Book Chats

Friday Book Chats: Books Everyone’s Read But Me

Today’s Book Chat is dedicated to some books that I feel like everyone but me has read. Whether I missed them during my school years, never got around to them when they came out, or intentionally refused to read them, these are all books that haven’t made it into my Hall of Books Past.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The classic tale of teenage angst that everyone reads in high school. Except not my high school. I’m pretty sure my high school only allowed books where you could make an argument that one of the characters was a Christ-figure.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. My school actually did assign this book, I just didn’t read it. Shhhh.

Animal Farm by George Orwell. My friends all read this in middle school, but I was home schooled in middle school and I kind of chose my own literature. Home schooling for the win!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I think a lot of students end up reading one of the classic dystopic books –1984, Fahrenheit 451, Catch-22, or Brave New World. We read 1984 (which I liked) and although my family owned Brave New World I never worked up the motivation to read it on my own. Or any of the others.

50 Shades of Grey by  E. L. James . Without sounding judge-y I will just say that I honestly have never been interested in reading this.  I remember going on vacation the summer that this first came out and women all across the beach were reading it and I thought it was so strange because to me it felt like the equivalent of a bunch of people lying around on the beach looking at porn. I’m not a prude when it comes to book content, but it has to have redeeming qualities. Just not my jam.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Again, I think people either read Dracula or Frankenstein. I didn’t read either in high school, but I did read Frankenstein in college. Hubby read Dracula and says it’s worth the read so maybe I’ll get around to it someday when I’m in the mood for a classic or something a little spooky.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I know this is a common problem, but looking back on it, my high school education (and even college to some extent) there is a distinct lack of diversity in the writers we read. Mostly old white guys with a few women thrown in here and there. I think this is a book I’d like to read someday, though I don’t really know a lot about it to be honest.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This is such a cult classic and I’ve never read it, nor have I seen the movie adaptation. I’m told it’s very funny so maybe I’m missing out.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery   I know my friend Josh is going to have a heart attack when he sees this one. I’m familiar with the story and the significance, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it. I share that in the spirit of honesty, but you have to promise not to shun me now, Josh, even though I can hear your audible gasp from here.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving . This is another book that I feel like many other readers and writers I respect absolutely revere. I think it’s very likely I would like it if I read it, I’ve just never quite been sufficiently motivated.

If you’ve read any of these and think I’m really missing out, be sure to let me know!

Friday Book Chats: Books to Match Your Mood

Books, like songs, each have their own tone. They have the ability to evoke certain emotions or associations. And just like I choose the music I want to listen to based on my mood, I often choose the book I want to read next the same way. Since I read so many different genres, there are lots of directions my reading could take me. Today’s book chat is a collection of book suggestions to match your mood. The majority of these I’ve read. A few I haven’t, but trust the sources that recommended them to me.

Books to Make You Laugh

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling. If you like Mindy Kaling in The Office and The Mindy Project then you will like this book. I personally want to be Mindy’s best friend.

Bossypants. Tina Fey. I actually didn’t like this quite as much as Kaling’s book, but I’m in the minority. It is still really funny.  I’ve heard it’s even better if you get the audiobook because Fey reads it herself. For fans of Mean Girls and 30 Rock and SNL.

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. Glennon Melton. This book from the author of the Momastery blog is not marketed as humor. It’s part memoir and part about parenting and part life reflections. But it made me laugh so hard I think I peed on myself. Several times. I read parts of it out loud to my mom and I thought we were going to die from lack of oxygen we were laughing so hard. I think it’s partly because I share Melton’s sense of humor, but I thoroughly enjoyed laughing my way through this one.

Books to Make You Cry

The Fault in Our Stars. John Green. Teenagers with cancer ponder the mysteries of the universe. Some of my favorite characters, but if you don’t cry buckets there’s probably something wrong with you.

Me Before You. JoJo Moyes. A directionless young girl takes a job as a caretaker for a young, handsome man who was hit by a car and is now a quadriplegic. I think you can see how this is fodder for all the feels.

Books to Creep You Out

I am easily scared and don’t like to read scary books, so bear that in mind.

Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn. Part mystery, part psychological thriller, all sensationalized. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this, but it definitely ranks as a creepy book.

Tana French mysteries. Of all the mysteries I read, these are the scariest and most suspenseful to me (but in a good way). My favorite is The Likeness.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsen. I don’t recommend this book because I found it too disturbing due to graphic violence towards women, but I had to finish it because I couldn’t stand not to know what happened. Only read it if you aren’t as easily disturbed as I am.

Books to Make You Think

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Susan Cain. I wrote a whole post about this book, but it’s fascinating and hugely helpful in understanding my personality and how I’m wired. I recommend this to introverts and extroverts alike and I promise you will learn something about yourself through this book.

Thinking, Fast and SlowDaniel Kahneman. A tour of the mind that explains the differences and capabilities of our brains’ two systems – the one that is fast, intuitive, and emotional and the other which is slower and more logical. Fascinating insight into how we as human being think.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadBrene Brown. I’ve written a whole post on this book but I think it is powerful and life-changing if you let it be.

Books to Let You Not Think

The most delicious of marshmallow fluffy books. I’ve done a full post on these books here, but just to quickly list a few go-to authors of mine:

Emily Giffin (except for her most recent which was awful). Rom-commy loveliness, though some of them are a little more nuanced and heavier than just boy meets girl.

Sophie Kinsella (especially her Shopaholic series). They might be predictable, but they sure are fun.

