellent job of balancing action scenes with summary and exposition using the podcast as interludes for commentary in a way that made sense within the narrative. It felt very relevant, though it may mean that the book doesn’t age well. I think the questions Rachel raises in her podcast are timely and important as we continue the work of the #metoo movement and challenge the systemic silencing of women’s pain and women’s voices.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore (Crime Mystery)

Kacey and Mickey are sisters who grew up as close as they come, but as adults they find themselves on opposite ends of the opioid crisis. Kacey is gripped by addiction and lives on the streets in Philadelphia. Mickey, meanwhile, patrols those same streets as a cop. Things come to a head when Mickey begins investigating a mysterious string of murders in her neighborhood and finds out that Kacey has also disappeared. While this has all of the elements of a typical crime thriller, it doesn’t read like one, which makes it much more memorable. The pacing is much slower and it is much more about character development than just plot. 

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (Crime Mystery)

I’m a huge fan of Louise Penny, and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has my heart forever. This is the 16th book in a series and I definitely recommend reading them in order because the richness of these books comes from the character development and the relationships between characters. This newest installment takes us away from the village of Three Pines in Montreal (where much of the series takes place) and over to Paris where the Gamache’s are visiting their children and grandchildren. The story centers on Gamache’s fraught relationship with his son along with the usual intrigue of uncovering high-level corruption with danger at every turn. I found the exploration of Gamache’s relationship with his son particularly compelling as it centers on is how two people in a relationship can interpret the same events in vastly different ways and assign motivations to the other person that are wildly different from what that person intended. These characters are deeply human and we see them, warts and all, and still walk away with the sense that there is goodness in the world.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (Crime Thriller, but graphic…so also Crime Horror?)

I’ve heard about this book for years and finally picked it up. On the day of the first snowfall in Oslo, Jonas’ mother goes missing. The only clue left behind is her scarf wrapped around the neck of a snowman in the yard – a snowman Jonas did not build. Police investigator Harry Hole suspects there is a link between this woman’s disappearance, and those of several other women. Hole begins the hunt for a brutal serial killer known only as The Snowman because he always attacks at the first snow of the year and  leaves behind a calling card – a snowman. This is technically the 7th book in the Harry Hole series. Although I’m sure the other books would give you more context for the relationships between recurring characters, I don’t think you need to read the others to appreciate this one. Also, fair warning, there are a LOT of characters in this book, so you might need to draw yourself a chart or something.

Best Horror/Suspense

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Zombie Thriller)

This is a zombie novel, which is not my thing at all. And yet, it really got me in the feels. Every day, Melanie gets strapped into her wheelchair and wheeled to school where she learns about the world from her beloved teacher Miss Justineau. And when school is over, she and the other children are strapped back into their wheelchairs and brought back to their cells with loaded guns trained on them all the while. Melanie is the brightest of the bunch, but she still can’t understand what everyone is so afraid of.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (Paranormal Thriller)

When Maggie Holt was a young girl, her parents moved into Banebury Hall. They made it three weeks before fleeing for their lives in the middle of the night. Maggie doesn’t remember much about her time in the house, but her father recorded his version of events in his bestselling (supposedly) nonfiction book House of Horrors. Now twenty-five years have gone by and Maggie’s father has recently passed away. She is shocked to learn that her father still owned Banebury Hall, and that he has left it to her. Now a professional restorer, Maggie decides to tackle the job of revitalizing the abandoned house and getting it ready to sell. And while she’s there, she’ll try to uncover what really happened in the house all those years ago.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Psychological/supernatural horror)

Mexican Gothic is what it says on the tin – a Gothic horror novel in the vein of Rebecca or The Haunting of Hill House, but set in 1950’s Mexico. Noemi is a beautiful young socialite living it up in Mexico City. When Noemi’s father receives a letter from her cousin, Catalina implying that all is not well with her, Noemi is sent to investigate. Catalina has recently married a mysterious Englishman after a whirlwind courtship. Now she is living in his isolated mansion in the Mexican countryside cut off from her family and friends. After Noemi arrives at High Place, she realizes that the house and its inhabitants are not as they appear.

While I wouldn’t say overall that this was super scary, it is very unsettling, and I admit there were a few moments where I got the shiveries.  Also, the cover is to-die-for.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (Psychological suspense/horror)

Jake and his girlfriend have only been dating for a couple of months. They are on their way to meet his family at their isolated farm. But she isn’t so  sure about the relationship. In fact. She’s thinking of ending things. When they arrive at the family home things begin to get…weird…and when they take an unexpected detour to an abandoned high school things get…weirder. This was a very fast read that was the right amount of weird and creepy for me to feel spine tingles but not have nightmares. Having said that, some parts of this felt very tangential. And the ending, while creepy, felt a little overlong. Like after you realized what was going on it kept going on for a little too long. But it was also kind of fun…? And I liked the character development…but did I? I am perplexed.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Creature/Body Horror)

Patricia Campbell is your typical southern housewife. She spends her days caring for her two teenage children, her doctor husband, and her declining mother-in-law. She once dreamed of a bigger life, but instead she’s found herself solidly entrenched in the mundane world of the upper middle-class in Charleston, South Carolina. The only thing she really looks forward to are meetings with her book club, a group of women who have carved out space away from their regular lives to talk about the sordid details of the harrowing true crime they read together. When a stranger moves to the neighborhood, Patricia is initially excited. Until children begin to go missing, and she suspects there is more to her new neighbor than meets the eye.

I really loved the descriptions of southern society ladies which reminded me so much of people I knew when we lived in South Carolina. This is a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously and invites the reader to lean into the campy-ness of it all. I didn’t feel particularly afraid at any point in reading this book. Having said that, there are some pretty gross scenes involving body gore/horror. There is also a scene that describes a cockroach burrowing into Patricia’s ear and she has to just sit still and let it because she’s hiding and I just about lost it. And yet…I had fun!

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Have I inspired you to pick anything up?

Best Books of 2020: Nonfiction and Memoir

This year has been a wild one for all of us. Unsurprisingly, a lot of our reading lives have been affected by 2020. I have friends who have read less than ever before, and I also have friends who have read more than ever before. I’ve been on the latter end, using reading as a form of escape from all of the things that feel too much about the world right now. In fact, I just finished my 200th book of the year. With 9 days left to go, we’ll see where I end up after the holidays. Even I don’t really know how I managed to work a full-time job and raise an infant while reading that much apart from admitting I have no social life and I don’t watch TV.  

With such a large pool of books to choose from, it seemed a little overwhelming to write about my best books of the year all in one post, so I’m splitting my posts into categories starting with General Nonfiction and Memoir.

This year I read 44 nonfiction books and memoirs. Most of these were genuinely 4 or 5 star reads for me. One nice thing about reading so many good books is that you know the ones that stand out even among other 4 and 5 star reads were really something special.

Best Nonfiction

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I read quite a few books this year about institutional racism and systems of oppression and injustice. This book is a fantastic place to start your antiracist education. One of the central ideas is that it is not enough to not be racist, we must be actively antiracist. Being racist or antiracist is not defined by a single action or belief, rather we are all constantly making choices that are either racist or antiracist and we all have moments of being racist as well as moments of being antiracist.  Another major argument is that racism is a problem with policies and institutions as much (or more) than it is a problem with individuals. We are complicit in racism when we uncritically support and benefit from policies that marginalize others. 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This is the seminal text for more of a deep dive into mass incarceration and particularly how the War on Drugs and unfair sentencing laws have effectively been used to subjugate a generation of Black and Brown people (mostly men). It is incredibly well-researched and detailed. It is impossible to walk away from this book without knowing that this system as it exists today is deeply flawed and inherently racist. 