Jennifer Weiner. Really enjoyed In Her Shoes and her Cannie Shapiro books. Ooh and Little Earthquakes. Very easy reading, though not nearly as fluffy as Kinsella.

Books to Let You Escape (Books with atmosphere)

Kate Morton’s Books – Old houses full of family secrets are a recipe for some delicious, transporting stories.

The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern. Seriously gorgeous. While I was reading this book I felt like I couldn’t do regular life because my imagination was so completely full of The Circus there wasn’t room for anything else.

Brandon Sanderson’s Books – Sanderson’s capacity for world-building continually boggles my mind. I haven’t read all of his books, but everything I’ve read has been amazing. Especially The Stormlight Archive and the Mistborn books.

Patrick Rothfuss’ Books – Rothfuss is also a great world-builder and storyteller whose beautiful writing paints such vivid pictures you won’t want to walk away.

Outlander series. Diana Gabaldon. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of this series, I admit that they do take you away to another time and place. Actually, many different times and places.

Books to Motivate and Inspire You

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. Nina Sankovitch. I wrote more about this here. After the death of her sister Sankovitch sets out on a year of reading one book every day for 365 days and finds a way to slow down and heal. This will motivate you to read more.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen. Christopher McDougall In Mexico there is a tribe called the Tarahumara who are known for being incredible distance runners who run up to 50 miles through their native deserts barefoot. When McDougall is sidelined from running by recurring foot injuries, he sets out to discover the secret of the Tarahumara. Don’t read if you don’t want to be compelled to run.

The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful. Myquillyn SmithA great read for those who love decorating and feel like they can’t because of their budget, their space, or because they feel guilty for putting time and money into making a beautiful home.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Marie Kondo. Need help decluttering and getting organized? I’m told this book will change your life.

Books to Challenge You

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsMichael Pollan. Pollan’s detailed trace of 4 meals through their entire production chain from the ground to your table will make you seriously consider the ethics behind what you eat and challenge you to be a mindful consumer.

Interrupted: When God Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity. Jen Hatmaker. I feel like the title of this is sort of self-explanatory. This book is a kick in the pants for Christians who are more concerned with feeling and believing the gospel than they are with doing it. (You know, me.)

Books to Make You Hungry

Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage.  Molly Wizenberg. The story of Wizenberg and her husband and their quest to open the perfect brick-oven pizzeria.

My Life in France. Julia Child. Child is the master. This book will endear her to you and make you want to cook.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist. One of my faves. Such a great reflection on food’s role in our lives and the importance of hospitality and nourishing our bodies and our souls with people we love around a table.

Books to Give You Wanderlust

I have to be careful about when I read these. Cause my wanderlust is always crazy-high anyway. Sometimes these books inspire me and sometimes they make me feel discontent with my life. Just my own personal struggle.

Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World. Lynne Martin. I think the title pretty much explains it.

Paris Letters Janice MacLeod. When Janice finds herself completely burned out she figures out how to cut back, save money, and buy herself two years of freedom in Europe.

Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage. Allison Vesterfelt. From the author. “Like many twenty-somethings, I tried desperately to discover the life of my dreams after college, but instead of finding it, I just kept accumulating baggage. Just when I had given up all hope of finding the “life I’d always dreamed about,” I decided to take a trip to all fifty states…because when you go on a trip, you can’t take your baggage.”

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are one of the 4 people on the planet who hasn’t read this and you want to find yourself compelled to leave your life and globe trot then go ahead and give this a go.

Books to Make You Bored

Just kidding. Life’s too short to read dumb books.

What are your favorite books to match a mood? Did I miss your mood? Leave me a comment with your suggestions or let me know what kind of book you’re looking for and I’ll make some suggestions!

Friday Book Chats: My Teacher Made Me Do It

Today’s book chat is a tip of the hat to some of the literature teachers I’ve had over the years who assigned me some great works that I may have never read on my own. Of course, not every book I read in school was a smash hit. A lot of the books on my Books I’m Supposed to Love But Can’t Help Hating list were also assigned reading. But this post is about celebrating the gems I discovered and  about saying thank you to the teachers who made me do something I didn’t necessarily want to do because they knew it would make my life richer. (Or because they were required to by state law, but either way…)

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I can’t say for sure that I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been assigned, but I certainly wouldn’t have read it when I did and I think this is a book that impacts you more when you read it as an adolescent. As a teenager in the American South this book had an impact on my developing understanding of race and justice in America.

2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I wouldn’t call this a favorite book, but it is a book that I’m glad to have read. As a sophomore (or maybe junior?) in a small Christian high school I remember my sheltered self being appalled and disgusted by parts of this book (particularly the ending) but after a few years of maturing and, frankly, growing less prudish about literature, I came to really appreciate its message about the Haves and the Have Nots, the scope of moral vision, and the endurance of human dignity.

3. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. In retrospect, it’s strange that this book was assigned at my conservative Christian high school, but I think it had more to do with it being a story set in Louisiana and written by a local author. This book is considered a comedic masterpiece and follows the main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, “a Don Quixote of the French Quarter”  on a series of comedic adventures.

4. Light in August by William Faulkner. I read this book in college having previously only read The Sound and the Fury (a book I was not thankful to have read in high school). Light in August is one of my favorite modern classics and its main character, Joe Christmas, is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever encountered.

5. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. I happen to love Shakespeare so who can say whether or not I would have gotten to this play eventually had it not been assigned, but it is one of the less famous of Shakespeare’s plays. I read this during a study abroad in England and later saw a stage production of it in Stratford that was so creative that it brought the play to life for me in a way I’ve never forgotten.

6. Dogwalker by Arthur Bradford. I had to write a paper on this collection of short stories while in college. Initially I thought it was bizarre and disturbing and I kind of hated it. The stories in this book are strange bordering on the absurd with elements of magical realism woven throughout. After studying the text and learning more about the author I came to understand these stories as showing the strange and unconventional beauty of the misfits of society.

7. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. Elaine Risley is a painter who has returned to Toronto, the town where she grew up, for a retrospective, only to be confronted with the shadows of her childhood. As someone who has spent much of recent years trying to make sense of the complexities of my own childhood, this book resonated with me on a deep level. It was heart-wrenching and tender and funny all at once and I remember it as one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.

Friday Book Chats: Interview with Poet Karissa Knox Sorrell and a Giveaway

Today’s Book Chat is especially exciting for me to share with you. My incredibly talented writing friend, Karissa Knox Sorrell, is publishing her first poetry chapbook, Evening Body. Karissa is a gifted poet whose words resonate with some of our most basic and essential human experiences. I was lucky enough to read the manuscript of this collection and I can honestly say that these poems are beautiful, evocative, and deeply felt. They are a treat to read.

Karissa is running a giveaway contest at her blog for anyone who pre-orders Evening BodyIf you pre-order a copy, you  will automatically be entered into giveaway drawing for a Booklover’s Gift Pack! The Gift Pack includes three books and a Starbucks gift card.  All you have to do is let Karissa know you pre-ordered a copy and she’ll add your name to the pot! Find more info about the giveaway over at Karissa’s blog.

Want a sneak preview of what you’ll be getting? You can read two of the poems in this collection (“The Boulevard” and “Luminescence”  at Gravel Magazine where they were originally published.

Without further ado, here is my interview with Karissa in which she talks about her poetry, about balancing her writing with her day job and family, and gives some advice for aspiring poets.

Interview with Karissa Knox Sorrell


  1. How long have you been writing poetry? Do you remember your first poem?

Since I was a child. When I was in third grade, I chose to take a summer school creative writing course! One particular memory I have is writing a poem about the sunset at my grandmother’s house when I was about 10 years old.

  1. You did an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) in poetry. What did you take away from the experience and would you recommend an MFA to other writers?

There’s such a debate over MFAs right now! For me, an MFA was the right thing. I wanted to get back into writing and my previous degrees were in education. I needed the expertise, experience, and community that an MFA gave me. I was in a low-residency program, so I was only on campus twice a year, but those residency weeks were definitely some of my favorite times. I learned a ton, was exposed to a variety of writers/poets, became a more skillful writer and reader, and gained a supportive family of other writers. Also, I think being a part of an MFA program boosted my confidence, both as a person and as a writer.

  1. You also write creative non-fiction and fiction, do you still think of yourself primarily as a poet? If not, how would you define/describe your writing?

I think my definition of myself as a writer is pretty fluid. After graduating, I didn’t write much for two years, then I focused mostly on creative non-fiction for two years after that. It has only been a year or so since I’ve really gone back to writing poetry, and it was exactly what I needed. Right now, I would mostly say I’m a poet, but I have written an entire nonfiction manuscript and am in the middle of writing a YA novel. I don’t feel the pressure to compartmentalize, though. It’s okay for me to write different things at different points in my journey.

  1. You aren’t just a writer, you are also a wife and a mother and a professional educator. Can you talk about finding time and balancing your writing with the other parts of your life?

It’s not easy. For a couple of years, I wrote from 4-5 am. I really loved that quiet time in the mornings, but eventually I just felt so tired all the time that I quit. Over the past year, I’ve wiggled in writing time here and there. I might be in the same room as my children and they are watching TV while I am working on poems. I try to set aside a couple of hours each weekend if possible. And occasionally I will get away to a coffee shop for three hours in the evening. I think I’ve finally reached a balance of realizing that I don’t have to push myself so hard. The writing is important, but I also need to focus on other areas of my life.

  1. Who are your favorite poets and who are your influences?

Louise Gluck has a beautiful book called The Wild Iris. Li-Young Lee, especially his book Rose. He has a way of bringing the world into a poem that surprises you and takes your breath away. Rainer Maria Rilke – his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God stays on my nightstand. Mary Oliver. Marie Howe. Gregory Orr. Linda Bierds. I recently read two really great new books of poetry: Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson and The Palace of Contemplating Departure by Brynn Saito.

  1. Many of your poems paint vivid pictures that often capture a singular moment or event almost like looking at a still-shot. What draws you to write about these moments? What do you most hope readers take will take away from them?

A lot of my poems are inspired by real moments in my life. I think our human experiences are undergirded by so many complex emotions, and a poem is an opportunity to sort of dig deeper and pull out that depth and vulnerability so that it can be shared. Poems help us slow down, savor, and contemplate our humanity. I want my readers to recognize something in my poems, something that reminds them of their own experiences and complexities.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

I think one thing is to remember that a poem is not just taking what you would normally write in a paragraph and adding a little white space. While that might be a good place to start if you are beginning a poem, so many things are coming together to make the poem work: word choice, rhythm, strategic use of sounds, strategic line breaks, layers of meaning. A great test is to read your poem out loud and see what it sounds like. However, my biggest advice is to not be afraid. Read, write, let your message spill out of you. Poetry is for everyone.

So, are you ready to pre-order? Click here to order the chapbook, Evening Body, from Finishing Line Press. And don’t forget to head over to Karissa’s blog to enter the giveaway!