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

If you consider yourself a feminist but you haven’t read this book, stop whatever you’re doing and go read it. This is all about intersectional feminism, and specifically reframing issues we don’t often think of in conjunction with feminism (i.e. food security, poverty, medical care, racism) as inherently feminist issues. I learned so much from this book, but in a way that was very accessible and engaging. 

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

This was equal parts fascinating and infuriating. It was honestly staggering to be confronted with the overwhelming number of ways women’s specific needs are not taken into consideration in so many everyday parts of society from public transportation schedules, to medical drug trials, to car safety, to the fit of standard uniforms for many jobs, to the lack of adequate maternity leave and its effect on women’s ability to be in the workforce. 

One of the biggest takeaways for me was that women do 75% of the world’s unpaid labour (i.e. housework, cooking, grocery shopping, childcare, etc.) which are necessary parts of human life for men and women alike. Not only is this work often unacknowledged, but it is actually penalized in dozens of ways. 

This book is chock full of facts and figures, and while it may be difficult to retain all of it, the overall message is clear – women need to be represented in decision making at all levels. Because even well-meaning men simply don’t have the same concerns and considerations. The world as it is is designed by men and for men, and that has to change. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear

As far a self-help book goes, this hit all the right notes for me. It was informative, but also super practical with clear examples of how to implement each principle in your everyday life regardless of which habits you are trying to make or break. The tone is conversational and Clear comes across as confident and knowledgeable without being condescending. I did have a few moments when he was writing about his own method of self-reflection on his habits and goals that left me feeling a little like, “I don’t think that level of intensity is for me,” but as it wasn’t a major part of the book, it didn’t take away from the overall message. 

Best Memoirs

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I’m so glad I finally read this. I’m not super well-versed in graphic novels, but I’m starting to really love graphic memoirs. Given that it is not a medium I read often, I was amazed by how impactful this was. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. 

The art style is simple, almost cartoonish, which I felt underscored the seriousness of the topic and suited the comedic, sometimes sarcastic narrative tone. This book gave me invaluable knowledge of the history of Iran during and after the Cultural Revolution as well as the experience of those living under the regime (particularly those who weren’t drinking the Kool-aid). I loved it. My only complaint is that the ending felt abrupt.

On Living by Kerry Egan

This memoir is about Kerry Egan’s work as a hospice chaplain walking beside people who are dying and their families as they grieve. If you’re thinking that sounds super depressing, you’re not wrong. But it’s also remarkably hopeful. Full of simple, beautiful insights into what it means to live and to love and what we can learn by giving others the space to talk. It is a memoir about our shared brokenness as people, but also about the gift we can offer one another by recognizing the inherent dignity in each human and the importance of every story. This is such a beautiful, moving little book.

Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho

Inferno tells the story of Cho’s harrowing experience with postpartum psychosis, her stay in an involuntary psychiatric ward, and her recovery, but it is so much more than that. The narrative flashes back and forth between the present timeline where she is in the psych ward and back through the events of her life that brought her to this moment. 

The writing is excellent. It’s descriptive and elegant without being bogged down by lots of meaningless fluff added in to sound more poetic. What really blew me away was how well crafted it was. I read a lot of memoir and have occasional aspirations to write one myself someday, and the thing I find most difficult is how to identify the singular moments and scenes out of a whole life that will illustrate exactly what you mean to say. This book does that brilliantly. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every snippet of Korean mythology or folktales served a precise purpose. 

This book is riveting. Terrifying, electrifying, and compulsively readable. I genuinely could not put it down. 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This raw memoir about an abusive relationship is equal parts difficult to stomach and deeply moving. The structure and the writing is immaculate. It manages to be inventive and imaginative and yet easy to understand. It’s very emotional, but feels like it’s been written from a place of healing and reflection rather than a place of active pain and anger. 

Machado sheds a light on the reality that abusive relationships can and do exist between same-sex couples in the same way they do within heterosexual couples. One thing that really stood out to me was the fear the author and others in the LGBTQ community seemed to feel that exposing abuse within gay or lesbian relationships would open new doors of hatred and criticism. It shouldn’t have to be said that abusive dynamics can happen within any kind of relationship and it’s obviously not a reflection of ALL heterosexual relationships or ALL homosexual relationships. This book is a tremendous accomplishment and I cannot wait to read more from this author.

A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett

This book gets 5 stars for the content which is important and moving. Barnett is a young black attorney who gave up a promising career in corporate law to petition for clemency and reduced sentences for incarcerated individuals serving unjustly harsh sentences for minor drug crimes. The writing is fine – very straightforward-but the individual stories and the collective argument they make for major justice system reform is compelling. I would highly recommend this as a companion read with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness since it is primarily about individuals affected by the issues brought to light in that book. I would also recommend it for fans of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

I would love to chat about any and all of these books as well as anything you read in these categories that you really loved and would recommend! Be on the lookout for my favorites in literary fiction and genre fiction over the next week or two!

Top 20 Reads of 2019 (So Far)

2019 has been a good reading year for me so far. I’ve finished 85 books so far this year and am hoping to finish 2 more by the end of August. I assume this will slow down significantly once I have a newborn, but for now I am making the time count.

I thought I’d share my top 20 picks out of what I’ve read so far. These are in no particular order. I’m experimenting with minimalist reviews/descriptions that hopefully give you a little taste of what each book is about.  Feel free to ask for more details if you want to know more about a particular pick! You can always follow me on Goodreads for more updates on what I’m reading.


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Swamp girl makes her own way in a world where she will never fully belong. Set in South Carolina marshland. Very atmospheric.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. A young girl is pulled from the frozen river, dead, then alive. Multiple people try to claim her. Dreamy, lush, fairy-tale-esque. Set in a fictional world strongly resembling 18thcentury England.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. The women of the Butler family band together to deal with a crisis when oldest sister and leader of the family, Althea, is sent to prison. Althea’s two sisters confront their own demons as they come together to care for Althea’s twin daughters.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara discovers slam poetry is a way to be seen and heard in a world not made for her. She grapples with her mother’s faith vs. what she believes. (Novel-in-verse. Great on audio).

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. Pride and Prejudiceset in contemporary Canada with Muslim characters. More loosely adheres to the original storyline than other retellings, but with all of the elements that make the original great.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Orphaned twin brothers, products of an illicit union between an Indian nun and an English surgeon, grow up inseparable in Ethiopia until one day they are driven apart by war and by betrayal. Themes of identity, revolution, family, healing, relationship between doctors and patients, and the role of medicine.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. One event links two neighboring families together forever. Tragedy, hope, and forgiveness are all entwined with the complexities of ordinary families and the sweetness of ordinary life.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins. Oral history of a seventies rock band. Feels so real, you will find yourself trying to look up their songs on Spotify. Also, I can’t be the only one who was picturing Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper while reading this.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang. Second book in the Poppy Warsseries. Chinese history plus gods, monsters, and warriors.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Short, beautiful novel about 13-year-old Connor learning to deal with grief. Also there’s a storytelling monster.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. 1990’s Columbia. Contrast between a young girl in a wealthy, privileged family, and the girl who comes from the slums to work for them as a live-in maid. Pablo Escobar. Guerilla warfare. Violence. Connection. Coming of Age.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner. Criminal profiler helps catch serial killer. Inspired by the Ted Bundy case.  I heart serial killers. In a non-creepy way.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache is the definition of noble. Three strangers, an elderly woman’s baffling will, and a dead body.


Land of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. Girl bikes the great silk road, pitching her tent in ditches or staying with random Uzbeki family yurts along the way. Seeking “to find an outer landscape as wild as she felt within.”

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Basially Michelle Obama is good people.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Food writing is glamorous. And also not. Ruth Reichl shares her experience as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene. Man grapples with the senseless loss of his two-year-old daughter in a freak accident. Gut-wrenching expressions of raw grief, but ultimately hopeful.

Inspired by Rachel Held Owens. Deep love for Scripture plus a talent for storytelling equals a beautiful marriage of reverence for the text and earnest of exploration of what it means for us today. I had this on audio when I heard the news of her passing away and listening to her read it really made an impact.

The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah. Man buys crumbling mansion in Casablanca. Is faced with opinionated locals and angry Jinns (evil spirits of the Muslim world).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. A therapist shares stories about therapy, from her experiences both as a professional and as a patient. Funny and fascinating. Made me briefly consider a new career in clinical psychology. Briefly.

What I Plan to (Finally) Read in 2018

If you are a bibliophile like me, you’ll understand me when I say that no matter how much I read, the list of books I want to read only seems to grow longer. One of my problems with making it through that TBR (to be read) list is that I am constantly adding new books to it, and I often get so excited about the new books that I seek them out first. In other words, the longer a book has been on my TBR list, the less likelihood it has of being read, and books that I own tend to get read last since I am often reading what comes up on the hold list from the library before reading the books I already own. I’ve set my Goodreads reading goal for the year at 125 books (follow me there for updates on what I’m reading and mini-reviews!) after reading 124 this year. In addition to new releases, there are several books that have been on my TBR list for a long time that I want to make it a priority to read this year. Here are the books I hope to take off my TBR list in 2018.

by Brandon Sanderson. If you’ve read many of my book-related posts, you have without doubt read my rave reviews of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive which are some of my all-time favorite books (Way of Kings and Words of Radiance). The newest book in the series, Oathbringer, came out in November, and my lovely husband was kind enough to give it to me as a birthday present, but I have yet to crack it open, mostly because it is an overwhelming 1200+ pages in hardback. I also gave this to my dad for Christmas, so I have even more incentive to read it so I can discuss it with him. Also, my friends Josh (definitely) and Caleb (probably) have read it and I would like to talk to them about it. Basically, I need to suck it up and devote several weeks of my life to it.

IMG_0014Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I actually have gotten this book from the library before and had to return it before I could read it because there were so many waitlist requests for it. I have heard amazing reviews of this book and am especially drawn to it because it is the story of a Korean family living in exile in Japan. It is a multi-generational saga beginning in the early 1900s. Having lived in Korea for several years and knowing the tensions between Korea and Japan, I am especially interested to read this book and hopefully understand and appreciate even more a people and culture that are close to my heart.

IMG_0016A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara. There are two reasons why I haven’t read this book yet. The first is because it is rather long (816 pages). The second is because I have been told (and believe) that it will absolutely wreck me emotionally. Because of that, I also assume I will completely love it since I tend to love sad books.  My understanding is that the book follows four friends in their post college, newly – adult life. It also deals with pretty serious mental illness and other related issues  which I think is part of what makes it so sad and also so meaningful to many people. I picked this book up at a library book sale after it had already been on my list for several months, so I really have no excuse not to have read it.

IMG_0017Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. This is a nonfiction book written by a sociologist from Berkeley, California who moved to the Louisiana bayou (my homeland) to study the conservative right. She discovers a commonality with these people that she never expected to find as she explores the question of why the people who have the most to gain from a more liberal government are so ardently opposed to it. I am especially interested in reading this book since by all accounts it deals in a very compassionate and yet intelligent way with “my people” who I have struggled to understand for years.

IMG_0018Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. I am  ashamed to recognize how long this book has been on my TBR list. I am even more ashamed to admit that my sister gave me her copy more than a year ago and I have had it on my bed stand ever since. It tells the story of a Nigerian couple desperately in love who hope for a better life in America. Ifemelu arrives in America only to find that it is not all she has dreamed it would be. Meanwhile, her lover Obinze is unable to join her thanks to post-9/11 immigration policies and immigrates to the UK instead. 13 years later they have the chance to meet again, but can they rekindle their love after so long apart? This is a story about immigration and about globalization and about love and I think it will be right up my alley which is why I am making it a priority for 2018.

IMG_0019Night Driving by Addie Zierman. I read Addie’s blog religiously and devoured her first book When We Were On Fire like it was my own story. I related to so much of what she said, and I was eager to read her second book, but by the time it came out I had gotten into a groove of reading much more fiction than nonfiction and was often at the mercy of what holds became available at the library. I bought this book in March of 2016, but never managed to read it. It’s the kind of book that I will probably read in 2 or 3 sittings once I get started, I just need to say no to the allure of the new shiny books and pick it up.

IMG_0021A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. This is another book I received Christmas of 2016 and have yet to read! I actually think owning books is detrimental to my reading at this stage because I am such a devotee of the public library. Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite writers and this book is a companion to her previous book, Life After Life.  Life After Life  is a brilliant, inventive novel in which the main character, Ursula Todd, is born, lives, and dies over and over again. In each life, she makes different choices that affect both her life and ultimately the whole world as much of the plot revolves around WWII.  A God in Ruins is about Teddy Todd who is Ursula’s brother. I can’t say much about the plot since I haven’t read it yet, but I believe it’s about the challenges he faces as a man with a sensitive soul who becomes an RAF bomber pilot during the war.

IMG_0023Moonglow by Michael Chabon.  Ditto for this one. Michael Chabon is one of my favorite authors (he won the Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in 2001), and Jonathan and I actually got to meet him when we lived in Raleigh at a book signing he did for his last book, Telegraph Avenue. I bought Moonglow for Jonathan last year but never ended up reading it myself. I’ll admit that I like some Chabon novels more than others, but I definitely want to give Moonglow  a fair shot. This novel is based on the conversations Chabon had with his grandfather on his deathbed in 1989. Given that Chabon is a fantastic storyteller and meticulous researcher, I have not doubt that this will be an extraordinary novel.

IMG_0025Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorites, and I read another of her novels, Pigs in Heaven, on my honeymoon. I think Kingsolver is a master as a storyteller and as a naturalist. I have heard Flight Behavior called one of her most accessible books, and I have owned it for several years, but I have not read it. I know that it is (broadly speaking) a novel about an unhappily married woman who discovers a lake of fire on her way to a tryst with a younger lover. I know that it is set in Appalachia and that it is about climate change, denial and belief, but not much else. Kingsolver has never disappointed me in the past, and I am sure, given the chance, this will be no exception.

So there you have it–the books I vow to finally read in 2018. What’s on your TBR list?


Favorite Books I Read This Year

Happy New Year’s Eve!

I have some reflective posts in the works coming into the new year, but I thought it might be fun to finish up 2017 with a wrap-up of what I was doing in all the time I wasn’t writing – reading all the books.

In 2017 I read 124 books (though part of me is dying to spend the rest of today reading so that I can make it 125 which somehow seems more satisfying. We’ll see how it goes). Here’s a roundup of my favorite reads of the year. Favorite for me can mean a few different things – either that I really enjoyed it for it’s entertainment value, or that I thought it was an important book because of the subject matter, or that I thought the quality of the writing was exceptional, or in some cases, all three.