Friday Book Chats: What Makes a Book YA and Some YA Books Worth Reading

I recently had a conversation with my husband about what criteria must be satisfied for a book to be classified as Young Adult. While there are obvious answers to this question like, “The protagonist is an adolescent,” this isn’t by itself an accurate answer. There are plenty of books that are not classified as YA literature that feature a child protagonist or even a child narrator. (Off the top of my head Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird all come to mind).

What makes a book like The Book Thief a YA book while All the Light We Cannot See is a Pulitzer Prize winning adult novel? Both books have child protagonists. Both books are about WWII. Both books have a stylized, literary feel. And yet, they are considered different genres.

I brought this question up with a few different friends who made various suggestions. They postulated that YA books have a sense of immediacy not present in adult literature. They are often written in the first person and sometimes use the present tense.  My husband suggested that there’s a certain simplicity to the language and syntax of YA books that allows for comprehension by a younger audience.

Some scholars and critics have suggested that YA as a genre is solely a construction of the publishing industry. How do you get more teenagers to buy books? By marketing certain books directly to them. And this seems to be working.

While these conversations didn’t provide me with a clear answer to my question, it did make me think about some of my favorite YA books. While publishers may have created a niche market that’s great for selling some of these books, I think they’ve also isolated some of those same books from reaching a wider audience who aren’t as likely to pick them up because they are stamped with that YA label.

Here are some books that (in my opinion) are worth your consideration even if you wouldn’t call yourself a YA fan.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Since I already mentioned it above I’ll just say that yes, it’s as good as it’s hyped up to be. This is a fantastic book that tells the story of a young German girl (with a penchant for stealing books), her adoptive parents, and the Jewish fighter they hide in their basement during the Holocaust, as narrated by the omniscient character, Death. I can’t possibly sum this book up in a few sentences, but it will pretty much wreck you.

The 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 masterfully done.

The Lunar Chronicles (series) by Marissa Meyer (The first book, Cinderis only $2.99 for Kindle right now!) I’ve actually only read the first book in this series so far, but it blew me away. It’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. This unique twist on the Cinderella story 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 is so fresh and clever and well-done that I couldn’t put it down. I plan to read the rest of the series soon!

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials Series) by Philip Pullman. In a world where people’s souls exist as Daemon forms who walk beside them, orphaned Lyra Belacqua leaves her home among the scholars of Oxford’s Jordan College sets out on a quest to find her kidnapped friend, Roger. She carries with her an instrument given to her by her uncle, Lord Asriel, an instrument that tells the truth, an instrument that changes everything when she discovers that someone is kidnapping children and running experiments on them – experiments that will separate them from their Daemons. Honestly, these books are better as an adult than they were as an adolescent. As an adolescent you read these and think, “Yeah, down with the Magisterium. Stick it to the man!” As an adult you are fascinated with the implications of what it means to become an adult and the influences of society and religion in that process.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. This book is precious. 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 enchanted.

The Fault in Our Stars and other John Green books. I assume I don’t have to tell you much about The Fault in Our Stars, but I will say that it is my favorite Green book. His books are all so compelling because they don’t flinch away from hard truths and big questions. They are serious and sad and funny and beautiful and his characters have something meaningful to offer the world.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants The premise of the magical pants aside, the stories of these four girls wove their way into my heart. There are things I love and identify with about each of them – Wild Bridget, Rebellious Tibby, Quiet Lena, and Dramatic Carmen. These books are portraits of friendship, of family, of growing up, and of what it means to live a meaningful life. There are five books in the series, with the last one, Sisterhood Everlastingcrossing over into adult fiction as it picks up the girls’ lives 10 years later as they are about to turn 30.

What do you think? What makes a book YA? What are your favorite YA books?

Friday Book Chats: “Middle Child” Books (Easily Overlooked)

I’ve been thinking lately about how very hard it must be to be a novelist. Not only is there so much work that goes into writing, and then the pressure of trying to get published and then hoping people buy it and then hoping it gets good reviews, etc. And even if you manage to achieve all of that, the buzz around a particular book only lasts for so long and then you have to do it all over again.

For today’s book chat I wanted to write about some really good books that you may not have heard of, or at least may not have heard about in a while. These aren’t exactly obscure books, but they are what I’d call “Middle Child” books.They are too old to still be hyped up and popular but they aren’t old enough to be classics and most have authors that are  better-known for other works. While none of these books are all-time favorites, they are all books that I rate highly and would recommend.

DeerskinDeerskin by Robin McKinley (1993). McKinley was one of my favorite authors growing up. She was writing young adult fantasy before that genre really existed. While I read and loved every one of her books (highly, highly recommend The Hero and the Crown), I remember being awestruck by this one, perhaps in part because it was one of my first forays out of true children’s books and into something weightier. Princess Lissla Lissar is on the cusp of womanhood, a beauty only equal to her dead mother, but she is forced to flee her kingdom when that likeness sparks her father’s lust and madness. She flees with her loyal dog, Ash, eventually finding a job working in the kennels for another king where the prince becomes captivated by the kennel maid and tells her stories until one day he tells her the story of Lissla Lissar.

Lake of DreamsThe Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards (2011). Edwards is best known for The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, but The Lake of Dreams is worth a read. This beautifully atmospheric book tells the story of Lucy Jarrett who has returned home to a small town in upstate New York after years of living abroad. When Lucy finds a collection of objects inside a window seat, she realizes she has stumbled onto some family secrets. Lucy begins a quest for answers about the objects she’s found and about the unresolved death of her father a decade earlier.

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (2008). Brooks is a Pulitzer-prize winning author (for March in 2006, also a great book) whose books are heavily rooted in real historical events. Inspired by a true story, this book traces the story of a rare illuminated manuscript and the people who loved it and preserved it through centuries of war and exile. When the Sarajevo Haggadah is rescued from Bosnia, Hanna Heath, a rare-book expert, is given a once-in-a-lifetime  chance to study it. This book takes Hanna and the reader on a journey that is both historically fascinating and emotionally evocative. I’ve read reviews of this book from people who didn’t connect with it at all, but I thought it was fascinating.

American WifeAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Sittenfeld is probably best known for her debut novel, Prep, which I didn’t love. I was intrigued by this novel because it’s a complete work of fiction whose main character, Alice Blackwell, is heavily modeled after Laura Bush. One of the most interesting elements of this book to me was the exploration of a character who doesn’t hold all of the same political or social views as her husband and is put in position where she has to decide what it looks like to support someone she doesn’t always agree with.

History of LoveThe History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2006). Krauss’ more recent book, Great House, is also well worth reading, but this was the first book of hers I read and I’m attached to it. Until recently she was married to writer Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and I can see some similarities in their work. Leo Gursky is a tired old Polish immigrant who lives a quiet, lonely life, but once upon a time he was young and in love and he wrote a book. 14-year-old Alma was named after a character in that book and she is determined to find her namesake, even though it’s been 60 years since the book was written.

Yiddish Policeman's UnionThe Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007). Chabon is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which won the Pulitzer in 2000). The thing I love about Chabon is that he strongly believes that a book can be both literary and entertaining. He often experiments with classic genre fiction, and this book is a prime example. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is a police detective story mixed with a dose of 1940’s noir. A small community of Jewish refugees have made their home in Sitka, Alaska where they were offered temporary asylum after WWII, but now their little world is about to change as their district reverts to Alaskan control. For homicide detective Meyer Landsman, this is just one more part of his life that is falling apart. When Landsman begins to investigate the murder of his neighbor, he receives instructions to drop the case from his supervisor – who is also his estranged wife. Landsman pursues the case anyway with startling results.

Do you have any books you wish more people knew about? Or books you love that don’t seem to get enough credit? Please share in the comments. I’m always looking for new suggestions!

Friday Book Chats: Books and Place

Many people have studied the connection between music and memory – the ability of music to instantly take you back to another time and place that you associate with a particular song or melody. I’ve found that books can have the same effect. There are certain books that I can’t think of without remembering the circumstances surrounding my reading them—where I was or who I was with or what that season of my life was like.

Today’s Book Chat is all about the books that evoke specific memories for me and hold a special place in my heart because of the times and places they remind me of.

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver. I read this book on my honeymoon. I don’t remember why I chose it, only that I’d read some of Kingsolver’s other books before and this one was available from the library. Since hubby tore a meniscus in his knee just two weeks before our wedding and couldn’t walk without a stabilizing brace, we spent a lot of our honeymoon cruise lying around on the ship and on the beaches and fully embracing our new role as married adults – you know, ordering pb&j sandwiches from room service at all hours of the day. I’ll never be able to think of Taylor Greer and her accidental daughter, Turtle, without thinking about snorkeling in Cozumel.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s possible that one of the reasons I love this book so much is simply because of my history with it. I was first introduced to it while on a study abroad trip in England. My friend Bethany read it aloud to me during our time in the Lake District and I fell in love. A few years later, I took a road trip with my best friend from Boston to Pennsylvania with a stop at a wedding in upstate New York. I wanted to read the book to her while she drove, but I’d forgotten to bring it along. We checked the map and found a book store that appeared to be right beside the interstate so we took the exit and went in search of the book. The “bookstore” was at a tiny college bookstore in rural Massachusetts a good twenty minutes from the interstate. Also, they did not have the book. We were stressed out by our detour since we needed to make it to the wedding on time, but it made for a great memory. I love this book that tells the story of Oskar Schell, a 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.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak. I actually started this book as an audio book which I borrowed from the library in Raleigh and listened to while I was doing long runs for my marathon training. Although I only made it halfway through on the audiobook before I had to return it and later finished reading this the old-fashioned way, I cannot think of it without hearing the narrator’s deep, rumbling voice and imagining the greenways that wind their way around Raleigh’s lakes and streams and woods. This is a fantastic book that tells the story of a young German girl, her adopted parents, and the Jewish fighter they hide in their basement during the Holocaust, as narrated by the omniscient character, Death.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. While the final book of the Harry Potter series would probably have been memorable regardless, this one was especially meaningful to me because it was released while I was in Russia. I had gone to Russia with a team of other girls from college to work with a ministry that was running summer camps for orphans. After just a short time there, there was a salmonella outbreak at our camp and the government shut our camp down, took the children away, and asked us to leave the country. Not only was our trip cut short by a month, but I had horrible food poisoning that left me 15 lbs thinner after just 2 weeks. When we left Russia early I was full of mixed feelings, mostly relief at that point to be going home when I’d been so sick. We flew from Moscow to London. When we landed at Heathrow Airport I high-tailed it to a bookstore and paid an exorbitant 30 quid for  the hardback British edition of HP 7. I read it the whole way home and finished it while struggling through jet lag at 3 am the next day. The HP books are dear to me for lots of reasons, but the memory of how I ended up with this specific copy will always be special.

What books hold special memories for you?