I did a decent amount of reading this year on audio. Not all books are good on audio, so recommending good audiobooks is somewhat separate from recommending good books in general. I can do a separate post on that at some point if any of you are interested. But for now…

Favorite Fiction

HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This was the second book I read in 2017, which meant I set the bar for the year pretty high. The book begins in Ghana in the 18th century with two women who are half-sisters, although they do not know each other. One is captured and becomes a slave, the other is married off to a wealthy English slave trader. The book follows the two sisters’ families for the next 8 generations. This is a heartbreaking but incredibly important and well-crafted book that shows the ways that slavery and dehumanization impact generations far into the future. It’s not a happy book, but it is unforgettable. Trigger Warnings for violence and sexual assault
The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses  Louise Penny. These are the latest three in the (ongoing) Chief Inspector Gamache series. They just keep getting better and better. I love that these are set in Canada rather than New York or England. I love the richness of the characters and the world Penny has created. I love Armand Gamache and I want to be his best friend. That is all.
The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett. In a close-knit black community in Southern California, seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner is left grieving and confused after her mother’s suicide. She finds comfort in the arms of the pastor’s twenty-one year old son, Luke. But her unplanned pregnancy, and the measures the community takes to cover it up, will haunt Nadia for the rest of her life. One of the unique and compelling features of this story is the voice of “the mothers” who are the collective community of older black women from the church who sometimes step in to tell the story from their perspective.
Behold the Dreamers
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. You will probably be seeing a theme with my books by now – I tend to be most drawn in by books about how people deal with hardships, whether those are physical, emotional, economical, relational, or all of the above. This is an all of the above. Jende Jonga moves to New York City from Cameroon in search of a better life for his wife and son. He hits the jackpot when he is hired as a driver for an important Wall Street executive. Eventually, his wife Neni also finds employment with the Edwardses. But when the financial crisis hits and the Edwards family falls apart, Jende and Neni have to decide which dreams are worth fighting for.
This is How it Always IsThis is How It Always Is by Lisa Frankel. Every time I try to describe this book to people, especially more conservative people, they tend to wrinkle their noses in distaste. What is phenomenal about this book is the raw, honest way it delves into a family whose members are all trying to do the right thing, without there being any clear answer as to what the right thing is. The polarizing issue with this book is that it deals with a family whose youngest son, Claude, begins to proclaim at a very young age that when he grows up he wants to be a girl. While the central issue in this book is how Rosie and Penn (who are one of the most real and authentic couples I have seen on paper) and their three other sons, navigate how to make decisions for a child who is not old enough to make them for themselves and what happens when we keep secrets. It is a book I will think about for years to come.
Rich People ProblemsRich People Problems by Kevin Kwan. The third book in the Crazy Rich Asians series (soon to be a movie!), this is just pure voyeuristic, indulgent fun. This one happens a few years after China Rich Girlfriend when the impending death of the matriarch brings the Youngs and all of their assorted family members back to the ancestral home.
My Lady Jane
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. I do not even know how to describe this book because all descriptions sound ridiculous to the point of stupidity…and yet…it is delightful. Absurd. Hilarious. Wonderful. Exceptionally good on audio. Think Princess Bride. This team of writers decided to take a classic piece of England’s history, the story of Lady Jane Gray who ruled for only 9 days during the Tudor period. Except also, half of the characters have the ability to turn into animals. Some at will, others not so much. I cannot even tell you how much fun this was and I am delighted that the authors intend to make this a series about different “Janes.” I believe the upcoming one is a retelling of Jane Eyre.
Bear TownBeartown by Fredrik Backman. Backman became a favorite author of mine this year. I had previously read A Man Called Ove and this year I read his three other major works in translation, Beartown, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, and  Britt-Marie Was Here. I highly recommend all of these, but thought Beartown was the standout for m this year. For being a book that revolves around the fate of a junior ice hockey team (a subject I could not care less about), I found this amazingly compelling. This was partly because the real story here is about a dying town with one thing to rally around – the hockey team – and what happens when the fate of the hockey team (and therefore the town) is put in peril by the accusations of a teenage girl of violence at the hands of the team’s star player. It is an exploration of community, of rape culture, of how we choose who and what we believe and what we are willing to ignore. It is gut-wrenching, but it is also a story of courage. Trigger Warning for sexual assault.


The Lightkeepers.jpgThe Lightkeepers by Abbi Geni. I honestly don’t understand why nobody is talking about this book. I heard about it from my dear friend and partner in all things book-related, Lorien, but she is the only person I know who has even heard of it. This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read. The writing is lyrical and haunting, but the thing that struck me most was the sense of place. Every time I picked up this book I had the sense of being transported. Miranda is a nature photographer who has come to the Farallon Islands off of the coast of California to do landscape photography. The only natural inhabitants of these stark and forbidding islands are the animals. She joins a group of biologists each of whom has come to the islands for their own purposes. The inciting incident is an assault that Miranda experiences at the hands of one of her companions. The plot thickens when her assailant’s body is found a few days later, possibly of mysterious causes. In some ways this is a mystery, but much more than a whodunit, this is a story about trust and suspicion, loss and recovery, and the power of natural beauty.
Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Ng has quickly become one of my favorite up and coming authors. While not everyone would agree, my love of somewhat sad domestic dramas made her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You a favorite of mine last year. I do think Little Fires Everywhere is a little less sad, if that’s a thing for you, but hits all the same great notes of exploring the multi-dimensional relationship dynamics within a family. Mia and her teenaged daughter Pearl have moved around a lot. When they move into a rental property owned by the wealthy Richardson family, Pearl becomes friends (and maybe more than friends) with their four teenage children. Meanwhile Izzy, the youngest and most misunderstood Richardson child, apprentices herself to free-spirited artist Mia. An Asian baby is found abandoned in their affluent Cleveland suburb and a prominent white family who are friends of the Richardsons attempts to adopt her, but when the birth mother comes forward and wants to take her baby back, members of the Richardson family, and Mia and Pearl, take sides. For Pearl, the adoption brings up questions about her own origins that she has never dared to ask. For others, it is questions of heritage and culture – what part of her cultural identity will an Asian child lose by being raised by white parents? This book manages to be incredibly accessible, fast-paced and engaging while dealing with a slew of complicated issues.

Favorite Non-Fiction

Braving the WildernessBraving the Wilderness by Brene’ Brown. Brene’ Brown has a profound way of hitting the nail right on the head. This book is very similar in tone to her last two books, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong. To be completely honest, the amount of brand new content in this book was not enough to really justify an entire stand-alone book, but everything in it is so good that I still count it as a favorite of the year. The part that hit me hardest (in a good way) was when she wrote about not dehumanizing people we don’t agree with and how this has to work both ways. “Here is what I believe: 1. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters calledbitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May. 2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “
‘a basket of deplorables’ then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said ‘Democrats aren’t even human.’…We must never tolerate dehumanizations–the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.”
51piNDg89UL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Little Princes: One Man’s Promis to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal  by Conor Grennan. Connor Grennan was a regular Joe hoping to see the world and have fun doing it. As a way to seem like less of a selfish jerk to the people back home he decided to start his trip around the world by volunteering for a few months in Nepal, because who can argue with that? In the end, the children of Nepal captured his heart and upset his entire life. You may have qualms about whether or not Grennan went about his work in the best way. You can argue that he should have worked with existing NGO’s instead of creating yet another. You could argue that there’s a bit of a “white man coming in to save the poor Nepali” to this story. I don’t care. It’s still a story about a young man who allowed himself to be moved by the needs of others to the extent that it changed his entire life. May we all be so bold in pursuing with passion the causes that are most dear to our hearts.
EvictedEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. This book was an absolutely eye-opening (and somewhat horrifying) look at the way the housing and social service system is designed so that landlords in impoverished communities directly and intentionally profit from the misfortunes of others without every giving them a fair chance to improve their situation. There are people living in my own neighborhood who I believe are in these kinds of situations and understanding everything they are up against was both enlightening and disheartening. This is such an important book, especially for people who believe that homelessness is always the product of an individual’s bad choices.
A Mother's ReckoningA Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. I am not sure what it was that sparked a sudden interest in Columbine, but I first read Dave Cullen’s more journalistic account of exactly what happened in the Columbine shootings (which was also very interesting, especially seeing the way the media handled the situation and the blatant misinformation that has remained attached to the incident to this day) which led to this account written by shooter Dylan Klebold’s mother. This is heart-wrenching in many ways, but more than anything, it reads like a cry to other parents to recognize signs of adolescent depression which can be much different than depression in adults. At the end of the day Sue Klebold was left in one of the hardest positions of all. She lost her baby to suicide never having known the depth of pain he was in, but she also had to live with the knowledge that he had killed other children too. While she does not excuse this in any way, I think this account is truly valuable because, unlike Eric Harris, the other shooter and arguably the mastermind behind the shootings, Dylan Klebold was not a psychopath. While it is scarier to accept that “regular” people can come to such a point of pain and confusion that they could do something so horrific, it is important to understand. It is also important to remember that the loss of a life is a tragedy, no matter what the person’s sins were.
The Sound of GravelThe Sound of Gravel  by Ruth Wariner. This was my favorite nonfiction book of 2017. I admit that I have a fascination with polygamist cults. This book was riveting, not only because the situation is so bizarre and fascinating, but because the writing is exceptional. Ruth Wariner was born Ruth LeBaron, the 39th of her father’s 42 children from seven wives. This is the story of Ruth and her family trying to survive after the murder of her father, about Ruth’s growing into adulthood and awareness of all that is not right with her world and the values she has been taught to hold onto, and her eventual dramatic escape from the cult. It is mesmerizing, and heartbreaking, and hopeful. One of the most amazing things is how tenderly she writes about her mother and other adults in her life who were primarily responsible for her growing up in such an unhealthy environment. While she does not excuse their actions, she writes with an empathy that can only come from genuine forgiveness which is why I think her book is so powerful.
Hillbilly ElegyHillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. This book has received a lot of hype after making the New York Times bestseller list, partly because of its timeliness in our current political landscape. Though this is not a book about politics. It is a book about the salt of the earth people of rural Kentucky and Ohio. Vance grew up as one of these people and later went on to join the Marines and graduate from Yale Law School. Returning to his childhood and the people and culture that raised him, he tenderly unpacks the beliefs and motivations of a people who believed themselves to be overlooked and unable to attain the American dream and how these feelings and ideas have played into some of the social and politcal opinions held by the vast majority of people in these communities. It is insightful and compassionate and worth the read.
You'll Grow Out of ItYou’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. This book surprised me. With the exceptioin of the essay on porn (not my jam) I found this collection of essays, which I anticipated being mostly comic in nature, to be insightful and perceptive and to speak to the many facets of what it means to be a woman in the world today. It is fun and funny, but also full of moments that I could resonate with and it left me with a lot to think about.
Cork DorkCork Dork Bianca Bosker. This was my most recent nonfiction read and while I will admit that it took me while to work through, I still found it fascinating. If you watched and enjoyed the Netflix documentary, Somm then this is for you. Booker quit her job as a technology writer in order to delve into the world of sommeliers–the wine elitists who spend not only their careers, but nearly all of their waking hours studying, smelling, tasting, and breathing wine. She delves into their inner world until she actually joins in when she decides to dedicate herself to the task of passing the exam to become a certified sommelier.
So there you have it. Have you read any of these? What did you think? What were your favorite reads this year?

What’s On My Bookshelf Vol. 1

Hello fellow book-loving friends and welcome to a brand new series I’m starting about all the books that live on my bookshelves. Books are a huge part of both my and my husband’s lives and while we try to periodically get rid of books we dislike or know we’ll never read, our collection continues to grow. At last count we own nearly 500 books not counting things like cookbooks or any ebooks we own on our kindles.

My idea is that for each installment I’ll take a picture (like the one above) of a manageable chunk of a bookshelf. I’ll share titles and authors and give a 1 -2 sentence summary. If I’ve read it, I’ll give you a rating based on my enjoyment. The next time I’ll pick up where I left off before. And don’t worry, I’ll leave out any reference books or textbooks that have made their way into our collection.

I’m kicking this off with the tall bookshelf in our living room. This bookshelf is dead ahead when you walk in the front door of our house. Since we knew it would be out and on display we wanted to fill it with some of our favorite books or some of our larger collections of books by the same author. We don’t alphabetize our books or sort by color or size – I suppose we like the cheerful jumble of it all. But we do more or less keep genres together and keep books by the same author beside one another. Most of what’s on this bookshelf could be classified as fiction.


The first two books on this shelf are both by Nicole Krauss. Great House is her more recent novel, and  The History of Love was her second. Until very recently Nicole Krauss was married to Jonathan Safran Foer which is why we’ve put their books next to each other on this shelf. I think they have similar styles in the way they often structure their novels as several separate narratives that gradually intertwine.

Great House (4 out of 5 Stars) tells four separate stories with different characters who are linked by their experiences of loss and recovery and by an enormous old desk that travels down through time and history to appear in each of their homes.

The History of Love (5 out of 5 Stars). Leo Gursky is an 80-year old retired locksmith who immigrated to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland. Years before he wrote a book called A History of Love about the woman he loved and lost. Alma Singer  is a 14-year-old girl who wants to remember her dead father and to help her mother out of a crippling depression.  She was named after the main character in book called A History of Love. Her story and Leo’s are destined to intertwine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (5 out of 5 Stars). This is one of my favorite books and I’ve written about it quite a few times before. This book is (partially) narrated by Oskar Schell, an exceptionally intelligent, eccentric, and precocious nine-year-old who has recently lost in father in the 9/11 attacks on New York City. Oskar finds a key among his father’s possessions and becomes fixated on finding the lock this key fits into. His quest takes him all over New York City and into the lives of hundreds of people also reeling in the aftermath of the attacks.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (3.5 out of 5 Stars). I read this book second even though it was written first. I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked the other one, but I think I’m in the minority here. I think it was just a bit too weird for me. Something I like about both Foer and Krauss are their eccentric, quirky characters, but I found some of this book so strange as to be off-putting. It tells the story of an American man who goes to the Ukraine with only an old photograph,  looking for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis 50 years before. What he finds is an inept translator named Alex and an old blind man and his guide dog. The novel is loosely based on his own experiences.