I stopped putting up links to weekly Kindle deals because it takes me a lot of time and I wasn’t sure anyone was really using them, but there are a few really great books on sale right now that I want to let you know about.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Rachel Held Evans ($2.99)

Cold Tangerines Shauna Niequist ($2.99)

So Brave, Young, and Handsome Leif Enger author of Peace Like a River. ($1.99)

Friday Book Chats: Fictional Character Crushes

The first crush I remember having was on Robin Hood from the Disney animated movie of the same name. Yes, I am aware that he was a fox. I can’t explain why that didn’t seem weird at the time, but facts are facts. Falling hopelessly in love with fictional characters became something of a theme for me as I was growing up. Ok, ok…it’s still kind of a theme for me. Below is a list of my biggest book crushes, past and present.

See what I mean?

See what I mean? He’s, well, foxy. 😉

1. Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables. Gilbert Blythe who loves Anne Shirley from the moment she breaks her slate over his head. Who waits patiently for her to love him back. And then keeps loving her through babies and wars and all that comes with them. The recent death of actor Jonathan Crombie who played the role of Gilbert in the film version brought back so much nostalgia for this character and this series which I’ve read through at least 3 times.


2. Char (Prince Charmont) from Ella Enchanted. Don’t go off of the ridiculous movie version of this. The book is so, so much better. And Prince Charmont is sweet and charming and genuine enough to make any 12-year-old swoon. I liked him from the beginning, but after the scene where they slide down the banisters together I was a goner.


3. Paul from the Sierra Jensen series. Paul’s primary quality is that he is mysterious. As a teenager I was enchanted by that. Unlike Todd in the author’s previous books (the Christy Miller series), Paul was in and out. He was adventurous and moody and unpredictable and there was always real tension in the “will-they/won’t-they” of their relationship. Looking back on it, I can’t really say what was so likeable about Paul, but you get the impression from the first moment that you should be crazy about him.


4. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. I think I could blame a lot of my teenage fantasies (and strange choices in real-life boy crushes) on Mr. Darcy. I wanted someone sort of brooding and mysterious – someone who seemed so stoic and distant to others, but who came alive for me. Lesson, ladies – when you are looking for this in a teenage boy, you are likely to find impressive amounts of angst and very little romance. Also, it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to look at you and say, “You have bewitched me body and soul,” unless you two are doing a P&P stage production together.

Mr. Darcy

5. Theodore Lawrence from Little Women – I admit, I always thought Jo was an idiot for not marrying Laurie. He’s got it all – he’s cultured and wealthy, but also kind and fun. He’s Jo’s best friend and they’ve grown up together and he adores her. What’s not to love?


Christian Bale before he was Batman.

6. Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter. I know there are a lot more obvious choices here, but I just adore Fred and George. Plus I’ve always had a thing for red hair.


7. Peeta and Gale from The Hunger Games. Take your pick. There are things to love about both. For the record, I’m Team Peeta. Of course in the movies, Gale is more attractive, but looks aren’t everything and if you are going off of the books (which I am) I think Peeta is the clear winner.

Gale and Peeta

8. Aragorn son of Arathorn from Lord of the Rings. Because he’s a total bad-butt. (Which is how you say badass if you are Christian). And he’s got that whole steadfast love of Arwen over decades even though one would assume he could have his pick of the ladies. He is the kind of king who earns his crown and then looks good wearing it.


9. Kostas from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. He’s the Greek fisherman who opens sweet, innocent Lena’s heart to love. And he’s got this fabulous accent.

Quatre filles et un jean The sisterhood of traveling pants 2005 Real : Ken Kwapis Michael Rady COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL

10. Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars. Allow me to quote Augustus:

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” 

I think it’s self-explanatory why I (and every other girl in the world) love him. I melt.


I could go on, but I think I’ve exposed myself enough for one day. I know I’m not the only one to crush on fictional characters. Which characters have won your heart?

Friday Book Chats: Summer Reading List

Summer always feels like the perfect time for fun, quick reads. Even people who aren’t normally big readers seem more inclined to pick up a book while lounging by the pool or on the beach. Below are my recommendations for some great summer reads. I’m not including some of this summer’s hot books (like Harper Lee’s highly anticipated Go Set a Watchman) because I only wanted to share books that I’ve actually read and could confidently recommend.

These aren’t all chick-lit or completely mindless, escapist books (though some are), but they are all books I found to be fairly quick, enjoyable reads that remind me of summer for one reason or another. I’ve written about some of these in past posts, but some are new. I broke them into categories to make it easier to find something you might like.

I read all kinds of books in lots of different genres and some books I recommend do have some language, sexual content, or violence in them, so if you’re concerned about anything in particular, just leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to give you more details.


Liane Moriarty books – Moriarty is just a great storyteller and her plots are fresh and unique and interesting. I’ve read all of her books except one and really enjoyed all of them. While a lot of her main characters are female, I think men would enjoy some of them, too. I’d start with What Alice Forgot or Big Little Lies.

Jennifer Weiner books – I’ve enjoyed most of her books. They aren’t totally chick lit as the plot and characters are more developed and complex than your typical romance, but they are definitely more focused on women and women’s issues and are very quick reads. I’d start with In Her Shoes or Good in Bed.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. The cover of this book is a bit misleading. It looks like a nice beach read. It is a fairly quick read, but it’s more a domestic drama than a feel-good summer fling book. It tells the story of four women from three generations of the dysfunctional Kelleher family centered around their month spent in close quarters at the family summer home in Maine.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This book really is worth the hype. If you haven’t read it yet, this summer would be a great time!

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I love this book for summer because it takes place in so many exotic locations. This book follows artists of different types – a writer, an actress, a film producer, and a musician, from post-war Italy to modern-day Hollywood and weaves each of their stories together in a unique way.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  15-year-old Bee is preparing to leave for boarding school, but first she and her family will take a long-anticipated trip to Antarctica. That is, until her mother, Bernadette, disappears. Bee pieces together all the information she can find to figure out what happened to her mother.



The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love this book even though it’s sad. Every time I readTo_Kill_a_Mockingbird it I’m transported to this beautiful, magical summer that’s as intoxicating as it is tragic.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Since I can’t recommend Lee’s new book, the least I can do is insist that you read this classic if you haven’t before. It’s relatively short and an easy read, but so so good.

Young Adult:

The Grisha Trilogy, by Leigh Bardugo. I read this entire trilogy this month and I think it’s fantastic. Very fast read, engaging, interesting world/plot/characters, etc. It’s definitely “fantasy lite” so don’t read it with the expectation that you’re heading into an epic saga, but I couldn’t put them down.

John Green books. The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and An Abundance of Katherines. Green is the master of YA literature for the simple reason that he captures so perfectly what it is to be an adolescent, to ask big questions about life, and to expect more than trite answers. Not always happy books, but always moving.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series  by Ann Brashares. These aren’t new books, but if you like YA fiction and you missed them the first time around, I think they are worth the read. Of course, the premise is kind of ridiculous, but the individual stories of the girls go far beyond summer romances or petty fights. There are five books in the series, with the last one, Sisterhood Everlastingcrossing over into adult fiction as it picks up the girls’ lives 10 years later as they are about to turn 30.


What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman. Lippman has a large mystery series involving her character detective Tess Monaghan, but this one is a stand-alone novel. The Bethany sisters disappeared from a shopping mall 30 years ago. Now a woman has turned up claiming to be Heather Bethany, but nothing she tells the police seems to check out.

Jackson Brodie mysteries by Kate Atkinson. I genuinely think Atkinson is one of the best writers of our time and I love what she brings to the mystery genre. Her Jackson Brodie mysteries interweave the personal life of Jackson Brodie, an ex-cop turned Private Investigator, with mysteries that range from the mundane to the criminal to the bizarre. Start with Case Histories.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham. OK, I lied about having read all of these. I haven’t read this yet, BUT I have watched all of Veronica Mars including the movie. As far as I understand it, this book picks up right where the movie ends and is as good as it is in television/movies. Sounds like the perfect summer read to me!


Gentlemen Bastards

The Gentleman Bastards Series by Scott Lynch. Besides the books I always write about (*cough* Way of Kings *cough cough* Name of the Wind) this series is an especially fun summer read. Think Pirates of the Caribbean meets Oceans Eleven and you will get some idea of these books which involve a clever band of thieves and con-artists seeking to have it all. The first book in the series is The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Historical Fiction:

GuernseyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is a heartwarming epistolary novel about writer Juliet Ashton who is looking for a subject for her next book when she receives a letter from a total stranger living on Geurnsey island. This book is a record of their correspondence as Juliet learns about the resilient people of Guernsey living in he aftermath of German occupation during WWII.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This book just (deservedly) received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This is a WWII novel and while it is very literary, it’s also quite easy to read. It’s really a beautiful book if you are looking for something a little more substantial, but easy to get into.  In alternating chapters the book tells the story of a blind French girl whose father is the Keeper of the Locks for the Museum of Natural History in Paris and a German orphan boy whose talent with engineering gets him recruited into an elite military academy and then sent into the field tracking the Resistance during WWII.

Humor/Memoir/Spiritual Memoir:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. I just want to be Mindy Kaling’s best friend. If you are a fan of The Mindy Project, you will love this book.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. As with above, if you love Tina Fey from SNL or 30 Rock or Mean Girls, then you will enjoy this book. I’ve heard that it’s even better as an audio book because Fey reads it herself.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. I just read this last month and forgot to write about it. I think this is the perfect book to get you in the mood for a summer of reading. After the death of her sister, Sankovitch throws herself headlong into her life, cramming it full to the brim with activities only to find herself exhausted a few years later. Unable to continue at her current pace she decided to slow down. She reads one book a day for an entire year and writes about the healing and growth that come from stories.

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. This is my favorite BBT book and it strikes me as summery because of how much it focuses on the holiness of our ordinary days, especially emphasizing nature and being physically present in the world. Summer always feels like the season I spend most “in” my body in a way – more time spent outside and more time in tune with things like sweat and the power of the sun and the sweet relief of a cool breeze.

Maybe next week I’ll post about what’s on my personal summer reading list (though it’s partially all those books I mentioned that I own and haven’t read yet).

What’s on YOUR summer reading list? (Or, you know, winter, for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere!)

Friday Book Chats: What’s on My Kindle

I have a problem. I am addicted to buying books. This has been a problem for a long time now, but it’s gotten especially out of hand lately. Living abroad in a country where it’s difficult to find English books and living in a state of transience where it’s impractical to accumulate possessions has made my kindle a necessity. But reading primarily on my kindle means I have instant access to thousands and thousands of books with just one click.

Admittedly, I almost never buy anything at full price and when I finish a book I always choose my next book from what’s already on my kindle. I have an enormous Amazon wish list which I check every day to see if anything’s gone on sale, and I’m always hunting for deals to share with you. This results in lots of split-second purchases, sometimes on books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, and sometimes on books I was suddenly seized with the desire to read once I realized it was only $2.99.