The Keep and  A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Egan is a pretty well-known and respected name in the literary community, but I actually haven’t read either of these. I defer to Jonathan who says:

“I picked up The Keep and A Visit from the Goon Squad around the time that Goon Squad first came out in 2011, then read them both within about six months of each other. The Keep was one of Egan’s earlier novels, and tells the story of a man named Danny, largely unsuccessful in life, who travels to Germany to visit his cousin Howard. Somewhat unlike Danny, Howard has grown from a nerdy kid to a handsome, extremely wealthy adult, and when the novel begins he’s in the process of renovating a medieval castle that he recently purchased. The two cousins also share a traumatic history (prank gone wrong), and as the story advances there are some metafictional hijinks that take the book to unexpected places.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a series of loosely connected short stories, occasionally overlapping in plot, character, or theme – several stories revolve around people in the music business. Overall the book’s greatest strength, aside from its narrative trickery, is its exploration of the passage of time (spoiler alert: the titular goon squad is time). I remember feeling genuinely depressed by parts of it, which is a terrible way to convince someone to read something, sure, but in this case meant as a compliment! I know I’m probably not making either book sound like much fun, but I promise you they are – Egan writes with a lot of creativity, wit, and energy. Goon Squad was a big deal when it came out and won several significant literary awards, but I slightly prefer The Keep. I liked Goon Squad but ultimately thought it didn’t quite amount to the sum of its parts, whereas the strange moves at the end of The Keep added another genuinely compelling level to the story.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (3 out of 5 Stars). I read this the summer we got married and every time I see the cover it takes me back to that summer. The book itself was a “meh” book for me. I know it’s supposed to be this great work of literature and there were some interesting magical realism bits, but I wasn’t as wowed by it as I felt like I should be. The book spans 100 years in the life of the Buendia family and recounts the rise and fall of their mythical town, Macondo.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (5 out of 5 Stars). This is one of both Jonathan’s and my favorite books and I included it in my 10,000 subscriber giveaway. 11-year-old Reuben Land is traveling with his father Jeremiah and his sister Swede through the Dakota Badlands in search of his fugitive brother, Davy, wanted for killing two men who were terrorizing his family. The true hero of this story is the father, Jeremiah,known for a faith so devout he’s been rumored to produce miracles. This is a book about family and faith, about unseen spirituality and maybe even magic that hides itself in ordinary places.

Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides. I have never read this book. Jonathan has also never read this book. In fact, neither of us have read any of Eugenides’ books. Jonathan did once go to a reading Eugenides gave of his book ,The Marriage Plot, which Jonathan described as “Fine.” Why is this on our First-Thing-You-See-When-You-Walk-In-The-Door Shelf you might ask? Good question. I assume it is because we’re being pretentious and want people to think we read important literary writers like Eugenides. Or possibly we needed just one more literary book to pad out that shelf.

Bridge of Sighs and Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I love Richard Russo. LOVE. He is known for his small town settings and average-Joe characters who resonate with readers so deeply because they remind us that even the simplest and smallest lives are complex and rich with meaning. Bridge of Sighs (5 out of 5 Stars) tells the story of Louis Charles “Lucy” Lynch, a 60 year old man who has lived contentedly in Thomaston, New York his entire life building a successful chain of convenience stores, now writing his memoirs. Lucy, who has barely been outside of his hometown, is preparing to take a trip to Italy to see his childhood best friend, now a renowned painter. The juxtaposition of these two men – the one who never left and the one who couldn’t stay –and the story of their strange, undefinable friendship is mesmerizing.

Empire Falls (5 out of 5 Stars) won the Pulitzer in 2002. It tells the story of diner owner Miles Rowby who must come to terms with what’s really keeping him flipping burgers in this small town – options include his teenage daughter and his soon-to-be ex-wife who has run off with the comically vain owner of the local heath club.

Let me know if you enjoyed this little book chat and if you have any suggestions for better ways to do it or other book-related posts you’d like to read.


A key to my rating system:

5 Stars: I loved this book, I had no problems with it, it’s one of my all-time favorite books and I recommend it.
4 Stars: I really, really liked this book. I had no major problems with it, but I’m not sure it’s one of my all-time favorites.
3 Stars: I enjoyed this book. There were maybe some things I didn’t like, but overall I liked it. OR It was really fun, but not something that stands out or will stick with me. I recommend it, but might have some disclaimers.
2 Stars: I didn’t like it but I feel bad giving it one star so I’m giving it two.
1 Star: I thought it was a terrible, terrible book and I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links. If you click through to make a purchase I receive a teensy commission which goes to support this site.



2015 Book Superlatives

For those of you who have been missing my Book Chat posts (which are coming back in the new year in some form!) here is a post for you. I decided to look over all of the books I read for the first time in 2015 and hand out some superlatives. Don’t forget to follow me on Goodreads for up-to-date info on what I’m reading and for my reviews. Drumroll please….

Best Literary Read

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. One of the books I’m including in my 10,000 subscriber giveaway, this book is hauntingly beautiful. It tells the story of a Hollywood star and the people connected to him (though sometimes only by a slender thread) before, during, and after the collapse of civilization. It’s eerie and post-apocalyptic, riveting and elegiac, moving and insightful. I’m not normally drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, but I’m so glad I read this one as its become one of my favorites. This one also wins the award for Most Beautiful Prose.

Fastest Read

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This book is just pretty adorable. A love story for the ages, but with real characters in real and difficult situations. Eleanor is the wrong size with the wrong hair and the wrong clothes and most definitely the wrong family. But to Park, she is the magic that holds the sky up. They know it’s destined for disaster. But they also know the real thing when they see it. I was utterly enchanted and read the whole thing in two days. 

Most Fun

51hy+GbenKL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I generally think good mysteries make for fun reads. This one was particularly fun to me because Jonathan and I read it aloud to each other during our long drive to and from Ohio for Thanksgiving. This is the third in Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mystery series and is my personal favorite. The story begins when Strike’s assistant Robin receives a mysterious package containing a woman’s severed leg. Strike can immediately think of four men from his past who might have had something to do with it. Unraveling the mystery is great fun, though I will warn you that there are some particularly gruesome descriptions of violence towards women that you may want to be aware of if you are sensitive to that type of content. 

Most Surprising

CinderCinder (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer. This unique twist on the Cinderella story t’s set in a futuristic world where androids are essential to daily life and the moon has been colonized and become the home of a new species known as Lunars. It involves a cyborg/mechanic Cinderella, a handsome prince, and the search for a cure for the plague pandemic that is wiping out Earth’s population. This is not the sort of book I would normally gravitate towards, but it was so fresh and clever and well-done that I was completely enchanted.

Best Fantasy Trilogy

MistbornThe Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. After finishing my beloved Way of Kings and Words of Radiance I needed more Sanderson in my life so I dove into his well-known Mistborn trilogy. He’s actually written a set of trilogies that all involve the Mistborn world, but I only read the first one which includes Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. I think Sanderson might be my favorite fantasy writer. His characters are complex and compelling and his world-building is top-notch.

Most Likely to Make You Ugly Cry

The Middle PlaceTo be honest, most of the books on this entire list made me ugly cry at some point, but that’s just me. As the category winner I will chose. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. This is a memoir about being in the middle place between being a child and being a parent. Corrigan, a mother of 2, is diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36. As she goes through treatment, she relies heavily on her father who has always made her feel like the most important person in the world. When her father is diagnosed with cancer himself a few months after she is, Corrigan must deal with what it means to move from being the cared-for child to being the caretaker, for her children, for herself, and for her father. It’s very moving.

Book I Wish I’d Written

searching for sundaySearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. My experience with my faith and with the church over the past decade resonates deeply with Evans’ own experiences, and Evans writes poignantly about some of the conclusions I’m also coming to about what it looks like for me to still be a Christian and still participate in the Church in spite of those things. This book is one you can win in my 10,000 subscribers giveaway!