Today I want to share what’s on my kindle. This will serve to tell you about books I’m interested in, but also to provide some public accountability when I admit to all of the books I’ve impulsively purchased and not read. Maybe. Also, I’m included a list of current kindle sales at the end of this post…which might be counterproductive, but there are some really good books on there right now!

Books I’m Currently Reading

1. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans. I am about 65% through this book and it is a book I have desperately needed for a long, long time. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it soon.

2. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne. I read this book devotionally in the mornings (and sometimes evenings). It’s a book of common prayer that integrates many Christian traditions worldwide into its liturgy. I highly recommend it.

3. Listening to your Life: Daily MeditationsFrederick Buechner. I also read this devotionally off and on. It’s short passages from various parts of Buechner’s work (fiction and non-fiction) that reflect on spiritual truths.

Books I Haven’t Started Yet

4. STORY STORY: How I Found Ways to Make a Difference and Do Work I LoveKola Olaosebikan. Kola is a blogging/internet friend who recently published this book and was kind enough to send it to me to read and review. This is what I will read as soon as I finish my current book and I am really looking forward to it!

5. Siege and Storm (The Grisha Book 2)Leigh Bardugo. Read book 1 in this YA series a few weeks ago and would have moved straight to this one, but I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t like to read series’ straight through. I love to have a wide variety of genres in my reading, so after finishing a YA fantasy, I want to switch genres for a book or two.

6. Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, Book 3)Leigh Bardugo. Same as above.

7. Mariana, Susanna Kearsley. A historical fiction book/time travel book set in present and 17th century England.

8. The Invention of WingsSue Monk Kidd. There is absolutely no good reason I haven’t read this yet. A highly-praised historical fiction book by a favorite author. It’s about slavery and struggle, but also about liberation and empowerment.

9. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. Bought this in a sale. Not sure if I’m going to like, but it’s on of those I want to have read.

10. The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan. A memoir of a daughter and a father who bond for the first time when they are both diagnosed with cancer.

11. Interrupted: When God Wrecks Your Comfortable ChristianityJen Hatmaker. Hatmaker asks (and answers) hard questions about the purpose of the church and what the Christian life is really meant to be.

12. Cress (The Lunar Chronicles Book 3), Marissa Meyer. Read the first book in this series (Cinder) and loved it. Bought book 3 because it was on sale, but haven’t read book 2 yet because it’s not on sale. But I’ve got my eye on it…

13. How to Make Money Blogging: How I Replaced My Day-Job With My BlogBob Lotich. Because I’d like to know how to do that. But not enough to read it, apparently. Also got this for free.

14. Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor. Love BBT. I actually read the first 7% of this and then realized that An Altar in the World sort of came first and went back and read that one instead.The 7% I read was already great.

15. The Bible Tells Me So:Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read ItPeter Enns. The title and premise of this book intrigues me. I know that Enns is considered a controversial biblical scholar so I really have no idea if I’ll agree with his conclusions or not, but I’m interested to read his perspective.

16. The Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson. I read (and enjoyed) the first book in this trilogy a few months ago and need to move on to the next two books, but as I said above, I’m weird about series and take breaks sometimes.

17. The Secret History, Donna Tartt. Not a fan of The Goldfinch, so hoping this one is better!

18. The Year of Living Biblically:One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A.J. Jacobs. This is supposed to be an entertaining, interesting read akin to Rachel Held Evan’s similar book A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

19. Courageous Compassion:Confronting Social Injustice God’s WayBeth Grant. Something I want to spend more time and energy thinking about and working towards.

20. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers. Because I WILL FINISH THIS SOMEDAY!

21. Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastards Book 2), Scott Lynch. I read the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, a while ago. It was like Pirates of the Caribbean meets Oceans Eleven. Then hubby borrowed my kindle to read this series and while he was using it I got distracted and started reading other things and haven’t come back to it yet.

22. The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards Book 3), Scott Lynch. Same as above.

Books I’ve Read That Are Still on my Kindle

23. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovitch. I mostly enjoyed this, but I totally forgot to write about it in last month’s What I’m Into Post so it stays until I can do a review.

24. Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-control and My Other Experiments in Everyday LifeGretchen Rubin. Read this month. Will review at the end of the month.

25. Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, Book 1), Leigh Badusco. Read this month (really enjoyed it!) and will review at the end of the month.

26. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp. I keep this one around cause you never know when you need a little reminder.

27. The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad #5) Tana French. I’m a huge fan of French’s. I’m keeping this one around because hubsters hasn’t read it yet and would like to.

So, yeah….told you I have a problem!

Are you a book hoarder like me? What are you reading right now?

Current Kindle Deals

*As of May 14th. I use the US Amazon site. Prices may vary on other sites.

New On Sale:

Case Histories, Kate Atkinson($2.99). Fabulous mystery. One of my faves. (First in a series).

Human Croquet, Kate Atkinson ($3.99) This one’s not a mystery and is a little trippy since it experiments a bit with time, but I really think she’s a masterful writer.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman ($2.99) This is like a more adult version of Harry Potter plus Narnia. Oddly enoough, not my favorite, but a lot of people really like it.

Still on Sale:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My LifeDonald Miller ($3.99)

The Good Luck of Right Now, Matthew Quick (author of Silver Linings Playbook) ($1.99). I read this last year and wrote about it here.

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart ($2.99)

Me Before You, JoJo Moyes ($2.99) Read with Kleenex!

Divergent, Veronica Roth ($2.99)

The Getaway Car: A Memoir About Writing and Life, Ann Patchett ($2.51)

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