Most Atmospheric

51irgNzUDAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Lake House by Kate Morton. If there is one thing Kate Morton does well, it is setting. Whenever I take a break from one of her novels I always feel slightly disoriented because I could swear I’ve just been somewhere in the English countryside. This was a more recent read for me, but long-anticipated. Morton fans will not be disappointed in The Lake House which hits all the notes we expect in a Morton novel – an unsolved mystery involving an old house in the English countryside, movement between the past and the present, and shocking family secrets. The ending is satisfying, if maybe a bit too neat, and the writing is irreproachable.

Most Over-Hyped

the life changing magic of tidying upThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So many people were losing their minds over this book and I just was not impressed. I did pick up a few helpful tips, but overall I found the book to be incredibly repetitive and also pretty weird. While I like to personify my possessions and talk to inanimate objects as much as the next girl, Kondo takes it to another level. She suggests thanking your belongings before getting rid of them and goes so far as to give this advice about storing your out-of-season clothes, “Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of ‘communication’ helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.” Too much, Marie. A little too much. Also, I can’t “only keep things which give me joy.” My vacuum cleaner gives me no joy, but still I must keep it. It’s really not as simple as she wants it to be.

Best YA Book{s}

Daughter of smoke and boneDaughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor. So I confess that I’ve only read two of the three books in this trilogy, but that’s only because right as I finished the second one I got an influx of books I’d put on hold at the library and they all had to read within a few weeks. I will absolutely read the third one ASAP. Because they are intense and incredible. I read the first half of the first one and was like, “Eh…I guess it’s all right. I’ll finish it.” And by the time I got to the end I was like. “Holy hell. I get it.” And the whole second book got better and better. This is a fantasy trilogy, though it is somewhat set in our world. “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.”

GrishaThe Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Alina Starkov is nobody – an orphaned refugee whose never been noticed. Until her best friend’s life is threatened and a dormant power is awakened in her unlike an the world has ever seen. Alina is immediately taken into the Grisha court to study and train under the most powerful Grisha of all, The Darkling. Together he says they can destroy the Shadow Fold that threatens their country. Together they can remake the world. But nothing is as it seems and Alina must learn to see things that have long been hidden, even the things inside her own heart. This trilogy is so brilliant it kills me a little.

Best Books About Faith

Altar in the WorldAn Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. This book is part of my 10,000 subscriber giveaway. This book rejects the divisions so many Christians are intent on making between the secular and the sacred. It made me feel so grounded in my body and to this earth. I especially loved the practical disciplines she suggested for making the world a place of worship. Things as simple as taking a walk or working with your hands, or being still and resting. The thing I loved most about this book was walking away feeling that a simple life could be good and honest and holy and true when so often I feel the drive to be more and do more, even from the church.


Accidental SaintsAccidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I just love Nadia Bolz-Weber and I loved the overall message of this book – that God can and does show up in the most unexpected places and works through people. I don’t think this was a good as her first book as it’s mostly stories illustrating the same basic point, but I still really liked it.

Most Inspiring

Big magicBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are a creator of some sort, I think this book has value for you. This book explores the paradoxes of the creative life – that creating art is vital to our humanity, and also completely inessential to human existence. That we should commit ourselves seriously to our creative work, and we should always remember that life and death do not hinge on what we do creatively. Most of all, it reminds the reader of why a creative life is a worthwhile life even if you never receive any kind of recognition for your work. Every time I read a section of this book I felt inspired to complete a project or to put myself out there creatively.

Funniest Book

why not meWhy Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I believe Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. I think she is smart, fun, and funny and I would love to be her friend. Therefore, I loved this book which I read with her voice in my head.

Most Unique

41HRculXpcL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSmoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lesson from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty.  This book of essays about Doughty’s experience as a young woman working in a crematorium was fascinating. In spite of some frank descriptions, she manages to avoid sensationalism and instead brings up questions about the way we as a society treat death and whether there might be a better way. 

Most Disappointing

31e+Y+unwyL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a sort of dystopian novel along the lines of The Giver but set at an exclusive boarding school in England. Even though there is a first person narrator, I felt disconnected from her and from the other characters to the extent that I didn’t really care that much what happened to them. There was also a moment towards the end that is set up as though it’s a big reveal, but I personally didn’t find the information surprising as I’d assumed it all along. I also found it irritating how extremely non-curious the characters were about the world and their role in it. I know this book is pretty highly acclaimed, but for me it was just OK.

Worst Book

51qX2vnFnNL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_-1A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I don’t really want to waste space on this ridiculous book, but I will summarize by saying this book was like Twilight for adults, was excessively long, and infuriating. And it’s not well-written. People think that using excessive detailed descriptions makes something well-written. It doesn’t. Don’t waste your time.

Honorable Mentions (books I really enjoyed but don’t have a superlative for)

51Hpr8+w9KL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_After You by JoJo Moyes. The sequel to Moyes’ highly acclaimed Me Before You (right up there with The Fault in Our Stars for most ugly-crying episodes while reading) picks up with Louisa Clarke about a year after we left her. I liked this book because it felt like an honest portrayal of what someone in her situation would be going through, and while I got frustrated with Louisa sometimes, I still wanted to know how it all turned out.


last anniversaryThe Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. I’m just a huge fan of Moriarty’s. I think all of her books are clever and fun. Sophie Honeywell is 39, unmarried, and starting to wonder if she’s missed her opportunity to have a family when she unexpectedly inherits a house from her ex-boyfriend’s Great Aunt Connie – the woman who discovered the Munro baby. This book revolves around the secret of the Munro baby – a (fictional) famous unsolved mystery where the Munro couple mysteriously disappeared from their home with the tea kettle whistling and a warm cake fresh from the oven leaving their 2 week old baby behind. The story takes place far in the future and is centered on the family who raised the baby (now a grandmother herself) and her children and grandchildren who run a family business that capitalizes on the unsolved mystery of the Munro baby.

Leaving ChurchLeaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor’s story of her call to the Episcopalian priesthood and later her decision to leave the priesthood and become a professor was full of beautiful thoughts about how the world and the church need not be enemies – separate entities that are necessarily opposed to one another. She writes beautifully about the ways she encountered God and grace outside of the church as well as inside it.

I’ve read 63 books so far this year and anticipate finishing 2 -3 more before the end of the year. Click here for a full list of everything I read this year.

Also, don’t forget that my 10,000 subscriber book giveaway is still open until Wednesday. Check out the submission rules here and may the odds be ever in your favor!

What I’m Into: November 2015 Edition

The holiday season is officially here! I wish I had endless resources for Christmas decorating, but we usually just put up the tree and call it a day. Although our new place actually has a fireplace mantle that would be perfect for stockings…then again, our cats will probably think dangling stockings are toys just waiting to be knocked down. We already play an annual game where every morning we guess how many ornaments they knocked off the tree while we were sleeping. I believe the record stands at six.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been up to in the month of November.

What I’m Reading:

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I continued my Sedaris kick with this one. I think I liked Me Talk Pretty One Day better, but I enjoyed this one too. As I’ve said before, Sedaris is a strange guy, but amusing and I feel like I learn a lot about writing from the way he paces his essays and the balance between narrative and exposition in them. And he grew up in Raleigh so I like hearing him describe places I have fond memories of.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think I’m more a fan of Liz Gilbert as a person than I am of her as a writer (although The Signature of All Things was pretty good). I listened to this as an audiobook which she read herself and I think that made a huge difference in how approachable and interesting it was. It’s a nonfiction book that’s partially about her coming to terms with the institution of marriage and partially about the historical significance of marriage (in the Western world). The most interesting parts to me had to do with her research on marriage as not being the inherently Christian concept it’s often made out to be and also the tremendously depressing data on how the age of a couple when they marry dramatically influences their chances of staying together. (The younger people marry, the more likely they are to get divorced) and how men’s quality of life improves dramatically after marriage while women’s quality of life is significantly worse. I don’t think this is an amazing book, but I found some of it interesting.

The Lake House by Kate Morton. If you are a fan of Morton’s previous books you will probably like this one. She stays in her wheelhouse with this mystery which involves an old house in the English countryside, family secrets, and movement between the past and present as the reader and the characters try to solve the mystery of what happened to Theo Edevane, who disappeared when he was two years old. I found the ending to be a bit contrived, but was nevertheless charmed by the book.

In the Valley of the Shadow Light has Dawned by Stephanie Ebert. I wrote a review of this little advent devotional here, but the short version is that I loved it because it met me right where I am. I recommend it to anyone looking for how to hold on to hope in the midst of a dark world.

I am on the verge of finishing both Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (AKA J. K. Rowling) so my review will have to wait for next month, but spoiler alert – I’m really liking them both.

What I’m Listening To:

Adele. Duh. Isn’t everyone?

What I’m Watching:

I completely forgot to mention this last month, but I watched all of season 1 of Jane the Virgin on Netflix last month. I haven’t been able to watch Season 2 though because I didn’t start it in time to catch the first few episodes while they were on Hulu and now they aren’t available anymore (I know, I know, first world problems). Jonathan and I are keeping up with How to Get Away with Murder and Brooklyn Nine Nine (our favorite) and we are making our way through the new season of The Mindy Project.

In movies this month we saw Spectre (the new James Bond movie) which was a classic James Bond movie – entertaining but nothing special. We also saw the last Hunger Games movie with Jonathan’s family on Thanksgiving night. It was well done, but, like the book, rather dark.

What I’m Eating:

Way too much, guys. Way too much. One of my healthier fall favorites has been winter squash (acorn squash). Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill the hollow with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar (amount depends on how healthy you want to be) and microwave for 6 – 8 minutes. Eat with a spoon!


via Huffington Post

What I’m Writing:

I wrote my weekly adventures for weeks 44, 45, 46, and 47 here on the blog. I also wrote about the loss of two dear professors and about advent as the season of holy longing.

I wrote a few more articles for Modernize and while I’ve gotten positive feedback from the editor, I think my contract with them may be at its end. Fingers crossed for a few more weeks of work!

On the Internets:

Did you guys know about Glitter for Your Enemies? Cause I think it’s brilliant. It’s a website that lets you send an envelope full of glitter anonymously to your enemies. So they get glitter bombed. Because we all know how impossible to get rid of glitter. Almost makes me wish I had enemies…

What I’ve Been Up To:

I’ve actually been working a lot this month. I tutor 7 days a week for students from elementary school through college. Some days I just have one student and other days I have 3 or 4. I subbed 8 days this month and picked up 7 freelance articles. Some weeks I have too much to do and other weeks I can’t quite scrape together enough, but God has been faithful and little by little things are coming together, even without a traditional job.

We moved into our new place at the beginning of November and spent the first few weeks getting settled. I did a little photo tour to give you a glimpse of it.

The loss of two of my professors a couple weeks ago hit me hard and made me think a lot about what it means to live life well.

This past week we traveled to Ohio to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws. It was our first time back to Ohio in a year and half and it was good to be with family.

December promises to be full of activity. My birthday is coming up this week and my best friend from college and her new husband are coming to visit for the weekend. A week later, Jonathan’s family will come to visit us bringing along his brother who will be newly arrived from South Africa. After their visit, we’ll travel to see my family in Louisiana for Christmas.

While I’m looking forward to all of that activity, I’m also longing to carve out times of quiet. After two years of being away for the holidays, I’ve become accustomed to a quieter Christmas season.

How was your November? What do you have planned for the holidays?

Friday Book Chats: Books on my Amazon Wish List

For the past two years that I’ve been living in Korea I’ve been doing the majority of my reading on my kindle. Like most big readers, I have a list of “to-read” books that only gets longer. My strategy for deciding what to read next is simple. I keep an Amazon Wish List with all of the kindle books I want to read. Every day I check my list to see if anything has gone on sale. When a book drops to the $1.99 – $3.99 price range, I’ll buy it. Then, when I finish a book, I choose my next read from my list of recent purchases.

Getting a library card is at the top of my list of things to do once we arrive in Columbia, and once I have access to library books I imagine I’ll be cutting back on my kindle purchases significantly and my Amazon Wish List will probably be converted into a Library Request List. In the meantime, I thought I’d share what’s on my wish list. (OK, I’m not sharing everything on my list because there are 67 books on it, but I am sharing a lot!)

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (author of Ender’s Game). Fantasy. One of my good friends from college recommended this to me a while ago thinking I would like it because it’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. He’s right, that’s right up my alley.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Fantasy. I’ve heard this fantasy trilogy is a bit dark but also amazing. The main character is an apprentice assassin.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Fiction. I watched the movie version of this story of an accomplished professor who is struck with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The movie was really thought-provoking, but also difficult to watch because it was so sad so I think I’d have to be in the right mood to read it.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Non-fiction/organization. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews of this book. I can’t tell you how many bloggers, youtubers, etc I’ve heard talking about it. I can’t quite imagine what could be so life-changing about a book on organization, but I’m intrigued!

Euphoria by Lily King. Biographical Fiction. This has been on my list forever. This is a novel inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, one of the most famous anthropologists in history. It’s essentially a love triangle in a tropical jungle. As a bit of anthropology nerd, I’ve been dying to read this for a long time, but it’s always so darn expensive. Library it is!

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. Non-fiction. Spiritual memoir/Christianity. This has been highly recommended to me by a respected friend and I anticipate it being a slow, savored read. This is a spiritual reflection on what a viable contemporary faith looks like.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Fiction. This came out earlier this year and is a companion book to Life After Life. I’ve read a lot of Atkinson’s books and I love them all. I think she’s a tremendous writer.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. Non-fiction/Memoir/Food. I really enjoyed Wizenberg’s second book, Delancey, which was about she and her husband opening a pizza restaurant. This is her first book which is more memoir, telling the story of her life centered around the kitchen. You know how I love food books.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Non-fiction. Vegetarianism. This book explores the ethics of eating animals. While there are plenty of books on vegetarianism out there, I’m interested to read this one because I already like the author. I’m not sure that I’d ever be vegetarian – my body doesn’t process starches well so trying to be a vegetarian with no starches would literally leave me with fruits and vegetables, but ever since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma I have become very interested in becoming a more conscientious consumer, something that will be more possible for me in the upcoming months as we move back to a land with options and labels.

Upcoming Releases:

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Non-fiction/Creativity. Gilbert shares her approach to the creative life and gives tips for attitudes, behaviors and habits to make it a success. I’ve heard really good things about the content. Release Date: Sept.22

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Non-fiction. Spiritual memoir. This is probably my most-anticipated book of the year. I am deeply moved by much of Bolz-Weber’s unconventional writing and speaking and I have high expectations for this new book. Release Date: Sept 8

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. Non Fiction/Humor/Memoir. I loved Kaling’s first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Her writing is smart and funny and I love her personality, or at least the personality that she projects in these books. Release Date: Sept 15

The Lake House by Kate Morton. Fiction. I have loved all of Morton’s previous books which are rich and atmospheric. This book is about a woman putting together the pieces of  the unsolved disappearance of her brother decades before. Release Date: October 20

What’s on your To-Read list?